Eugen Fink: Fashion: Seductive Play

Fashion: Seductive Play Book Cover Fashion: Seductive Play
Eugen Fink (Author) , Stefano Marino (Anthology Editor) , Giovanni Matteucci (Anthology Editor) , Ian Alexander Moore (Translator) , Christopher Turner (Translator)
Bloomsbury Publishing
2023
Paperback
138

Reviewed by: Chiara Tessariol

I.

Fashion: Seductive Play is a monograph originally written in German by Eugen Fink in 1969 that focuses on the significance of fashion as an object of study that is also worthy of philosophical consideration. The book has been translated into English in 2023 and published in a new edition that is also enriched by an original Introduction written by Stefano Marino and Giovanni Matteucci. Through a detailed and in-depth contextualization of Fink’s thought, Marino and Matteucci (editors of this book) succeed in highlighting its topicality by comprehensively outlining his discourse on fashion as a philosophical question, being highly controversial today.

With a pragmatic stance, Fink points to a number of deficiencies that can be blamed on a certain typical dichotomous attitude that has characterized Western thinking and has often led to heedless disqualification of the aesthetic validity of fashion. However, a redefinition of popular culture that has taken place in the last few decades has made it possible to critically rethink and overcome the traditional oppositional division between high culture and low culture. Hence, one of the aims of this project is to propose what we can define as the first instance of legitimization of fashion and its play of forms, analyzed with an approach derived from phenomenological philosophy.

In their introduction, Marino and Matteucci circumscribe the origin of Fink’s book to a precise context within his philosophical development, making reference to Simona Bertolini’s work (a great expert of Fink’s thought) who has traced a specific timeline in the evolution of Fink’s philosophy (p. 7). Throughout his studies, Fink tackles various stages of philosophical reflection, which gradually lead him to also embrace fields such as anthropology and pedagogy. Eventually, his interests culminate in a pronounced scrutiny of the relation between human beings and their environment, and how human beings interact with the world through play —  understood as a vital thrust. This final stage in the development of Fink’s thought is precisely the stage in which we can place his fashion book. Besides this, through Marino’s and Matteucci’s essay the reader is immediately introduced to the specificity of Fink’s phenomenological investigation by means of an analysis of the concepts of play, appeal, seduction, leadership, and body. In particular, the latter is investigated in a somehow dialectical way: on the one hand, there is the level of the “alienated” body, i.e. the body understood as an object. On the other hand, there is the level of the body recognized as an organism and as the “instrument” through which we can have our unique and real-life experience. Fink, thus, emphasizes in a new way the importance of the bodily dimension, which has been severely undermined and repudiated by the Western tradition which is in favor of the spiritual sphere. Following the steps of this same reasoning, a second implication becomes apparent: by covering our body with clothes (which is distinguished from that of other animals because of its nakedness), we somehow enter into a second dimension. This extra layer differentiates us from all other species, because this “second skin” is culturally chosen, and delineates human beings as socially, artistically and intellectually refined creatures. So, fashion becomes the civilized, established medium that marks the individuals from the outside world, a cultural phenomenon that is surely worthy of study.

Through a theoretical-conceptual approach, the cardinal principles of Fink’s investigation are examined in this book and compared to other currents, to broaden the articulation of his philosophical proposal regarding fashion, eventually revealing the anthropological implications intertwined with it. Heir to the questions of philosophers such as Husserl and Heidegger, Fink succeeds in reconstituting his own original investigation, in which he takes up a new line of inquiry that delves into the expressive ambiguity of clothing and, more generally, into the polysemous field of aesthetics, understood as a complex system of symbols of ambivalent nature. It acknowledges the beauty of appearance, and its noteworthiness is revealed by retracing some dimensions that are viscerally linked to human existence and cannot be minimized by being reduced to a mere consumerist discourse. So, it becomes evident that clothes are a sort of bridge that connects the individual to the outside world and, likewise, delimits his/her physical presence, separating the body from the rest, circumscribing the subject’s individuality and making known its meaningful interaction with other organisms. The meaning that human beings assign to their own image and aesthetics, hence, acquires an actual importance, and this emphasizes the practical-operational character of appearance, rather than its purely conceptual nature.

Ultimately, the originality of Fink’s philosophical thinking is recognized by Marino and Matteucci in their Introduction specifically for its anthropological roots, which find their raison d’être in his historical perspective. From the author’s critical point of view, fashion is understood as a sort of compensation for the decline of human beings’ primary instincts during its evolution. Clothing, together with other forms of interaction, is constituted as an alternative form of transformation and personification of human beings’ surroundings, thus identifying art forms as a different way of expressing one’s being. On account of this, through a socio-anthropological excursus, it is shown how clothes function, firstly, as a barrier to safeguard the body from the gazes of the world, as a sort of social connection between the wearer and the observer. Secondly, clothes function as an active interaction of performative symbols that acquire an explanatory connotation when worn in front of others. Through an elaborate proposal, Fink develops his own theory on fashion, acknowledged as a necessary practice for human being’s existence. The dialectical reconstruction of the fashion phenomenon here serves as a common thread, capable of grasping the essential continuity in the author’s perspective.

II.

The original version of the book was opened by a short Preface written by Walter Spengler (included also in this English edition) that makes another salient point. Although it is difficult to briefly define the concept of fashion because of its multifaceted nature, we cannot deny that it has a profound meaning for human beings. When we refer to “fashion”, we immediately tend to think of clothes; however, any aspect of the human experience, in principle, is fashionable. In its broadest sense, fashion can be applied to everyone — men, women, children — and everywhere — in architecture, in travel destinations, or even in ways of giving birth or dying. This human “fashion-ability” proves to be crucial, because when one misses its meaningfulness, one also risks to miss a whole set of values, symbols, and ideas that belong to that specific trend — given that, people can even be socially excluded when they do not possess fashionable features or do not follow certain biases. There is therefore a sort of unwritten rule that presses the human being in his/her appearance to be exposed to the judgment of others, who trivially can define him/her as “in” or “out” on the basis of tacit shared standards.

The first chapter of Fink’s book, after Spengler’s Preface, scrutinizes the roots of clothing, understood as a significant representational medium for humankind since its origins. Fink’s argumentation draws on a Kantian conception which reworks with elegant delicacy, the Biblical narration on how the human being became truly “human”. A dialectical traversal between Kant and Fink unfolds in many articulations that, although conditioned by the Kantian legacy, results in a series of genuine implications of thought. The main ideas about the anthropological “rise” of human beings are thereby retraced.

Initially, through the use of language, the human being enters into a thoughtful relationship with the world. Aware that he/she can make use of the light of reason, the human being is now also capable of rebelling against leadership and acquires, for the first time, the capacity to choose. The break between what we may call the pre-human condition and a properly human one (characterized by reason) is underscored by the Finkian reworking of this narration that stresses how individuals self-determine, refine themselves, and establish a leadership and a deeper relationship with the space they inhabit. People, uplifted from their primordial slavery condition, experience a freedom from which they will not return back. Secondly, Kant pointed out the difference in sexual drive and the concept of nudity that exists between non-human animals and human beings. While for the former, sexuality is dictated by the seasonal heat, the human being experiences his/her sexuality with greater constancy. Moreover, nudity is a concept peculiar only to the human experience of life, which, in fact, sees the use of fig leaf – an image laden with erotic symbolism – in covering one’s genitals. Fink takes up the reins of Kantian thought by admitting that the human being is adept at refining his/her drives and reworking his/her relationships in such a way as to give them an emotional and affective value. It follows a statement that postulates a dichotomy between a benign and a malevolent power of thought, which allows the individual to reflect on possible future scenarios, and yet, now aware of strains of life, has to deal with preoccupations that burden him/her. However, in this dialectical exchange Fink accentuates the concept of “care,” for which the capability of the human being to reflect on his/her past plays a central role and explains why he/she acts in favor of a better future, providing what is necessary for his/her existence, while recognizing that labor and pain are inescapable. To continue, the concept of human dominion over other animals, used as tools, is examined. There is, thus, a mutual respect between humans as co-rulers (p. 42), a kind of “self-proclamation” of human beings as a chosen species who live above all others, and whose freedom is only limited when the freedom of another human being begins. In this regard, Fink positively underlines that sociability is a covenant between humans that derives from reason and that our freedom is not limited by the other, but rather coexists with the other. Ultimately, an inherent reflection on freedom is provided: on the one hand, freedom offers us more choices; on the other hand, decision-making power forces us to face a situation to ponder and chart our own path. The human being, as creator of his/her own destiny, manages to give value to his/her own body, even with the use of material production.

In the Christian narrative, as opposed to the spirit, soul or mind (which elevate the individual), the body holds the individual in the earthly dimension, connoting it as a limitation to our proximity to a higher sphere. The body becomes the expedient that brings us closer to the animal realm and does not allow us to approach a divine existence. However, as the author stresses here, humans’ vital experience always takes place in an embodied manner; indeed, without the body, human beings could not open themselves to the world.

III.

In the second chapter of Fink’s book, human society is contextualized in its forms and organizations, and the concept of “fashion” is analyzed within existing divergences of the system. In a broader sense of the term, fashion reflects the Zeitgeist of our time, providing the means by which we identify ourselves with the actual historical context. In truth, fashion influences our lives so much that those who contradict the Zeitgeist by dressing differently, for example, paradoxically confirm the influence of fashion and emphasize how far it has spread to all the different layers of society. Or else, in the strictest sense of the term, the fleetingness of fashion is also affirmed, which, in its continuous evolution, is manifested in a short time span. Once again, an assessment of Western thinking with regard to the significance of fleetingness is made, whereby the human being deciphers the importance and worth of things on the basis of their durability and temporal stability. This gives rise to one of the main prejudices against fashion: because of its intrinsic nature, it is unstable and constantly changing over time, for which it is popularly considered to have no moral depth. Fashion, therefore, has been wrongly considered as frivolous and has been often portrayed as an unnecessary vice that people fall prey to – all victims of fashion businessmen who, for their own financial gain, induce people to buy more and more. While admitting the importance of the quality and durability of clothes that serve to cover the human body, Fink also foregrounds the aesthetic aspects of clothes, which are just as real as their functional features. Indeed, the human being lives in a reality that is manifested concretely, materially, and he/she is self-aware of his/her corporeality, through which he/she expresses a series of values and ideas that go beyond mere functionality, such as social status, personal taste, sexual desire, and so on. Fashion finds further social significance in its ability to scan time and place, by decoding who we are and what we do, by revealing gender, age, and a host of features that otherwise would not be expressible except through the language of clothes. Finally, considering fashion from an exquisitely economic point of view, Fink argues its validity by stressing that the current economy goes beyond production strictly related to primary needs, and in textile production there is also creative and artistic work that elevates a simple piece of cloth to an intangible, but no less important, value.

IV.

The third chapter of Fink’s book further explores the different meanings of the word “public” to which fashion is related. On the one hand, the notion of “public” can connote a political, state institution, linked to a system of laws and regulations. In addition, it can be used as the opposite of “private” or “familiar”, when we refer to all those social and work roles that lie outside our most intimate family sphere. Alongside the concept of public, we find the notion of “publicity”, which differs from the first term because it refers to a lifestyle that is not entirely subjugated by external constraints, i.e., how a person acts, speaks, and dresses is explained as a result of a primordial instinct to the emulation of others. In this context, garments, thus, become an intelligible element, a sort of frontier between publicity and singularity, reflecting both the individual’s taste and personality and, at the same time, the influence of external vogues. This sort of guidance from the surrounding arises from the work of the designer, who must be able to grasp what the consumer’s innermost and unconscious desires are, launch new ideas that challenge popular taste within an unpredictable fashion market, and finally translate them into their design. It is precisely this extravagance that makes people amazed and constantly breaks a temporary balance that allows them to create new ones. Designers propose new ways of thinking through their artworks, although the uniqueness of their creativity is soon lost because the industrial reproducibility of a garment is almost immediate. Conversely, a consumer experiments and plays with forms and contents, and is able to appreciate fashion in its infinite manifestations.

The aforementioned expressive capacity of clothing differentiates us from the animal world, where all kinds of enclosures have the mere function of protection, while human beings also entrust a cultural and meaningful symbolism to what they wear. Through his/her work the designer identifies the impulses proper to his/her contemporary era, which, in the 1960s (that is, the time when Fink’s book was first published in Germany), were already displaying greater freedom concerning sexual attraction and fluidity between the sexes. The designer, stripped of all taboos, interprets the impulses and desires dictated by sexual charge that are inherent in human beings and creates clothes that reflect these energies and drives. In doing so, for Fink there is a division between interpreting the image of the man and that of the woman. In the former case, the sexual symbolism of the man is much less pronounced and obvious: as a matter of fact, the attraction to him is reinterpreted in a more subtle way in the form of values such as masculinity, power, and physical prowess, to transmit the idea of security, strength, and protection. In the women’s case, what is pointed out are the most forbidding areas, to directly outline forms and shapes of the female body. Hence, women’s physicality is emphasized in a harmonious way, through an intriguing game of veiling and unveiling, covering and uncovering, playing with the accessible and the forbidden, in order to enhance her appeal.

V.

The fourth chapter of Fink’s book focuses on the notion of stimulus and how it works, even unconsciously, on human reactions, first at a biological level. Merely through a single detail, fashion manages to cause a response, a stimulus precisely, in the beholder. The human being, in his/her relationship with the other, is always subjected to new stimuli, which can give rise to different feelings such as sympathy or antipathy. Therefore, the relationship with the outside becomes meaningful, so that an interest can be aroused at different levels: it may derive from curiosity, from sexual interest or from an interest towards otherness, but anyway the totality of all those small reactions characterizes our interaction with the environment and form our cultural surroundings. Again, the role of the designer comes into play and takes part in the equation proposed by Fink. Appeal pervades human society and is cunningly read and interpreted by the designer with unobtrusive discretion, so as to elicit some reactions or emotions, almost on a subconscious level. There is, however, a political symbolism attached to appeal which can express a social status, or an erotic charge that manifests itself in different ways — according to the taste of the current Zeitgeist.

At any rate, it must be recognized that there is a fine line between what suggests a reaction and an interest in us and what overtly highlights certain parts of the human body. When physical characteristics are explicitly shown off, the opposite effect occurs, in which the naturalness of what one wants to show off is lost, hence mislaying that veiled je ne sais quoi that is typical of the fashion game of seeing-through. By analyzing the concept of appeal, a challenge is opened up to the reader whereby we no longer think of fashion as a mere game of concealing and revealing, as a way of exaggerating or hiding forms. Rather, we are now led to think of fashion as a true act of representing something deeper and more innate, which takes us back to the primordial human nature and our instincts: an innate response in the human being full of meaning that mediates with our deepest Self. So, when we judge clothing from a moral perspective, we miss the fact that attire remains in-between two opposed dimensions: one that refers to the idea of “civil”, that can be rationally understood and that aligns with socially accepted and promoted values, and another that is “natural”, that represents the physical tangible part of our body which is viscerally linked to the concept of nature — a blank canvas on which to express culturally established concepts.

VI.

So far, in examining Fink’s book, we have observed the world of fashion as a vehicle for certain values of appeal, status, or human artistic expression. However, in the fifth chapter of his book Fink shifts his attention to an understanding of fashion in relation to the question of human sociability. By analyzing leisure time, both on a philosophical level and from an economic-productive point of view, Fink shows the seriousness of both production time and leisure time, emphasizing the inability of the human being to make full use of the latter. Rest time and the need for sociability are phenomena that have always permeated humankind, although historically the possibility of enjoying spare time has been a prerogative of the élite, since the main part of the population was subjected for centuries to what we may call “dehumanizing working conditions”. Whilst anciently there were occurrences of participation and entertainment of the population, the dissonance between the more privileged and the less favored found a point of resolution that mainly coincided with the French Revolution, an historical moment that sanctioned an extended freedom for all social strata. Moreover, shortly before the publication of Fink’s book (originally appeared in 1969, as I said), we witnessed advances in the industrial sector, the affirmation of mass production, and the implementation of the assembly line as a productive organization. All these factors introduced and established tight rhythms in the working hours of men and women, who ultimately made this rhythmic progression of time their own. The notion of rhythm and organization of time turns out to be tricky: the human being, absorbed in this incessant tempo, is almost incapable of filling his/her free time spontaneously and creatively: somehow it seems that, once he/she acquired the coveted freedom, he/she became unable to enjoy it. The more society advances in its progress, the more urgent the need to structure leisure time is. Consequently, new industries are born to organize different activities for people, such as games, sports, and events which, although aimed at filling the people’s time in a creative, free and convivial manner, mirror and mimic the existing timing and dynamics of work and formal activities. So, in leisure time we witness a kind of performance in which the actors participate voluntarily where they dress with an established style, behave in a certain way, and create events and participate in a play for which they entertain themselves, but not without labels, behavioral patterns or tacitly agreed norms.

​​Fink, through an analysis of the human being’s daily splitting of time, highlights once again the limits of the dichotomous approach that has been typical of Western thought, according to which leisure time is less important than work time, since it neither produces nor is considered “serious”. As in the case of fashion, also in this case Fink succeeds in unhinging prejudices about what is popularly considered to be superfluous or less necessary to human existence, giving a demonstration of the validity of all the nuances of the beautiful and the pleasurable that human beings eventually wish to experience. Fink makes the investigation of beauty a cultural issue and evinces the adult’s intrinsic need to relate to the others in a playful context and how human beings manifest their sincere desire to show themselves to the others in so many ways, including through clothes. As follows, dress becomes a symbolic medium, a set of meaningful constructs that finds its own expression in leisure time, giving the person the opportunity to originally style his or her image.

Finally, the role of young people in the use of clothes is also theorized. As bearers of a new and often critical image of society, they challenge the taste and moral values of their time, in order to create new ones. It is precisely with them that fashion and, in general, aesthetic sensibility become a means of cultural redemption, demanding a pedagogical and societal responsibility to recognize, appreciate and enhance the beauty that accompanies human life in all its forms, both as artworks and as forms of design that adorn and embellish the play of the human being.

VII.

Thinking about fashion also means contextualizing it to different historical moments. As I have stated above, in the 1960s the transformation of the production industry was already evident. Mechanization enabled forms of reproducibility capable of responding to an ever-increasing demand for goods, finally allowing people, not only to meet their basic needs but also, to satisfy and enjoy their whims, reaching the less well-off social strata also (and not only) in matters of fashion. While the dichotomous approach between high culture and low culture has already been discussed above, in the sixth chapter of Fink’s book this precept again becomes indispensable in understanding the function of cultural industries which, in their multiplicity of ways of manifesting themselves, recognize the fundamental value of the free creativity of individuals.

Fink’s reflection investigates fashion as a cultural industry, disentangling it between the different accusations of being a constricting leadership or being a tempting seduction. If we interpret fashion as a coercive pressure, we admit that in every trend there is also a normative force that defines the most fashionable lines of the moment. Nonetheless, this drive mostly points in the direction of the current style, offering many different outfits from which a person can choose. In a broader context of analysis, there are several transformational leadership dynamics that stem from the experience of state authority or the pedagogical leadership of a teacher. Similarly, what is witnessed in fashion is a diktat that is proposed by a sort of unknown authority that shows us the next trends to follow to stay fashionable; for instance, in fashion newspapers the idea of “must have” often echoes between the pages. However, the human being, endowed with reason and awareness, accesses the phenomenon of dress in a process of self-determination, according to one’s cultivated taste. Thus, the aesthetic choice is an active stance by the individual, who freely plays with fashion and trends, relating to them more as suggestions than as despotic directives. Furthermore, referring to the concept of seduction, Fink illustrates the reasons why this concept must not be necessarily limited to a negative connotation, thus proposing a renewed consideration of aesthetics in virtue of its equally important positive attributes. The term “seduction”, as a matter of fact, has been traditionally used to indicate something sinful, something wrong, which can lead us into a trap. By contrast, for Fink there exists a pure, transparent and above all real beauty that individuals can discover and experience throughout their existence. The beauty of a design, whether from nature or man-made, brings a relief and, as Fink argues, a “positive illusion” (p. 109) that sustains the human being by alleviating the inevitable hard, tedious, sacrificial, and working experiences of life. Charme is necessary to save the human being from his/her situation of misery, whereas it provides a moment of contemplation, a consolation, at least apparent, from life’s hostilities.

VIII.

In the last chapter, Fink draws his conclusions by deliberating on a possible existential justification for fashion. If considered in purely economic terms, it is evident that there exist goods that are far more important and useful than clothes, i.e., necessities. It is equally true that, from a market perspective, any good or activity reflects the economic possibilities of people who have purchasing power that allows them to own those goods and access those activities. So, assuming that the individuals’ economic well-being is used to achieve a specific power, image or relevance within a certain social group, it follows that the value we place on material goods no longer determines a purely economic value, but also a political one. Moreover, the fact that fashion is seen as unnecessary gives it, a fortiori, a negative connotation since, in the Western polarized approach, there is a division between useful goods, which are positively received, and useless goods, from which we morally tend to distance ourselves. Therefore, it becomes possible to interpret the choices of sharing and exhibiting one’s closeness to fashion from a mere moralistic point of view, but in doing so, for Fink, we overlook its most authentic and original value: its aesthetic value. Fashion is actually neither useful nor necessary. In its irrationality and elusiveness, it is an artistic expression and ultimately even a symbolic and political statement; its nature is ambiguous, dialectical and polysemous, just like the human being’s identity, and, like the human being, it essentially exists as such. Besides this, fashion is also strictly linked to human nature because of its capacity to transform the human beings’ physical life experience. Due to the complex phenomenon of the fashion system, it would be erroneous to simply judge it as positive or negative, or as worthy of existence or not: in fact, nowadays fashion permeates our lives and its existential character is a certain phenomenon. In this way, the intentionality of Fink’s reasoning lies not as much in the moral or utilitarian argumentation of la mode, but rather on what is, in universal terms, justified for its very own existence. By all appearances, such a question denotes the superficiality of the accusations leveled at fashion; after all, as Fink observes, there is no supreme authority with the power to decide what, in this world, is justified to exist or not.

Fashion belongs to the human dimension and diversifies the human being from all nonhuman animals: it is a cultural product and a complex signifying organism. Its ambiguity makes it unique and capable to creatively play with the wearer who, conversely, gives to the clothes a personal meaning, without discarding the relationship with the surrounding environment, but eventually establishing a continuous dialectical relationship between being and appearing, private and public, wearer and beholder. Indeed, fashion plays between multiple branches, revealing and concealing, playing with sex appeal, demonstrating a power, a social status, the membership to a group, and differentiating male and female gender, or mixing them.

IX.

In the 1960s, when Fink’s book was written, great changes were taking place within society. That decade represented a moment of political and social transformation, it gave new impetus to industry and looked towards modernization, as it offered space to a new freedom of expression for a hitherto, non-existent precariousness of identity, and forcing the young generation to ask new questions that need to be answered.

It is precisely in this context of cultural ferment that Fashion: Seductive Play becomes an instrument of ideological struggle, acquiring a profoundly pioneering significance. Its publication, indeed, can be understood as the concretization of a blatant awareness on the part of philosophy, which admits its role in the construction of a prospective critique, applicable to a tangible reality that is inevitably subject to change. Fink’s text is, thus, a rare proof of philosophical exploration of fashion, aesthetics and the corporeal dimension; a sort of enterprising and compelling prelude that opens a new path for philosophical fashion studies. Its argumentative richness lies in Fink’s realist attitude that, thanks to his dialectical ability, unhinges the groundless accusations moved towards fashion. It eventually replies to some questions and prejudices that have widely characterized Western culture and challenges some of its limitations and fallacies. Thanks to the editors’ accurate Introduction, the English edition of Fink’s book is also enriched with new insights that reveal an urgent — and, now more than ever, topical — need for a confirmation, still uncertain in some ways, of fashion’s legitimacy as a research topic.

Indeed, many of the stereotypes to which — according to Fink’s critical analysis — fashion was subjected, are still alive and popularly shared. However, thanks to a cultural profiling of trivializing logics, Fink allows us to understand the essentiality of the fashion phenomenon from a cultural-pedagogical point of view. Firstly, recognizing the essential value of our physical dimension and then, consequently, the symbolic system we adhere to by dressing ourselves. Finally, the publication of Fink’s book in English translation, many years after its original publication in German, proves to be a precious rediscovery and appreciation of fashion issues noteworthy for its unconventional character, an overture that has opened a dialogical encounter between philosophy and fashion that is still ongoing.

Patrizia Breil: Körper in Phänomenologie und Bildungsphilosophie. Körperliche Entfremdung bei Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Sartre und Beauvoir

Körper in Phänomenologie und Bildungsphilosophie: Körperliche Entfremdung bei Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Sartre und Beauvoir Book Cover Körper in Phänomenologie und Bildungsphilosophie: Körperliche Entfremdung bei Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Sartre und Beauvoir
Wissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Philosophiedidaktik und Bildungsphilosophie
Patrizia Breil
Verlag Barbara Budrich
2021
Paperback
333

Reviewed by: Thomas Zingelmann (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)

­­­Die 2021 erschienene Arbeit, welche eine leicht veränderte Fassung der Dissertation der Autorin ist, macht eine klare Diagnose: Trotz einer differenzierten Debatte über Leib und Körper verpasste die Phänomenologie in weiten Teilen bisher körperliche Entfremdungserfahrungen zu beschreiben. Besser gesagt: Breil konstatiert, dass die phänomenologischen Diskussionen über Leib und Körper vornehmlich durch die Rezeption Maurice Merleau-Pontys geprägt ist, wobei aber die Schriften Jean-Paul Sartres und Simone de Beauvoirs Phänomene aufgreifen, die sich mit der Traditionslinie Merleau-Pontys und Bernhard Waldenfels‘ nicht beschreiben lassen. Dem möchte die Autorin Abhilfe verschaffen, indem sie dieser Problematik aus einer existentialistisch-phänomenologischen Perspektive begegnet und sich darum bemüht den Boden für eine Beschreibung körperlicher Entfremdung zu bereiten. Abseits der Beseitigung einer Leerstelle in der Phänomenologie sieht Breil hier eine pragmatische Notwendigkeit: Die Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik haben keine passenden Konzepte für die Erfahrung der Heranwachsenden. Ihnen fehle das adäquate theoretische Instrumentarium, um beispielsweise Pubertäts- oder Gewalterfahrungen der Sache gemäß aufbereiten zu können. Insofern ist auch Breils erklärtes Ziel die existentialistischen Ansätze für Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik fruchtbar zu machen. Ihr Vorhaben ist klar: „Unter Bezug auf Phänomenologien, die den Körper in seiner Materialität thematisieren, wird eine Theorie des unverfügbaren Körpers skizziert, die eine notwendige Ergänzung von phänomenologischer Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik darstellt.“ (S. 163) Ihre Überlegungen werden durch die These getragen, dass körperliche „Unverfügbarkeit […] zentraler Aspekt des Menschseins“ sei. (S. 144)

Das Buch gliedert sich gleichmäßig in zwei Teile: Teil I behandelt „Pathologien des unverfügbaren Körpers“ in Auseinandersetzung mit Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, der phänomenologischen Erziehungswissenschaft und der Philosophiedidaktik. Teil II thematisiert „Unverfügbarkeit als Modus körperlicher Existenz“ in Auseinandersetzung mit Jean-Paul Sartre und Simone de Beauvoir, mit deren Hilfe Breil dann einen Ansatz für Lehrkonzepte in Aussicht stellt.

Breils Ausgangsbeobachtung ist, dass „der eigene Körper auffällig“ (S. 7) wird, und zwar in einer Weise, dass die bestehende oder sich verändernde Materialität des Körpers als unverfügbar, im Sinne von unkontrollierbar erfahren wird. Der Körper würde so in „Unabhängigkeit von dem leiblichen Gesamtzusammenhang“ (S. 9) erfahren. Darauf zielt auch die Rede von Entfremdung bei Breil ab, dass der Körper entweder als nicht dem Selbst zugehörig oder zumindest als widerständig erfahren würde. Der Körper, den man hat, wird als fremd und eigensinnig erfahren. Damit ist auch schon eine Dimension ihrer Arbeit angesprochen, die doch einen Mehrgewinn in der Debatte um Entfremdung darstellt. Denn ihr Ansatz ergänzt, wie Breil selbst anspricht, den sonst von der Gesellschaftstheorie dominierten Diskussionsbereich, in welchem der Gehalt der subjektiven Erfahrung von Entfremdung kaum eine Rolle spielt. Breil ist hier ganz deutlich: Ihr geht es um „die historisch unspezifische, individuelle Möglichkeit, den eigenen Körper als widerständiges und rein physisches Gegenüber zu erfahren, dessen Stellung zum Selbst in Frage steht.“ (S. 9) Im Raum steht nicht etwa die Frage, inwieweit polit-ökonomische Umstände, Strukturen und Bedingungen zur Erfahrung spezifischer körperlicher Entfremdung führen. Ihr Buch ist von der Frage geleitet, welches die Merkmale sind, die zu dieser Erfahrung überhaupt notwendigerweise gehören. Anders gesagt – und das ist typisch phänomenologisch: Es geht um die logisch-notwendigen Strukturen dieser Erfahrung, egal wer diese wann und wo macht. Hier stellt sich Breil die entscheidende Aufgabe klassische Begriffsarbeit zu leisten, da sie der Überzeugung ist, dass es überhaupt erst ein „geeignetes Vokabular“ (S. 9) bedürfe. Daran anschließend versucht sie für die Alltäglichkeit und entgegen der Pathologisierung – denn so erklärt sich auch die Überschrift von Teil I – dieser Erfahrung zu argumentieren: Sie ist unter Zuhilfenahme der Hegelschen Dialektik der Überzeugung, dass es der „zeitweisen Entfremdung“ (S. 10) bedarf, um Selbsterkenntnis zu erlangen. Diese These und Rezeption Hegels wird im philosophiedidaktischen Teil weiter ausgeführt: Die notwendige – das heißt hier unumgängliche – Erfahrung der Widerständigkeit des eigenen Körpers (wie etwa in der Pubertät), soll für die Bildung des Individuums zunutze gemacht werden, indem eine intensive reflektierte Auseinandersetzung ermöglicht wird (S. 288).

Breils Buch verfolgt also ein doppeltes Unterfangen: Sie versucht die Frage zu klären, was körperliche Entfremdung ist, indem sie Entfremdung als Erfahrung beschreibt. Ist dies einmal geklärt, soll die Rolle dieser Erfahrung für (Selbst-)Bildungsprozesse herausgestellt werden. Unerlässlich sei es, der Intersubjektivität für diesen Themenkreis eine fundamentale Rolle zuzuschreiben. Breil ist der Überzeugung, dass diese Dimension mit anerkennungstheoretischen Prämissen in Anschluss an Alexandre Kojève und Axel Honneth eingeholt werden könne – allerdings wird sie dies nicht weiter ausführen und lediglich in Aussicht stellen. Denn es verhalte sich so, dass Identität „nur über die Entäußerung und nur im vorgestellten oder realen Angesicht des Anderen erlangt werden kann.“ (S. 12) Insgesamt möchte Breil eine Perspektive auf die Entfremdungserfahrung eröffnen, die erst einmal nicht normativ, sondern rein deskriptiv ist. Wie gesagt: Breil versucht dieses Phänomen ganz nüchtern und unaufgeregt zu betrachten, weil es – zumindest was die Pubertät angeht – eh unumgänglich ist und man sich daher Gedanken machen muss, wie damit umzugehen sei.

Breils Ansatz besteht darin, zuerst zu klären „wie auf Basis dieser leibphänomenologischen Voraussetzungen ein Fremdwerden des Körpers theoretisch erfasst werden kann.“ (S. 14) Hier ist ihr Urteil eindeutig: Die wirkmächtige Traditionslinie von Merleau-Ponty, die sich in ihrer Rekonstruktion unteranderem über Waldenfels, Käte Meyer-Drawe und Wilfried Lippitz zieht, ist nicht dazu imstande diese Phänomene nicht pathologisierend zu beschreiben. Denn das ist Breil wichtig: Ihre Arbeit soll dazu verhelfen „einer Pathologisierung von Entfremdungserfahrungen entgegenzuwirken.“ (S. 296) Es sei wichtig „ein Vokabular aufzuarbeiten, das eine bessere Beschreibung der eigenen körperlichen Existenz ermöglicht.“ (S. 282)

Die Rekonstruktion Merleau-Pontys umspannt im Großen und Ganzen das Gesamtwerk mit besonderem Augenmerk für die Leib-Konzeption in der Phänomenologie der Wahrnehmung und der Theorie des Fleisches in seinem Spätwerk. Ihm hält sie insbesondere folgendes entgegen: „Dieses Hereinbrechen eines Körpers, der sich in seiner Bedeutungslosigkeit aufdrängt, kann mit dem Leibbegriff Merleau-Pontys nicht eingeholt werden.“ (S. 72) Warum dies nicht möglich sei, erklärt sie wie folgt: „Während Leiblichkeit vornehmlich als Grund des innerweltlichen Sinngeschehens thematisiert wird, präsentieren sich Erfahrungen körperlicher Objektivierung nachgerade sinnentleert.“ (S. 72) Es sei nicht nur so, dass er körperliche Entfremdung lediglich nicht thematisiere, Breil versucht darzulegen, dass er dies aufgrund „einer Theorielücke“ nicht könne. (S. 72) Weil dem Leib bei Merleau-Ponty eine bedeutungskonstituierende Dimension zugeschrieben wird, habe man es gleichzeitig mit einer Herabwürdigung des Sinnlosen und Kontingenten zu tun – was dann bei Jean-Paul Sartre positiv hervorgehoben werden wird.

Waldenfels, der wohl kaum wie ein anderer in der deutschen Phänomenologie das Werk Merleau-Pontys vertritt, als aber auch kritisch weiterentwickelt, wird von Breil ebenfalls einer genauen Prüfung unterzogen. Dies ergebe sich aus dem Umstand, dass beide für die phänomenologisch orientierte Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik eine ausschlaggebende Rolle spielen. Waldenfels‘ Werk wird entlang der Theoriebausteine Responsivität, Fremdheit und Ordnung rekonstruiert. Im Gegensatz zu Merleau-Ponty werden Phänomene körperlicher Entfremdung zwar denkbar und auch beschrieben, aber Breil wendet ein, dass die Beschreibungen nicht adäquat, weil pathologisierend seien: „Obwohl mit Waldenfels‘ Konzeptualisierungen die Weichen für eine umfassende Analyse leiblich-menschlicher Verletzlichkeit gestellt sind, verhindert doch bereits die sprachliche Seite der Theoriebildung eine angemessene Erfassung der zugrundeliegenden Erfahrungen.“ (S. 108) Oder anders gesagt: „In Waldenfels‘ Theorie der Responsivität bleibt die Körpererfahrung – obzwar durchaus möglich – ein Fehler im System.“ (S. 110) Hier erläutert Breil auch, was ihr an so einer Einschätzung missfällt: „Eine solche Einschätzung muss vor dem Hintergrund einer Pädagogik der Leiblichkeit, die sich an der Lebenswelt von Schüler*innen orientiert […], fatal erscheinen. Statt einer Stigmatisierung des Körpers muss es vor allem im Hinblick auf physische Veränderungen in der Pubertät eine Möglichkeit geben, körperliche Entfremdung sowie körperliche Bedeutungslosigkeit als mitunter alltägliche Form der Fremdheit zu verstehen.“ (S. 110)

Hieran anschließend versucht sie aufzuzeigen „inwiefern die dargestellten Defizite der phänomenologischen Theorien sich in die phänomenologische Erziehungswissenschaft vererben“. (S. 115) Dazu werden vornehmlich die Arbeiten Meyer-Drawes und Lippitz‘ rekonstruiert, wenn aber auch Exkurse zu Eugen Fink und Otto Friedrich Bollnow gemacht werden. Für die Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik kommt sie zu einem ähnlichen Urteil wie bei Merleau-Ponty: „Nennungen des Körpers sind lediglich einer Vereinfachung der Theoriebildung oder einer begrifflichen Ungenauigkeit zuzuschreiben, die den Körper zum Leib macht und Materialität so schließlich auch sprachlich jeder möglichen Theoretisierung entzieht.“ (S. 144) Anders gesagt: Es handelt sich „um eine fehlende Differenzierung der Begrifflichkeiten“. (S. 152) Alles in allem kommt sie zu dem Schluss, dass mit Merleau-Pontys schon ein Weichenstellung gestellt ist, die zu einer „Vergeistigung des Leibes“ (S. 158) führt. Deswegen ließe sich sagen, dass „eine anerkennende Theorie des unverfügbaren Körpers fehlt.“ (S. 162)

Wie weiter? Der zweite Teil „Unverfügbarkeit als Modus körperlicher Existenz“ lässt sich als Spiegelung zum ersten lesen. Breil schlägt vor die im Kontext von Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik „nicht in ausreichendem Maß“ (S. 163) beachteten Phänomenologien Sartres und Beauvoirs einzubeziehen. Dabei ist nicht ihr Anliegen, die bis hierhin untersuchten Phänomenologien zu verwerfen, sondern zu erweitern. Sartre als existenzialistischer Phänomenologie biete sich deswegen an, weil „Erfahrungen der eigenen Körperlichkeit im Sinne eines materiellen Selbstseins durchaus einen zentralen Bestandteil seiner Phänomenologie darstellen.“ (S. 202) Dreh- und Angelpunkt ist für Breil bei Sartre sein dreifaltiges Körper-Konzept fruchtbar zu machen: „„Der Körper-für-Andere ist kein Objekt-Körper, sondern er ist die leibliche Möglichkeit einer Erfahrung des Objekt-Körpers. Auf diese Weise ist es mit Sartre möglich, den eigenen Körper als Objekt zu empfinden, ohne selbst Objekt zu sein. So können schließlich dualistische Erfahrungen auf Basis einer nicht-dualistischen Körperlichkeit thematisiert werden, ohne dass die Erklärung ins Pathologische abdriftet.“ (S. 214) Denn, was sie im ersten Teil den rekonstruierten Autoren und Autorinnen vorhält, ist, dass diese zwar versuchen den Körper-Geist-Dualismus zu überwinden, aber einem neuen verfallen, und zwar einem Körper-Leib-Dualismus. Insofern wird mit Sartre also die theoretische Schnittstelle bereitgestellt, um phänomenologisch Erfahrungen körperlicher Entfremdung beschreiben zu können, also was der Ansicht Breils nach mit Merleau-Ponty nicht möglich war.

Wo Sartre das Gegenstück zu Merleau-Ponty ist, ist dies nun Beauvoir gegenüber zu Waldenfels: So ist Breil der Überzeugung, dass Waldenfels zwar Phänomene körperlicher Entfremdung beschreiben könne, dies aber nur pathologisierend. Mit Beauvoirs Theorie wird „der Rückgriff auf ein Vokabular ermöglicht, mit dem körperliche Existenz affirmativ beschrieben werden kann.“ (S. 270) Beauvoirs Werk zeichne sich durch die „konkrete Auseinandersetzung mit der eigenen Existenz, also auch mit der eigenen Unverfügbarkeit“ aus. (S. 270) Hierdurch würde eine „Ethik des Scheiterns“ (S. 270) ermöglicht, welche nach Breils Ansicht unabdingbar für das Geschäft phänomenologischer Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik sei. Denn das ist letztlich auch das Ziel von Breil: Die Zielgruppe der Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik ist diesen Erfahrungen ausgesetzt, sie selber aber haben ihrer Ansicht nach nicht die Mittel, diese Erfahrungen theoretisch einzuholen. Insofern geht es ihr weniger um eine dezidierte Phänomenologie körperlicher Entfremdung als mehr der Vorarbeit hierfür und wie diese Theoriebausteine für besagte Bereiche fruchtbar gemacht werden können. Sie fordert aus diesen Gründen ein „Weiterdenken des Bildungsplans in Richtung der auch körperlichen Existenz“. (S. 270) Die Rezeption von Sartre und Beauvoir ermöglicht es nach Breil, einerseits das Kontigente und Sinnlose überhaupt zu denken und andererseits diesen Erfahrungen ihre Legitimität zuzugestehen.

Im abschließenden Teil kritisiert Breil bisherige Bildungspläne in der Ethik vor dem Hintergrund der Erfahrung der Lernenden und plädiert dafür, das Thema körperlicher Unverfügbarkeit in den Lehrplan mitaufzunehmen. Denn „die Bezugnahme auf den Körper [zeichnet sich] durch eine fehlende Grundlagenreflexion aus, die sich nicht zuletzt in der undifferenzierten Verwendung der Begriffe Körper und Leib ausdrückt.“ (S. 282) Dies wird durch ihre Rekonstruktion begründet, die mit Sartre und Beauvoir zeigen sollte, wie Identität (auch) durch Entfremdungserfahrungen gestiftet wird: „Durch die vertiefte Kenntnis über Verfahren der Identitätskonstitution wird die Wichtigkeit von Entfremdungserfahrungen und Erfahrungen der Bedeutungslosigkeit für die Herausbildung eines authentischen und emanzipierten Selbst hervorgehoben.“ (S. 283) Insofern käme diesem Themenbereich eine „orientierende Funktion“ (S. 296) für die Lernenden zu.

Breil hat also versucht aufzuzeigen, dass das Phänomen körperlicher Entfremdung nicht nur eine Leerstelle in bestimmten Phänomenologien ist, sondern dass dieser Erfahrung auch eine identitätsstiftende Funktion zukommt, weswegen es begründet sei, diesem Themengebiet einen Platz im Bildungsplan einzuräumen. Sie charakterisiert ihre Ausführungen als Vorarbeit: „Diese Überlegungen stellen den theoretischen Unterbau eines noch weiter zu entwickelnden körper- und situationstheoretischen Ansatzes in der Philosophiedidaktik dar, der als Ergänzung zu bisherigen Ansätzen zu verstehen ist“. (S. 296)

Das Buch zeichnet sich durch eine enge Auseinandersetzung mit den genannten Autoren und Autorinnen aus. Es wird hier vornehmlich klassische Rekonstruktionsarbeit geleistet, denn eigene Phänomenbeschreibung geliefert. Anders gesagt: Die phänomenologische Tradition wird daraufhin überprüft, inwieweit sie das Phänomen körperlicher Entfremdung mitbedacht hat oder gar mit den je eigenen begrifflichen Mitteln denken kann. Das ist zugleich Stärke und Schwäche von Breils Arbeit: Sie kann begründet aufzeigen, dass das Phänomen körperlicher Entfremdung in den Diskussionen wenig bedacht ist und versucht anhand der Theoriebausteine Wege und Möglichkeiten zu finden, diese Erfahrung adäquat zu beschreiben. Zugleich bedeutet dies sehr viel Textdiskussion. Das ist insoweit eine verpasste Chance, als dass die wenigen Momente, in denen Breil selber als Phänomenologin in Erscheinung tritt, sehr vielversprechend sind.

Die Rekonstruktionen zeichnen sich durch eine enorme Belesenheit aus: Man kann mit Fug und Recht behaupten, dass sich Breil bei jedem der vier Autoren und Autorinnen nicht weniger als das Gesamtwerk zu eigen gemacht hat – und das umfasst in den Fällen Sartre und Beauvoir auch das literarische Werk. Insofern hat man es mit einer bedachten und sehr informierten Rekonstruktion zu tun. Diese bleibt allerdings auch immer diskutabel: Klopft Breil zwar jeweils das Gesamtwerk hinsichtlich ihres Themas ab, so liegt es in der Natur der Sache, dass jede Rekonstruktion einer tour de force gleicht. Hier wäre es womöglich besser gewesen entweder selektierter auf das Thema hin zu arbeiten und Voraussetzungen dann Voraussetzungen sein zu lassen oder aber mehr als Autorin und insbesondere Kommentatorin in Erscheinung zu treten, die sich deutlicher in den Diskussionen verortet. So wird zwar beispielsweise alles darangesetzt, das schwer verständliche Spätwerk Merleau-Pontys für ihr Thema nutzbar zu machen, aber eine Einordnung und Kommentierung dessen fehlt größtenteils. Man möchte wissen, wie sie zu dem steht, was sie da rekonstruiert – abseits der Engführung auf körperliche Entfremdung.

Ohnehin bewegen sich die Rekonstruktionen auf einem schmalen Grat zwischen thematischer Instrumentalisierung und einer Rekonstruktion des Gesamtwerks. Zwar ist die Gliederung jederzeit übersichtlich, indem Theoriebaustein nach Theoriebaustein dargelegt wird. Aber es gibt Passagen, wo nicht klar wird, wer hier der ideale Leser ist. Das kann für manchen Leser dazu führen, dass der Zugang verwehrt bleibt, weil die Rekonstruktionen zu viel voraussetzen oder aber es führt für andere hingegen dazu, dass sie sich hier mehr Tiefgang und Diskussion der einzelnen Argumente wünschen. Breil zeigt aber immer ihre tiefe Kenntnis der Materie, was sich zuletzt auch am Literaturapparat sehen lässt. In jeglicher Hinsicht ist der aktuelle Forschungsstand und die dazugehörigen Debatten miteingearbeitet und (in den Fußnoten) diskutiert. Das ist sicherlich auch eine Stärke ihrer Arbeit, die die breite Anschlussfähigkeit der Phänomenologie und den hier besprochenen Themen zeigt – andere mögen dann aber hier auch wieder Tiefgang vermissen, wenn beispielsweise über die „Digitalisierung der Lebenswelt“ gesprochen wird (S. 44 und 300).

Der Überzeugungskraft des ersten Teils wäre es entgegengekommen, wenn man zuerst die Defizite in der Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik aufgezeigt hätte und woraus sich diese eigentlich speisen. So erscheinen Merleau-Ponty und Waldenfels – überspitzt gesagt – als Wurzel allen Übels in diesen Bereichen – ohne dass man ihnen hier aber die Verantwortung geben könnte. Denn Breils Anliegen gemäß sieht sie ja vielmehr das Versäumnis in den beiden Bereichen, denn bei den Autoren. Anders gesagt: Das Problem besteht weniger bei Merleau-Ponty und Waldenfels, denn vielmehr was in Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik und wofür es rezipiert wird.

Für Breils These, dass Entfremdungserfahrungen identitätsstiftend sind, fragt man sich, warum dafür Hegel herangezogen werden muss, insbesondere vor dem Hintergrund, dass es sich ja um eine Arbeit im Bereich der Phänomenologie handelt. Denn dafür sind ja Sartre und Beauvoir geeignete Gesprächspartner – wie Breil ja selber zeigt. Hingegen kann eher noch angemerkt werden, dass Breil etwaige wichtige Gesprächspartner entgangen sind: Jens Bonnemann, Iris Marion Young und Susan Brison. Bonnemann versucht mit einer Phänomenologie des Widerfahrnis grundlegend die pathische Seite des Erlebens zu beschreiben[1]; Young unternimmt den Versuch sozialgenetische Erfahrungen körperlicher Unverfügbarkeit darzulegen[2]; Brison – zwar keine dezidierte Phänomenologin – beschreibt anhand ihrer erlebten Vergewaltigung und den Erfahrungen danach, was dies mit ihrer Identität macht.[3]

Breils Buch bietet für all diejenigen, die an der Leibphänomenologie interessiert sind einen guten Überblick über grundlegende Konzepte. Darüber hinaus besticht es durch weitumspannende Rekonstruktionen der genannten Autoren und Autorinnen. All dies wird entlang der Frage nach dem Verhältnis von Leib, Körper und Selbst entwickelt. Aufgrund dieser Charakteristika ist ihr Buch für all diejenigen empfehlenswert, die sich nur für bestimmte Teile interessieren. Die Kapitel sind in sich schlüssig und bieten einen guten Umfang, um einerseits einen Überblick zu bekommen, aber auch andererseits schon tiefer einzusteigen. Und aufgrund ihres interdisziplinären Ansatzes bietet es dann auch Anschlussmöglichkeiten für Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik, hinsichtlich dieser Achse. Denn Breils Verdienst ist es Sartre und Beauvoir überhaupt in das Fachgespräch zu bringen. Beide sind bisher nämlich wenig rezipiert. Hier leistet Breil dann wichtige Vorarbeit, indem sie ausgehend von beiden Theorien einen körper- und situationstheoretischen Ansatz für die Lehre entwickelt.


[1] Jens Bonnemann. 2016. Das Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Welt-Verhältnisses, Münster.

[2] Iris Marion Young. 2020 [1980]. Werfen wie ein Mädchen. Ein Essay über weibliches Körperbewusstsein, Stuttgart.

[3] Susan J. Brison. 2022. Aftermath.Violence and the Remaking of Self, Princeton.

Samir Gandesha, Johan F. Hartle, Stefano Marino (Eds.): The “aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Fifty Years Later

The “aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Fifty Years Later Book Cover The “aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Fifty Years Later
Edited by Samir Gandesha, Johan F. Hartle, Stefano Marino
Mimesis
2021
Paperback
342

Reviewed by: Anna Angelica Ainio (PhD ETH Zürich)

The idea of aging seems, at first sight, to be at odds with the concept of theory itself. Theory is supposedly something immaterial that should encompass or anticipate the idea of a development with time, or at least this would be the case if we were talking about theory in the context of systematic or analytic philosophy. Instead, the concept of aging (Altern) in Adorno’s theory is at centre of a discourse tied to his conception of history with regards to critique. The very idea of critical theory, as the first generation of Frankfurt School intellectuals posited it, is a movement which intervenes on concepts, such as that of truth, that are to be understood historically. This entails that the question of aging assumes specific historical connotations and becomes an essential element in the process of criticism. Indeed, it is only because of its temporal core that a theory can become dialectical and therefore gain historical consistency for Theodor W. Adorno.

However, another question which might come to mind when thinking about aging is in which way the type of aesthetic theory that Adorno delineated would still have to do with today’s artistic development. It is through these lenses that the book, ‘The Aging of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’, edited by Samir Gandesha, Joan Hartle and Stefano Marino, looks at Adorno’s aesthetics and gives a nuanced and multifaceted account of it. The book, which was published in 2021 by Mimesis International, presents fourteen critical essays by international scholars and an editorial introduction.

The editors choose to utilize the concept of aging, as explicated in the title, as they deem it to be central to the Adornian conception of criticism (Gandesha S., et al., 9). Indeed, aging is delineated as a dialectical quest for what remains of the philosopher’s aesthetics, conveyed through different writings among which his last and perhaps most enigmatic work: Aesthetic Theory (Ibidem, 11). As an unfinished manuscript, Adorno’s work has received renewed critical attention from the eighties onwards. In ‘The “Aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’, the authors frame their and their contributors’ approaches as a critical dialogue with Adorno. The multiplicity of texts that they include, as they put it, ‘often proceed dialectically “with Adorno” and simultaneously “against Adorno”’ in a productive dialogue that aligns with Adorno’s own understanding of a critical philosophical dialogue, as he himself outlines it with regards to Hegel (25).  Indeed, this type of approach considers how one can productively engage with Adorno’s aesthetic theory today by following the pathway of the Adorno’s own approach to Hegel – that is, thinking about what Hegel himself would have said with regards to the present (24). That means engaging in a critical understanding of the philosopher that neither is a defense nor is it an ‘exercise of distinguishing between “what is living and what is dead”’ (ibidem).

An instance of this re-evaluation from within Adorno’s theory is Gunter Figal’s essay ‘Is Art Dialectical? Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory Revisited’, where the author argues that one should critically assess the fact that, for Adorno, art ought to be necessary dialectical. Through a thorough analysis of Adorno’s aesthetics which goes back to its Hegelian and Kantian roots, Figal sustains that there is a need to overcome Adorno’s dialectical understanding of art as it is bound to the idea of ‘artistic rationality’ (87). Indeed, to build a dialectical understanding of art, Adorno needs to posit the existence of an artistic rationality which would resemble the determined rationality Adorno identifies to be constitutive of contemporary society. However, this is at odds with some instances of contemporary artistic endeavours where the creative act does not embrace the sort of all-encompassing controlling rationality that characterizes society, as Adorno describes it. Figal gives the example of Jackson Pollock’s dripping technique, where the element of chance is incorporated in the act of artistic creation (90). Figal’s is a provocative take on aesthetic theory, and one that wants to provoke discussion within the scholarly community.

Gerhard Schweppenhäuser’s essay, titled ‘Nature and Society in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’ cleverly considers the role played by natural beauty and its nuanced conception in Adorno’s aesthetics. Indeed, because the concept of natural beauty is at the basis of Adorno’s utopian conception of art, Schweppenhäuser tries to outline how this plays a part when one wants to consider the philosopher’s aesthetic theory together with his theory of society (105). Indeed, Adorno’s aesthetics and social philosophy inform one another as artworks ‘stand for the right of the suppressed nature to exist’ (96). Therefore, as the concept of natural beauty has become absurd in a reified society, the very utopian moment resides in the artworks that structurally aim towards this conception. At last, Schweppenhäuser quite on point emphasizes the reflective moment in Adorno as the kernel of both his theory of society and of art. Therefore, what is rendered visible in Adorno’s conception of art is its reflective character which lies bare art’s inherent contradictions (110-111). This in turn reflects the social sphere as art is a ‘fait sociale’ and becomes the ultimate source of criticism (105).

Another significant contribution on the topic of the formal structure of artworks is that of Giacchetti Ludovisi. In his essay ‘Aesthetic Form and Subjectivity in Adorno’, Ludovisi shifts from a viewpoint that necessarily wants to evaluate Adorno’s conception of autonomous art in contrast to non-autonomous art and argues that one productive way to look at Adorno’s aesthetics is by linking the formal structure of art to psychoanalytical interpretation. Ludovisi creatively draws parallelisms between psychoanalytical concepts and formal structures of art situating his essay within interpretations such as Joel Whitebook or Amy Allen’s (Whitebook 1996; Allen 2020). Moreover, Ludovisi productively emphasizes the formal aspects of Adorno’s artistic criticism drawing on Adorno’s own work as a composer within the context of atonal music.

The book is composed of five different sections, each of which collects two to three essays from international Adorno scholars. Each one of the different parts is thematic and aims at dealing with a specific aspect of today’s scholarly debate on Aesthetic Theory. The sections are titled Revisions, Conditions, Materiality, Constellations and Contemporaneity. While the division of the book into different parts presents a useful tool for navigating its structure, it may feel arbitrary at times. An instance of this are section two, ‘Conditions: On the (im)pulse of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’ and three ‘Materiality: on the construction of the specific in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’, where the dividing line between the two is blurred at times. Hence, an essay such as Surti Singh’s ‘Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: the artwork as a monad’ could have easily been placed in the second section, as it deals with the interpretation of Adorno’s aesthetic theory considering the Leibnizian conception of monads.

Moreover, while the book achieves its aim in giving a nuanced account of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory fifty years after its publication, the choice of including such a wide number of essays risks losing the common thread which ties them all together. Despite this lack of a unitary point of view, which might impact the reader which approaches this collection from beginning to end, the book’s eclectic character can be one of its strong points too. A prismatic collection of viewpoints on allegedly one of the thorniest parts of Adorno’s theory, this book represents a refreshing collection of original contributions, each one to be extracted and read singularly. Moreover, an excellent introduction by the three editors sets the tone of the book and signals that there is a harmonized critical approach from authors that have indeed collaborated in the past. The choice of essays present in the book shows the originality of the editors’ perspective on contemporary Adornian scholarship and makes the book a precious collection of scholarly essays.

References:

Gandesha, S., et al. 2021. The „aging“ of Adorno’s Aesthetic theory. Fifty Years Later. Milan: Mimesis International.

Whitebook, J. 1996. Perversion and Utopia: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Critical Theory. Cambridge. Mass: MIT Press.

Allen, Amy. 2020. Critique on the Couch: Why Critical Theory Needs Psychoanalysis. Vol. 73. New York: Columbia University Press.

David Farrell Krell: Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida

Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida Book Cover Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida
David Farrell Krell
Indiana University Press
2023
Paperback
360

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University Potchefstroom)

Probably one of the best writers in contemporary continental philosophy, David Farrell Krell’s Three Encounters is a real treat to read, especially if you have, like me, an appetite for autobiographies. The book is, in a sense, an eyewitness account: Krell knew all three authors and here recounts his experiences and conversations with them—apparently, through some kind of archive fever, kept meticulously in his journal. One does not have to read this book in all too critical manner and can just enjoy the stories and insights that Krell shares along the way. Originally, I had planned to compare and converse with Krell’s other works which I kept track of, especially Derrida and Our Animal Others (2013), Ecstasy, Catastrophe (2015a) or his Phantoms of the Other (2015) which I have reviewed here a few years ago. The review will now however just retrace the main threads one might distill from the book but not before mentioning once again what a joy to read this book is—I haven’t read a book much faster than this the past year. It pays, probably, to have some traction in the field: readers who know, for instance, that J. Glen Gray produced one of the finest translations of Heidegger to date.

Krell, of course, has read enough of Derrida to be somewhat wary of autobiographies. No genre seems more susceptible to lies and errors than the autobiographies in which the ‘I’ claims to speak the truth once and for all. “Things will go better for the truth”, Krell later says, “if one could project autobiography into fiction, if one could translate every ‘I’ into a ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘It’” (330). Underlying Krell’s attempt at autobiography, this “memoir” (308) as he hesitantly, that is, not without quotation marks, calls it, is the firm belief that thinking and living should not make two, for philosophy “has everything to do with existence” (xii). It would have suited Heidegger very well if one needed to know of Aristotle, or of any other philosopher, only that he lived and worked, yet it is in Heidegger’s case the living itself that at time falls short of thinking—something which Krell won’t hesitate to repeatedly advance against the thinker.

Krell’s first chapter, “Before the Beginning”, recounts how he got to philosophy in the first place, having started a history major first. Two sources, for Krell, stand out. First, his reading of William Barrett’s Irrational Man and, second, having moved to Duquesne to study with John Sallis, Nietzsche who would be the subject of Krell’s doctoral dissertation Nietzsche and the Task of Thinking. The title may show that Heidegger, too, was already present in Krell’s life and work. Three themes enamored Krell when reading Barrett: the theme of nothingness, which will would play a large role in existentialism, the concomitant freedom from all dogmatic religions it would entail, and the theme of finitude, where philosophy, supposedly, at last would see this finite world of ours as is, as a finite world that is. Krell then came to Heidegger through reading the latter’s Introduction to Metaphysics—which will probably have led him never to forget about the question of being (as readers of sole Sein und Zeit, rushing through its Introduction seems to befall somewhat). Heidegger, for Krell, was the first philosopher he encountered that at least took Nietzsche seriously, when stating that he, Heidegger, wanted to bring Nietzsche’s accomplishment to a full unfolding (12-3).

Chapter two deals with Krell’s early efforts to translate Heidegger—he, in fact was the American Jean Beaufret. Where the latter brought Heidegger to the French, it is to Krell’s credit that the Americans, early on, could read a bit of Heidegger. The Americans in fact owe to Krell two important volumes that, as far as I know, are still regularly used and quoted: Early Greek Thinking and Basic Writings. A few people, however, were involved with these first, early translations: Joan Stambaugh, who would later translate Being and Time, Glen Gray, who translated What is called thinking? and one Hannah Arendt. “For decades,” Krell tells us from the start, and notwithstanding “the events”, “she was every bit as active in overseeing the translation of Heidegger’s works” (17). Nothing would be published without her agreement. And there is a story or two about how strict she was about the quality of translations. Krell was admitted to the circle of translators because of his attempts at Der Spruch des Anaximander, an essay that needs, not to say, braucht, a good translator indeed. Reiner Schürmann, too, was still around, and led Krell (not) ever so gently to the insight that there is not such a thing as (the one) good translation (18-22). At best, one should realize that one is no master of a language at all: not of the target language and not even of one’s native language. In this sense too, one might need to think about the adage later Heidegger will communicate: we do not “have” language, rather language is “what holds us”.

Krell’s translation made its way to Hannah Arendt’s desk and led to their first meeting. A long discussion about how to translate “ein Gefälle” issued from it—incline, cascades, cases (23)? Translators among us will recognize how joyful these conversations can be, the weighing of words, the different senses and meanings one comes across when meeting other lovers of language! Krell reports, in his journal, to be struck about the theatricality that oozed around here (24). She could be gripped, he says, by an idea that allowed here to zone out for a while only to come back (to senses, to speech) ever so clever. Arendt’s position in the circle of translators was not a dominant one, however. There was something called “Grey’s law” (28): the more important a word for Heidegger was, the less certain they were how to translate it into English. Every so often, Heidegger himself was consulted, but being no master of the English himself, a final word, we would guess, could not be found.

In 1975, Early Greek Thinking was published. Soon after contracts for Heidegger’s Nietzsche volumes and the Basic Writings would be send and signed. The latter volume is intriguing because Heidegger himself had “direct input into the book’s contents” and was even willing to  have a translation of the introduction of Being and Time in the volume—an Introduction that, at the time of writing Sein und Zeit he updated almost on a daily basis I once read. Krell’s first encounter with Heidegger concerned this volume precisely. Krell and Grey wanted to include some of the central sections of Sein und Zeit, say the ones about anxiety and death, too. The master however asked: what is the principle of selection precisely (29)? It took Krell some time, and some courage, to admit that there was no such principle and, on that basis, they agreed to leave the Introduction to Being and Time in the book but refrained from using particular sections of Sein und Zeit. If there was no principle, there was, however, a goal: to let students see as many aspects of Heidegger’s thought as possible. That is why the essay on the Work of Art and the later Letter on Humanism (1946) were inserted.

Before we proceed with these encounters, a first thread should be mentioned. Krell will not hesitate to mention it himself quite often. “The generosity of spirit” (33) present in all these thinkers is what is most striking for him: no question was too much, no detail just a detail, no letters left unanswered. One can just imagine the impression these minds, and their willingness to assist him, made on the young Krell! These Basic Writings surely found his way to the English-speaking world (and even to a home in Belgium!): of the expanded edition of 1993 “about forty thousand copies” (38) were send out to buyers and libraries, and Krell adds that he is no idea what the first edition (running from 1977 to 1992) had done.

The translations of Heidegger’s Nietzsche volume started soon after that, and Krell admits that he has difficulties with the “caricature” Heidegger sometimes made of Nietzsche (41), stating that Nietzsche would merely be an upside-down version of Platonism, whereas Heidegger knew well enough that there never would be a simple end to metaphysics. Yet the chapter concludes on a remarkable note that I’ve missed in my own humble readings of Derrida. “Both Heidegger and Nietzsche [are] going into eclipse […] nowadays” and, along with this Derrida’s remark, that “thinkers are measured […] by the number of eclipses they survive” (42). Safe to say, almost, Krell’s conclusion: “no eclipse […] will obscure either Heidegger or Nietzsche for long, at least for those readers who […] think about ‘the intimate and the ultimate’” (ibid.).

During the time of editing the Basic Writings volume, and thereafter, Krell had at least four works sessions and several other brief meetings with Martin Heidegger, the topic of the third chapter. The then thirty year old Krell met with Heidegger between June 1974 and January 1976—these would be the last two years of Heidegger’s life—to discuss, mainly, the ongoing translation of Heidegger’s two Nietzsche volumes. Joan Stambaugh would accompany Krell this first time and Heidegger would inscribe Krell’s volume of the Nietzsche book with the intriguing sentence that “the battle between David and Goliath, in philosophy, is not yet decided” (53)—a riddle, if not a simple pun, on the fact that Krell’s doctoral supervisor introduced the dissertation at the defence with the remark that David had taken up Goliath—the Nietzsche volumes are after all no less than 1100 pages. Much later Krell would show Heidegger’s subscription to Derrida (220).

Krell recalls, especially, how small Heidegger was and ventures that perhaps his size was one of the reasons behind the polemic that accompanied Heidegger everywhere especially in his early days, complaining for instance about those academics that “travel from one meeting to the next” (54, Cf. GA 20, 376) and don’t have (or take) the time to properly work—a remark that Krell will repeat, although somewhat less politically, in his Derrida and Our Animal Others (Krell 2013, 6). Perhaps a “taller man, a Cassirer or a Jaspers, could afford to be more tolerant and easygoing” (54). Heidegger’s judgement of his philosophical contemporaries has always been severe and Krell notes that even in the fifties (in What is called thinking?) Heidegger noted that no matter how much philosophy one has read, this still is no guarantee that one finds oneself thinking. The two remarks make Krell ponder for a first time, in this book at least, about “Heidegger’s leap to the right” which of course, “no curbstone psychology can […] make clear” (55). Krell will make clear, however, that he follows the model of Glen Gray and Hannah Arendt who would, despite everything, remain dedicated to read Heidegger’s work but who would also remain “critical and perspicuous of about the man and his work. The only thing they were unable to do […] was to light a match to burn either the man or his work” (ibid.).

Next to his size, Heidegger’s voice gripped Krell. Krell takes note of Heidegger’s “high-pitched, raspy voice” (ibid.) that nonetheless, as Jaspers would write, is as eindringlich—we all know how the audiences were gripped, from the start, by Heidegger’s lectures—as succinct.

The banality and everydayness of these meetings is charming nonetheless. Heidegger gave some new editions of his work—the Reclam edition of The Origin of the Work of Art, for instance, which happens to sit in my own library too—to Krell during their second meeting. In this meeting Heidegger intervened on the question which essays to take up in the Basic Writings. On the Way to Language would be, according to him “Schwierig, zu schwierig” (60), to difficult, to deserve a place in the volume that would introduce his thought to the new continent. Gray and Krell had decided by then to exclude those essays that concerned the place of this or that thinker in the history of metaphysics, as for instance Hegel and the Greeks. Interesting, too, is that Heidegger himself requested that Time and Being be excluded from the volume too afraid perhaps that people would see in this essay the carrying out of the reversal that everyone then was talking about. In its stead, “[Heidegger] convinced me that the proper culmination of this thinking—fittingly a thoroughly questioning culmination, every bit as tentative as its companion piece despite its assertive title—was the essay The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” (61). It is true: one of the most thought-provoking and readable essays it still is. Krell obediently notes: “Even when I inserted the language essay [The Way to Language, JS] into the second edition of Basic Writings, I made certain to let the ‘End’ essay appear at, and as, the end” (61).

Krell goes on to discuss Nietzsche lecture of 1938-39 (now taken up in GA 46), planned as a seminar or workshop even but turned into a lecture by Heidegger because simply too many people attended, because it is one of the few later instances in which Heidegger discusses life, animal life even. Apart from the volumes on Nietzsche (then still published with Neske) there is still other material on Nietzsche. Another essay, this one from a proper workshop in 1937 (see now GA 87, 161ff) is one of the few places Heidegger would discuss the question of love through an account of Nietzsche’s amor fati, here promoted even to “Nietzsche’s Basic Metaphysical Position” (66). In these pages, Krell worries about Heidegger’s, say differential, positioning of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence of the same” within the history of being, as the last metaphysical trick the last metaphysician has up his sleeve (a worry that would lead Reiner Schürmann, by the way, to the crucial remarks in Broken Hegemonies: “So, somewhere between 1844 and 1900 we just stopped thinking metaphysically?) and the other, somewhat contradictory, claim that no one since Nietzsche has “risen to the challenge of taking thought seriously enough” (67), a challenge at which Heidegger himself perhaps, in his best days, would accept to have failed and faltered—it is Nietzsche, after all, who broke Heidegger. Er hat mich kaputt gemacht.

Krell once asked Heidegger when he realized he wouldn’t be able to complete Sein und Zeit. To which Heidegger supposedly had answered: 1924-1925. It is possible, Krell says, that he misheard—the Kehre, and any intimation of it, is usually placed somewhere in the thirties—yet, Krell lets us note, attentive readers of the Prolegomena to the History of the Concept of Time, a lecture course from 1925 no less, will have noticed, first, that the interpretation of ecstatic temporality of Dasein is absent from these lectures and, secondly, that that the theme of the temporality of being is all the more present (70-71). It is possible that the (somewhat anthropological) turn to Dasein distracted even Heidegger from the question of being. Note to self (or to the readers): finally read this volume bearing this in mind. Don’t waste your time on meetings.

One more “whimsical matter” (74) deserves a mention, at least because James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake wanders through Krell’s book (and other reviewers than me possible will make more about this—although Krell made me laugh when discussing Derrida, and telephones, or was it gramophones?). Krell asked Heidegger to sign his copy of Sein und Zeit, forgetting for a while that, half in jester, Krell inserted a bit of Joyce at the first pages of his copy about all the things, and then some, that cause or otherwise entail “the ensuance of existentiality” (75). Krell’s heart must have skipped a beat. Heidegger did not notice, or pretended not to notice, Joyce’s odd words. The chapter closes with a moving report of Heidegger’s death Krell had received from Friedrich W. von Hermann mentioning that Elfride at first did not notice the passing of her husband properly, mistaking his death for sleep, so apparently not recognizing death as death. It is, furthermore, clear that Krell holds Heidegger’s acquaintance in high regard: “I felt respect an even affection for the man I met” (83) and respect and affection in effect shine through these pages.

There is debt to Heidegger, for Krell, for many things: for the business dealt with—there were a lot of copyright issues, it seems, with these English translations, a lot of misunderstandings too—for the photos, letters and signatures received and of course for the philosophical teachings that the man of Todtnauberg brought to us all. There is a distance, too. This debt and this distance is the topic of Krell’s fourth chapter. At the same time, the debt and the distance is a short-hand of Arendt’s (and Gray’s) model how to deal with Heidegger, especially his positioning during those dark, black thirties and forties. Earlier on Krell had indicated that he would fill in the gaps in the time of his encounters with the biographies available of these thinkers (xiii). In this chapter, Krell therefore turns to Rüdiger Safranski’s Ein Meister aus Deutschland and Antonia Grunenberg’s Hannah Arendt und Martin Heidegger. One need read very little of Heidegger to know that there is, as Safranski also notes, a tendency to self-mythologize in his life and work (89). Krell heard from Arendt and Stambaugh that apparently only his brother Fritz “could mock Martin’s grand self-stylizations” (91) and that Elfride hated him for it. Heidegger had many talents, of course, but modesty and self-critique don’t seem to be part of them. The thinker that calls for Besinnung, pretty much everywhere, lacks all Besonnenheit in his later “polemics and plaidoyers in his own defense” (107).

Krell then relates Safranski’s story about Heidegger’s upbringing and youth: the dependency of conservative Catholicism for his education, the tension between the liberal education in the towns and the earlier conservative strand of these institutions that housed him, a tension, shadow perhaps, that Heidegger seems only difficult to shed. Antimodernism would indeed accompany Heidegger during his entire life, yet at the same time there was something of a revolutionary zeal about his early (and later) thinking which one would expect rather from a liberal-progressive mind. “Heidegger’s internal struggles with Catholicism” is well known (yet not sufficiently studied) and Krell takes pleasure in mentioning Max Müller’s report to church leaders in 1947 about Heidegger’s relation to the Church (“he is relentlessly circling about the question of the Absolute” (94, citing Grunenberg)) and in Safranski’s note that nothing of the antisemitism, then pervading in Catholic antimodernism, is present in Heidegger’s own “early ‘Catholic’ writings” (94). Krell has a few qualms about Safranki’s “throwing in the towel” (95) when it comes to the later Heidegger, mainly because “earth and sky are raging now, and mortals might do well to think about building for the sake of dwelling” (97). And if the likes of René Char value “The Thing” so highly and Hannah Arendt considered What is Called Thinking? as the best of Heidegger’s thinking (ibid.), then a thinker, any thinker, might do well to at least reconsiders one’s judgement. Krell’s judgement, on the other hand, is worth considering: “at his worst, Heidegger succumbed to the seductions of power, destructive power; at his best, he searched for the origins of that destructive power, and tried, without authority, to promulgate a different sort of thinking. I am unable to mock the effort” (97-98).

When meeting Heidegger, Krell knew very little about Heidegger’s own destructive path during the thirties and forties—and had he known, one might also wonder whether one would have dared asking him about that period. Heidegger’s fatal turn to politics, Safranski has argued, already starts with the criticism Sein und Zeit would receive from George Misch and Helmuth Plessner, arguing that there is no politics in the book. Slowly but surely, Heidegger would make his way, first in university politics, then in national politics (99) and by 1933 he is indeed “caught in a revolutionary fervor and furor” (ibid.). From the beginning, however, Heidegger seemed blind for all the politics around him: amidst of the mobs, the violence, and repression, Heidegger would still think, and say, that these are but a passing phase. One must, however, recall, that no one has the hindsight we now all have, and that Heidegger was not the only one not to see what was happening. (The only question here seems to be whether we, you and I, would be able to recognize what is happening if it would happen all around us).

The latter question in effect is forgotten in the “works” of those today that “devote oneself solely to ‘unmasking’ Heidegger’s texts” (100): these seem to “partake of that self-same militancy and decisionism” (100) to which Heidegger himself fall prey, when purging being of those elements foreign to it, from the Medieval “mania for security in sanctity”, to “modernity [as] the willful machination of Roman vulgarity” (100), up to the grandiose role Heidegger reserved for himself when finally detecting that it was being itself that erred. Except that in these latter-day devotees the purging works the other way: this or that sentence is clear evidence for this or that and therefore we bid good riddance to the entire work, not to mention that these devotees themselves are, apparently, pure and immune enough to undertake the task of such purging.

This obviously does not mean that Heidegger’s politics do not make us think. Krell mentions two things he thinks about quite often: those aspects in his life that pushed him in this fatal direction and his “callousness” (101) regarding his Jewish students. It is clear, too, that the Black Notebooks reveal something of an intellectual, cultural-spiritual antisemitism, not to say a “being-historical” (Trawny) variant (103). Krell’s assessment here is rather brief, a bit obscure even: the flowery language used might be a sign, too, that he is at a loss for words about just what happened to the thinker in this period. Krell indeed admits: there are “no signs of Heidegger’s suffering on account of the dangers to which his best students were exposed from 1933 onward” (ibid.) leaving Krell particularly “speechless and defeated” (ibid.). Heidegger’s “hardness of heart” was central already to Krell’s reading of the Black Notebooks (see 2015a, 157). Krell is clear, however, that recounting all these events as just a political error is not enough, and he will turn to Arendt more and more for the beginning of an answer. Here the question posed to Heidegger, “in a way that [he] would have understood” (104) is: should not such a disregard for your students and colleagues have made you, if only later, think? (ibid.). Does not your silence about the camps, liberated only six years earlier, “make a mockery” of the very question What calls for thinking? (108). To repeat, Heidegger’s life in effect might have fallen short of his thinking. An inkling about these thoughts, for Krell, lay in the question of love. Krell notes the distance he takes from Heidegger in and through his readings of Hölderlin. Whereas Heidegger focuses on Hölderlin’s reading of the homeland, Krell published a book on Hölderlin’s travels precisely (see Struck by Apollo). Is it the case that only through our travels the love for the other and the love for otherness truly awakens?

What can we learn from Hannah Arendt? She began to visit Heidegger again every summer after 1967. Here too, Krell says, he knew nothing about their earlier affair. Krell knew of her work, heard her speak in New York, and met up with her in Germany several times after the summer of 1974, where they had, after a period of exchanging letters, that “long conversation on [the] translation of ‘Der Spruch des Animander’” (119) mentioned earlier and in which Arendt showed herself particular patient “even though patience did not seem to be her strong suit” (ibid.). “I knew her as a person who loved above all else the vita contemplativa. Yet it is true to say that for her, thinking was never untroubled, tranquil contemplation. Rather, thinking had to wrestle with the problems of the world and with the ways in which we either rise to the occasion or falter and fumble when responding to those problems” (120-121).

In time, their exchanges become less formal and “Hannah” (120) was writing letters of recommendation for Krell who then was looking for a job. In any case, Krell featured enough in Arendt’s life to become a, say ‘character’ in it: it must be pretty odd to find yourself mentioned in a letter from Arendt to Heidegger (126)!

Krell now returns to Arendt’s admiration for Heidegger’s ‘Anaximander Fragment’, which perhaps is the place where the latter speaks most compassionate about our dealings with beings, about their coming and going, and our own finite coming and going, for if Heidegger cared a lot for ‘things that grow’ he did not seem to care much for ‘things that live’. Heidegger’s translation of the fragment would indeed impress many—not to mention Derrida’s wonderful essays on it. Heidegger speaks, with Anaximander, about justice and injustice, about things and time ‘being out of joint’. Usually, one translates Anaximander as saying that things “pay penalty” [tisis] to one another for their injustices, yet Heidegger has it—and I turn to Krell—that tisis is “not penalty but ‘mutual esteem,’ such that beings honor one another by not insisting on their own presence, not persisting in their own drive to prevail always and everywhere” (133). The passage is too beautiful not to think about. Krell adds that this thought of beings that are and need to be “considerate of one another” must have “touched on what Arendt was looking for” in her thinking of love as amor mundi and the Augustinian, ‘I will that you be’ (ibid.).

They discussed Heidegger’s Nazi involvement during what would be their last meeting in Summer 1976. Arendt called Heidegger a “lousy administrator” (135) and insisted that his resignation from the rectorate had nothing to do with politics, and certainly was not an act of resistance (136). She gestured strangely when Krell mentioned the reports about Heidegger’s antisemitism. At first Krell thought that this was because she thought the accusation senseless but, on second thought, and bearing Heidegger’s silence with regard to the suffering of his students in mind, Krell states, recalling Arendt’s own difficult years in Marburg, that these gestures “may have been a sign of something far more painful and confounding” (137). Krell is wise enough not to comment on the relationship Heidegger and Arendt entertained for quite a while, but we should at least mention that we owe him for helping Hannah out, carrying her suitcases around through the Freiburg railway. In that suitcase? Heidegger’s love letters to Arendt, which make for an inspiring yet baffling reading once one knows that all of these were written at the time of finishing Sein und Zeit which, as is well-known, only mentions love in a few odd cases.

To learn about the relationship between Arendt and Heidegger, Krell turns to Grunenberg’s account in the sixth chapter, “Arendt with and without Heidegger”. Even though it is clear from these letters that Heidegger was “overwhelmed with love” (146), “benumbed” (150) even, a term later reserved for the things that merely live,  here too some “skepticism”, worrying “about the possible self-deception in […] passion”—Am I in love with your love for me?—leading up to the refusal of “a friendship between souls” (ibid., the latter quote citing Grunenberg), arises, causing Krell, in turn, to worry about “Heidegger’s irremediable remoteness” and “insurmountable emotional distance [with] all his fellows” (146).

Heidegger destroyed Arendt’s letters to him, and all we have from their period together is a text from Arendt called “Shadow”, speaking of a certain tenderness to the world which, again, might have drawn her to Heidegger’s Anaximander. Inversely, if it is so difficult for Heidegger to describe a meeting of singular Dasein with singular Dasein in Being and Time—solicitude seems to be bare ontological minimum—one of the best definitions of love can be found in his letter to Arendt, and it is easy to imagine how this must have confused the writer of Sein und Zeit: “Love is being able to take only the singular ‘you’ as actual. When is I say that my joy in you is great and growing, that means that I also believe in everything that belongs to your history. I am not fabricating some ideal: the way you are and the way you will remain with your history—that is how I love you” (147, citing the letters between the two in German, 36). Soon, however, Heidegger would start to downplay and denigrate “the squalls of romantic love”—Krell indicates how in the course Einleitung in die Philosophie from Winter 1928 Dasein is “broken” by sexual difference—and Krell, significantly concludes: “As a Dasein that in addition to questioning also lives, however, he is often not smart enough to come in out of the rain” (148-149).

Well-known is Safranski’s statement that Arendt’s philosophy would complement Heidegger’s, as for instance her vision of the public realm would alleviate his stress on the struggle of singular Dasein. Krell, interestingly enough, has doubts. Far from insisting on the originality of her theme of natality, he says, she would point us to the few pages in Being and Time that mention that the phenomenon of birth truly poses a problem for Heidegger himself (153), even if it is the case that she gave each birth “a more positive resonance”, since “each new birth promis[es] enhanced possibilities for humankind” (154). The latter idea would enthrall Derrida but I would only subscribe with serious reservations: it may be true abstractly, it seems not to be true in practice.

There is worry enough about the public space in Arendt—“she lived long enough […] to see the public space all but entirely mediatized” (156). She, herself, worried about whether her passage about the public space in Origins of Totalitarianism, stating that in this place even ‘the mobs and the elite’ would gather (ibid.) had possibly (if not hopefully) hurt Heidegger. The mediatization, as such I would say, worries Krell. It is not the first time that one Donald Trump is mentioned in this book. “Arendt had no illusions,” he says, adding that “evil could be clownish as well as banal” (ibid).

Once again, understandably, Heidegger’s positioning against his students, his Jewish students in particular, come to mind. Krell states that one of the worst statements of Heidegger in the Black Notebooks is that he is all for the “unrestricted application” of the “principle of race” (161, cf. GA 96, 56), an “allusion to the Shoah,” perhaps, “if only prospectively” (ibid.).  Heidegger was no prophet, of course, and all these phrases, the ones about the “total annihilation” (e.g. GA 36/37, 90-91), Vernichtung, included, should be put in a serious historical context—all of these should be compared to what was known to the Germans, to certain of their leaders, in a given historical period. Not everyone knew everything, even though not everyone ‘had no knowledge of it’.  Yet Heidegger was not at Wannsee in 1942.

These pages are interesting, too, for those looking for a first contact with the ‘the trouble with Heidegger’. Krell closes by stating that whereas Grunenberg’s judgement is generous—Heidegger was less an antisemite than an opportunist and his involvement with the nazis possible rather than necessary—Arendt could be very harsh, although “not consistently” (166). She deems Heidegger charakterlos, excluding “both a good and a bad character” (ibid.). One might say, following Krell somewhat: he was too little ‘Mensch’ and too much ‘Dasein’.

After being in exile for eight years Arendt left Europe for the States in 1941 where she became an activist for fellow refugees, and pleaded for a “two-state solution,” (167) as later Derrida will also do. After the war, Arendt’s stirred controversy for not insisting on the ‘the guilt-question’ but rather on everyone taking responsibility for their deeds (168). On her first trip back (in 1950) she contacted Heidegger who would read some of his Was heisst Denken? to her. Heidegger was not allowed to teach just yet and suffered from it—he had had a severe depression in 1946. The confrontation between Arendt and Elfride, Heidegger’s wife, is not easy, to say the least, and Krell will write later that he surmises that it is because of this that the contact between the two thinkers will now, for a long time, be broken off. There are a few attempts on Heidegger’s part two alleviate the conflict, but writing a letter to your wife on Valentine’s day to explain your relationship with a mistress perhaps wasn’t his best idea. Krell once more notes Heidegger’s tendency to see himself as the victim (172), this time of his “states of excitement” (171) needed for his thinking, just to find the way from what at first is sensed to the sayable, as if the thinker of being needed to be inspirited, maddened by excitement and could enthusiastically—in a Greek sense—go about his ways. Krell concludes with Grunenberg that “Heidegger often enough betrays Sein […] for Geist, slipping back into that quasi-Hegelian position that he ought to have eschewed” (168, also 165)—as if being could only speak through him and it was with him alone that its history would reach, if not its consummation, then at least a ‘new beginning’. Here too Heidegger slipped into a lack of thinking that could go either way: either someone was to be applauded for hearing the voice of being or someone was to be castigated for not hearing this voice at all. That Heidegger even allowed such particular Seiendes to say all there is to Seyn is in Krell’s Ecstasy, Catastrophe once more underlined as a “failure of thinking” on Heidegger’s part (Krell 2015a, 170).

Of course Elfride alone did not cause Arendt not to visit Heidegger until 1967. Arendt suffered from the later Heidegger’s “mannerisms” as much as the next one. Above all, it is his silence about the extermination of the camps that unsettles her (174). Arendt refers to Heidegger being trapped, stumbled into a trap that he first set for others, in a parable about the fox in her Denktagebuch. One might paraphrase: if it is the case that Die Sprache spricht it is noteworthy that all actual and empirical words are improper and cannot heed Being, or could otherwise give words to being. Only a poet, here or there, can do so. Yet since fewer and fewer poets speak in this atom-age all this fox can do is listen to the silence of Being until Being itself, and all beings with it, grow mute.

Krell had been reading Derrida since 1979 and met him a few years later, the topic of the seventh chapter. A friendship developed between the two men, especially over Derrida’s Geschlecht-series, and they would meet three to four times a year. Krell will mostly use the letters between them in this chapter, although there are plenty of anecdotes, too, of the time they spend together—apparently Derrida kept all of Krell’s letters, which are now at the IMEC archive in Caen (208). Derrida’s first letter to Krell, in 1983, reveals “certain constants” (195). Krell mentions the lack of time, the enormous workload, the depletion of energy but especially Derrida’s gratitude for and generosity towards the engagement of others with his work. From my own reading of these letters, I would add all apologies Derrida uses in these letters (and which reflect a certain aspect of his work as well): apologies for not being on time, for responding too late, and so on, which would later lead to a genuine “mailophobia” (245).

Krell then recalls listening to Derrida’s lecture on Heidegger’s Hand in 1985, a lecture which would become Geschlecht II, and was the “most powerful presentation [he] had ever heard” (196) even though, as usual with Derrida, it lasted for hours. It is here, too, that the two men met for the first time: at the airport, Krell offered to carry Derrida’s suitcase to the taxi and, after the conference in Chicago, they traveled to Yale together (where Derrida presented what, decades later, would become Geschlecht III). Derrida, it seems, was almost always en route. Krell then narrates the conferences he was organizing where Derrida would be the main speaker, one of which in Essex where Krell worked at the time. For this conference, it was agreed that Derrida could focus on “his ‘hesitations’ concerning Heidegger’s thought” (208), later published as De l’esprit (1987). It is through this lecture that Krell, too, began to doubt about “Heidegger’s assurance that mortals could be readily distinguished from all other life-forms” (ibid.).

Krell especially remembers Françoise Dastur’s remark at the Essex conference, stating that Heidegger had not only argued for the major role of questioning when it comes to thinking but that it also, and more so, was the claim, the “address” of the question on us that was at issue (218-219). Derrida listened carefully and when revising his paper for publication, his answer to Dastur ended up being “may be the longest footnote in the history of philosophy” (219). Another exchange in Essex deserves our attention too, for it is important for anyone reading the Geschlecht-series and Derrida’s ‘critique’ of Heidegger’s account of ‘sammeln’ and gathering. Apparently, someone asked Derrida whether “a thought of unity that would not suppress differences” is at all possible. Derrida replied smilingly and answered immediately: “That is my dream. It is what I try to think. I can’t avoid dreaming [but] I try not to dream all the time” 220). The entire gist of the Geschlecht-series in one single sentence!

Another story from the Collegium Phaenomenologicum in 1987, where Derrida spoke and Jean-Luc Nancy presented as well, needs to be mentioned. Both men, apparently, were pretty good soccer players. Yet the scene ends when Derrida kicked the ball so hard that the ball went off terrain and onto the porch where it landed with a loud noise shattering a vase they then thought was an ancient one. All men hid—Derrida, Nancy and even Rodolphe Gasché, the organizer of the conference, were nowhere to be found (224). Il faut very much répondre, but clearly not all the time and everywhere!

A revised version of the Essex paper—now with the long footnote—was presented in Paris too. Levinas also attended. When Levinas gave his speech, Derrida and Krell wanted to join, but when Levinas saw Derrida, he got up from his chair asking him what he was doing there, chastising him quite severely: “you should be at home working!” (230). This is but an anecdote, of course, but nonetheless one that gives food for thought. One can easily imagine Derrida attending Levinas’ lecture out of courtesy, perhaps, or even to pay homage, who knows—Levinas was getting old and in the last years of his life—but how different is Heidegger’s approach to his work and his ‘whereabouts’, realizing that he was bored with and in the company of others, wishing he would have been able to work instead (Cf. GA 29/30, 165).

Before I dash off to a next meeting, let me conclude by narrating Krell’s eight chapter, mainly about 1987, a year filled with controversies for Derrida with the De Man-affair especially, a close friend of Derrida’s. De Man was the man who, in a sense, brought deconstruction to America but in this year it became evident that he was behind not a few antisemitic writings in his early journalistic writings, causing an even worse reputation to the ‘bad name’ deconstruction already had among quite a few ‘thinkers’. There was a quarrel, too, between Krell and Derrida over Levinas’ work, which Krell took as one more of the “usual sort of moralizing and policing typical of ethical sources” undergirded, once more, by the commands “from on High” (238). Krell presented this thesis at a conference at Vanderbilt in 1987, where Derrida also spoke. Derrida’s response to Krell’s paper is worth pondering: “is the priestly Levinas the only Levinas? Is it fair to remain with the rejection of the priestly Levinas?” (240), questions, we know, that triggered Derrida in both his classics on Levinas Violence and Metaphysics (1967) and A Dieu à Emmanuel Levinas (1996). And Derrida to proceed: “Is it not the case that infinite violence as such is not flat and boring, but, on the contrary, devilish and interesting? [As] the piety turns into the opposite of piety—that is interesting. Levinas’s violence cannot be reduced, but it can be turned” (ibid) and, a little bit later, “I read Levinas with the hypothesis in mind that he sacrificed God” (241). A certain God was certainly sacrificed by Levinas—Levinas was not the thinker of dogmas and creeds—and what remains is the raising of the stakes of the face to face encounter, which is now ‘guided’ by a call that comes literally from God knows where, anarchic if not diabolic, but a call nonetheless, an ‘intersubjective curvature’ if you will, that no one can easily put aside.

The nineties, for Derrida, were the years of “animality”, a question that had occupied Derrida from the beginning but that now comes to the fore. Along with this comes a rather strange confession of Derrida that he had rather that they would leave his work “to sleep peacefully” (247), that he himself even prefers to forget about insights that came to him during the writing of this or that work. This “need to protect his work” (249) occupies Krell quite a bit in this eight chapter. At the beginning of the nineties, Krell too taught in Paris and he would regularly meet up with Derrida and Françoise Dastur. Derrida was then teaching seminars about cannibalism, a continuation of his work on “Eating the Other”. Krell to comment: “What I remember most vividly about these lectures were Derrida’s imaginative yet quite concrete references to what are usually called ‘bodily functions’. I had always felt that […] Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh has somehow been left in abeyance by deconstruction, but the flesh came back with a vengeance [and] it would continue to come back throughout this decade dedicated to ‘animality’” (250). Krell also notes the intensity of these seminars of Derrida and, quite significantly, dares to echo the words that Hans Jonas once used to describe Heidegger’s lectures for these seminars.

These are also the years of Derrida’s Aporias, where his ‘hesitations about Heidegger’ become evident once again and where Derrida’s doubts about getting one’s death ‘into view’, properly, even as ‘the possibility of impossibility’ Heidegger spoke about, leads him to interrogate the ‘end of the living’, of what is alive, again. The aporia is an impasse or a limit, as a superficial reading would have it: what we get in view is our finite being-in-the-world, our being-in-the-world-together, but not, not properly, the ‘end’ of being-in-the-world, let alone what comes after. Krell adds: “toward the end of his address [Derrida] said something that would continue to obsess him for the rest of his days: if ‘my’ death does not come to appear as such, if there is no crossing that frontier, this means ‘nothing less than the end of the world, with each death, each time’” (261, referring to Aporias). “The theme of mourning,” Krell says, “[became] for me perhaps the central theme of Derrida’s thought” (262).

It is worth noting that this makes for Derrida’s concern about the general state of phenomenology—but a concern, too, that was present early on in Derrida. Just read his introduction to Husserl’s Geometry. “The confidence that underlay[s] the phenomenological project of the recuperation of evidence and the restitution of all things past to presence, in other words, the project devoted to keeping everything [a phrase from Sartre’s Les mots, JS] [is] a confidence that both Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and [my] own Feu la cendre [are] dedicated to undermining” (264). Nothing, ever, is remembered, or present even, as such. One might say: Il y a la différance or, as Nietzsche once quite amusingly called ‘the thing-in-itself’ “das Derdiedas” (246). But remember, too, what we mentioned earlier: Derrida kept everything, even essays that Krell’s eight-year daughter had her father send to Derrida (209).

Chapter nine takes Benoît Peeters’ biography of Derrida as its point of departure, speaking of Derrida’s family and his attachment to the Jewish community. Community, in general, sparked an “allergic reaction” (282) in Derrida. Yet Derrida, for Krell, thought more about “our fractured polis and our fractious politics” (ibid.) than is usually assumed: his thought about a divided sovereignty in effect brings him close to Arendt’s view that the American innovation might lie in “the abolition of sovereignty within the body politic of the Republic” (ibid., quoting Jerome Kohn).

This chapter, “Each Time Unique” is, perhaps fittingly, “all about mourning” (287). Derrida’s work of mourning is well-known, and the title of this chapter bears the same name as Derrida’s French volume. For Derrida, mourning suffers from the same aporia as the other grand themes he broached. If there is such a thing as mourning, it is not, really, it is not successful that is: if mourning would be successful, over and done with, one would no longer be mourning the deceased any more. The deceased will then have been forgotten and mourning will not have taken place, say, properly. This sums up Derrida’s “[line] of resistance” (289) against Freud: there is no such a thing as successful mourning. One does not ‘move on’, one does not lose a particular someone or something, but one loses the world in its entirety, with every singular death one unfortunately comes across.

The chapter proceeds by recounting Derrida’s early reception in France. Although Derrida’s “genius” (297) was recognized by many, and not the least (Ricoeur, Althusser, Hyppolite, Canguilhem), academic averageness gave Derrida a hard time. Lacan, too, thought of Derrida as an imposter. Heidegger, on the other hand, “expressed a desire to meet Derrida” (298) and it is unfortunate for us that this did not happen, for Derrida would have kept everything. Heidegger, apparently, was intrigued by the notion of différance, where the French “forced [him] to admit that [this] language could do something that the German could not do” (298), namely signify at once difference and deferral.

Krell then takes on Derrida’s Circumfession, a text, I’m sure, that no one of us really understands. And Krell too seems to struggle. Krell speaks of a “pericardial thinking” (310). If Derrida’s seminar were truly a ‘thinking in action’, “without safety nets” (252), then one sees here a thinking tapping all of its veins until it bleeds, a thinking according to the heart.

In the “Concluding Reflections”, Krell rehearses the main themes of his ‘memoir’, the things he would like to remember having written the book, the things to keep at heart as it were. Krell’s life is indeed a remarkable bumping into geniuses and “is much the better and much the happier for these encounters” (324). Life is often better on paper, of course, yet this memoir should make us wonder whether we should not try to keep more, we, who encounter the thinkers of our admittedly somewhat thoughtless times, and smile at their e-mails just once before deleting them.

There is much to think about in Krell’s book, and having written this review which is surely too long, and looking into my notes, I see my scribbling mentioning that this is a book one best reads for oneself. That is true, perhaps. It will give teachers an anecdote or two to lighten up their classes. It will give thinkers an idea or two to think about, for there is something about the lives of philosophers that cannot be easily dismissed if one thinks about their philosophies. To be sure, one might have some misgivings about Krell’s book. It is rather conservative at times, even though even at those places it raises good questions: can there be such a thing as a contemplative e-mail? (302, also 293). I think there is, though—the matters of the heart have a way of finding its way through whatever medium available. We should just think more (and better) before just deleting these. It is, attempts to be rather, political at times: there are regular references to Trump, for instance. I did not find these, always, convincing, even though here too the question is whether we are able to recognize what is happening all around us and, especially, whether such recognition as such can take place. Philosophy’s procession into politics will always remain a delicate manner.

Sean D. Kirkland: Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle

Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle. On How to Read the Tradition Book Cover Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle. On How to Read the Tradition
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Sean D. Kirkland
Northwestern University Press
2023
Paperback
184

Reviewed by: François Raffoul (Louisiana State University)

Sean Kirkland’s Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle. On How to Read the Tradition (hereafter: HDA) is an in-depth study of Heidegger’s relation to Aristotle, engaging the German thinker’s early works and lecture courses (1919-1927). Kirkland follows and discusses Heidegger’s contention that Aristotle should be studied as a “proto-phenomenologist.” As such, this work is also a study on Heidegger’s unique and original method in his readings of the philosophical tradition (as Kirkland clarifies: “intending specifically the tradition that was inaugurated by ancient Greek thinking”). This book is thus just as much as a work on Heidegger’s method as on his relation to Aristotle. The reader will easily recognize this method of the early Heidegger as that of Destruktion or destruction (taken in a positive sense, as Heidegger insists) and hermeneutics, as Kirland establishes from the outset: “In the lecture courses, papers, and other texts of this period, from 1919 to 1927, the year of Being and Time’s publication, Heidegger sometimes discusses this method, which he provocatively calls Destruktion or ‘destruction,’ in considerable depth and detail before applying it to whatever text he has before him. It is this interpretive approach, taken strictly on its own terms as a hermeneutic, that I strive to bring to light in the present volume” (HDA, viii). More specifically, Kirland attempts to approach “destruction” as an interpretive method (Heidegger developing what we might call a “destructive hermeneutics”), a destructive or deconstructive interpretation of our tradition going back to Aristotle.

In the introduction, Kirkland reminds us that, “Before becoming one of the most original and influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger began his philosophical career, it could be argued, as an interpreter of Aristotle” (HDA, 3). In a 1937–38 short text, entitled “My Path So Far (“Mein bisheriger Weg”), Heidegger had described his path of thinking as being two-fold: a research on phenomenology and an interpretive work on the history of philosophy, in particular, “a resolute return to Greek philosophy in the figure of its first essential culmination—Aristotle” (cited in HDA, 3). This leads Kirkland to ask the question guiding his book: “Why? Why would the project that begins with Being and Time’s phenomenological analysis of lived human experience necessitate an elaborate historical detour through the work of this ancient Greek philosopher?” (HDA, 3). One could answer, following Heidegger’s indications at the beginning of paragraph 6 of Being and Time, that the question of being and of Dasein is a historical one, and that any access to the being of Dasein has to unfold in a historical fashion. One cannot grasp one’s being in an immediate way, as Descartes believed, but rather but going through the “detour” of our historical existence. Dasein is its past, states Heidegger. To that extent, philosophical questioning can only unfold as a radically historical enterprise. Further, Kirkland identifies another motive for this historical analysis, namely, that “there is also a certain Not or ‘distress’ and Notwendigkeit or ‘necessitation’… which Heidegger sees as belonging to our present historical moment” (HDA, 6). There is a peculiar distress to our age that requires the destruction/deconstruction of our historical provenance. As Kirkland summarizes: “if Distress and Historicality, then Destruction” (HDA, 8). Later in the text, Kirland states that it is from “a certain mood of dissatisfaction with our present” that Heidegger “sees us as being called upon to turn our attention to our past, to the distant Greek origin of philosophizing in the West and to Aristotle” (HDA, 50). Finally, we could add, a third aspect is that Heidegger characterizes our tradition as “obscuring” and thereby necessitating a “clarifying” destruction. Hence, as Kirkland writes, Heidegger believed that “our ignorance concerning what ‘to be’ even means and our general lack of concern about that ignorance are both rooted in ‘ancient ontology,’” and that the “ancient Greek answer, for Heidegger, was the reduction of the meaning of Being to the presence of present beings.” This metaphysical interpretation “found its definitive initial formulation in the thought of Aristotle,” the “Aristotelian substance ontology,” thereby giving the theme of this volume (the “destruction” of Aristotle) its meaning and necessity. The project of this book is thus reformulated more fully by Kirkland in this way”: “If Aristotle’s conception of substance ontology persists in and fundamentally still organizes our own pre-reflective experience, as Heidegger insists, then a destruction of the Aristotelian text will be more than a historical detour. It will be a journey of self-discovery or even, given the peculiar power of this method, a project of self-recovery” (HDA, 17).

The work is composed of three main parts or chapters: Chapter 1 endeavors to clarify what reading a text destructively, in the Heideggerian sense, means. Chapter 2 asks what the critical de-constructing of traditional concepts produces. Chapter 3 analyses Heidegger’s treatments of three fundamental Aristotelian concepts: ousia or “substance,” the definition of the human being as zôon logon echon (the living being endowed with logos), and finally dunamis or “potency.”

In Chapter 1, Kirkland focuses on the 1922 text, ““Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle: Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation,” as well as the 1924 course, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy, where one can detect “clear anticipations” of Being and Time. Those early works elaborate what is known as Heidegger’s “hermeneutics of factical life,” prefiguring the later “analytic of Dasein,” both centered around the notion of concern for one’s own being. Kirkland shows how Aristotle figures in such a project, and how Heidegger approaches Aristotelian concepts, that is, how he retrieves their verbal and dynamic character, i.e., the process of their emergence. “Aristotelian concepts do not present themselves as abstract forms with already established exhaustive definitions, linked together logically, and exchangeable one for the other in various combinations. Rather, precisely in being destroyed they show themselves first and foremost as indicating movements of emergence by way of which what exceeds our grasp becomes nevertheless to some extent clear, illuminated, understood” (HDA, 34). The chapter develops through illuminating discussions Heidegger’s phenomenological reappropriation of the concept, i.e., of conceptuality itself, the language of conceptuality, via readings of Aristotle concept of definition (but also of Kant’s understanding of concepts). Each time the issue is reseize concepts in their Bodenständigkeit, their soil, in the process of their emergence. Conceptuality itself is approached in its “dynamic confrontation with and emergence out of what is not yet grasped and mastered by thought” (HDA, 48). A concept always reaches beyond itself.

As we mentioned above, Chapter 2 is concerned with what the destructive reading of the tradition produces, or seeks to produce, Kirkland evoking a certain “jolt” (HDA, 52) given to the present, precisely as to open up “an as-yet undetermined future,” in a relation to the tradition that would be neither repetition nor rejection (“neither solicitation and repetition nor quarantine and rejection”). As Kirkland states, “I wish to insist here that Heidegger’s destructive method of reading the texts of Aristotle amounts to neither a simple repetition nor a simple rejection of Aristotelian thought” (HDA, 53-54). Noting what Gadamer referred to as the deep ambivalence of the project of Destruktion, Kirkland advances that such destruction harbors a positive intent, in the following sense: its aim is to reveal an unsaid in the text that harbors a future and even a revolutionary potential (Hannah Arendt even calling Destruktion a “revolutionary thinking,” or even thinking itself having come to life), as it were preparing for a new beginning: “Heidegger was reading in such a way as to provoke these traditionary texts into saying something unheard of, unnoticed there, and, precisely thereby, something revolutionary” (HDA, 55). With respect to such unsaid, Kirkland cites an “extraordinary passage” in the 1924 text, “Being-There and Being-True According to Aristotle,” where Heidegger states the following: “For an interpretation is genuine [eigentliche] only when, in going through the whole text, it comes upon that which is not there [nicht dasteht] for a crude understanding, but which, although unspoken [unausgesprochen], nonetheless makes up the ground [Boden] and the genuine foundations of the kind of vision [Art des Sehens] from out of which the text itself was able to grow” (cited in HDA, 70, translation modified).

In contrast with Werner Marx’s interpretation of Heidegger’s relation to the philosophical tradition (in his well-known Heidegger and the Tradition), which consisted in emphasizing the negative scope of Heidegger’s method, and grasping the tradition as a monolithic whole from which Heidegger would eventually part, Kirkland makes the following intriguing claim: Destruktion reveals an excess in the tradition that one can only detect within such tradition, and not simply by going beyond it. “Contra Marx, and paradoxically, destruction will prove to make a positive contribution to thinking in excess of the tradition only through a complete descent into that very tradition, only through a radical immersion in the thinking of, for instance, Aristotle” (HDA, 58).

With respect to Aristotle, Kirkland focuses on a key passage in Heidegger’s 1924 course, Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy. A decisive claim is made by Heidegger, namely that the subject-matter of philosophy (as initiated by the Greeks), i.e., Being, is not simply laying there before us ready to be described. Being is not “already there,” open to view, “present and available for scrutiny, offering itself for exhaustive knowing and mastering.” In fact, the very subject-matter of philosophy is as it were hidden or withdrawn, even though as we will see it is also “accessible” in some way. Being is given yet withdrawn, “hidden” behind what comes to the fore, i.e., beings. “Crucial for us is Heidegger’s insistence here that, for the Greeks and for Aristotle in particular, Being, as the subject matter of this philosophical or critical scientific thinking, is confronted as ‘what does not lie there [was nicht vorliegt] for natural experience, but is rather hidden [verborgen], what never lies before and is nevertheless already and indeed always understood [nie vorliegt und doch schon und zwar immer verstanden]” (cited in HDA, 62)). In other words, the “Greek philosophers first confront Being in their texts as “initially unknown, closed off, inaccessible [zunächst unbekannt, verschlossen, unzugänglich]” (cited in HDA, 62), and yet, as we indicated above, and as Kirkland rightly notes, “as withdrawn behind or within beings but somehow nevertheless already experienced in its non-presence” (HDA, 62).

A clarification is necessary here. For Heidegger being withdraws, is the withdrawal. “By revealing itself in the being, being withdraws” [Das Sein entzieht sich, indem es sich in das Seiende entbirgt].”[1] The thinking of being is hence always grappling with an irreducible opaqueness and mystery. This accounts for Heidegger’s late pronouncement that phenomenology, in its very essence, is a phenomenology of what does not appear, a phenomenology of the inapparent [Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren].” As letting be seen, phenomenology (the method of ontology) is a wrestling with the inapparent, with an irreducible concealment and expropriation at the heart of the event of being. This claim might seem at first paradoxical and even go against the very definition that Heidegger gives of the phenomenon in paragraph 7 of Being and Time: “Thus we must keep in mind that the expression ‘phenomenon’ signifies that which shows itself in itself, the manifest.”[2] Now, we should clarify from the outset that for Heidegger a phenomenon — that is, the phenomenon with which phenomenology is concerned — is not an empirical intuition or an ontical given, a present being. The phenomenon is approached by Heidegger in its verbal sense, as “the-showing-itself-in-itself” (das Sich-an-ihm-selbst-zeigen)” (SZ, 31). The term “phenomenon” thus immediately refers to the event of a self-showing, and the “given” is consequently assigned to the event of its givenness. The phenomena are to be referred, not to a constituting consciousness, but to the event of being as such. This is why for Heidegger phenomenology is the very method of ontology. Unlike his former mentor Husserl, who approached phenomenology in relation to a constituting consciousness, Heidegger defines phenomenology in relation to ontology, as giving us access to the being of beings. “With regard to its subject-matter, phenomenology is the science of the being of entities – ontology” (SZ, 37). Phenomenology consists in revealing, not simply the appearance, but the appearing in the appearance. Here one glimpses for the first time the emergence of the problematic of the inapparent in phenomenology: the phenomenon is not what appears, the appearance, but the appearing of the appearance, an appearing that, precisely to the extent that it itself is not an appearance, does not appear.

There is an invisibility sheltered in the visible, an invisibility of phenomenality itself. This appears in Heidegger’s thinking of presence. By understanding being in distinction from beings, Heidegger approaches being itself as an event, the event of presence. Now, the very event of presence seems to harbor a certain withdrawal. In fact, the very term Anwesenheit reveals a withdrawal at the heart of manifestation. The an– in An-wesen or An-wesenheit suggests a coming into presence, a movement, a motion, from concealment to unconcealment, from withdrawal and invisibility to visibility. Thus, to characterize a being as an-wesend also shows that the preposition an suggests the dynamic tension between a movement of coming into presence and a movement of withdrawal, a play between unconcealment and concealment already captured by the Greeks in the contrast between the prepositions para and apo in parousia and apousia. This implies, in turn, a break with the model of constant presence, that is, with a kind of “stability” that represses the temporal happening in the phenomenon of presence, including the phenomenon of withdrawal that seems to affect, each time, the event of presence. In fact, the very concept of phenomenology, insofar as it is defined as a ‚letting be seen” (sehen lassen), necessarily implies the withdrawal of the phenomenon. Indeed, if phenomenology is a letting be seen, then the phenomenon of phenomenology cannot be simply that which is apparent or manifest; if the phenomenon was simply the given, there would be no need for phenomenology. “And just because the phenomena are proximally and for the most part not given, there is need for phenomenology” (SZ, 36). This is why Heidegger could write that the phenomenon, precisely as that which is to be made phenomenologically visible, does not show itself, although this inapparent nonetheless belongs to what shows itself, for Heidegger also stresses that “‘behind’ the phenomena of phenomenology there is essentially nothing” (SZ, 36). The inapparent is not some noumenal reality hidden behind the phenomenon, but a dimension that belongs to it. What, then, is called a phenomenon in a distinctive sense? What is the full, phenomenological concept of the phenomenon? Here is Heidegger’s answer: “What is it that must be called a `phenomenon‘ in a distinctive sense? What is it that by its very essence is necessarily the theme whenever we exhibit something explicitly? Manifestly, it is something that proximally and for the most part does not show itself at all: it is something that lies hidden, in contrast to that which proximally and for the most part does show itself; but at the same time it is something that belongs to what thus shows itself, and it belongs to it so essentially as to constitute its meaning and its ground” (SZ, 35). Now, for Heidegger at the time of Being and Time, what does not appear in what appears is being: “Yet that which remains hidden in an egregious sense, or which relapses and gets covered up again, or which shows itself only ‘in disguise,’ is just not this entity or that, but rather the being of entities” (SZ, 38).

This is why Kirkland stresses that the first decisive claim that Heidegger makes is that Greek, Aristotelian philosophy “engineers” (that is, lets emerge) a differentiation between being and beings, so that precisely being begins to come into view from its concealment as such. This requires a genuine phenomenological forcing, the goal of which is to elucidate, to bring to light and to uncover that which remains hidden, covered over or dissimulated. There is thus an unavoidable violence of thought or interpretation, implicit in Destruktion. This necessity of a philosophical violence turned against the self-concealment of being is described in the early courses Heidegger gave when he was engaged in the so-called “hermeneutics of factical life.” It was then a matter for him of deriving “the phenomenological interpretation out of the facticity of life itself.”[3] Now Life is characterized by a constant moving-away from itself (Abfallen), a constant fleeing from itself, a movement that is a falling away. Heidegger speaks indeed of this falling away as “the ownmost character of movement belonging to life,” and the expropriation of what he calls “ruinance” is thus the most “proper” movement of life. In this movement of falling away into ruins, life is opened to its own possibility and becomes an issue for itself in an originary self-estrangement. Thinking begins in life’s self-estrangement or expropriation from itself, and is itself a part of this movement of life, a sort of counter movement, a response to the event of life, a counter-event to such event.

That is the origin of what Heidegger calls the “counter-motion” of thought, going against life’s “own” tendency to fall into expropriation. Thinking originates from the need to go counter to life’s tendency to move away from itself. “Philosophy is a mode of life itself, in such a way that it authentically ‘brings back,’ i.e., brings life back from its downward fall into decadence, and this ‘bringing back’ [or re-petition, ‘re-seeking’], as radical re-search, is life itself.” (PIA, 62). Heidegger writes of “the constant struggle of factical, philosophical interpretation against its own factical ruinance, a struggle that accompanies the process of the actualization of philosophizing” (PIA, 114). Thought: a movement going against life’s ruinance. Thought is counter-ruinance. “Phenomenological interpretation… manifests by its very essence a ‘counter-movedness’” (PIA, 99). Thought is a counter-violence to the originary violence of the ruinance and self-estrangement of life. The violence of interpretation responds to the violence of the self-estrangement of life and goes against it. In Being and Time, the necessity of this violence was explained by reference to Dasein’s hermeneutic situation: the ontological interpretation of this being must go “against” its own tendency to conceal, and can only be “won,” Heidegger explains, by “following an opposite course (im Gegenzug)” from the tendency that distances Dasein from its being by throwing it towards beings. “The laying-bare of Dasein’s primordial being must rather be wrested from Dasein by following the opposite course from that taken by the falling ontico-ontological tendency of interpretation” (SZ, 311). The existential analytic thus recognizes its phenomenological violence. “Existential analysis… constantly has the character of doing violence (Gewaltsamkeit), whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquilized obviousness” (SZ, 311). The entire ontologico-phenomenological problematic is thus rooted in the concealment of being, its non-appearing.

Now Greek philosophy, and metaphysics, think being as constant presence, and as presence of beings. “Aristotle, arrives at the interpretation of Being as presence—’being’ is nothing other than the presence and availability of present beings” (HDA, 64). This substantialist interpretation of being as constantly the same, always oriented towards beings, forecloses both the difference between being and beings and the dimension of withdrawal proper to being itself. “With this, Being is reduced to its positive role in allowing beings to present themselves to us, and their problematic relation to Being is thereby overcome as they settle into an exhaustive and comforting intelligibility. Being is seen as a feature universally distributed over all present beings. Nothing else.” Heidegger seeks to show that being exceeds the horizon of the universal. Being is “not exhausted by even the sum total of all beings. It is not a universal like other universals, but one that transcends its instantiations” (HDA, 64-65). It is at this point that Kirkland shows the destructive reading at work in Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle. First (first krisis), by differentiating Being from beings. Second (second krisis), by revealing another sense of being than presence, namely the event of its withdrawal. As Kirkland defined it later in the text, the second krisis is an indication of Being, “not as the presence of present beings, but as what withholds itself behind such beings as the essentially question-worthy dynamic event of emergence into presence” (HDA, 89). Destructive hermeneutics thus attempts to twist free another meaning of being: no longer simply the presence of beings, but the very event of being as withdrawal. “Destruction then takes up the Aristotelian text in this sense and attempts to activate the distinction or differentiation between that positive aspect of Being, as the presencing of present beings, and the negative aspect of Being, its withdrawal behind beings” (HDA, 65). In other words, in these early works on Aristotle, “Heidegger approaches the task of thinking Being, first along with the Greeks and then against them, as essentially and irremediably withdrawn, hidden, concealed” (HDA, 65). Destruction reveals that it is when Being is differentiated from beings that the concealed ground of Aristotle’s analyses (as that determination of being in terms of the presence and availability of beings) comes to the fore.

Chapter 3 focuses on what Kirkland calls a few “case studies” in the destruction of Aristotelian concepts, namely ousia, zôon logon echon, and dunamis. Kirkland begins by noting that Aristotle is known “as the thinker of ousia (usually translated as ‘substance’),” while also insisting that Aristotle is not a doctrinal thinker (HDA, 80). The destruction of this fundamental concept of Aristotelian philosophy takes several stages in Heidegger’s reading. First, Heidegger recalls the “pre-philosophical” meaning of the term, its everyday usage, namely: “property, possession, possessions and goods, estate.” The term evokes “’means’ (as in “a person of means”), “possessions” or “goods” belonging to an individual, or also one’s “property, household stock,” and “estate” (HDA, 88). All these characteristics refer to beings insofar as they are fully usable and available to us, as being present to us. Kirkland states that “the term ‘ousia’ most of all evokes beings with the mode of present, finished, identifiable, estimable, exchangeable, masterable things” (HDA, 88-89). Heidegger thus retrieves the ontological meaning of ousia as presence, as constant presence. Such a destructive reading will lead Heidegger to rethinking the meaning of Being, from the presence of present beings to “what withholds itself behind such beings as the essentially question-worthy dynamic event of emergence into presence” (HDA, 89). For prior to the (constant) presence of things there is the mysterious emergence into presence. “Heidegger finds Aristotle’s refinement of ordinary experience into a concept, as well as the trace of an aspect of Being that Aristotle never experiences, much less thinks, but which can be intimated here through a destructive reading” (HDA, 85). In this shift lies the phenomenological destruction of Aristotle’s ousia.

Kirkland then takes up Heidegger’s destruction of Aristotle’s definition of the human being as the zôon logon echon, the living being endowed with reason, or “rational animal.” Beginning with Heidegger’s treatment of logos, Kirkland shows how Heidegger rejects the abstract definition of logos as “the statement or proposition as the fundamental linguistic unit and the basic element of truth or falsity.” Rather, logos is retrieved as a fundamental feature of being-in-the-world, as an original phenomenon. “Behind or beneath this Aristotelian definition of truth as a feature of statements, Heidegger finds an original complex experience of logos” (HDA, 95). The expression zôon logon echon, understood as a genus (living thing) with a species-defining difference (language or reason), is “destroyed” in order to reveal its ontological significance. “The human does not exist as a living thing, to which we then add the faculty of language or reason. Rather, its very mode of being is its receiving of the world’s appearing in and through language.” The issue is to show that the human is “a being whose being is accomplished in logos… The human does not exist as a living thing, to which we then add the faculty of language or reason” (HDA, 96). Interestingly, Kirkland notes that this radicalization of the very meaning of logos represents “a sort of modification or intensification of the way of being of the zôon or ‘living thing’.” In other words, in contrast with later texts, where Heidegger distinguishes between life, animality, and being, in these early texts on Aristotle, in these early texts Kirkland suggests that there is a continuity between the animal and the human being. As Heidegger put it, “Ζῳή is a concept of being: ‘life’ refers to a mode of being [Seinsweise], indeed a mode of being-in-the-world [Sein-in-der-Welt]. A living thing is not simply at hand [vorhanden], but is in the world in that it has its world [daß es seine Welt hat]. An animal is not simply moving down the road, pushed along by some mechanism. It is in the world in the manner of “having it [the world]” [in der Welt in der Weise des Sie-Habens] (cited in HDA, 96). Here again, the destruction of Aristotle signifies the retrieval of a hidden ontological ground of an abstract characterization of the human being as a living being endowed with logos. This is why in Being and Time, Heidegger would clarify that the way “of interpreting this definition of man in the sense of the animal rationale, ’something living which has reason‘, is not indeed ‘false’ (falsch), but it covers up the phenomenal basis for this definition of ‘Dasein’” (SZ, 165).

Despite the seemingly frontal opposition between Heidegger’s pronouncement that “Higher than actuality stands possibility” (SZ, 38) and Aristotle’s statement that “It is clear that actuality is prior to potency [phaneron hoti proteron energeia dunameôs estin]” (Meta. IX.1049b5), Kirkland argues that Heidegger’s claim in fact constitutes “a sort of retrieval and appropriation of Aristotle’s recognition of dunamis as a legitimate mode of being at all.” Even if Aristotle “will ultimately subordinate dunamis to energeia, at least he grants it ontological legitimacy,” Kirkland insists (HDA, 100). Kirkland pursues this interpretation by focusing on the 1924 Aristotle course, where Heidegger develops an ontological interpretation of change and potency, and proposes a dynamic or kinetic way of being, another example of his destructive/appropriative reading.

In a concluding chapter, Kirkland argues that the early method of destruction (and of phenomenology as well) are not so much abandoned as radicalized in Heidegger’s later work, the latter displaying a “faithful adherence to the principle of the earlier destructive project” (HDA, 109). The perdurance of “Destruktion” can be glimpsed for example in Heidegger’s problematization of an “other beginning” in relation to a “first beginning,” and in the attention always given to a “history of being,” a history which as we saw was the ground for the problematics of destruction. As a whole, this work constitutes a major contribution to an understanding of Heidegger’s relation to Aristotle, and more broadly, an understanding of his method. The book sheds light, not only on the early Heidegger, but also on the ground from which the later work sprang. Even when Kirkland goes over well-known texts, he does so with an originality and thoughtfulness such that one is as it were led to engages those passages as if for the first time.

[1] Martin Heidegger. Holzwege, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hermann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1977), GA 5, p. 337.  Off The Beaten Track, ed. and trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 253.  

[2] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1953), p. 28. English translations: Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper, 1962), and Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, rev. Dennis J. Schmidt (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010). Hereafter cited as SZ, followed by the German pagination.

[3]Martin Heidegger. Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung, eds. Walter Bröcker and Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1994), GA 61, p. 87. Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: Initiation into Phenomenological Research, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), p. 66. Hereafter cited as PIA.

Nicolai K. Knudsen: Heidegger’s Social Ontology

Heidegger’s Social Ontology. The Phenomenology of Self, World, and Others Book Cover Heidegger’s Social Ontology. The Phenomenology of Self, World, and Others
Part of Modern European Philosophy
Nicolai K. Knudsen
Cambridge UP
2023
Paperback
288

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University, Potchefstroom)

The aim of this work is to examine Heidegger’s social ontology, roughly the human being’s relation to others. In eight chapters Knudsen elaborates Heidegger’s thinking of being-with, different forms of being-with (such as shared action) and, say, the politics of being-with. Knudsen, understandably, focuses on the early Heidegger and attempts to relate Heidegger’s thinking concerning social relations to fields that, quite often, have not studied Heidegger at length to develop their positions: one will find, for instance, accounts of Hilary Putnam alongside Heidegger.

This dialogue between the two big strands of contemporary philosophy is perhaps not always successful even though it at times surely is illuminating. Knudsen’s book, however, takes a slow start and at times gets lost somewhat in the definition-craze that haunts much of analytical philosophy (a craze that is a bit ironic when compared to Heidegger’s questioning of what a being actually “is”, for Heidegger obviously never allowed a definition to exhaust the being of an entity). Knudsen throughout offers a very lucid account of Heidegger’s positions—certainly when it comes to Being and Time—and of contemporary thinkers in the field of social ontology. It is clear, too, that Knudsen is somewhat enamored with phenomenology—who can blame him! Yet, although Knudsen for instance assumes the normativity of phenomenology—one must “get the phenomenology right” (130-1)—it is hard to imagine whether this alone will convince his dialogue partners. It is this that makes this reader wonder whether the dialogue between the two strands of philosophy here has always succeeded.

In the Introduction already, Knudsen describes Heidegger as an externalist: the reality of the outside world, better, the “solicitations of the environment” (2), make for the fact that the human being is always caught in, and claimed by, a network of relations on which he or she, in turn “constitutively depends” which puts Heidegger “at odds with […] contemporary analytical social ontology as well as recent social phenomenology” (5) which both see individuals or the dyadic relation between the other and me as the ultimate level of explanation. Using a term from Donald Davidson, Knudsen describes Dasein’s relation to the world and to others as triangulation: Dasein understands itself through the world which it always shares with others.

Chapter one sets out to elaborate Heidegger’s social ontology by pointing to a transcendental social structure according to which entities, properties, social and natural alike, appear as they do because “subjectivity itself implies a set of necessary and a priori social relations” (19) that is, the transcendental structure of intentionality as such already “implies a form of intersubjectivity” (22). I am who I am only by virtue of others. Sociality, then, is not something that is construed, constructed or constituted afterwards, after, that is, the ego is fully erected. This is why social ontology is an ontology precisely: it does not pertain to just a domain of existence, but rather is a dimension of existence itself (23).

Knudsen then proceeds by showing how Heidegger early on attempted to integrate “social ontology into fundamental ontology” (23), an attempt that, for Knudsen, is complete only in 1924 in Heidegger’s The Concept of Time, when he finally abandons all ambiguous distinctions between the surrounding world, the self-world and the with-world by pointing to a fundamental Miteinandersein of all beings with all beings. (24-28). Other Dasein are strictly speaking not a part of the world, a “form of world” (29), they share world with us because being-in-the-world, as an ontological dimension, is itself shared and spread out through all Dasein. Of course, the world of the other is different than my world. Yet the social ontological dimension of ‘being-in-the-world’ points to an underlying structure which is shared in all different and particular worlds. Being-in-the-world therefore consists in a “non-thematic awareness” (32) that is only “tacitly operative in our thematic awareness of an object” (32): we are hammering with this particular hammer long before this hammer shows up as a hammer precisely. Being-in-the-world, then, ultimately “is the relational whole of significance that makes our involvement with entities possible” (33). Our being-in-the-world is, however, not strictly formal or void. The world of the other and my world both share certain characteristics. Heidegger points here to in-order-to relations (Umzu) and the for-sake-of-which of these relations (Worumwillen). I hammer with the hammer in order to build the shed for the sake of the dog. Knudsen likens these in-order-to’s to the contemporary concept of affordances and the for-the-sake-of-which to a form of commitment (33).

Knudsen then quite poignantly warns us not to see this being-in-the-world solely as a “basic layer” or rather as “the non-social building blocks needed to understand all features of social life” (35). It is not because Dasein always and already has this transcendental make-up that it can turn to others. On the contrary: it is because Dasein is already turned to others that this transcendental-make up can be detected in the various particular worlds. Knudsen concludes by stating, intriguingly, that “there is a very minimal sense of the word to share at stake here” (38)

Chapter two compares the transcendental social ontologies of Husserl and Heidegger. In Husserl, there are for Knudsen two approaches, the one beginning from empathy—which Heidegger for the most part rejects—and the other starting from “open subjectivity” which is closer to Heidegger (38-45). Meaning is neither constructed by or given to a subject (which it then compares to the meaning of and for others), meaning has meaning only because it ‘shows up’ between us and because there are others in the first place. There is no meaning for one alone. Herein too lies Heidegger’s critique of Husserl’s layered ontology (48): there is no real and objective meaning that then needs to be traced back to the transcendental structure of an ego that then builds a spiritual community with other egos. On the contrary, for Heidegger, all of these are there quite immediately. Knudsen concludes that Husserl, for Heidegger, “proceeds in an unphenomenological way” (51).

The question is in what way Heidegger’s approach then is still to be considered transcendental. Knudsen correctly points to Heidegger’s use of “transcendence” in Being and Time. “Transcendence is the primordial surpassing of entities towards the structure that makes them intelligible [which is] the world. Transcendence names the phenomenological correlation between mind and world, and the investigation of this correlation is rightly called transcendental” (56). In a beautiful definition, Knudsen defines Heidegger’s phenomenological approach as follows: “Phenomenologically, to be a subject is to exist in an experiential field as the one to whom experiences are given” (57). One will then see that the “mind is intrinsically world-directed and -engaged, while the world is phenomenologically senseless apart from the mind” (ibid.). Heidegger so adds a worldly, experiential, almost empirical, but in any case utterly historical dimension to transcendental thinking. Indeed, “our surpassing entities towards the world always take place in a particular or finite way” (58). Dasein’s transcending is always particular—it transcends to this rather than that, at this particular place rather than there—but it is a transcending nevertheless. It is open to the field of possibilities opened up to it by this particular place in time.

Chapter three’s worry about this historical dimension is that it might be an instance of relativism. If “different people have different understandings of being” (69), how then can they “refer to the same objects” (71)? The chapter focuses on Lafont’s account of linguistic idealism and Dreyfus’ pragmatic conventionalism but sometimes seems to get lost somewhat in the peculiarities of these positions. It takes Knudsen a long time to get their points straight and to bring his own point home. Let us therefore turn to its conclusion and Heidegger’s take on the problem mentioned. Knudsen finds in Heidegger’s Introduction to Philosophy (from 1928/29) an example of joint attention, in which “there is a mutual non-thematic awareness between the co-intenders, who are thematically oriented towards an object that is, accordingly, experienced as a shared object of attention” (78). Here Heidegger had in fact asked “what enables several people to intend the same piece of chalk?” (ibid.) when attending his lecture. All of them are looking at the piece of chalk, for a while unawares of the precise educational point of the shared attention for this object and non-thematically aware that the others, too, are watching this piece of chalk held up by Heidegger. Yet all, because their field of possibilities in this case too is determined by their particular situation and backgrounds will look at the object differently. The teacher looks at the chalk differently than the students do: for the teacher it is a tool in order to teach, whereas for the student the tool is unnoticed—surpassed say—in order to focus on what will be taught. “This leads Heidegger to argue that a strict similarity in our practical comportment is simply too demanding a criterion for determining what constitutes their jointness” (79)—“even if we see things differently, we do not see different things” (78).

It is this play of sharing and dividing that now attracts Knudsen’s attention: for Heidegger, “we share and divide ourselves in [the] unconcealment [of entities]” (81, cf. GA27, 105)—we share the very looking at this object yet are divided in the meaning our comportment towards them attributes to these objects. “Two Dasein can intend the same object in roughly similar ways if they share an understanding of being by being raised in the same social practices” (82). Yet this doesn’t make Heidegger a relativist or a strong social externalist like Lafont or Dreyfus, where (social) meaning solely determines reference. Instead, “Heidegger endorse a weak or open-ended social externalism according to which meaning depends on ongoing social interaction” (83). These Dasein, however foreign to one another, will figure it out simply because Dasein is such a figuring out (of potential uses for objects).

This “figuring-out” is used here figuratively, although it is described by Heidegger quite literally as a “non-thematic other-awareness” (84) even when no others are around. Objects take on meaning because their use is useful if and only if it can be, sooner or later, related to others. Usefulness only ever arises because each Dasein is as the sharing of world with others. Knudsen emphasizes rightly that this transcendental-ontological condition of being-with, this non-thematic awareness is a form of communication. For Knudsen, “Heidegger’s point is that whenever another Dasein shows up in my realm of manifestation, his behavior will affect how I comport myself towards the surrounding entities” (85) because, in effect, we are constitutively open towards others” (86). It is because we are constitutively open to others—share ourselves in and as world, are broken open toward world—that not one object is without a reference to others even when no others are around to communicate with.

Knudsen likens this openness to Donald Davidson’s idea of triangulation where, on the one hand, we adjust our understanding of objects in light of other’s behavior, of social relations, and, on the other hand, we adjust our understanding of these others through sharing the environment, through objective relations (87). Such, if I may, transcendental triangulation is first. Prior to “shared conventions, rules, or routines” (88) there is, Heidegger says, an “originary, essential agreement” of human beings with one another (ibid., Cf. GA 29/30, 447f) and through which Dasein, throughout, comport themselves to entities in roughly the same ontological way. The remainder of the chapter explores the differences between Heidegger’s take on language and that of Davidson, Lafont, or Dreyfus who all, in one way or another, want to trace this linguistic condition of possibility back to propositional attitudes or at least shared linguistic conventions whereas for Heidegger the sharing of world goes “beyond the exchange of linguistic utterances” (92).

Heidegger’s “pre-reflective triangulation” (93) is such that even if we would meet someone who is totally other, we would still see and use the same entity, simply because our diverse interactions with it, and the possible uses the other of this entity that the other might manifest to us. Even if we do not share the same understanding of being, we will nonetheless both have an understanding of being. In the case of the lectern or the piece of chalk, this open interaction would show “the lectern not simply in light of the usage characteristic of the social practices that he is socialized into” (94) but as an entity toward which other comportments are possible too. Knudsen, quite rightly, concludes that “the idea that different people live in different worlds should be rejected” (95).

The second part of the book focuses on different forms of being-with, and opens with a chapter on interpersonal understanding. What indeed do we know about others? What do others know and how do we know others? Knudsen explores the phenomenological tradition of empathy, ranging from Theodor Lipps up to Edith Stein and Husserl as well as more contemporary (but analogous) debates on social cognition. Heidegger however was no clear partisan of these theories of empathy: the fact that an ego would need to ‘think about’ how the other would possibly feel only then to imagine if and whether the ego ‘would feel’ roughly the same thing, simply contradicts Heidegger’s non-reflective, immediate dealing with the other and others where we recognize the other as other before we would even try to project upon or reproduce artificially the other’s supposedly mental states. Heidegger, in this sense, “effectively dissolves the traditional problem of other minds” (109), since this problem is from the outset regulated by “non-thematic awareness”. It is because the other shares a world with me, constituted by a similar Umzu and Worumwillen, that we can “read [intentional statements] off the practical comportment of others” (109).

When we see a human being, we do not first wonder whether this is in fact a human being who thinks, feels and senses like me, we simply see a human being with whom we are interacting. This turns Heidegger, for Knudsen, into a “proto-enactivist” (ibid.), one of those recent theories nowadays advocated by Hanne De Jaegher’s research into participatory sense-making. Over and against the theoretical and cognitive bias of many of contemporary theories, Heidegger also criticizes the older phenomenological tradition for wrongfully prioritizing the face-to-face relation. Our understanding with others is “cut from the same holistic cloth as our understanding of ourselves” (112). For Knudsen’s Heidegger, this means that “interpersonal understanding cannot be a relation between two distinct entities. It can only take place by virtue of the transcendence of the shared world in which I and you coexist as different polarisations of a field of possibilities” (114). I understand the other, and the other understands me, because both of us live similarly in a roughly similar world with roughly similar entities at hand. It is by “going along with”—Mitgehen—the other seeing how he or she is and comports his-or herself that we discover what it is like to be this entity. It is therefore through an immediate non-reflective Versetzen or “transposition” that we understand the place of the other (Cf. 114-5; GA 29/30, 296) and discover that the other’s behavior is appropriate for a being that is being-in-the-world. There is little interaction with the stone, for instance. The stone, for Heidegger, does not have a world: it lack all Worumwillen and Umzu. In this regard, the other turns out to be just another “polarization of the same matrix of salience” living in a world which is “meaningful” and “makes sense” from the very start.

Here Knudsen disagrees with some commentators of Heidegger who argued that his account of solicitude—roughly: the care for the other—contains an “inauthentic” mode in which the other would be, à la Kant, reduced to a mere means to an end. Knudsen, interestingly, argues that all forms of solicitude, even those where we leap in for others and take their tasks away from them, “involve a minimal level” (119) of the acknowledgement of the other’s Dasein-like character. The distinction between leaping-in and leaping ahead is then not an ethical one (where the former would be bad and the latter good) but rather an ontological one: it depicts two ontological extremes of intersubjective care for the other (120). Knudsen convincingly concludes this discussion with some examples of his own that in effect carefully deconstruct why leaping-in would always be a bad thing and leaping-ahead would everywhere be a good thing.

Is there a transpositioning, a “going-along-with”, a walking the ways, with dogs, animals and stones? Heidegger’s example of the dog “under the table” became famous (notably through Jacques Derrida’s unrelenting analysis). Heidegger, one might say, directs his attention phenomenologically to the dog: he goes up the stairs with us, eats with us, and walks the same pathways as Heidegger once did. “There is a going-along-with […] a transposedness, and yet not” (121, GA 29: 308). Something is different. Heidegger says: the animal is poor in world. The animal, Knudsen states, “can only experience entities as correlates of its drives and capabilities” (125). The dog’s world only pertains to his next meal, say, whereas the world of humans is open-ended and characterized by a multiplication, Vermehrbarkeit (GA 29, 285) through which ever more entities can obtain ever more uses. This makes for the fact that, in the end, for Heidegger “the world sharing is asymmetrical” (127): we can transpose ourselves in the dog, know immediately to run away from a snake, and know not to run away from the gorilla if he’s in a cage in a zoo. We transpose ourselves into animals but animals cannot be expected to transpose themselves into us (127).

Chapter five focuses on shared action and opens with the constatation that many of the contemporary accounts—Knudsen mentions Gilbert, Searle, and Bratman—are overly intellectualistic and should be complemented with a phenomenology of action, which will speak, again, of a “pre-reflective agency” (131) responding as it does to solicitations of the surrounding world. Knudsen pays attention to “small-scale, egalitarian, and temporary group formations” (ibid.), say, people involved in dancing, in order to argue for a “plural pre-reflective self-awareness” (ibid.) whereas existential phenomenology, in its early days at least, tended to focus on rather individualistic actions.

Shared action meets three conditions: we are with more than one, we are forming a group, and we are aware of us forming a group (132). We are doing things together when we know that we are doing things together. It is on the latter, quite intellectualistic, aspect that Gilbert and Bratman focus. Once more Knudsen shows himself to be enamored with phenomenology: “we often engage in intentional activity without being aware of the desire and beliefs that supposedly distinguish our actions from mere bodily movement” (136). Yet such “pre-reflective action” does carry some awareness with it: I know that I am dancing and know that we are dancing without consciously representing a desired goal for this action. It is clear that most of our actions are in this sense pre-reflective. The rest of the chapter asks whether such a prereflective awareness is also present in groups. In this regard, Knudsen discusses Hans Bernhard Schmid’s work on plural action and argues that it misses precisely an account of “holistic singular self-awareness” (141) through which actions are always and already a response (rather than a reaction) to what is happening in the surrounding world: we go dancing, for instance, because suddenly there is a good tune or a good ‘vibe’. At best, Schmid arrives at a “formal social mind” (144)—we are aware that we are dancing—but not at an, say, empirical one, one that is “unified by the solicitations that prompt us to respond” (144): it is this particular song that got us on the dancefloor. To elaborate such an awareness, Knudsen then develops and expands an example of Heidegger describing the joint goals and joint actions of two campers (GA 27, 91).

Interestingly, Knudsen returns to Heidegger’s account of language—Gerede—to show how individual action is transformed into shared action. The simple exclamation, ‘Dance with me’, for instance, changes one kind of solicitation into another kind, shared this time, of solicitation of the environment (152). More than in the earlier chapters on intersubjectivity, Knudsen focuses on the ontological aspects of Heidegger’s social ontology, for just as we are with others even when we are alone, just so are we speaking even when we are silent or just listen or read (154, Cf GA 12, 9). There is an overlap between world and speech: world is what is spoken about, what “makes sense” prior to being put into one or the other proposition. In this regard, the song that get us on the dancefloor is just the empirical case that expresses, makes salient, an environment that already is “inherently shared [,] inherently expressive [and to which we are] inherently responsive” (156).

Chapter six discusses social normativity. Here too Heidegger’s account, for Knudsen, is “phenomenologically crucial” (166) amidst the ongoing contemporary debates. Heidegger was no fan of social conventions and his discussion of Das Man—the anyone—makes this quite clear. Knudsen engages in very detailed and intriguing reading of the ambiguities in Heidegger’s thinking of the anyone’s mediocrity where everyone does, reads, and says what everyone does, reads and says. Knudsen argues that “the anyone [is] reproduced by the weight of precedent alone” (168): we read what everyone reads, in a sense, because people have been reading this all along. Heidegger’s ultimate aim here is to “uncover the ontological foundation of our responsiveness to social norms” (170) rather than describe Dasein’s “desire for social affirmation”, as Fredrik Westerlund has it (ibid.). With Haugeland, Knudsen explores the ‘weight of precedent’: we do as always has been done because we are “temporal creatures with habits and memories” (171) and so tend to “reproduce” certain behavioral norms rather than others. This process of “stabilization” (ibid.), as Haugeland names it, will for Heidegger always amount to a sort of primacy of averageness and levelling down. “We unconsciously accept a standard way of doing things” (172).

Knudsen quite convincingly shows that there is no one-way ticket from the inauthenticity of the Anyone to the authenticity of a “proper” Dasein. Instead, the Anyone for Knudsen is a “necessary feature of Dasein” (173) that, at times however, can be reconciled with the quest for an authentic self. Dasein does “have options” (174): it is not condemned to the unfreedom dominating the Anyone. Knudsen ultimately argues that the Anyone or the “public” covers up aspects of the accepted and prevailing social norms in a very peculiar way: it tends to turn the current and standard set of social norms into an ahistorical, absolute set of social norms (175). Our way of doing things then becomes the way of doing things. With this thesis, we have reached the heart of Knudsen’s book—at least for this reader coming from the phenomenological tradition. For Knudsen, it is, on the one hand, necessary “that there are social norms”—this is the transcendental, existential aspect—yet what these norms concretely and empirically are differs throughout history—they are ontic, historical indeed, and therefore provisional. It is these latter chapters, in which Knudsen develops this insight, that one finds the most read-worthy passages of the book.

Especially interesting is Knudsen’s take on Heidegger’s odd, if not awkward, stress on the “destiny of the people” which, as we all know, starts in Being and Time and only keeps worsening after 1927. Knudsen turns to Heidegger’s account of historicity, late in Being and Time, and considers that there is a distinction between the Anyone and the concrete “happening of community” (176, SZ, 384) what Knudsen calls “historical social normativity” and through which “the same content, the same social norms are […] disclosed as historical rather than as universal defaults” (176).

Yet what to make of Heidegger’s thinking of the “people”, the Volk? Knudsen makes a great deal of Heidegger’s statement in Being and Time that it is possible for us to disclose “history emphatically” (SZ, 376). This would make it possible for an authentic self to both recognize the normative content of social norms and their historical, provisional character (179). It is in this sense that, to echo Heidegger’s wording, authenticity is a “new modality” (ibid.) of the existence of the Anyone. “In resoluteness […] social norms are handed down as handed down. We thereby come to see our socially inflected factical possibilities as heritage rather than as defaults” (180). We have inherited this possibility of organizing a society rather than that one, yet it is entirely possible and legitimate for a society to organize itself in an entirely other way. If we want to belong to a certain group and certain people then there is always, apart from awareness of all historicity of these social norms, the possibility of explicitly repeating them. In effect, “repetition”, is the more or less explicit choice to hand down the earlier norms again. “Dasein now chooses to follow a precent as a precedent or as heritage” (181), yet that still is “an ultimately contingent product of our historical situation” (ibid.). Dasein so becomes aware of its own historical community as a particular community which happens here, now and for the time being: the “destiny of this people”, of this particular community, is nothing more than the co-happening of all its constituents for this particular amount of time. I can decide to take part in, say, the Belgian community, to claim this as “my own”, to use the possibilities and habits and memories the Belgian community offers me, and so commit myself to the prolongation of this community by realizing that these possibilities are offered up here, now as possibilities next to a dozen of other, historical possibilities (of others, of other communities).

It is clear that Knudsen sees in Being and Time no “precursor to Heidegger’s fatal politics” (182) as early on Karl Löwith did. This is quite right. Being and Time was one of the first metaphysical works ever to be immersed in historicity that it would be downright strange if it in its concluding pages would settle for one or the other predestined destiny. Such a thing comes to Heidegger’s mind only later. But one needs to acknowledge, too, that Being and Time was not finished (and breaks off quite suddenly, with a question that was already present at the beginning): it is possible that Heidegger realized that with the “destiny” of the people, why not of being, other, less commendable, options were opened and that the book “failed” for the simple reason that its author could not decide where he wanted to stand, what choices had to be made. Knudsen concludes: “there is no necessary connection between Heidegger’s conception of history and his political engagement” (184). Let it be noted indeed.

It is true that in the thirties and early fourties Heidegger thinks he must, and can, think politically. “The general idea is that Hölderlin’s poetry can bring about an awareness of and a commitment to the particularity of the community” (185). At the very least, there is the willingness and desire to make people commit to a certain community. One might suspect that existentialism’s insistence on the freedom of the individual was, at best, a productive misunderstanding. In this period, though, Knudsen states Heidegger is occupied by three themes: the fragility of communal life, the pressure toward social coherence and the significance of communal commitments (186). At one of the rare moments Knudsen turns to late Heidegger, he reads this important distinction into the difference between polis and dike: the first is equivalent “to the existential-ontological sense of the shared world”, the latter “names the particular regime of historical normativity” (187) to which Dasein, always already, falls prey (and commits to, or not). This is why the latter is labelled as strife or conflict: decisions need to be made, there needs to be education, and institutions to enable these decisions. The question remains: if one realizes the utter contingency of one’s own community, how and why prolong this community? (Existentialism’s questions are philosophically legitimate). Yet, “on a personal level’, Knudsen states, “Heidegger took this idea to imply authoritarianism and nationalism” (192): someone will tell us that and how we need to commit and that we should commit to this particular community. However, and Knudsen is right here, one might just as well find oneself within a particular community without perhaps too much commitment, and just ask questions as Heidegger used to do: why and what does it mean to be in this community for seventy odd years or so, and why should I commit to these norms rather than others? There is indeed no need for “reactionary politics” like Heidegger’s very particular stance (192).

“Heidegger’s answer to why we should hold exactly these communal commitments is [more] interesting” (199). Indeed it is. Chapter seven opens with precisely this question. At least from 1935 onward, Heidegger believed that the historical task fell to Germany to prevent, as Derrida stated in Of Spirit, the phenomenon of the world from becoming obscured. It was the German state, with the aid of a thorough educational system, in which the people, Das Volk, would give itself a lasting body in which the people becomes an issue for itself (203). It is known, especially from the account of the seminars gathered in Nature, History, State, that Heidegger endorsed, perhaps somewhat unthoughtfully, the Führerprinzip. Yet, Knudsen argues, “Heidegger never offers any argument for this authoritarianism, but it is an intrinsic part of his politics” (ibid.). Authoritarianism is needed to enforce the goal of the state and of the people. Yet Heidegger, here too, wants that these people actually adhere to these goals, and consciously will them by committing to them. In this regard, “Heidegger sees education as a way of tying studentS to the state” (204), as a way of making them aware of the “historical task” weighing on them when taking part in the state and the community.

With Löwith, Knudsen therefore contends that Heidegger’s politics is built upon his conception of historicity from Being and Time onward. Yet, Knudsen, contra Löwith, wants us to distinguish between the need and possibility of communal commitments—an adherence to a particular, historical community—and authoritarianism or fascism (206). There is something to be said about the fact that Heidegger’s fascism is tied up with his notion of the “history of being”. But Knudsen is lucid enough to pinpoint the “highly ambiguous” (206) character of this concept in Heidegger’s writings and offers no less than five different definitions of the term of which only a moderate version is “fine-grained enough to yield convincing phenomenological analysis” (208). This moderate version instruct us “that each historical age is characterized by a particular understanding of being” (206). This, say, historicity of being is incompatible with the larger (and somewhat grandiose) claim that this history of being is nothing but a history of decline and that only a particular state is able to remedy or otherwise turnaround this nihilistic unfolding of being. In this sense, the “geopolitical knot” that Heidegger superimposed on the historicity of being, through which certain people are more (or less) nihilistic than others simply does not hold (209). Heidegger’s “politics”, in that sense, was never a “political philosophy”: these politics, Knudsen argues, were only indirectly important and were to aid the “metaphysical revolution” (208) Heidegger deemed necessary through which his students, through studying “relentlessly the craft of interpreting the great thinkers” (ibid.; GA 94, 389), would awaken to a new understanding of being that stepped outside of nihilism.

Heidegger’s efforts “to [map] different peoples onto the history of being” (212) are obviously “appalling” (209). Yet it should not make us blind for the fact that, in the Notebooks recording his disappointment with the movement, Heidegger realized that the ease with which he spoke of the “Russians”, the “Americans” and the “Jews” did not hold even for the “Germans”: “somewhat despite himself, [he] realized that the Germans are not a unified people with a single fate” (212). Heidegger realized, in effect, and to put it bluntly, that these students couldn’t care less about his metaphysical revolution—“they are disappointing all along the line” (GA 94, 116). Will he have realized that there was no way to educate the nazis, that they were “without world”, so to say, or at least without German Bildung? Perhaps.

In any case, Heidegger abandons all hope in the movement for a metaphysical revolution. The point is, Knudsen says, that “from this tension emerges another conception of the history of being” (213) no longer bound to “geopolitics and communal commitments” (ibid.): Only a God, supposedly the last one, can save us now. The importance of this chapter lies, however, elsewhere, in the mistakes against his own social ontology Knudsen mentions. First, Heidegger’s insistence that the Führer can act as an “ontological sovereign” (215) that can inaugurate a new epoch of being disregards the fact that no one can “step outside” being-with, where “meaning is an indeterminate product of social interaction. [Now] Heidegger takes meaning to be the product of creative acts of creative individuals” (ibid). Over and against the “high-brow” accounts of poets, leaders, and, why not, philosophers, there still stands the phenomenological messiness of being-with certain people in a certain place at a certain time. Next comes, with this, the confusion between ontic and ontological conceptions of community: “the world is no longer shared by equals” (216). Rather, someone steps out to once and for all distribute the terms and goals of this world-sharing. Meaning is then no longer open-ended, surging forth to speak like late Heidegger, from our different interactions, meaning is stabilized—a word Heidegger did not like—in its distribution from the leader to the all members of a community. What is more, once the “phenomenological sense of the historical” (217), through which we become aware of our historical norms as just that, contingent and historical norms, loses its formal character but “concerns content” (ibid.) through which certain people are lesser (or more) able to disclose historicity, “an element of historiological historicity [is] incorporated (ibid.). In other words, something very ontic enters into the mix which Heidegger, in Being and Time at least (but later too, when distinguishing between Historie and Geschichte) always wanted to avoid. Yet, the phenomenological sense mentioned above would “have avoided these problems […] different people or different communities instantiate this condition [of being-with] in different ways depending on their facticity but they never inhabit different worlds” (218). Heidegger’s historicism is, Knudsen concludes, no longer radical enough, no longer able to combine transcendentalism and historicity through which the transcendental take on being-in-the-world becomes aware of its own historical stance as well—we all have world but the world we have differs from people to people and from era to era.

Knudsen’s last chapter discusses Heidegger’s early take on authenticity. How are we take up our own historical fate, especially given no poets or philosophers can tell us once and for all what to do? Knudsen’ aim is “to dispel”, here too, “th[e] individualistic worry” (227). Knudsen understands authenticity first and foremost as a formal framework: I am not authentic when I understand my self from out of one or the other innerworldly entity or activity. Very much like one needs to become aware of social historical normativity as a historical normativity, so too Dasein must become aware of itself as a particular being that ‘is’ only as this particular, individual historical being. It is here, obviously, that the analysis of death plays a prominent role: nothing makes me more aware of my own contingency than a sense of my mortality. Dasein now understands that “it lives its life with reference to the possibilities afforded to it by its being along things and with others” (247) as a “being-possible” (246) amidst all finite possibilities. This formal being-possible is the only constancy that determinate Dasein is granted amidst all “ontological insecurity” (247). It is this ontological transparency—we become a question to ourselves precisely because we understand ourselves as a question, that is, as being thrown into a contingent, open-ended, finite world—that makes for a “non-political way in which the philosopher might become the leader […] of others” (256) by awakening these others too to this ontological question mark that we all are, yet, that we all are together.

Knudsen’s book contains some very thoughtful analysis and shows a deep understanding of Being and Time especially. Certainly, one needs patience to read Knudsen’s book, but such a slow read will pay off and one will be thoroughly instructed about Heidegger’s rightful place within the field of social ontology, mainly through Knudsen’s useful overviews of the extant secondary literature. The links between the sometimes quite diverse chapters, however, might have been somewhat better elaborated.

Yet one can wonder what the target-audience, as publishers call it these days, of the book precisely is: it risks to leave both Heideggerians and the analytical audience somewhat unsatisfied. Readers of Heidegger will at times be bothered by the overly anthropological reading of his work and, certainly the readers of later Heidegger, will search in vain for the ontological viewpoint that is present even in Heidegger’s history of being and thinking of Ereignis. As mentioned, the author is clearly enamored with the discipline of phenomenology and I have listed those instances when it is commended that we must get the phenomenology right. Yet, his appeal to phenomenology is at times somewhat naïve, if not superficial. There’s more to phenomenology than just an appeal to the immediacy of experience. Heidegger’s entire endeavor, furthermore, is an account of what is, not of what we experience—there’s a subtle difference to be noted. As it now stands, this account of phenomenology is far from convincing for those who still think that truth is indeed a property of a set of propositions. That there is a social ontology in Heidegger, however, and one that is thoroughly to be reckoned with in the current debates, that is shown more than convincingly.

Hannah Lyn Venable: Madness in Experience and History

Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology Book Cover Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology
Hannah Lyn Venable
Routledge
2022
Paperback GBP £34.99
258 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations

Reviewed by:  Giorgi Vachnadze (University of Louvain)

It would be fitting, perhaps to start speaking of Madness in Experience and History by refusing to begin at the beginning and stepping right into the centre oscillating towards the periphery through a long and patient outwards spiral. The battleground of reason and unreason, the site of power and resistance; a space where the inside of the embodied subject meets the outside of institutional constraints; the structures offered up by history to consciousness – is the concept of the Flesh. Flesh, for Foucault, unifies the discursive practices of society and the techniques of the self, bringing together the practices which act on the self with those which are acted by the self” (Venable, 2021). The notion of the flesh is the space of reconciliation, the fundamental schematism that could harmonize the embodied ontology of Merleau-Ponty and the historical ontology of Michel Foucault. Seeking the unified approach, Hannah Lyn Venable offers the reader a comparative analysis between the two prominent representatives of 20th century French thought and a complementary, integrated methodology for interrogating modern psychiatric discourse.

For Merleau-Ponty, Flesh is the body in motion, the human subject embedded in the world through her interactive capacities; the “I can” as opposed to the Cartesian “I think” is what sustains the order of things through the human perspective. Underneath the apparent stability of our empirical observations, the propositions of science and mathematics – facts, objects and states of affairs – the domain of the non-rational both sustains and threatens to undermine our sense of self and others; our relationship to the world. Flesh is where the subject and object come together. The primordial experience of the world is neither thought, speech nor observation, but action. In truth, it is not therefore “the subject” that sustains the world; it is the body. Flesh is already meaningful. This is the meaning of perception.

For Foucault, on the other hand, Flesh is the contested object, it is the apparatus that sustains one’s way of life. The body as an object to be governed, managed and disciplined can offer resistance to the series of objectifications imposed on it through power, which operates vicariously through the institutions of modern science and psychology. The “enfleshed” subject can constitute herself through alternative techniques of the self as a way to refuse the technologies of the self that attempt to render her docile. Flesh is the political battleground sustained by history.

Phenomenological analysis and archaeological historization come together in order to shed light on the history and experience of madness: The non-rational – divided into the pre-rational of Merleau-Ponty and the irrational of Michel Foucault – is juxtaposed against the rational as it is given to us in perceptual (i.e., corporeal) experience and throughout history. An archaeology and phenomenology of madness, according Venable, can shed a new and interesting light on our contemporary understanding of “mental illness” (a recent invention). With this aim in mind, Venable takes us on an uneasy yet beautiful and hopeful journey beyond the rational-nonrational divide into tragedy, the sense of loss and the wisdom of madness.

Madness in Experience and History, quite unlike the object of its investigation, exhibits a beautiful, structured architectonic. The book is neatly laid out and easy to navigate. This makes its otherwise difficult subject matter incredibly accessible to the reader. The book is organized into five parts and eight chapters. The first part offers a helpful diagram of the larger textual cartography laying out the outline, a series of definitions and key terms, the general aims of the text and the underlying methodology of the work. The second part of the book analyzes Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach to madness and the pre-rational as a stand-alone intervention in contrast to the third part, which similarly engages with the Foucauldian archaeology of madness and the irrational. The fourth part is where the process of theoretical integration begins. It starts out by tracing the real historical encounters between Merleau-Ponty and Foucault and their mutual influence (mostly the influence of Ponty’s lectures on Foucault), through a biographical study of their lives and the development of their thought. The section further advances into a detailed analysis of the seemingly divergent, irreconcilable differences between some of the important concepts employed by the philosophers. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological subject is posed against Foucault’s bracketed subject and the perceptually situated subject is contrasted with the historically situated subject. The section concludes through the summary of their differences, bearing in view their potential complementarity and the possibility of reconciliation.

Chapter seven begins the strategic synthesis. Venable starts out by reviewing the existing, yet incredibly scarce, literature that attempts to bridge a sustainable dialogue between Merleau-Ponty and Foucault. According to Venable (2021), “…there are only two scholars, Nick Crossley (British sociologist) and Judith Revel (French philosopher) who have produced full books which attempt a complementary approach to the philosophies of Merleau-Ponty and Foucault…”. With the added difficulty, that Crossley remains nonetheless the only scholar (aside from Venable) to have written a book-length study of the matter in English. Venable continues to reconcile the differences concerning the respective theories of the (implied) subject, the alleged conflict between perception and history, the respective influences each writer had on psychology (mostly Merleau-Ponty) and Medical Sociology together with Disability Studies (Foucault), concluding the section through a summary discussion of the potential contributions that the integrated approach could offer to contemporary approaches in psychology.

The final section, part five of the book, extrapolates on the benefits of the aforementioned contributions through three particular case studies of Schizophrenia, Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar I Disorder to develop an extensive critique of the bio-medical and reductive models of mental illness. The latter, often unbeknownst to medical practitioners, tend to draw on outdated techniques of governmentality to repress, isolate and subdue the underlying non-rational of mental illness (i.e., madness), through one-sided pharmaceutical interventions. Instead, a phenomeno-archaeological strategy could help identify the social and existential causes of mental suffering and provide an alternative method to the diagnostic model, which tends to compartmentalize the problem and add unnecessary stigma to the patient.

Venable advocates for a return to the seemingly outdated notion of “madness” to expose the deficiencies of the medicalized term “mental illness”. “… “madness” contains certain colloquial meanings which remind us of the broadness and ambiguity of human experience, unlike other more technical terms such as “mental disorder,” “mental illness” or “psychopathology.” (Venable, 2021). Both Foucault and Merleau-Ponty use the term “madness” in their discussions on psychopathology. Venable further introduces the term non-rational. The non-rational is divided into two subsets: the pre-rational and the irrational. The two different modalities of the non-rational aim to capture the distinct ways that our experience of madness tends elude strict systems of classification and sharp conceptual boundaries.

The pre-rational can be understood as the condition of possibility for the rational. It refers to the multiplicity of embodied processes, activities and ways of going-about-in-the-world that have to take place, before the clear and distinct ideas, facts and observations can be given to consciousness. The pre-rational can refer to the simplest non-reflective experience of our day to day lives. Playing sports, driving a car, dancing etc. Anything that involves putting conscious reflection out of play can be safely placed in the domain of the pre-rational. All instrumental and technical know-how belongs to this category as well. To the contrary, the irrational represents everything that stands in the way of reason. The irrational is opposed to reason, it creates ambiguity, problems, misunderstandings, errors in judgment as well as more intense experiences of anxiety, sense of loss, existential dread and melancholia. The irrational, unlike the pre-rational, tends to subvert reason in one way or another. The irrational could also manifest in transgressive behavior and the violation of social norms, bearing a complex relationship to crime and deviance. Finally, the non-rational cannot be understood without reference to the rational. In reconciling the differences between Foucault and Merlau-Ponty, Venable, in her holistic approach to mental illness, seeks to eliminate the sharp boundary separating the rational from the non-rational.

As we mentioned previously, the concept of the pre-rational is attributed to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of madness. In order to develop this idea, Venable draws parallels with Aristotle. According to Aristotle, every single thing bears a form (eidos) which pertains to the essence of the thing. “For Aristotle, the form is what brings the elements together to make it a whole, such as bringing two letters into one sound of a syllable or the forces of nature into one flesh of a living creature” (Venable, 2021). The mentioning of the word “flesh” in the sentence is of course no mere coincidence and as we spiral outwards from that central term, we are soon going to see how it forms a conceptual network with the notions of experience, history, madness, reason, the non-rational and the idea of restlessness employed by St. Augustine. The ancient idea of the whole being more than the sum of its parts plays a crucial role in Venables’s account of the essence of human experience – madness. “…madness arises out of this shared way of experiencing the world instead of being something separate from it…,” explains Venable (2021). The Phenomenology of the pre-rational aims precisely at this; to uncover our common experience of an embodied “being-in-the-world” (Heidegger, 2010) and the integral role of the non-rational in constituting that experience.

The unity of human experience is decisive for Venable and Merleau-Ponty in understanding the importance of the pre-rational and vice versa. An anti-Cartesian sentiment of rejecting mind-body dualism as well as the anti-Kantian sentiment of rejecting the subject-object division, both very important endeavors in the work of Foucault and Merleau-Ponty, are found throughout Venable’s Madness in Experience and History. According to Merleau-Ponty, consciousness is indivisible and “indecomposable” (Indécomposable). Venable successfully monopolizes on the French variation of the term to reveal the richness of the meaning underneath. She explains that the term refers to “something that cannot be divided into parts, broken down, taken apart or separated; it refers to the French concepts of inseparability (inséparable) and nonfragmentation (non fragmentable)” (Venable, 2021). The indivisibility of the human consciousness and the pre-rational manifest themselves in the body as they pertain to the fluidity of the total (reflective and non-reflective) experience, an immersed embeddedness in the world.

In this way, the pre-rational or the pre-logical, vis-à-vis the reflective and the logical, bears the same dialectic relationship to reason, which the non-rational bears to the rational; they are the same. One of the key take-aways in the discussion of the pre-rational as well as the irrational, is to reveal the complexity of the relationship between the rational/nonrational distinction on the one hand and the normal/abnormal distinction on the other. A very important insight offered by Venable, is that we cannot simply group the rational with the normal and the non-rational with the abnormal, as was often done. And we will see further through our journey, it is neither the pre-rational nor even the irrational that cause human suffering, it is in fact the aforementioned relationship; the connecting line between the rational and the non-rational for each individual, or even entire communities. Psychological suffering, according to Venable, is the result of a deformation of that relation, their “falling out of tune” with each other. This discrepancy manifests in the body, within the flesh of our performed selves.

It is true, that perceiving and the awareness of perception can be separated, some perceptions are clearly more “cerebral” or “cognitive”, while others are enacted “unreflectively” and “without conscious awareness”, but the distinction is arbitrary, or methodological, to be more precise. It is a technique of speaking about human experience, much less than a representational model. The division admits of degrees. In other words, we have a scaled understanding of those distinctions, which Descartes and Kant wanted to separate categorically. In this sense, when Venable (2021) and Merleau-Ponty address “the primordial” relation humans have with the world, they are not advocating for a clear division between the pre-logical and the reflective; Venable’s goal specifically is to build on Foucault’s project of an “expanded reason” in order to take into account both the irreducible mystery of the irrational as well as the spontaneous activity of the pre-rational.

The empirical world of a trained and socialized subject and the discourse of science (which today more than ever, plays an important political function in how we constitute ourselves as subjects) is a derived language, it is posterior to the primordial experience of the world. Where the first can be conceptualized as a series of spatial relationships between objects, the latter operates as a field of interactive capacities and actualities. “…the point”, writes Venable (2021), “is that through reflection on the primordial field, we can see the human in the fullest sense, beyond the subject and object divide, and this demonstrates how the human relies on an area of a field, known as the unreflected.” The affective perceptual field is therefore primary and anterior to what we would normally call a world. It is a field of affects. This primordial world can be accessed through various techniques, including of course, phenomenological philosophy, but also the arts, sport activities and limit-experiences.

The center of the primordial field of habitual behavior is the body. The body, once again, is not an empirical object for study, the body objectified through i.e., the disciplines of biology, anatomy, neuroscience etc. The latter is a derived body that bears close to no resemblance to the affective body. This is not a body made up of atoms, genes, cells and molecules. Merleau-Ponty’s body is that which administers affects and re-arranges habits. It is not the metabolic body, rather it is a body of actions, a multiplicity comprised of a dynamic series of affecting-and-being-affected. Without the dynamic body, the empirical body cannot come to being. “The body, as the first, most basic habit, is the platform of nonrational behavior upon which other habits can be built. The process of growing habits is continuous because habits are always in a state of renewal” (Venable, 2021). According to the description, the body bears a direct resemblance to the previous Aristotelian characterization of form. Hence, the body is not a thing among things, but rather the general form of human behavior.

In contrast to Foucault’s “implied” understanding of the body, which does not possess an inside, Merleau-Ponty’s account portrays the body as a center of activity; the pre-rational nucleus of human experience wherefrom habits, actions, capacities and in short: perceptions emerge. Unlike the body of passivity described by Foucault, which always is and can only be inscribed from the outside, even by the subject herself in her negotiations with power, the active body of Merleau-Ponty is a creative actor of the flesh, structuring and re-structuring its own habitual patterns. Venable’s central argument is that the two bodies are perfectly reconcilable, more so, each can account and compensate for the deficiencies in the other.

Entering the Foucauldian realm of the archaeology of madness and the irrational, the opening lines of the third section of the book introduce St. Augustine’s writings on human restlessness. “Augustine’s portrayal of the restlessness of humanity sets an excellent framework for considering Foucault’s account of unreason: both see unspoken pain at the heart of the human experience and both call us to acknowledge the depth of the pain rather than ignore it” (Venable, 2021). Needless to say, unlike Augustine, Foucault does not identify the source of human restlessness in either sin or eternal damnation, nor still would Foucault find the solution to human suffering in seeking refuge with God. Instead, Foucault calls for a historical analysis of unreason to uncover the various forms taken by men’s and women’s anxious relationship to themselves and analyze the different constructions of madness employed by the ages in their attempts to manage and domesticate the irrational.

Venable (2021) argues for an essential unity, which brings together the multiple manifestations of the irrational throughout European history labelling it the “overarching non-rational”. Foucault’s unreason or “(déraison)”, writes Venable, can be understood as something that is opposed or contrary to reason. The Foucauldian unreason is specifically opposed to the Christian and Latin (late Roman) conception of reason: ratio. The latter should not be conflated with the Greek logos. Unlike the former, the latter is not pitted against déraison, such valorization of reason as separate and superior to unreason, Venable states, would bear a closer relationship to Greek hubris i.e., arrogance. Instead, the logos, unlike ratio, offers an expanded understanding of reason having no trouble entering into a dialectical relationship with unreason.

Venable continues to trace the multiple forms of madness describing the ways in which societies chose to govern the mad by following Foucault’s work; the History of Madness, throughout three distinct epistemic formations: The Renaissance, the Classical Age and Modernity. At this point Venable begins to combine Foucauldian and Pontyesque terminology to speak of the “perception of the rational” and the “perception of the irrational” as different manifestations of the same rational/non-rational divide which (unlike Foucault), Venable tends to take as the universal constant in the history of reason and madness. And once again, unlike Foucault’s work, Venable’s seemingly innocent attunement of phenomenology to archaeology begins to sound increasingly Hegelian[1].

Aside from the three distinct historical epochs, Venable introduces what Foucault terms the four consciousness of madness: the critical, the practical, the enunciatory and the analytical. As we will see, none of these techniques of managing the irrational can be found as stand-alone and entirely separate from the other three. However, with the introduction of each epistemic break separating one discursive formation from the other, we find some of these techniques becoming predominant, while others recede to the background.

Beginning with the 16th century: The play of light and dark is the main motif behind the Renaissance understanding of the rational and the non-rational. The Renaissance was the most tolerant of the three ages. During this period, madness, despite its terrifying manifestations, was seen as something necessary. As an essential counterweight to the light of reason, unreason was perceived as the frightful, tragic path one had to take to achieve light and clarity. Finding multiple expressions in the works of notorious Renaissance artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Matthias Grünewald and Pieter Brueghel, the age of Renaissance would embody a metaphysics of the tragic, which takes contradiction seriously, but not as a problem to resolve or a sickness to be cured, but rather an irreducible mystery; a cosmic antagonism that needs to be confronted by coming to terms with it. “To try and tear away the illusory and the chimerical would also be to tear away the real and the true. The illusory aspect of the irrational is woven together with the reality of the rational” (Venable, 2021).

The Ship of Fools would come to express the social pragmatics of madness in the age of the Renaissance. The mad were “entrusted” to sailors as useless cargo occupying the decks of traveling merchants and fisherman. As the general undesirables, banished from the cities, they were trapped within the wet liminal spaces of turbulent waters, roaming endlessly from harbor to harbor. Water became the master-signifier for madness. The Renaissance would embody the critical consciousness of unreason, where the opposition between reason and unreason would not preclude and even further; would necessitate the dialectical relationship between them.

The human monster was the caricature for the Renaissance conception of madness. The monster, despite being an aberration, an exception to the taxonomic system, a deviation from a classifiable species-being[2], served as a reflection of the very human struggle against tragedy, unnaturalness, illusion and the decentered relationship between the subject and the world. “The mad person on the boat and the peasant in the town share the same world: the presence of the wandering boat reminds the peasants on shore of the difficulty in seeking after truth and the reality of the tragic all around them” (Venable, 2021). Both the madman and the man of reason would share a common experience of the unnatural and the monstrous as an essential possibility for mankind.

The Classical age, like the Renaissance, recognized the darkness of the irrational, but unlike the latter, it broke off the dialogue between reason and unreason and modified the critical attitude by exorcising the dialectical relationship. The Classical age, marked by The Great Confinement, is the defining historical period, which according to Foucault, has played the most important role in constituting the modern (our) attitude towards what eventually became known as mental illness. With this in mind, Venable brings our attention to the purpose of Foucault’s project by reminding us of the full title of what is arguably Foucault’s magnum opus:[3] Madness and Unreason: History of Madness in the Classical Age.

The classical irrational, in stark contrast to the Renaissance, far from a natural predisposition of man, was now identified with moral failure. The Classical age therefore activates a new attitude towards madness, which sees the non-rational as a serious problem that requires correction. Unreason was now perceived as the regression of man to a primordial level of development. The madman was labeled as primitive and beastly. The animality of madness was used as a pretext to create distance between reason and unreason, to isolate, confine and place madness out of sight. The radical expulsion of madness was followed by an excess of reason. Every immoral, irrational act was reduced to a series of causes, effects and reasons to the point where madness itself became overdetermined by reason without thereby being assimilated to it. An extreme repression of madness by reason led to an ontological metamorphosis of unreason, where the irrational transformed into a persistent presence of nothingness. “…these three qualities show the steps that the irrational takes toward nothingness: first, the irrational is opposed to the rational, and then it is driven into the void between madness and the rational; here, madness becomes the place-marker for the irrational and is judged by the rational according to some unknown forces. The rational, in the end, appears to dominate, but its foundation remains insecure” (Venable, 2021). This tripartite transfiguration of unreason into nothingness offered by Venable shows how the Classical age, in its desperate attempt to annihilate madness, flies in the face of a paradox and ends up subverting its own foundations of reason. Another, somewhat extensive but very insightful quote will illustrate this point more clearly: “At its root, the content of madness signifies an absence, a nothing, because experiences of madness can be explained only by something positive in the categories of the rational. Paradoxically, this positive display of something real in madness is actually a display of nothingness. This means that the experience of the irrational, which is summed up in the experience of madness, must mask itself as its opposite to be understood” (Venable, 2021).

The Classical age is representative of the critical and the practical consciousness of madness. The separation between reason and unreason is no longer accompanied by a dialectical understanding of their reciprocity. Instead, the practical consciousness is used to divide and conquer madness entirely, until nothing remains but the pure visibility of a totalizing and undisputed rationality. The enunciatory and the analytic consciousness of madness are also present in the classical age. Where the first serves to label anyone and everyone, especially those considered idle and “purposeless,” as insane leading to their immediate or eventual confinement, the latter was used give support and lend weight to the initial superficial “diagnosis” by drawing on “objective scientific claims” about “the nature of madness.” Very different from the Renaissance, where the mad were “let loose” to roam the seas and sometimes the streets, the Classical age sought to confine, cure and correct the incorrigible individual.

Where the rationality of the Classical age can be described as the privileging of order, morality and positive truth, the Modern age would deal with madness through the notions of objectivity (carried over from the Classical age), science and the norm. But most importantly, the Modern age has set itself up as the first discursive formation that attempts to ignore the non-rational altogether. In this way, the irrational becomes alienated, exiled and silenced (Venable, 2021). The analytic consciousness of madness dominates our age. The break in the dialogue with madness is no longer deployed as an active turning toward and excommunication of madness, but rather its alienation and thereby its own self-alienation, the latter being pragmatically implied in the former. Madness is no longer forced into nothingness; it has gone mute.

The Modern age, building on the exclusionary practices of the Classical age becomes the age of humane treatments, cures and rehabilitation programs. “…the modern approach builds on the reality of the already confined mad and takes this preexisting condition as an opportunity for new medical studies and experiments” (Venable, 2021). The transition from the Classical to the Modern age results in the transformation of the incorrigible individual (the human monster of the 16th century Renaissance) into the sexual pervert. The abnormal individual is now portrayed as a threat to the nuclear family, which in turn serves as the foundation for civil society. No longer held morally accountable for his deviance, the pathologized person is pronounced sick; in need of help and treatment.

It goes without saying that the irrational isn’t going anywhere just because we decided to ignore and medicalize it. But it has become easier to fail to acknowledge it for what it is due to the incessant covering-over of madness by modern discourse. “Anxiety”, “Panic Attack”, “Depression,” “Perversion”; the labels used to channel the violent flows of the non-rational act as chimeras that foster substitute experiences in place of the confrontation with the tragic. “Like a teenager rebelling against the strict rules of his or her parents, the irrational revolts against the modern reduction of madness to mental illness; the more it is oppressed and pushed aside, the louder it bursts onto the scene” (Venable, 2021). Perhaps the work on the self in our age, implies a new confrontation with unreason beyond prescription pills and therapeutic interventions and maybe the courage for truth implies a courage for madness. What is the price that needs to be paid to refuse the biomedical model? Alternatively, what is the price paid for acceding to it? Or is this a false dilemma?

An expanded understanding of reason drives Venable’s work on Merleau-Ponty and Foucault. And according to Venable, it is also what motivates both Foucault and Merleau-Ponty to engage with the history and phenomenology of madness. Whether this is indeed the case, especially for Foucault, is a question that needs to be further addressed. Venable seeks to bypass several difficulties in her aim to reconcile Merleau-Ponty and Foucault, especially given Foucault’s explicit rejection of phenomenology, his refusal to formulate any clear theory of the subject, the methodological approach of archaeology and finally, his skeptical attitude towards psychology.

Among phenomenological philosophers Foucault is known as the author of the bracketed subject, while to the comparatively larger circle of scholars he is also known as the author of the implied subject. The bracketed subject can be viewed as a strategic anti-phenomenological deployment. The Husserlian notion of “bracketing” refers to the mental act of suspending or putting the natural attitude out of play. Its purpose is to prepare the philosopher for performing phenomenological analysis. The phenomenological reduction or the epoche is central to the phenomenological method. The act of bracketing is performed by the transcendental subject and the subject is thereby the founding element for the method. By bracketing the subject, Foucault thereby annihilates phenomenology itself, claiming that the subject, far from an undeniable given, as is the case with Descartes, is in fact a complex product of power-relations. The unity of the subject is one of the contested grounds between phenomenologists and Foucauldians. Granted, Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the subject is significantly different from the Husserlian subject due to the emphasis on the role of the body, Venable’s take on the matter is that the Pontyesque body nonetheless exhibits an indivisible (non decomposable), albeit experiential, unity. This unity, either implicitly or explicitly, I argue, is not found with Foucault.

The subject in Merleau-Ponty is the starting point and the ultimate foundation of reality. Ponty takes care to show that the essence of the phenomenon is not simply observation, but an embodied and interactive relationship with the world. As we mentioned before, perception is action, or the capacity to act within a milieu – the ‘I can’. “Everything must begin with my own perspective as a subject for I cannot ever entirely escape myself,” writes Venable (2021). This is clearly not the case for Foucault. Foucault privileges discourse over the subject, claiming that the subject is in fact a product of multiple discourses. One produces oneself through discourse, an on-going narrative of the self about the self; the self is constantly sustained through institutional mediation. In this sense, contra Venable, it seems that the Foucauldian account of experience is one of fragmentation, rather than unity. The subject is dispersed via discourse and all unity is merely an a/effect.

Venable is not the only phenomenologist who levels the accusation against Foucault for him having neglected the role of the body. It is thought that Foucault has somehow “forgotten” or otherwise ignored the body, the lived body as it is experienced from within, in order to address the “more urgent” matters concerning the body of power inscribed from the outside. Another accusation involves labeling Foucault a determinist due to his “one-sided” approach to the body. If the body is exclusively the product of inscriptions and power-effects, how does one negotiate for freedom? Both of these questions will be addressed shortly towards the end.

By speaking of the unity of experience or the unity of the body, Venable does not thereby concede to the existence of a determined or determining human nature; neither do Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. And yet, Venable (2021) argues, “that the body has a certain “universal arrangement” which operates according to common patterns and allows us to discover through perception and through exploration the order of the world.” Why does this universality have to pertain either to the lived body or the inscribed body remains unfortunately quite unclear and in need of further support. In her attempt to link phenomenology with archaeology, Venable seems to do little justice either to Merleau-Ponty, who in his later work abandons phenomenology altogether, or to Foucault, by discarding several of the central theses orchestrating his entire oeuvre[4].

Venable attempts to respond to these questions in chapter seven and begins the process of reconciliation between the Foucauldian and the Pontyesque views on subjectivity, the role of history and their relationship to psychology. Using a “complementary” approach, Venable offers the reader a strategic synthesis, whereby the dialogue is supposed to result in the mutual enhancement of the two philosophers and their methods. We must ask, once again, how much of the actual content of their work is sacrificed for the presumed effectiveness of the integrated approach? Venable makes a profound point, one rarely encountered in contemporary Foucauldian scholarship; Foucault was indeed interested in the question of experience. And it is without a doubt, that human experience is a problem that gripped Merleau-Ponty as well. But unfortunately, Venable takes a rather unsubstantiated leap, by attempting to link this mutual fascination with experience to a shared understanding of subjectivity. To reiterate, the Foucauldian conception of experience, to my mind, does not by any means imply unity. Quite the opposite. The experience of madness, maybe even by definition, is the experience of dispersed fragmentation. There is, I argue, no implied subject behind this idea of experience. It is fundamentally different from the actual experience of the phenomenological subject. The phenomenological and Pontyesque body may or may not necessarily support the idea of unity, but the Foucauldian conception of flesh at its most “fundamental” level is necessarily disjointed.

The final section of Madness in Experience and History offers novel approaches to mental illness by suggesting several routes for the application of the integrated method. After claiming to have reconciled the differences between phenomenology and archaeology, Venable attempts to introduce her method to contemporary problems in psychology. Starting with the case of Schizophrenia, a modern disorder broadly defined as discord between emotion, thought and behavior and the presence of hallucinatory symptoms, Venable first points out that the element of fantasy never achieves its full expression. The subject’s relationship with reality is never entirely broken down. Perception remains as an invariant structure between the “normal” and the “pathological” experiences of reality. “Both experiences, hallucinatory and perceptual, come from the same structure of human experience… … the primordial relation to the world” (Venable, 2021). The patient therefore, is not cut off from reality, but simply bears a different relationship to it. The pre-reflective non-rational is equally present in the perceptions of the normal as well as the abnormal individual, the difference is, as mentioned before, the relationship between the rational and the non-rational. It is almost as if there was a failure of executing a technique or exercising a capacity, rather than the absence of a faculty.

Melancholia, better known today as Major Depressive Disorder leads to the second diagnosis discussed in the book. Similar to cases of Schizophrenia, Venable via Merleau-Ponty, shows that the melancholic subject engages with the same structures of the common, rational order to “distort” and recreate a world of desperation and hopelessness. Once again, the connection is not severed, the patient “takes what she needs” in order to maintain an anesthetized morbid reality of her own. Paradoxically, the patient uses the world to push it away, maintaining a radical relationship of heterogeneity and exteriority with the social. The “abnormal” individual flees subjectivity. “Even when we feel trapped by grief and sorrow, our senses are still taking in the world around us, such as seeing a brightly colored object across the room” (Venable, 2021). By pointing out, once again, the shared structure of the embodied pre-rational, Venable’s approach helps us see what is left of our shared experience; the non-rational between us and those who suffer from mental distress. And this is more than enough to bridge the gap and overcome the stigma that often accompanies a diagnosis. Where Merleau-Ponty should help us see the common phenomenological experience that allows us to relate with those affiliated with mental illness, Foucault helps us see the bigger picture and the historical horizon that links all cultures and epochs in their attempts to deal with madness, unveiling the larger social determinants of psychological suffering. Both approaches either “reach beneath” or see beyond the compartmentalized logic of the bio-medical model.

Bipolar I Disorder characterized by violent mood swings and alterations between mania and depression is characterized by a movement from the general sense of being lost or “decentered” (Venable, 2021) vis-à-vis “normal” experience, to an intense state of concentration and lucidity. Venable identifies a pattern similar to the one found with the other two cases: “As we have consistently seen in other disorders, there is not a total loss of the rational in the distortion of space, for even during a manic episode a person can often still distinguish between objective space and the “me-centered” reality” (Venable, 2021). Once again, we should refuse to give in to our outdated modes of relating with the other by othering them further and reducing them to their diagnosis. The phenomenology of bipolar disorder repeatedly demonstrates that those who suffer under the label have more in common with those who don’t than may be noticed at first glance. Similarly, Foucault’s historical approach shows that the diagnosis of bipolar disorder leaves much to be desired in terms of rigor and accuracy, revealing, as before, the need for a more inclusive and broader understanding of its socio-historical origins.

Hannah Lyn Venable’s Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology is a beautifully written, clear and concise work of exemplary academic scholarship. It’s ambitious aims of reconciling two hostile schools of philosophy has not gone unnoticed and will remain relevant for years to come. The original integrated approach holds much promise in improving psychological care and providing a better understanding of the history and sociology of mental illness. But despite the lucidity, usefulness and relevance of the work, it does little justice to the archaeological method. Foucault’s work repeatedly emphasizes the importance of dispersions. The Foucauldian subject is a non-subject scattered throughout discourse and the only unity offered to the self is that which is artificially imposed or self-imposed through power. The flesh cannot exhibit unity, since the self is itself an event, a site of power and resistance where freedom is fought for. There is no inside, because the distinction between inside and outside is itself a structure maintained through discourse. Arguing for an implied theory of the unified subject tends to ignore the real theoretical breakthroughs achieved in Foucault’s work. The reduction of Foucault’s notion of experience to the unity of the phenomenological, albeit embodied, subject of actual experience is too high of a price to pay for the sake of a well-rounded theory of the self.

References:

Crossley, N. (1994). The Politics of Subjectivity: Between Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. Avebury Series in Philosophy

Foucault, M., Murphy, J., & Khalfa, J. (2013). History of Madness. Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2013). Archaeology of Knowledge. Routledge.

Heidegger, M. (2010). Being and Time. Suny Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M., Landes, D., Carman, T., & Lefort, C. (2013). Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge.

Venable, H. L. (2021). Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology. Routledge.


[1] In fact, on page 146, Venable almost explicitly labels Foucault a Hegelian, which in my reading of Foucault, especially his interviews, is simply wrong.

[2] For present purposes a slightly modified, but strictly speaking an incorrect use of the Marxist-Hegelian term.

[3] Perhaps only second or even third in importance to the voluminous work on the history of sexuality and The Order of Things, which was first to bring wide critical acclaim and attention to Foucault.

[4] I.e., Foucault’s rejection of all universals, as well as his portrayal of the human subject, including the embodied subject, as a historico-political construct.

Nicola Ramazzotto (Ed.): L’estetica pragmatista in dialogo. Tradizioni, confronti, prospettive

L’estetica pragmatista in dialogo. Tradizioni, confronti, prospettive Book Cover L’estetica pragmatista in dialogo. Tradizioni, confronti, prospettive
philosophica (284)
Nicola Ramazzotto (Ed.)
Edizioni ETS
2022
Paperback € 15,20
140

Reviewed by: Filomena Trotta

Il volume curato da Nicola Ramazzotto raccoglie alcune relazioni presentate per la prima volta alla conferenza internazionale Pragmatist Aesthetics in Dialogue presso l’Università di Pisa, con l’esplicito intento di dare un rinnovato slancio alla complessità dell’estetica pragmatista. Gli otto contributi che compongono tale dialogo danno vita a un intreccio teorico per nulla estraneo all’essenza stessa del pragmatismo, proponendo un percorso capace di indagare in senso retrospettivo, parallelo e prospettivo la continuità tra diversi metodi e stili filosofici.

Attraverso un’indagine di tipo sinechista, atta a lavorare sulle analogie nelle differenze piuttosto che su rigide contrapposizioni, il primo contributo della raccolta, scritto da Rosa Calcaterra, approfondisce la questione della continuità epistemica e ontologica nell’estetica di John Dewey in relazione al trascendentalismo di Kant e all’empirismo di William James, fino a considerare la proposta di Linguistic Turn di Richard Rorty. Fin da subito viene messo in evidenza come Dewey, nelle pagine del suo celebre testo Art as Experience, tenti di evincere le funzioni antropologiche e storiche dell’esperienza artistica, un criterio metodologico che ricorda molto il punto di vista pragmatico dell’antropologia nel pensiero kantiano, soprattutto nell’utilizzo della locuzione Kunst. Foucault sottolinea come questa parola, frequentemente impiegata nell’Antropologia di Kant, diventi simbolo dell’ambiguità epistemica e ontologica dell’esistenza umana: si tratta di un’espressione che si fa carico di tutto l’enigma che costituisce la condizione dell’esistere, della sua essenza patica e al tempo stesso artefice, dove nulla si dà alla coscienza se non attraverso la libertà di cui essa gode e allo stesso tempo di cui essa stessa è vittima, nel momento in cui non riconosce i limiti delle proprie possibilità di attingere in modo inequivocabile alla verità. La Kunst, in tal senso, non intacca il principio ontologico della libertà umana, ma piuttosto ne evidenzia la natura mutevole in quanto potenzialità e possibilità da implementare (p. 11). Se Kant, però, aveva postulato l’esistenza di un mondo noumenico entro il quale operasse la libertà in quanto carattere distintivo della ragione in virtù di una supposta autonomia delle strutture razionali della mente umana, per l’empirismo naturalistico di Dewey la libertà costituisce un fattore che pervade a tutti gli effetti la sfera biologica, sensibile e fisico-naturale. Il metodo empirico, seguendo la scia jamesiana, non solo permette di approfondire aspetti ontologici della realtà, ma consente allo stesso tempo di indagare le fitte relazioni tra realtà fisica e realtà psichica, tra sensibilità e ragione. Appare dunque eloquente la posizione deweyana in merito alla valenza antropologica della produzione artistica, nonché il profondo legame che lega l’ontologia all’antropologia, là dove l’ordine non viene imposto dall’esterno, bensì sviluppa se stesso, coinvolgendo un numero sempre maggiore di cambiamenti e risignificazioni (p. 14). Al di là dell’impostazione trascendentale della conoscenza tipica di Kant, è dall’empirismo di William James che prende vita il progetto deweyano di dare rilievo alla ricchezza ontologica ed epistemica dell’esistenza umana. L’impatto jamesiano è palese anche nella considerazione del nesso tra piano dell’agire e piano del significato, un legame che non era sconosciuto nemmeno a Pierce. In tal senso, l’opera d’arte non è solo una risultante immaginativa, ma ha anche la possibilità di agire nel mondo concentrando e ampliando l’esperienza immediata in quanto comprova della complessità del vissuto (p. 17). Un aspetto altrettanto rilevante che compone l’indagine sulla costituzione del concetto di esperienza in Dewey arriva dall’attenta disamina di Rorty in merito all’utilizzo, da parte del filosofo pragmatista, di un vocabolario e un’epistemologia fortemente contaminati dalla corrente idealista. È proprio partendo da questa constatazione che, secondo Rorty, si rende necessaria un’indagine comparativa tra esperienza e linguaggio, approdando alla possibilità di un Linguistic Turn in ambito pragmatico. Ma ciò che principalmente si evince da questo tentativo è l’imprescindibilità della ricostruzione di un concetto di esperienza che abbracci le diverse interpretazioni fornite da Pierce, James e Dewey nelle loro rispettive filosofie, al di là di qualsiasi paradigma fondazionalista. Infatti, sebbene le metodologie d’indagine dei tre filosofi siano evidentemente differenti, attraverso il loro intreccio è possibile agire su fruttuosi punti di consonanza, cercando così di svilupparne le tracce più rappresentative.

Il secondo contributo, di Danilo Manca, tenta di far fronte a quella che possiamo definire una negligenza filosofica rispetto al mancato dialogo tra fenomenologia e pragmatismo nel corso del Novecento. Nel saggio di Manca vengono prese in esame, nello specifico, le posizioni di Husserl e Dewey, dapprima constatandone le analogie in virtù di una doppia implicazione tra esperienza estetica e vissuto quotidiano, per poi evidenziare le sfide che i due pensatori rispettivamente pongono alla filosofia rispetto a un concetto di esperienza artistica inscritta in una dimensione naturale. Per entrambi i pensatori, seppure partendo da presupposti alquanto differenti, il riferimento all’arte risulta imprescindibile per descrivere i caratteri emotivi e percettivi dell’esperienza umana, nonché per dare forma alla sfida che l’arte ha il compito di lanciare alla filosofia. Contro qualsiasi impostazione isolazionista, l’obiettivo di Dewey è di comprendere come il “quotidiano far cose” si riveli una “forma di fare genuinamente artistica”, come prova del fatto che l’essere umano abbia la capacità di dare coesione al senso, al bisogno, all’istinto e all’azione in quanto caratteristica della creatura vivente (p. 28). È inoltre evidente l’intreccio tra esperienza ed emozione in quanto fonte dell’arte: l’atto espressivo necessita la frequentazione di uno stato d’animo che orienti la percezione. In questo gioco di fare e subire che è l’esperienza, anche l’immaginazione occupa un ruolo imprescindibile in quanto adattamento tra nuovo e vecchio. Diversamente, Husserl considera la percezione e l’immaginazione come atti totalmente differenti: in tal senso, considerare la parte ignota di un oggetto rappresentato in un’immagine non porterebbe ad immaginarlo, bensì a co-intenzionarlo in quanto aspetto irriflessivamente saputo (p. 31). Tale dissonanza, però, trova il suo punto di risoluzione nella consapevolezza che tutto ciò che viene esperienziato può essere notevolmente arricchito dalla componente immaginativa. Rivolgendoci inoltre alla sfida posta alla filosofia di dover partire dall’esperienza estetica per comprendere davvero cosa sia l’esperienza, si scorge tra Dewey e Husserl un’ulteriore differenza che cela in sé, anche in questo caso, la possibilità di rendere questo incontro particolarmente proficuo: se per Dewey l’esperienza estetica va a costituirsi come sguardo privilegiato sul costante alternarsi di armonia e disordine che scandisce l’incontro tra organismo e ambiente del vissuto quotidiano, per Husserl esperire esteticamente comporta una rottura con il mondo ordinario, costituendosi come atto che porta a maturare su di esso uno sguardo da spettatore disinteressato. Sebbene si tratti di una differenza incontrovertibile, entrambi concordano sul fatto che il soggetto sia portato ad agire e vivere all’interno di un sostrato abituale che non consentirebbe di assumere una posizione adeguata rispetto al vissuto. È qui che per entrambi i pensatori si fa palese la necessità di un arricchimento estetico capace di aprire l’essere umano a un’effettiva capacità critica che conduce a un’integrazione tra dato di fatto e novità (p. 36). Il pregiudizio husserliano nei confronti del naturalismo, concepito come modo ordinario del vivere o in quanto conoscenza naturalistica del mondo, viene superato attraverso l’approccio filosofico di Merleau-Ponty che, lavorando su un terreno fenomenologico, si accorse della mancanza di Husserl nell’esplicitare che l’atteggiamento naturale presuppone metodicamente una preparazione fenomenologica (p. 40). L’indagine sulle potenzialità dell’esperienza estetica da un punto di vista pragmatico e fenomenologico approda alla consapevolezza che questo tipo di vissuto sia da intendersi come preparazione al rivolgimento filosofico in quanto esperienza attiva che porta alla luce aspetti della specie umana: in tal senso, la fenomenologia dovrebbe considerare, oltre al corpo vissuto e al corpo come oggetto, anche il corpo vivente studiato dalla biologia. Il corpo vivente preso in considerazione all’interno del dibattito estetico, inteso come intenzionalità incarnata e sede dell’esperienza, è il punto di contatto con l’alterità, con il mondo storico e sociale, nonché con la sua dimensione naturale. Risulta dunque fondamentale parlare di corpo, in quanto ciò consente di mettere al centro tutte le possibili interconnessioni del vivente.

Nel terzo capitolo si delinea il tentativo di Nicola Ramazzotto di dar vita a un dialogo tra pensiero angloamericano e pensiero continentale in merito al tema dell’esperienza estetica e della sua capacità di costituire nuovi orizzonti di significato. Tale incontro viene realizzato prendendo in esame le posizioni di Heidegger e Dewey, due pensatori apparentemente agli antipodi, che però nelle divergenze possono dar forma a un dialogo estetico quanto mai fruttuoso. Partendo dalla constatazione di una progressiva compartimentazione e musealizzazione dell’arte nel corso della modernità, entrambi i pensatori concordano sul fatto che ad oggi l’esperienza artistica non soddisfi più il nostro bisogno di significato (p. 47). Il mondo greco, al contrario, necessitava dell’arte per comprendere e rappresentare la natura e la storia. La realtà moderna e classica diventano dunque per Heidegger e Dewey due esemplificazioni del concetto di arte totalmente diverse: nel primo caso, infatti, si costituisce come mero piacere soggettivo, mentre nel secondo come vera e propria possibilità di significazione in relazione a una determinata realtà storica. Non si tratta di un ritorno al classicismo in senso nostalgico, ma si mira piuttosto a dimostrarne la portata in virtù di un’odierna possibile riconfigurazione del nostro rapporto con l’opera d’arte che tenga conto della sua intrinseca capacità di arricchimento onnicomprensivo, in contrasto con la concezione che sorregge la visione artistica nel mondo moderno (p. 48). Per quanto l’ermeneutica e il pragmatismo siano due correnti filosofiche essenzialmente distanti, vi si può scorgere un’inaspettata assonanza nel tentativo di rispondere alla crisi dell’esperienza estetica, riconoscendo la sua capacità di dare vita a nuovi orizzonti di senso. Significato e orizzonte diventano allora due parole chiave per approfondire il dialogo tra Dewey e Heidegger: per entrambi l’esperienza umana non è ricerca di una mera verità teoretica, ma di una verità che sia significativa, una situatività che può essere dispiegata solo in relazione a un determinato ambiente. Dunque, l’arte, in quanto azione significante, consiste proprio nel trasformare una situazione data in un qualcosa che abbia senso e valore (p. 50). Il significato non è mai l’unico possibile, ma è sempre il senso di una precisa situazione, dove per senso s’intende l’unità di significati nella formazione di una realtà condivisa (p. 51). Noi abitiamo, o meglio “in-abitiamo” il mondo grazie ai nostri habits che insieme danno forma all’ethos, propriamente il nostro in-abitare, e solamente un mondo abitato artisticamente può essere significativo. L’arte, afferma Heidegger, fa sì che le cose siano liberate dal loro semplice essere-cosa e possiede la capacità di creare significati in virtù della sua particolare modalità di prendersi cura delle cose. Ramazzotto evidenzia come sia per Dewey che per Heidegger l’abilità di un soggetto che crea sia artistica se mossa dall’amore, e come questo amare sia l’essenza autentica del potere, che non solo può far essere questa o quella cosa, ma può anche permettere alla cosa stessa di essere presente (p. 53). Il significato può dispiegarsi solo all’interno di un orizzonte, cioè la totalità dell’insieme di significati a partire da cui un evento può assumere senso. L’arte, dunque, non ha solo il compito di svelare la dimensione situazionale, orizzontale e spazio-temporale del vissuto umano, ma possiede anche un carattere operativo, stabilendo i differenti e sempre mutevoli orizzonti di verità e di senso per l’abitare umano – là dove per abitare s’intende l’assunzione di un atteggiamento di radicamento nel mondo e di ricezione in divenire del vissuto. Infatti, sia per Heidegger che per Dewey, l’arte è una peculiare modalità di apertura all’evento mettendo in discussione la totalità dei significati che lo animano in virtù di un dispiegamento di nuovi orizzonti di abitabilità (p. 57). Tuttavia, così come non è possibile riferirsi a un significato unico, in egual misura non è possibile parlare di un solo orizzonte, ma di una serie di orizzonti che si susseguono storicamente. Ne consegue che l’arte diventa mezzo privilegiato per una comunità storica per conoscere se stessa: la storicità, in tal senso, è da intendersi come inevitabile situatività che permette al vissuto di essere significativo nella composizione di una rete di credenze che permette all’essere umano di accadere in un mondo condiviso.

Il quarto contributo, firmato da Elena Romagnoli, indaga il rapporto tra opera d’arte e pubblico, prendendo in considerazione le posizioni di Hans-Georg Gadamer e John Dewey, rispettivamente operanti nelle correnti dell’ermeneutica e del pragmatismo. L’idea di conciliare la lettura estetica dei due pensatori nasce in virtù del loro modo d’intendere l’opera d’arte come vero e proprio processo d’interazione. Sul versante deweyano, l’indagine prende avvio dal ripensamento dell’esperienza in senso anti-cartesiano con un particolare focus sul legame tra la creatura vivente e l’ambiente in cui questa dispiega il proprio esistere. L’ambiente diventa motivo, non causa, per cui la vita è: nessuna creatura vive solo sotto la propria pelle, piuttosto è solo quando essa riesce a prendere parte alle relazioni ordinate nel suo ambiente che si garantisce la stabilità che è essenziale per vivere. Da ciò ne consegue l’imprescindibilità di un ripensamento dell’esperienza stessa da un punto di vista antropologico (p. 67). Occorre tuttavia chiarire che un’esperienza estetica si differenzia significativamente da un’esperienza ordinaria, proprio per la sua capacità di racchiudere in sé un insieme di significati altrimenti dislocati e inafferrabili. Come viene lucidamente chiarito da Romagnoli, non si tratta di una separazione netta, quanto di un rapporto processuale di continuo perfezionamento e arricchimento reciproco, tale da procurare una vitalità intensificata. Su un altro versante, attraverso un approccio squisitamente heideggeriano, Gadamer intende mostrare il carattere mutevole e trasformativo dell’esperienza a partire dalla centralità dell’esperienza estetica. Un ruolo fondamentale in virtù di questo obiettivo è svolto dal tema del gioco, un concetto capace di mettere in discussione una lettura dualistica che vedrebbe l’opera d’arte come mero oggetto contrapposto a un soggetto. Da un punto di vista antropologico, il gioco diviene momento di comune sperimentazione a patto che venga preso sul serio e abbia una compiutezza (p. 71). In uno scritto successivo a Verità e metodo, ovvero il saggio L’attualità del bello. Arte come gioco, simbolo e festa, Gadamer descrive il gioco come funzione elementare della vita umana, come fenomeno di eccedenza di autorappresentazione del vivente riscontrabile nella natura e in tutti gli animali, come movimento senza fini che nell’essere umano però acquisisce razionalità e consapevolezza (p. 72). Anche lo spettatore è invitato a prendere posto in questo continuo movimento in virtù della determinazione stessa del gioco, il quale presuppone sempre un “giocare insieme”. Questo aspetto mette in luce il ripensamento dell’esperienza estetica in senso processuale in contrapposizione a una lettura che la renderebbe priva di potenzialità estrinsecative e interattive. Dewey, in tal senso, evidenzia come un’opera, per essere davvero artistica, debba anche essere estetica, ossia “concepita per una percezione ricettiva della fruizione” (p. 74). Tale esperienza andrebbe così a costituirsi come una forma stessa di creazione e partecipazione all’opera. Come per Dewey, dunque, anche per Gadamer risulta necessaria una riformulazione del rapporto tra creatore e pubblico in virtù di una rinnovata considerazione dell’esperienza estetica. Il carattere interattivo dell’arte ne mostra il suo aspetto collettivo essenziale, nonché il suo costituirsi come fenomeno collettivo, anti-elitario e trasformativo.

Continuando sulla scia di un dialogo che ha per sfondo una lettura pragmatista dell’estetica, il quinto contributo, di Stefano Marino, si focalizza sulla questione della popular music (nella forma di una sfida estetica rivolta dall’arte popolare all’estetica tradizionale) e si muove tra pragmatismo e teoria critica. Partendo dalla considerazione del modo di indagare tipico del pensiero occidentale, il quale si costituirebbe nella forma di un “All or Nothing”, viene enfatizzata la necessità di un superamento di tale tendenza dicotomica a favore di un approccio maggiormente comprensivo, tipico della corrente pragmatista. Nella sua opera Estetica Pragmatista Richard Shusterman evidenzia in modo eloquente la negligenza filosofica nei confronti dell’arte popolare, la quale, quand’anche considerata, viene abitualmente declassata a mero prodotto privo di valore (p. 82). L’arte popolare in realtà è un ambito molto vasto e in continua espansione, così come la popular music, la quale contiene in sé numerosi generi e sottogeneri, anche legati alle odierne sottoculture. Tra alcuni filosofi contemporanei impegnati nel dibattito sulla popular music – e, come si vuole sottolineare nel caso specifico, sulla musica pop-rock – spicca la disamina di Alva Noë, il quale, seguendo una tendenza piuttosto tipica delle odierne critiche filosofiche, evidenzia come alcune forme della musica pop-rock siano perlopiù trainate dalla figura stessa dell’artista fomentato dalle masse. In tal senso, ciò che viene adornianamente definito come il “materiale musicale” costituirebbe solo un mezzo finalizzato ad attrarre tutta l’attenzione sul personaggio. Non si tratterebbe dunque di musica, ma piuttosto di mero fanatismo e culto della personalità. È evidente come questo tipo di impostazione filosofica non sia disposta ad ammettere l’esistenza delle numerose sfumature presenti nel mondo della musica pop-rock, prediligendo al contrario un’ottica che mira a porre delle pretese totalizzanti valide per tutto il genere, in linea con la succitata logica “Tutto o nulla”. Viene evidenziato però come, in modo alquanto interessante, Noë si smentisca nell’ammettere che alcuni fenomeni nel campo della musica pop-rock come i Radiohead possano occupare una sorta di “spazio intermedio”, posizionandosi nella sfera del genere pop-rock e al contempo creando una musica che richiede attenzione e che affascina in quanto musica (p. 86). Ciò comporta che non ci sia alcuna ragione per ignorare altri tipi di eccezionalità, altri “oggetti di consumo d’avanguardia”, come ad esempio i Nirvana, chiave di volta all’interno di questa indagine, oltretutto citati più volte nell’analisi critica di Noë per supportare la sua posizione in merito allo scarso valore significativo della musica pop-rock. Come evidenziato dal famoso pianista contemporaneo Brad Mehldau, per quanto sia indubbio che molte persone siano attratte all’ascolto di questa band per via del culto della personalità, è altrettanto evidente che fermarsi a queste considerazioni limiterebbe la possibilità di accogliere qualcosa di più sottile, come la capacità e la forza di Kurt Cobain di esprimere la propria vulnerabilità, nonché la fragilità di una generazione politicamente destabilizzata, un’abilità oltretutto supportata da un grande talento compositivo (p. 89). Al di là di qualsiasi pretesa generalizzante, Shusterman mette in luce come gran parte della popular music del nostro tempo pretenda di essere creativa e originale, e come questa originalità si possa raggiungere anche attraverso quella che potremmo definire un’appropriazione creativa del vecchio (p. 91). Dunque, attraverso un approccio adorniano “eterodosso” alla popular music (ossia, al di là di una dicotomia troppo ferrea tra musica leggera e musica seria) e attraverso le stimolanti intuizioni di filosofi impegnati nella valorizzazione dell’arte popolare come Shusterman, emerge la possibilità di sviluppare analisi maggiormente concrete delle varie arti e delle differenti forme della loro appropriazione (p. 93). Tale capacità, come chiaramente evidenziato nel capitolo qui presentato, può emergere in maniera decisiva grazie a un punto di vista estetico che sia pluralista e pragmatista, capace di donare rilievo e slancio a generi musicali come il pop-rock che, seppure segnati dai caratteri di mercificazione e feticismo, possono costituirsi come esperienze estetiche dalla grande ricchezza significativa.

Nel sesto contributo, firmato da Anita Merlini, l’intento è quello di mettere in luce gli sviluppi teorici sugli studi visuali e sulla Bildwissenschaft attraverso un’ottica critica squisitamente pragmatista. Entrambi gli ambiti nascono ufficialmente nel 1994: i primi con la pubblicazione del volume Picture Theory di William J.T. Mitchell, nel quale viene annunciata una “svolta figurativa”; i secondi con la pubblicazione dell’opera Was ist ein Bild? di Gottfried Boehm, nella quale viene presentata una “svolta iconica” (p. 99). Al di là delle modalità con cui si vogliano descrivere tali svolte, questi campi di studio si contraddistinguono per la promozione di un approccio interdisciplinare, il quale però rischia di risultare particolarmente destrutturato, soprattutto in mancanza di un assetto epistemologico ben definito. Innanzitutto, bisogna specificare che entrambe le correnti mirano al raggiungimento di uno statuto che consideri l’immagine come fenomeno a se stante, libera dall’imperante logocentrismo su cui il sapere in generale e gli studi sulle immagini in particolare tradizionalmente si poggiano (p. 100). Le posizioni teoretiche di Mitchell in merito allo statuto delle metapicture, cioè immagini capaci di fornire un discorso retrostante alla pura rappresentazione che ci dice qualcosa dell’immagine stessa, vengono contrapposte all’impostazione pragmatista e fenomenologica di Wiesing, il quale, nel volume Sehen Lassen, contesta tale descrizione dell’immagine, che tenderebbe a concepirla come una sorta di soggetto capace di agire (p. 104). Secondo Wiesing, infatti, non sono le immagini di per sé a mostrare un determinato stato di fatto, ma siamo noi, in quanto soggetti umani atti all’interpretazione, ad attribuire all’immagine una capacità significativa. L’immagine si costituirebbe così come un intreccio segnico sviscerabile solo da un ente interpretante. Il nodo problematico delle premesse di queste due correnti si muoverebbe attorno a una mancata distinzione tra visibilità e ostensione: se il primo concetto può essere inteso come un dato di fatto potenzialmente osservabile, il secondo va a configurarsi come una vera e propria azione mossa dall’intenzione. Risulta evidente, dunque, come la visibilità dell’immagine non sia metodicamente legata alla sua ostensione: la capacità ostensiva dell’immagine non rappresenta una sua caratteristica visibile, quanto piuttosto una sua disposizione attuabile solo grazie alla presenza umana. Così, l’approccio dei Visual Studies e della Bildwissenschaft, che tende a soggettivizzare le immagini in virtù di un approccio all’immagine fortemente animista, rischierebbe di trasformarsi in una nuova ideologia dell’immagine, minando i fondamenti di qualsiasi comprensione filosoficamente coerente capace di fornire un impianto epistemologico e metodologico alla base di tali approcci. L’indagine qui riportata mira, dunque, a risvegliare la presa di coscienza rispetto a tali rischi, promuovendo una riconfigurazione degli studi sull’immagine in virtù della possibile istituzione di una vera e propria disciplina, un’esigenza che risulta quanto mai necessaria.

Nel settimo capitolo, Alberto Siani focalizza la propria attenzione sul tema della valutazione del carattere di paesaggio, una nozione che fa la sua prima comparsa negli ultimi trent’anni in ambito anglosassone, diffondendosi rapidamente in altri contesti. La sua nascita è finalizzata alla tutela e alla gestione di un paesaggio sulla base delle sue caratteristiche, rispondendo a un’urgenza di tipo pratico e teorico. L’obiettivo qui proposto è quello di sottrarre il controllo dei criteri di valore del paesaggio al monopolio di pochi individui privilegiati, rendendo tale gestione libera dal paradigma modernista sotteso a operare tramite un dualismo di oggettività e soggettività. Il paesaggio sarebbe dunque inteso come un’entità oggettivamente data, in contrasto con l’esperienza profonda di chi lo abita. Ci si propone, dunque, di delineare una proposta di miglioramento ispirata alla corrente pragmatista che consideri il paesaggio come unità vivente e concretamente situata della nostra esperienza, in virtù di una riconsiderazione dei concetti di estetica e di esperienza (p. 120). L’oculocentrismo e l’essenzialismo che dominano gran parte della teoria e della pratica del paesaggio ostacolano l’obiettivo di transdisciplinarietà, che parrebbe almeno formalmente condiviso. L’ambito della valutazione paesaggistica, difatti, sembra essere guidato da metodi e prospettive di architetti e geografi, a discapito di altre discipline e altri ambiti altrettanto necessari in tale contesto. Il principale problema, secondo tale indagine, è sostanzialmente la vera e propria “scomparsa dell’estetico” e una ristretta concezione di esperienza (p. 118). Una prospettiva pragmatista, invece, favorirebbe la costituzione di un concetto di esperienza che riguarderebbe ogni singola interazione tra essere umano e ambiente, così come un concetto di estetica che agirebbe sulla qualità di tale interazione. Il paradigma dominante, che mira a considerare il paesaggio come un costrutto oggettivo parcellizzabile, dovrebbe al contrario considerare che il carattere di un paesaggio richiede la consapevolezza di un certo grado di arbitrarietà e instabilità, attraverso una prospettiva che dunque non dia nulla per scontato, ma sia anzi in grado di problematizzare (p. 121). In tal senso, la nozione di carattere dovrebbe render conto, per quanto possibile, di aspetti come la pluralità culturale, psicologica ed esperienziale di un determinato ambiente attraverso una rinegoziazione di esigenze, valori e punti di vista. La proposta qui presentata non mira certo alla fondazione di una prospettiva soggettivista e relativista dell’ambiente, quanto piuttosto all’apertura di uno spazio all’interno del quale sia possibile esplicitare una valutazione del carattere del paesaggio davvero includente, trasparente e partecipata, guidata da un approccio pragmatista dell’esperienza e dell’estetico.

L’ottavo contributo, firmato da Giovanni Matteucci, conclude il fruttuoso dialogo sin qui esposto proponendo di indagare la svolta pragmatista degli ultimi cento anni nell’ambito dell’estetica filosofica. Tale teoria estetica, rispetto alle altre, implica la revisione di strutture fondanti della stessa filosofia moderna, in virtù di una radicale rivalutazione teoretica in ambito estetico. Si tratta, dunque, non solo di una sfida filosofica all’estetica, ma anche di una sfida estetica alla filosofia (p. 125). L’intento del contributo di Matteucci è proprio quello di mettere in luce il senso di tale sfida: riprendendo alcune delle tesi dell’estetica moderna, si procede ad evidenziarne i punti critici attraverso una disamina diversiva di impianto pragmatista. Quello che ne risulta non è un sistema chiuso volto all’istituzione di principi fissi e immutabili, ma uno spazio entro il quale sono ravvisabili i principali impianti tematici di una reale rivoluzione pragmatista in ambito estetico. Una delle tesi di stampo modernista qui presentata descrive la disciplina estetica come finalizzata alla considerazione e alla valutazione dell’arte e dei suoi prodotti, una pretesa che, in un’ottica pragmatista, risulta di per sé essenzialista – in quanto tendente ad attribuire all’arte un’essenza valida per tutti i suoi prodotti – e giustificazionista – perché non in grado di accogliere fenomeni estetici inaspettati, che si costituirebbero al di là di ciò che viene in modo unanime ritenuto esistente. In tal senso, è necessario mettere in discussione la pretesa di istituire un principio che riconosca un prodotto perfetto come standard dell’estetico: l’opera d’arte, come evidenzia Dewey, non è un prodotto oggettivo assumibile come dato, ma mira piuttosto a dare risalto alla modalità dell’esperienza rispetto all’oggetto fattuale, coinvolgendo in un movimento unitario organismo e ambiente. L’estetico avrebbe dunque un’accezione oggettuale, addirittura avverbiale: l’interazione si costituisce esteticamente quando l’esperienza prende forma attraverso le variegate modalità d’interazione tra organismo e ambiente, dove per organismo s’intende un essere vivente di cui si riconosce pienamente la sua immanenza corporea. Un’ulteriore tesi di stampo modernista tenderebbe a rilegare l’estetico al di là dell’ambito percettivo, sublimando il sensibile nello spirituale. Al contrario, il pragmatismo invita a prendere sul serio il senso etimologico del concetto di aisthesis, che dunque non dovrebbe preoccuparsi del prodotto, quanto piuttosto del modo in cui soggetto e ambiente interagiscono intessendo un particolare costrutto esperienziale. In tale contesto, Dewey mette in luce come l’esperienza estetica, e dunque l’opera d’arte nella sua attualità, sia percezione (p. 129). Tale approccio antropologico alla teoria della percezione mette in secondo piano ogni partizione tra differenti facoltà sensoriali, in virtù di un’unità percettiva sinestetica e cinestetica. Inoltre, contrariamente alla teoria secondo cui l’esperienza estetica si costituirebbe a partire da ciò che di determinabile cognitivamente va a presentificarsi, il pragmatismo promuove un’esperienza pre-discorsiva, ponendosi in quello spazio liminale in cui il soggetto, non ancora completamente individualizzabile, costituisce un’unità simbiotica con l’ambiente in virtù di un’interazione immediata, intuitiva e contestuale (p. 133). Ciò non equivale ad escludere totalmente ogni contenuto cognitivo: un simbolo, ad esempio, configura automaticamente una presenza che non rinvia, bensì manifesta. La pregnanza significativa dell’estetico, con le parole di Dewey, non risiederebbe in una presunta funzione semiotica, quanto piuttosto in una relativa aspettualità espressiva. Si può allora parlare di giudizio estetico, ma solo come processo mutevole e mai esatto, mai concluso. Risulta interessante anche la posizione del pragmatismo in merito alla presunta mancanza di significato dell’esperienza estetica teorizzata dalle correnti moderniste: per quanto l’estetico in senso pragmatista escluda le dimensioni del significato in senso denotativo, ciò non implica che sia privo di una carica semantica. Tale carica espressiva, significativa ancor prima che significante (perché si vuole dare rilievo alla significatività immanente al campo, piuttosto che alla denotazione di senso), recupera l’effettiva qualità dell’esperienza nel suo invito a prender parte, nella sua dimensione relazionale (p. 135). La percezione, in tal senso, è da intendersi come prassi immanentemente dotata di orientamento, rilevanza e ricettività performativa, ben diversa dalla passività del riconoscimento fattuale (p. 136). Il pragmatismo non s’impegna a prendere in esame gli aspetti canonici di espressione, forma e contenuto: la nozione di esperienza messa qui in risalto rende giustizia alla pienezza dell’arte, collegando artista e pubblico in un processo di mutuo scambio. L’arte, nella sua creazione e nella sua fruizione, non si costituisce in un binomio soggetto/oggetto, nel senso che non c’è qualcuno che chiama e qualcuno che risponde, cioè non ci sono ruoli predefiniti senza possibilità di mobilità: c’è la partecipazione di un movimento magmatico creato da questa stessa partecipazione che, partecipando, crea lo stesso appello, crea la stessa chiamata.

Peter Dews: Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel

Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel. Book Cover Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel.
Peter Dews
Oxford University Press
2023
Hardback £82.00
344

Reviewed by: David Gordon (Ludwig von Mises Institute)

Peter Dews has given us a work of great depth and detail, concerned especially to show the different ways in which Hegel and Schelling reacted to problems posed by Kant. Further, while fully recognizing the greatness of both Hegel and Schelling, Dews maintains that Schelling’s negative and positive philosophies of nature and history constitute a more adequate response to Kant’s problems than what he views as Hegel’s pan-rationalism, which struggles with difficulty to find a place for concrete events that are really new and are not just instantiations of the endlessly repeated categories of the Science of Logic.

In carrying out his project, Dews shows himself a master not only of the thought of the two notoriously difficult thinkers on whom he focuses but of analytic and existentialist philosophy as well; for example, he draws out with great insight the Schellingian resonances of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. But unfortunately some obstacles confront the reader. Schelling’s thought is often difficult to follow, and I freely confess that I have found myself lost in its labyrinthine complexity. The task of understanding Schelling is even harder, because, as Dews shows in painstaking detail, Schelling often changed his views. In what follows, I shall endeavor to discuss a few themes in the book that strike me as of particular importance, though I fear I will not succeed in doing the book justice.

Kant’s successors agreed that his thought changed fundamentally the way one should regard human beings’ relation to reality.  “The new beginning in European philosophy marked by the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 can be summed up in the claim that Kant re-centered philosophical attention on the structure of the relation between the subject and the object of experience as such. The first Critique no longer asks how the mind can make cognitive contact with a reality assumed to subsist independently of it, or what it would mean to establish an accurate representation of such a reality.” (19) In Kant’s account, there of course remains a distinction between our minds and the objects given to us in experience, but this distinction is one within the phenomenal world, and we possesses no knowledge of the noumenal world. Kant is an empirical realist but a transcendental idealist. One question that Dews does not raise, but which might usefully have been addressed, is whether it is correct to deny that the mind represents a reality independent from it.  To the contrary, he takes for granted that the “Kantian turn” cannot be undone. It would not be a good reply to say that Dews is engaged only in a historical account of how the great post-Kantians reacted to the Critique, as clearly he is not; he wishes to show the greater reasonableness of some philosophical options over others. But this is by the way.

Kant’s new account of knowledge led to problems of its own, and two of these in particular were central to his successors. If we have no knowledge of the noumenal world, on what basis is it claimed that it exists and, in interaction with the categories of judgment and the intuitions of time and space, brings about the phenomenal world? And how is the “unity of apperception” present during this interaction related to the minds of individuals, which are perspectives on the phenomenal world, not the phenomenal world sans phrase? As Dews puts the latter problem, “Evidently, in this account, the I which carries out the combining cannot be equated with the identity of consciousness which results from the process, even though Kant insists that we could not formulate the thought ‘I think’—which is grounded in what he terms “pure apperception”—except as identical subjects of experience. The important point is that our status as subjects cannot consist simply in a formal unity which emerges through a contrast with what is constituted as the objective content of experience. There must also be an awareness of our spontaneity as thinkers, of which some explanation, or at least a plausible characterization, must be given.” (22-23)

How were these problems to be unsnarled? One path was taken by Fichte, who attempted to derive the world entirely from the I, though he constantly changed his views on how exactly this task was to be accomplished. Though Schelling and Hegel were greatly influenced by him, they soon turned away, in considerable part because, far from being a vindication of common sense, as Fichte claimed it was, his approach seemed to dissolve the world into hypotheticals: “At the same time, in the Sonnenklarer Bericht Fichte still tries to persuade his imagined reader and interlocutor that the meaning of statements regarding unobserved events —he gives the example of the movement of the hands of an unwatched clock, while the reader is sunk in reflection—should be given a strictly verificationist analysis . . . But why should this conception, in which the reality of objects and events must be cashed out in terms of counterfactuals confined to the subject-object nexus of experience, be any less an affront to common sense than the metaphysical conjectures which transcendental philosophy was supposed to have overthrown?” (31-32)

Schelling and Hegel came to embrace the opposite way of dealing with Kant’s problems to Fichte. They turned to the object rather than place exclusive stress on the subject, in this way reviving the metaphysical inquiry that Kant had declared impossible, though indeed not die alte metaphysik but a metaphysics in line with the transcendental turn.

Before Dews can proceed with his investigation, he needs to address a problem. An influential reading of Hegel does not take him to be a metaphysician at all, instead seeing him as trying to discover the necessary features of the “space of reasons.” Dews not only rejects this view but reacts vehemently to one of its principal defenders, Robert Pippin, who in the course of expounding his interpretation of Hegel, Dews alleges, is unjust to Schelling: “However, because of his insistence that the ‘problematic of German Idealism,’ as developed by Hegel, was the ‘transcendental problem of self-consciousness’ . . . Pippin had no option but to dismiss the Schellingian tenor of Hegel’s early writings as an unfortunate and misleading aberration. This he did partly by means of ad hoc historical and psychological suggestions to the effect that Hegel was somehow pressurized into adopting Schelling’s position; partly by means of a perverse exegesis of Hegel’s early publications, which tried to cast doubt on their commitment to a trans-subjective (and trans-objective) absolute that cannot be accessed through an abstraction from empirical consciousness in the Fichtean manner, since the result would then remain subjective and conditioned, but only through what Hegel himself terms ‘pure transcendental intuition’; partly by the simple expedient of rewriting Hegel, so that his ontological claims become epistemological ones.” (8) One awaits with interest Pippin’s reaction to this book.

Schelling’s turn to the object led him to a fundamental assault on the Cartesian starting point of modern philosophy. Descartes maintained that by applying his method of doubt, everything except the bare “I think” was uncertain; to regain knowledge of the external world, it was necessary first to prove the existence of God and then to contend that God would not deceive us about what was clearly and distinctly perceived. Schelling rejected this entirely: one’s certainty is not that thinking exists but that one’s body exists, and, further, that one’s body cannot be detached from the world, of which it is an organic part: “But whereas, according to its surface grammar at least, Descartes’ cogito suggests that my existence necessarily follows from the thought of my existence, Schelling proposes a performative analysis: my being is a precondition of my entertaining the very thought of it. As he points out, in the statement, ‘If I exist, then I exist,’ the truth of the consequent is presupposed by the thinking of the antecedent, even though the statement has the form of a hypothetical. Hence it is equivalent to an absolute assertion of existence: ‘I exist because I exist.’ Schelling concludes: ‘My I contains a being which precedes all thinking and representing. It is by being thought, and it is thought because it is; this for the reason that it only is, and is only thought, to the extent that it thinks itself’. . . Schelling both asserts an identity of thought and being, in line with the concept of intellectual intuition, and refers to ‘a being which precedes all thinking and representing.’” (34-35)

If Schelling regards thought and being as united in this way, is he not in danger of reviving the monism of Spinoza, who likewise saw thought and being as attributes of Deus sive natura?  Schelling responds that though Spinoza was on the right track in taking thought and being to be united in one entity, he erred in seeing their unity as mechanical rather than freely developing, changing and growing in a real and not illusory time: “All freedom is lost because, with the subject of being—the primordial possibility of ways of being—now occluded, philosophy can only understand its a priori task as being to track the unfolding of the necessary consequences of unknowingly objectified being-ness. For Schelling, Spinoza is the thinker who expresses this situation in the most stark and unerring way.” (125)

Freedom, then, does not in Schelling’s view arise only at the level of human decisions: to think that it does would be to recur to the Cartesian error. It is present in animal life and indeed in a whole series of potentials, which Schelling expounds in dizzying detail through a series of Potenz, a word that originally designates mathematical powers, as in squares or cubes of numbers, but later comes to mean potentiality. In explaining what Schelling has in mind, Dews makes creative use of the contemporary analytic philosopher Helen Steward. Like Schelling, she sees freedom as present in animals: “The views put forward by the British philosopher Helen Steward are especially relevant in the present context, since—operating strictly within the parameters of contemporary analytical philosophy—she arrives at many positions strikingly reminiscent of those proposed by Schelling in his philosophy of nature and freedom. For example, one of Steward’s main contentions is that philosophical discussions of freedom often begin at too elevated a level, where conscious decision-taking capacities and the exercise of the will are the focus of attention. . . In a challenge to this ingrained tendency, she argues that, to avoid human beings appearing, in the libertarian portrayal of them, as a strange metaphysical anomaly, a view which understandably calls forth deterministic reactions, we should focus rather on the notion of agency. On Steward’s account, agency cannot be a matter of consciousness intervening in a natural world separated from it by a metaphysical gulf, or of purely mental processes initiating physical ones; the applicability of the concept of agency extends quite far into the domain of non-human nature.” (198)

Dews conveys to readers his great admiration for Schelling as a thinker, but skeptical readers may well wonder, “Why should we believe any of this?” In answering this question, Schelling is at his most original and, in my judgment, at his best. He contends, in line with his stress on freedom, that by studying the history of religion and myth, and endeavoring to explain what we have learned, we can discover how God—taken not just as an idea in people’s minds but as a real entity— has developed in time. We could not have deduced this development a priori, but once it has happened, we grasp its necessity. “Schelling also contends, again anticipating Sartre, that speculation can at most seek abductively for optimal explanations.” (177-178) He applied this view in particular to the history of Christianity. “The focus of Schelling’s philosophy of revelation, then, is the historical fact of Christianity: ‘the philosophy of revelation cannot be dogmatic, but rather simply explanatory, just as it must set to work in general in a more investigative than assertoric manner.’ . . Schelling evidently takes what he regards as his uniquely comprehensive and theoretically coherent interpretation of mythological consciousness to have validated the objectivity of his principles, as a hermeneutic framework” (229, 231)

A metaphysical and ethical lesson Schelling takes his study of Christianity to have validated is the value of suffering. By freely accepting his death on the cross, Jesus disarmed cosmic power, symbolized, for reasons I shall not here enter into, as “B”; and thus the crucifixion has significance for the metaphysical development of the universe: “Only a complete renunciation of any claim to superiority or sovereignty on the part of . . .[the principle of unity] as a cosmic power could deprive B of the antagonist it dialectically required to sustain its own identity. . . This complete surrender of selfhood is enacted by Christ in his acceptance of arrest, torture and execution on the cross; only by voluntarily going to his death could he fully disarm B, and thereby bring about the reconciliation of the potentialities, whose tension (Spannung), in their guise as cosmic-psychic powers, obscurely dominated mythological consciousness.” (233)

To those who find Schelling’s ideas strange, Dews replies that they are not without parallel in recent philosophy. As I mentioned at the start, he finds Schellingian themes in the thought of Sartre, in particular the unity-in-difference between consciousness and being: “In order to bring Schelling’s approach to un-pre-thinkable being, and the problems which it raises, into focus, it may help to draw a comparison with a historically more recent and—no doubt to many—more familiar philosophical project which proposes a similar conception of being: that of Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1943 masterpiece, L’être et le néant (Being and Nothingness). ‘Being,’ Sartre states in the Conclusion of this work, ‘is without reason, without cause, and without necessity’ Sartrian being, then, which he further specifies as ‘being-in-itself ‘ (l’être-en-soi) or simply the ‘in-itself ‘ (l’en-soi), in contrast to consciousness or the ‘for-itself ‘(le pour-soi), cannot be regarded as the cause of itself, or as the necessary realization of its own thought possibility. Indeed, in Sartre’s view the notion of ‘causa sui’ is viciously circular.” (173) Schelling also rejects the notion of causa sui.

Schelling’s speculations are of great interest, though they will not be to the liking of those who, like W.V. O. Quine, “have a taste for desert landscapes”; but Dews faces a challenge. If Dews is right, Hegel also developed a metaphysical account of the world, one which attempted by strict logic—of a special kind, it is true—to deduce the essence of the world. Why should we prefer Schelling’s system to Hegel’s? One answer to this question is to deny that Hegel was a metaphysician; but, as we have seen, Dews rejects this with great vehemence. Another answer would be to find flaws in Hegel’s reasoning, but this is not the path that Dews takes.  Instead, he argues that because for Hegel the categories of his Logic proceed in a circle that is endlessly repeated, he cannot acknowledge the genuine significance of human actions. “Hegel’s Logic takes the form of a quest for the reconciled unity of the Idea, which proceeds through the repeated resolution of contradictions. However, the Idea—as Hegel presents it—unfolds with rational necessity: it allows no space for the other dimension of freedom: the possibility to be or not to be. This would not pose a problem if Hegelian logic were able to acknowledge its own limit, as negative philosophy—but this it is constitutively unable to do because it takes itself to have fully articulated, in the Idea, the structure of the immediate ‘being’ with which it began, but which, from Schelling’s viewpoint, is already an occlusion of being-ness as possibility.”

Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel is a major contribution. It will lend support to those who agree with the great twentieth-century philosopher of history Eric Voegelin that Schelling was “one of the greatest philosophers of all times.” (Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, Volume VII, University of Missouri Press, 1999, p.198.)

Gregory Desilet: The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life

The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life Book Cover The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life
Gregory Desilet
McFarland
2023
Paperback
219

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ACHE Chapter of the Society for the History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

Gregory Desilet plunges his readers into a hypothetical debate between the early Jacques Derrida, especially of the ’sixties and ’sevembeenties, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, mainly of the ’thirties and ’forties. It is a debate that seeks comparable concerns with language, meaning, and metaphysics by both intellectuals before pursuing significant contrasts between them. For all his interests in theories of communication and rhetoric, Desilet avoids the vagaries of thematic adaptations or rejections of decontextualised, often provocative statements by paying closer attention to published and unpublished writings emanating from the above-mentioned decades.

The Enigma of Meaning is divided into three main parts preceded by “The Life of Signs” (5-12) and succeeded by “The Signs of Life” (161-177). The first part (14-81) comprises six chapters centred upon Derrida’s response to Wittgenstein on the role and significance of mind, use, interpretation, rules, limits and justification. The second part (84-107) devotes three chapters to contrasting terms informing Wittgenstein and Derrida, specifically public and private, family resemblance and dissemination, and games and “economies” (or degrees of predictability) respectively. Chapter by chapter the third part (110-160) explores both thinkers on five central philosophical themes: other minds, metaphysics, time, truth, and “violence” (introduced by the selective categories of language).

Desilet’s ultimate aim is to view Wittgenstein and Derrida despite their differences as not confronting us with a choice between their respective accounts of language, between their “metaphors of the tool and the trace” (169). Such a choice “refuses to reduce to either/or as it continually slips into both/and” (169-170). Why? Because the “nature of language as a tool changes when supplemented with the … trace” (176). Why, in turn, should this be?  Because the “trace changes the essence of the tool by placing it within a temporal, moving context” and by doing so “the tool’s identity becomes mobile and divided as it acquires aspects from every new context through which it is used” (176). The mutual “entanglement” between trace and tool leads Desilet to declare:

Wittgenstein without Derrida can make language appear misleadingly whole. And yet Derrida without Wittgenstein can make language appear misleadingly broken. Wittgenstein calls forth Derrida, not as opponent but as supplement, drawing out the both-and/neither-nor complementarity of difference. (177)

This review essay on The Enigma of Meaning will initially pursue two complementary points of view regarding a pivotal argument exploited by Derrida without which readers unfamiliar with him could quickly lose their moorings. Next, we shall briefly focus upon the twelfth chapter on time; temporality for Derrida being so crucial to comprehending not only experience but also the nature and role of “the trace.” At the same time, our first three sections shall incorporate passing references to the early transcendentally weighted phenomenological stance taken by Edmund Husserl. In our fourth and final section, we shall examine two alternative approaches to understanding Wittgenstein that appear not to have been fully recognised by Desilet. The first draws upon a student of Husserl, Helmuth Plessner, and the second, upon another interpretation of Wittgenstein misconstrued by Peter Hacker which Desilet omits in his appendix (179-189) devoted to the latter. Considering such alternatives is warranted by a volume that could well become the standard defence for upholding how Derrida’s contribution “to understanding the complexities of language” explicitly “emerges with a metaphysical depth beyond the positions Wittgenstein occupies” (177).

I

Beneath the wealth of topics probed by Desilet’s monograph lies a pivotal line of argument deployed by Derrida which can be construed from at least two perspectives. We shall call the first point of view verbalizable experience and the second revisable binaries or hierarchies. Applied rigorously, both undermine any philosophical attempt to uphold if not access reality, be it questioning “What is …?” (119) in the case of essential meanings and phenomena or first principles and conditions. Let us begin, albeit briefly, with the first perspective.

Desilet’s eleventh chapter takes Derrida’s La Voix et le Phénomène (in the 1973 David Allison translation rather than the 2011 Leonard Lawlor one) as exemplifying Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological avoidance of the question “What is a sign?” However, as quickly becomes apparent, Husserl’s avoidance is quite unlike that in Wittgenstein’s 1933/1934 notes popularly known as the Blue Book (or the Nachlass Ts-309):

If we say thinking is essentially operating with signs, the first question you might ask is: “What are signs?” – Instead of giving any kind of general answer to this question, I shall propose … to look closely at particular cases which we should call “operating with signs.” (16; Ts-309, 26)

Husserl in his First Investigation of Logische Untersuchungen, by contrast, seizes upon a “twofold sense” of the term “sign” which can apply to an experiential “indication” (Anzeigen) and a semantic “expression” (Ausdrücke) (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §§1-16).  Its twofold character need not exclude the possibility that the one sign can convey both aspects. For instance, “signal” may indicate the event or occurrence of conveying an utterance as well as the expression of the meaning of an utterance. Does the same apply to the use of idioms popularly thought to distinguish one language from another? However, to adapt an example from Lawlor (2021, §2, para 3), idioms can confront us with distinct meanings even within the one language without identifying the experience undergone and without ensuring which meaning might act as the actual or essential, proper or true one:

After Héloïse overheard her studious brother Hugues muttering “Il y va d’un certain pas,” she wondered whether he meant “One goes there at a certain pace or with a certain step” or “What’s at issue is a certain kind of ‘not’ or negativity.”

As Derrida (1967) insists, indicative and expressive signs whether idiomatic or not prove to be “a difference more functional than substantial” since they are “signifying relations, not terms” (p. 20; cf. p. 37). This is because the same phenomenon can be apprehended as an expression or indication, “a discursive or nondiscursive sign,” depending upon “the intentional experience [vécu intentionnel] which animates it” (p. 20). Although Husserl regards communication itself as “a stratum extrinsic to expression,” “each time an expression is in fact produced, it communicates, even if it is not exhausted in that communicative role” (p. 20). Furthermore, in Derrida’s terms, “the discursive sign, and consequently the meaning, is always involved, always caught up in [or “contaminated” with] an indicative system” of sounds, marks, and so forth, although “the reverse … is not true” (pp. 20 & 21). Husserl himself (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §1) concedes the expressive and the indicative are “always interwoven (verflochten),” yet “must not …cut off the possibility of a rigorous distinction of essence” (p. 20). However, as Derrida (1967) asserts, this appeal to what is the essential is at best discoverable through and relies upon “the possibility of language” (p. 21); an assertion reminiscent of Wittgenstein (1945, §§371 & 373): “Essence [Wesen] is expressed in grammar” and “Grammar tells us what kind of object anything is.” Moreover, claims Derrida, the “entanglement” of the expressive and the indicative is “always produced” in mutual discourse or actual conversation for two reasons. Firstly, “expression indicates a content forever hidden from … the lived experience of another” (1967, p. 22). Secondly, “the ideal content of the meaning” has been attributed by Husserl to “sensibility”; his phenomenological project having already committed itself to “intentional consciousness” only becoming “revealed … in the reduction of the totality of the existing world in general” (p. 22) (see, e.g., Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. 1, Ch. 8, §49).

II

So far, Derrida has set the scene for detecting “entanglement” or “contamination” as the norm for all communicative acts which Desilet connects to Derrida’s “law of contamination” where, although “oppositional relations do not dissolve oppositions and thereby do not support the use of terms without their antitheses, they nevertheless alter the structure of oppositions by way of supplementation to the structure” (126). The first perspective we labelled verbalizable experience above now begins to be re-enforced by the second one labelled revisable binaries or hierarchies.

Desilet next focuses upon Derrida’s 1966 Baltimore lecture, “Structure, Sign, and Play…” which sees Derrida (by way of Claude Lévi-Strauss) indirectly pursuing the intersection of signifier and signified propounded by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Although de Saussure, unlike Derrida, gives priority to speech (la parole) against the derivative standing of writing (l’écriture), both he and Derrida argue that a sign in sheer isolation cannot signify: it can only do so in relation to other signs. To that extent, the basically syntagmatic and syntactic sequential arrangement of individual signs in intersection with the largely semantic and phonic open-ended association of other signs (see, e.g., de Saussure, 1922, Part 2, Ch. 5 & 6) seems to imply the systemic, self-referential nature of language (la langue). For both theorists, the detectable patterns language incorporates indisputably points to its capacity for repetition. As we find Derrida declaring, “A sign which would take place but ‘once’ would not be a sign” because as an “event” it would “mean an irreplaceable and irreversible empirical particular” (1967, p. 50). He then concludes,

A signifier (in general) must be formally recognizable in spite of, and through, the diversity of empirical characteristics which may modify it. It must remain the same,  and be able to be repeated as such, despite and across deformations which the empirical event necessarily makes it undergo …. But it can function as a sign, and in general as a language, only if a formal identity enables it to be issued again and to be recognized. This identity is necessarily ideal. (1967, p. 50)

Why does Desilet focus upon the Baltimore lecture? Because it illustrates the oppositional relationship between signifier and signified of the sign itself to the point of modelling “the structure of every opposition” (127). To cite Derrida himself on the paradoxical consequences of attempting “the metaphysical reduction of the sign” which “needed the opposition it was reducing”: “The opposition is systematic with the reduction. And what we are saying here about the sign can be extended to all the concepts and all the sentences of metaphysics, in particular to the discourse of structure” granted that there were and still are “several ways of being caught in this circle” (1966, p. 281). Without the opposition between signifier and signified, there can be no sign; without the sign, there can be no discourse, leaving Desilet to elaborate that the

nature of the particular oppositional structure between the signifier and the signified is … complementary such that the signifier and the signified form a system where one cannot exist without the other and each cannot be reduced to the other without effectively destroying the system, without destroying the sign and its functionality. (127; cf. Derrida, 1967, p. 51)

Furthermore, he continues, the “logic of opposition … posits no pure instance of either pole of the opposition” which, in turn, implies that “every presumed singular identity contains the seed of its other within its essence” (128). Even casual occasions can reveal how postulating, say, a hierarchy of culture over nature is by virtue of their binary interdependences always revisable:

When Héloïse began teasing Hugues by saying, “Culture can always destroy nature,” he immediately retorted, “Yet without nature there can be no culture.”

At this juncture, we shall leave aside the transcendental and eidetic reductions comprising the phenomenological reduction characterising Husserl’s project pursued by Derrida and succinctly summarised by Desilet (e.g., 121). Nonetheless, readers may well question why Desilet’s eleventh chapter does not overtly confront the accusation notably raised by Martin Dillon (1995) that Derrida remains guilty of assuming another kind of reduction. In effect, this suggests that both Husserl and Derrida exploit a methodology of reduction. According to Dillon, Derrida employs a methodology of “semiological reduction,” one which involves an “ontological bifurcation which sets language in a realm apart from perception and denies reality” to the “world as perceived” because it is “displaced by the world as inscribed in language” (1995, p. 100). (Here, Derrida, as previously discussed, disputes the realm of indicative signs which, even in moments of self-directed monologues according to Husserl’s First Investigation of Logische Untersuchungen, are communicatively prelinguistic because “we live in the experience of the object” (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §8).) Alternatively expressed, Dillon regards semiological reduction as “driven by an argument based on the transcendental function of signifiers” (1995, pp. 19 & 35). Why? Because cognition if not consciousness “presupposes identification which presupposes a formal ideality,” be it a concept, an essence, or a signifier (p. 19). As Dillon warns his readers from the outset of his monograph, a semiological reduction appears to beg two questions. One is “the question of the re-identification of signifiers themselves” and the other is “the question of how the play of signifiers temporalizes and makes history possible” (p. 13).

Before briefly turning to Derrida on temporality in our next section, what follows were Desilet to accept Dillon’s critique? Would he need to concede the degree to which “intentional consciousness” implies that there is an experience of something? By so doing, would he also need to concede that the experiencing subject need not be entirely removed from the “world as perceived,” from the community of persons, especially when the expressive, as distinct from indicative signs visible in nature, “extends beyond mere indication in its capacity to communicate meaning from one subject to another by means of a system of exchange … organized through structure (grammar, syntax) and categories (meaning, concepts)” (120)?

III

For those still searching for a singular absolute transcending all possible oppositional relationships, not only must they transcend the signifier-signified nexus of language but the quest for absolute unity also needs “the absence of time” (131). Returning to the “most disconcerting” First Investigation of Husserl’s phenomenological project, according to Derrida (1967, p. 56), particularly where the temporality of experience is juxtaposed with deictic or indexical expressions such as “I” and “now” which “shift with the occasion” of their utterance, they also have a fixed meaning such as “the person currently speaking” and “the present time” respectively. Yet, semantically speaking, as Husserl realises, shifting and fixed meanings cannot be invariably substituted for each other in all circumstances (Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. 2, Ch. 3, esp. §26). Derrida criticizes the conflation of “pure ideality” with temporality in Husserl which “signifies the certainty, itself ideal and absolute, that the universal form of all experience (Erlebnis), and therefore of all life, has always been and will always be the present” (1967, p. 53). On the contrary, suggests Derrida, “The I am, being experienced only as an I am present, itself presupposes the relationship with presence in general, with being as presence. The appearing of the I to itself in the I am is thus originally a relation with its own possible disappearance. Therefore, I am originally means I am mortal” (1967, p. 54). Whether such an original meaning holds in indexical or deictic cases—for example, Hugues’ present statement (to Héloïse’s query “Are you there”?) “I am there,” let alone the past “I was there” and the future “I will be there”—remains open to debate.

Given that time and experience are interwoven, it is commonly understood that every experience occurs in present time, in the “now.” Although what happens now is a distinct event different from any other we have ever experienced, yet, in the present, we can recollect the recently past and/or anticipate what is about to happen. Because what we experience now can be immediately recalled, it is repeatedly re-identifiable, such repeatability enabling us to anticipate the same thing happening again. Hence, from Derrida’s perspective, what is happening now also does not differ from every other “now” experienced. In other words, the present experience is both an event and, owing to its repeatability, not an event. Consequently, we cannot have experience in time that does not contain both event and repeatability.

Derrida’s argumentative trajectory ultimately carries the same kind of implication for time as it does for language. Experience of the present (“now”) is not simply reducible to a single experience of something present to us because it contains the re-iteration of what has passed, but no longer present, as well as what is about to occur, but not yet present. In brief, the present, to quote Lawlor (2021, §3, para 3), “is always complicated by non-presence.” This basic instance of repeatability residing in every experience is what Derrida (1967) calls “the trace” (e.g., pp. 67 & 85) which has already been implied in our previous section by the minimally re-identifiable signs of language itself.

Some readers may still have misgivings over a gap in Desilet’s treatment of re-identifiability. For example, how, in practice, does re-identifiability work when, say, Héloïse insists, “That’s my signature, Hermione”? If “signature” is in dispute, then Héloïse’s remark suggests that she is not only drawing a significant distinction between authenticity and forgery, but she is also appealing to her actual role in its inscription. Alternatively expressed, she has in effect adopted what Nelson Goodman explores as the “autographic” conditions for re-identifying her signature, whether she happened to etch or paint it, “if and only if even the most exact duplication of it does not thereby count as genuine” (1968, p. 113).  By contrast, if the sign in question is Héloïse’s above utterance in full, but now embedded within her draft playscript, performative instantiations of this playscript operate independently of its history of production. In this case, Goodman explores the sign as one of a set of complex “allographic” conditions for its (re)identification. Mistaking “what’s” for “that’s” and “bi-” for “my” in a misreading of the playscript by someone, say, an actor, director, or understudy, does not comply with the syntactic and semantic characteristics of its governing “notational” system. From a metalingual point of view, “What’s bi-signature, Hermione” has become a wh-question in the language system.

This and the previous section have concentrated upon Derrida and have particularly alluded to one of his better-known critiques of Husserl’s phenomenological project with which Desilet is obviously familiar. The next section shall shift the focus to alternative approaches to understanding Wittgenstein that appear not to have been fully recognised by Desilet notwithstanding his contention that

Both Wittgenstein and Derrida belong to metaphysical positions presenting forms of dualism, but Wittgenstein, despite his opposition to Cartesian mind/body dualism, still belongs more in the Cartesian modern tradition of oppositional structure whereas Derrida offers a genuinely different metaphysical alternative. (130)

The alternative, Desilet continues, lies in recognising oppositional relations “maximally anticipating the shifting ground of meaning under the influence of temporal succession and changing contextual boundaries” (138) irrespective of whether “temporal succession” is construed as temporal direction of past, present, and future, or as temporal order between earlier and later. Desilet then concludes:

For Wittgenstein, time affects everything, including language, but does so from the outside … For Derrida, time affects language, and everything else: without time there is no thing, no event, no position, no being—nothing. Time and space, time and matter, time and being—these oppositions name a complementarity such that each does not exist without the other. (138-139)

IV

When Wittgenstein contrasts what “behaves like a human being” with a stone or a corpse, he simultaneously raises the question of “how can a body have a mind?” (1945, §§283-284). According to Desilet, this “positions human beings as mind/bodies embedded within the world and community” before making any inferences about “the separation of mind and body” (117). So, let us begin somewhat indirectly at first by recounting the way in which Peter Hacker and colleagues interrogate the longstanding binary distinction between mind and body, between mental and physical phenomena.

Maxwell Bennett and Hacker (2003, e.g., pp. 72-74, 103-106) claim that past and present followers of René Descartes are guilty of committing the mereological or part-whole fallacy. The fallacy is traceable within, for example, Part One of Descartes’ Les Passions de l’âme where the passion of the soul is a mental state or thought which directly results from the activity of the brain that causes us to act. However, that body and mind, or that which has spatial extension and that which has not, can causally interact remains puzzling. After all, as Harry Smit and Hacker (2014, pp. 1080 & 1084) argue, conceptually speaking because “the mind is not an entity of any kind,” the mind having “a relation to the brain” simply does not apply and “makes no sense,” although the brain’s neuronal activities are “a causal condition,” a precondition, for, say, our capacities for remembering, rehearsing, and reciting things. Hacker and his co-authors consequently cleave to Wittgenstein’s contention that an “‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria” (1945, §580). In his 1949 “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment,” Wittgenstein separates the criteria demonstrating someone’s capacity and “the criteria for ‘inner states’”: “Even if someone had a particular ability only when, and only as long as, he [or she] had a particular feeling, the feeling would not be the ability” (vi, §36).

Equally puzzling for Hacker and colleagues is that the mind and/or the brain is predicated as having psychological attributes which belong to the person as a whole. This, in effect, upends the former conception of person in which the psukhē (commonly but misleadingly translated as “soul”) was reconfigured. To quote an earlier article by Bennett and Hacker, the psukhē is no longer construed “as the principle of life, but as the principle of thought or consciousness” (2002, p. 12). After noting that Aristoteles upheld “the principle that only living beings have a psuchē,” Smit and Hacker (2014, p. 1091) describe the psukhē, by contrast with Cartesian conceptions of mind, as “a biological principle.” By identifying psukhē solely with the thinking mind (res cogitans), its other functions as enumerated by Aristoteles were frequently reclassified by Cartesian adherents as material or bodily features (res extensa). Because Descartes conceives of thinking as awareness or consciousness, thinking therefore comprises volitional, ratiocinative, and imaginative powers as well as sensory apprehensions ranging from perceptions to passions. In the first book of the Peri psukhës (On the Soul), we find Aristoteles articulating the conceptual conflation in question:

We speak of the soul [psukhē] as being pained or pleased, being bold or fearful, being angry, perceiving, thinking …. Yet to say that it is the soul which is angry is as if we were to say that it is the soul that weaves or builds houses. It is doubtless better to avoid saying that the soul pities or learns or thinks, and rather to say that it is the man who does this. (408b, 11-15)

It is a conceptual confusion which, outside “secondary” uses typical of child-play, Wittgenstein also depicts by virtue of our enactive and verbal interchanges as follows: “only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious” (1945, §§282 & 281).

On reviewing Hacker and his co-authors, Jasper van Buuren (2016, pp. 226-227) questions what they understand by the mereological relationship between brain and person and between mind and person. To contend, following van Buuren, that Hugues’ brain is part of Hugues suggests that it is not part of the person Hugues so much as part of the person Hugues’ body. In other words, Hugues not only has a body of a particular size and weight which includes mouth and hands, lungs and brain, blood and bones, but he also is and, so to speak, lives through his body. Again, the person Hugues, whilst he continues to live, has a mind, a mind which can be said to belong to him. What the foregoing omits is that Smit and Hacker distinguish the concept of a person and that of a human. Whereas a human is a “rational, language-using” creature with “powers of intellect and will,” a person “is not a substance but a status concept,” a creature “capable of participating in a culture” and assuming “moral agency and responsibility” (2014, pp. 1092-1093 passim). Furthermore, Smit and Hacker warn us against conflating two senses of the human body, namely, “the body (the living organism) that a human being is with the body (the somatic features) that a human being has” (2014, p. 1083). That Bennett and Hacker elsewhere conceded that they are primarily concerned with “human beings qua possessors of those characteristics that render them persons” so that the brain “would be part of the human being” not the person leaves van Buuren unconvinced (2016, p. 226). Without considering whether mental properties might supervene upon physical ones (see, e.g., Robert Francescotti (c.2009)), van Buuren surmises, “Even if the mind is not literally a ‘part’ of the person, there must be some kind of mereological relationship between person and mind” (2016, p. 227). However, given Bennett and Hacker’s appeal to the unifying role of the psukhē “as that which encompasses and transcends the opposition between the mental and the physical,” then how, van Buuren asks, do they explain a person as both a physical and mental being whilst being “encompassed” by that which is “not reducible to the physical or mental” (2016, p. 228)?

In the apparent absence of an answer to this question, van Buuren looks to a student of Husserl whose philosophical anthropological theory has gained increasing interdisciplinary attention (see, e.g., Shawn Loht (2020) in this Journal). Drawing upon the largely non-Cartesian anthropological theory of Helmuth Plessner (1928) regarding “levels of organic life,” van Buuren argues that Hacker has overlooked the “threefold structure” of “our bodily existence” in the world (2016, p. 230). Baldly summarised, at an objective “level” (die Stufe des Objekts), our physical bodies are, firstly, “things among other things in the world” as are plants despite their variability (2016, p. 230). Secondly, at a subjective “level” (die Stufe des Subjekts), each organic body is “a center of sensorimotor activity” in the sense of being “open to the world” in a manner befitting most animals (2016, p. 230). Thirdly, from a positional or perspectival “level” (technically called exzentrische Positionalität), humans are distinctively “at a distance to both the body as object and the body as subject” because generally “we can always distance ourselves from any relationship we have to ourselves or the world” including other persons (2016, p. 230).

For readers more familiar with Wittgenstein, the positional capacity for distancing oneself in order to make connections, perceive relationships, resolve disparities, and the like complements his “concept of a surveyable representation [übersichtliche Darstellung]” which “characterizes the way we present things, how we look at matters” (1945, §122). Surveyability equally underpins Wittgenstein’s dual methodological attention that subsequently comes to the fore upon the interpretive role of interlocutors’ beliefs and upon logico-syntactic rules (1945, §§185ff.). Desilet’s initial focus, it is worth noting, centres upon the latter (45ff. & 179ff.) before summarising others’ arguments for the former (48ff. & 181-186 passim). For Wittgenstein in a critique not unlike Derrida’s, the distortion of surveyability emerges when “the question of the essence” of phenomena, be it thinking or language, feeling or literature “sees the essence of things not as something that already lies open to view, and that becomes surveyable through a process of ordering, but as something that lies beneath the surface” which somehow “an analysis is supposed to unearth” and where the answer claims “to be given once for all, and independently of any future experience” (1945, §92).

However, as Beth Savickey (2014) cogently argues, the foregoing translation of übersichtliche Darstellung endorsed by Hacker is highly contestable. She has at least two reasons, the first concerning the very phrase and the second concerning the Philosophische Untersuchungen itself. Translations of Űbersichtlichekeit are not merely “surveyability” or “overview,” but possibly more so “clarity” or “perspicuity,” “plainness” or “transparency” (2014, pp. 101-102). Similarly, not only “representation,” but also “account,” “depiction” or “portrayal” can translate Darstellung (2014, p. 112). For Hacker, Savickey continues, “the central preoccupation of the Investigations is the nature of language”; for Wittgenstein “it is life (i.e. all the expressions of life in language)” making a “representation of life … inherently dynamic” (2014, pp. 111-112). As Wittgenstein himself pointedly remarks, “Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life? – In use it lives. Is it there that it has living breath within it? – Or is the use its breath?” (1945, §432). Further elaboration can readily be found in Wittgenstein’s Zettel, including, for example, how “to explain our understanding of a gesture by means of a translation into words” and vice versa (1948, §227). This then elicits the remark:

How can these gestures, this way of holding the hand, this picture, be the wish that such and such were the case? It is nothing more than a hand over a table and there it is, alone and without a sense. Like a single bit of scenery from the production of a play, which has been left by itself in a room. It had life only in the play. (1948, §238).

In fact, the Zettel constantly applies other examples of understanding wrought by übersichtliche Darstellung to the arts, especially music and poetry (1948, §§155-176).

Now, let us return to Plessner’s tripartite approach as summarised by van Buuren. It ultimately reveals the limits of the mereological fallacy employed by Hacker and colleagues. Owing to the positional or perspectival capacity to “distance from our relationship to the external world,” we can focus upon “an inner world” and “a social world” in mediated rather than immediate, idealised rather than perceptual ways, a focus conducted as mental thinking rather than as embodied processing (2016, p. 232). Moreover, the above-mentioned subjective and objective senses of the body in effect are dual “aspects of the one and same body” without necessarily implying that one sense is reducible to the other (2016, p. 234). That Héloïse, for example, has a brain and two hands is one way of classifying parts of her body. However, brains are not perceived, possessed, or deployed in the way hands are. Why? Because, as van Buuren succinctly contends, “our hands are part of our first-person world” whose bodily appearance has “immediate practical” meaning when feeling, gathering, moving, touching, and so forth (2016, pp. 234 & 238). However, the “appearance of the brain,” which fulfils its complex functions independently of us, “presupposes the third-person perspective of science” (2016, p. 234). If the foregoing account holds, then Hacker’s mereological accusation falls short. According to van Buuren, it needs to differentiate between two different kinds of part-whole relationships in terms of parts and aspects, namely, that “between a part of the body and the body as a whole” and that “between a partial aspect of our bodily existence and this existence as a whole, whereby the whole is the person” (2016, p. 237).

In conclusion, Desilet’s volume extolling the “metaphysical depth” achieved by Derrida in comprehending “the complexities of language” beyond the logico-linguistic explorations of them by Wittgenstein (177) demands our attention. Nonetheless, one might wonder whether both philosophers were aiming at the same metaphysical trajectory with greater or lesser success. Those sympathetic to Desilet’s conclusion may well question how to determine what counts as “the same” here. Of course, none of us can definitively determine, to echo Bernard Williams,

what counts—what will have counted—as going on in the same … way. Nothing can do that, finally, except the future itself. The Last Word, as always, will lie with what actually comes about. (1998, p. 44)

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