It is somewhat easy to forget that philosophy has not always, or in every case, been conducted through the medium of writing. For the most part, we expect philosophy to be written. But the written-ness of philosophy is contingent, and so too is its suspension in the written: in literature, media, interview, and of course poetry. Socrates and Plato, or instance, did not make much use of citation and Plato especially elevated philosophy at the expense of poetry and drama. And, indeed, this contingency is all the more difficult for philosophers to fathom, because the written word is usually the trade-mechanism by which we philosophize, and through which we think. The experienced phenomena of reading and writing are the basic instruments of philosophy, as we practice it. Writing is not merely the way we convey and transmit ideas, born and nurtured in the mind. Rather, when we look at the phenomena of reading and writing, we see the ebb and flow of epiphany, of doubt, of enlightenment and invention. Writing is quite often how we philosophize at all.
The primordial disciplinary decision to move the vague shapes and shadows of our ideas from their mental and social obscurity (and incompletion) to the written word—a decision which none of us living had any hand in making— itself has philosophical ramifications. That is to say that the presupposition of philosophy’s written-ness, is shot through with questions: questions about the truth, as well as metaphilosophical questions about the place of philosophy within the universal/Borgesian «Library of Babel» it has chosen for itself, about the necessity of writing philosophy and the necessity of philosophy regarding other kinds of written works, about the relationship between philosophical, literary, journalistic, and poetical styles to reality, truth, clarity, and that part of the human spirit to which philosophy wants to appeal.
Charles Bambach’s and Theodore George’s anthology, Philosophers and Their Poets lights upon these fundamental questions of philosophy-as-word, as speech, and as our connection to one another and to the real through a series of serious, considered, and illuminating papers examining the relationship of philosophers to art, style, and of course poetry. I see these papers as being divided into four more-or-less distinguishable subject-categories: 1) papers dealing with German idealist discourse around the role and status of art, poetry, and beauty in what they regard as a burgeoning philosophical and rational world, 2) analyses of Nietzsche’s philosophy of art as it serves as a kind of hinge—indeed serves as itself a revealing poem—between idealism and more phenomenological and existential traditions, 3) those dealing with Heidegger’s encounters with poetry as a revolutionary force in meaning-making, and 4) those which proceed from the poems themselves to philosophical analyses.
The first three chapters of this collection take us through the foundations of these questions of style and artistry in the German idealist tradition. The first essay by Maria de Rosario Acosta Lopez analyses a historical controversy between Schiller and Fichte over philosophical style and the part of the human being to which philosophy must speak. This is followed by Chapter 2, which presents us with a very clear and compelling translation of the very letters exchanged between Schiller and Fichte, regarding philosophical style. These first chapters elucidate a possible ambiguity between reason and feeling, which gives way to a possible ambiguity between philosophy and poetry. This ambiguity leads Hegel’s intuitions, both conceptually and historically. Theodore George argues in Chapter 3 that philosophy and art have a similar purpose in the creation of world-historical meaning, for Hegel. We see a transition from any concern about the purity of philosophy in Fichte to an embrace of its meaning-founding affinities with religion and art in the later work of Hegel.
Chapters 4 and 5 deal with Nietzsche, whose philosophy marks a kind of transition between German idealism and the phenomenological and existential (represented by thinkers like Heidegger and Gadamer), which will occupy the four of the volume’s remaining chapters. In Chapter 4, Babette Babich analyses Nietzsche’s relationship to ancient Greek tragic poetry, to its lost poets, and to their time-silenced songs in the interest of revealing what are indisputable contributions to philosophy itself, contra an extant tradition in the literature which more or less excludes him from the field. The fifth Chapter by Kalliopi Nikolopoulou investigates Nietzsche’s attachment to the heroic in Greek tragedy. Nietzsche saw ancient heroes and the poets who sung their tales as perhaps doubly heroic, she argues, since they might remedy Modern nihilism.
Chapters 5, 7, and 8 all deal with Heidegger’s encounters with poetry—as both the truth and the promise of philosophy. Like Schiller, Hegel, and Nietzsche Heidegger sees poetry as revealing a fuller truth than that accessible by reason alone. But it is only with Hegel that Heidegger shares this concept of the promise of poetry; both Heidegger and Hegel think art has (or once had) the power to inaugurate worlds and imbue them with meaning. Charles Bambach’s sixth Chapter for this volume begins at the interstices of aesthetics and ethics, mired in this Heideggerian meaning-making power/promise of the poem. He finds that the poem—in granting us access to our humanity in full—promises an originary ethics of our place, and (I’ll say) perfection, which is utterly opaque to us without the poetic disclosure. In the seventh Chapter, «Remains,» William McNeill addresses the futurity any concept of a promise must take for granted. He argues that Heidegger’s confrontations with Hölderlin’s poetry open up novel relations and meanings for us by altering the medium of time. Hölderlin’s works according to McNeill demonstrate a substratum of ambiguity in time wherein the greeting and remembrance are indistinct. Thus, the poem’s novel horizonality inaugurates a new world by possibilizing new projects, new relations to one another, and even new relations to the dead. Chapter 8 is likewise about the time of the poem, but it looks to its momentum, to the cadence of thought. Such poietic momentum, Krystof Ziarek argues, is experienced as rhythm and even texture. When philosophy takes on this cadence, it transcends the mere transmission of information and exceeds the possibilities of the argument: demonstrating in this excess new possibilities for thought itself.
Chapters 9, 10, and 11 emerge from analyses of poets and poetic works, rather than from within the philosophical theories which have taken them up. This provides what I think is a novel opportunity for philosophers who might not themselves read much poetry. It is a strange admission to make here, I suppose, that I have likely read more philosophical works which abstract from and selectively cite poems than I have poems themselves. To the question, «Is poetry true?» Chapter nine of Philosophers and Their Poets poses a kind of phenomenological/experimental response; «In order to answer this question maybe no extensive conceptual discussion of truth is needed…just attention to a particular poem led by the question how such a poem can be read and understood.» To this end, Gunther Figal looks to Burnt Norton» by T.S. Eliot. Chapter 10, by Gert-Jan van der Heiden, which I discuss in some greater detail below, looks to the somewhat revolutionary poetry of Célan, which render in poetic verse that promise of a different world, or of new meanings, of new homes—out of the silence, the nothingness, that must follow the decay of status-quo intelligibility, in the rests, and breaths that keep familiar meaning from crossing living lips. In Chapter 11, Max Kommerell (who has been translated here by Christopher D. Merwin and Margot Wielgus) provides an analysis of Hölderlin’s Empedocles poem, which demonstrates his distinctiveness. In particular, this analysis lays bare Hölderlin’s perhaps utterly unique poetic «ear,» which attunes him to cosmic harmonies and truths, and places what is revealed in his writing always-already outside the grasp of our concepts; «…in accord with his talent, Hölderlin could experience what, for us, lies at an ungraspable distance and is a hardly thinkable event as the real history of his soul.»
Because of its historical breadth, this anthology might serve as a kind of introduction to the specific questions that arise from continental philosophy’s various encounters with poetry. But the book would only be an appropriate introduction for somewhat advanced students of philosophy, familiar with continental thought, and its historical movements. It is therefore I think primarily suited to philosophers already researching some of the questions outlined in my introduction. These would also be invaluable secondary sources for interdisciplinary researchers. I would readily recommend the volume, for example, to anyone writing at the interstices of philosophy or art and aesthetics with ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, and metaphysics. This recommendation is in no small part because the authors in this volume have done an excellent job bringing the stakes of philosophy of art to the surface.
Art, especially as poetry, has had an inescapable influence on philosophical thinking throughout its 2000+ years of development. If the bare written-ness of philosophy opens up as many questions as it does, then what does its ready and intimate relationship to poetry mean for us? What does it say about philosophy itself: its veracity, its trustworthiness? And, perhaps more promisingly: What does it say about poetry, about its kind of truth? Bambach and George introduce the works in this anthology by way of a kind of conclusion:
What we find in poetry is the unfolding of the very momentum of language as an originary opening up and emergence that does not fit into the metaphysical encasements of presence and representation… Against the propositional language of statements, poetic language invites us to heed the pauses, the interruptions, and the caesurae that call us to attend to what is not said or can never be said in language.
They find that poetry invites that part of the human spirit which can attend to the immutable mysteries of our existence and of Being, in general, to attend to these mysteries, in spite of their inherent obscurity. Poetry, in short, invites us to philosophize. We come up against this indistinction between the philosophical and the poetic, as we read the essays collected in Philosophers and Their Poets, again and again. The philosophical—which has, in many of its iterations attempted to void itself of the poetic, to let beauty die of neglect—is shot through with the poetic. The poetic is unavoidably philosophical: so much so that we might call any promise of truth philosophy might make, at all, the «poetic.»
We cannot help but ask here, where ordinary categories fail; Who are the philosophers and who the poets of Philosophers and Their Poets? Some thinkers examined within the volume trouble themselves with the differences, while others embrace, and even invest fully in the similarities. (Although, the indistinction between the poetic and the philosophical may, in the end, be why we feel compelled to draw such a distinction in the first place, rendering both derivative).
Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez’s analysis of a confrontation between Schiller and Fichte begins the essays in the collection and does so as an inauguration of the very questions with which we have been tarrying. Most importantly, the argument between these Modern titans lays bare a very basic metaphilosophical point I had not ever before considered: that all writing, all discourse, and all philosophy must speak either to the whole of the human being or to some part of her. Philosophy might, therefore, have a different audience than does poetry, news, or fiction even within the same enfleshed and living reader. Fichte presupposes that philosophy must solicit only some part of the subject. He argues that philosophical writing must be as logical as possible, using examples in such a way that they shore up arguments rather than evoke the sensible and imaginative capacities. This is because, on his view, philosophy takes aim at the Understanding alone. Other capacities of the subject are not relevant, on this view, to the philosophical pursuit of truth. Such a pursuit can, therefore, only be successful if it is confined to this valence of subjectivity.
But, is such a well-fortified compartmentalization of subjective parts, regions, and capacities even possible for more contemporary thinkers? Doesn’t Continental Philosophy’s «phenomenological turn» render anathema the very idea that philosophy might reach something like the tower-bound understanding—especially without dirtying itself in the more immanent ground of evoking and implicating imagination, sensation, and body? Indeed I think many of us would agree that philosophy might not be able to find and transmit truth if it does not consider and speak to the whole human being. Rosario Acosta Lopez shows that Schiller’s evocations of imagination insert «…in the heart of human action the elements of contingency, finitude and a permanent and necessary dialog with a world that is never entirely in our power to control.» Contra Fichte, Schiller’s more poetical and evocative style is veridical: showing us the world in its more awe-inspiring and challenging true-light.
My continual tendency, aside from the inquiry itself, is to employ the ensemble of emotional forces and to the extent that it is possible to affect all of them. I thus do not wish merely to make my thoughts clear to others, but at the same time to transmit my entire soul to them, and to influence bother their sensuous and intellectual powers.
Schiller makes an epistemological, existential, and ontological point with his imaginative and sensuous writing style. He also makes a metaphilosophical one, which proceeds naturally from undermining the understanding’s epistemic monopoly; «[T]he discussion reflects on philosophy itself, inviting us to understand the boundaries of thought, and the very rich possibilities that come along [sic] the recognition of these boundaries.» The understanding has boundaries precisely with regard to the philosophical and cannot philosophize without pooling resources with something like the integrated-and-whole embodied subject.
This more phenomenologically salient, existential understanding of the poetic nature of philosophical writing (and of the philosophical nature of poetic writing, as well) seems to prevail in the context of the anthology as it deals with authors like Heidegger and Gadamer. Poetic writing, as it reaches the whole human being and casts its creeping, seeking, tendrils even into the most obscure and mysterious depths of the soil of our Being, and our Becoming.
Hegel might seem an odd-man-out in terms of this generalization since he does not affirm the indistinct boundaries between philosophy and art. His infamous and oft-misunderstood argument for the «end of art» and the primacy of philosophy is a testament to this. Yet, Theodore George shows Hegel nonetheless sees art as serving a similar function to philosophy in the founding and transmission of meaning, even in the Modern world. This function unsurprisingly has to do with truth. Art, religion, and philosophy allow «a society…to take a good look at itself, to make explicit its deepest context of meaning, the context that otherwise remains merely tacit even as it shapes, orients and grants legitimacy to all further meanings within that society.»
On George’s account in this volume, Hegel should be read as saying that between art and philosophy as well as between Classical and Romantic art, there are no differences in kind. Rather there are differences in context, which yield differences in the magnitude of their respective world-founding forces. Hegel thinks that Classical artworks originarily founded, grounded, and justified Greek culture. Everything in this period—including the first works of philosophy— derives from and makes sense in reference to this founding. Within the modern period, however, art bears no such promise and philosophy must provide our social foundations. The ancient context gave art a greater share of the inauguration, transmission, and preservation of its truth. The modern era by necessity gives it less.
On this view, the nascent philosophy of the ancient world could not but be derivative of its more originary sculptural founding, and thus will be supplanted by modern philosophy: the first philosophy to successfully found and ground a world-historical epoch. Hegel argues that modernity is, in essence, a revaluation, whereby philosophy accrues a greater degree of veridical force. This changing of worlds, the promise of new meanings and truths—the world-historical dawn in which Hegel feels himself bathed—this is the promise of philosophy as poetic and of poetry as philosophical, which comes to dominate Philosophers and Their Poets. Inchoate in language are new worlds.
Babette Babich’s search for Nietzsche’s all-but-lost poet, Archilochus, lays bare the tension with which humanity is suspended upon the Earth. The truth of tragedy is a musical truth, she concludes. But what is music within the Nietzschean paradigm other than «the becoming human of dissonance?» In music, we take up into the body our irresolute difference from the world and its entities: a tension that cannot be resolved so long as we are of this world. Such a tension as that between the world and its dominant species is perfectly thought as musical dissonance; dissonance heard arises from the proximity of one note with the other, the greatest dissonance from the greatest similarity, proximity, intimacy.
This is what distinguishes us as the exception among beings, that we both inhabit and are inhabited by an inescapable uncanniness that pervades our ethos.
This tension between the «possible nearness and necessary remoteness of all things» to us is the foundation of Heidegger’s philosophy, especially his philosophy of poetry and art. That strangeness and disquiet that emerges most strongly, most sustained, from the smallest margins of difference, from the tightest chasms of intimacy. We seek the resolution, like any listener, any composer. But the resolution cannot happen here, within our fraught intimacy with a world that cannot harmonize with us; a world that—through Modernity, mechanization, and technologization—we have mistakenly set to sing a different song from us, altogether. Philosophers and Their Poets allows us to tarry with the major philosophical insight that there are however possible—that is, horizonal, not-yet-actual/arrived—worlds, with which we could harmonize.
Such worlds, on Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s accounts, seem to exist just beyond the concepts that make up our reality: possibilities invisible to us because we have a faith in the world, which could perhaps shatter upon rocks of the right philosophical or poetic work. William McNeill argues that Heidegger’s encounters with poetry reveal the limits of phenomenology, and therefore of the truth-telling capacity of our very experience. Poetry reveals those limits of our world which serve as its conditions of possibility (time), and thus what is real beyond our comprehension, or our apprehension, through the structures of meaning in which we are presently enmeshed. Bambach argues that the poet sings the philosopher his longing for his «own home amid the experience of expulsion,» in an uncanny home, in an intelligibility which fails to make sense of the philosopher and indeed each of us, an intelligibility that thus desacralizes us, flattens and debases us. But the poet’s hymn is a heralding hymn, which points «ahead to the futural coming of the gods.» Gods, of course, found worlds. And perhaps the poet can sing the eventual creation of a home that protects our dignity, sanctifies us, and sets us forever free of the old intelligibility.
The anthology presents oscillations and refinements of this insight throughout the history of Western thought—from Nietzsche’s conception of world-revolutionary «revaluation,» to Heidegger’s alethic revelation of (extant and real) values, the existential progressivism of so-called ontological and ethical «ambiguity,» and Gadamer’s «subdued hope…» The notes that harmonize with our being, hum imperceptibly all around us; we just need philosophy and art to amplify them, and finally to change the song of the world.
With new worlds, of course, come new ethics, new values, new ways of being with one another, and even new entities. The works collected in Philosophers and Their Poets confront the abyss of the as-of-yet inchoate possibilities of this new world—hidden in the bare written-ness of philosophy—and they do so with an eye to what’s at stake in such questions for denizens of the present world. We should, I think, desire new answers to the question, «Who are we?” While I am reticent to add much of anything extra-textual to such a rich volume, I will say I feel we cannot but look at our current world in mourning, in longing. The coming of another means the terrifying demise of the world. But it might finally mean the embrace of the Other, of one another, no matter how strange we’ve been to each other:
Language gives us shelter… by deconstructing word and language the poem sets free another horizon, namely the horizon of the unfamiliar… the horizon of heaven.
The stranger, in her approach through the medium of the poem; The strange in its approach through the medium of the poem; Both approach with their arms outstretched, and paradise in their hands, according to Célan.
I do not believe a poem alone can save us (unless our definition of «poetry» becomes so diffuse as to lose all meaning). After all, the horrors of this world have easily survived any beauty in it. I therefore even have to regard the destructive power Célan grants poetry with some skepticism. Nonetheless, I do think that (poetic) beauty has its place, as we attempt to turn the world over and reveal its other side. Alongside Schiller, I feel poetic language might help to engage the entire human being in the work of making a way for new meanings. As social and political creatures we are, of course, embodied and intercorporeal, only partially rational. If poetry is world-transitional in the ways Heidegger and Célan argue, it is in part because we cannot migrate to a new world by virtue of our rationality alone. Beauty as justice, as long-awaited relief, as burgeoning post-revolutionary responsibilities to one another, even as forgiveness, as absolution: this is the medium of revolutionary beauty, which might both carry us to a new world as well as compose this world in its meter, its tone, and its colors (as the paint carries us to the world of the painting, by the very act of creating that world). Such a medium perhaps makes possible—even beckons—the revolutionary poem. And thus we might be called to the selfless, futural, heartache of revolutionary beauty by the poets of our current, decaying, world as well. A poem alone may not be able to save us, but I am inclined to take what help there is.
 Günter Figal, “Learning from Poetry: On Philosophy, Poetry, and T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 204.
 Max Kommerell, “An ‘Almost Imperceptible Breathturn’: Gadamer on Célan,» Translated by C. Merwin and M. Wielgus, in Philosophers and Their Poets, 260.
 Charles Bambach and Theodore George. 2019. Philosophers and Their Poets. Albany: State University of New York Press, 5-6.
 Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez, “On the Poetical Nature of Philosophical Writing: A Controversy over Style Between Schiller and Fichte,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 37.
 “Fichte and Schiller Correspondence, from Fichte’s Werke, Vol. 8 (De Gruyter).” Translated by Christopher Turner, in Philosophers and Their Poets, 56.
 Maria del Rosario Acosta Lopez, “On the Poetical Nature of Philosophical Writing: A Controversy over Style Between Schiller and Fichte,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 37.
 Babette Babich, “Who is Nietzsche’s Archilochus? Rhythm and the Problem of the Subject,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 103.
 Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’ Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 146.
 William McNeill, “Remains: Heidegger and Hölderlin amid the Ruins of Time,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 179.
 Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’s Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 152.
 Charles Bambach, “Heidegger’s Ister Lectures: Ethical Dwelling in the (Foreign),” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 145.
 Gert-Jan van der Heiden, “An ‘Almost Imperceptible Breathturn’: Gadamer on Célan,” in Philosophers and Their Poets, 226.
Currently one of the most important problems from phenomenology of giveness consists of the question of Revelation. However, this concept is not something new in Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology. One can find several formulations throughout his work. On the one hand, his first systematic step in Étant donné (1997). In this book, Marion shows that Revelation should be interpreted as the last expression of phenomenality. This can only happen if phenomenology dares to free itself from the predominance of the principle of sufficient reason, giving way to “excessive phenomena” that are linked to religious phenomena. In other words, religious phenomena can appear as a valid field of phenomenological analysis. On the other hand, the Gifford Lectures, whose results can be found in Giveness and Revelation (2016). In these conferences, Marion goes one step further, and this because he does not distinguish sharply between philosophy and theology when speaking of Revelation. Thus, phenomenology must be the source that allows us to clarify the concept of Revelation, both in philosophy and in theology.
This volume, co-edited by Jean-Luc Marion and Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer, aims to investigate and explore various phenomenological aspects of the concept of Revelation, in order to offer new contributions to the phenomenology of giveness. In this respect, this book tries to show, honoring Marion’s intuition, how the concept of Revelation permeates the most current debates in phenomenology and theology.
In Chapter 1, “Introduction: intersections of Revelation and Hermeneutics”, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer introduces the problem of this volume: the interaction and mutual contribution between revelation and hermeneutics (3). Can hermeneutics say something about the possibility or impossibility for divine self-disclosure? In this case, Jacobs-Vandegeer reminds us of Marion´s conception of hermeneutics as a “delay of interpretation”. And this is so because Revelation as such is an essentially excessive phenomenon. As Jacobs-Vandegeer indicates with great acuity, a possible way of understanding this excess can be found in “the idea that the language of revelation does something more excessive and complex than simply impart information about God and the world” (5). In this case, hermeneutics must deal, though without giving up, with an original excess. However, a possible positive consequence of this is that hermeneutics can expand its own limits of interpretation.
In Chapter 2, “The Hermeneutics of Givenness”, Jean-Luc Marion deepens the relationship “hermeneutics” and his phenomenology of givenness. Various scholars have noted some kind of incompatibility between hermeneutics and saturated phenomenon. The question could be asked: how could an interpretation of an excessive phenomenon be “given”? Is that possible? In this text, Marion tries to offer a positive answer. For this, Marion takes up the problem of reduction. As Marion says, the radicalization of the reduction “makes evident, be it only by contraposition, the possibility, even the necessity, of an exception, of an irreducible” (17-18). Paradoxically, the possibility of a hermeneutics of the given lies in the fact that the given cannot be translated into any objectifiable phenomenon. And this is so because “givenness does not produce like an efficient cause, nor is it confined to sensible intuition, because it is not conflated even with intuition in general” (21). Through a critical reading of Husserl and Heidegger, Marion aims to show the radical nature of givenness against sensible intuition. In this sense, the givenness offers a self-referentiality based on its impossibility of being reduced to an object or entity. From this preliminary conclusion, Marion asks the following: “Could it not be that hermeneutics, far from disappearing with givenness (or making it disappear in order to begin speaking), only in answering the word that fulfills it?” (24). Through a discussion with John Sellars about the famous «myth of the given», Marion reaffirms that the given can only be thought in opposition to the paradigm of objectivity. As the object appears, the given disappears. Marion finds the origin of this myth in John Locke´s philosophy. Both Sellars and Locke present the same problem: the impossibility of thinking about what is given. And this for the simple reason that they claim that what is given immediately must be the product of an epistemological constitution. However, as Marion points out, the given cannot be thought of as something constituted because it is not an object. The “myth of the given” falls when we establish this distinction (28). In other words, the phenomenology of givenness could be presented as a remedy against this myth. Thus, the given cannot be manifested immediately. For this reason, Marion defines the givenness as an aenigma because the “indetermination of the given perhaps offers its only correct determination” (31).
In this phenomenological horizon, hermeneutics is defined as a discipline that does not operate on objects (33). Phenomenology of givenness and hermeneutics coincide in this rejection of objectivity. Thus, hermeneutics can interpret excessive phenomena because, strictly speaking, it has always done so. Hermeneutics in its original sense cannot start from an ego that interprets the world, because “the ego must remain passive in order to receive the sense that suits exactly that which requests interpretation” (33). Two final conclusions follow from this. First, hermeneutics depends on the phenomenological structure of “call and response” (36). Second, “hermeneutics manages the gap between what shows itself and what gives itself” (40). In other words, hermeneutics must manage the passage from objectivity to saturated phenomena and the reverse. Following this, we suggest that hermeneutics, as a passage from objectivity to saturation, can interpret the second degree of saturated phenomena: Christ as Revelation. How that can happen, stays as an open question or aenigma.
In Chapter 3, “Whose Word Is It Anyway? Interpreting Revelation”, Shane Mackinlay focuses on a series of criticisms concerning the concept of counter-experience in Marion’s phenomenology of givenness, as it appears in “The Possible and Revelation” (2008). In the same way as Marion, John focuses on a Christological paradox: how can Jesus reveals the Father’s will? This problem involves one of the most important consequences of Christianity: the divine and human nature of Christ. Revelation could be interpreted as the place where this paradox occurs. Following Kearney’s objection, Mackinley points out that the concept of counter-experience is not a sufficient criterion to distinguish between divine revelation against the possibilities of deceit and harm (57). In other words, the counter-experience of the icon in Marion’s phenomenology does not offer a clear difference between God’s voice and some kind of monstrosity. In the same way as Marion, Mackenly finds in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophy a source for rethinking the scopes of hermeneutics in relation to the possibility or impossibility of interpreting revelation (60). From Gadamer’s proposal he extracts two ideas. On the one hand, the infinity of any interpretive process. This means that no interpretation of the revelation can exhaust it. On the other hand, if all interpretation is infinite, then the community must always be open to dialogue, since the interpretation of the phenomenon imposes itself as something always reviewable. Each judgement concerning revelation is provisional.
In Chapter 4, “Revelation as a Problem for Our Age”, Robin Horner offers some elements for thinking the language of revelation in the context of Western secularity. Expressed differently: Is it possible to find a language of revelation in a world where all language is merely a language of objects? This current impossibility of thinking the language of revelation has, according to Horner, multiple reasons. First, the problem of anachronism. The language of revelation becomes an irrelevant and even bizarre question. The modern secularisation offers the exaltation of individual autonomy, rationalist thinking. As Horney argues, this movement implies a detraditionalization of memory and any collective activity (75). In this process, religion and believing become something that has no place. Second, the reflections of various philosophical schools that, according to Horner, present disqualifying criticisms of religious belief. Consequently, “the philosopher, too, brings particular commitments to the search for wisdom, which might include a presumption of atheism” (77). Third, theology itself. And this because the theological language of revelation focuses too narrowly on the propositional, letting away the lived experience. Based on these objections, Horner indicates that the concept of experience must be reformulated so that religious belief is not set aside from contemporary problems. Horner uses the term experience “to refer to what happens at that point of opening in the world which is a given instance of life” (69). Given this, we ask ourselves, following Horner, whether the language of revelation may have any reference to the Husserlian Lebenswelt. Finally, Horner suggests, following Lacoste and Marion, that “that philosophy and theology are interested in common problems” (94). Lacoste’s “paradoxical phenomenon” tries to show the mutual cooperation between affection and intellect, theology and philosophy, faith and reason, when it comes to understanding revelation (96). Marion’s epistemological approach to revelation aims to point out that the logic of objects can be clarified out of faith and a radical commitment to an epistemology of revelation. In this sense, Horner concludes that Marion and Lacoste offer tools to find a language of revelation in the lived world of experience. In Horner’s words, “if it is the case that revelation no longer makes sense in contemporary life, perhaps it is because it has been locked for too long in the language of beliefs and made unavailable to experience” (100).
In Chapter 5, “Revelation and Kingdom”, Kevin Hart suggests that the language and experience of revelation depend on the possibility of a place for its manifestation. For this reason, he will concentrate his analysis on the concept of kingdom. Hart argues that “theological epistemology has become phenomenology” (107). Thus, the idea of kingdom must be elucidated from the phenomenological field. The kingdom can appear if we focus on Christ’s modes of phenomenality. Juan clearly states that Jesus “appears, if he does, only within a horizon” (113). Jesus’ parables offer a conversion of intentionality and give “eidetic insight into how to live in obedience to God” (118). For this, Hart appeals to Marion’s concept of saturated phenomenon and the need to broaden the manifestation horizon of phenomena. In the same horizon as Marion, as well as in that of Christian philosophy in general, Christ plays a mediating role. Jesus can only appear in the horizon of the “Kingdom of God”. We think Hart’s proposal is interesting because, following Marion, he focuses on the place of manifestation of Christ as a saturated phenomenon. His question is spatial, and he finds a possible answer in the Christian concept of the kingdom.
In Chapter 6, “ʻA Whole Habit of Mindʼ: Revelation and Understanding in the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria”, William Hackett focuses on the problem of the experiential and participatory dynamics concerning the speech about God. In a very suggestive way, Hackett finds in Cyril of Alexandria’s “sacrifice Christology” a testimony to the dynamic nature of the Verbum. Through a language of patristics, Hackett shows that kenosis and henosis could provide the dynamics of revelation and the centrality of Eucharistic truth of Incarnation. “Mystic communion” provides a model of community (Cyril’s refutation of Nestorius). As Hackett remember, Cyril shows the distance between “reason” and “image” (128). In other words, “reason may explicate the image, but it can never surpass its power to carry the mind to the truth of revelation” (126). Cyril’s distinction between abstract and concrete intellective visions offers a way of understanding the nature of revelation, always previous and source of all theoretical language. The power of images consists in directing our gaze towards that instance prior to reason. We suggest that Hackett’s contribution, clear and erudite, can have an interesting deepening if it is connected with Falque’s interpretation of Nicholas de Cusa’s De visione dei, as it appears in his paper “L´omnivoyant. Fraternité et vision de Dieu chez Nicolas de Cues” (2014). And this because, according to Falque, in the same way as Hackett´s lecture of Cyril´s theology, Nichola´s conception of visio dei offers a reformulation of vision and the possibility of a community vision and a common experience.
In Chapter 7, “Revelation and the Hermeneutics of Love”, Werner G. Jeanrond offers a critical analysis of the different theological hermeneutics of revelation. On the one hand, Yale and its “hermeneutics of revelation”. This school studies revelation “with regard to inner-Christian dynamics and inner-Christian pluralism” (143). On the other hand, Chicago and its “hermeneutics of signification”. This school formulates “an open-ended hermeneutics of signification capable of encouraging a public, global and critical discourse on God” (143). In this horizon, Jeanrod analyzes Paul Ricoeur’s conception of language and hermeneutics, since the French philosopher points out a polysemy originating from the concept of revelation. This, in turn, implies the impossibility of establishing a corpus of truths available to an institution (141). Ricoeur’s concept of revelation “provides a way out of the reduction of an uncritical Enlightenment belief in the final victory of reason over revelation” (141). In accordance with the proposal of the Chicago school and going one step further, Jeanrond argues for a hermeneutics of love. This implies a “praxis of love” that can embrace divine Otherness. Given this, we suggest that Jeanrond’s proposal presents an intimate connection with the concept of love in Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology, since “love” saves revelation from the predominance of objectivity, and therefore, opens a dimension of excess that cannot be monopolized by any theological school. Thus, and as Jeanrond sharply points out, love reveals the constitutive plurality of revelation, and in turn, the need for a hermeneutics of love.
In Chapter 8, “Embodied Transactions”, Mara Brecht provides an analysis of revelation in the framework of a feminist hermeneutics (Michelle Voss Roberts). In the horizon of comparative theology, Brecht suggests that hermeneutics must open the access to the embodiment and his relation with revelation. Body plays a fundamental role because “revelation is received not by disembodied minds, but by actual people—who are fully embodied, situated in time and place, and shaped by economic, social, and racialized identities” (152). In this sense, all hermeneutics must account for embodiment in various dimensions: economic, social, political, gender. This allows us to reflect upon a situated subjectivity, leaving aside any abstract and a-historical approach. The embodiment is, following a notion of Jean-Luc Marion and Claude Romano, an “event”, not an abstract concept. According to Brecht, Shannon Sullivan’s feminist-pragmatist framework could help comparative theologians to understand the transformations of subjective identity and his relation between the embodiment. This path makes visible the logic of power that acts in the configuration of subjectivity. Brecht argues that we must analyze how this logic of power acts in the embodied habits of Christians, thus configuring his interpretations of the notions of race and gender. This proposal implies breaking with the monological hermeneutics of the scriptures, always “focused on only one religion” (159). On the contrary, Brecht proposes, following feminist theologians as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Michelle Voss Roberts and Albertina Nugteren, “a dialogical hermeneutical space” to indicate a discipline focused on multiple religious traditions. In accordance with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Brecht claims that “that subjectivity needs to be constructed as a profoundly communal phenomenon” (162). For all this, Brecht concludes that religious identity must be understood “as a habit of bodying, and one which exists at the confluence of other habits of bodying, including race and gender” (165).
In Chapter 9, “Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor for Revelation”, Michele Saracino offers an extremely interesting phenomenological reading of swimming. This interpretation is based on an “analogy between water/creator and swimmer/creature” (177). In connection with Mara Brecht, Saracino analyzes bodily habits in relation to the embodiment. However, Saracino assumes that swimming can be seen as a “metaphor for revelation” or as an experience of the divine that includes our relationship with other. In this sense, she claims that “like the swimmer who works on getting a feel for the water in order to swim more efficiently, the believer must learn how to get a feel for God in order to flourish” (179). Swimming can open us to different experiences analyzed in literature and theology: vulnerability (Vaniers), resignation (Hans-Urs von Balthasar). These emotions, far from being negative, open us to otherness and a receptive capacity, in the same way that when swimming we stay “in the middle of things”. This is, in Saracino’s opinion, due to the unique character of water as a means of transformation and rebirth, as we can see in the sacrament of baptism.
In Chapter 10, “Revelation as Sharing in God’s Self-Understanding as Absolute Love”, Frederick Lawrence aims to show the philosophical and theological tension between God’s self-disclosure and God’s unknowability. In this argumentative movement we can find the tension between affirmative and negative theology and the discussion concerning the mystical theology. In this context, Lawrence proposes to analyze the analogy of light to think about the relationship between “Love” and “Revelation” based on the figure of Christ. For this, Lawrence examines the different approaches on this subject in Vatican I´s Dei filius and Vatican II´s Dei verbum. While the first emphasizes the concept of «natural reason» (199), the second focuses on the problem of “God’s revelation of himself as true love in the communication of the Crucified One as Risen’s saving truth and his call to discipleship and witness” (199). In this sense, Lawrence returns to St. Thomas’s concept of caritas and its corresponding “analogy of light”, recognizing his debt to the mystical theology of Dionysius Areopagite (201). Lawrence recalls – and here we can trace a certain relationship with the experience of swimming in Saracino – that for St. Thomas the intelligible lumen is not a thing, but a means that allows the realization of all judgment or knowledge (209). In a most interesting way, Lawrence points out that St. Thomas’s conception of light is heir to the proposal of St. Augustine and the theory of human being as imago Dei. Going fairly into the subject, Lawrence analyzes Lonergan’s conception of intentionality. And this because “Lonergan’s mature phenomenology of feelings as apprehending a hierarchy of values (…) transcended the three questions about what we are doing when we think we are knowing (cognitional theory), why doing that is knowing (epistemology), and what do we know when we do it (critically grounded metaphysics)” (218). According to Lawrence, this proposal opens the possibility of thinking the “gift of love” as the central element of all revelation. Before any cognitive and individual instance, Lawrence shows the primacy of the interpersonal reality of love in the dynamics of faith and belief. Following this question, Lawrence argues that phenomenology focuses on the “pre-propositional, preverbal, pre-judgmental, pre-conceptual” (223). Love as faith must be defined in this pre-conceptual horizon. Given this, we believe that Lawrence’s proposal can find many points in common with Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological conception of love, as it appears in Le phénomène érotique. In turn, Lawrence’s proposal may find an interesting confrontation with Jorge Roggero’s book Hermeneutics of Love (2019).
In Chapter 11 “Ta’wīl in the Qur’an and the Islamic Exegetical Tradition: the Past and the Future of the Qur’an”, Maria Massi Dakak analyzes the problem of revelation through a reading of the exegetical tradition of the Qurʼan, emphasizing the proposal of Ta’wīl. Against all authoritarian interpretation, Dakak examines “what the Qur’an itself has to say about its own interpretation” (241). The Qurʼan speaks according to its own metaphors and symbols. In this sense, Dakake proposes to think about the Qur’an from Ta’wīl, in order to highlight its multivalent character. Literal and historical meanings can reach a deeper relationship from the perspective proposed by Dakake. This hermeneutical proposal aims to delve into the meaning that emanates from the same Text. In this sense, Dakake offers a phenomenological approach, as “the search for meaning through ta’wil is, from a human perspective, indefinite, in that it does not have a terminal point that can be reached through human contemplative or intellectual effort” (252). However, according to Dakake the term Ta’wīl should not be read only from an esoteric or mystical perspective, but it should also see the possibility of a new and spiritually generative reading that contains the historical context and its excess, as well as an attentive reading of what the text is intended to express itself (259).
In Chapter 12 “The logic of Revelation”, Peter Ochs analyzes reception of Tanakh in the rabbinic Judaism, in order to offer a new logic of Scriptural reasoning. In this respect, Ochs introduces a “semiotic method (the “Logic of Revelation”, LR) for diagramming patterns of non-disjunctive reasoning in practices of tradition-based, scriptural theology” (261). The term “logic” refers to Charles Peirce’s lógica utens, namely “the not-immediately-evident patterns of reasoning that authorize and discipline any practice of inquiry (262). From this, Ochs distinguishes between two modes of revelation that correspond to a distinction made by Charles Peirce. On the one hand, “indexical revelation”. This means that God speaks independently of anything humans can elaborate or control through his reasoning. On the other hand, “iconic revelation”. This implies that the iconic can be formulated in terms of the logic structure “to make a likeness” (267). In relation to the latter, we find a very interesting similarity between this conception of Ochs and Marion’s interpretation of “praise” in Dionysius the Areopagite as en tant que, as it can be found in his work L’idole et la distance (1977). Continuing with this comparison, Ochs addresses a criticism of idolatry, in the same way that Marion formulates a series of invective to the idolatrous conception of the divine in the aforementioned work and in Dieu sans l´être (1982). Both authors caution against reducing the meaning of revelation and God to a humanly construction. In the case of Marion, the iconic conception of the divine offers a counter-intentionality, showing that humans can only “receive” the “give” which preceeds them. As for Ochs, deepening the communal question of revelation, he indicates that for the “Rabbinic Logic of Revelation” (RLR) “the spoken-word is offered for and to the language community to whom God speaks” (268). If we accept that the predications of revelations are “offered to someone somewhere”, then revelation must appear in a community. Revelations appears as a relation between “God who speaks and the community that hears”. However, the predications of RLR are neither “subjectively” nor “objectively given”. Like Marion, Ochs would seem to conceive the given as a liberated instance of the paradigm of objectivity, adding to the need for a community for revelation. The “danger of idolatry” is overcome by a community committed to exegesis, debate, conservation and dialogue. In turn, this community discussion preserves the apophatic dimension of revelation. According to Ochs, one of the fundamental stimuli for discussion about revelation in Rabbinic Judaism must be found in the catastrophe of the “Burnt Temple” and Jerusalem razed and salted. Those dramatic moments stimulate the community discussion and the ability to meditate on revelation. Thus, the community receive “these spoken words then there is a narrative about how we may have seen God’s face even if the narrative is retained now as a memory” (281).
In Chapter 13, “Revelatory Hermeneutics: How to Read a Gospel, in Light of Mīmāṃsā, India’s Greatest Interpretive Tradition”, Francis Clooney offers a truly comparative theological approach through a study of ancient Indian hermeneutics known as “Mimamsa”. In Clooney´s words, “Mimamsa” appears as “a system one can imagine more refreshingly different, demanding but quite accessible to reason” and contribute to “not limit our understanding of hermeneutics and revelation to the hermeneutical traditions of the Christian West” (287). In this proposal, revelation is understood as something perceptible, heard and seen “in the text”. Vedic hermeneutics and Vedic revelation “does not require a special language that speaks of things beyond ordinary experience” (291). This conception leads Clooney to analyze Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Logical Investigations (as an aggregate, the recurrence to Wittgenstein’s philosophy also appears in Marion’s L’idole et la distance to think of Dionysius’s notion of praise as a non-predicative mode of language). Clooney rescues the practicality of Wittgenstein’s logic, as it can be seen in the notion of “language games”. Among Clooney’s most interesting conclusions, we can speak, on the one hand, that “revelation occurs in the interaction of reader and text” (297). Historical context is secondary because, on the other hand, “one does not need to give undue importance to authorial intentions” (297). Extra-textual realities are a derived instance. In other words, revelation occurs in the text. Revelation is “accesible only in submission to the grammar of the text before us” (300).
To conclude, we can ask the following question: what do phenomenology and theology gain by deepening the concept of Revelation? In this regard, Jean-Luc Marion’s proposal is very clear: the concept of Revelation cannot be reduced to a theological concept. The problem of revelation offers a common place to philosophy and theology that can be explored from phenomenological approach. Furthermore, as we have seen, revelation is a problem that concerns not only Christian theology, but also Muslim, Jewish theology as well as Eastern religions. Appealing to a concept of Alain de Libera, perhaps we should begin to think about the problem of revelation from a translatio studiorum. It should be said that this volume offers not just contributions concerning the question of Revelation, but also a new way of understanding the relation between Phenomenology and Theology.
 De Libera, Alain. 2004. La philosophie médiévale. Paris: PUF, p. 57.
The book is a whole divided into three parts, with the first part concerned with the performativity of phenomenology, the second with the phenomenology of performativity and the third with exercises in phenomenology. In this review, first I briefly discuss the volume as a whole. Then I focus on individual entries present in the volume, since they differ by topic and in quality. I conclude with some remarks.
The aim of the book is “to establish the first systematic connection between phenomenology and performativity” (1), which concerns both the performativity of phenomenology as well as the phenomenology of performativity (2). The third part of it “aims to sketch out three phenomenological exercises devoted to the constitution of contemporary performative phenomena” (7). The label “exercises” is somewhat misleading since all phenomenological inquiries are exercises in phenomenology. Moreover, all three essays in the exercise-section of the book are themselves phenomenological investigations into specific performances (as opposed to performativity in general), which thematically justifies their inclusion.
While we do get a promised look into the different ways in which phenomenology can be considered “performative,” I hold that the “transformation of attitude [performance] effects through a number of parallels between phenomenology and the ancient understanding of philosophy as an exercise and a way of life” (2) does not get enough attention. The specifics of this transformation do not seem to be discussed thoroughly enough in the book. How is the subject transformed exactly? From which state to what other state? Is subject-transformation desirable? Then again, this collection is just that: a collection – and therefore it cannot be expected to provide the same encompassing systematic reach a monograph might achieve.
What I liked in this volume was the systematic engagement with both historically close (Foucault, Derrida, a lot of Butler) as well as distant theories (e.g., Plato), which shows that phenomenologists are still interested in theoretical (as opposed to merely exegetical) issues and that we read and talk outside the boundaries of the phenomenological tradition, thus preventing conceptual in-breeding.
As I highlight later in this review, almost all papers contain more or less implicit assumptions about what phenomenology is and what it is supposed to do. If we follow some of the authors in this collection, it ought to be critical, active, transformative, not too intellectual or detached; yet there is not much open discussion about the foundations and justifications of these conceptions and I think this is a debate still waiting to happen – and one which can never really come to an end as long as philosophy demands radical justification for, of and by itself.
As far as I am concerned, paying close attention to how things appear (including texts) should still be the fundamental tenet of phenomenology, because that is how we adequately grasp things instead of just dealing with our own presuppositions and projections. As simple as this sounds, neither close attention (i.e. attention without prejudice, readily available formulae or random associations) nor the focus on the how of appearing (as against the what) are very well developed in our societies. And as Guidi points out, phenomenology is – in one sense – already “critical” inasmuch as it “draws our attention” (2) to sundry phenomena and their (contingent, problematic) modes of appearing, which for example include our naturalistic conceptions and inauthentic tendencies.
My final question however targets the subject and the object of these reflective operations. If we as phenomenologists are supposed to draw “our attention,” does this refer only to us phenomenologists or to us as simple humans? Put in the vocabulary of the present volume, who is supposed to be the benefactor of these phenomenological performances and exercises? And consequently, how should these exercises look? Should they be more academic exercises? More tentative theoretical acrobatics, language games within the same tedious vernacular, or maybe the umpteenth reading of Husserl’s descriptions of inner time consciousness? Or could they be more public exercises in reflecting on presuppositions and attending how things appear?
These questions are not trivial. For example, Husserl famously envisioned a social renewal centred around transcendental phenomenology. While I do not wish to advocate another attempt at healing (or bettering) the world through philosophy, I think phenomenologists are not in a bad position to contribute to what one might call “public philosophy”; especially since phenomenology is not a set of theorems or arguments or a doctrine one can extol, but a way of living, a way of looking, something we do and something we can train others to do too, maybe even to their (and our) advantage – a “performative exercise” indeed.
II. Review of Individual Entries
Dahlstrom characterises Heidegger’s phenomenology as performative insofar as it is obviously something we perform (as in: do), but mainly because “the phenomenologist’s philosophical act of understanding certain experiences entails carrying out the experience herself” (14). This leads him to the language used to prompt these re-enactments of experience – and to Heidegger’s reflection on the performativity of (phenomenological) language. Dahlstrom thus notes several concordances between Austin’s analyses of performatives and Heidegger’s early thoughts on language, especially on everyday performative discourse. Dahlstrom also mentions Heidegger’s engagement with authentic and inauthentic discourse as something that goes beyond Austin’s work.
In section two Dahlstrom deals with the phenomenological re-enactment (Vollzug) of experience in the sense of truth-proclamations. This touches upon the problem that phenomenological description does not simply mimic what it describes, but gives it “shape” (24). This is an example of “Gestaltgebung” (24). From here, Dahlstrom links Heidegger’s account of formal indication and its “existential-disclosive aspect” (26) to Searle’s take on performatives as creating linguistic facts. Dahlstrom ends on the observation that Heidegger’s account of speech acts is embedded in a much larger framework, while the speech act theorists focus more on specific issues and thus bring out more details, such that both could profit from each other (28).
From Dahlstrom’s considerations in section two, one might further question the function of re-enactment: why is it even necessary to “perform” experiences in phenomenology? And to what end? The repetition of experiences is necessary for our adequate grasp of what is given in experiences. Asserting without experience, i.e., asserting without direct contact to the things themselves, merely verbally, is what Husserl calls “empty” or even “inauthentic” discourse. How we perform our assertive acts is important because “empty” speech is phenomenologically worthless – hence the insistence on first-hand experience or, as Husserl calls it, “intuition.” Dahlstrom hints at the necessity of unpacking the distinction between authentic and inauthentic in Heidegger in FN 48. The end of all these efforts is ontological for Heidegger, for he is never interested simply in understanding experiences or even types of experiences for their own sake or in service of practical, “critical” projects. For Heidegger, questioning aims at something deeper: i.e., understanding being.
Legrand asks “What does happen if one practices an epochê without reduction?”(33). To arrive firstly at the fact that the epochê itself “is a performance of the subject” and that “the subject is performed by practicing the epochê,” the epochê becomes something specific to a suspension of judgement, a “suspension of anything that would prevent to work with what gives itself, as it is given, in the very field in which it is given.” (33-4, 40). Legrand sees Barthes practising a kind of epochȇ by suspending “that which makes his experience of the photograph ‘banal’” thereby also “suspending any narcissistic identifications with one’s mundane identity and normative identification with social roles” (36-7). In performing this bracketing, the subject shows itself to be certain without employing categories like “real” or “fictional”.
This allows Barthes to experience the “singularity” of the photograph, a singularity apparent just for him. However, the singularity for one is also singularity of one, an encounter between two singularities: “I am singular for the other” (37). Moreover, “the structure of singularity is not reflexivity but: the address of one to another” (38). Arguably, then, one could describe this whole structure comprising the two singularities as reflexivity, given that the other reflects me onto myself (and vice versa).But the point seems to be that singularity requires more than individual reflection.
At any rate, Legrand fleshes out some of the differences between phenomenology and psychoanalysis and finds that the latter is decidedly non-transcendental, but still operates with a form of epochê. The psychoanalytic epochê consists in suspending the categories of the “correct, appropriate, relevant, interesting, true, or embarrassing, shameful, false, stupid, ridiculous etc.” (47) so as to “consider speech as Saying” (48) without judging the adequacy of the spoken to reality. The analyst instead listens with the presumption “that who I hear is irreducibly singular” (48). Following Legrand, in this act one would perform themselves as a singularity as well as the other. She offers the takeaway or insight that there are either different species of epochê or different paths to take, springing from the one epochê and leading to very different subjects/situations, depending on the mode and aim of the performance of the bracketing.
Cimino argues for deep agreements between Husserl and Plato. He begins by pointing out that Plato and Husserl agree on the fundamental nature of philosophy in regard to the other sciences. He fleshes out this distinction by drawing on a distinction between “discursive thinking and intuitive thinking” (53) as well as the necessity of other sciences “to rely on assumptions” (53) which philosophy questions; he then focusses on the former difference (56). I obviously agree with the general idea that Husserl and Plato are in accordance on central systematic issues (whether Husserl is aware of it or not); I disagree with Cimino’s more specific claim that they both endorse “the specific method of philosophy as inuitive thinking” (50).
For what could this “intuitive method” (56) even be? Firstly, what is intuition? As Cimino points out, self-givenness of any thematic object is fundamental to Plato and Husserl and both criticise mere verbal, i.e. non-intuitive speech. For both it “is rather the familiarity with the thing itself that produces real philosophical knowledge” (58) and when Cimino speaks of the “dialectical method” (57) he claims that “it entails the direct, first-hand grasp of essences or ideas” (57). To explain one metaphor through two others: intuition (for Cimino as well as for Plato and Husserl) is familiarity is first-hand grasp. Now can this be a “method” in and of itself? As Cimino himself says, the “dialectical method” “entails” it, which means it is not identical to it. And I venture it entails it because dialegesthai, literally “talking it through”, leads to what we have described as seeing, i.e. first-hand grasping. But the method, the way to go, is logical, it proceeds through logoi, through speeches, through questioning presuppositions, drawing out implications, discussing (varying) examples etc. Therefore intuition might either be a result or even a presupposition of Plato’s (and Husserl’s) philosophical method, but not a method in and of itself.
This has bearing on another issue, namely the intersubjective dimension of philosophy. In regard to this, what I hod to be a mistranslation of a passage from Plato’s 7th Letter is noteworthy. According to Cimino it states that insight appears “as a result of continued application to the subject itself”; however this passage ought to read that insight appears “in joint pursuit of the subject” (as translated by Morrow), since “synousia” means “being-together” and refers to the intersubjective dimension of philosophy, similar to “syzên”, “living together” in the very same sentence (one line further in 341d1). This being-together necessitates the logos as medium of philosophy since we cannot share intuitions directly. It is the intersubjective and reflective giving and taking of reasons which is the “method” of Platonic philosophy.
It is here, as I have argued, that Husserlian phenomenology could benefit from a little more Platonism, given that some of Husserl’s own methodological characterisation of phenomenology turn it into a rather private, even solipsistic enterprise of inner monologue rather than the intersubjective endeavour he clearly wants it to be.
D’Angelo aims at establishing “four principles of every performance of phenomenological reading” (63) by reading and expanding on Gadamer’s reading of Plato’s Lysis. He sets out with highlighting that “phenomenology seems to happen mostly through texts and the interpretation of texts” (64); interestingly, D’Angelo does not call us (us phenomenologists that is) out on this (which he very well could and which Husserl would surely do), but rather asks “whether there is a distinctly phenomenological way of reading texts” (64) and claims that reading Husserl (for example) can still be a genuinely phenomenological exercise.
D’Angelo takes a basic principle from Gadamer, employs it (again) to the Lysis and then develops “four central moments of Plato’s theory of friendship which are, in my interpretation, at the same time four central moments of philosophy in general” (66). In a sense he performs a phenomenological reading to establish what a phenomenological reading is. These are the principles he wants to establish. First principle: There needs to be a “conjunction” of word and deed or attention to “the peculiar performance of a text” (76). For example, in the Lysis, “Socrates does things (erga) with words (logoi), by obtaining Lysis friendship through discourse.” (76) Were we to only focus on the explicit logoi, we would miss Plato’s enactment (in the sense of staging) of friendship, like Vlastos does, as D’Angelo contends (FN 19). The second principle D’Angelo gains from the fact that we are creating a logos about something for someone, which he translates into a principle of reading charitably, but also attending to the topic of the text itself, as to be able to criticise the text on its own terms. The third principle derives from the fact that “ignorance is a necessary component of philosophy” (74) and is basically a call to stay open-minded. The fourth principle reads: “There must be co-belonging, but also distance”, which implies a search for “common ground” (77). D’Angelo admits to a “feeling of triviality” (78) in regard to the principles listed, but points out that the triviality of these norms rather cements their validity while they are still continuously violated.
In reading D’Angelo’s account, two questions sprang to my mind: a) Why should we consider these principles to be especially “phenomenological”? b) Even if I happen to fully agree with his principles, where does their normativity stem from? Why should Gadamer or Plato (or their accordance) justify any principle for phenomenological reading whatsoever? An answer to both questions might lie in the phenomenological motto, since if we want to attend to the things themselves or let them show themselves as they are (be they texts or things or the world or…), we need to focus both on their explicit and implicit dimensions, apply categories of description not foreign to the phenomenon, stay open-minded and while attending the things themselves keep the appropriate descriptive distance.
Delving once again into the platonica, I have only a small gripe with how D’Angelo presents a basic Socratic tenet. Socrates’ principle is not “knowing only not to know” (69), as D’Angelo puts it, it is knowing when and if he does not know and abstaining from claiming such knowledge he does not possess (Apology 21d). In things of love and eidetic pregnancy, so to speak, Socrates always appears well-versed, indeed knowledgeable and proud of the fact. In the Symposium he even reveals his teacher in regard to these things, Diotima. Socrates knows that he knows of these things because he constantly proves to himself that he does, namely by performing his midwifery, i.e. dialectics. This does not however impede D’Angelo’s overall point that philosophy appears as the “in-between” (70) and as concerned with such.
Guidi focusses on the transformative dimension of phenomenology, which she then analyses in terms of the middle voice. Recalling the early Heidegger’s considerations about how understanding of formal indication requires a transformation on the side of the reader, Guidi concludes that phenomenological “speech is an enactment” (86), drawing the reader towards certain experiences, especially towards our thrown-ness: “Thus all phenomenological speech does is to indicate and address the very actual situation of the reader, by allowing her to experience the impossibility of founding that situation.” (85)
To conceptualise this enactment further, she draws on Benveniste’s analyses of the so called “middle voice”, which she claims opens “a topological perspective” (88), meaning that one can analyse actions as external or internal, the middle voice referring to a situation “where the agent is situated inside the process” (88), is “being affected” (89) in action. Guidi sees thinking according to Heidegger as exactly such an enactment, but denies its priority: “I claim that the ungrounded character of Dasein, the very same which phenomenology addresses in a performative way, opens up the ordinary and never fully accomplished task for every Dasein of transforming oneself and therefore relating to Dasein’s ungrounded facticity.” (90). Guidi then goes on to discuss four examples of middle-voice enactments, namely dialogue, expressing oneself, play and vulnerability, as analysed by Butler. She concludes with the conjecture that the “middle voice, by prompting the assumption of a topological perspective, may reveal the transformative potential of our ordinary comportments, and may further offer a new grammar for political action, one which is no longer founded on a sovereign account of subjectivity and agency” (96).
My main questions about Guidi’s account revolve around the notion of transformation. What transformation exactly are we talking about? And who has decided that it is to be the “task for every Dasein” (90)? The transformation involved in phenomenology is fairly specific and implies a shift away from “ordinary comportments”, not within or through it. This is why Husserl keeps writing introductions to phenomenology to explicate both the epochê as well as the reduction(s) in terms of a massive rupture with the natural attitude. Similarly for Heidegger; for while his philosophy certainly implies “acknowledging the ungrounded character of Dasein” (79), it also constitutes a radical break with the ordinary (even ordinary philosophy) towards fundamental ontology, the history of being or “thinking” in an eminent sense. Therefore I would be very interested in how exactly ordinary comportment transforms itself relating to Dasein’s ungrounded facticity without simply becoming philosophy, poetics or “thinking” – and how this transformation might be achieved. To be clear, this is not an ironic or rhetorical question, as I think it might really be better for everyone involved if more people acknowledged “the ungroundedness and the constitutive opacity” of our situation and acted accordingly. Could and should it be the “task” of philosophy to further this transformation?
Summa discusses the relation between performing and expressing, refuting Butler’s early claim that expression and performance are mutually exclusive, based on the assumptions that expression does not contribute to the constitution of what is expressed and presupposes a substantial subject (102). Instead, Summa offers a complementary account.
In the first section she sets out the false dichotomy between expression and performance. In the second section she discusses different notions of performance which inform current debates, namely Austin’s linguistic account of performatives and Turner’s cultural-anthroplogical account of ritual and the social drama. The common denominator Summa sees in “the accentuation of the productive and transformative power of the activity” (108) while pointing out that Turner’s concept is farther reaching, including the institution of norms and social identities through repetition – or their breaking. In the third section, Summa argues both that the “sincerity condition for the success of performative utterances” (112) cannot be understood apart from considerations of expression, and that expression itself is one way to exercise the power of institution as described by Merleau-Ponty. In each case, Summa shows that expression does not presuppose “the assumption of the subject as substance” (116). What is presupposed in but also formed by expression and acknowledgement, is experience. Moreover, any “expressive impulse emerges as a response to or a way to cope with some form of impasse within an already given order” and this presupposes an “embodied history of a style, which can itself become the object of modification, or écart, which will have an impact on our subsequent experience.” (118)
Summa’s contribution is both precisely argued and strategically interesting, as she, like Wehrle in her paper (see below), brings phenomenology systematically and critically into contact with concurrent theories, especially Butler’s. In doing so she disabuses us of certain common misconceptions about phenomenology, namely of being a subjectivist, pre-post-modern (i.e. modern) project. At the same time she actualises a transcendental line of questioning by elaborating on the conditions of possibility of expression and performance as well expression and performance as conditions of the possibility of subject-formation.
Wehrle contends “that Butler’s account of performativity as well as her ethics of precarity could profit from a phenomenologically-informed account of bodily performativity, which includes its passive and active aspects.” (126) She then explicates bodily performativity in terms of engagement: “as embodied, we are engaged with our environment and creative with regard to our relation with it. […] This relation, the performances of the body, so I want to argue here, have ontological relevance in that they can create real and lasting changes in situations, the environment and the bodies themselves.” (127) This “performative force of the body often goes unnoticed” (128), because it is usually anonymous.
While our bodies can actively perform, they can also be acted on, for example through bodily discipline, which Wehrle interprets as “forced or prefixed habituation” (130), be it through external forces or internalised norms. Thus bodies are normalised. Depending on the situation, the norms working on bodies and bodily behaviour are either experienced as comfortable (in case we conform to them) or uncomfortable (in case we do not conform to them) (132).
In dealing with these norms, Wehrle votes for a “pragmatic approach” according to which we do not simply abolish uncomfortable norms, but use the discomfort to enact the norms in “slighlty different ways”: changing their script so to speak, “thus integrating more possibilities and more possible subjects into it” (133). In fact, since no bodily act ever reproduces the underlying norms completely and since we (can) experience this discrepancy, Wehrle argues that we ought “regard embodied experience by itself as perfomative and, therefore, potentially subversive” (134) – like language. The starting point to any of these subversive acts is the “distance that is inherent to our very embodiment and experience”, namely that between being a body and having a body to which we can relate and which we ourselves can objectify, discovering “our ordinary ways of moving” (137) and lining them up for scrutiny – and consequently change through self-discipline, which Wehrle links with Foucault’s “care for the self”. She concludes: “In enacting norms, we thereby make them “real”, but always retain the capacity to transcend them.” (139)
As with parallel discussions in the realm of linguistic acts and norms, the next question – which can use Wehrle’s concise conceptual work as a starting point – would be how exactly this transcendence takes place, especially in extremis. For while it is easier to envisage how we can (bodily) transcend (bodily) norms in (more or less) free societies, it is harder to imagine how one can enact and subvert norms in, say, Guantanamo Bay or an Uighur internment camp. The enforced performances in such “Vocational Education and Training Centers” are exactly aimed at stopping any form of subversion, even to reduce fellow human beings to obedient bodies, collapsing the critical distinction between being and having a body.
Laner offers “(Post)Phenomenological Considerations of Contending Bodies” (140), taking Butler’s account of assembly and her criticism of Arendt’s perceived intellectualism as her starting point. She then goes on to develop a concept of “bodily forms of critique” (145), drawing on Merleau-Ponty and Ryle.
What then is “critique” and how can it be “bodily”, according to Laner? What are “performances of critique” (144) if not criticising? “Critique, as performed on a bodily level, […] means to question a situation not from a distanced perspective” (140), “critique” is about “altering” (142) a situation and attacking the norms inherent in it, indeed, critical “performances aim at transgressing such limitations” (143); “it is by means of bodily enactment that one takes a critical stance toward an existing system of norms” (146); “taking a critical stance on a bodily level can, in a very basic sense, be regarded as a form of bodily enactment that transgresses or subverts the existing norms.” (147) Bodily criticism is “a response to a given situation that does not affirm, but that questions the norms prefiguring our performances” (149). Such critical stances are performed by “[b]odies that claim to be recognized as free” (144) and it “it is the body that thinks and reflects” (151). Laner thus wants to overcome the “Dualistic characterisation” (144) of us humans as divided in body and mind.
In light of this aim it is odd that she a) constantly distinguishes between body and mind rather than focusing on the person as a whole but also b) keeps using mentalistic vocabulary to describe bodily actions. It is unclear why we should say that the body claims something, takes a stance or questions anything; surely it is the whole, embodied as well as minded person who performs all these acts? And does the difference between simply failing to properly enact a norm and subverting it reside in the body as opposed to the mind? Also having an “aim” (152) surely is something the person rather than the body ‘performs’? Even “performing intelligently” (153) in Ryle’s sense does not justify the term “bodily criticism” as Ryle himself says of a person or the “agent” that he does or does not exercise “criticism”, not of the body (as quoted by Laner on p. 153). So does Merleau-Ponty: the artist “questions perceptual norms” (155), as Laner says, not the artist’s body. Discovery and analysis are feats of the person as a minded entity, so why go back to the harsh duality of body and mind to then misapply these activities?
I do not advocate a view according to which “bodies are not able to perform critically, since their performances are understood in terms of necessary reaction” (145), but a view according to which criticality is an attribute of activities and dispositions of the whole person rather than one aspect. That is not to say that bodily performance cannot subvert norms, as Summa and Wehrle both establish very clearly (see above), but both successfully avoid forcing mentalistic vocabulary or dualism into their spelling out of the subversive possibilities of bodily engagement. Humans can question norms bodily, even by performing (or failing to perform) certain movements, yes. But why call this “bodily criticism”?
Then again, Laner also sees herself “questioning a notion of critique that underlines its merely rational nature and the distanced attitude it presupposes” (147) – a notion of critique she characterises as “trivial” and traces back to Kant. “Trivial notions of critique often refer to the etymology of the concept krinein, stressing its original meaning of discriminating. If critical performances are regarded as performances that simply detect differences and discriminate, critique seems to loose its normative impact.” (148) According to Laner it is also “clear that only a small elite even qualifies for critical engagement” (148) in this sense, although she does not say in which way it is so “clear”.
Firstly, where does the imperative of “normative impact” of critique come from? Or is that “simply” a presupposition? Secondly, as to the triviality of critique: the main aspect of “krinein” is to differentiate adequately, to detect a difference that makes a difference in a given context and to conceptualise it aptly – to “carve nature at the joints” as Plato has it (Phaidros 265e), A judge for example “simply” has to judge (discriminate) whether someone is guilty or not and what punishment is adequate. Critical thinking thus is not a passive “becoming aware of differences” or a bodily response of “detecting differences” (155), but actively seeking out differences according to certain criteria, employing conceptual skills. The ability to differentiate properly does therefore not seem “trivial” to me; or if it is “trivial” in the sense of belonging to the “trivium”, i.e. to any form of halfway proper education, it is not very well received – it certainly is not widely spread even within academia.
It is also arguably different from the drive or wish to change something one has previously identified (and thus differentiated from what it is not) as defective, which can follow acts of criticism but does not have to.
Regarding Kant, his notion of “Kritik” is very specific and concerns the possibility of metaphysics and the range of valid conclusions reason is allowed to draw (Critique of Pure Reason, A-Vorrede) and which is supposed to answer the question “How are synthetic a priori judgements possible?” – which is not what most people mean when they speak of the intellectual activity or disposition of being “critical”, presumably. Then again, in a more general understanding of a “critical” stance, Kant asks all of us (rather than a “small elite”, as Laner has it) to “dare to know”.
The connection between what Laner calls “trivial” as well as “non-bodily forms of critique” remains vague as she just says they are “somehow complementary”, since bodily critique relates “towards a matter from within”, whereas non-bodily critique supposedly operates “from outside the system” (156). Which is, again, highly problematic, given that the whole issue with Kant and post-Kantian idealism is the acute awareness that we are always “within”. There is no view from outside, no view from nowhere, no side-ways on view, no context-less context, no a-perspectival perspective etc. – pick your favourite “trivial” formula. Also, given that Kant talks mainly about theology, how is his critique not at least associated with “actual desires, affects and needs of the performer” (156)? Kant himself at least sees his critique as a matter of life and death after all – and lest we forget, with Plato, the proper critical, dialectical stance is the proper way to deal with death and the only worthy expression of Eros.
Laner’s divestment of critique from reflection is motivated by her concern about those unable to reflect as “they too deserve to be attributed the possibility of taking a critical stance.” (148) I am unsure who decides who is deserving, but surely the validity of attributions ought to rest on clean definitions rather than moral considerations?
Finally I think “postphenomenology” is an odd term in this context, since considerations about the “broader horizon of changing times, various cultures, political systems and power mechanisms shaping bodies as well as the diverse social roles attributed to them” (142) are well inside the range of phenomenological thought; after all, Husserl himself already conceives of a “historical apriori” (Krisis, 380) and takes the differences between “homeworld” and “otherworld” into account, as well as the cultural differences between say, Greek and non-Greek thought which sparked philosophy in the first place in his view. See Rentsch’s take on “situative contextuality” (164) in Husserl in the same volume (see below).
Classical phenomenology always calls for a “Leitfaden” to any discussion, i.e. a given phenomenon from which the structure of interest can be lifted and analysed. This would have been very helpful in this case, since at least to me it is still very unclear what bodily critique is supposed to be.
Rentsch moves away from the body, towards the “transcendence of logos”, which refers to the “unavailability and withdrawal of the performative constitution of meaning, that is, its negativity”, i.e. “that which precedes and is outside of logos cannot be grasped or conceived of, except once again through linguistic forms.” (159) Rentsch situates this topic within the thematic range of the present volume by positing: “Linguistically, this transcending manifests in performativity” (167).
He proceeds from Wittgenstein’s silence at the end of the Tractatus and his subsequent practical turn, to Heidegger, Adorno’s constellation and Husserl’s passive synthesis, in all of which he sees attempts to conceptualise the unavailable performativity that constitutes meaning. Where Husserl is concerned, one might even go further than Rentsch in that not only the living present “does not exist as such, […] is unthinkable and unrepresentable” (166); the same holds for the ur-sphere and the “Urstand” therein, which is the form of subjectivity constituting all objects (Gegen-stand as opposed to Ur-stand) and which Husserl also considers to be no object in any way (cf. Bernauer Manuskripte 277) .
This line of thinking that certain structures are both “limits and ground” (167) of something can – again – be easily traced back to (at least) Plato, in whom the structuring principle always transcends whatever it structures, a thought that found its home at the heart of Neoplatonism, leading from Plotinus to Proclus on to the Florentine Academy, Cusanus and further. Rentsch can be read as analysing an instantiation of this very basic structure in its aspect concerning meaning and language, truth (161).
As with Platonic takes on the issue, one might ponder what exactly “inexplicability” (167) means in this context. After all, Rentsch asks us “to conceive of [the inexplicable conditions] as conditions of meaning” (167), thus conceptualising, explicating and expressing them, namely “as conditions”. The formerly non-thematic performance becomes thematic and thus loses its transcendence – otherwise it could not be object of inquiry.
In his conclusion he hints at ways in which “fundamental domains of the constitution of meaning on the life-world” (169) are affected by recent developments and mentions fake news, exchange trade, artificial intelligence in warfare and pornography. In all these cases he sees the irreducible and to some extent inexplicable basis of meaning-constitution under threat. The connection of these issues to his former elucidations of the performative withdrawal at the heart of meaning-constitution remains somewhat tentative however. He ends on an ethical note: “what is at stake is that we develop ways to take back […] and strengthen the critical faculty of judgement” (169) – and who would argue against that?
Slaby bridges a wide gap, “From Heidegger to Afro-Pessimism”. In this he aims at a “temporal account of affectivity” (173), specifically the “background affectivity” which permeats our being-in-the-world and which is shaped by “historical events” (174). Slaby wants to “revive” Heidegger’s take on the relation between affectivity and time “for the purpose of motivating and informing a critical phenomenology of affectivity” (174), where to be “in an affective state amounts to finding oneself “here”, at a particular juncture, confronted by what has been, what is factual, what has come to be so that we have no choice but to go on from here.” (175) Affectivity both discloses and occludes our situation, however. Slaby’s goal is thus partially critical, to “reveal layers of distrust, dishonesty and inauthenticity” (176).
He then draws on Fanon, Rankine and Coates (among others) to portray the affectivity of many black lives in the US, “constitutively placed on the brink of death” through the “violent appropriation of black lives” (179). He goes on to discuss Merleau-Ponty’s concept of social sedimentation as it impacts the body-schema, as well as Al-Saji’s and Ahmed’s contributions to phenomenology. It is here that the phenomenological meat of his approach lies as he establishes the connection between the historical (re-)embodiment of white privilege “in the spaces and operations of public institutions, and how it becomes manifest within affective modes of embodied being-in-the-world.” (186)
Slaby follows this with a look at Sharpe’s concept of the Wake (of the Middle Passage), which is both a factual condition as well as a mode of caring. He sees Wake work as similar to phenomenology in regard to the attention to the natural attitude (192; additionally he posits the condition of being in the Wake as a “Grundstimmung”, alongside the phenomenological favourites “anxiety” and “nausea” (192): “Living under the reign of capital is living in the Wake, still embodying, continuing, re-enacting this concrete history.” (192-3) – This is, of course, tricky terrain, since while capitalism affects non-black people as well, the Wake shapes black lives, especially in the USA, very differently from how it shapes the lives of white people; or – on average – white people are living in the Wake differently than black people.
The only point I do not quite understand in Slaby’s contribution is his criticism of aspiring to “evaluative” “detached neutrality” (194) as opposed to a stance which would “require practitioners to thoroughly situate their respective subject matters historically and to devise philosophical methods adequate to this task – methods that work performatively so as to crack open ossified formations of understanding and being.” (194) Again I am tempted to ask where the imperative to crack open anything stems from and why that cannot or should not be performed in a detached way. After all, even Husserl’s fairly detached way of philosophising always aimed at negating what he called ossification in order to get at the things themselves and renew society. And surely “neutrality” in this context simply means not to be unfair or prejudiced?
Kozel writes about her engagement with the works of the choreographer Margrét Guðjónsdóttir and states that “A phenomenology of affect affords a parallel between Guðjónsdóttir’s choreographic practices and Cambridge Analytica’s political manipulations”, namely as “choreographies of affect and somatic states”, in each case affective states being the “material” of the work in question. The difference for Kozel lies in the fact that in the former case, the “reflective process” is in play, while it is “missing from social media users’ attitudes” (205), as the reflective process is part of the choreographer’s work. The paper also contains a detailed description of the experience of viewing a piece by Guðjónsdóttir.
In terms of theory I could not find a definition for what she calls “hyper-reflection” (205). In general, Kozel’s idea of how and why we “do a phenomenology” (206) seems to be more practical than theoretical. Her description of the steps involved in doing “a” phenomenology sounds more like a form of mindfulness-meditation followed by a written account; to me it certainly seems further removed from traditional philosophical theorising than the other contributions – which in itself is not a reason to evaluate it negatively, of course.
Buongiorno’s paper deals with “digital performativity” in the sense of the “ways we act ourselves out” and “construct ourselves by means of digital artefacts” (214) After briefly sketching the differences in self-constitution brought on by digitalisation, drawing on work by Belk, Buongiorno discusses three phenomenological concepts, which he thinks will help to understand these new forms of self-constitution: a) epochê: this constitutes the distance necessary to do phenomenology, as is the case with Husserl, b) variation: our digitalised mediated experience can be conceptualised as variations of non-digital experience – “we may understand digital experiences as a virtual transposition of the contents of real experience” (222) and c) the flesh, which serves to undercut the discussion about disembodiment through digitalisation and its dualist presuppositions, in order to better understand digital “reembodiment”.
“Phenomenology” for Buongiorno is supposedly “far from being just a theory resorting to reflection and analysis” (220) but rather a “form-of-life” (221) – something no traditional phenomenologist would doubt, presumably. However the specifics of this form-of-life seem to me to rest exactly in “reflection and analysis”, as phenomenology both as a stance and an activity is based on turning our attention back (reflectere) towards conditions of possibility, towards conceptual structures and frames of mind, towards our constituting activities, ill-grounded presuppositions etc. and then carefully taking them apart (analyein) and explicating them in order to foster understanding.
As can be gleaned from my remarks, I am rather taken aback by some of the implicit or explicit disavowals of the ideals of earlier phenomenology, namely to strive for a differentiated, analytic, reflexive, neutral, i.e. theoretical account of the things themselves (including ourselves). This striving is itself already a performative as well as a transformative exercise and thus a way of life, one which is sorely in need of proponents in my mind, since it implies a thoughtfulness and an understanding of our own presuppositions and (epistemic) limits which in turn are the bedrock both for reasonable political action as well as fruitful research. Temporal philosophical disengagement neither implies global (political) inactivity or a general disembodiment, yet only reflection can curb some of our more unproductive reflexes.
This reflection also ought to include the “ought”, as quite a few papers in the present collection simply assume certain norms or directives without either arguing for or at least describing the sources of their validity, which ought to be a problem for any radical, self-critical philosophy – as phenomenology traditionally purported to be.
Despite my critical remarks, most of the contributions to the volume qualify as solid academic performances, some are outstanding in clarity and concision. The volume as a whole shows (again) that current phenomenology is divers, well suited to place itself in a wider context and able to engage with other traditions and new topics. As the Guidi states in the introduction, “We wish [to] bring to light the mutual relation between phenomenology and performativity and set the ground for further exercises” (10). This it accomplishes very well.
 Cf. Florian Arnold, Logik des Entwerfens (Paderborn, 2018) for an account of the connection between philosophy and design.
 Thomas Arnold. 2017. Phänomenologie als Platonismus. Berlin/New York, §§ 22.
 See also Aldea’s take on the criticality of Husserlian phenomenology in: Smaranda Aldea, «Making Sense of Husserl’s Notion of Teleology: Normativity, Reason, Progress and Phenomenology as ‘Critique from Within’,» Hegel Bulletin 38/1 (2017): 104–128 and «Phenomenology as Critique: Teleological-Historical Reflection and Husserl’s Transcendental Eidetics,» Husserl Studies 31/1 (2016): 21–46.
 Cf. the locus classicus, Pierre Hadot. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Blackwell .
In Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century, Beata Stawarska surveys for English-language readers important differences between the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure as presented in student lecture notes and other materials from his Nachlass, and the received picture of Saussure known to most of his twentieth-century readers via the 1916 Course in General Linguistics assembled and published by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. She highlights several important ways in which the received “Saussurean doctrine”—especially the oppositional pairings of signifier and signified, la langue and la parole, and synchrony and diachrony—is actually more complex and more open-ended than Saussure’s structuralist adherents and poststructuralist critics have claimed. She suggests that this revised understanding of Saussure’s ideas can lead toward a rapprochement between the traditionally opposed camps of structuralism and phenomenology.
I. Theme, Audience, and Approach
Stawarska has done a great service for those of us interested in these issues, but who may not have had the time (as in my case) to read her much larger, 250-page work on this topic, Saussure’s Philosophy of Language as Phenomenology: Undoing the Doctrine of the Course in General Linguistics (Oxford University Press, 2015). Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology is a much smaller book, published in Palgrave Macmillan’s “Pivot” series designed for works shorter than traditional monographs. The work is presented as a handbook “addressed at a wide, interdisciplinary audience,” which may be read on its own or alongside the text of the course, and Stawarska includes a helpful reading map linking specific chapters in her book to specific chapters in the 1916 published version of the Course. But the book is only partially a commentary on specific chapters of Saussure’s well-known published work. It is also, and indeed, primarily, an exercise in philosophical philology, cataloguing ways in which the published “Saussurean doctrine” differs from the views of Saussure available in the Nachlass. It is heavy on criticisms of the published version of his ideas and evidence intended to set the record straight, but rather light on details concerning the reasons Saussure actually held particular theses and on examination of those theses as self-standing philosophical claims.
Because of this approach, the first and much larger Part I of the book, “Legitimacy of the Saussurean Doctrine” (Chapters 2-10), is in an odd position: it presents the results of highly specialized, high quality research concerning the production and reception of a published work that would seem to be far too specific for “a wide, interdisciplinary audience,” and yet does not engage in the detailed examination of the theoretical issues her research raises for disciplinary audiences expecting critical engagement (e.g., philosophers, literary theorists, perhaps intellectual historians). Similarly, Part II examines Saussure’s “Contemporary Legacy” (Chapters 11-13), but is dominated by broad considerations of the text’s reception and only sketches arguments and positions concerning Saussure and later twentieth-century authors.
After comparing this book to the table of contents of Stawarska’s 2015 work, and reading Patrick Flack’s review of the latter in Phenomenological Reviews, I have the impression that this book is largely a rewriting, rearranging and abridgment of the same material. But that is not the work under review here. Thus, in what follows, I address Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology as the relatively self-standing handbook it purports to be, and ignore the question of whether Stawarska has more thoroughly defended her interpretation in the earlier-published version of these ideas (I suspect she has). Considered on its own merits, the book offers a fascinating glimpse into issues concerning the promulgation and reception of Saussure’s views, and the implications of these issues for a rapprochement between phenomenology and structuralism, but it offers little more than a glimpse: the book is lacking on the level of substantive philosophical discussion or historical contextualization of the relevant issues. Depending on its readership, this may or may not be a limitation of the work. In the next section of this review, I present a general overview of Part I, raising some critical points along the way. In the final section I turn to the treatment of phenomenological figures and themes, which occurs primarily in Part II, and raise some additional, more specifically phenomenological concerns.
II. Setting the Record Straight on Saussure
The first few chapters provide an overview and helpfully summarize the case against the received interpretation of the Saussurean doctrine. Chapter two outlines the key doctrinal elements that have made the course so influential in the history of twentieth-century intellectual movements, especially structuralism, and surveys various strands of its legacy. Here, Stawarska sets up an important tension that informs the rest of the book: on the one hand, there is good textual evidence that speaks against taking the published content of the book as representing Saussure’s views: “it can be documented that the editors or rather ‘ghostwriters’ of the Course introduced apocryphal content, reversed the order of presentation, projected a conceptual apparatus of vertical dichotomies, and adopted a dogmatic tone in their redacted version of general linguistics” (11). If we want to get the real Saussurean doctrine rather than that of Bally and Sechehaye, we will need to follow Stawarska in diving into various texts in Saussure’s Nachlass, including the lecture notes of several students who actually attended Saussure’s courses in general linguistics (remarkably, the compilers of the published version did not attend any of the iterations of the course, though they did attend other courses taught by Saussure (16)).
On the other hand, the legacy of the published content of the course has become so important in the history of twentieth-century intellectual movements that simply to reject the received doctrine would be to neglect the very influence that Saussure has had: “a critical study of a Great Book is a testimony to its established legacy and enduring relevance. The force of the critique depends in part upon the recognized importance of the object being critiqued” (12). Twenty-first century readers thus find themselves in a difficult position: on the one hand, details concerning the problematic circumstances surrounding the publication of the course lead us to want to seek out the “real Saussure.” On the other hand—especially insofar as Saussure’s lasting legacy and importance has not been (or has not been exclusively) in the field of linguistics, but rather in fields such as literary theory and Continental philosophy and in broad discipline-spanning intellectual movements like structuralism and post-structuralism—what seems important is not so much figuring out what Saussure actually said, but rather understanding the course in the context of its influential reception—even if that reception is, from the standpoint of authorial intent, highly problematic.
Stawarska uses this tension to frame her own interpretation, which she characterizes as both a “deconstructive” and a “critical” reading of Saussure. And yet her exegesis remains mostly at the level of philological, this-is-what-the-author-really-said considerations. Thus, while Stawarska may be right to characterize the course as “a complex and multifaceted text that arguably deconstructs the very doctrinal understanding it seeks to espouse” (13), there is remarkably little attention paid—with a minor exception in her treatment of Derrida in Chapters Seven and Twelve—to the issues raised by a self-professed deconstructive reading whose main goal seems to be to set the record straight concerning the real intentions of the author. I return to this issue below.
Chapter Three is a useful guide to the shocking ways in which the editors of the published version of the Course both took liberties in the presentation of the material and promoted it through avenues such as publishing their own reviews of the work. There is one important element underlying Stawarska’s broader considerations introduced in this chapter that I wish she had spelled out in greater detail and with more precision. Stawarska is highly critical of Bally and Sechahaye’s concern to present Saussure’s doctrines in linguistics in the light of “complete objectivity” (18), and their efforts “to conform the then emerging science of general linguistics to the normative expectations within scientific disciplines” (11). She seems to suggest that this scientifically oriented presentation somehow leads to the problematic structuralist assumption “that cultural signification can be studied like an object within traditional physical sciences, that is, independently of users and/or observers and irrespective of historical change” (10). And she cites with approval Saussurean critiques, in the Nachlass material, of “naïve realism in linguistics,” of “an unexamined metaphysical commitment to entities assumed to exist independently of language use” and of “a naturalist approach to language”—all phrases which seem to be references to the same phenomenon (28-29). At the same time, she presents her own antidote to the misreadings as resting on the firm ground of “standards of empirical validity” (26) and as offering “an empirically based understanding” (11) of Saussure.
But there is very little discussion of what exactly these broadly scientific notions, on either side—naturalism, the empirical, natural science, etc.—are taken to be. This is particularly surprising given that both structuralism and phenomenology are known for their detailed considerations of the contested terrains of science and objectivity in the face of considerations of our subjectivity as thinkers, speakers, experiencers and knowers. These are no simple matters, and Stawarska surely owes the reader a more detailed account of them. Scientific objectivity was no more a simple, uncritical, unquestioned doctrine in empirical and formal disciplines at the turn of the twentieth century than it is today. Stawarska’s simultaneous reliance on the authority of the “empirical” (does this mean the lived-experiential, in the phenomenological sense?) and suspicion of objectivity and scientific disciplines is strongly reminiscent of the sort of reactionary anti-scientism characteristic of some post-structuralist and deconstructive theory in the 1980s and 90s. If this is not her position, a more detailed treatment of these concepts would help to show it.
Perhaps the most damning example of Sechehaye and Bally’s violation of academic norms is detailed in Chapter Four, where Stawarska shows that the famous concluding statement of the published Course, “the only true object of study in linguistics is the language, considered in itself and for its own sake” (qtd in Stawarska 24), is apocryphal, and not warranted by the source materials. This influential statement, she shows, becomes a sort of guiding thread for the problematic interpretation of Saussurean doctrine among structuralists. By singling out language as the sole object of study, and implying that Saussure believed it should be studied as a complete and self-standing system, independent of, e.g., social and historical contingencies, the editors set the stage for the problematic hierarchical and anti-historical presentation of core Saussurean concepts.
Against this hierarchical presentation in the published course, Stawarska presents a “horizontal” (67, 94) interpretation of Saussurean linguistics. For example, contrary to the received view, Saussure did not straightforwardly privilege la langue (the language system, considered in terms of the interrelations of signifiers but independently of its actual usages) over la parole (actual usage of the language in everyday social speech contexts) as the “true object of study in linguistics.” Saussure’s actual presentation of this distinction in the Nachlass is rather more nuanced and modest: he presents la langue as a “platform,” “viewpoint,” or “orientation” from which to view the “complex, heterogenous linguistic terrain” of la langage, rather than as “a superior and self-standing object” (30). Thus whereas the published course overstates the distinction between la langue and la parole, Saussure’s own statements from the Nachlass lead Stawarska to conclude that, in his actual view, “linguistic study involves an intellectually complex and self-reflective process that, in principle, precludes the possibility of unmediated access to a simple object” (31).
One of the most informative sections of the book explains how the presentation of the well-known figure from Chapter One of the published Course, featuring images of a tree and a horse alongside “ARBOR” and “EQUOS,” was intended by Saussure to represent the traditional nomenclature view of language, according to which there is a separation between “an immutable order of things in the world” and “an immutable order of ideas and words” (38). On this nomenclature view, words stand in for things, and thus constitute a version of what Stawarska calls the “classical metaphysical view” of representation, such as we find in Aristotle, the Port-Royal rational grammarians, and the Augustinian theory of language Wittgenstein criticizes in the introductory sections of the Philosophical Investigations (38). But the next figure in the published text, which is supposed to represent the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, imports parts of the previous figure (the image of the tree and the word “arbor”) even though there is no support for such importation in the manuscripts of the lectures. On the basis of such considerations, against the received view of the structuralists that Saussure’s treatment of the sign is static and represents a “complete doctrine,” Stawarska argues that Saussure’s actual view as recorded in the Nachlass materials “presents testable, evolving, and if need be, revised hypotheses” (35).
There is of course a tension between structuralist and classical representationalist views. One does not typically think of the structuralists as paradigmatic representationalists. To endorse the view that language or any other semiotic system operates as a system of differences is in fact to downplay, if not reject outright, the claim that words stand in for things. Thus the Saussurean view as presented in the published version of the course is not only unfaithful to Saussure’s actual doctrines, it is also in tension with itself: as presented, “Saussure’s conception of language seems to be divided between, on the one hand, the metaphysical idea of a sign as signans/signatum and, on the other hand, the novel differential understanding of signification developed later in the Course” (37). Setting the stage for her reading of Derrida on Saussure, Stawarska shows how this tension in the published Course is avoided in Saussure’s Nachlass via his account not of absolute but of “relative arbitrariness” (Saussure, qtd. in Stawarska 43) at the level of the language system as a whole (45-46). The real Saussure, Stawarska argues, regards the sign system as always already engaged with the changing socio-historical world and thus open ended.
The socio-historical aspects of the real Saussurean view are investigated more closely by looking at Saussure’s conception of the speech community. Saussure recognizes “a historical fact at the origin of every state of the language” (Saussure, qtd. in Stawarska 51), resulting in a conception according to which “language and the social world are co-constituting factors of cultural signification, and it would be impossible to posit one without simultaneously implicating the other” (51). This is in direct contrast with the way the role of society is downplayed in the published version of the Course. In effect, then, when we consider the unpublished source materials, the Course “effectively complicates the order of the hierarchical dichotomies (la langue and la parole; synchrony and diachrony) from the ‘Saussurian doctrine.’ It calls into question the view that modern linguistics is an ahistorical and formal science, and it suggests that subject and structure-based approaches to cultural signification advanced, respectively, by the traditions of phenomenology and post-structuralism, can be productively combined” (53).
But the chapter does not specify who holds (or held) this view of modern linguistics. The phenomenological and (post-) structuralist considerations that presumably supply the remedy are only gestured at, and the important notion of historicity, so central for phenomenology and arguably one the features that most clearly distinguishes it from structuralism, isn’t discussed in detail. The suggestion seems to be that historicity is dealt with via Stawarska’s Chapter Eight, on synchrony and diachrony. But as both Husserl and Heidegger have shown us, diachrony, temporality, and historicity are not identical concepts, even if they are interrelated. Here, in a pattern repeated throughout the book, at an obvious point of differentiation between structuralism and phenomenology, Stawarska marks the issue but does not further develop it via detailed philosophical discussion, essentially limiting her account to setting the record straight on Saussure.
The chapter on synchrony and diachrony argues that the relationship between the two planes of linguistic analysis is more complicated in Saussure than one would think from reading the published version of the Course. Rather than a hierarchy—la langue as characterized by synchrony over la parole as characterized by diachrony—Saussure’s actual view in the course is not hierarchical but “horizontal” between la langue/synchrony and la parole/diachrony: “what may seem like a single and simple object of study (the sign; la langue ; a synchronic fact) turns out to be crisscrossed with its other interlinked facet (the signified; la parole; a diachronic fact)” (74). Chapter Nine provides an intriguing further account of this interlinking in terms of the notion of creativity or “linguistic innovation.” Whereas the published version presents this material after introducing the synchrony/diachrony distinction, suggesting that “linguistic innovation is of purely diachronic interest,” Stawarska argues, following analysis of remarks in the Nachlass by several Francophone interpreters, that Saussure’s doctrine of linguistic innovation is actually intended to explain the way in which la parole affects la langue over time, thus “horizontally” connecting diachronic and synchronic aspects. This is accomplished primarily through an account of analogy as a creative principle, as exhibited especially in the norm-defying language use of children and literary writers. In phenomena such a false verb conjugations, children’s mistakes are still “operative within a given conjugational paradigm” (79). Such analogical innovation is presented more generally as a “motor driving historical change” (80). In short, “analogical innovation deploys grammatical principles of novel formation harbored within the language structure” (80), and is “intrinsic to the language system itself (81).
Here again, however, Stawarska seems to ignore obvious points for engagement with structuralism and phenomenology: How does this account square with the traditional structuralist concern with the language system? Aren’t such “conjugational paradigms” and “linguistic structures” precisely the sorts of concerns that most occupied the structuralists? And if the real Saussure thinks analogical innovation within such structures is a driver of historical change, surely the close parallel between this idea and the phenomenological notion that eidetic structures of experience help to determine the meaning content of lived experience without fully predetermining it merits closer examination.
Chapter Ten brings together the various threads in Part One to summarize Stawarska’s critique of the general presentation of the published version of the course as an account of “a central language structure… assumed a priori,” with diverse natural languages as a set of “factual consequences” of lesser importance (87). Against this view, Stawarska argues that Saussure’s actual view, as evidenced in students’ lecture notes, “moves from a detailed survey of several languages (les langues) to a concluding, hypothetical notion of language (la langue) as such. Presumably, this is what Stawarska means when she characterizes her reading, earlier in the book, as “empirical” rather than “objective,” and which she contrasts to the problematic view as presented in the published texts that “la langue can be construed as an a priori abstract idea to be couched in universal laws” (94).
The chapter again raises interesting interpretive points that beg for further engagement—especially, in this instance, vis-à-vis phenomenology. Is not, e.g., Husserl’s phenomenology an example of “an apriori abstract idea couched in universal laws,” and which yet is arrived at through “empirical” analysis—assuming this means analysis of lived experience? Doesn’t Husserl’s insistence that, in some sense, the a priori is to be found in experience speak against the dichotomy Stawarska implicitly endorses, between the a priori/ necessary/ universal/ objective, one the one hand, and the a posteriori/ contingent/ particular/ subjective on the other? Was it not a central theoretical concern of phenomenology (and, indeed, of post-structuralists such as Derrida and Foucault) to overcome the simplified reliance on just such dichotomies?
III. Engagement with Phenomenology
Part II, “Contemporary Legacy,” does not further explore these issues directly but does (along with Chapter Seven of Part I, which seems oddly placed in the ordering of the chapters) explore some related themes, via a brief engagement with one broadly structuralist (Lacan, Chapter Eleven) and two phenomenological (Derrida, Chapters Seven and Twelve, and Merleau-Ponty, Chapter Thirteen) authors, focusing on what they had to say about Saussure and how they read the course. Stawarska’s treatment of these issues, while fascinating, seems to me to fall short of the purpose expressed in the introduction, of offering a “rapprochement” between structuralism and phenomenology via the long-obscured actual doctrines of Saussure. This may be in part because it is oriented around readings of particular figures, rather than addressing the philosophical issues directly. Given the venue of this review, I will focus on the chapters engaging phenomenological figures.
Chapter Seven, “Derrida and Saussure: Entrainment and Contamination” interrupts the chain of chapters detailing the doctrines of the Course through engagement with Derrida, seeking a
rapprochement between his critique and Saussure’s actual, more nuanced views. Stawarska is skeptical of Derrida’s reading of Saussure as practitioner of the metaphysics of presence: “It is difficult to imagine how Saussure’s linguistics could have made a difference to the study of cultural signification in the twentieth century, if it were as burdened by the Western metaphysical legacy as Derrida claims it is” (56). The chapter does not explain what exactly this burden is, why it would have inhibited Saussure’s influence, or why we should take Derrida to be right about any of this. It may be true that “few scholars have challenged Derrida’s indictment of Saussure’s linguistics as a species of metaphysics of presence…” (56), but it is not true that few have questioned this Derridean doctrine in its own right. It is also unclear whether Stawarska means to connect the critique of the metaphysics of presence with the critiques of the nomenclature view of the sign and of the striving for objectivity as discussed above.
Stawarska claims that Derrida’s critique of Saussure is misplaced—that he misinterprets the master on the basis of the published text of the Course—but at the same time that Saussure’s actual view is in fact relatively close to Derrida’s own, with its emphasis on “entrainment” and “contamination,” and its rejection of simple notions of purity or presence. Following Derrida’s Glas, Stawarska focuses on the potential objection raised by onomatopoeia. If Saussure’s claim is that there is no natural relation between the world and the sign-system (the thesis of arbitrariness), then it would seem that onomatopoeia presents a putative counterexample, insofar as such words appear to be modelled on natural sounds. The editors of the published version of the course go to great trouble to effectively rule out such cases and thus diffuse the objection, on the grounds that these sorts of words “are never organic elements of a linguistic system” (Saussure, qtd. in Stawarska 60). But the latter phrase is an editorial insertion without basis in the manuscript (61). In Saussure’s actual view, Stawarska argues, onomatopoeia does not constitute an objection to the claim that there are no natural signs. As Derrida argues, even onomatopoetic words are already contaminated by an outside, and are always already part of a sign system: the intralinguistic motivation by the language system enables individual signifiers like glas/knell and fouet/whip to be heard as expressions indicating a sound (or an object capable of making a sound), rather than the external sound-source motivating these expressions directly” (62). Thus, for the real Saussure, as for Derrida, onomatopoeia is not an exception to the rule of the arbitrariness of the sign system, but rather an exemplification of that rule—so long as we recall, as argued in Stawarska’s earlier chapters discussed above, that the arbitrariness thesis applies at the level of the sign system as a whole, not at the level of individual signs.
Stawarska’s argument here—which is Derrida’s argument—is worth more consideration than it receives in the book. What proves that “there are no natural signifiers in language?” The claim is that any attempt to locate a putative exception to this rule will in fact reveal contamination and entrainment, and thus show that in fact the rule holds. But how does one identify cases of contamination and entrainment, except on the basis of the presupposition that the thesis always already holds? If the thesis is correct, there is no “nature” outside of the sign system available as an independent outside, as a neutral point of comparison: there is nothing outside the text. But if this is antecedently presupposed, then of course any attempt to find something that escapes the sign system will come up empty! If the thesis is incorrect, and there are neutral points of comparison for such questions—putative natural signs—then it will be said that “Following Derrida, the language system is worked from within by forces deemed external to it (be they sounds found in the physical world, phonetic evolution that is deemed merely fortuitous in the Course , or intertextual relations). Just as there are no ‘authentic’ onomatopoetic expressions based directly on the mimesis of sound, there are no absolutely arbitrary signifiers devoid of any and all external motivation” (63). The claim thus seems more dogmatic assertion than phenomenological description subject to verification via lived experience.
I don’t wish to question Stawarska’s exegesis of Saussure or of Derrida on this point, but surely, in a philosophical monograph, we are entitled to some considerations as to whether their views are correct. Potential counterexamples could be drawn, for example, from similar discussions in another of Derrida’s major source figures, Husserl (see, for example, the discussion of natural signs as a form of indication in §2 of the first Logical Investigation—particularly relevant given Husserl’s analysis in this section of the notion of “motivation,” a term Stawarska utilizes frequently, although it is unclear if she intends it in the technical phenomenological sense), or, venturing outside the world of Continental philosophy, from Paul Grice’s account of natural signs in “Meaning.” At the very least, some further clarification of what Stawarska means by “empirical” considerations could shed light on the method though which we are supposed to (fail to) discover natural signs.
Chapter Twelve, “Post-structuralism: The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing,” attempts a slightly different sort of rapprochement with Saussure, focusing on Derrida’s reading of the Course in Of Grammatology. Stawarska’s claim is that, despite his deconstructive focus on the text rather than the author, and despite the well-known structuralist and post-structuralist rejection of the import of authorial intent, Derrida’s deconstructive critique of the “civilization of the book” in favor of a notion of “unbound text” or writing should have led him to examine Saussure’s unpublished manuscripts more closely. The notion of the open-endedness of the sign-system, which Stawarska plausibly takes as the marker that distinguishes post-structuralism from structuralism, should have lead Derrida beyond the published text of the course to discover Saussure’s own much more open-ended views in the Nachlass, of which there is evidence that Derrida was aware. Had he done so, Stawarska claims, Derrida would have found a Saussure whose views are in fact much closer to his own: “These writings went unpublished during Saussure’s life, and one could lament a rectifiable failure to deliver intellectual products or consider that the linguist was contesting scientific normativity and the civilization of the book. Saussure was performing the end of the book and the beginning of writing” (113).
Couldn’t the same be said of any author who left unpublished manuscripts? What is special or uniquely interesting about Saussure here, versus, say, other linguists of his day? Beyond linguists, what of other authors in this time period (e.g., Husserl, Heidegger, Freud), who also wrote extensively and only published a fraction of what they wrote? Were they too contesting “scientific normativity and the civilization of the book?” If they were too, then which of their contemporaries were not? What was the source of the scientific normativity that was contested? Again, my point is not that there is nothing to what Stawarska claims—these are interesting and important historical-philosophical issues that merit discussion. My point is, here again, we are not given that philosophical discussion, nor any engagement with Saussure’s contemporaries that might help to shed light on the intricacies and novelty (or lack thereof) of his views. Chapter Twelve is thus especially illustrative in bringing to the forefront the question of immanent critique, noted at the beginning of this review, that haunts Stawarska’s book as a whole: doesn’t this whole approach of establishing the “real Saussure” stand in some tension with Stawarska’s implicit endorsement of the poststructuralist, deconstructive project? Should it matter, from that perspective, whether the Course represents what Saussure himself actually thought, or even what he is “performing,” given that this is now the received view of his ideas—the text? Stawarska is of course aware of this tension. But here, as elsewhere, we are not offered any detailed philosophical account to justify or dissolve it. Is the absence of a detailed treatment of this rather central theoretical issue itself a performance that “deliberately contests scientific normativity,” or perhaps a rejection of the metaphysics of presence?
The final chapter of the book opposes structuralist and post-structuralist readings to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological reading of Saussure. The chapter begins with some interesting considerations of Saussure’s notion of the “language phenomenon,” and suggests that this tells against the traditional notion (presumably of structuralist inspiration) that Saussure has nothing to say about the subject. For Saussure, Stawarska claims, “the subject is equal parts a ‘human being’ and a ‘social being,’ and speaking is an inherently communicative act which borrows from society and thanks to which one interacts with the community. The language phenomenon belongs, therefore, to the individual speaking subject and to the greater social world of historically sedimented conventions. As such, the language phenomenon described by Saussure cannot be confined to the inner world of consciousness emphasized within the classical tradition of phenomenology” (119-120, my emphasis).
Stawarska seems to be opposing French phenomenological figures such as Merleau-Ponty and Derrida to earlier “classical” phenomenologists whom she takes to have held this view. But we are not told what this inner world is, or who exactly held such a view. What of Heidegger’s rejection of the subject in favor of Dasein and Being-in-the-World? What of Husserl’s oft-expressed rejection of the notion of the ego as a monadic, solipsistic subject? Given that Stawarska explicitly invokes the “classical tradition of phenomenology” as a foil, surely we are owed some account of these figures’ views. Even if Stawarska wishes to limit her consideration to the French tradition of phenomenology, surely she is aware of Sartre’s claim that it follows from the very idea of intentionality that “everything [even consciousness] is finally outside” (Sartre, “Intentionality: A Fundamental idea of Husserl’s Phenomenology”). There is no detailed discussion of these central phenomenological themes, and long-discredited caricatures of the classical phenomenological project are presented as accepted doctrines. That project is certainly not beyond reproach; the potential challenges that Stawarska gestures at are interesting and important. But she never does more than gesture. There is no philosophically detailed reproach for the reader (or this reviewer) to agree or disagree with. Beyond historical sources, given her focus on the social aspects of the sign system, Stawarska might also have engaged with the currently burgeoning phenomenological literature on normativity, collective intentionality, or social ontology, but her account of the “contemporary legacy” of phenomenology relevant for the desired rapprochement is limited to mid to late-twentieth century French figures and some occasional references to Agamben.
The subsequent treatment of Merleau-Ponty that concludes the book is interesting, but again frustratingly minimal (direct engagement with Merleau-Ponty makes up about 3.5 pages of the book). Stawarska devotes a few pages to Merleau-Ponty’s view of Saussure, primarily based on Signs, excerpts from the Lectures at the College De France, and The Prose of the World. Her discussion is centered on Merleau-Ponty’s “methodological subjectivism,” which focuses on the phenomenon of speech and sees in the synchronic an always-incomplete historical reside of the diachronic, of previous generations of speakers (121). In this sense, Merleau-Ponty recognizes in Saussure an “interdependency between la langue and la parole” (121) and in light of this proposes a “new, situated conception of reason where historical contingency goes hand in hand with an enduring logic of both mutual understanding and world disclosure that are attainted via an evolving linguistic medium… the signifying ‘body’ of language in the social and historical context” (122). Whereas Merleau-Ponty’s critics found this to be a misreading of the Course, the real Saussurean doctrine, as Stawarska has explicated it, in fact better accords with Merleau-Ponty’s view. Thus, as was the case with Derrida, Merleau-Ponty is actually closer to the real Saussure, if further from the Saussure we know from the published Course, and may even be seen as a reformer of the study of language in the Saussurean mould via his focus on the subjective experience of speech (123).
Stawarska concludes the book thus:
[T]he subject and structure-based approaches to cultural signification need not be opposed. Language construed as a phenomenon is individual as well as social, intentional and automatic, received and invented, contemporary yet ancient. Language construed as a phenomenon calls, therefore, for combined phenomenological and structural approaches to cultural signification. Saussure’s linguistics points a way out of the institutionalized antagonism between these two philosophical traditions of inquiry, and it enables a greater rapprochement than is traditionally acknowledged. Saussure’s linguistics can therefore be claimed as an important intellectual resource in contemporary research on how subjective experiences and structural arrangements continually intersect (123).
This passage nicely encapsulates the Stawarska’s overarching thesis: a re-reading of Saussure that goes beyond the problematic published version of the Course can help to accomplish a rapprochement between the traditionally opposed camps of structuralism and phenomenology. The book is a helpful outline of such rapprochement, if not on its own an accomplishment of it.
What is the nature of revelation? Can it be interpreted? By interpreting, do we strip it of its divine nature? How do other religious traditions deal with these questions? These are the ever-present tensions which press the authors of The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology. By attempting to answer, reformulate, and live in these tensions, they offer a compelling vision into the relevance of phenomenology and comparative theology to these issues.
The Enigma of Divine Revelation—part 7 of the ‘Contributions to Hermeneutics’ series published by Springer—is edited by two prominent scholars: phenomenologist Jean-Luc Marion and comparative theologian Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer. Although written from a Catholic Christian perspective, the volume touches on a myriad of other intellectual and religious traditions. After dedicating Chapter 1 to an introduction, the editors divide the essays into 4 parts—Givenness and Interpretation (Chapters 2-3), The Phenomenality of Revelation (Chapters 4-6), Transforming Ways of Being in the World (Chapters 7-10), The Future of Revelation, Propositions (Revisited), and Close Reading (Chapters 11-13). In order to lay a foundation for the theme of the volume, Chapter 1 gives a brief history of the evolution orthodox Catholic conceptions of divine revelation and the role of interpretation therein.
The collection launches Part I with an essay by one of its editors: Jean-Luc Marion. “The Hermeneutics of Givenness,” translated by Sarah Horton, builds on his concept of ‘saturated phenomena’ by drawing out a provocative vision of the hermeneutic demand created therein. Marion writes to address fears of ‘pure’ givenness, which is sullied by any form of signification, which have driven many hermeneutics scholars to denounce the usefulness of phenomenology. What use is the given if introducing a hermeneutic makes it disappear? Marion responds by first reversing the common understanding of givenness—“we must not conceive of givenness as a de facto authority but as a de jure authority, or rather conceive that the fact of the given suffices to assure to this given the full status of a phenomenon: everything that shows itself shows itself because it gives itself” (Marion 21). Furthermore, he distinguishes between the given, which “imposes itself as a fact, and givenness, which “establishes the norm of this fact” (22). He argues that what he calls the ‘myth of the given’ goes back to Locke’s empiricism, which suggests the given is unmediated sense datum. In this formulation, the given has the inexorable character of immediacy, a character which is inevitably destroyed in moving from the immediate sense datum of the given to the subsequent realization of an object.
Marion enjoins his readers to throw off this empiricist formulation of phenomenology which demands so much of the given’s immediacy. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that “it belongs precisely to the given not to give itself immediately, and above all not in the immediacy of sense data—even though it gives itself in perfect facticity, or rather because it gives itself as an unconditioned and originary factum” (28-29, emphasis original). Thus, signification, he claims, is anterior to givenness. It is only through the process of reduction that we can arrive at the offshoots of the given: sense data, objects, knowledge. We always experience the world as signified first.
Finally, Marion distinguishes between what gives itself and what shows itself. In his words, “the given does not yet show itself through the simple fact that it gives itself” (39). We can reason, as he did, that something things give itself without showing itself. This distinction allows Marion to further argue for his concept of saturated phenomena: that in many cases what gives itself “exceeds what the concept presumed regarding signification, such that the phenomenon escapes any foresight, to the point of becoming impossible to aim at [invisable], if not invisible [invisible]” (41). Allowing for saturated phenomena gives Marion theoretical space for revelation. He addresses the persistent question of how something divine could maintain its status while becoming immanent by suggesting what we encounter in revelation totally exceeds our comprehension, such that what gives itself as divine shows itself only partially in immanence, and even then only appears to us as signified.
The volume’s 3rd chapter offers an opposing view in Shane Mackinlay, who argues Marion’s saturated phenomenon maintains the absolute character of the transcendent, but in doing so severely limits the scope of interpretation. By positing the transcendent in givenness, Mackinlay argues, Marion implies discernment is not necessary. But how do we know if our experience was a veridical experience of the transcendent or a glimmering fraud? In other words, how do we distinguish between the transcendent and the mundane? In an effort to address these questions, Mackinlay proposes adapting three principles of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics to discernment of revelation.
Mackinlay’s essay launches with a critique of ‘The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology,’ arguing figures like Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Marion fail to fully realize the importance of hermeneutics in transcendence. He recalls admonitions for discernment from figures like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Martin Luther in support of his argument. Moving further, he endorses Richard Kearney’s analogy between discernment and meeting a stranger: should we treat strangers with awe or suspicion? Likewise, should we treat an ecstatic encounter with awe or suspicion?
As tools for encountering ‘a stranger,’ Mackinlay proposes adopting “a critical and modest hermeneutics of the phenomenon in its actual appearing, undertaken in dialogue with others who propose interpretations of it” (59-60). As the author notes, Kearney likewise calls for a hermeneutic which operates in the appearing of the phenomenon, but fails to give any indication of how this might be done. This is where Gadamer is useful. Mackinlay echoes Gadamer’s belief that perfectly ‘true’ interpretation cannot exist, only provisional truths can be exposed. As such, all judgments require ongoing critical examination. If truths are provisional, then ongoing examination must continuously question the validity of the original judgment. Finally, this examination should not be done in isolation; a communal examination will further solidify the ongoing examination.
By inducting Gadamer’s hermeneutics into the practice of discerning the transcendent, Mackinlay offers a concrete lead into sifting out the divine from the immanent. One may object that the judgments and examinations Mackinlay introduces will sully the character of the transcendent, but he maintains that “While the introduction of these immanent judgements qualifies any absolute claim to immediate and unambiguous encounter with the transcendent, they remain modest and provisional judgements, and they therefore refrain from simply reducing that transcendence to the immanence of experience” (61-62). Ultimately, he reminds us, we must forward the provisional nature of language, always vigilant in our awareness of the precarious divide between the natural and the supernatural.
Part II of the collection focuses on “The Phenomenality of Revelation.” In Chapter 4, “Revelation as a Problem for Our Age,” Robyn Horner addresses revelation in a post-secular age. Philosopher Charles Taylor famously identified a ‘secular age’ in which traditional religion was waning and expected, by many, to disappear completely through the process of modernization. Yet Horner, following Jürgen Habermas and Daniele Hervieu-Leger, argues society has entered a post-secular age, in which “religion maintains a public influence and relevance, while the secularistic certainty religion will disappear worldwide in the course of modernization is losing ground” (72-73, quoting Habermas). Horner goes further, though. to endorse Hervieu-Leger’s view that secularization primarily reconstructs belief, resulting in new secular religions and reimagined traditional religions.
Secular and post-secular ages have also shifted emphasis from the communal to the individual, placing revelation, among other things, in the experience of the individual. In academic circles, however, revelation has largely been rejected as irrational or even superstitious. As a result, secular philosophers like Nick Trakakis have tried to completely evict theology from philosophy, arguing theology, in assuming metaphysical truths before inquiry has even begun, is less critical towards its own beliefs than philosophy. Richard Colledge recants: “so much of what we passionately maintain on the basis of the weighty tools of rational argumentation are things that we already cared about previously. As such, while the tools of argumentative reason are used to defend them, these come too late to explain why we hold such views in the first place” (77). Colledge’s response, Horner notes, reflects Derrida’s argument that much of rational thought is actually theological in nature, no matter how vehemently secular academics deny it.
Having established revelation’s significance for the post-secular age, Horner moves on to trace its history with theology from what is perhaps its first appearance in Thomas Aquinas to the change made by Vatican II. In sum, she argues, “revelation is understood within Catholic thought chiefly in two ways, as content and as relationship” (91). Within the latter way, Horner finds an additional shift from questions of belief and unbelief to questions of experience, which is where phenomenology enters the scene. She lays out several ways in which French phenomenologists Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Luc Marion, and Emmanuel Falque have offered experiential frameworks for revelation. Lacoste, for example, introduces a liturgical reduction meant not to bring God into view, but to expand our horizon beyond the world. Additionally, his concept of ‘paradoxical phenomena’ accounts for phenomena which we know primarily through affective rather than intellectual means. Horner posits views like this, which includes Marion’s saturated phenomena, expand our horizon of possible transcendence. In fact, she concludes with a notable endorsement of this tradition: “In short, if it is the case that revelation no longer makes sense in contemporary life, perhaps it is because it has been locked for too long in the language of beliefs and made unavailable to experience; perhaps it is because of a diminished sensitivity to its impression in the affect, and perhaps it is because its effects are no longer visible in the persons who proclaim it as knowledge” (100).
In Chapter 5, ‘Revelation and Kingdom,’ Kevin Hart makes the case that the phenomenological revelation introduced by Vatican II uncovers the Kingdom of Heaven as multi-stable phenomena. Like Horner, Hart traces the use of revelation back to Thomas Aquinas, but he adds that the Thomistic concept revelatione divina was a significant turn away from illuminatio as used by Augustine. It was in Aquinas’s legacy that Vatican II first introduced the term ‘divine revelation’ to Catholic constitution in Vatican I, where it formulated divine revelation as “de facto propositional” (111). Vatican II, however, reworks this understanding to one of self-revelation. Although its authors do not explicitly acknowledge it, this self-revelation, as Hart points out, “quietly [slips] from theological epistemology to phenomenology” (111).
This shift enjoins believers to encounter Jesus not simply as a fixed “object among others but as an intentional object: desired, loved, worshipped, and so on, in the context of prayer, reception of sacraments, or anticipation of the life of the world to come” (113-114). Even so, it is imperative that we recognize no matter what we do, the Jesus that appears to us always appears within the limits of our gaze. Our past experiences, current circumstances and values, prejudices, personality delimit the ways in which Jesus appears to us. The difficulty, then, is in recognizing the provisionality of that encounter and expanding our gaze in hope of more multi-stable encounters in the future.
Attempting to address this difficulty, Paul Tillich argues that instead of bring Jesus, God the Son, into our gaze, and in the process irrecoverably altering God’s character, we must “find ourselves in his gaze, which comes in hearing his parables and in meditating on his acts” (114). Hart’s rejoinder says this goes too far; hoping to preserve the character of Jesus by arguing he does not come into our gaze takes him too far out of the world. Instead, Hart argues, the difficulty of recognizing the depth of the Kingdom through revelation comes from its appearance as a multi-stable phenomenon: “It is here yet to come, within yet without, coming in strength while also the smallest of things, visible yet invisible, ordinary yet extraordinary” (117). Revelation, understood as self-revelation, goes beyond the possibilities of proposition in uncovering the multi-stable character of the Kingdom.
Chapter 6, William C. Hackett’s “‘A Whole Habit of Mind’: Revelation and Understanding in the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria”, moves beyond the specific nature of revelation to address the conundrum of taking a personal first-person experience of God and interpreting it through the distant third-person plane of hermeneutics. Our experience of revelation is already limited to the scope of our gaze, so how can hermeneutics be laid over divine encounter without completely covering the transcendent therein? By applying St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “sacrifice Christology” to this issue, Hackett offers a sturdy foundation for the inherently unstable interpretation of revelation.
To lay this foundation, Hackett begins by explaining three essential steps of Cyrilline Christology he relies on: 1) for St. Cyril, theology’s first appearance and task is in liturgy, or in the possibility of deifying flesh by henosis; 2) the Eucharistic “reduction” enacts seeing through enfleshment and self-emptying, resulting in the advancement into theosis; and 3) Christ’s appearance, the first Eucharist, represents the kenotic incarnation of reason. These three steps provide the background for Hackett’s own fourth, which states that “The intellectual practice that corresponds to the sensible manifestation of divine glory in Christ is less one of classical philosophical allegoresis than of using Scriptural images to give flesh to thought” (120). This final step is redolent of St. Cyril’s understanding of the metaphysical expressive possibilities in images, which surpasses the ability of human reason to expose the mind to revelation. For example, St. Cyril’s image of a burning coal, inspired by Isaiah’s hekhalot theophany, imagines the coal to be an image anticipating the character of Christ. Like the burning coal, “[Christ] is conceived as being from two things which are unlike each other and yet by a real combination are all but bound together in unity” (Hackett quoting St. Cyril 127). Both realities, a burning coal and an incarnate God, express the realities of two entirely disparate realities coming wholly into one while retaining the essential characteristics of the disparate realities. In the Eucharist, Hackett concludes, we enjoy this reality; eating the bread and drinking the wine, we participate in a ritual at once real on a material level and on a spiritual level—what we partake is both bread and Christ’s body, both wine and his blood.
Part III of the book, on “Transforming Ways of Being in the World,” begins with Chapter 7 by Werner G. Jeanrond. Reflecting the call of this section of the book, Jeanrond’s chapter dives deeper into developing phenomenological hermeneutics shaped by praxis rather than abstracted theological logic puzzles. Titled “Revelation and the Hermeneutics of Love,” it proposes a theology radically shaped by relational love. This love, as he sees it, is not the flippant whim of attraction, but rather is steeped in the often painfully difficult task of loving the other in their otherness.
Contrasting the erstwhile Yale and Chicago traditions of hermeneutics, traditions he coins the ‘hermeneutics of revelation’ and the ‘hermeneutics of signification’ respectively, Jeanrond puts stock in the latter school, proposing that thinkers like David Tracy and Paul Ricoeur’s universal horizon in addressing fundamental questions of otherness ignored by the professors at Yale. Their universal horizon keeps with Jeanrond’s project, putting otherness at the center of its inquiry, a move which, we are told, is essential for a rich understanding of love in practice. The task of loving the other as other (e.i. without attempt to twist the other into the self) is inextricably linked to hermeneutics because, following Gadamer’s claim that all human communication is ensconced within the limits of the language, Jeanrond argues “the center of love is the recognition of relational subjectivity and its potential for enabling experiences of transcendence and revelation” (145).
Chapter 8 features Mara Brecht questioning what bodies comparative religion centers on and how those habits of bodying can be decentered. She begins “Embodied Transactions” with an admonition for comparative theology to self-critical regarding its hermeneutics—specifically its understanding of subjectivity. Following Gadamer and Ricoeur’s discussions of the embodied dimension of human experience, Brecht traces out the implications of their findings for comparative theology. Going even further, she draws on the work of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Michelle Voss Roberts to propose that “it is only in the particularity of embodied experience that revelation is rendered meaningful” (152). Rather than retracing Barth’s attempt to circle around the problem of subjectivity by placing revelation specifically within a single discrete tradition, Brecht joins other scholars practicing the so-called “new” comparative theology, a school dedicated to embracing the tensions of interreligious dialogue rather than attempting to diffuse them.
Still, Brecht argues, comparative theology should go further to uncover the status of its own subjectivity. Like Andreas Nehring, she rejoins her fellow theologians to deconstruct the contexts in which interpretation takes place. This context is composed, she claims, by what Shannon Sullivan calls “embodied habits,” which not only reflect our identities but determine them. Hence, “We cannot understand the lived realities of religion in the abstract, and thus apart from embodied environments, which—importantly—are always and inevitably shot through with power” (168). As a result, the work of uncovering and improving the embodied habits in comparative theology, a practice known as somaesthetics, requires critical self-examination of the way theologians are bodying, living as racialized, gendered, religiously committed bodies. This is not, however, a rejection of comparative theology; Brecht instead proposes the possibilities of comparative theology as an environment which “[disrupts] the automaticity of our habits” and can, therefore, “be the work of becoming an “outsider within”—a subjective position from which the fullness of revelation be taken in and known” (173).
Chapter 9—Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor for Revelation—explores living as a liminal experience, one “in the middle of things” already started and not yet over. The author, Michele Saracino, cites George Steiner’s discussion of living as a “Saturday” experience, caught between the unutterable pains of “Friday” and the Utopia of “Sunday.” To live a flourishing life, Saracino argues, one must “swim” in the transient “waters” of life not by trying to control the water, but by resigning your control, accepting its otherness, and adapting to its hydrodynamic drag. The admonition to resign oneself, she notes, comes in the wake of Jean Vanier’s call to vulnerability and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s idea of revelation as an act of giving oneself over to God. The water metaphor, however, further actualizes the intimacy of our relationship with alterity by bringing alive the uncertainty and mystery inherent therein.
Yet Saracino’s in extended metaphor, we are not treading water—we are swimming. As many swimmers already know, this necessarily involves working against, and with, hydrodynamic drag. Liking this drag to the challenges we all face in relating to and loving others, Saracino advocates working in harmony with life’s protean waves through improvisation. This improvisation allows us to experience the other without trying to control it, ultimately revealing new ways of being in the world. As she concludes, “empathy emerges when we relinquish power over another, mourn that power, and let the other have an impact on us” (193). By harnessing the insights offered by the swimming metaphor, Saracino further elucidates the transformative power of communion with the other.
The final chapter of Part III, chapter 10, features Frederick G. Lawrence unpacking “Revelation as Sharing in God’s Self-Understanding as Absolute Love.” Like several others in this collection, Lawrence begins with a short history of patristic understanding of revelation; unlike the ones we saw before, this recapitulation highlights the shift in how Catholic theologians have understood St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings on the subject. Earmarking the differences between Vatican I’s Dei Filius and Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, he alerts his readers to the impact theologian Yves Congar had on the latter document. In this new paradigm, revelation is conceptualized as God’s self-communication gifted to us. While many scholars have taken issue with the nature/supernature distinction assumed in Dei Verbum, Lawrence still finds it necessary and even productive to identify as different nature and grace.
Given this distinction, Lawrence activates Bernard Lonergan’s conception of revelation as God’s self-understanding given through grace, that is through Jesus Christ. While grace abounds in the world, the Paschal mystery is the consummate act of revelation. This leads Lawrence to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation, a role he defines by paraphrasing St Paul: “the Spirit sent into human hearts by the Father through the Son transforms us by the graces of conversion, justification, and sanctification” (215-216 emphasis original). The experience of this transformation, which leads us faith, he argues, is not a process of rational recalculation or the adopting of a set of orthodox axioms; Rather, the existential step into faith is better defined as “the knowledge born of religious love” (quoting Lonergan 223). Hence, the religious knowledge too often paraded as the end of a logical syllogism illuminated by the light of reason is instead, to use Herbert McCabe’s words, arrived at through “the darkness of faith” (233).
Chapter 11, the first in Part IV “The Future of Revelation, Propositions (Revisited), and Close Reading”, invites the reader for the first time beyond the horizons of the Christian tradition to that of another Abrahamic religion—Islam. Professor of Qur’anic Studies Maria Massi Dakake interrogates the use of ta’wīl in the Qur’an as well as in Islamic intellectual history, ultimately arguing that integral to the Qur’an’s teachings for Muslims is the understanding that its meaning is multivalent and continues to unravel over time. Rather than a text with clear and discrete religious meaning which has already been uncovered by early witnesses and scholars, Massi Dakake invites us to see meaning in the Qur’an as inexhaustible.
Qur’anic scholars and teachers, as well as the Qur’an and Hadīth, have warned against tafsīr, or explanation of texts by opinion. Many have taken this as a rejection of interpretation full-stop, suggesting the early interpreters arrived at the “correct” understanding of the texts. But Massi Dakake believes this is a grave misunderstanding: “If read in this way, the error [Qur’an 3:7] points to is not the effort to contemplate and find new or hidden meaning in the verses, but on the contrary, the desire to claim that no such new or hidden meanings exist of can be found, and thus to question the legitimacy of continuing to ponder and reflect upon Qur’anic verses—an endeavor the Qur’an itself repeatedly encourages” (259). By alerting us to Qur’anic uses of ta’wīl, which tenth-century theologian and commentator al-Māturīdī, among others, propose avoid the condemnation of Qur’an 3:7, Massi Dakake opens us up to a present, living encounter with the text.
In Chapter 12, Jewish Studies scholar Peter Ochs dismisses the “two-valued propositional logics” so prevalent in the modern West to propose a “Logic of Revelation” (LR) which incorporates a “multivalued” logic. For LR, first premises are “words revealed to some language community” (i.e. revelation) (262). Thus, Ochs admits, one can only access the LR in the Tanakh by way of the “Rabbinic Logic of Revelation,” whose second premises uncover the original conditions for the reception of the first premises.
Using Charles Peirce’s distinction between iconic and indexical signs, Ochs argues the “force of revelation is displayed through its indexicality” (266). While revelation is directly caused by its object, “its meaning is disclosed only by way of predications”—meaning is predicated on revelation in a particular time and place (266). Additionally, this implies that revelation is received in human language communities. In sum, revelation—the relation of God to God’s word—comes to us through language in our worldly setting and bears the weight of indexicality. Interpretive reading (derash), therefore, “is predicative, relational, historically conditioned, and it is authoritative only when and where it is articulated” (272).
In the 13th and final chapter, comparative theologian Francis X. Clooney demonstrates the power of the discipline through the application of the Vedic hermeneutic tradition Mīmāmsā to a reading of the Gospel According to John. Defining Mīmāmsā as “intense investigation,” the chapter begins with a gloss of how Hindu practitioners use the method and its connection to Vedic revelation. Of the extant literature on the subject, perhaps the key text is Mīmāmsā Sūtras, a collection of twelve books attributed to Jaimini (c. 300-200 BCE). Using these works alongside the thought of Śabara Swāmin and Kumārila Bhātta, Clooney argues that, for Mīmāmsā, “Revelation lies in the detail, and revelation is accessible not as received content, but in the work of skilled interpretation” (286-287). Yet this interpretation does not primarily seek to uncover the original context and intentions of a text’s author; a close reading of the actual text will open the way for revelation without imposing on it.
Of course, the religious context and aims of Mīmāmsā are significantly distinct from Clooney’s Catholicism, a key difference being that Mīmāmsā finds revelation in the text itself rather than seeing the text as a sign of something beyond it. Still, Clooney claims, their similarities are weighty enough to make comparison productive. In the final section of the essay, he does just that—applying the principles of Mīmāmsā to sections of the Gospel According to John, particularly the scenes leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. One such scene, the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and the surrounding community’s reaction, brings Clooney’s method to light: “From a Mīmāmsā perspective, good reading always implicates the reader: does the miracle draw us into the circle of believers, or rather locate us among those intent upon killing Jesus?” (299-300). By encouraging us to lean in to the text, Mīmāmsā helps us prioritize the ethical demands made on us by the text, leading us on a path toward a greater understanding of our place in the world.
Engaging diverse hermeneutical traditions at the crossroads of phenomenology and comparative theology, The Enigma of Divine Revelation alerts readers to the contingent and situated nature of each person’s understanding of revelation. The resulting bricolage invites reflection on what is given in revelation, the significance of revelation for our age, the ways revelation may invite praxis, and the importance of close reading for opening revelation. This concoction perhaps appears eclectic, yet it is a capacious model of the benefits of interdisciplinary thought—and the existential potence of rich theological soil.