Susi Ferrarello and Nicolle Zapien’s book Ethical Experience: A Phenomenology is an ambitious and thought-provoking attempt to show how philosophy (and, especially, phenomenology) and psychology can collaborate concretely towards the achievement of shared aims.
The book, as a whole, has two core aims. On the one hand, it aims to offer a phenomenological analysis of the experience of decision-making, as it occurs in everyday life and as individuals recognize it in their personal narratives. The authors conceive this approach to moral psychology and the phenomenon of decision-making in open contrast to the approaches of cognitive science and contemporary analytic philosophy (2). On the other hand, the book aims to argue that the understanding of the multiple ways in which individuals approach time and intimacy contributes to shaping our ethical choices and can even improve our well-being (10).
The book is conveniently divided into two parts: Part One is written by Ferrarello and is philosophical in nature; Part Two is written by Zapien, instead, and is (mostly) psychological.
Part One clarifies fundamental methodological and theoretical points, which are mainly taken from Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. In particular, in Part One, Ferrarello illustrates the distinction between different layers of reality, of time, and of identity and thematizes individual approaches to time and intimacy. Crucially, these distinctions and themes will be employed in the philosophical interpretation of the empirical findings of Part Two.
Part Two presents qualitative studies concerning three kinds of ethical decisions (unexpected leadership decisions, parental decisions, and those of individuals who face the choice of engaging in extramarital affairs), as well as offering philosophical interpretations of their findings. The general approach of Part Two involves the application of Amedeo Giorgi’s phenomenological research method for psychology.
Chapter I.1 of Part One opens with an intriguing explanation of the method employed throughout the book – that is, the phenomenological method. More precisely, the phenomenological method is understood as a method that aims towards the reactivation of sedimented meanings or the production of new meanings. It consists of two parts, which should not be considered as chronologically separated moments, but, rather, as complementary halves of one process operating simultaneously: one is the pars destruens and the other is the pars construens. They correspond to Husserl’s static and genetic methods, respectively. The goal of the pars destruens, which is the expression of the static method, consists in grasping the essential traits of the phenomenon whose meaning the phenomenologist aims to question and reactivate. This operation can be accomplished only if the phenomenologist is able to free himself or herself from prejudices and hasty associative habits he or she might have, and to “challenge any previous authority and the meanings that have been accepted in previous investigation” or “by the intersubjective community” (21). The goal of the pars construens, which is the expression of the genetic method, is to relate the new meaning produced (or awakened) with the passive layers of sense. With this goal in mind, the phenomenologist establishes whether the newer meaning can appropriately substitute the older.
Importantly, Ferrarello stresses that the attempt to attribute new meaning to phenomena is not just embedded in a general epistemological goal, but also in a specifically ethical one. According to Ferrarello, there is, indeed, a strong connection between ethics and the project of the amelioration of meanings.
After the clarification of the general methodology employed in the book, Ferrarello moves on to distinguish between three different layers of reality, of time, and identity in Chapter I.2 and Chapter I.3. Such descriptions constitute the theoretical core of the book.
Ferrarello explains that our life features three layers to which correspond three forms of temporality and three forms of identity (or ego). One of these is the layer of the passive, ego-less life, which Ferrarello also describes as the natural or psychological life. This level is characterized by a linear sense of time. Another layer consists of the practical and ethical life of the “just-awoken ego”. This ego, embodied in a “volitional body”, lives and acts in the time of the here-and-now. Lastly, a third level is identified with the layer of the philosophical life; the life lived from an absolute standpoint and from an absolute, timeless time.
The layer of the practical ego or volitional body is particularly important, since without this level it would be “neither ethical awareness nor an actual effort to become responsibly self-reflectively aware of our deeds” (37). However, Ferrarello also claims that these layers are all present in the life of an individual and that, typically, individuals continuously shift from one level to another. Ferrarello’s idea is that the balance that we find between these three layers of reality, time and identity, “is what shapes our sense of goodness, normal behavior and knowledge” (47).
In Chapter I.4, she expands on this idea by reference to the examples of the schizophrenic and the mystic who display, each in their own way, a unique between the three layers of life, time, and identity. For example, people with schizophrenia are not able to float from one layer of reality to another, but they are rather mostly stuck in the layer of absolute, timeless time. Because of this, they lack intimacy with their passive selves and, this, in turn, prevents them from finding a fulfilling meaning for their lives. Ferrarello insists that the schizophrenics’ relation with reality and time should not be stigmatized, because this would intensify the schizophrenics’ struggle to become intimate with their passive selves. On the contrary, it is pivotal to acknowledge that there are a variety of perspectives and ways to relate to reality and time (as that of the person with schizophrenia) so one can develop empathy towards others and be able to build a sense of intimacy with others.
The first part of the book closes with stimulating and original analyses delving into the central issue outlined in Chapter I.2 – that is, the volitional body. More specifically, Chapter I.5 clarifies the notion of practical intentionality introduced in Chapter I.2. Practical intentionality refers to the intentionality displayed in the moment in which the ego awakes and enters into a responsible contact with its passive habits and instincts. Ferrarello clarifies practical intentionality in relation to love and intimacy.
Following Husserl’s phenomenology, Ferrarello claims that that love is the force guaranteeing the true awakening of the ego and putting our passive selves in contact with our active life. Love opens a space of intimacy through which the subject can regain touch with his or her passive self and his or her factual existence, while, at the same time, shaping his or her identity and values. Intimate love allows us to break old habits and, as a result, it finds new sensuous lower matter (90). As such, love is a meaning- and value-giving activity. Unfortunately, the possibility that things take the wrong turn in this regard is an ineliminable live possibility, as in the case of intimacy forced through violence. This issue is explored in Chapter I.6, together with the notion of existential sexuality.
Part Two, the second part of the book, revolves around the analyses of the qualitative psychological studies carried out by Nicolle Zapien. Her research focuses on three kinds of ethical experiences of decision-making: unexpected leadership decisions, parental decisions, and those of individuals who face the choice of engaging in extramarital affairs despite the promise of monogamy. Importantly, the first kind of experience concerns the sphere of external relationships, whereas the second and third kinds concern the private sphere of our life – that is, the first kind concerns a comparatively less intimate dimension of personal relationships with respect to the dimension of the second and third kinds.
In the introduction, Zapien illustrates Giorgi’s phenomenological research method for psychology and the reasons why she decided to carry out her research by employing this method rather than the phenomenological psychological methods of van Manen, Moustakas, and Colaizzi. Moreover, and notably, Zapien carefully reviews all the choices made in the process of collecting and interpreting the data.
Zapien selects and publishes in the book large excerpts of the interviews that she performed, for each kind of the experiences of decision-making that she discusses. As Zapien explains, the participants of the three groups involved in the case studies were interviewed (orally or in writing), and they were left free to choose and explain the experience of decision that they preferred, as it came to their minds.
After the presentation of these personal narratives, Zapien then arranges in the following order: first, her interpretation of the findings; second, the explication of the constituents of the experience(s) at stake; third and lastly, a short philosophical commentary of the relevant experience. Each of Zapien’s philosophical commentaries puts to use the theoretical points that Ferrarello presents and clarifies in Part One of the book.
For example, the unexpected decisions that the leader must face for his or her own good and for his or her employees’ good are interpreted as a transformative experience that helps him or her to come into deeper contact with his or her identity as a leader.
The second case study, which concerns parents’ decisions for their children, makes explicitly evident the relevance of the dimension of time that Ferrarello stresses in Part One of the book. The realization that there is some problem that can dangerously affect their children’s future leads parents to rekindle the meaning of parenting and their identity as parents. This is, once again, a transformative experience that breaks the natural organic relation that parents have with their children and the daily linear time that characterizes such an experience. When facing such problems, parents feel the need – and the pressure – to make choices on behalf of the volitional body of their children, so to protect them and their natural life. If they otherwise refrain from making such choices, they feel that they are bound to lose their identity of good parents (159).
Similar considerations seem to hold with respect to the third kind of experience examined by Zapien – that is, the decisions of individuals partaking in marital relations who decide to engage in extramarital affairs. As for the previously examined cases, Zapien identifies the essential structural elements connecting the narratives of individuals with similar experiences. Specifically, she notes that individuals starting an affair fail to have active access to their passive intentions. Indeed, the volitional body of the person who starts the affair decides to negate active access to his or her passive self, so as to maintain a view on reality that is ethically acceptable to the self (180). The affair is only later acknowledged as such, when it could not be lived passively anymore.
Moving on to the critical assessment of the book, one of its most remarkable elements consists of Ferrarello and Zapien’s intent to engage with the book’s core themes in an original manner and without being afraid to voice their own opinion on these matters. This is clear, among other reasons, from Ferrarello and Zapien’s attempt to rejuvenate Husserl’s analyses, to recover their current relevance, instead of presenting these as valuable for specialized scholarship only. The authors show to have internalized phenomenology’s core points well enough to succeed in this difficult task.
Further, the book is well organized, and the authors take notable care of its pedagogical aspects. For example, the reference apparatus placed at the end of the book is extremely detailed, and it contributes to give solid ground to the claims advanced in the main parts of the book. Moreover, each chapter ends with a summary, and both the introduction and the conclusion summarize both the entire book’s structure and the main theses defended.
Yet, the care that the authors devote to the structure of the book for the purpose of conveying their views in an intelligible way is sometimes counterbalanced by the book’s confusing formulations, which run the risk of hindering the general understanding of the authors’ theses. This risk is also embodied in the authors’ choice to resort to metaphors at crucial points in their analyses, and doing so without further clarification using comprehensible terminology. For example, at the conclusion of Chapter I.4, Ferrarello uses the metaphors of the “static eye” and of the “genetic eye” in relation to the schizophrenic’s experience.
On a related note, one may be puzzled by some of Ferrarello and Zapien’s terminological choices, as, for example, the use of the adjective ‘trinitarian’ in relation to Husserl’s philosophy in a number of parts of the book. This and other theoretical choices should have been better justified.
As far as the content of the book goes, my main concern lies with the authors’ attempt to describe a large variety of experiences related to decision-making, by resorting to only one theoretical device – that is, the multi-layered dimensions of time and intimacy. Surely, the authors demonstrate that their approach has a certain explanatory power, given that the three kinds of ethical decisions investigated by their book permit, indeed, interpretations grounded in the relations occurring between time and identity. One might, however, be left with the impression that more examples of analogous and dissimilar ethical experiences and more phenomenological descriptions relying on a broader variety of theoretical devices would have been necessary to clarify the meaning of the phenomenon in question fully. Ferrarello and Zapien themselves seem to acknowledge the need for further investigations in this regard and, in fact, they explicitly consider some of their analyses presented in Part Two of the book as open-ended and merely provisional in nature.
Overall, Ferrarello and Zapien’s book is a very-welcomed and much-needed attempt to show how phenomenology and psychology can collaborate concretely with each other towards the achievement of a shared aim and how theoretical and applied analyses can be meaningfully combined. The book constitutes Ferrarello and Zapien’s challenge for their contemporary peers – that is, the challenge to develop a comprehensive phenomenological understanding of ethical experiences, such as that of decision-making. Furthermore, it provides a first attempt to rise to this interesting challenge.
This volume is the latest edition in Palgrave Macmillan’s History of Analytic Philosophy series, and it deals exclusively with the philosophical thought of Anton Marty, a student of Franz Brentano at Würzburg and Hermann Lotze at Göttingen. The reason for such a volume is that Marty is often overlooked and underestimated. In both the analytic and phenomenological traditions, Brentano, Alexius Meinong and Edmund Husserl receive most of the attention and Marty is often seen as merely a defender of Brentano – not a philosopher in his own right. This book seeks to disrupt these preconceived notions about Marty, in a way that clearly demonstrates the promise of his ideas for contemporary research (for both the analytic and phenomenological traditions and beyond) while breathing “new life into his thought”. (vii) For example, pieces by François Recanati and Mark Textor highlight Marty’s original contributions while engaging in fresh critical discussion of his work alongside that of Paul Grice and Brentano. Kevin Mulligan does something similar with Ludwig Wittgenstein. Other authors, like Ingvar Johansson, showcase Marty’s contributions (for example, with space) that have been excluded from the history of philosophy. This volume feels less like a simple overview of a forgotten thinker and more like a critical introduction that simultaneously launches the reader into fruitful dialogue with both contemporary and longstanding issues in analytic philosophy. This book is organized into three parts: Issues pertaining to philosophy of language; philosophy of space and time; and the metaphilosophical aspects of existence and being in his thought.
In the first part, focusing on philosophy of language, Textor’s chapter stands out as particularly well executed, and which would appeal to a broader audience than just the analytic tradition. What is said here will be of great value to scholars in the phenomenological tradition who study the early work of Edmund Husserl or the Munich Circle students who studied with him before the outbreak of WWI. Issues surrounding the nature of language and signification, statements expressing wishing, commanding and questioning, and especially judgment are central to the works of Johannes Daubert and Adolf Reinach, who both read Marty, and then later students such as Roman Ingarden. Textor identifies Marty’s theory of language as ‘intentionalist semantics’ – Marty defined the word language as synonymous with intentional indication of the inner life of the person – and this metaphysical view of meaning comes with two commitments: first, mental facts concerning desire and belief are the most fundamental to what signs mean; and second, the speaker means something if and only if she does it with the purpose of producing an attitude for or in an audience. (34) This is where we see Marty and Grice roughly align. Textor focuses his essay on this second commitment – communicative intention –, but while he does so, he explores an alternative view of meaning put forth by Brentano. That is the idea that some utterances have meaning independently of whether they were made with the purpose of influencing others; therefore, with regard to the primary source of meaning, the utterance meaning takes priority over the speaker’s intended meaning for it. (35) Textor engages with Brentano’s position to remedy problems that both Marty and Grice fall prey to, specifically occurring with non-communicative utterances. Textor, however, isn’t painting Brentano as the answer to all of our problems, but rather delves into the shortcomings his view faces and then demonstrates how it can be rescued and developed to achieve greater insight about speaker meaning. He takes Brentano’s work on the meaning of utterances expressed in judgments and extends it, to create a model that will connect judgment and non-natural meaning, looking to the mechanism of belief acquisition. For example, if we believe a speaker to be trustworthy, we are more likely to make a rational judgment based on the information they share. Textor ends with: “There are further details to be filled in to complete Brentano’s picture, but I hope that I gave the reader some reasons to take Brentano’s proposal to be the basis for an alternative to Grice’s and Marty’s that is worth completing further.”(64) Textor primarily uses, as source material, Brentano’s logic lectures (EL 80), taken from the Würzburg course of the winter semester 1869/70 entitled Deduktive und Induktive Logik. Brentano lectured for many years on logic, while at Würzburg and later Vienna, and it is great to see these lectures being highlighted and utilized. Here, we see their value communicated, and Textor provides his own (excellent) translations – this is more than simply a passing mention of Brentano’s academic teaching history.
This piece by Textor is a real gem, because the reader gets a thorough journey into theories of language that were happening just prior to the activities of Gottlob Frege and Edmund Husserl. For the latter, in particular, it was setting the stage for what he would write in the Logical Investigations (1900-1901). For an early phenomenology scholar like myself, this chapter is great for the discussion of Brentano logic lectures and the Marty writings that rarely receive any attention and yet have such a central role to play in the ideas of the early movement. Also, it is wonderful to read Brentano’s logical insights about language, and see them given serious consideration alongside someone like Grice, and in fact used to help Grice, as this work often takes a backseat to his intentionality thesis contained in the Psychology From an Empirical Standpoint and his later reism.
In the second part, the chapters on the consciousness of space and time are some of my favorite. This section was my reason for wanting a copy of this book, if I am honest. Once again, these chapters will appeal and prove very helpful to those in both the analytic and phenomenological traditions who wish to understand the discussions of the consciousness of time and space that informed major figures in the 20th century, and for me this means Husserl. This topic is yet another that Husserl lectured on early in the 20th century, and this theme continued to be a popular one with both the Munich and Göttingen Circles, for example in the works of Max Scheler, Moritz Geiger, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, and Roman Ingarden. It was also one that Henri Bergson wrote about, and it informed the position expressed during the famous debate with Einstein in Paris. In this second part of the volume the first essay by Johansson, “A Presentation and Defense of Anton Marty’s Conception of Space” goes beyond a defense of Marty. Johansson clearly demonstrates how Marty’s ideas on the topic are relevant and important not just to history of philosophy but also to the field of physics. As he points out at the beginning, there are two kinds of space: the perceptual and the physical. He focuses on the physical expression of space, bringing together ideas from Marty with elements of Immanuel Kant, Graham Nerlich, and himself to defend a container conception of space and space-time and to show why contemporary physics should give it serious consideration. Marty’s theory holds that space has a mind-independent existence, where all bodies, properties, events, spatial points and relations are all contained within this ontologically preexisting space. (100 – 102) He also leaves open the possibility that space could be empty, which goes against not only Kant but also Brentano. This position is opposed to the relational theory of space, which was held by Leibniz. While Marty’s theory most likely falls under the modern label “substantivalism” (i.e., the theory that space exists in itself in addition to the material objects within it), it doesn’t fit squarely: while it can conform to the general definition of substantivalism, Marty’s conception of space is ontologically more basic or, rather, primary to what is contained within it, and this makes him distinct from other “substantivalists”, like Barry Dainton. By the way, there is a great discussion of Dainton here, too. This chapter offers a wonderful historical run down, along with comparison of Marty’s conception, and in such an accessible way. If you are rusty on the topic or new to it, this chapter is a great primer and will also leave you with some points to think about.
The next essay by Clare Mac Cumhaill “Raum and ‘Room’: Comments on Anton Marty on Space Perception” is the perfect follow up to Johansson. Cumhaill’s piece elaborates and extends what Johansson discussed, in particular on perception, and then in the comparisons of Marty to others who write on space and time, and again in a very approachable and engaging way. The essay contains an informative outline of Marty’s conception of the ontology of space, a section on Marty’s critiques of Kant and Brentano on the topic of space and time, and an inquiry into whether any contemporary theory of perception can handle Marty’s notion of space and time. The most promising for Cumhaill is Naïve Realism, but this comes with its own difficulties. A highlight for me was the section comparing Husserl and Marty; it was full of insights. I actually wanted more Husserl and comparison talk of him, because of what I stated earlier, but what is there is great (in particular on 137, the sections of the letters Marty wrote to Husserl are a fun read).
Thomas Sattig closes out this part of the volume with a bang, with his chapter: “Experiencing Change: Extensionalism, Retentionalism, and Marty’s Hybrid Account.” Sattig builds on the previous two chapters to discussing contemporary ideas concerning our experience of change: after some helpful encapsulations of extentionalism and retentionalism, there is a wonderful summary of Marty’s account, and at the close there are some challenges raised against Marty’s view. Marty’s position is called a “hybrid account” because, as pointed out in section three, the notion of how we experience change combines elements from both the extensionalist and retentionalist views, and in a presentist framework (i.e., only the present is actual, the past and future are not). (163) This chapter, like the others, is well organized, accessible and has an engaging style; it even has some lovely diagrams with leaves to help illustrate (great diagrams are necessary for discussions of time). The challenges to Marty’s view are excellent, and the suggested fixes for the holes or omissions in Marty’s theory offered are thorough, but Sattig also leaves room for the reader to think and form their own insights about these shortcomings.
While I only discussed chapters from the first two sections of this book, this should not in anyway convey to anyone reading this review that the third section is subpar or weak – it isn’t. The reader will get more fantastic pieces that really turn the spotlight on Marty’s work, which is much needed and deserved.
I really enjoyed what this volume had to offer and it reminded me of why I found Marty invaluable and fascinating during my graduate and postgraduate work. He’s an amazing talent and brilliant scholar in his own right, not simply a defender of Brentano and fellow priest who left the cloth with convictions about the infallibility of the pope. I really appreciated how this book was organized, and enjoyed how the chapters in each section relate but thoughtfully expand in various directions. The discussion of Marty is always balanced; the presentation of Marty feels very well rounded, and the contributors are always willing to talk about the errors as much as the successes. Furthermore, the fact that much of this book contains his lesser-known works is fantastic and asset to any collection or library. This volume also offers some great excursions into the history of philosophy, and this not only provides the context for Marty’s ideas but also what made him such a great philosopher.
If I have anything critical to say, besides wanting more Husserl, it is that some might come to the idea that Marty is an analytic philosopher or more of a forefather to the analytic tradition than to phenomenology or any other discipline. This can be gathered by the title of the book series and then the index of authors cited in the chapters. The introduction to this volume tries to convey that this is not what is being argued; it attempts to show that Marty’s work had significant influence on the analytic tradition, more influence than we currently feel he had, given that so much of his work is overlooked. But once you get into chapters, it is easy to forget what was said in the introduction and jump to conclusions, because sometimes the feel or approach is itself very analytic. However, I will say, it would be shortsighted to jump to such conclusions and/or to not to read this book. This volume offers a wonderful picture of Marty that is insightful, thought provoking, and inspirational. As I said many times (proportionally to how many times I noticed this in my reading), it is also an approachable and engaging to read. As a scholar of Husserl and Reinach, I see a lot of potential ties to my own work. Marty is one of many forefathers that both the analytic and phenomenological traditions share, and we should celebrate this man and his mind rather than divide ourselves into camps. Hey, we both share great taste in Austrians of the 19th century! Brentano and his students were immensely productive, interdisciplinary and incredibly brilliant; they changed the 20th century dialogue for philosophy – period. That being said, I highly recommend this book for both scholars of analytic philosophy and phenomenology, as well as those interested in the topics discussed between its covers.
Augustine’s Confessions is not a book. It has no title in the titular or thematic sense. It is simply what it is: confessions. What more could it be? A collection of thirteen small books? An evangelical memoir? A developmental prayer diary? A pre-modern work of speculative non-fiction? These are tedious questions. No one cares whether the Confessions is a book or not. Augustine does not seem to care. This reveals that, as with most things taken for granted, we do not know what books are when we address or review them as books. So what is the intellectual genre of Augustine’s Confessions? Jean-Luc Marion has remarked that the Patristic period of theological thought would have understood itself as philosophy, not theology, and thus scholastic theology begins after the end of theology.[i]
It is helpful to keep these opening remarks in mind if one seeks an encounter with John Panteleimon Manoussakis in The Ethics of Time. It is a book that cannot be read, even if one tries to read like a cow through rumination, as Nietzsche demands in his preface to Genealogy of Morals.[ii] The Ethics of Time must be encountered. Reading is certainly an encounter of a certain kind, but the kind of encounter this book demands goes much further than any other recent philosophical book I have read. This may be because our present mode of reading is detached from the type of reading we find in Ezekiel, where the prophet is fed a holy scroll, and I suspect that my suggested encounter beyond reading is in many respects nothing but a truer form of reading. Nonetheless, there is a distinction to be drawn between a literary encounter and the phenomenological encounter that Manoussakis’ book investigates (through desire) and demands (through ethics). (This distinction is carefully attended to by Manoussakis in the theological realities of the beginning, logos, and flesh throughout the book, but especially in chapter 7, “The Time of the Body.”)
To encounter something implies many things. The adversarial sense of an encounter is perhaps the most obvious. Manoussakis seems to suggest these terms of encounter in the book’s epigraph that quotes from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon: “It is a violent grace that gods set forth.”[iii] After all, to “encounter” is to be en contra. This may begin to explain why wresting and sex are hard to distinguish from each other en vivo. No one can deny that the one I lay with until the break of dawn is one I have encountered. When Jacob wrestles the angel of God in Genesis, it is not so different an erotic description from the one we read in the Song of Songs. This means that the encounter is not adversarial so much as it is erotic. Manoussakis seems to endorse this erotic notion of encounter in his analysis of the emptiness of the pouring jug, broken jar, and eucharistic chalice. He writes, “the body’s corporeality does not lie at all in the material of which it consists (the body as object), but in the void that holds (the body as flesh).”[iv] This account of incarnate emptiness, among many other passages, eventually repeats itself enough to demand an erotic encounter with Manoussakis. An encounter, as we will see, that ends in kenosis.
One might object that presenting ideas in a book is not the same thing as demanding them as the terms for a specific kind of encounter, but this takes us back to the reason why I insist that this book must be encountered as opposed to being read, however unsatisfying that opposition may be for philosophical logic-chopping (to use the Jamesian expression). More important for my purposes here, if I take the erotic terms for this encounter seriously, then this review must struggle and fail to break free from Manoussakis in the course of re-viewing his book. Perhaps he will break my hip as I beg him for a blessing. We will have to see, again and again. That is what it means to re-view something.
One might consider The Ethics of Time to be an eclectic book in light of its variety of sources. This would be a mistake. It is true that Manoussakis works from Ancient Greece and the Early Church to contemporary phenomenology and cinema. However, this seems to be more of a personal reflection of Manoussakis—more reasons for my insistence on an erotic encounter—than evidence of technical or systematic pyrotechnics. It may be hard to ignore the sheer volume of philological, theological, psychoanalytic, exegetical, and phenomenological resources put to use in this volume, touching equally upon ancient scriptures as recent films, but this quantified sense of eclecticism misses more than it hits. It mainly misses the book’s constant refrain: Augustine’s Confessions. Unlike Heidegger, who despite his occasional explicit turns to Augustine is in constant dialogue with him throughout the entirety of Being and Time, Manoussakis never pretends to stray from him. In other words, Manoussakis repeatedly draws upon the only other book I can think of that can to the same degree be misunderstood through its voluminous variety. Perhaps he is being vain in tempting this comparison? Or maybe he is too humble to admit it?
Beyond the constant presence of Augustine’s Confessions in the book as a musing refrain, Manoussakis just as constantly invents original interpretations of the classic text. Before I mention any of these insights, and immediately attract the philosopher’s skepticism, I would like to remark on how Manoussakis phrases his inventions. This is not a note on method in the sense of construction or composition; it is more a note on voice and style. If one would permit the expression, I would say this is a brief note on the musicality the book. For me this was the most philosophically challenging aspect of the book but also the most delightful.
“What we call life is a series of intervals from sleep to sleep.”[v] This line comes within a discussion of boredom and just before a deeper look into the radical implications of having “nothing to do.” Even without puzzling together the meaning of the line within its proper textual context, it serves as an example of the barrage of poetic impulses that assault the Academician and exhort the Artist. They often come in swift lines and fine-tuned associations. The urge to call them hasty is the desire to read, the desire to take Manoussakis at his word is the urge to encounter.
All of this is to say that there is an active wit in the book that is sharp and playful enough to verge on being unserious. But these risky moments of “Will and Grace”—anyone who misses this is too dull to understand this book—are contained with a form and structure where metaphors bear the mythopoetic weight of the book’s absent thesis. For instance, Manoussakis titles his Chapter 5, “After Evil,” hinting at the ethics of time where we move beyond evil without ventured beyond it entirely. This chapter features a stunningly clear and original rendition of Augustine’s account of the privation of evil—where evil is not simply metaphysically privitive of the good, but where sin becomes the ethical condition for the possibility of freedom—and reveals a powerful account of the book’s major preoccupations. The account does not so much make this preoccupation clear so much as it makes it serious enough, to the one willing to accept the terms of encounter, to see with eyes of faith.
For Manoussakis, the difference that lies in the interval between evil and goodness is only time. This difference is presented by Manoussakis through the two gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, which allude to his most steady companions, the Confessions and Christian scripture. These two gardens hold within them the capacity to re-present an ethics that is opposed to stasis; in other words, an ethics of time. This rendition of an ethics of time is central to the book’s unmet desire to address itself as a book titled The Ethics of Time.
A key feature of the above analysis is important to understand on its own terms, without too many distractions. Manoussakis makes this point plain, but rather than quote him directly, I would like to try and bend his words in my direction. Rather than resolve the apparent tension in sin or evil by positing a Manichean notion of the good, Manoussakis asserts the goodness of sin and evil revealed in time. This is not as radical as it may seem. I recently asked the question “What is an ethical way to teach ethics?” Socrates answers this question when Meno raises it by rejecting the assumption of the possibility of knowing what is ethical. In De Magistro, Augustine rejects the possibility of teaching entirely. Manoussakis, for his part, follows suit in a clever way. When we admit that we know not what we do, when sin admits to being sinful, when evil can encounter itself as evil, there we find the goodness and the ethics of time. The implications of this idea in moral theology and normative philosophical theories are interesting in their own right, but the phenomenological scope of this book takes us in another more scandalous direction.
The book ends with three scandals. The first two—evil and goodness—have been mentioned to some extent already. The third is grace but becomes more articulate as what Paul calls “the scandal of the cross.”[vi] Here the enigmatic and aphoristic wit of Manoussakis makes its last attempt to call the reader into encounter—the encounter of conversion. One may reject this encounter since it has now modulated from Manoussakis himself to Christ, but this raising of the pitch and register of the erotic appeal seems to be the entire point of the final scandal and, indeed, the book that exists beyond its title. In the cross we find the ultimate body, the broken body that survives the violence of resurrection. After all, Christ’s resurrected body was glorified with all five wounds sustained on the cross still intact and poor saints wear them as scandalous signs of grace. One cannot speak of open wounds as being good and no one can speak of these wounds as being evil. Within Manoussakis’ phenomenology of change presented as the ethics of time, I find a profound and moving meditation on the suffering, sacrifice, and salvation of wounds and woundedness.
Whatever ethics may be, I am fairly certain that it cannot afford to be entirely blind to the moral significance of things, especially the things that go beyond the recognizable the boundaries of moral significance. As we have seen, this would include a genuine ability to understand, as Augustine did and as Manoussakis clearly does, the evil of goodness and the goodness of evil within the interval of time.
Judging something to be morally important is not the same as seeing it as it is. There is a moral field of vision that goes well beyond judgement’s moral capacities. In at least this sense, phenomenology is fundamentally ethical. But this is not always true in practice. Phenomenology as well water is little more than a series of constructive historical notes and debates, on the one hand, and methodological squabbles, on the other. Phenomenology as living water is always opposed to every “ology” and “ism”—including phenomenology and constant opposition. In other words, as its rich history and methods suggest, phenomenology is fundamentally philosophical and this philosophical conception applies equally to phenomenology after the so-called “theological turn.” This turn would be a poor way to try and capture Manoussakis’ project, unless it is to show that every real turn is in some sense a theological one, preceded and anticipated in the Hellenistic tradition. The beginning chapters of The Ethics of Time bear this out in a series of preliminary meditations on movement but they only arrive at their fundamental insight as one allows time—not only the time of duration but above all the time of the interval, the sliding, wailing, and fretless interval—to work across the pages of the book to transform the reading into a dynamic encounter of time in the place of das Ding.
[i] In his Berkeley Center Lecture, “What Are the Roots of the Distinction Between Philosophy and Theology?”, delivered at Georgetown University on April 7, 2011.
[ii] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morailty, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swenson, (Indiannapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1998), 7.
[iii] John Panteleimon Manoussakis, The Ethics of Time, (London and New York: 2017), front matter.
[iv] Ibid., 156.
[v] Ibid., 21.
[vi] Ibid., 161.