James Mensch: Selfhood and Appearing: The Intertwining, Brill, 2018

Selfhood and Appearing: The Intertwining Book Cover Selfhood and Appearing: The Intertwining
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume: 17
James Mensch
Hardback €157.00
X, 342

John Panteleimon Manoussakis: The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change

The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change Book Cover The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change
Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy
John Panteleimon Manoussakis
Hardback $102.60

Reviewed by: Samuel D. Rocha (University of British Columbia, Canada)

Augustine’s Confessions is not a book. It has no title in the titular or thematic sense. It is simply what it is: confessions. What more could it be? A collection of thirteen small books? An evangelical memoir? A developmental prayer diary? A pre-modern work of speculative non-fiction? These are tedious questions. No one cares whether the Confessions is a book or not. Augustine does not seem to care. This reveals that, as with most things taken for granted, we do not know what books are when we address or review them as books. So what is the intellectual genre of Augustine’s Confessions? Jean-Luc Marion has remarked that the Patristic period of theological thought would have understood itself as philosophy, not theology, and thus scholastic theology begins after the end of theology.[i]

It is helpful to keep these opening remarks in mind if one seeks an encounter with John Panteleimon Manoussakis in The Ethics of Time. It is a book that cannot be read, even if one tries to read like a cow through rumination, as Nietzsche demands in his preface to Genealogy of Morals.[ii] The Ethics of Time must be encountered. Reading is certainly an encounter of a certain kind, but the kind of encounter this book demands goes much further than any other recent philosophical book I have read. This may be because our present mode of reading is detached from the type of reading we find in Ezekiel, where the prophet is fed a holy scroll, and I suspect that my suggested encounter beyond reading is in many respects nothing but a truer form of reading. Nonetheless, there is a distinction to be drawn between a literary encounter and the phenomenological encounter that Manoussakis’ book investigates (through desire) and demands (through ethics). (This distinction is carefully attended to by Manoussakis in the theological realities of the beginning, logos, and flesh throughout the book, but especially in chapter 7, “The Time of the Body.”)

To encounter something implies many things. The adversarial sense of an encounter is perhaps the most obvious. Manoussakis seems to suggest these terms of encounter in the book’s epigraph that quotes from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon: “It is a violent grace that gods set forth.”[iii] After all, to “encounter” is to be en contra. This may begin to explain why wresting and sex are hard to distinguish from each other en vivo. No one can deny that the one I lay with until the break of dawn is one I have encountered. When Jacob wrestles the angel of God in Genesis, it is not so different an erotic description from the one we read in the Song of Songs. This means that the encounter is not adversarial so much as it is erotic. Manoussakis seems to endorse this erotic notion of encounter in his analysis of the emptiness of the pouring jug, broken jar, and eucharistic chalice. He writes, “the body’s corporeality does not lie at all in the material of which it consists (the body as object), but in the void that holds (the body as flesh).”[iv] This account of incarnate emptiness, among many other passages, eventually repeats itself enough to demand an erotic encounter with Manoussakis. An encounter, as we will see, that ends in kenosis.

One might object that presenting ideas in a book is not the same thing as demanding them as the terms for a specific kind of encounter, but this takes us back to the reason why I insist that this book must be encountered as opposed to being read, however unsatisfying that opposition may be for philosophical logic-chopping (to use the Jamesian expression). More important for my purposes here, if I take the erotic terms for this encounter seriously, then this review must struggle and fail to break free from Manoussakis in the course of re-viewing his book. Perhaps he will break my hip as I beg him for a blessing. We will have to see, again and again. That is what it means to re-view something.

One might consider The Ethics of Time to be an eclectic book in light of its variety of sources. This would be a mistake. It is true that Manoussakis works from Ancient Greece and the Early Church to contemporary phenomenology and cinema. However, this seems to be more of a personal reflection of Manoussakis—more reasons for my insistence on an erotic encounter—than evidence of technical or systematic pyrotechnics. It may be hard to ignore the sheer volume of philological, theological, psychoanalytic, exegetical, and phenomenological resources put to use in this volume, touching equally upon ancient scriptures as recent films, but this quantified sense of eclecticism misses more than it hits. It mainly misses the book’s constant refrain: Augustine’s Confessions. Unlike Heidegger, who despite his occasional explicit turns to Augustine is in constant dialogue with him throughout the entirety of Being and Time, Manoussakis never pretends to stray from him. In other words, Manoussakis repeatedly draws upon the only other book I can think of that can to the same degree be misunderstood through its voluminous variety. Perhaps he is being vain in tempting this comparison? Or maybe he is too humble to admit it?

Beyond the constant presence of Augustine’s Confessions in the book as a musing refrain, Manoussakis just as constantly invents original interpretations of the classic text. Before I mention any of these insights, and immediately attract the philosopher’s skepticism, I would like to remark on how Manoussakis phrases his inventions. This is not a note on method in the sense of construction or composition; it is more a note on voice and style. If one would permit the expression, I would say this is a brief note on the musicality the book. For me this was the most philosophically challenging aspect of the book but also the most delightful.

“What we call life is a series of intervals from sleep to sleep.”[v] This line comes within a discussion of boredom and just before a deeper look into the radical implications of having “nothing to do.” Even without puzzling together the meaning of the line within its proper textual context, it serves as an example of the barrage of poetic impulses that assault the Academician and exhort the Artist. They often come in swift lines and fine-tuned associations. The urge to call them hasty is the desire to read, the desire to take Manoussakis at his word is the urge to encounter.

All of this is to say that there is an active wit in the book that is sharp and playful enough to verge on being unserious. But these risky moments of “Will and Grace”—anyone who misses this is too dull to understand this book—are contained with a form and structure where metaphors bear the mythopoetic weight of the book’s absent thesis. For instance, Manoussakis titles his Chapter 5, “After Evil,” hinting at the ethics of time where we move beyond evil without ventured beyond it entirely. This chapter features a stunningly clear and original rendition of Augustine’s account of the privation of evil—where evil is not simply metaphysically privitive of the good, but where sin becomes the ethical condition for the possibility of freedom—and reveals a powerful account of the book’s major preoccupations. The account does not so much make this preoccupation clear so much as it makes it serious enough, to the one willing to accept the terms of encounter, to see with eyes of faith.

For Manoussakis, the difference that lies in the interval between evil and goodness is only time. This difference is presented by Manoussakis through the two gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, which allude to his most steady companions, the Confessions and Christian scripture. These two gardens hold within them the capacity to re-present an ethics that is opposed to stasis; in other words, an ethics of time. This rendition of an ethics of time is central to the book’s unmet desire to address itself as a book titled The Ethics of Time.

A key feature of the above analysis is important to understand on its own terms, without too many distractions. Manoussakis makes this point plain, but rather than quote him directly, I would like to try and bend his words in my direction. Rather than resolve the apparent tension in sin or evil by positing a Manichean notion of the good, Manoussakis asserts the goodness of sin and evil revealed in time. This is not as radical as it may seem. I recently asked the question “What is an ethical way to teach ethics?” Socrates answers this question when Meno raises it by rejecting the assumption of the possibility of knowing what is ethical. In De Magistro, Augustine rejects the possibility of teaching entirely. Manoussakis, for his part, follows suit in a clever way. When we admit that we know not what we do, when sin admits to being sinful, when evil can encounter itself as evil, there we find the goodness and the ethics of time. The implications of this idea in moral theology and normative philosophical theories are interesting in their own right, but the phenomenological scope of this book takes us in another more scandalous direction.

The book ends with three scandals. The first two—evil and goodness—have been mentioned to some extent already. The third is grace but becomes more articulate as what Paul calls “the scandal of the cross.”[vi] Here the enigmatic and aphoristic wit of Manoussakis makes its last attempt to call the reader into encounter—the encounter of conversion. One may reject this encounter since it has now modulated from Manoussakis himself to Christ, but this raising of the pitch and register of the erotic appeal seems to be the entire point of the final scandal and, indeed, the book that exists beyond its title. In the cross we find the ultimate body, the broken body that survives the violence of resurrection. After all, Christ’s resurrected body was glorified with all five wounds sustained on the cross still intact and poor saints wear them as scandalous signs of grace. One cannot speak of open wounds as being good and no one can speak of these wounds as being evil. Within Manoussakis’ phenomenology of change presented as the ethics of time, I find a profound and moving meditation on the suffering, sacrifice, and salvation of wounds and woundedness.

Whatever ethics may be, I am fairly certain that it cannot afford to be entirely blind to the moral significance of things, especially the things that go beyond the recognizable the boundaries of moral significance. As we have seen, this would include a genuine ability to understand, as Augustine did and as Manoussakis clearly does, the evil of goodness and the goodness of evil within the interval of time.

Judging something to be morally important is not the same as seeing it as it is. There is a moral field of vision that goes well beyond judgement’s moral capacities. In at least this sense, phenomenology is fundamentally ethical. But this is not always true in practice. Phenomenology as well water is little more than a series of constructive historical notes and debates, on the one hand, and methodological squabbles, on the other. Phenomenology as living water is always opposed to every “ology” and “ism”—including phenomenology and constant opposition. In other words, as its rich history and methods suggest, phenomenology is fundamentally philosophical and this philosophical conception applies equally to phenomenology after the so-called “theological turn.” This turn would be a poor way to try and capture Manoussakis’ project, unless it is to show that every real turn is in some sense a theological one, preceded and anticipated in the Hellenistic tradition. The beginning chapters of The Ethics of Time bear this out in a series of preliminary meditations on movement but they only arrive at their fundamental insight as one allows time—not only the time of duration but above all the time of the interval, the sliding, wailing, and fretless interval—to work across the pages of the book to transform the reading into a dynamic encounter of time in the place of das Ding.

[i] In his Berkeley Center Lecture, “What Are the Roots of the Distinction Between Philosophy and Theology?”, delivered at Georgetown University on April 7, 2011.

[ii] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morailty, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swenson, (Indiannapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1998), 7.

[iii] John Panteleimon Manoussakis, The Ethics of Time, (London and New York: 2017), front matter.

[iv] Ibid., 156.

[v] Ibid., 21.

[vi] Ibid., 161.

Frédéric Jacquet: Métaphysique de la naissance, Peeters, 2018

Métaphysique de la naissance Book Cover Métaphysique de la naissance
Bibliothèque Philosophique de Louvain, 101
Frédéric Jacquet
Paperback 76.00 €

Ken Slock: Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty Book Cover Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Ken Slock
Paperback 24,00 €

Reviewed by:  Sophie Dascal (Geneva University of Art and Design)

L’ouvrage de Ken Slock tente d’initier un dialogue entre le philosophe Maurice Merleau-Ponty et le cinéaste-théoricien Jean Epstein autour desquels de nouvelles pistes de réflexion se sont ouvertes ces dernières années. Le texte de Slock, à l’intersection de l’esthétique du cinéma et de la philosophie, a pour but d’apporter non seulement un regard neuf sur la pensée d’Epstein et de Merleau-Ponty mais aussi d’aborder, à travers ces deux auteurs, certaines problématiques essentielles qui apparaissent à la frontière poreuse entre cinéma et philosophie. Bien qu’il n’y ait pas explicitement de philosophie du cinéma chez Merleau-Ponty, sa phénoménologie et l’esthétique du cinéma d’Epstein partageraient le même projet ambitieux de traiter la question du savoir dans sa relation au voir. Cette théorie de la connaissance les amène, chacun à sa façon, à repenser la place de la « raison » au sein de leur système philosophique, remettant en question par là-même la frontière entre philosophie et non-philosophie pour Merleau-Ponty et entre philosophie et cinéma pour Epstein. L’ouvrage de Slock se compose de trois parties, contenant chacune deux chapitres. La première partie présente les éléments des pensées de Merleau-Ponty et Epstein afin de les mettre en relation, notamment au travers du concept d’« ambiguïté ». La seconde partie poursuit la comparaison entre Epstein et Merleau-Ponty en se concentrant sur la notion de réversibilité ce qui permet à Slock d’amener le cinéma dans la pensée de Merleau-Ponty et d’entrer dans le cœur de sa thèse, à savoir le rapport entre la conscience cinématographique et la conscience humaine. Dans la troisième partie de son ouvrage, Slock fait intervenir un troisième auteur, Gilbert Simondon, afin de développer une esthétique de la machine basée sur l’asymétrie entre l’homme et le cinématographe. La conclusion de l’ouvrage propose alors une alternative « tactile » au modèle epsteinien basée sur le concept de profondeur tel que Merleau-Ponty le développe dans la Chair.

Dans la première partie, Slock décrit l’équilibre « précaire » de la position de Merleau-Ponty, à l’intersection entre phénoménologie husserlienne et rapprochement vers une forme d’ontologie. D’après lui, le caractère inachevé de son œuvre a amené la recherche « merleau-pontienne » à entamer un travail d’interprétation et de déchiffrement exigeant une reconnaissance d’une pensée plaçant l’opacité, l’ambiguïté et la profondeur, comme paramètres essentiels de son investigation de l’être, du monde et de l’image. Dès les premières lignes de son chapitre, Slock met en avant les problèmes que Merleau-Ponty hérite du projet husserlien de renégocier une séparation du transcendantal et de l’empirique et en particulier dans le cadre de son étude du langage. Selon Merleau-Ponty, le langage philosophique, incapable de produire lui-même un discours réflexif, est en crise et nécessite alors un discours réflexif non-verbal, ouvrant la porte aux images et aux images en mouvement, partiellement affranchies des failles du langage verbal. Le principe clé de l’intégration des images à la pensée de Merleau-Ponty serait dès lors de faire voir au lieu d’expliquer et c’est à partir de ce constat que Slock va rapprocher Merleau-Ponty d’Epstein. Même si la relation de Merleau-Ponty au cinéma repose sur un corpus restreint et même si la place accordée au cinéma est incomparable à celle accordée à la peinture, le cinéma, du fait de sa capacité immersive, donnerait la possibilité au sujet de devenir à la fois voyant et vu. A cause de sa dimension technique et artificielle, le cinéma est logiquement plus proche du langage parlé que la peinture. Cette dernière jouit d’une forme d’immédiateté et de simplicité du geste créateur qui correspond à la recherche de Merleau-Ponty d’une expérience artistique désœuvrée. Malgré cela, le cinéma possède la capacité d’offrir une réflexion sur la réversibilité de la conscience et du monde et les images cinématographiques feront peu à peu leur retour dans la pensée merleau-pontienne à mesure que le principe de réversibilité s’affine dans ses théories postérieures aux années 40.

En ce qui concerne Epstein, Slock le considère comme un auteur inclassable à plus d’un titre. Mêlant à la fois des enjeux scientifique, métaphysique et poétique, Epstein ne chercherait pas à être la conscience d’un artiste mais à décrire le cinéma en tant qu’entité artificielle indépendante. Malgré son travail théorique prolifique, celui-ci ne précède jamais l’élaboration de ses films. Au contraire, l’écrit récupère seulement ce que le film suscite en l’organisant dans un discours rationnel. Le langage écrit est toujours asservi à la rationalité et c’est pour cela que seul le cinématographe est capable de résoudre les problèmes de la philosophie en palliant aux limitations de l’esprit humain. Slock voit chez Epstein une pensée inédite de la rupture qui force le lecteur à un renversement total de ses croyances. Elle nous renvoie à une époque où la « philosophie du cinéma » restait tout à faire, un potentiel « indéfini » qui exigeait de repenser les frontières entre technologie, philosophie et image. Si le rejet de la doxa philosophique est radical chez Epstein, cela serait moins le cas chez Merleau-Ponty qui préserverait une certaine idée de la « raison ». Néanmoins, Slock rapproche le positionnement du cinéma chez Epstein, qui n’est ni une raison autoritaire, ni un pur empirisme, à l’ambiguïté de la philosophie merleau-pontienne. Mais contrairement à Merleau-Ponty, Epstein irait au-delà du stade de claudication volontaire du discours de Merleau-Ponty, en disposant d’une entité théorique capable de se soustraire aux cadres de la raison, et d’élever la perception au rang de connaissance. Slock conclut la première partie de son ouvrage en mettant en avant l’ambiguïté comme concept majeur unissant Epstein et Merleau-Ponty.

Dans la deuxième partie, Slock poursuit la comparaison entre les deux auteurs en se basant notamment sur une série de cours intitulée Le monde sensible et le monde de l’expression donnés par Merleau-Ponty en 1952-1953 et se concentre sur sa notion de réversibilité, au cœur du rapport de Merleau-Ponty à Epstein et au cinéma. D’après Slock, le concept de « mouvement », tel que développé dans les cours de Merleau-Ponty, se rapproche au plus près du « secret » de l’expressivité et c’est dans ce contexte qu’il ménagerait une place sans précédent au cinématographe. Le cinéma semblerait être, en effet, une possible mise en pratique de l’expressivité du mouvement. Mais surtout, et c’est le cœur de la thèse de Slock, le cinéma mettrait en jeu le concept de réversibilité. Ce sont plus particulièrement les dimensions de normalité et d’étrangeté qu’il met en avant car Merleau-Ponty utilise la notion d’étrangeté pour désigner la réversibilité et le rôle révélateur des procédés de manipulation de la temporalité au cinéma. Il y aurait donc rupture, pour Merleau-Ponty, entre la « normalité » attendue du cinéma en tant qu’enregistrement du réel et son étrangeté liée au choc que provoque son altérité avec le monde. Cette « normalité » amènerait Merleau-Ponty tout comme Epstein à associer le cinématographe à la conscience humaine, capable de se révolter contre cette association forcée aux normes de la perception humaine et ainsi soutenir l’idée d’un mouvement qui exprimerait plus que lui-même. Néanmoins, il est important pour Slock de défendre l’idée qu’il ne s’agit ni pour Merleau-Ponty ni pour Epstein de créer un régime d’identité entre le cinématographe et la conscience humaine. Bien au contraire, l’étrangeté évoquée par Merleau-Ponty proviendrait de l’altérité même de la conscience cinématographique face à celle de l’être humain. Avec la notion de réversibilité qui se retrouve au cœur du tournant philosophique de Merleau-Ponty, le cinéma gagne de l’importance en rendant compte du double mouvement du corps vers le monde et réciproquement. D’après Slock, cette notion est également centrale dans la relation entre Merleau-Ponty et Epstein. Mais si cette notion semble concerner l’écrit chez Merleau-Ponty, elle est le propre du cinéma chez Epstein. D’après Slock, l’intervention du cinématographe, qui fait exploser les lois de l’Univers par la réversibilité des images, mettrait fin à l’équilibre précaire de la phénoménologie pour laisser place à une pure instabilité. La réversibilité du temps, centrale dans la pensée d’Epstein, porte une valeur philosophique dont Slock ne doute pas. Slock pose dès lors la question suivante : « la temporalité alternative offerte par les images cinématographiques peut effectivement générer du savoir neuf, ou bien reste-t-elle une fiction philosophique » (128) ? Il répond positivement à cette réserve en défendant que le cinématographe, en plus de permettre de saisir cette alternative, serait également capable de générer un entendement alternatif, au travers du choc généré par la réversibilité des images, amenant ainsi la pensée brute et le monde à redécouvrir leurs liens.

Slock poursuit en se concentrant sur la question du regard de l’homme face à celui du cinématographe afin de déterminer ce en quoi ils se distinguent mais aussi ce en quoi ils se rejoignent. L’asymétrie entre ces deux regards est fondamentale d’après Slock car elle permet de rendre le cinématographe « expressif ». Le regard de la caméra s’inscrirait, pour Epstein, à un niveau « surréflexif ». Le cinéma apporterait de cette manière une solution au paradoxe phénoménologique d’une conscience capable de s’examiner sans interférer avec l’examination, mais aussi sans « s’oublier ». En effet, pour Epstein, le cinéma porte un regard qui peut assumer les distorsions sans que celles-ci soient falsifiantes. Le cinéma serait ainsi un excellent candidat pour ce « second niveau » de réflexion : « à l’écran, je découvre ma pensée “au carré” » (143). Slock propose alors un rapprochement entre l’idée epsteinienne d’un « baptême de l’écran » et la théorie du langage de Merleau-Ponty. Pour Epstein, le baptême de l’écran amène le spectateur à se confronter pour la première fois à sa propre image objectivée. En ce qui concerne Merleau-Ponty, une première rupture du silence est fondamentale car elle offre la possibilité d’expérimenter le vide, expérience qui se rapprocherait de celle du baptême de l’écran. Le spectateur se retrouve face à une image de lui-même identique mais différente, ce qui crée une instabilité dans son rapport avec sa propre identité. Cette première analogie amène Slock à en aborder deux autres : celle entre le concept epsteinien de croyance et celui d’hallucination de Merleau-Ponty et celle entre le mouvement vital selon Epstein et l’expressivité. Malgré ces similitudes, Epstein entrerait en conflit avec le désir de la phénoménologie d’un retour à l’être brut, à cause de l’intervention du cinématographe. Slock insiste en effet sur la méfiance de Merleau-Ponty à l’égard des artifices scientifiques et du culte de la technique qui en ferait un intermédiaire entre la conscience et le monde. Néanmoins, la conscience cinématographique et la conscience expressive « réformée » restent similaires d’après Slock en tant que le cinématographe n’agit pas comme une addition à la conscience, contrairement aux autres technologies, mais comme une forme expressive parallèle à celle-ci. Ainsi, Slock conclut en défendant l’idée selon laquelle le cinéma plutôt que d’amplifier la vision comme les autres outils scientifiques, offre une vue nouvelle du monde.

La troisième partie de l’ouvrage est consacrée à l’analyse de l’esthétique de la machine cinématographique au travers d’une analyse du rapport entre homme et machine en faisant appel à un troisième auteur, Gilbert Simondon. D’après Slock, le principe de la « conscience » cinématographique apparaît avec le postulat selon lequel le cinéma possède une vision différente de celle de l’être humain. C’est à partir de ce postulat que Slock défend l’idée du cinéma comme possible interlocuteur de la phénoménologie de Merleau-Ponty. Comme déjà abordé plus haut, Merleau-Ponty se méfie de l’outil artificiel comme dédoublement ou amplification du rapport naturel au monde car il met en danger la conscience irréfléchie qui s’anéantirait dans l’artifice. Ainsi, Merleau-Ponty critique l’excès de l’artifice, qu’il soit conceptuel ou technique en y opposant l’immédiateté du retour aux choses mêmes, non seulement à travers le corps percevant, mais en floutant les frontières entre le corps et le monde. Pour Slock, Epstein critiquerait également l’artifice comme valeur en soi à partir du moment où il se met au service de la rationalisation du monde. Néanmoins, Epstein défend le cinématographe qui, à l’inverse de la technique scientifique, ramène à un rapport plus originaire et non pas artificiel au monde. C’est dans ce rapport problématique de la conscience à l’artifice que Slock fait intervenir la philosophie de la technique de Gilbert Simondon, héritier de Merleau-Ponty, et qui possèderait la particularité de réussir à rendre compatible le retour au monde brut et l’artifice technique. L’idée centrale de Simondon est que la machine exprime directement l’être primitif en dialoguant avec lui et ne se réduit donc pas au prolongement d’une pensée technique et conceptuelle qui l’éloignerait de cet être. D’après Simondon, la difficulté d’intégrer les particularités techniques proviendrait du rejet culturel de son époque, de l’objet technique auquel l’on refuse toute dimension esthétique et donc une véritable valeur significative. Réduire la machine à l’outil consisterait, pour Simondon, à établir une symétrie entre celle-ci et l’homme, la vidant de son sens. C’est pourquoi, d’après Slock, le refus d’une esthétique de la machine aboutit à la fois à sa réduction au statut stérile d’outil et à sa sacralisation. Les intuitions de Simondon et de Merleau-Ponty quant à un prométhéisme de la machine seraient compatibles en ce qu’elles portent toutes deux sur une symétrie homme/machine qui donne lieu soit à une conception de l’outil comme prolongement de la conscience et une répétition automatique de sa forme, soit à l’idée d’une technique reproduisant la conscience de manière autonome. Slock fait alors intervenir Epstein et sa pensée du cinématographe, cette machine expressive qui ne s’apparente ni à un outil, ni au fantasme de l’androïde et qui entretient avec son créateur un rapport asymétrique riche de sens. Le modèle de la machine cinématographique d’Epstein offre un point de vue intéressant dans le problème « d’asymétrie » rencontré par Simondon dans sa tentative d’éclairer le rapport entre homme et technique et Merleau-Ponty dans sa réflexion du rapport entre philosophie et langage. D’après Slock, Simondon et Epstein se distinguent par leur vision différente du caractère automatique de la machine. Si pour Simondon, l’aspect automatique de la machine devrait être éliminé, pour Epstein il est fondamental dans sa capacité à manipuler le temps. Ce dernier se retrouve alors dans la tâche délicate de distinguer le pur mécanisme automatique de l’autonomie expressive de la machine. D’après Slock, il est difficile pour Epstein de faire de cette autonomie plus qu’une posture théorique. Il est pour cela vital, pour Epstein, de fonder sa pensée sur un potentiel incompressible, particulièrement en ce qui concerne la question de l’automatisme qu’il ne peut démontrer, où le potentiel du cinéma n’est appréhendé qu’en « décalage ». La réponse de Simondon au problème de l’automatisme qui correspond d’après Slock à la vision de la relation entre l’homme et la machine d’Epstein, consisterait à mettre la machine et l’homme sur un pied d’égalité asymétrique offrant la possibilité d’un dialogue. Slock conclut alors en affirmant la similitude entre les trois auteurs abordés dans la recherche d’une machine et d’une pensée qui s’articuleraient en une entité vivante.

Slock propose alors une analyse du rapport entre la machine cinématographique et le divin avant de s’atteler à la conceptualisation d’une philosophie du possible. D’après Slock, le cinéma apparait comme un outil surpuissant d’exposition de la vérité chez Epstein. Au lieu de prolonger et conforter le mode opératoire de la raison comme la science, la machine cinématographique y couperait court en instaurant sa propre autorité. La légitimité du cinéma se justifie en opérant en dehors des cadres établis par l’entendement humain, étant ainsi capable d’atteindre directement les choses mêmes. Cette conception pourrait rapprocher le cinématographe d’Epstein du divin. Néanmoins, il s’éloignerait autant de la conception du « divin », entendu comme ce qui rend possible un savoir basé sur la continuité et l’irréversibilité, que de l’humain. Face à ces deux types de pensée rigide, divin et humain, Epstein oppose la pensée fluide permise par le cinéma. Ainsi, contrairement à Merleau-Ponty qui ne distinguerait pas complètement la parole du cinématographe de sa récupération par le discours philosophique, Epstein la concevrait comme étant exclusive. Slock propose alors de situer le cinématographe dans un espace d’indétermination entre l’humain et le divin. A cela, il ajoute une mise en question de la valeur réelle du « possible » dans lequel cette alternative flotte. Cette valeur du possible constitue d’après Slock l’un des éléments essentiels de la pensée d’Epstein mais aussi l’un des points communs le plus fort entre ce dernier et Merleau-Ponty. Dans cette conception, Epstein se positionnerait contre Kant en défendant la validité épistémologique du fictif. L’écrit joue dans ce cadre un rôle prophétique, ne pouvant apporter la preuve mais seulement inciter la croyance. Slock revient alors sur le caractère divin du cinématographe, en ce qu’il ne construit pas un autre entendement mais une nouvelle apparition d’une forme d’entendement divin. Il y aurait en effet une divination de l’image chez Epstein, à partir du moment où le cinématographe possède la capacité d’insuffler à l’objet capturé une existence propre à l’écran. Slock propose alors une forte critique d’Epstein et de son échec double : « d’une part, il ne parvient pas à véritablement établir ce tiers « autre » entre Dieu et l’homme. Et d’autre part, il faillit à son discours parfois violemment critique d’une pensée assujettie à « Dieu » […] » (214). Ainsi, la pensée epsteinienne adopterait un accent ouvertement antirationaliste mais souterrainement théologique. Le renversement de la Raison amènerait à une autre tyrannie qui remet en cause l’indétermination dans laquelle Epstein veut se maintenir. Pour pallier cela, Epstein adopterait, d’après Slock, une position de « panthéiste moniste », « une posture censée lui permettre de résoudre finalement les dualismes de la philosophie, en les faisant régresser vers une unité primordiale » (216) et lui permettant de préserver une forme d’indéfinition entre le sujet et le monde qui s’entend surtout dans le sens d’une expansion radicale du sujet. Slock conclut alors cette troisième partie en insistant sur le fait que, contrairement à un prométhéisme tel que le craignait Merleau-Ponty, on assiste avec le cinématographe à une indistinction théorique entre le monde et la conscience.

Le chapitre conclusif propose une série de rapprochements entre l’esthétique du cinéma et la Chair de Merleau-Ponty en mettant en avant une alternative « tactile » au modèle epsteinien. Slock défend en effet l’importance du rôle de l’image en mouvement dans la volonté de sauvegarder le discours de Merleau-Ponty sur l’« être non coïncidant » et celle de penser l’image et l’image en mouvement comme mise en œuvre d’une réversibilité entre le voyant et le vu. Dans cette visée, Slock met en avant le concept de profondeur qui vise à réintroduire un principe d’altérité et de réciprocité dans l’ontologie merleau-pontienne et qui prendrait un sens supplémentaire lorsque mis en relation avec l’image en mouvement. La profondeur ainsi repensée amène à une redéfinition du voir fondamentalement compatible avec les théories d’Epstein et permet de confirmer une théorie de l’ouverture réciproque du voyant et du vu. D’après Slock, cette idée accompagne le problème de la proximité et de l’association du voir et du toucher, une autre voie possible pour rapprocher Merleau-Ponty du cinéma. En effet, d’après Slock, la tentative du phénoménologue de rendre la vision plus tactile, l’amènerait à préserver une forme de surréflexion en l’intégrant directement à l’expérience perceptive et ainsi mettre en relation réversibilité et cinéma. Pour Slock, il est primordial de poursuivre la volonté de permettre à l’expérience spécifique du cinéma et à la corporéité de la conscience merleau-pontienne de mieux se définir mutuellement. Pour lui, redéfinir la vision du cinéma comme vision tactile amènerait l’idée du film comme étant lui-même un corps percevant à la rencontre duquel le spectateur s’avance. Au travers du principe de réversibilité, le film devient sujet percevant, une structure à la fois perceptive et expressive. Cette conception l’amène à proposer une alternative à la théorie d’Epstein en pensant l’écart à travers l’interface avec laquelle la conscience perceptive va interagir avec cet « autre » présent dans les images en mouvement. Le film devient alors un corps à la fois voyant et visible et l’écran un espace de dialogue entre le corps du spectateur et celui du film. Cette conception de surface tactile marquée par le principe de réversibilité, désigné par les termes de surface et de profondeur, apparaît pour Slock comme la métaphore la plus pertinente destinée à penser le film comme interlocuteur corporel du spectateur. Ainsi pour Slock, « le cinéma n’offre pas de coïncidence complète du spectateur et du film, mais bien un rapport tactile au sens entendu ici, puisque c’est sur un même mode qu’ils sont chacun voyant et vu à la fois. La créature cinématographique d’Epstein se retrouve ici réduite à sa surface, l’écran, réciproque de l’épiderme humain » (246).

L’ouvrage de Slock présente une thèse intéressante et inédite sur la relation entre les pensées de Merleau-Pony et d’Epstein sur le cinéma et élabore une conception phénoménologique du cinéma qui ouvre sur un rapport « tactile » entre le spectateur et le film. Une des grandes forces d’une telle conception est son ouverture sur une possible réflexion sur les usages contemporains de l’image en mouvement comme les écrans tactiles ou la réalité virtuelle et augmentée. Ce livre me semble d’intérêt non seulement pour les chercheurs qui se consacrent à Merleau-Ponty ou Epstein, mais également pour les théoriciens du cinéma qui s’intéressent à des questions ontologiques et aux usages et développements contemporains de l’image en mouvement.

Edmund Husserl: Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie pure et une philosophie phénoménologique, Gallimard, 2018

Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie pure et une philosophie phénoménologique Book Cover Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie pure et une philosophie phénoménologique
Bibliothèque de Philosophie
Edmund Husserl. Trad. de l'allemand par Jean-François Lavigne

Roberto Malvezzi: The Archetype of Wisdom. A Phenomenological Research on the Greek Temple, Mimesis International, 2018

The Archetype of Wisdom. A Phenomenological Research on the Greek Temple Book Cover The Archetype of Wisdom. A Phenomenological Research on the Greek Temple
Roberto Malvezzi
Mimesis International
Paperback $ 14.00 / £ 10.00 / € 12,00

Sophie Loidolt: Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity

Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity Book Cover Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Sophie Loidolt
Hardback £88.00

Reviewed by: Maria Robaszkiewicz (Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Paderborn University)

A book analyzing Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological background thoroughly is long overdue. Arendt’s biographer, Elisabeth Young Bruehl, mentions one of very few occasions, when Arendt spoke about her method (Young Bruehl 1982, 405), revealing her inclination to phenomenology: “I am a sort of phenomenologist. But, ach, not in Hegel’s way – or Husserl’s.” What sort of phenomenologist was Arendt then? Many scholars struggle with her methodology and it even worried one of her greatest mentors, Karl Jaspers, who complained about the ‘intuitive-chaotic-method’ of her writings. But could it be that there was a consistent methodological framework behind an ostensible chaos? Is it possible that Arendt not only was ‘a sort of phenomenologist’, but a fully fledged representative of the second generation phenomenologists after Husserl and Heidegger – whose members include Sartre, Fink, Merleau-Ponty, Patočka and Lévinas –who transformed phenomenology? In her new book, Sophie Loidolt makes a strong case for an affirmative answer to both of these questions. Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Subjectivity is a very challenging read but it is also a very rewarding book.

Loidolt aims to draw a phenomenology of plurality from Arendt’s work and to illuminate consequences of a politicized approach to phenomenology by doing so. A further objective of the book is to rethink Arendt’s connections to phenomenology, positioning her in the broader context of traditional and contemporary phenomenological discourse (2). Both these aims interweave in Loidolt’s book, where she reconstructs basic phenomenological notions in Arendt, referring mainly to classical accounts of Husserl and Heidegger. The result is a novel account of the phenomenon of ‘actualized plurality’ in Arendt’s writings. Loidolt connects actualized plurality to the activities of acting, speaking and judging, which through their actualization evoke different spaces of meaning, where multiple subjects can appear to each other. The book brings Arendt into dialogue with numerous phenomenologists, most notably Merleau-Ponty and Lévinas. Further, Loidolt places her reflections in the broad context of Arendt-scholarship, although she distances herself from some prevalent paradigms present in the contemporary debate: the line of interpretation informed by the Frankfurt School (Habermas, Benhabib, Wellmer, and others), the poststructuralist approach (Honig, Villa, Heuer, Mouffe and others), as well as from the treatment of Arendt’s oeuvre from a purely political perspective, hence ‘de-philosophizing’ her (4) (Disch, Dietz, Canovan, Passerind’Entrèves, and others). In contrast, Loidolt aspires to rediscover the philosophical dimension in Arendt, not by depoliticizing her work, but rather by emphasizing the coexistence of both aspects and the connections between them. This inclusive gesture resonates with Arendt’s unwillingness to belong to any club and, consequently, with the difficulty to ascribe her to one academic field rather than to another.

Loidolt begins her book by invoking her intention to illuminate the philosophical dimension of Arendt’s work without distorting it by ignoring its other dimensions and deriving from it her goal to unveil the philosophical significance of Arendt’s work through a phenomenological examination of the notion of plurality. Many texts within Arendt-scholarship simply adopt Arendt’s language – often full of beautiful and meaningful expressions – without supplying a deeper analysis of its content and context. This is not the case with Sophie Loidolt’s book. She does not just ‘talk the talk’, she also delves deep into the meaning of Arendt’s language. Loedolt’s expertise in phenomenology allow her to achieve this goal, which also contributes to the achievement of her broader aim to familiarize both phenomenologists with Arendt and Arendtian scholars with foundations of phenomenology. The complexity of Loidolt’s book lies in this twofold focus: at first glance, it seems that the reader should have an extensive background both in Arendt and in phenomenology – a combination, which, as the author admits, is uncommon (2 – 8) but Loidolt does not demand so much of her readers. She draws numerous parallels between Arendt’s theory and those of other philosophers, whose status as phenomenologists is less contested, and she also continually draws readers’ attention to methodological elements that lie at ‘the heart of the phenomenological project’ (e.g. 25, 75, 125, 176). This way, she completes the task of introducing Arendt to phenomenologists and of introducing foundations of phenomenology to the Arendtians masterfully. Although this approach means that the book is not an easy read, it is definitely worth the effort.

The book consists essentially of two parts: in the first part, Transforming Phenomenology: Plurality and the Political, the author elaborates on the relation between Arendt’s account and phenomenology, whereas in the second part, Actualizing Plurality: The We, the Other, and the Self in Political Intersubjectivity, Loidolt develops her own phenomenological interpretation of Arendt’s philosophy of plurality. Each part comprises three chapters, divided into numerous subchapters, which makes this complex text more reader-friendly. The book is easy to navigate: every chapter begins with a very neat summary of the previous contents and a preview of what is tofollow. As such, each piece of theory that we encounter in subsection is approachable and easy to situate within the overall framework of Loidolt’s study. The only potential editorial refinement that comes to mind would be to number subchapters and to list these in the Contents, especially since the author often refers to subchapters by its number (e.g. 3.2), but these are not to be found in the current layout of the book.

In the first chapter, Loidolt lays the foundation for her investigation by drawing on the primordial event of the emergence of plurality. She sets off by reconstructing Arendt’s critique of Existenz Philosophy and classical phenomenology, based mostly on her early writings from the ‘1940s. The author sketches Arendt’s argument against (or at least relativizing) phenomenological accounts of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, as well as her take on Jaspers, who represents ‘all that is good about Existenz Philosophy’ (35). Through these moves of association and distinction, says Loidolt, Arendt formulates what can be described as ‘new political philosophy’ (39-40) – even if Arendt herself would have considered this a contradiction in terms. Arendt had good theoretical reasons to renounce philosophy altogether, but since Loidolt aims at recovering the philosophical profundity of her thought, this term seems to be acceptable in this context. The key elements of the new political philosophy would then be a focus on the being-with dimension of human existence (42), a refusal to engage in the project of mastering once being (26, 44), and hence also underlining the fragility of the realm of human affairs (46). These elements resonate with central categories of Arendt’s account of the political: plurality, freedom, and natality.

After having ‘provided a point of departure for a phenomenology of plurality’ (51), in the second chapter Loidolt puts actualizing plurality in a space of appearance in the center of her reflection. She emphasizes its active character as a contingent, non-necessary event and identifies it as a core phenomenon of Arendt’s new political philosophy. The chapter consists of an analysis of three central notions that indicate Arendt’s affinity to phenomenological approach: appearance, experience, and world. Each section traces one of the aforementioned notions back to its origins and shows its relevance for the project of the new political philosophy. First, Loidolt explores the notion of appearance, establishing, with Villa, its status as constitutive of reality (55). Through illuminating this ontological status of appearance in Arendt, Loidolt proves her to be a phenomenologist at heart: Arendt insists on exclusive primacy of appearance, an idea that she gets primarily from transforming Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenological accounts and not, as Villa and Beiner argue (55), from Kant. Following Cavarero’s claim that Arendt’s political theory implies a radical form of phenomenological ontology, Loidolt retraces Arendt’s project of pluralization of appearance (64) and unfolds its consequences for her understanding of reality, self and world, referring in the course of her analysis to Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Additionally, the author supplies a table relating respective concepts in Husserl, Heidegger, and Arendt that allows readers to follow the depicted transition at a glance. The second section focuses on the notion of experience. Loidolt offers a short overview of phenomenological-hermeneutic takes on Arendt’s notion of experience, but also investigates the deeper level of her engagement with experience, which goes beyond Arendt’s ‘techniques’ of narration, interpretation, and storytelling and concerns the very structure of experience (76). In the subsection devoted to this deeper level, she links Arendt’s historical hermeneutics to the phenomenological tradition, evoking not only Husserl and Heidegger, but also Lévinas, Merleau-Ponty, Patočka and Fink, and points at the interconnected notions of intentionality and subjectivity, which constitute the structure of experience. She shows how experience in Arendt is being actualized and pluralized, so that experiencing subjects can be conceived as ‘essentially existing as enactment’ in their multiplicity, hence transforming them into a moment of actualized relation (84, 93). The third section discusses Arendt’s concept of the world. Loidolt draws our attention to three notions of the world present in Arendt’s writings: the appearing world, the objective world, and the with-world (93). In her phenomenological analysis (turning again to Husserl and Heidegger), Loidolt displays the interrelation of these three notions and how they build upon one another. Indeed, the notions of the world as the space of appearance and the space of the political (with-world) are often used interchangeably in the literature. Loidolt’s phenomenological perspective contributes greatly to a more nuanced understanding of the difference between the two, which proves to be quite fundamental. Throughout the three sections, Loidolt  constructs the ‘pluralized and politicized’ phenomenological account that Arendt, according to her, had in mind. By doing so, she reaches out to both her target groups: Arendt-scholars and phenomenologists. She shows, on the one hand, that a phenomenological perspective can provide a better and more thorough understanding of Arendt’s theory, without ‘transcendentalizing’ it too far á la Husserl, and, on the other hand, that Arendt’s writings have a vast potential for contemporary social ontology, as pursued by phenomenologically oriented scholars.

In the third chapter of her book, Arendt’s Phenomenological Methodology, Loidolt focuses on two aims. First, she examines human conditionality, referring to a famous (and, as Loidolt shows, easy to misinterpret) systematization of activities from The Human Condition and emphasizing the enactive character of Arendtian conditions. Second, she develops an original interpretation of Arendt’s theory by applying the concept of ‘spaces of meaning’. The first subchapter criticizes approaches that tend to essentialize and solidify different activities and their respective conditions. These are often naively understood analogically to a baby shape sorter: just as every wooden block fits into a particular hole in a box, every human activity correlates to one of three categories. Loidolt, on the contrary, presents labor, work, and action as a dynamic structure, where all conditions are interconnected: “Since all conditions are actualized simply by human existence, i.e. by being a living body, by being involved in the world of objects/tools and by existing in the plural, being human means to dwell, however passively, in all of these meaning-spaces at one and the same time.” (116). In the second section, she presents what amounts to one of the most interesting moments of the book: the articulation of Arendt’s background methodology in terms of “dynamics of spaces of meaning” (123). According to this interpretation, every activity that takes place develops its particular logic, which can be described as a space of meaning. These spaces of meaning stand out as worlds with specific temporality, spatiality, a specific form of intersubjectivity, and an inner logic of sequence, rhythm, and modality (128). Loidolt adds a transformative dimension: a shift in meaning takes place when an activity and its space part (126). In this context, she takes up a controversial discussion about normative character of the private, the political, and the social space in Arendt and joins advocates of “an attitudinal rather than content-specific” interpretation of this distinction (145, cf. Benhabib 2003: 140). With her notion of meaning-spaces, Loidolt offers a vivid image that helps us to comprehend the structure of human existence as presented by Arendt in its full complexity. It also shows us how to avoid interpretative pitfalls resulting from attempts to essentialize human activities and ascribe them to a clear-cut realm, be it the private, the political or the social. Her main effort is directed towards emphasizing the activating element in Arendt’s account: the whole picture awakens before our very eyes.

Chapter 4, which opens the second part of Loidolt’s book, addresses plurality as political intersubjectivity. The author begins with an overview of different interpretations of plurality in various fields: political theory, social ontology, and in Arendt-scholarship. She presents a strong argument for political interpretation of plurality, which she describes as a plurality of first-person perspectives. Such a plurality forms a certain in-between, an assembly of those who act together, which provides a ground for any politics (153). When discussing plurality accounts within political theory (Mouffe, Laclau), Loidolt focuses primarily on post-foundational discourses and praises these for granting plurality ontological relevance. At the same time, she emphasizes that within this approach the first-person perspective gets lost. This, in turn, leads her to phenomenology. She positions her “phenomenological investigation into the social-ontological dimensions of plurality as a political phenomenon” (154) within the area of phenomenology, which addresses the “moral, normative and especially political dimensions of the ‘We’” (154, cf. Szanto& Moran 2016: 9). Subsequently, she sketches a broad context of Arendt-scholarship about plurality and draws our attention to the fact that a suitable answer to one fundamental question often remains a desideratum: What is plurality actually? (156) Loidolt develops an answer to this question in further sections of this chapter. She does so by, first, referring to Husserl and Heidegger – the move we already know from previous chapters. In what follows, she displays her phenomenological interpretation of plurality as ontologically relevant condition of beings as first-person perspectives, who exist in plural. As such, plurality has a fragile status: it can be actualized or not (175). This is one of the most philosophically dense parts of the book, where Loidolt formulates a number of illuminating theses to support her aim. She refers to well-known motives linked to plurality, such as uniqueness, the “who”, multiple points of view, web of relations, but she also evokes some new constellations, such as theorizing acting, speaking, and judging, as three equal-ranking modes of actualizing plurality (183). This chapter paves the way for the two that follow.

Chapter 5, “Actualizing a Plural ‘We’”, focuses on the question of actualization of plural uniqueness. Loidolt emphasizes the crucial problem of the fragility of plurality in terms of such an actualization: plurality can, but does not have to be, actualized. Arendt herself was aware of this fragility, not only in view of great catastrophes of the 20th Century, such as the rise of totalitarianism, but also in terms of human existence in a community in general. Plurality is the central condition of action, which facilitates an emergence of a public space. But ‘acting in concert’ – bringing multiple “who’s” into a common space of the political, is, as Arendt states, a rare event (Arendt 1998: 42). This might seem counterintuitive, since most of us are surrounded by other people on an everyday basis. But, for Arendt, not every human interaction is genuine action. To refer to a notion coined by Loidolt: the respective space of meaning must occur. According to the author, the three activities through which an actualization of plurality takes place are acting, speaking, and judging. As Loidolt herself admits, this constellation of activities is not a common move in interpretations of Arendt’s work (212). Indeed, Arendt counted judging among faculties of the mind. But to anyone familiar with Arendt’s work, Loidolt’s justification for bring the three together will be apparent. In the three sections of the chapter, she pursues a phenomenological inquiry of each of these activities with respect to their potential to actualize plurality. First, she brings Arendtian speaking together with Heidegger’s ‘being-as-speaking-with-one-another’ (195). She then presents acting as praxis or performance and points to its inherent connection to plurality: acting always appears within a web of relationships (200). Finally, Loidolt approaches judging not only in political terms, but she also draws our attention to its reflective dimension (213 – 218). However, judging differs from the other two activities because, while it seems capable of actualizing plurality as intersubjectivity, it does so in a slightly different space of meaning, which is not a space of appearance per se. Loidolt addresses the issue of public appearance directly in the course of this chapter, emphasizing that ‘actualized plurality needs the visibility of an in-between’ (225). The question of how this can refer to the faculty of judgment remains somewhat vague. It is clear that our “who” does not appear to others in judging in the same way, as it appears on what Arendt calls ‘the stage of the world’ (Arendt 2007: 233, 249. Arendt uses this expression only in the German version of the text). The community of judgment is an imaginary one, so we may only speak of appearance of the “who” in a metaphorical sense. Thus, Loidolt’s argument here calls for further investigation. This, however, does not jeopardize her overarching argument for an ethics of actualized plurality (230).

The question of normative potential of Arendt’s theory and its alleged ‘lack of moral foundations’ (233, cf. Benhabib 2006) is the theme of the last chapter of Loidolt’s book. As the author argues, a phenomenological inquiry shows that “ethical elements are inherent within Arendt’s conception of the political qua actualized plurality” (233) and do not need to be imposed on it from outside. The aim of this chapter is hence to provide the readers with an intrinsic ethics of actualized plurality (235). Loidolt begins with an analysis of thinking in Arendt. She does not follow interpretations “investigating the inner tension between the bipolar ‘moral self’ and Plurality”, but tends, rather, to maintain the specific separation of the political and the moral (234 – 235). This comes as a surprise, since Loidolt presents a convincing case for ‘pluralization’ of so many other phenomena throughout her book. Thinking, on the contrary, appears as a ‘solitary business’ and a ‘lonely experience’. This is a one-sided interpretation of Arendt’s concept of thinking. Obviously, it fits Loidolt’s argumentation at this point, but it also neglects the pluralistic aspect of thinking as an inner dialogue and its implications for the emergence of the ‘who’. As Arendt says, “And thought, in contradiction to contemplation with which it is all too frequently equated, is indeed an activity, and moreover, an activity that has certain moral results, namely that he who thinks constitutes himself into somebody, a person or a personality” (Arendt 2003: 105), even if she directly clarifies the difference between activity and acting. Loidolt takes a different path and describes thinking as a ‘derivative phenomenon’ (235) that cannot be a point of departure for an ethics of actualized plurality. Granted, this corresponds to the conditions of actualization of a “we”, which she identifies as: directedness/intentionality, authenticity, and visibility. At least visibility was not her concern in case of judging, though, while it seems to be decisive when it comes to denouncing thinking as a lonely enterprise. This, however, is my only criticism of Loidolt’s analysis. Overall, she presents a convincing account that integrates a particular normative – or rather proto-normative (234) – element into Arendt’s concept of plurality. She shows the fragility of the space created by action and plurality, but not only to emphasize its unsteady status. More importantly, she transforms this fragility into an asset: action follows its intrinsic logic, which means that it can be interrupted and taken up again, hence it is open to redefinition and reinterpretation by multiple interpreters (237). Through faculties of forgiving and promising, we establish relations between persons, which bring an element of the ‘empowerment through others’ into play (139). Loidolt then discusses ethical demands, which intertwine with domains other than the political: life, truth, and reason. Here, as she argues, actualized plurality is ethically relevant to addressing current global challenges of totalitarianism and biopolitics (234). Loidolt closes this illuminating chapter by reaching out to Lévinas and his ethics of alteritas and by presenting benefits of interrelating both theories (252).

Loidolt rightly contests the common belief that Arendt’s methodology was eclectic and random (52). Through her thorough and deep phenomenological investigation of Arendt’s political thought, she makes a successful attempt to display its overall methodological framework (which may not even have been fully evident to Arendt herself, considering her lack of interest in a methodological self-analysis). Husserl and Heidegger play a major role as references in Loidolt’s study, which is methodologically and historically comprehensible. It is an additional benefit of the book that she brings other phenomenologists from the ‘second generation’ (7) into play, which further underlines the potential for Arendt’s work to guide contemporary phenomenological inquiry. Loidolt also draws our attention to a particular feature of Arendt’s corpus: she wrote many of her texts first in English – a foreign language to her and not the one in which she received her philosophical education – then rewrote them in German herself. (12, 265). Loidolt, a native German speaker, observes that she found phenomenological traits to be omnipresent in the German versions of Arendt texts. She was surprised to discover that these traits were either much less apparent orabsent entirely from the English versions. This, I would argue, is one of the reasons why Arendt’s potential for phenomenology is not universally recognized and also why phenomenological takes on Arendt remain outside of the mainstream of Arendt scholarship, at least within the Anglophone reception. Another reason lies probably in the difficulty involved in comprehending Arendt’s particular phenomenological approach. However, Loidolt suggests that doing so is the only way to fully understand Arendt. I am not convinced that this claim can be supported without restrictions. First, there are multiple very appealing interpretations of Arendt that completely abstract from her bonds to phenomenology. Second, it seems to be quite far away from the Arendtian spirit to assert that there is only one perspective on a story. Loidolt herself emphasizes that she does not want to force Arendt into any club (2). Nevertheless, through her impressive study, Loidolt advocates her case very convincingly. It is possible to see Arendt’s work through multiple lenses, but it is indeed very difficult to ignore the phenomenological lens, since once it has been applied what has been seen cannot be unseen. Therefore, due to its comprehensiveness and the depth of Loidolt’s analysis, the book has great potential, not only to inspire a new, phenomenologically-oriented appreciation of Arendt’s work but also to become a crucial contribution to Arendt scholarship.


Arendt, Hannah. 2007. Vita activa. München/Zürich: Piper.

Arendt, Hannah. 2003. Some Questions of Moral Philosophy. In: H. Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment. New York: Schocken.

Arendt, Hannah. 1998. The Human Condition. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Benhabib, Seyla. 2006. Judgment and the Moral Foundations of Politics in Arendt’s Thought. In: Garrath Williams (ed.), Hannah Arendt: Critical Assesment of Leading Political Philosophers, Vol 4., pp. 234 – 253. London/New York: Routledge.

Benhabib, Seyla. 2003. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. New Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Szanto, Thomas & Moran, Dermot (eds.). 2016. The Phenomenology of Sociality: Discovering the ‘We’. London/New York.

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. 1982. For Love of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Robert C. Scharff: Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018

Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological: Interpreting Husserl through Dilthey, 1916–1925 Book Cover Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological: Interpreting Husserl through Dilthey, 1916–1925
New Heidegger Research
Robert C. Scharff
Rowman & Littlefield International
Paperback $39.95

Viorel Cernica (Ed.): Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume

Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume Book Cover Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume
Viorel Cernica (Ed.)
Bucharest University Press

Reviewed by: Andrei Simionescu-Panait (Romanian Society for Phenomenology)

This volume engages with Pre-judicative Hermeneutics, a phenomenologically- and hermeneutically-oriented framework that rose to prominence in Romanian-speaking academic circles in 2013 with Viorel Cernica’s Judgment and Time: The Phenomenology of Judgment (Judecată şi timp. Fenomenologia judicativului). Like Cernica’s monograph, this volume is in Romanian. A second volume in the series has just been published. These publications are driven by scholars at the University of Bucharest.

Cernica’s idea of a Pre-judicative Hermeneutics is intended as a counterpart to Husserlian phenomenology. His point of departure is constitutive phenomenology; the brand of phenomenology that focuses on the ways in which judgments are constituted from an otherwise pre-reflective level of experience. For Cernica, there are certain aspects of judgment that are not constituted and cannot support constitution. He has attempted to account for these aspects of ‘non-judicative’ experience.

The starting point for such an account is a process of ‘de-constitution’. According to this process, the hermeneuts’ job is to engage with quasi-objectual pre-judgment and prevent it from reaching a constituted judgment. This may remind some readers of the illustrative charioteer metaphor that Plato invokes in his Theaetetus. Focussing on an impulsive pre-judgment reveals its inherent behavior and promotes a better understanding of both judgment and its correlates.

The volume brings together five texts plus an extensive introduction by Cernica. A reader familiar with more traditional approaches to phenomenology may find it useful to commence with Oana Șerban’s contribution. Cernica’s chapter is more of a straight-to-business type of philosophical text and less of a pedagogical introduction. Of the remaining chapters, two use Cernica’s phenomenologically inspired method of inquiry regarding pre-judgments. A third can be contrasted with the first two in both terminology and scope. The last contribution attempts to explain why meontology is a natural match for Cernica’s brand of hermeneutics. On the one hand, these contributions are the results of an intersubjective phenomenological effort (what Herbert Spiegelberg’s calls‘symphilosophizing’). Indeed, Mihai-Dragoș Vadana and Remus Breazu’s respective chapters have emerged from lengthy seminar discussions. On the other hand, the reader should not expect a single, consistent and coordinated approach on behalf of the contributors.

When it comes to Cernica’s introduction, he focuses on the concepts of pre-judgment and non-judgment. Cernica believes that the constitutive nature of traditional phenomenology forfeits the possibility of making sense ofthe pre-judicative level of experience. According to the de-constitutive process, not only do I have to suspend judgment, it is more interesting to try to understand how I can roll back my instinct to judge in a certain way. A more traditional phenomenologist may argue that rolling back my instinct to judge is a constitutive process in itself, so any sense of de-constitution is actually a way of constituting a portion of the world in a different way altogether. According to Cernica, one cannot deny that every experience (in the broadest sense of the word) is constituted. What one can deny is the idea that every experience encompasses all previous experiences such that they bloom into full judgments. Not all experiences result in object fulfillment indicative of judgment because they are cases of de-constitution. At a phenomenological level, such cases refer to moments of experience where the order of the lifeworld is bothered by something I cannot really place my finger on (no matter what I do). This persistent yet elusive bothering is the non-judicative gateway towards the permanently tense pre-judicative sphere of experiencing that is the focal point for pre-judicative hermeneutics.

Vadana attempts to marry ideas from Cernica’s method with those of Romanian philosopher Mircea Florian. He underlines the contrast between constitutive judging and regulative judging, which revolves around being configured by judgment’s formal structure (subject-predicate) – in the case of constitutive judging – or not – in the case of regulative judging. Vadana proceeds from this distinction in order to explore the non-formal origin of regulative judging. He finds a similar conceptual behavior in both regulative judging and the notion of recessivity. The basic formulation of recessivity involves the distinction between emerging and the source of the emergence. For instance, culture recedes from nature, objects of consciousness recede from acts of consciousness, and so on. By analogy, Vadana sees that regulative judging recedes from regular constitutive judging. In a certain sense, thisreflects the de-constitutive move made by Cernica. In order to express the similarities, Vadana focusses on Aristotle’s account of post-predicaments – those stable characteristics that inevitably occur with judgment. Vadana thinks that the study of post-predicaments is, in fact, the study of the phenomenon of pre-judging;one studies consequences to know what one can always expect.

Breazu’s contribution concerns the distinction between absurdity and non-sense. Absurd judgments are problematic but still respect the basic formal requirements of judgments. Even though some arguments are dominated by absurdity, they still make sense and can sometimes develop into convincing philosophical arguments. For instance, for a phenomenologist, the idea of a thing-in-itself is absurd. Rather, phenomenologists acknowledge that things are things one intends in a certain manner. On that basis, phenomenologists can acknowledge that one is able to constitute absurd judgments. Breazu distinguishes between logical absurdity and objectual absurdity. Whereas logical absurdity is something that can be constituted, objectual absurdity is defined by the inability to have full constitution in the field of consciousness. Breazu describes this inability as non-sensical. Appropriating Cernica’s framework, he suggests that something does not make sense if the non-judicative clashes with the formal territory of judgment; if a syntactic slip results from otherwise sound judgments. This can be compared to a case where a quasi-object of consciousness, which has never been constitutively fulfilled (e.g. seeing a mirage under the full summer sunlight), is violently adapted to the formal rigor of the sharpest HD camera. Indeed, it makes no sense to experience a crystal-clear mirage. Breazu shows that Cernica’s focus on de-constitution (as opposed to constitution) can, in fact, enrich phenomenological discourse. It is still unclear whether Cernica interprets his hermeneutics as a species of phenomenology.

Oana Șerban’s chapter provides an assessment of the compatibility of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and pre-judicative hermeneutics. With regards to Merleau-Ponty’s account of perceptual belief, Șerban focusses on the concept of pre-reflection, which is conceived as a guarantee for belief that does not enter the field of judgment. She argues that perceptual belief must rely on the concept of pre-reflection. She traces the roots of Cernica’s concept of pre-judgment in Merleau-Ponty’s concept of pre-reflection. Thus, Șerban’s exegesis adds a supplementary layer of meaning to some of Cernica’s ideas.

Cornel Moraru discusses the idea of meontology in the context of Cernica’s framework. He explores the concept of questioning by applying the idea of de-constitution. He holds that serious questions (as opposed to ironic and rhetorical ones) constitutively rely on a certain nothingness, or absence, without which there could be no questioning. Furthermore, he argues that affectivity is configured by such an absence. Moraru refers to the study of de-constituted questioning as meontology.

This volume’s particular strength relies in its novel ideas and its use of classical philosophical terminology. These innovative ideas will provoke phenomenologists that are interested in the experiential aspects of judgment constitution and de-constitution. However, the volume’s unifying thread does not surface easily; the last two texts are only minimally connected to the theme of pre-judicative hermeneutics. Furthermore, the volume only partially delivers on what it promises, that is, to clarify the meaning and nature of pre-judicative hermeneutics.

Steven DeLay: Phenomenology in France: A Philosophical and Theological Introduction, Routledge, 2019

Phenomenology in France: A Philosophical and Theological Introduction Book Cover Phenomenology in France: A Philosophical and Theological Introduction
Steven DeLay
Paperback £24.99