Iulian Apostolescu (Ed.): The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl

The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl Book Cover The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 108
Iulian Apostolescu (Ed.)
Hardback 103,99 €
XIV, 380

Reviewed by: Luz Ascarate (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

We can think of the Husserlian phenomenological project and the history that surrounds it as the passage “from visible graces to secret graces”, borrowing the expression with which Alain Mérot (2015) describes Poussin’s artistic work. In Mérot’s words, the visible graces are those of rigour (diligentia), order and visual eloquence with which Poussin always sought to show the clarity he was voluntarily seeking in all things. These visible graces make possible, in Pousin’s work, the realization of “secret graces”, which are those inexplicable and never totally expressed graces that support the deep and dark unity of the world, inseparable from the delectation that his work offers. It is because of the transmission of hidden graces that Poussin, according to Mérot, is accessible only to those who are both intelligent and sensible. Moreover, it is precisely because of the transmission of these secret graces that his work needs, in order to exist in all its fullness, a community of chosen people to whom it can be addressed.

Like Poussin’s work, facing the path of making grace visible by combining various techniques from the history of painting, Husserl’s work is a work in progress, a work that is always preparatory: “Everything I have written so far is only preparatory work; it is only the setting down of methods” (Husserl, 2001a). We can say in this sense that, insofar as the contemplation of a painting by Poussin makes us participants in the grace made visible and not sufficiently expressed (secret), the methods of the phenomenological vision are put into practice by every reader of Husserl. In this way, everyone who sees through Husserl, irremediably leaves aside, in her or his reading, something that cannot be said. It is for this reason, perhaps, that phenomenology continues creating interpretative divergences even so many years after the method’s foundation. Nevertheless, this is the same reason why phenomenology must confront other traditions of thought (from positivism to structuralism, among others) in front of which it still has something to say.

This book presents us with the panorama of these divergences, establishing the center of the discussion in the semantic richness of the notion of “subject(s)”. Thus, we can understand this book as the discussion of the subject(s) as the main theme, or main themes, of phenomenology. But we can also understand this book as the discussion of whether the main theme of phenomenology – expressed in the imperative to go back to the “things themselves” – revolves around the notion of subjectivity (subject), although transcendental, or of the multiplicity of subjectivities (subjects). Moreover, the main interest of this book is that it is situated in the field of the most recent of Husserl’s readers, which allows us to question the relevance of the phenomenological method in front of the themes of contemporary philosophical debate: “The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl sets out to critically re-evaluate (and challenge) the predominant interpretations of Husserl’s philosophy, and to adapt phenomenology to the specific philosophical challenges and context of the twenty-first century” (viii). In this way, as we expect of every new book of phenomenology, this book puts in dialogue phenomenology with the most recent philosophical proposals in order to show the limits that this tradition must overcome, or at least identify, to defend its actuality. The presentation of these dialogues and limits is organised around three orientations, each of which is developed in one of the three parts of the book: 1) the logical field of phenomenology, 2) problems and applications of the phenomenological method, and 3) the extents of phenomenology.

Part I, which has five chapters, is entitled “The Phenomenological Project: Definition and Scope”. This section concentrates mainly on the logical and linguistic framework of the Husserlian project. The Logical Investigations (2001b and 2001c) are thus a constant reference in this part of the book.

In the first chapter, “An Analytic Phenomenology: Husserl’s Path to the Things Themselves” (3-15), Jean-Daniel Thumser presents the path of the Husserlian language to things themselves, a path which he calls, for the first time in phenomenological literature, an analytical phenomenology. This essay concentrates on Husserl’s methodological language, from logical investigations to his ‘late manuscripts’. Thumser opposes the Husserlian language to the common language and to the scientific language (3). Unlike these languages, the language of phenomenology, according to the author, responds to the objective of phenomenology, which is “describe the essence of the experiencing life by practicing the phenomenological reduction” (3). The author speaks in the terms of an analytical phenomenology as a way to understad how transcendental language can express lived experience. The aim of the author of this contribution is to show the unity of Husserlian thought from this particular method while showing its limits.

In the second chapter, entitled “Parts, Wholes, and Phenomenological Necessity” (17-30), Adam Konopka reconstructs the notion of Husserlian necessity from the early logic of Husserlian phenomenology referring to parts and wholes. This notion of necessity will be presented as the radicalization of the Kantian conception of the material a priori from the diversification of phenomenological a prioris: “Kant accounts for the necessity proper to the unity and organization of manifolds in a one-sided relation to the subjective accomplishments of the knower. In contrast, Husserl account (sic.) for necessary unities of sense in terms of a two-sided relation of intentionality that is inclusive of lateral unities of coincidence” (29). However, to the author, Kant and Husserl are both convinced that transcendental philosophy clarify the necessity of the lawful regularities in a contingent world by a reference to the necessary conditions of their knowability.

Simone Aurora, in “The Early Husserl Between Structuralism and Transcendental Philosophy” (31-43), establishes a dialogue between Husserlian phenomenology and structuralism. To this end, he must overcome the apparent opposition that, due to the problems of an interpretative caricature of both traditions, would make this dialogue impossible. The author seeks to show that both Husserl’s early philosophy and structuralism must be considered as part of the same transcendental tradition. He concentrates on the notion of Wissenschaftslehre and the mereology of the “Third Logical Investigation” to identify “original” structuralist elements in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy: “Husserl’s version of structuralism is, however, original in many respects. Indeed, unlike the various structuralist currents that have animated many scientific fields, the philosophical programme which underlies the Logical Investigations is by no means limited to a specific disciplinary domain” (39). In this way, the author sets the relevance of Husserlian broad and philosophical structuralism in comparison with other structuralisms.

In the fourth contribution, entitled “Transcendental Consciousness: Subject, Object, or Neither?” (45-56), Corijn van Mazijk problematizes the term “transcendental consciousness”. The author presents three different interpretations of this concept. The first type of reading is classified by the author as ‘subjectivist’. This reading “sees transcendental consciousness as a kind of too narrowly restricted, exclusively first-person reality” (46). The second is the analytic or representationalist one characteristic of the thinkers of the U.S. West Coast. According to these thinkers, Husserlian phenomenology is interested in the ways in which we acquire knowledge of things and says nothing about the being of these things. From this reading, consciousness and the things it apprehends are totally different entities. Phenomenology would then have its own region of objectivities. The third reading is proper to thinkers of the U.S. East Coast (including Dan Zahavi) which challenges the West Cost interpretation. “These scholars understand transcendental consciousness in a more world-encompassing sense” (47). The East Coast argues that transcendental consciousness is no different from its world and is above the subject-object distinction. In the face of this discussion, van Mazijk proposes that phenomenology refers to the entire reality: “phenomenology and natural science genuinely study one and the same reality, even though they have different themes” (52). What is at stake, in the author’s view, is a metaphysical commitment in Husserl’s thought. It should be noted that, to van Mazijk, “metaphysical here (as in its classic sense) refers to a positive claim about what all (actual and possible) being in its final sense amounts to” (50) and Husserl maintains precisely that the ontological region of the transcendental consciousness includes the totality of the being.

Vedran Grahovac’s paper, “Philosophy as an Exercise in Exaggeration: The Role of Circularity in Husserl’s Criticism of Logical Psychologism” (57-94), shows that Husserl develops, in his Logical Investigations, a circular strategy of analysis that allows him to take advantage of the circularity inherent in psychology for the logical framework of his analyses. Thus, Husserl’s criticism of psychology and empiricism would consist above all in showing a circularity that is presupposed in these theories. The advance of Husserl’s philosophy itself depends on these theories, which he overcomes by transforming his themes and his own philosophy in the mode of a circular process. Moreover, for the author,

The persistence of the critical relation of pure science of logic towards psychologism, as the exaggeration of the latter through the self-regulation of the former, secures, in fact, the fixity of its epistemological position. The emphasis on the conscious particularism of the logical claim for universality clearly remains a pivotal concern for Husserl in the 1905–1907 lectures on Logic (85).

Part II, entitled “The Unfolding of Phenomenological Philosophy”, develops different themes that are very present in the current debate of phenomenological tradition, such as the relevance of phenomenology for the social sciences, problems of the transcendental point of view, imagination, intersubjectivity, and passivity. We can say that the papers here are organized in such a way that they outline the passage from the themes of static phenomenology to those of genetic phenomenology.

In Victor Eugen Gelan’s contribution, entitled “Husserl’s Idea of Rigorous Science and Its Relevance for the Human and Social Sciences” (97-105), we see how Husserl’s idea of rigorous science constitutes a great contribution not only to the understanding of the idea of science in general, but above all to the scientific character of the human and social sciences. To this end, the author presents Alfred Schutz’s thought, which allows him to show both an applied phenomenological idea of rigorous science and Husserl’s influence on the social science tradition. Moreover, the author points out that there is a thematic convergence in both thinkers that make such a contribution possible: “Husserl understood that it was necessary to complete his analysis of transcendental intersubjectivity (in Ideas I) with an investigation of subjectivity at the level of the natural world and attitude (elaborated in Krisis), from which the positive sciences emerge. This is where Husserl and Schutz meet” (104). Gelan also shows the methodological aspects of phenomenology that are valuable for social sciences, such as phenomenological reduction and the theory of the constitution of sense, aspects that are inscribed in the Husserlian idea of rigorous science.

Marco Cavallaro’s essay, “Ego-Splitting and the Transcendental Subject. Kant’s Original Insight and Husserl’s Reappraisal” (107-133), puts Husserl and Kant in dialogue about being an “I”. To this end, Cavallaro defines being an I as self-identity and self-consciousness. Firstly, the text attempts to reconstruct Kant’s implicit thought on the problem of Ego-splitting, and secondly, the text presents the view of Husserlian phenomenology on this same problem. According to the author, Husserlian phenomenology considers Ego-splitting the foundation of all transcendental philosophy. Cavallaro maintains that all self-consciousness implies an Ego-splitting and “that this is at odds with the prerequisite of self-identity we generally attribute to every experienceable or solely thinkable object” (128). He thus concludes that the splitting is a eidetic necessary character of the Ego.

“What Is Productive Imagination? The Hidden Resources of Husserl’s Phenomenology of Phantasy” (135-153) by Saulius Geniusas reconstructs the concept of productive imagination from the Husserlian point of view. The author treats this concept in a relative way, as opposed to the concept of reproductive imagination, which he seeks to expose first through the concept of fantasy. Next, the author shows that fantasy cannot be conceived as an ingredient of perceptive consciousness. Memory and fantasy, according to him, generate patterns of meaning and can therefore be taken in the field of positional experience. This allows him to show the place of productive imagination in the cultural field: “One can thus say that the cultural worlds are indeed historical through and through: the systems of appearance through which they are constituted admit of almost endless corrections, transformations and variations” (151). Moreover, according to Geniusas, despite Husserl’s concerns about the Kantian concept of transcendental imagination, Husserlian phenomenology of fantasy allows us to make a re-appropriation of the Kantian concept of productive imagination and apply it to the cultural world.

Rodney K. B. Parker’s contribution “Does Husserl’s Phenomenological Idealism Lead to Pluralistic Solipsism? Assessing the Criticism by Theodor Celms” (155-184) establishes a dialogue between Husserl and Theodor Celms. The author reconstructs Celms’ critique of Husserl’s supposed solipsism in Der phänomenologische Idealismus Husserls (1928). This reconstruction allows him to rescue Celms’ contribution to the formulation of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations under the assumption that Husserl read Celms’ book before writing the text of Cartesians Meditations. Parker defends Husserl’s transcendental idealism by pointing out that the theory of intersubjectivity present in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation can neutralize transcendental solipsism. In any case, according to Parker, if transcendental idealism leads to a solipsistic pluralism, this would not be problematic.

Matt E. M. Bower’s essay “Finding a Way Into Genetic Phenomenology” (185-200) questions the place of genetic phenomenology in Husserian thought. The author concentrates on the clarification of the method of reduction and on its different ways in order to show the limits of these in dealing with the genetic themes of phenomenology. In the face of this, the author seeks to propose a new way that can give an account of the genetic description without leaving the transcendental scope. For this, he is inspired by Husserl’s late reflections on abnormal forms of consciousness. The characteristic feature of this new path is the fact that it is indirect: “The way to genetic phenomenology is indirect, and is at least one step removed from the familiar ‘ways to the reduction’” (191).

In “The Allure of Passivity” (201-211), Randall Johnson puts in discussion Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on the subject of passivity. To present Husserl’s thought on this subject, the author takes as his main reference the passive synthesis lectures, which, according to the author, were not known to Merleau-Ponty: “Based on H. L. Van Breda’s account of Merleau-Ponty’s visit to the Husserl Archives in 1939 and documentation of which manuscripts were available to him while they were being housed in Paris from 1944 until 1948, as well as those he later borrowed, it seems unlikely that Merleau-Ponty was able to read the passive synthesis lectures” (207). Merleau-Ponty’s contribution to the phenomenology of passivity consists, according to Johnson, in the diaphragmatic self-relation of an ego that cannot sustain its fragments. It is precisely the fragmentary forms of Merleau-Ponty’s notes that represent this characterization of passivity, which have produced, in the author, a strong impression capable of inspiring a profound reflection on love, with which this paper ends.

Part III, entitled “At the Limits of Phenomenology:  Towards Phenomenology as Philosophy of Limits”, explores the challenges of the phenomenological method in different limit areas, which can be understood as different extensions of the Husserlian perspective of phenomenology. We can identify here four orientations of these explorations: time, expression, the social ground of the phenomenological method, and the reception of Husserl’s work by his French readers (heirs and critics).

The temporal orientation is explored by the first two papers. On the one hand, “Time and Oblivion: A Phenomenological Study on Oblivion” (215-229), by Benjamin Draxlbauer, is a phenomenological analysis of a time limit-case. The phenomenon of oblivion is treated as a limit-case arising in the description of time-consciousness in Husserlian terms. The author shows the passage from the early Husserlian thought on this subject, in relation to retention and intentional consciousness, to the reflections of Husserl’s later manuscripts. Husserl’s late perspective, according to Draxlbauer, calls into question his early thought on this subject by mobilizing the concepts of sedimentation and horizon. On the other hand, Christian Sternad, in “On the Verge of Subjectivity: Phenomenologies of Death” (231-243), explores various conceptions of the very different time limit-case that is death. What interests the author is to show how the conceptions of death of phenomenological thinkers such as Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, Fink, Sartre, Lévinas or Derrida influence the conceptions of subjectivity of each of these thinkers. Moreover, Sternad understands death as the interruption of the correlation between subject and object. With it, “death” questions the fundamental premises of the phenomenological method as it ends the subject of the experience to describe. What puts this in relevance is the relation between the notions of death and intersubjectivity, as the author of this paper defends.

The second orientation of Part III puts Husserl in dialogue with Frege and Merleau-Ponty around the concept of expression. First, Neal DeRoo in “Spiritual Expression and the Promise of Phenomenology” (245-269) presents Husserl’s response to Frege’s theory of meaning, which makes Husserl’s thinking on expression possible. According to the autor, this concept allows Husserl, on the one hand, to situate meaning as the connection between subjective acts of meaning and objective meanings. On the other hand, this concept allows Husserl to develop his notion of spirit and the analysis of the «lifeworld». Moreover, according to DeRoo, in the Husserlian intention of understanding the scientific knowledge on the basis of Husserl and Frege’s discussion, “expression” will constitute the promise of the phenomenology itself. Second, “Individuation, Affectivity and the World: Reframing Operative Intentionality (Merleau-Ponty)” (271-290) by Elodie Boublil, focuses on the notion of “coherent deformation” present in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of expression. The author argues that, through this notion, Merleau-Ponty understands the individuation of subjectivity from its creative and ontological aspect. With this, Merleau-Ponty manages to show the dynamics inherent in intentionality and its expressions. The paper reveals that in his discussion with Malraux, Merleau-Ponty develops a phenomenology “from within” that displays the metamorphoses of the subject in diverse works of expression such as those of literature and art.

The third orientation explores the limits of the social basis of the phenomenological method, either from the point of view of the socio-geographical limits highlighted by the non-European vision of the world, or from the point of view of the socio-political limits highlighted by the political demands that we can address to phenomenology. Firstly, Ian Angus, in “Husserl and America: Reflections on the Limits of Europe as the Ground of Meaning and Value for Phenomenology” (291-310), problematizes a point that is present in the “Vienna Lecture” and that will be extracted in the Crisis text. This is the moment when Husserl defines the spirit of Europe by discounting Papuan people, the Inuit, the Indigenous peoples, and the Romani, and including “America”. For Angus, “this discounting and inclusion cannot be simply dismissed or ignored but constitutes a fundamental gesture in his critique of the crisis into which European reason has fallen” (292). This gesture is analyzed through the concept of institution (Urstiftung) of the Crisis, so that the “discovery” of America will be understood as an event instituting the spirit of Europe. Thus, the author defends that phenomenology can only be fully realized if, going beyond its European limits, it becomes a comparative diagnosis of the planetary and universal crisis of reason. Secondly, “Politicising the Epokhé: Bernard Stiegler and the Politics of Epochal Suspension” (341-354) by Ben Turner exposes Stiegler’s political appropriation of Husser’s epoché method. This method will not be seen simply as access to the structures of transcendental consciousness by suspending the influence of the world. Rather, what will suspend the epokhé will be the existing social systems to allow a moment of critical unfolding of disruptive source, which will be the institution of a new epoch. The author shows that the understanding of Stiegler’s epokhé has been achieved through, on the one hand, Husserian phenomenological thinking about the internal consciousness of time and, on the other hand, reflections on the pharmacological point of view of certain techniques that are both poisonous and curative. The political point of view of the epokhé must, thus, fight against the poisonous aspects of the epoché.

Last but not least, the fourth orientation of Part III groups three contributions that present the French reception of Husserlian phenomenology from very different topics but that identify, each time, a limit theme of Husserlian phenomenology. Firstly, I would like to present the last text of the book, which shows the contribution of the French critics of Husserl to the phenomenological project. This text, “Not Phenomenology’s ‘Other’: Historical Epistemology’s Critique and Expansion of Phenomenology” (355-380) by David M. Peña-Guzmán, deals first with the tensions between the tradition of French epistemology and the tradition of Husserlian phenomenology. At the same time, the author seeks to defend that, beyond possible misunderstandings, both traditions have similar features. The central references of the essay are Jean Cavaillès and Gaston Bachelard. Peña-Guzmán proves that the critiques of phenomenology by these thinkers have made possible an expansion of the phenomenological Husserlian project in their heirs and readers. Thus, the author of this essay considers that French historical epistemology is the Other of phenomenology. Secondly, I introduce the contribution, “Phenomenological Crossings: Givenness and Event (327-339)” by Emre Şan, which shows an example of the reappropriation and development of phenomenology in the French tradition. This essay focuses on the post-Husserlian developments of Michel Henry, Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Luc Marion. Şan shows that these authors exceed the limits of the given meaning of the phenomenological perspective of noetic-nematic correlation. This is accomplished with the modification of the phenomenon considered, by these authors, as the event of meaning. With it, they manage to extend the scope of phenomenality to subjects such as the invisible, totality, affectivity. Finally, Keith Whitmoyer, in his essay entitled “Husserl and His Shadows: Phenomenology After Merleau-Ponty” (311-326), reflects on the reading of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and Derrida of Husserlian phenomenology. With these authors, he conceives Husserl’s work as a work that should not be considered from a luminous pattern, but rather from a certain brilliance that shines through the paradoxical multiplicity and chiaroscuro of his path. In this way, Husserl’s phenomenology must be understood as the clarification of that which in us makes reduction possible and that which in us resists reduction.

This last idea allows us to return to the reflection with which we started this review. Mérot (2015) affirms about Poussin, in the same text we referred to at the beginning, that he shows the correspondences that sustain the “dark and deep unity” of the world on a certain visual elocution, which is an application, through visible graces, of secret graces. The same can be said of the Husserlian phenomenological project, which, many decades after its foundation, continues to cause the perplexity of that which, wanting to make visible, does not become visible without making visible in that same movement that involves simultaneous occultation. The subjects of phenomenology are thus variable, multiple, urgent, and undefined. Let it be permitted to us then, in front of the perplexity proper to the phenomenological path, to finish this review with a poem by Jaccottet (1977) that makes us think of the paradoxical light with which the phenomenological method seeks to illuminate things themselves: “mêlé au monde que nous traversons, / qu’il y ait, imprégnant ses moindres parcelles,/ de cela que la voix ne peut nommer, de cela /que rien ne mesure, afin qu’encore /il soit possible d’aimer la lumière/ ou seulement de la comprendre,/ ou simplement, encore, de la voir/ elle, comme la terre recueille,/et non pas rien que sa trace de cendre”.


Celms, Theodor. 1928. Der phänomenologische Idealismus Husserls. Riga: Acta Universitatis Latviensis.

Husserl, Edmund.  2001a. “O. Adelgundis Jaegerschmid: Conversations with Edmund Husserl, 1931–1938.” In: The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 336.

———. 2001b. Logical Investigations, Volume I. Trans. John Findlay. London: Routledge.

———. 2001c. Logical Investigations, Volume II. Trans. John Findlay. London: Routledge.

Jaccottet, Philippe. 1977. À la lumière d’hiver. Paris : Gallimard.

Mérot, Alain. 2015. Des grâces visibles aux grâces secrètes. dir. Nicolas Milovanovic et Mickaël Szanto. Poussin et Dieu, cat. expo. [Paris, musée du Louvre, 2 avril-29 juin 2015], Hazan/Éditions du musée du Louvre, pp. 76-83.

Beata Stawarska: Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century

Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century Book Cover Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century
Beata Stawarska
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 53,49 €
IX, 133

Reviewed by: Jacob Rump (Creighton University)

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.

Beata Stawarska: Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020

Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century Book Cover Saussure’s Linguistics, Structuralism, and Phenomenology: The Course in General Linguistics after a Century
Beata Stawarska
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 53,49 €
IX, 133

Iulian Apostolescu (Ed.): The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl, Springer, 2020

The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl Book Cover The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl
Contributions to Phenomenology, Series Volume 108
Iulian Apostolescu
Hardback 103,99 €
XIV, 380

Patrick Flack: Idée, expression, vécu: la question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme

Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme Book Cover Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme
Échanges Littéraires
Patrick Flack

Reviewed by: Anna Yampolskaya (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia)

Le livre récent de Patrick Flack Idée, expression, vécu : la question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme, paru chez Hermann en 2018, réunit onze études en histoire des idées, mais la portée de ce recueil va bien au-delà du questionnement purement historique. Le formalisme russe comme source d’inspiration pour le structuralisme plus tardif, l’art en tant que mode singulier d’interrogation sur la réalité, la recherche d’un sens nouveau du sensible – telles sont des grandes lignes de cet ouvrage ambitieux et provocant. La combinaison de la recherche historique avec les études théoriques permet à Patrick Flack de repenser l’héritage du formalisme russe et de l’établir comme un courant de la pensée véritablement philosophique et non seulement littéraire. La question du signe comme lieu de l’articulation et la cristallisation du sens, le rôle cruciale de l’expressivité dans l’institution du sens de l’œuvre littéraire guident le développement du questionnement philosophique de ce livre.

Dans l’introduction l’auteur entre en polémique avec l’historiographie « occidentale » qui rejette l’existence d’une source commune au structuralisme et à la phénoménologie en les décrivant comme des traditions concurrentes et absolument disjointes. Ce débat lui fournira la base factographique nécessaire pour consolider ses intuitions théoriques. Ainsi, Patrick Flack propose de changer radicalement la perspective historiographique en rejetant le point de vue largement répandu selon lequel le structuralisme est né de deux parents français, à savoir Saussure et Lévi-Strauss. L’autre modèle historiographique, le modèle « Est-Ouest », souligne le rôle de l’école de linguistique pragoise aussi bien que des traditions allemandes dans le développement du structuralisme, ou plutôt des structuralismes. Bien que moins réductionniste que le premier, elle ne répond pas à la question concernant les relations entre ces deux structuralismes, pragois et français. Le troisième modèle, en intégrant les acquis conceptuels des deux premiers, cherche à montrer toute la richesse des racines intellectuelles germaniques et slaves du structuralisme en dépassant les abstractions méthodologiques propres aux modèles mentionnés ci-dessus, où plutôt à révéler leur caractère artificiel et contingent. C’est dans cette perspective que l’examen analytique et historique du formalisme russe apparaît comme une affaire de l’urgence philosophique.

La but de la première partie de cet ouvrage, Idée et forme : le projet épistémologique du formalisme russe, est de dévoiler toute la complexité de la situation historique aussi bien que théorique en rendant compte du rôle de figures apparemment secondaires du mouvement formaliste russe. Patrick Flack construit un cadre théorique général afin de décrire les relations compliquées qui se sont développées entre le formalisme russe, ses sources néokantiennes et son héritage structuraliste. Dans son premier chapitre, Le formalisme russe entre ferment néokantien et linguistique structurale, l’auteur montre que l’idée de la science littéraire en tant que science rigoureuse qui constitue le cœur de l’approche formaliste est génétiquement liée à l’influence néokantienne sur la pensée russe. Sa thèse dépasse l’affirmation courante selon laquelle la présence constante des idées néokantiennes a « façonné le contexte intellectuel » générale de l’époque. C’est l’épistémologie des écoles de Marbourg et de Bade, leur méthodisme étroit qui a servi comme un catalyseur pour la méthode du formalisme russe naissant et, subséquemment, pour la méthode de la linguistique structurale. La nouvelle science spécifique de la « littérarité », de la « poéticité » ne deviendrait une vraie science qu’à la condition que sa méthode soit adaptée à son objet ; dans cette thèse de Rickert, Flack reconnaît le fondement de l’épistémologie formaliste. C’est grâce à cette intuition initiale que les théoriciens russes ont réussi dans leur projet ambitieux. Le passage analogue du néokantisme à la théorie du langage se trouve dans l’itinéraire philosophique de Hendrik Pos, une autre figure presque oubliée par les historiens des idées ; la dette de l’école pragoise à ce penseur original est discutée en détail dans le septième chapitre de ce livre.

Le manque de références directes aux sources néokantiennes dans les ouvrages formalistes s’explique, selon Patrick Flack, par le climat politique des années 1920 ; par contre, des adversaires marxistes du formalisme, dont un certain Trotski, ont souligné la parenté du formalisme avec les courants « idéalistes ». Bien que l’existence même des persécutions marxistes ne puisse être récusée, l’hypothèse de Flack devrait, à mon avis, être précisée. Les noms mêmes de Natorp ou Rickert ne pouvaient certes pas apparaître dans les ouvrages publiés après 1924 dans un contexte positif, mais les références directes et indirectes à Husserl sont bien présentes dans les protocoles du Cercle Linguistique de Moscou du début des années 1920 ; toute une polémique a existé entre les « husserliens » comme Gustav Chpet et Grigorii Vinokur et leur adversaire, Boris Iarkho. Ce dernier était un partisan célèbre de la refondation méthodologique de la science de la littérature ; en prenant une posture critique envers Husserl tout comme envers Rickert et sa distinction entre les sciences de la culture et les sciences de la nature, il défendait l’idéal de la science rigoureuse mais l’interprétait à la manière positiviste et non néokantienne.

Cette petite excursion dans la querelle méthodologique qui eut lieu au sein de l’école formelle nous permet de relever la problématique ainsi que les vrais enjeux de cette thèse : une question apparemment purement historique concernant le rôle du néokantisme dans la genèse du structuralisme et du formalisme russe est tacitement inscrite dans la perspective épistémologique concernant la relation étroite qui existe entre la méthode d’une science et son objet. Est-ce l’objet qui détermine sa méthode, comme chez Heidegger ou les néokantiens, ou est-ce plutôt la méthode spécifique qui donne accès à l’objet, voire le fait paraître en tant qu’objet tout à fait nouveau ? Afin de consolider son approche, dans le chapitre suivant Patrick Flack nous propose une lecture méticuleuse de l’article célèbre d’André Biély, poète-symboliste et théoricien du vers, au sujet de l’héritage du linguiste ukrainien Alexandr Potebnia. Ce texte incontournable d’André Biély a été commenté plusieurs fois par divers spécialistes des études slaves ; l’interprétation qui nous est offerte ici sert à établir Biély en tant que figure-clé dans le passage du néokantisme au (proto)structuralisme. Dès lors, la percée de Biély est surtout méthodologique et épistémologique car il a réussi à purifier les intuitions géniales de Potebnia de son psychologisme démodé; cela permit à Biély de poser le fondement transcendantal d’une nouvelle science qui combinait linguistique et esthétique. Cette thèse de Flack fait écho à celle d’un autre adversaire des formalistes, Victor Jirmounski, selon laquelle le nœud du système de Potebnia est sa méthode même, qui consiste en un rapprochement théorique entre la poétique et la science générale du langage. Ici on ne saurait passer sous silence la polémique implicite entre Flack et Tzvetan Todorov. En radicalisant la position du formaliste Boris Eichenbaum, Todorov affirme que chez les formalistes russes il n’y avait pas de théorie, il n’y avait pas de méthode, mais seulement « une manière de construire l’objet d’études », et que c’est cette absence de méthode et une naïveté presque positiviste qui conduisit l’école formaliste à la crise interne et à sa dissolution postérieure. Ainsi la généalogie épistémologique ébauchée par Flack permet de réévaluer certaines présuppositions répandues sur la signification et le destin mêmes du mouvement formaliste.

Néanmoins, les formalistes ont été assez attentifs à certains aspects théoriques apportés par les approches psychologisantes, positivistes ou socio-historiques. Le troisième chapitre, intitulé Deux théories du vers et une typologie du rythme musical, discute l’influence des théoriciens de la phonologie, Sievers et Beckung, sur la théorie du vers de Roman Jakobson. Le désaccord théorique n’empêche pas Jakobson d’apprécier la technique superbe et la pénétration des chercheurs allemands et de reprendre leurs intuitions sur une base méthodologique différente. Flack souligne l’importance des études empiriques en général pour le développement de la méthode (proto)structuraliste de l’analyse du vers aussi bien que la nécessité de contextualiser la méthode formaliste dans un cadre international et multidisciplinaire. Les relations compliquées du formalisme avec le marxisme sont illustrées par l’exemple des travaux de Rosalia Shor. La transition subtile de cette chercheuse peu connue du formalisme au marxisme éclaire la tendance générale qui a existé dans les années 1920 quand les figures majeures de la science naissante du vers, dont Ossip Brik, Lev Iakubinski ou Lev Polivanov, se sont ouvertes à la problématique socio-culturelle incarnée dans la pensée marxiste. Si le formalisme classique a fait rompre le lien entre la signification et l’expression, l’insistance des « jeunes » formalistes sur le caractère intersubjectif et historique de la signification les amène au réexamen de la théorie de l’expression.

Dans la deuxième partie du livre, L’expression entre idée et vécu : phénoménologie et structuralisme à Prague, l’auteur discute la notion d’expression chez les phénoménologues et les proto-structuralistes. Dans le chapitre Le moment phénoménologique de la linguistique structurale, il introduit la lectrice dans le contexte général des discussions sur le rôle de la phénoménologie dans la pensée de Jakobson. En rejetant les deux positions extrêmes, celles de Elmar Holenstein et d’Aage Hansel-Löve, Flack cherche à développer une approche plus équilibrée : en accentuant l’influence du premier Husserl sur Jakobson, il renonce à considérer la théorie de ce dernier comme « structuralisme phénoménologique ». Le problème clé est celui de la réduction : étant donné que Jakobson n’a jamais travaillé sous la réduction eidétique et transcendantale prise à la lettre, il faut conclure qu’on ne peut pas le ranger parmi les adeptes de la doctrine husserlienne. Mais les ressources de la méthode phénoménologique ne se limitent pas à l’héritage de son fondateur. L’auteur ébauche une perspective méthodologique dans laquelle il sera possible de poser la question sur l’affinité interne entre la phénoménologie plus tardive (surtout Chpet et Merleau-Ponty) et la linguistique structurale (Jakobson, Pos). Les chapitres suivants contiennent des recherches détaillées sur l’interprétation de la notion d’expression chez Jakobson, Husserl et Merleau-Ponty (chapitre Ausdruck – Vyraženie – Expression) et chez Hendrik Pos (chapitre Hendrik Pos : une philosophie entre idée et vécu).

Le rapprochement productif entre Jakobson et la tradition phénoménologique dépasse le cadre étroit de la question : des « échos » de la réduction dans l’approche jakobsonien sont-ils suffisants pour l’inscrire dans l’histoire du mouvement phénoménologique ? Flack reformule la théorie jakobsonienne du langage poétique en termes phénoménologiques afin de montrer la « complémentarité » des positions structuraliste et phénoménologique. Si pour Husserl l’expression n’est qu’un « véhicule du sens logique déjà formé » , chez Jakobson comme chez Chklovski le processus de la perception de l’expression contribue à la formation même du sens. La visée de l’expression, caractérisant, selon Jakobson, la perception esthétique de l’œuvre d’art présuppose la valeur autonome de la perception du signe expressif. C’est la structure perceptive du signe qui rend possible sa participation au processus de l’institution du sens ; dès lors, le langage cesse d’être un pur moyen de communication de la pensée déjà faite, mais « un phénomène poétique de plein droit ». Mais il y a un prix à payer pour cette réélaboration de la relation entre langage et perception : le rôle du sujet transcendantal comme producteur et donateur du sens est remplacé par la structure poétique du langage en tant que structure essentiellement anonyme. L’auteur montre qu’un « compromis » entre cette deux positions se trouve dans la philosophie de Merleau-Ponty : sa conception d’un sujet incarné, impliqué dans l’acte de l’expression au niveau corporel et moteur, lui permet d’intégrer les découvertes principales de Husserl et de Jakobson.

Dans le chapitre suivant Patrick Flack nous offre une biographie intellectuelle du penseur hollandais Hendrik Pos. La signification de sa pensée très originale pour le développement de la phénoménologie, du néokantisme aussi bien que de la linguistique structurale, est souvent méconnue, bien que son rôle d’intermédiaire entre des camps philosophiques différents mérite une attention particulière. On ne peut que féliciter l’auteur qui a comblé cette lacune importante dans le domaine de l’histoire des idées.

La troisième partie de ce recueil, Vers le sens du vécu : perspectives esthétiques et littéraires, unit trois recherches sur les enchevêtrements entre la phénoménologie et l’expérience artistique. La première, De l’objet esthétique à la forme sensible : phénoménologie de l’avant-garde russe, contient une tentative méritoire de déduire une nouvelle théorie phénoménologique de la lecture de la poésie transmentale russe (zaum). Patrick Flack souligne que la phénoménologie esthétique « objectiviste » de Waldemar Conrad, Moritz Geiger et Emil Utitz, contemporains des Cubo-futuristes, des poètes de zaum et des expressionnistes allemands, n’était pas capable de relever le défi de l’art nouveau. Il fallait une « radicalisation » des conceptions phénoménologiques du sensible pour que la phénoménologie de l’art non-figuratif devienne possible. Mais la théorie de la défamiliarisation est aussi insuffisante pour cela, parce que chez Chklovski l’acte de perception garde encore la relation à « des unités de sens toujours déjà constituées » ; dans cette perspective l’art ne cherche qu’à « re-sensibiliser » aux choses, mais il reste tributaire à l’ordre du monde stable et déjà construit. Selon Patrick Flack, dans ce contexte on peut même parler de «conservatisme ontologique » de Chklovski. Une autre vision de l’expérience sensible se trouve dans la poésie transmentale. Flack nous propose une herméneutique phénoménologisante de deux poèmes de Velimir Khlebnikov et de Vasili Kamenski, qui fait écho à la lecture classique de ces auteurs par Jakobson et Vinokur. Les poèmes transmentaux « n’ont pas d’objet » ; selon la formule célèbre de Jakobson, « ce que Husserl appelle dinglicher Bezug est absent ». Pourtant ces poèmes ne sont pas dénués de sens ; la forme poétique est vécue en tant que phénomène autonome. La forme sensible concrète s’articule pour elle-même et non comme un signe référant à quelque chose d’autre. L’ébauche de la réflexion théorique sur ce sujet se trouve dans Fragments esthétiques de Gustav Chpet aussi bien que dans les écrits de Maxim Königsberg (comme l’avait déjà montré Maxim Šapir). Le chapitre suivant, Dans l’ombre du structuralisme : Chklovski, Merleau-Ponty et … Chpet ?, fournit plus de détail sur la phénoménologie chpetienne et sa relation avec les idées de Chklovski et de Merleau-Ponty.

Bien que plus court que les autres, cet essai est très riche en idées nouvelles et productives. L’auteur trace ici le destin du concept chklovskien de défamiliarisation entre formalisme russe, phénoménologie et structuralisme en proposant une interprétation « ontologisante » ou plutôt « onto-esthétisante » de ce concept. La défamiliarisation apparaît à la lectrice non comme un procédé esthétique, mais comme le mode privilégiée de la donation des objets perceptifs. Dans cette perspective la défamiliarisation devient une vraie méthode philosophique, analogue à celle de la phénoménologie génétique : le sens des objet déjà fait, compris en tant que pure présence à soi, est remplacé par le sens en formation, qui est ouvert à des transformations et des déformations. Chklovski lui-même ne semble pas avoir pris conscience de la portée ontologique de sa théorie ; son développement chez Jakobson représente la « réduction linguistique » de ce concept. Il est repris par Jakobson sous la forme de la fonction poétique du langage : dans la poésie le mot est perçu avant tout comme mot dans la concrétude de sa forme acoustique et sémantique et non comme simple substitut de la réalité externe. Dès lors, la travail même de la défamiliarisation se fait à l’intérieur du langage qui devient le « médium spécifique, possédant une phénoménalité propre qui conditionne son fonctionnement et son articulation ». Mais du point de vue du sens perceptif, la théorie de la fonction poétique n’est qu’un pas en arrière : chez Jakobson l’approche génétique au signe contraste avec la stance statique en ce qui concerne le sens de l’objet réel. Le sens de l’objet perceptif ne dépend pas de sa « structuration par le signe », insiste Patrick Flack. Selon lui, c’est chez Merleau-Ponty que la présence incomplète devient l’objet de l’analyse phénoménologique : le sens perceptif ne devient accessible qu’à la phénoménologie expressive. Pourtant, la pensée de Gustav Chpet constitue une autre voie d’accès à la plénitude du sens : c’est grâce à la « forme interne » que le sens perceptif peut être conçu comme une corrélation entre extériorité sensible et intériorité perceptive. La question du sens perceptif a besoin d’une « double approche », phénoménologique aussi bien que structuraliste, et ainsi le rôle de Chpet dans l’élaboration d’une conception de la perception « esthétique » qui ouvre essentiellement le monde, est très important.

Le dernier chapitre de l’ouvrage, Structures temporelles dans la poétique des formalistes russe : répétition, accord, rythme, série du vers, est consacré au travaux de Brik, Kouchner et Tynianov. Le but principal de cet essai est de montrer comment la dimension temporelle de la poésie a été interprétée dans la pensée (proto)structuraliste du formalisme russe. Bien que dans la plupart de textes formalistes l’analyse du temps semble être complètement absent, il y a un certain nombre d’études dans lesquelles il joue un rôle privilégié ; comme l’indique Patrick Flack, cela peut apporter un éclairage nouveau sur la différence entre formalisme russe et structuralisme français. L’auteur souligne le caractère processuel de la défamiliarisation qui réactive la sensation d’une chose comme « sensation en train de se faire et non pas déjà faite » ; cela signifie que la structure temporelle de la subjectivité est présupposée par le projet chklovskien. Mais c’est chez Ossip Brik dans ses Répétitions sonores (1917) que la problématique temporelle dans les études du vers a été introduite. La temporalité intrinsèque au rythme poétique a été étudiée par Boris Kouchner dans Les accords sonnants (1917) et encore par Brik dans Rythme et syntaxe, où Brik a de facto montré que le temps est un élément constructif et productif de la structure poétique. La démarche décisive se trouve dans Le problème de la langue du vers de Tynianov (1924), qui contient l’esquisse d’une conception dans laquelle la fonction constitutive du temps apparaît comme indispensable pour « l’ébranlement de la signification » composant le trait foncier de la structure du vers. L’auteur conclut que selon Tynianov le sens du vers dépend essentiellement de sa temporalité.

Le livre de Patrick Flack s’arrête ici, mais l’appétit intellectuel de la lectrice n’est pas satisfait, il n’est que stimulé par ce recueil si riche par les sujets historiques et philosophiques divers. Le formalisme russe y est décrit comme un mouvement de la pensée dont la signification ne peut être saisie que dans le contexte général de l’histoire de la philosophie européenne du XXe siècle. Ou plutôt, l’histoire intellectuelle de l’Europe ne peut pas être envisagé sans sa partie slave, si souvent oubliée ou négligée. En décrivant l’enracinement du formalisme russe dans la pensée allemande, surtout dans le néokantisme et la phénoménologie naissante, aussi bien que sa parenté avec la pensée française, Patrick Flack nous rappelle toute la complexité de l’aventure spirituelle européenne.

Patrick Flack: Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme, Hermann, 2018

Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme Book Cover Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme
Échanges Littéraires
Patrick Flack

Laura Hengehold, Nancy Bauer (Eds.): A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir, Wiley, 2017

A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir Book Cover A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir
Laura Hengehold, Nancy Bauer (Eds.)
John Wiley & Sons
Hardback $195.00

Simone Aurora: Filosofia e scienze nel primo Husserl: Per una interpretazione strutturalista delle Ricerche logiche

Filosofia e science nel primo Husserl: Per una interpretazione strutturalista delle Ricerche ogiche Book Cover Filosofia e science nel primo Husserl: Per una interpretazione strutturalista delle Ricerche ogiche
La filosofia e il suo passato 62
Simone Aurora

Reviewed by: Nicola Spinelli (Faculty of Mathematics, Hertswood Academy / Research Associate, King's College London)

This is a good book – and, on the Italian market, a much-needed one. Simone Aurora’s declared aim is to show that Husserl’s Logical Investigations belong to the history and conceptual horizon of structuralism, and in a prominent position at that. The whole book builds up to a defense of the view in the last chapter. Aurora’s case is set up well from the beginning and thoroughly argued at the end. That is why the book is good. The reason why the book is much needed on the Italian market is that it is also an introduction to Husserl’s early philosophy – from On the Concept of Number (1886) to the Investigations (1900-1901) – as it should be written: starting from 19th-century developments in psychology and, importantly, mathematics. To my knowledge, there are no published works in Italian that do so, or do so extensively. Aurora satisfactorily fills the gap.

Chapter 1 is about Husserl’s beginnings – a story Aurora does a good job of telling. A mathematics, physics, and astronomy student in Leipzig in 1876, Husserl would end up, in 1883, writing a doctoral thesis on the calculus of variations with Leo Königsberger in Vienna. He was then briefly Weierstrass’s assistant in Berlin. In 1884 Husserl came across Brentano’s work and lectures; as a result, he steered towards philosophy. By 1887, Husserl’s first philosophical work – his Habilitationsschrift under the supervision of Carl Stumpf in Halle – was complete. Crucial to On the Concept of Number are both the mathematical and the philosophical strands of Husserl’s academic life. The eponymous problem is inherited from Weierstrass, Kronecker, and in general, the whole debate on the foundations of mathematics, which at the time was soaring in Europe. The method with which Husserl tackled it – and this is where the originality of the work lies – was Brentano’s descriptive psychology. Both these backgrounds, their developments and Husserl’s own take on them are well expounded by Aurora.

Chapter 2 is about 1891’s Philosophy of Arithmetic (PA). Overall, Aurora’s presentation is clear and, I believe, effective. The relations with the earlier work are explained and the architecture of the book is clearly laid out. Overall, the main notions (‘collective connection’, ‘something in general’, and so forth) and arguments are satisfactorily presented. Let me mention a couple of worries.

One problem is that Aurora highlights relatively few connections between points discussed in PA on the one hand, and the larger debates and their recent developments on the other. For example, at that stage Husserl, like e.g. Cantor, held a version of the abstraction theory of numbers. That, for example, is where the notion of ‘something in general’ (Etwas überhaupt) comes in. The theory had already been severely criticised by Frege in The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884), a criticism, importantly, that fed into Husserl’s work (as well as into Cantor’s). See ortiz Hill 1997. This might have deserved a few lines. Also, although for most of the twentieth century the abstraction theory was forsaken if not forgotten, in the late 1990s Kit Fine attempted a rescue, sparking some debate (Fine 1998). Again, a quick pointer might have been helpful.

Here is a second worry. Some scholars (A. Altobrando and G. Rang are Aurora’s references) believe they can discern the first traces of the development of Husserl’s notions of eidetic intuition and phenomenological epoché in PA. Aurora is among them, and in particular he reckons abstraction is the place to look: for, according to Husserl, in abstraction one disregards all qualitative (and to some extent relational) aspects of the relevant objects, and is only interested in the latter as empty ‘something in general’. The view is put forward at p. 71. Now, there is no denying that both eidetic intuition and the phenomenological epoché involve some sort of heavy disregarding or bracketing. But surely the philosophical literature is crammed with similar methods and theories – not least the British empiricists’ accounts of abstraction, which is as far as it gets from Husserl’s Ideation or Wesensanschauung. Prima facie similarities, then, are in fact rather thin. Terminology as well as theoretical contexts and functions, Aurora admits, are also very different. We may wonder, at this point, what is left for the interpretation to be based on. I suspect very little if anything.

Chapter 3 is about the transition, in the 1890s, from PA to the Investigations. Two conceptual pairs begin to emerge in this period that will end up being paramount in the later work. The first pair, abstract/concrete, is the subject (or one of the subjects) of the third Investigation; the second, intuition/representation, is one of the main characters of the sixth. Aurora describes well their first appearance in an 1894 essay entitled Psychologischen Studien zur elementaren Logik. Developments in Husserl’s view of intentional objects are also discussed in some detail. The main references in this case are manuscript K I 56 and Husserl’s review of Twardowski’s Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellung, both from 1894.

Chapter 4 is about the Prolegomena to Pure Logic, the first part of the Logical Investigations. Aurora does a good job of expounding both Husserl’s arguments against psychologism and his concept of a pure logic and theory of science – the two main themes of the work. As it can and should be expected of an introductory exposition, a few details are at some points glossed over. Yet the main idea, i.e., that there is a basic dimension to science which is called ‘pure logic’ and which is ideal (or, as people tend to say these days, ‘abstract’), objective, and to all appearances, independent of human thought or language, comes across very clearly. There is, however, one distinction that, it seems to me, Aurora fails to recognise (or to report). It is not a major issue for what, after all, is an introductory chapter – but nonetheless a point worth raising. It is the distinction between deduction and grounding.

Between the Prolegomena and the Investigations Husserl defines (or uses) two to four related concepts: on the one hand, deduction or inference (Schluß, or sometimes an unqualified Begründung, in Husserl’s German) and explanatory grounding (the relation between an erklärender Grund and what it is the ground of), both operative in the Prolegomena; on the other hand, foundation (Fundierung), introduced in the third Investigation and operative in the subsequent ones. Now, foundation may (Nenon 1997) or may not have two models, one ontological and one epistemological; and one of these two models, the ontological, may or may not be identical to the explanatory grounding of the Prolegomena – a view for which, I believe, there is something to be said. Your count here will depend on your views on foundation. But whatever these are, there is no doubt at least that deduction and explanatory grounding are distinct in the Prolegomena. That is what does not come across in the book.

Indeed, as far as I can see, in Aurora’s presentation the two concepts from the Prolegomena collapse into one. While explaining what, for Husserl, constitutes the ‘unity of science’, Aurora introduces the concept of Begründung and says that it ‘substantially refers to the notion of inference or logical deduction’ (p. 134). Yet this is something that Husserl explicitly denies. To see this, look at Prolegomena, §63. Here, a distinction is made between explanatory and non-explanatory Begründung, and the former, not the latter, is deemed essential to (the unity of) science. Indeed for Husserl, as for Bolzano (from whom he inherits the notion), what secures the unity of science is an explanatory relation (erklärende Zusammenhang) between true propositions. And while ‘all grounds are premises’ – so that if proposition A grounds proposition B then there is an inference from A to B – ‘not all premises are grounds’. It is not the case, that is, that if there is an inference from A to B then A grounds B. In other words, ‘every explanatory relation is deductive (deduktive), but not every deductive relation is explanatory’.

While Husserl is very explicit in drawing the distinction, he is not so helpful in justifying it. He devotes a few remarks to the task, right after the passage I quoted; but they do not make an argument. Here is how one may be extracted. (Bolzano’s arguments are also available from the Wissenschaftslehre, around §200.)

Let us stipulate deducibility as the modern notion of (classical) logical consequence. If grounding were just logical consequence, the latter would be an explanatory relation (because the former is). But it isn’t: there are cases of valid and sound arguments in which the premises fail to explain the conclusion. For example, p p, or p & q ╞ p. Indeed, it is hard to see how a proposition, even though it can be inferred from itself, can also ground (explain) itself: it is raining, therefore it is raining – but is it raining because it is raining? Things are even worse with the second case: does the truth of a conjunction ground the truth of one of its conjuncts? It is probably the other way round. To derive a conclusion from a set of premises is not, in and of itself, to explain the former in terms of the latter. But then grounding and deducibility must be distinct.

(I should mention that in an extended footnote at p. 133 Aurora does discuss Husserl’s notion of Begründung vis-à-vis Bolzano’s. So he is definitely aware of the theoretical background, the significance and the facets of the concept. So much so, that the footnote seems to contradict, rather than explain, the main text.)

Chapter 5 is possibly the most felicitous of the whole book, partly because, due to the topic, Aurora’s background in linguistics shines through. We are now past the Prolegomena and into the Investigations proper. Having established in the former that logical and mathematical objects do not, by all appearances, belong to the spatio-temporal world, Husserl is left with the question as to how we can know anything about them – in fact, relate to them at all. Short of an answer, Husserl thinks, the existence of logic and therefore of science in general, as human enterprises, must remain a mystery. And for Husserl the starting point is language, because it is primarily in language – in the meanings of words and sentences – that logical objects make their spatio-temporal appearance. The main result of the first two Investigations are the following: meanings are ideal (non-spatio-temporal) and akin to universals; and universals are genuine objects, irreducible to their instances, to thought, or to language. (It is a substantive question whether this amounts to full-blown Platonism; Aurora believes it doesn’t, and some remarks of Husserl’s certainly point that way.)

The first two sections of the chapter, on the first Investigation, are nearly flawless. The remaining sections, on the second Investigation, are also effective but, I believe, raise at least one worry. Aurora thinks that, for Husserl, meanings are ‘ideal classes of objects’ (203). Now, he may well not be using ‘class’ in its fully technical sense. But the fact remains that classes, among other things, are (like sets, their close relatives) extensional mathematical constructs. However, in the 1890s, when most of the Investigations were thought out, Husserl was an adamant intensionalist. See for example his review of Schröder’s Vorlesungen as well as The Deductive Calculus and the Logic of Contents, both from 1891. For evidence that Husserl did not change his mind afterwards, see the 1903 review of Palágy’s Der Streit der Psychologisten und Formalisten in der modernen Logik. Aurora’s reading, therefore, if taken literally, is probably incorrect. If we take it charitably, it is misleading.

Despite this, Aurora is completely right in pointing out (204) the indispensability of ideal objects, particularly species (universals), for Husserl’s phenomenological project in the Investigations: if the former go, the latter goes with them.

Chapter 6 is about the third and fourth Investigations. The latter deals with matters of ‘pure grammar’, as Husserl calls it, and here Aurora’s linguistic background is once again both tangible and helpful. Yet it is the first sections, on the third Investigation, that are particularly important. In fact, they are the crux of the whole book. The reason is that the third Investigation is about parts, wholes and the relations between them – and (without going into detail, I will return to it later) the very concept of structure, central to the book for obvious reasons, is defined, in the last chapter, in mereological terms.

To say something of significance on Aurora’s interpretation of the third Investigation I would have to write more than my allowance permits. I will therefore only mention what is at least a presentational flaw. Despite insisting throughout the book and in the chapter on the relevance of the formal sciences in the development of Husserl’s philosophy, Aurora never engages with the several formalizations of the Husserlian theory of parts and wholes. He does mention the first of such contributions, Simons 1982 (334). But we also have Simons 1987, Fine 1995, Casari 2000, and Correia 2004 – which, moreover, all extend Husserl’s theory in many different ways. This, to me, is the only genuinely disappointing feature of, or absence from, the book. All the more so, because the capacity to be mathematized or formalized is one of the definitional traits of structures as set out in the final discussion (310).

Chapter 7 outlines the properly phenomenological parts of the Investigations, namely, the fifth and sixth Investigations. This is where Husserl puts to work all the notions he previously set up and sketches a phenomenological theory of consciousness (especially of intentional consciousness) and knowledge. Aurora’s exposition is careful and effective, with more than one passage I found particularly felicitous.

Chapter 8 is where Aurora lays out and defends his view. These are the main claims:

  1. Husserl’s philosophy in the Logical Investigations is a structuralist philosophy;
  1. Some of the aspects of Husserl’s philosophy that make it structuralist are ideally suited to characterise structuralism as such;
  1. Husserl’s subsequent, transcendental work deals with one of the central problems of structuralism: the origin of structures.

Section 1 is about structuralism in general. The first thing to sort out is, obviously, what a structure is. Borrowing from a number of authors, Aurora characterises structure in terms of two things: part-whole relations, and mathematizability. A structure is ‘a particular type of multiplicity’ whose elements obey laws ‘that confer properties to the whole as such which are distinct from those of the elements’ (309, half-quoting J. Piaget). Moreover, a structure ‘must always be formalizable’ (310). On the basis of this, Aurora characterises structuralism as follows:

Structuralism aims at studying the latent structures within classes of objects…by creating models, i.e. formal descriptions that make the immanent relations between objects of the relevant class predictable and intelligible (311).

It is worth noting that the given definition of structure does not necessitate that of structuralism. It is even more worth noting that this is a good thing. The reason is that, while Aurora wants to argue that the philosophy of the Investigations is structuralist, it is dubious that Husserl’s project in 1900-1901 involved the idea that the phenomenology of the fifth and sixth Investigations should be formalized. True, Husserl did have in mind a formalization of his theory of wholes and parts, and that theory is operative in the phenomenology. But that doesn’t entail that Husserl’s early phenomenology was ever meant to be entirely formalizable – much less that its aim was to ‘make predictions’ about consciousness and knowledge possible. The upshot is that Aurora’s definitions allow for a Husserl who deals in structures but not, strictly speaking, for a structuralist Husserl. This is too underwhelming a conclusion for what is otherwise, as I said at the outset, a well-constructed case. A looser definition of structuralism might perhaps have been suitable.

Another (minor) unclarity is Aurora’s appeal to mereology throughout the book. In and of itself, this appeal is perfectly fine. Yet not all mereologies admit of the sort of relations between parts that structuralists require. For example, and in stark contrast with the structuralist’s mantra, in classical mereology there is a sense in which the whole is just the sum (fusion) of its parts! Yet Aurora never engages with the distinction between classical and non-classical mereologies in any significant way. Moreover, it is unclear why formalizations of structures should be mereological rather than, say, algebraic (like most of Aurora’s examples of formal structures) or order-theoretic.

Be that as it may, Aurora is entirely correct when he points out that, if part-whole discourse is crucial to structuralism, then Husserl’s theory is ideally suited to form the core of any structuralist system: it is (or can be made) robust, it is philosophically profound, and, importantly, being a non-classical mereology, it is strong enough to describe the right sort of relations the structuralist needs.

At the very end, Aurora points out that one of the distinctive features of Husserl’s structuralism is its engagement with the problem of the origin of structures. In particular, Husserl is interested in understanding the relations between the subjects who come to be aware of structures and the structures themselves. This is indeed what the Investigations are all about. It is also one of the threads of Husserl’s whole philosophical career. As Aurora puts it (effectively, I believe), ‘this attempt at conciliating genesis and structure, first carried out in the Logical Investigations, is peculiar to Husserlian structuralism, and it is the question that Husserl will try to answer – through an ever more complex philosophical elaboration – in all his subsequent works.’


Casari, E. 2000. “On Husserl’s Theory of Wholes and Parts.” History and Philosophy of Logic 21 (1): 1-43.

Correia, F. 2004. “Husserl on Foundation.” Dialectica 58 (3): 349-367.

Fine, K. 1995. “Part-whole”. In Smith, B. and Woodruff Smith, D. (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Husserl (Cambridge: CUP), pp. 463-486.

Fine, K. 1998. “Cantorian Abstraction: A Reconstruction and Defense.” Journal of Philosophy 95 (12): 599-634.

Nenon, T. 1997. “Two Models of Foundation in the Logical Investigations.” In Hopkins, B. (ed). Husserl in the Contemporary Context: Prospects and Projects for Transcendental Phenomenology (Dodrecht: Kluwer), pp. 159-177.

Ortiz Hill, C. 1997. “Did Georg Cantor Influence Edmund Husserl?” Synthese 113 (1): 145-170.

Simons, P. 1982. “Three Essays in Formal Ontology.” In B. Smith (ed.). Parts and Moments. Studies in Logic and Formal Ontology (Philosophia Verlag: München-Wien), pp. 111-260.

Simons, P. 1987. Parts. A Study in Ontology (Oxford: OUP).



Gregory J. Laughery: Paul Ricoeur & Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation

Paul Ricoeur & Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur's Contribution to Biblical Interpretation Book Cover Paul Ricoeur & Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur's Contribution to Biblical Interpretation
Gregory J. Laughery
Destinee Media
Paperback $24.00

Reviewed by: A.G. Holdier (Colorado Technical University)

Over the last decade, the legacy of Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutical strategy has entered the interdisciplinary arena in full force, interacting with theology, the natural sciences, and literary studies in various ways; Gregory J. Laughery’s Paul Ricoeur and Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation now turns a critical eye to Ricoeur’s relevance within the field of biblical studies to produce a helpful volume that promises to introduce Ricoeur’s hermeneutical phenomenology to students in yet another tradition.

Such a project is unsurprising: Ricoeur himself frequently wrote on matters situated at the nexus of hermeneutics and religion, often using the Bible itself variably as both example and tool to demonstrate his philosophy. Laughery aims to follow in Ricoeur’s footsteps by recursively subjecting the Frenchman’s own work to the same treatment he once paid to the Bible in order to mine Ricoeur’s corpus ultimately for insight back into biblical hermeneutics in the contemporary world.

To this end, Laughery’s work provides a succinct summation of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics before applying said philosophy to a field (and, by extension, a culture) he describes as hamstrung by conflicting interpretive models. With the rise of poststructuralism and postmodernism, a reader is caught between one approach that “under-reads” and praises the de-materializing over-spiritualization of a text and another that “over-reads” and rigidly waters down the complexity of a text via a plethora of reductionistic concerns. Readers are paradoxically expected to maintain a perspective which is both “inside” and “outside” of a text simultaneously, a conclusion that cannot avoid discharging the text of any value, for “whether readers are left “outside” or “inside” the text, it has no meaning in and of itself. It is either unable to resist a ruling readerly imposition, or it spirals off into an endless spin of non-meaning” (5). Laughery argues that Ricoeur’s approach offers a reconciliatory path forward that can restore genuine meaning to a reading (of the Bible or of anything else) by avoiding the twin dangers of reading too much or too little in the text.

Laughery structures the book along Ricoeur’s tripartite mimetic process by prefiguring his argument with a brief biographical sketch of Ricoeur’s life alongside several of his key philosophical positions. Particularly for readers unfamiliar with Ricoeur, this section alone offers a valuable introduction to Ricoeurian studies, explaining many of the concepts and texts which made Ricoeur’s name within academia. Additionally, Laughery here sets up the oft-maligned modernist-postmodernist conflict as the primary adversary of his book before arguing that Ricoeur’s “living hermeneutics” eschews both the polarities of modernist certainty and of postmodernist uncertainty to maintain a hopeful optimism about a text; it is a hermeneutic with clear boundaries, but ones that “do not necessarily connote a loss of meaning” (17). This “both/and” approach to a text, Laughery suggests, offers the most flexible perspective possible for discovering real sense in a reading.

The second section – Configuration – comprises the majority of the book and sees Laughery lay out Ricoeur’s hermeneutical philosophy that prioritizes a text as an objective element of a culture. Offering a middle path between a dry, modernist reading that focuses exclusively on the words of a page and a whimsical, postmodern approach untethered from objective referents, Laughery emphasizes Ricoeur’s concern for “re-regionalizing” a text – that is, to treat a text as a real window into another, specific (regional) way of life. Properly understanding the Bible, then, means to allow it to present itself and the world it speaks from to the reader as a functional window into another culture; as Laughery puts it:

A Ricoeurian biblical hermeneutics is an attempt to allow the text to unfold its proposal of a world, letting speak what has been “said” within biblical discourse. The “said” has been inscribed in a diversity of forms (structures) directly related to their contents (sense and referent), which in the biblical text, among other things, is called a new world, new covenant, and the kingdom of God (88-89).

This approach thereby marries the objective presentation of modernism with the heartfelt emotion of postmodernism to create a meaningful statement which appeals simultaneously to both fact and emotion.

Laughery suggests that over-specialization in the discipline has led to such an approach rarely being taken in biblical studies, where instead a researcher’s preconceived categorical concerns preclude the text’s opportunity to speak for itself; to demonstrate this, Laughery contrasts Ricoeur’s methodology abstractly against the dominant perspectives of structuralism and the historical-critical method, as well as concretely across powerhouse figures within the field (such as Bultmann and Crossan). In the former case, Laughery plays a fair game, presenting a reserved description of both Ricoeur’s dialectical appropriation of each methodology’s strengths, as well as his ardent criticism of their weaknesses. As already described, Ricoeur considered both structuralism and a harsh literalism to make fundamental interpretive missteps, albeit it in opposite directions; rather than simply reject them wholesale, he sought to discover an “inherent complementarity” (132) within them to create an approach that neither wholly submerges a reader inside a text (as in historico-criticism) nor resists all submersion whatsoever (á la structuralism). The result is a “living” hermeneutical approach which treats texts as calcified forms of discourse inextricable from “an actual event, related to a subject and a referent addressed to someone” (110). Decoding this rooted message is the hermeneutical project.

In the case of the latter, he juxtaposes Bultmann’s demythologizing project with Ricoeur’s definition of myth that does not seek to strip a text of its mythological elements, but rather views mythology as the “attempt to express another world in the language of this one” (78). Similarly, Laughery includes an extended application of Ricoeurian hermeneutics to one of Ricoeur’s favorite biblical genres – parable – and brings Crossan’s pessimistic treatment of the ultimate indeterminancy of parables into the light of Ricoeur’s optimistic reaffirmation of the beneficial textual boundaries (both literary and cultural) which function to disclose the text’s world in an objective fashion.[1] In short, Laughery argues that Ricoeur’s hermeneutic allows a reader to explore a parable’s polyvalence, seeking insight from the structural underpinnings of the text, while maintaining hope that the reading overall is still heading somewhere specific (as rooted in the historico-cultural world of the text). In this way, Ricoeurian hermeneutics manages to employ various interpretive models while avoiding allowing any one methodology to morph into an ideology – a danger Ricoeur called an “interpretive ‘dead end’” (139).

Of course, no treatment of Ricoeur’s hermeneutical philosophy would be complete without a consideration of his work on narrative; Laughery brings this key theme of Ricoeur’s thought into conversation with the work of David Carr to consider the differences between the experience of living and the later telling of that experience in the form of a story. To Ricoeur, narratives entail the plotted description of a series of events structured intentionally to make various points or teach (often implicitly) various lessons or themes. A historical narrative is not identical to a life, but can only tell of that life retrospectively with the insight of where the story leads. Said another way, narrative allows one to view the story of a life – including, importantly, one’s own life – from a distance with an interpretive structure that must be decoded and learned from.

This becomes particularly useful for biblical hermeneutics, given the Bible’s blend of fictional and nonfictional narratives. Ricoeur had a particular interest in historical narratives and observed that if the referents of the biblical narratives are wholly inaccessible, then there is no way to distinguish fiction from nonfiction. The postmodern tendency to over-spiritualize and over-“literary-ize” (188) the text of Scripture makes the hermeneutical project impossible. However, the modernist assumption that knowledge of historical events is equal to accessing the events themselves is likewise mistaken. Instead, Ricoeur’s focused emphasis on discovering the rooted world of a text “contributes to biblical hermeneutics by embodying a fine balance between the récit of fiction and the récit of history” (190), given that it is able to accommodate the unique concerns of both genres.

The book ends with a short third section wherein Laughery rounds out Ricoeur’s mimetic process by Refiguring the lessons of the book as a whole to conclude the work with some summative thoughts. He muses on Ricoeur’s notion of appropriation to suggest that the project of reading a text inherently leads to a change in oneself – as he says, “the motion from the world of the text to the world of the reader must be carried out a step further by being lived out into the animate world” (218) – which is certainly a point that devout readers of the Bible frequently describe as well. In fact, it was in this small section – the shortest of the three – where Laughery offers the most pointed insights for biblical studies, as well as devotional Christian theology. On the final page preceding the book’s conclusion, Laughery finally makes plain the point which has been implied frequently throughout much of the work: if the true goal of interpretation is to uncover the world of a text, then the world we inhabit is something which can, and should, be interpreted to learn about both God and ourselves, in precisely the manner that the faithful readers of the Bible often speak. In short, when he characterizes Ricoeur’s project as one of “living hermeneutics,” Laughery means this literally.

On the whole, Ricoeur scholars will likely find little material in Paul Ricoeur and Living Hermeneutics that is unfamiliar: the majority of the book consists of an explication of Ricoeur’s basic hermeneutical philosophy in a manner that highlights Ricoeur’s theological examples while offering several pointed case studies from the realm of biblical studies. However, Laughery’s summary is comprehensive, accessible, and fair to Ricoeur in precisely the manner that an overview of a philosopher’s system should be. Notably, Laughery is not hesitant to critique what he sees as the weaker parts of Ricoeur’s methodology, such as his lack of emphasis on exegesis (something, again, especially relevant for biblical studies). Unfortunately, some readers may be disappointed in the significant emphasis on Ricoeur’s philosophy at the expense of a deeper consideration of academic biblical studies: though it is well-done, there is far more Ricoeur than Bible in this book.

Overall, Gregory J. Laughery’s Paul Ricoeur and Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation is a very fine undergraduate introduction to the person and work of Paul Ricoeur, if that introduction would benefit from emphasis on biblical studies and, by the end, Christian theology. Of course, if the reader should think that an introduction to Ricoeur would not benefit from such things, then one will largely be disappointed in the work of Ricoeur himself, given how frequently he wrote on precisely those topics.

[1] As Laughery points out: “We argue that parabolic polyvalence is not entirely open to a gratuitous free-play. Texts, even parabled ones, have interpretations that can be considered more or less probable, in spite of those interpretations not being absolute” (121).

Simone Aurora: Filosofia e scienze nel primo Husserl. Per una interpretazione strutturalista delle Ricerche logiche, Cleup, 2017

Filosofia e scienze nel primo Husserl. Per una interpretazione strutturalista delle Ricerche logiche Book Cover Filosofia e scienze nel primo Husserl. Per una interpretazione strutturalista delle Ricerche logiche
La filosofia e il suo passato 62
Simone Aurora