This collection of essays aims to show how questions about one’s identity (as a metaphysical entity, as a reflective knower, as a social-moral-political being) appear when difference is upheld as primary or fundamental. This approach is broadly characteristic of recent works in continental philosophy and through it the collection maintains a steady affiliation with phenomenological thought, although this is not its explicit focus. The reader is led through thoughtful explorations of topics such as how one’s self-conception is marked by a fundamental deception, or how a satisfying account of agency demands a thoroughgoing unity across my animal and my rational capacities, or how my being human and embodied entails my constitution through a dynamic of fragility. The collection contains eleven essays presented at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, including many by local and younger scholars, and so represents philosophical work itself in a somewhat different setting.
In that very setting, the collection is timely too, since the issue of identity has recently inspired lively public debate and much soul-searching at prominent sites of the South African philosophical scene, some involving the editor and a few authors of our collection. The controversy originally arose over systemic racism many felt exists in the Philosophical Society of South Africa, and in part concerned an all-white panel on the topic of South African identity at its annual conference last year (the panellists include some authors in the present collection). The editor then broached the topic and responded to critics in opinion pieces in newspapers this year. The collection encourages several ways to think about one’s identity and deepens the debate that already took place in the newspaper columns but which naturally could go only as far as these allow. At the same time, the collection courts a like charge as that which embroiled the panel, since no anxiety about manifest tokens of racial representation seems to drive the contents of the volume, while the sole article attending to the question of South African identity argues expressly from the position of whiteness (a pressing conundrum regarding how white South Africans are to be white South Africans in a post-apartheid state). These issues of the personal and the political are truly large and urgent, and easily dwarf the fact, which I would also like to make transparent in the context of this review, that I am personally acquainted with the editor and we share philosophical interests.
It is fashionable to fret about the lack of unity in collections, especially one that is conference-based, where it is even more susceptible to such worries. I do not share these worries, and judging from the fact that Winkler’s brisk introduction does not invest great effort in imposing order on the proceedings, I do not think there was any worry about settling them either. The essays are organized along four themes: “Narrative Theory and Phenomenology,” “Politics, Authenticity, and Agency,” “Feminism,” and “Race and the Postcolonial,” but they often speak to each other beyond these divisions. For example, narrative theories of identity appear in the first section (as they must) but also substantively in the Feminism section; the formidable thought of Spivak reflecting on Irigaray reflecting on Levinas comes up in both the Feminism and the Race and The Postcolonial sections; an interest in philosophical skepticism emerges in the course of discussing Sartrean views of consciousness in the first section and leads into a historical discussion of skepticism in the next. Such conversations among the pieces are helpful and are highlighted below. An unevenness does dog the collection, however, and I will comment on this aspect in the end after briefly reviewing the individual contributions.
Dermot Moran surveys concepts of self, ego, personhood, and personality, as they travel through the history of western philosophy until their phenomenological treatments by Husserl, Heidegger, Max Scheler, and Edith Stein. After Locke, who gave the concept of personhood a strongly moral orientation, and Kant, who pressed the ego’s sensible-cum-rational entanglements as a problem, these founders of phenomenology strive in mutually responsive ways to articulate its complex and dynamic unity, and stress the following: its systematic and historical dimensions (Husserl and Heidegger), its moral and concrete individuality (Scheler), and its psychic and spiritual depth (Stein). While the essay succeeds several previous versions, it is clear that Moran’s practiced hand (the essay succeeds several previous versions) brings the various moments of this otherwise expansive sweep before us effortlessly and situates the chapters that follow.
Alfonso Muñoz-Corcuera enters debates about narrative theories of personal identity, which Moran touches on when closing his essay. Muñoz-Corcuera defends these theories against objections which disable easy transitions between literary characters and living persons, which hold that we neither understand ourselves through narratives nor is our identity in fact constituted through narrativization, and which raise concerns about diluting our practical exigencies by relying on strategies relevant elsewhere, such as writing fiction. These objections are shown to rest on a misunderstanding easily avoided by distinguishing diligently between literary and cognitive senses of “narrative,” where the latter indicates a mental framework for thinking of agency rather than formal features of sentences that count as literary narratives. The different positions in this debate are laid out in detail, but key points of Muñoz-Corcuera’s rejoinder are stated without explicit support even if they sound plausible enough, e.g., the claim that the cognitive sense somehow conditions how we construe the literary sense, or the claim that our own identity is constituted through the interaction between stories we tell about ourselves and stories others tell about us. Similarly, the formal-literary notion is a tad flat without an account of the material-historical conditions of that form itself, which would arrest misuse of that notion in thinking about ourselves.
David Mitchell makes a strong case for continuing the dialogue between phenomenological and narrative views of personal identity by examining Sartrean insights into how a dialectic of fiction and belief underwrites selfhood. It is hard to account for self-deception as a state of mind resistant to a Cartesian type of transparent self-consciousness. Freudian theories incur the paradox that the subject must be conscious of what it is to remain unconscious of in order to repress it and epistemological theories equating self-deception with ordinary adhesion to false beliefs in the face of countervailing evidence do not do justice to the distinctive features and deep conviction marking the former. Mitchell therefore appeals to Sartre’s quaintly charming psychological case-analyses, which show them as grounded in the structure of consciousness as elusive and in flight, and he offers an account of belief as essentially overcoming itself at a pre-reflective yet spontaneous level of awareness. I only wish that he set aside some of the time spent on the case-analyses to help readers learn more about the intriguing processes at work in the theory of mind according to this view.
Vincent Caudron reminds us that the desire for a seamless self, without gaps or distortions, overlooks discourses of authenticity, which dominated the early modern epoch and its tenor of religious and epistemological uncertainty, and which probed a radical incompleteness of the self. Caudron documents such views in Montaigne and Charron to show not only skepticism about a true self but also a constant pursuit of hypocrisy in oneself that drove a wedge within the self in the service of moral authenticity. Fortunately, we have a wealth of historical-philosophical literature available (elsewhere, in the area of early modern skepticism) that offers greater heft and nuance to the indications Caudron flags as important to consider.
Irene Bucelli, in the one chapter that engages analytic philosophy, proceeds in the other direction and wonders if the constitutivist views of agency championed by Korsgaard and Velleman create an untenable rift between animal-active and human-rational levels of selfhood and if an approach that synthesizes the two orders is not preferable instead. Bucelli believes that minimal self-awareness without higher reflective endorsement is not only necessary for being responsive to reasons for acting as her opponents grant, but also sometimes sufficient, which is evident in coping actions in which I am immersed. The evidence, so far as I see it developed here, draws from the more cohesive and permissive account of action that will eventually ensue from the proposed approach: cohesive inasmuch as various capacities can be integrated towards human action instead of attributing the latter exclusively to an autonomous rationality, which attribution is nonetheless supposed to depend on lower layers of mental awareness and ownership; permissive inasmuch as a continuum or spectrum of actions and mental states can fund an account of agency under more flexible circumstances than the sort that Kantian formalism permits.
Rockwell Clancy wants to deliver us from a more pernicious formalism he perceives in contemporary liberalism, which, in having freed itself from allegiance to natural law and human nature, has led, he feels, to conservative and fundamentalist reaction. He observes that disavowing political anthropology is neither possible, because the barest description of human agency is still one, nor is it desirable, because, as Clancy warns, this opens us up to vast dangers ranging from ISIS and David Cameron to Dawkins and Derrida (the warning is issued in the now recognizable style of holding postmodern playfulness responsible for the severe indifference to truth affecting public discourse today and thereby enabling whatever-you-fear-worst). In lieu of an abstract and exclusive universalism Cancy imagines an inclusive particularism that would approach human nature through a more fluid understanding of nature, which lets us collect everything needed to avoid said dangers from everyone from Mencius to Latour to build a better world (and a daunting bibliography).
Kathy Butterworth’s chapter outlines a program for conceiving a relative (she prefers “relational”) autonomy by using Ricouer’s narrative theory of personal identity, which allows for thinking of a subject, and its autonomy, as a process for permitting degrees of achievement and contextualization. We need such a concept because the post-structuralist critique of the subject, while it compellingly dismantles traditional notions of an invulnerable, all-or-nothing autonomy, thereby also imperils the resources it could provide for a post-identity subjectivity consonant with a broadly feminist perspective.
Louise du Toit eloquently argues for rethinking subjectivity through bodily vulnerability with the help of feminist legal philosophy and phenomenology. Rape, she says, is inadequately understood when we only consider its physical violence, or only its sexual side and exclusively under the concept of consent as a corollary thereof. Relying heavily on Debra Bergoffen’s work on international tribunals on war rapes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, du Toit explains, rather, that rape concerns a physically coded violation of dignity that places it on the same plane as other crimes against humanity such as torture and slavery. Comparative analysis of these enables a phenomenological interpretation inspired by Merleau-Ponty, which evokes the fundamental ambivalence of the embodied human as both object and subject and calls for a thinking in terms of our living sensuality and enmeshed erotics. The essay is laden with insights that await unpacking via critical confrontations with other feminist and phenomenological work touched on in passing or raised by suggestion.
Laura Roberts takes forward the question of erotics signalled by du Toit and frames a dialogue between Irigaray and Spivak (which is surprisingly helpful in clarifying their otherwise abstruse texts), in order to conceive a feminist ethics of solidarity that is synaptically global rather than universal in a way that subsumes the other under itself. Spivak finds in Irigaray’s concept of sexuate difference as an irreducible difference a point of departure for thinking of an ethical relation to another, and in the question of women’s pleasure an excess-within-difference that can develop it as a radically indeterminate moment moving bodies together (in love) and playing between discourses (in translation or teaching). This style of thought naturally resists straightforward exegesis, proceeds performatively, and baffles any mere spectator or reviewer, but may at the very least be taken as articulating the “sensible transcendental” conditions of possibility of a solidarity to come, if one were to press mundanely about the solidarity hereby made possible.
Sharli Paphitis and Lindsay-Ann Kelland broach the question of South African identity from the standpoint of white individuals and record their personal struggles with it. As it is avowedly a personal question, albeit posed in a collective and impersonal register, it could have occasioned reflection on the very decision to write together (along with others like the focus on their race and citizenship, rather than, for instance, their being women), even if one did not want (but why not?) to go to Spivakian lengths of autoanalysis. Paphitis and Kelland do reflect on their guilt and shame, taking these as two kinds of relationships determining identity, one with their forefathers (their word) and another with their black compatriots, and they find that, denials of history and denials of recognition respectively riddle their reflection. Yet, they refrain from using the analysis of this emotional experience to disclose any larger truths, say, about being and intersubjectivity, and accept that they have merely begun their journey of self-discovery.
Louis Blond closes the volume with a reluctant defense of Levinas against postcolonial criticism of the topic of alterity. The essay includes a useful genealogical sketch of this topic, thus bookending Moran’s own on identity, to lead us up to the basic framework of Levinasian thought and interventions by critics as well as sympathetic commentators. Although Levinas is celebrated for stressing the singularity of the other and ethical confrontations ensuing from it, critics object that this denies representational politics or repeats exclusionary gestures of a colonial extraction or they point to plain instances of bigotry. However, postcolonial thought is not always beyond reproach, especially in overstating the body’s passivity against the transcendent-spiritual orientation of Levinasian thought, while, Blond hopes, repairing blind spots in the latter can preserve its intrinsically valuable prioritization of the ethical and social relation.
As I hope to have shown, the collection is uneven: some chapters are stronger, some weaker, some are interpretive or analytical, while some are programmatically promissory or resolutely exegetical, some are dense and some lucid. Given the editorial decision to represent a variety of voices, this may even be welcome. An unevenness harder to specify, however, concerns their intended audience. For, a few chapters will appeal to philosophers searching for argumentative developments in their fields, while others speak to generalists looking for the big picture, and some to non-philosophers interested in introducing themselves to specific ideas and movements. The publisher’s blurb recognizes this and addresses itself to the humanities at large. Inasmuch as philosophers are accused of not doing so, the book corrects a fault and ably informs a diverse readership about the variety of debates prevalent today about identity, difference, and the self.
James Dodd’s Phenomenology, Architecture and the Built World: Exercises in Philosophical Anthropology examines the built environment, as the artifactual composition of human involvement, from the perspective of phenomenological intentionality. From this perspective, “meaning,” as Dodd succinctly states, “is originally the accomplishment of the intentionality of lived experience” (57). Dodd’s formulation of the matter is most clearly expressed in chapter seven which directly explores, among other things, the topic of architectural meaning. The built environment is not a set of meanings inscribed upon buildings as if a “text to be deciphered,” but rather a series of existential paths open to inhabitants (199). As the material arrangement of human intentional involvements, the built environment is meaningful as “a sense of directedness” in “hodological form.” This seems to be the thesis of the text: an argument that phenomenology allows us to read the built environment’s meaning hodologically, rather than textually (215-216). In fact, that and how the world is given in meaningfulness is a large part of the “problematicity of knowledge,” the key issue in the text.
Though Dodd writes for philosophers, the text opens an equally important perspective for architectural historians. It points to the need to investigate architecture phenomenologically, a project which has suffered a legitimation crisis in the field of architecture since the late 80’s and early 90’s saw a rush of publications on the topic, the most notable being Questions of Perception. So many architectural theorists and historians in this tradition have used Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Hannah Arendt (the four main characters of Dodd’s text) without full awareness of the ontological critique of Cartesian conception of worldhood at the base of phenomenology. Architects, evoking these phenomenologists’ names, still read architectural meaning as being first of all a visual, or textual, matter. Architecture is not something we look at, or read, though. It is something we live in and, more precisely, are involved in. This insight, which Dodd’s text points out, would help bolster future attempts in architecture to apply phenomenology to the concept of architecture, the city, or the built environment.
The text has eight chapters set between an introduction and conclusion. Chapter 1, “Knowledge and Building” examines “the kind of knowledge operative in the activity of building,” tracing a philosophical argument in the historical debate between the architect and engineer as two distinct kinds of builders. Subsequently, chapter 2, “Building and Phenomenon” examines “the built as something encountered in experience” (8-9). The elegance with which the chapter titles interlock is impressive. Each has two key terms, displaying to the reader the flow of the argument; this can be seen in the word “Building” in first and second chapter titles. The flow continues: chapter 3, “Phenomenon and World” leads from Phenomenon to world. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 interlock concepts of “World” and “Thing,” chapter 6 flows from “Thing and Built Space,” into chapter 7, “Built Space and Expression,” and finally, chapter 8, “Expression and Presence.”
The chapter titles and section headings, while they reveal the flow of the argument, dissolve into one another, literally and figuratively. To this reader, one downside to this otherwise elegant structure is that it caused the text to read too fluidly, making it difficult to discern the main conclusions and objects of study, which are both architectural objects and philosophical texts. It is well written and the prose holds an impressive stride. The argument flows from one point to the next, with the reader often being led through illustrations of foundational ideas in phenomenological methodology. It is certainly not an introductory text, as Dodd states, but it holds a desire to continually return to the base of each problem. In short, it reads as an extensive phenomenological meditation, returning to questions of method as often as it turns to its objects of study. Dodd’s text rewards a patient reader.
For instance, it is hard to know what to subsume, exactly, under the concept (or, more accurately, figure) of the ‘labyrinth’ introduced in chapter 3, especially when the figure of the labyrinth plays such a pivotal role throughout the next two chapters, and not just in the subsections which have the word in their title. Edward Casey, Bernard Tschumi, and Indra Kagis McEwen are all employed in discussions of the labyrinth. The dense fabric this organization weaves is as impressive as it is demanding. Its conceptual complexity is not a point to be criticized, of course. My criticism here is much more limited. I can only say that the book is truly dense; at points, it seems overpopulated with insights. Signposts are needed to help distinguish major and just minor conclusions, as there are so many woven into each chapter. Internal to the argument, there are just four points I find disagreement with.
First, distinctions need to be sustained more thoroughly between the built environment, artifact, and architecture. Is the built environment to be understood as a composition of artifacts in this text? Or is it something over and above this, a whole greater than its parts? What is the difference between artifact and tool, or the difference between Heidegger’s equipmental totality and the idea of an artifactual totality (or composition) as it appears in the text? There seem to be many different ways of conceptualizing these key terms given the many theorists referenced.
Second, the attempt to rehabilitate phenomenology by creating what Dodd calls “classical phenomenology” by synthesizing Husserl, Heidegger, and Arendt, especially for a text which already copes with the workload involved in straddling multiple fields. The unresolved and irresolvable tension between Husserl, Heidegger, and Arendt is most apparent in chapter five, which asks the reader to jump from Husserl’s world of Abschattungen (adumbrations) – a topic already discussed in a previous chapter – to Heidegger’s world of Sorge (care)., by way of Steven Holl’s notion of parallax and Duchamp’s nude. This ten page section is certainly an impressive composition, and the illustrations are engaging, but the technical nuances in which Dodd engages often reveal the distance between these thinkers at those points in which they seem most closely related. I am sure Dodd recognizes that classical phenomenology is no monolith, and never could be, but the methodology of the text betrays a desire for it to be, especially chapter five.
Third, there is a set of competing ends operating in the argument. For instance, the reader is informed that the investigation is ultimately seeking “the development of a descriptive vocabulary for the analysis of built space” (50), but also that it is focused on “the problematicity of knowledge.” In the end, the latter concern appears to win, but the reader is still left wondering if the problem is ethical, concerned with developing a philosophical understanding of the built environment’s contribution to the meaningfulness of human existence, or epistemological, as the text more explicitly claims.
Again, it seems the latter wins. That this text on the built world begins with a chapter on “knowledge” is no accident. Dodd, it seems, asks philosophers to turn to the built environment, but only so they may turn back to questions of epistemology. This becomes clearer as the reader moves into the middle chapters, which grow increasingly epistemological, concerned with rethinking key concepts of intentionality, constitution, the epoché, and perception in light of the built environment. The text reads as an epistemological investigation with a special concern for the perceptual structures of meaning in the built environment. This is especially true in his example of an experience in Café Hawelka in Vienna (87). Descriptive analyses of European cafés are a staple of architectural phenomenology, and so the reader expects to be pulled into the built world, into living experience, but this does not happen. Rather, Dodd asks of perceptual experience in the café, “What does this entail?” and turns to a thorough excursus on Husserl’s notion of Abschattungen (90). Dodd concludes chapter 3 by drawing the conclusion from this that “in living through an experience, I fully inhabit the whole of experience at once” (93). In a way, this is just the epistemological issue at stake, and shows why phenomenology so often seems to spill over from epistemology into ontology. The café will return in the conclusion, this time as Sartre’s missing Pierre in Being and Nothingness (263-265).
My final point of criticism is that this is not a book on architecture, which it claims to be. The examples are never fully architectural. The phenomenological analysis of the way in which a pebble, in its material shape, holds cognitive indications concerning its uses and intentional possibilities, for example, is insightful, but this moment of analysis – one of the more important in the text – does not concern the architectural. Figures such as Eisenman, Tschumi and Le Corbusier do make appearances, as do some famous monuments and ruins, but they are always there for the elucidation of a concept and are not objects of study themselves. This leads me to ask, does Dodd actually discuss architecture at all? Regardless of how one answers this, as I indicated at the outset, this is a text architectural writers interested in philosophy must understand.
Perhaps Dodd’s intended philosophical audience explains why architecture remains conspicuously absent from the book. The ideas of phenomenology remain strongly in the fore, and artifacts often illustrate these, but architecture nowhere fully appears. Dodd’s decision to explain his argument through more typical environmental situations — sitting at a library, reading in a café, enjoying the view of a valley on a park bench, etc. — makes sense, because Dodd’s aim is to study the built environment not by applying concepts of Husserl and Heidegger to architectural objects, but by determining where, in the unique ontological picture of phenomenology, the built world fits. After all, most works of architecture populating the “canon” of architecture are built as perceptual experiences for the trained eye of the designer, and composed more for the attitude of disinterested aesthetic contemplation than the average inhabitant of day-to-day involvement. Architecture seems to be at odds with the idea of the built environment as a cultural setting, in this sense, or at least seems to bear an ecstatic, to use Heidegger’s term, relationship to it.
The title of Dodd’s text thus points out an issue. There seem to be two conceptions of architecture which need to be distinguished more carefully by those operating within the philosophy of architecture today: architecture as defined by the profession, its objects, and the discrete acts of professional architects designing individual buildings; and, second, architecture as understood anthropologically, as the act of arranging “the material-cultural world in which we are enmeshed,” as Dodd says so well, into a purposive whole (29). This second, anthropological conception of architecture, as an ontological condition of human communal existence in the material world, is the “architecture” of Dodd’s investigation.
Examining architecture’s significance, the way in which architecture means something to inhabitants in everyday, circumspective activity is an important and remarkably overlooked issue. Too much of architecture theory has acted as if architectural meaning only existed when architecture was looked at as a signifier or as an aesthetic object of disinterested contemplation. Dodd’s attempt to think architectural meaning in the foreground of human life, in the immediacy of the practically and socially absorbed activity of the occupant, that mode of experience in which the building is usually experienced and, somehow, understood, is a welcome addition. It seems phenomenology might have something left to contribute to this project, showing how the built environment needs to be thought through not as a cultural “objectification,” as recent sociological investigations of architecture have thought it, but as a material conception of Husserlian operative intentionality or transcendental subjectivity. (For an instance of such a sociology of architecture, see Silke Steets, Der sinnhafte aufbau der Gebauten Welt: Eine Architektursoziologie. Suhrkamp, 2015.)
It is surprisingly how little attention has been given to the connection between this broad conception of architecture and phenomenology, a tradition which so often thought in spatial, if not explicitly architectural terms – think of Heidegger’s illustration of the equipmental totality constituting worldhood in section 16 of Being and Time, or of the issue of “ego orientation” (152), both of which Dodd himself points to. Dodd’s work shows how phenomenology might offer a framework for studying the built world as a “cultural expression” in more complex terms than has been done so far. Phenomenology, Dodd shows, offers a way of thinking subjects’ interaction with artifacts’ meaningful structures in terms of operative intentionality.
On March 31-April 1, 2017, Marquette University (USA) hosted faculty and graduate students in attendance for the conference “Current Debates In Phenomenology & Overcoming the Continental-Analytic Divide.” The two-day event examined the philosophical inheritance of the Divide and how it impacts work in phenomenology today. Sebastian Luft (Marquette University), and graduate students Jered Janes (MU), Clark Wolf (MU), and Ben Martin (LUC), served as lead organizers. The spring conference grew out of the ongoing inter-university series of seminars and workshops jointly organized by phenomenology research groups at Marquette University and Loyola University Chicago. The event was made possible by through the generous support of The American Friends of Humboldt, the philosophy department of Marquette University, and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).
The conference included three faculty keynote lectures, six papers presented by graduate students from Marquette University and Loyola University Chicago, and a concluding panel discussion. Papers and lectured varied in their approaches to the main theme of the conference; some addressed the Continental-Analytic Divide directly, while others attempted to occupy a space for philosophical thought beyond the presuppositions of the Divide. James Dodd (The New School) delivered the first keynote lecture, titled “The Promise of an Asubjective Phenomenology.” The lecture offered a close and careful engagement with the thought of Jan Patočka. What philosophical resources does the Czech thinker provide to develop an asubjective phenomenology? Dodd argued that an asubjective phenomenology is not a non-subjective phenomenology. The classical influence of Husserlian phenomenological subjectivity endures in Patočka’s thinking, but is reoriented around the dichotomy of “inwardness/periphery” rather than “subject/object.” Such reorientation invites a rethinking of topics within phenomenology, including embodiment, the role of literature for phenomenology, the constitution of self and others, and the purported self-transparency of consciousness. Dodd tied together the several strands of Patočka’s rethinking into a Patočkian proposal for a revision of Husserl’s principle of all principles and a counterproposal for a “non-objectival” form of clarity available in reflection.
The second keynote lecture, titled “Realism and the Ontological Question,” was delivered by Paul Livingston (University of New Mexico). Livingston took up a selection of arguments from his book The Logic of Being: Realism, Truth, and Time (2017). His primary aim in the lecture was to treat ontological questions, drawn from Heideggerian discourse, in a manner compatible with a realist ontology. Livingston took up a Lacanian meditation on formalization, and its limits, as the basis for proposing a kind of meta-formal realism. Livingston’s meta-formalism proposed a realist stance premised on “the experience of formalization whereby it problematically captures and decomposes its own limits.” He distinguished meta-formal realism from empirical realism, metaphysical realism, and correspondence realism. On the contrary, he argued, the meta-formal realist position treats questions about the basic sense and meaning of our formalization of the real, rather than dealing with entities, or domains of entities. Livingston situated his discussion with a historical reflection on different orientations of realist thought. The concepts of coherence and consistency came to the fore as disjunctive indicators of post-Cantorian orientations of realism. Either the orientation is complete without being consistent, the “paradoxico-critical” orientation (ex. Derrida, Late Wittgenstein). Or the orientation is consistent without being complete, the “generic” orientation (ex. Badiou, Gödel). Livingston developed the historical reflection into an appraisal of the meaning of being and truth in Heidegger’s philosophy and presented truth as a phenomenon arising out of the paradoxical structure of the ontological difference. The lecture concluded with a realist interpretation of the temporality of Dasein in Heidegger’s Being and Time, taking up the structures of ecstasis, reflexivity, and auto-affectivity as purely formal structures without underlying dependence on a constituting agency or subject. The realist interpretation mobilizes the paradoxical structure of the ontological difference to open up the possibilities of the experience of time both as time of the individual Dasein and time as “world” or “public” time.
The third keynote, titled “Culture as Second Nature,” was delivered by Sebastian Luft (Marquette University). The lecture took as its point of departure the interpretation of the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer offered by Clarence Smith Howe, translator of an English edition of Cassirer’s The Logic of the Humanities (1961) [Zur Logik der Kulturwissenschaften (1942)]. In Howe’s introduction, he interprets Cassirer’s philosophy as a kind of naturalism, albeit a “culturalistic” naturalism. The interpretive claim, so argued Luft, seems to be at odds with more conventional interpretations of Cassirer as first and foremost a philosopher of culture. However, Howe’s claim is adopted by Luft as an opportunity to set up a confrontation between Cassirer’s symbolic idealism, in which the experience of nature is culturally mediated, and John McDowell’s version of naturalism, which arises out of his rejection of “bald” or “naive” naturalism. After reviewing the basic commitments of Cassirer and McDowell with respect to the experience of nature, Luft introduced Howe’s notion of “idealistic naturalism” (or culturalistic naturalism) as a mediating link between the naturalism of Cassirer and McDowell. In a concluding comparison of the two thinkers, Luft argued that Cassirer’s position was preferable to McDowell’s insofar as the former thinker allows “cultural intelligence” to have a wider purchase than mere ratiocination. That is, our human nature finds expression in cultural refuges — such as art and language — that are bound up with, but not reducible to, the rationality of McDowell’s space of reason.
The graduate student papers were presented in the mornings and afternoons, over the course of the two-day conference. Pete Burgess (Marquette University) explored different accounts of mental causation in “Are Acts and States Incompatible?: Mapping Versus Explaining Consciousness.” Justin Nordin (Loyola University Chicago) addressed the topic of moral normativity in “A Levinasian Approach to Moral Obligation.” Amelia Rhys (LUC) used philosophical resources in the work of Michel Foucault to treat a topical issue in bioethics in “The Contribution of Foucault’s Analysis of the Clinical Gaze to a Trans-Affirming Bioethics.” Daniel Adsett (MU) engaged Donald Davidson’s triangulation argument with respect to norms for speech and communication in “Coherence, Totality, and the Rational Subject.” Kyoungnam Park (LUC) provided a phenomenology of sensation and intuition in “Duration and Sense Impressions.” Gregory Trotter (MU) marked the intersection of phenomenology and psychoanalysis in “Fantasy and Freedom in Sartre and Psychoanalysis.”
The conference concluded with a brief presentation, given by Sebastian Luft, on funding opportunities available for academics interested in study in Germany, as well as a panel discussion. The panel discussion, titled “The Analytic-Continental Divide Today,” scheduled to include Andrew Cutrofello (Loyola University Chicago), James Dodd (The New School), Hanne Jacobs (Loyola University Chicago — absent), Paul Livingston (University of New Mexico), and Sebastian Luft (Marquette University), took up again the central theme of the conference in light of the discussion of the present and previous day. The panel participants were given an opportunity to present brief opening remarks before the discussion was opened to the general audience. Among the topics discussed: what is the nature of the Continental-Analytic divide? Is it a historical, political, sociological, etc., phenomenon? What strategies can be used to overcome the divide? What professional interests are invested in preserving the divide? What can we learn from an antinomarian reading of the divide? What is the future of philosophy beyond the divide? Can we project ourselves beyond the divide, or are we beyond the divide already?
Reviewed by: Michael Gutierrez (Loyola University Chicago), PhD student in philosophy and co-organizer of the phenomenology research group at Loyola.
How could a review of a commentary of Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis), be construed as anything other than a twice-removed betrayal of the intent of the original writing? To the uninitiated reader, this question, which would be clear to one acquainted with the work, requires some background explanation.
The publication of the Beiträge in 1989, fifty-three years after its writing, and the subsequent first translation into English, by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly in 1990, brought much controversy, and responses ranging from contemptuous ridicule as gibberish nonsense, to laudatory praise as Heidegger’s second magnum opus. Even among dedicated Heidegger scholars, the responses to these apparently fragmentary, obscure, and difficult writings veered from scorn to intrigue. Consequently, the last two and a half decades have also produced a number of how-to-read guides, interpretations, and companions-to. The controversy also gave rise to the perceived need for an alternative translation in 2012 by Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu. The book reviewed here, Thinking and Be-ing in Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis), by George Kovacs, enters this fraught field.
Kovacs’ book belongs firmly in the camp that believes the Beiträge to be Heidegger’s second great work. To state my own position, before reviewing the book, I would affirm that I not only agree with Kovacs as to the importance of the work, but that I am tempted to go further and say that I believe, despite the inevitable unevenness of its success, that in its intent, in its philosophical gesture, and in the magnitude of its epochal sweep, the Beiträge is a more important moment in Heidegger’s work than Being and Time, which I understand as a mere prelude to the later work.
The problem of this review is the same problem of Kovacs’ book, and the problem of the Beiträge itself. Heidegger’s book, which he never thought of as a book, and which he consequently assiduously refrained from publishing in his lifetime, was not meant to be, “about something and representing something objective”, but rather attempted to enact a saying which “does not describe or explain, does not proclaim or teach…does not stand over against what is said…rather the saying itself is the ‘to be said’” (Heidegger 1999, 4). As such, the Beiträge is performative in its intent. It is not a series of assertions aimed at a correct correlation, description or analysis of a state of affairs, but the production of “being-historical-thinking”, of the event of the bringing forth of that which it says as it says it; and as such, it should be used as a directive towards an enjoinment to further action.
To be brief, Heidegger realised that Being and Time had only managed to outline the problem of the need for a new approach to the asking of the question of Being, which would require the “necessity of transforming our orientation of questioning, which entails our entering into this fundamental occurrence”. (Heidegger 1995, 360-361). Heidegger found that as soon as he began to talk about Being, he was no longer in Being, that the access to or participation in Being had become obscured by the mode of questioning, and in the consequent objectification, had become construed merely as a being, another being, rather than Being itself. This is the problem of ontological difference, between beings and Being. To approach Being in itself, it was necessary to find a new way of questioning; a new way of thinking which would escape the representational mode of Western metaphysics, grounded in its epistemology of subject and object, and guaranteed in assertions which could be assessed as more or less true or false. In a sense, Heidegger’s task would necessitate speaking forth Being from within. This, in his estimation, would require a complete revision of the concepts of truth, thinking, and knowing, and a radical new approach to language, which he attempts in the Beiträge, and which has led to the decades of controversy since its publication in 1989.
So, the question is whether the work of a book on the Beiträge should be assessed on how it attempts to interpret or clarify the meaning of Heidegger’s work, or whether it should ultimately be judged on what it does, how it takes up the “directive” (Heidegger 1999, 4), of the former work, and contributes to opening the way of thought that the Beiträge demands. If the latter were to be the case, the measure of Kovacs book would need to be assessed in terms of what it contributes to the possibility of the proposed rethinking. How does it move Heidegger’s project forward?
Before addressing Kovacs’ contribution, I would note that there are a number of fine commentaries on the Beiträge, most notably: Daniela Vallega-Neu’s Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy: An Introduction (Vallega-Neu 2003); Richard Polt’s The Emergency of Being; On Heidegger’s ‘Contributions to Philosophy (Polt 2006); Parvis Emad’s On the Way to Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Emad 2007); and Companion to Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Scott et al. 2001) , edited by Charles E. Scott, Susan Schoenbohm, Daniela Vallega-Neu, and Alejandro Vallega. These works have undeniably added clarity to the wider understanding of Heidegger’s intention in the Beiträge, and rendered its accomplishments available to a wider audience, but they remain commentaries and guides to the understanding of the work.
Kovacs, on the other hand, seeks to take up Heidegger’s directive, acknowledging “that it would be a mistake to simply reconceptualise and resystematize Heidegger’s insights, the open and free play of moves and ventures of his journey of thought” (Kovacs 2015, 67). Rather, he seeks to think “through and with” Heidegger’s work, taking a “’step back’ from the closure of metaphysics at the center of the philosophical tradition…and ‘step into’ the thinking of Be-ing as enowning from the closure of metaphysics” (67). For an avid reader of the Beiträge, this is an exciting prospect, and one that Kovacs’ book fulfils amply.
A primary value of Kovacs’ book is in the regathering of the main concepts and movements which are dispersed, repeated, varied, and counterpointed throughout the fugal structure of the Beiträge. Kovacs piles them up, rearranges them, and takes them to places Heidegger had not ventured. His emphasis, pertinent to the intent of the original work, is on what Heidegger is attempting to do, or more accurately, to prepare for what needs to be done to make the leap the new beginning of thinking. Rather than a secondary interpretation, this book, at its best, is an effective and illuminating activation of Heidegger’s intention.
An example of Kovacs picking up Heidegger’s intimations to open new ways into thinking the leap beyond metaphysics, can be found in the link between questioning and believing in a relationship of faith (116). One of the more provocative aspects of the Beiträge and other works by Heidegger in this period, is the redefinition of truth, not as correspondence or certainty, but as Being coming into its ownmost through the process of Be-ing. The definition of faith is rethought, from within the Turning (Die Kehre), the moment of its coming forth. Faith is defined through its relationship with knowing. From within its ownmost, knowing is understood in terms of enowning, one of the shades of meaning of ereignis, (in everyday German, event) as the play of coming into its own and withdrawing. Thus, the understanding of faith becomes holding for true what is completely withdrawn from any knowing (117). To understand this, the reader must have a familiarity with Heideggerian expressions such as “withdrawal”, “turning”, “enowning”, and “what is ownmost to truth”. Moreover, it is necessary to become accustomed to dwelling with radical redefinitions of everyday taken-for-granted terms such as “knowing”. The Beiträge requires a long slow apprenticeship and a patient stillness of thinking. Kovacs takes this course in his analysis of faith. To the uninitiated reader, the language of Kovacs’ book appears as repetitive, murky and apparently incomprehensible as Heidegger’s own. In a review of this length it is impossible to offer sufficient detail to the multiplicity of neologisms, redefinitions, and connotational complexity in this phase of Heidegger’s writings. To understand these concepts requires an attunement with the thinking of the Beiträge itself. Kovacs dwells in the relationships and definitions with the steady tread of someone who has spent time in the stilling silence demanded by this path of thinking.
The renovated idea of truth mentioned above relies on a rethinking of the relationship of language and Be-ing, in which truth is no longer about holding something for true, but of holding oneself in the truth. In the final chapter, “The Thinking of Being and Language”, Kovacs takes Heidegger’s observations on the need for a language of Be-ing which differs from the everyday “language of beings, from utilitarian, instrumentalized, machinational language”; and which also, more importantly, addresses the “need for restoring the full saying-power to language (416). Kovacs begins with the observation that “the thinker of Be-ing itself…runs up against the boundaries of the language of beings, of the system of metaphysics”, and finds himself with the question: “Is it possible to say ‘something’ of the unsayable. Of that which is not ‘something’ at all?” (413).
Kovacs claims to enact Heidegger’s understanding of language as the site of “the shock, the powerful shift in understanding of the ‘to be’”, which constitutes a “‘leaping into the essential unfolding of Be-ing’ in such a way that Be-ing itself unfolds its essential power as en-owning”, (Heidegger, cited in Kovacs 2015, 82). This occurs because, in the Beiträge, language is figured not as a semiotic or representational enterprise, but rather as the means of attunement of the thinker to Be-ing. “The human being, as speaking and thinking being, is ‘guardian…of the truth of Be-ing’, and both language and human being ‘belong equally originarily to Be-ing’”; thus, human being is “‘essential’ for determining what is ownmost to language’”.. (Heidegger, cited in Kovacs 2015, 451). “In Language…Being is coming to word; thinking listening to the voice of Be-ing” (Heidegger, cited in Kovacs 2015, 452).
This relation of human being, language, and Be-ing is central to the Beiträge, and central to the task of taking up the directives of the Beiträge. By entering the relation between human, language, and Be-ing, the thinker participates in the coming forth of Be-ing, rather than staying in the metaphysical representational function of language. Heidegger calls this enthinking, enowning, inceptual thinking. Kovacs seeks to enter this mode of thinking-saying-writing. According to Kovacs, the speaker here enters “the inner dynamics and the range of the saying, disclosing potential of language” and its “capacity to say the unsayable”. The key to this enterprise is the hermeneutic temporality of the human and language belonging “equally originarily” to Be-ing. (452).
At this moment of equal originariness, “knowing, i.e. what is ownmost to truth, is the clearing opening for the self-sheltering concealing of Be-ing. Knowing awareness is the holding oneself in this clearing” (117). This is the temporality of participation in the presencing of the moment of the coming forth, rather than the depicting of a past which has already occurred. This temporality allows a knowing, a truth, which is “not a mere representation of an encounter but a persevering within the breakthrough of a projected opening, which through enopening comes to know the very Abgrund that sustains it” (Heidegger 1999, 258).
For the purposes of my own sojourn with the thinking of the Beiträge, Kovacs’ venture into the question of the Abgrund, in “Chapter II, Rethinking Thinking”, takes me further into being underway than any previous account I have read. The most important moment, for me, in this section, is the relationship between questioning and the Abgrund. If one is in questioning, then one is not in certainty, one is in that which is withdrawing, the unknown. And then, to stay in the unknown, to stay in the questioning, to stay in that which is withdrawing, is to hold fast to what is ownmost to truth, the play of concealment and disclosure. Because questioning is precisely not knowing with certainty, but finding a way to dwell in the slow craft of that which is ownmost to thinking, the aforementioned clearing opening for the self-sheltering concealing.
Finding home, abiding, and thus truly being there in the course or movement (lived experience) of questioning, as Heidegger’s Beiträge and his other texts teach the attentive, listening reader, steak (sic) out the range and sense of direction, the worth and power (the ways and craft) of thinking, of essential, being-historical, and more and more mindful thinking (Kovacs 2015, 100)
Here, the sense of Kovacs’ appropriation of Heidegger’s concepts and use of language comes to life in taking up his own abode in thinking, to hear, respond, and listen to that which “calls us to think” (Kovacs 2015, 97). In this, I find clear evidence that, for me, as a baffled, hesitant, mostly silent wanderer on the path of thinking, Kovacs’ book succeeds in Heidegger’s task of the foray into the participation of the coming forth of the enowning and the preparation for the transition from metaphysical speculation to being-historical thinking. This is the great worth and excitement. of Thinking and Be-ing in Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis).
Emad, Parvis. 2007. On the Way to Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy: University of Wisconsin Press.
Heidegger, Martin. 1995. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Translated by William McNeill, Studies in Continental Thought. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press.
Heidegger, Martin. 1999. Contributions to Philosophy: (From Enowning). Translated by P. Emad and K. Maly, Studies in Continental Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Kovacs, George. 2015. Thinking and Be-ing in Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis). Bucharest: Zeta Books.
Polt, Richard F. H. 2006. The Emergency of Being : On Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Scott, Charles E., Susan Schoenbohm, Daniela Vallega-Neu, and Alejandro Vallega. 2001. Companion to Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy, Studies in Continental Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Vallega-Neu, Daniela. 2003. Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy: An Introduction, Studies in Continental thought. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.