Karl Kraatz: Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie

Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie. Über die Grenzen der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaft und die Möglichkeiten der Philosophie Book Cover Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie. Über die Grenzen der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaft und die Möglichkeiten der Philosophie
Karl Kraatz
Königshausen & Neumann
2020
Paperback 68,00 €
474

Reviewed by: Nikolaus Schneider (Kingston University, London)

In a recently published very short introduction to philosophical method, a British philosopher recounts an Italian continental colleague wondering about the Anglo-Saxon’s understanding of philosophy not being primarily confined to historical research and conduct. His line of thought proceeds as follows: “I am sometimes asked which philosopher I work on, as though that is what any philosopher must do. I reply Oxford-style: I work on philosophical problems, not on philosophers.” (Williamson, 2020, 103)

With regard to philosophical methodology, however, one’s understanding need not be confined to the exclusivity of either the formation of a problem or a purely reconstructive-historical approach. Rather, how problems and historicity are interwoven and, in particular, what counts as a contemporary problem is more often than not determined by a particular understanding of historical conjectures or, at a more abstract level, of historicity itself. A case in point is the work of Martin Heidegger, whose understanding of the relation between historicity and philosophical methodology is put to the test in the recently published dissertation of Karl Kraatz, Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie. Über die Grenzen der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaft und die Möglichkeiten der Philosophie. This work constitutes an exciting case in quarrels concerning the alleged irrationality of Heidegger’s work and questions over the absence of methodology. This discussion, arguably in place ever since the publication of Being and Time in 1927, becomes much more pronounced with the idiosyncratic later philosophy and culminate in Heidegger’s complicity, it is argued, with National-Socialism and his status as a main inspiration for the alleged ‘postmodern‘ destruction of reason and the legacy of the enlightenment. Notwithstanding the constructed character of some of these allegations, Kraatz’s work serves as a defense of Heideggerian philosophy against its harsher critics by offering a walkthrough of selected texts and lectures of the German philosopher’s oeuvre tied together by the questions of truth, justifiability, and cognition. Kraatz’s underlying premise is the ongoing continuity of Heidegger’s work, whose transition from Heidegger 1 to Heidegger 2 is less motivated by a fundamental ‘turn’ than by a deepening and radicalization of previous concerns. Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie serves, in this sense, as a reminder to envision the radicality and uncompromising – though by no means impeccable – impetus of its protagonist, all the while offering a compelling interpretation of Heidegger’s philosophy. To demonstrate the continuing allegiance of Heideggerian philosophy to justifiability, it is Kraatz’s aim to show its necessary thematization of the philosophizing I, something that he terms the “methodological necessity for the experience of individuation” (17, [methodische Notwendigkeit der Vereinzelungserfahrung]). The Heideggerian ontologization of the I and the connection of world to I constitute, for Kraatz, the fundamental thread running through the work of the German philosopher. In particular, it is the I’s avoidance of the full responsibility that is thereby conferred upon it that leads to the formation of various ‘defense mechanisms’, whose negativity is to be overcome to drive the process of philosophizing further (19). It is this thesis that will guide the author’s reconstruction of Heideggerian method throughout the book. Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie is comprised of four parts, with part two being further partitioned into a and b, and accordingly, they don’t amount to equal argumentative importance. I will provide a summary of each of the parts before going to comment more on the composition of Kraatz’s book and his reconstruction of Heidegger’s methodology.

Chapter one acts as an introduction to Kraatz’s thesis, the individual’s retreat of being by way of various mechanisms of delusion or typification so as to yield a ‘happy consciousness’. This is developed primarily through a historical reconstruction of Heidegger’s early lectures and culminates with Being and Time. These reflections are ignited through the central problem of phenomenology: the self-reflective exploration of to what extent cognition is structured by its origin in factual life (30f). Tying together transcendental philosophy with an investigation of the structures of experience it is the question of the scientific nature of this enterprise that proved pathbreaking for the young Heidegger. Phenomenology’s primary subject matter, factical life, preserves character traits that are irreducible to conceptions of modern scientific rationality, for which, in conjunction with the reifying character of science and the corresponding mediocrity of the everyday, a particular method is necessary to philosophize adequately (38). Heidegger proposes an equivalence between the tendencies for typification (or the reification of daily life through routine and mundane monotony) and the continuous prevalence of the theoretical in life. Both cause the suppression of the I. This deadlock can be broken through the merger of a hermeneutic of facticity, or factical life, and a hermeneutic of the self so as to methodologically ground cognition and non-reified objectivity (47). It is the motivational character of the hermeneutic of facticity that elaborates the next step in the argument. Having located the common denominator in the suppression of the I, of which the aforementioned tendencies are examples, these typifications need to be removed to arrive at a true conception of self – a methodological requisite (54f). ‘Something’- as of yet unobtainable – causes the self to seek the bios theoretikos and to avoid self-knowledge, which, in this tradition, amounts to a proper knowledge of the world altogether (68). One can anticipate the central method of Heidegger in its relation toward recovering the I: destruction. Phenomenologically, destruction is accomplished by removing the layers of typification, which are of one common origin, and are the condition of possibility for reencountering the I. What initially sounds like armchair psychology becomes, however, more elaborated upon over the course of Heidegger’s philosophical development and it is to Kraatz’s credit that he pushes the texts for an actual rationale that ties the hermeneutic of the self and of facticity together in a convincing manner (106). It is the conception of the self’s relation to being that eventually enables the German philosopher to merge the hermeneutic of facticity with the self and, subsequently, the further identification of the tendencies for the suppression of the I with the reified status of life as antecedents to the suppressed I (108). The world’s dependence upon the being of the I accounts for the former’s transformation in terms of the configuration of the latter. In Being and Time, where these concerns are most explicitly developed, the method of destruction becomes initiated through the function of care, which drives the investigation further to the negativity of anxiety and being-towards-death (112). Anxiety’s undirected negativity reverses into a positive function, once Dasein grasps its individuation from das Man and can be authentically. This existential is, however, nothing more than the further realization of one’s being as being-towards-death (141). Kraatz puts this into perspective with the consciousness of Dasein’s empty groundlessness. The lack of Dasein is the fact that its thrownness amounts to nothing more than being-towards-death. Inauthentic Dasein takes flight from this realization through the described tendencies of typification, which constitutes its culpability (154).  Conversely, if realized, these characteristics function as modes of foundation in the double sense for Heidegger. Because the world is functionally dependent upon the being of the self, whose access is phenomenologically obstructed, it has to be recovered by realizing its lack, which accomplishes destruction and sets the self free to found the disclosure of the world. In turn, the task is set for Dasein after accomplishing destruction to answer to being’s groundlessness through an authentic grounding of being, letting-be. Only the authentic realization of this relation can ground a true opening of sociality, justifiability for being and, in turn, community.

Kraatz’s reconstruction of Being and Time makes the case to conceive of uncanniness, anxiety and being-towards-death as inhabiting a productive negativity and is, in this sense, of quintessential methodological importance. It is, however, rather negligent of the role of temporality in this process. Insofar as being is time the inversion of the self is to be accompanied by the temporal ecstasies whose elaboration takes place at the end of the book. The precise role of Dasein’s temporal self-differentiation for the role of methodology are, given Kraatz’s concerns regarding his thesis of flight, however, underdeveloped. This significance has been elaborated upon in relation to methodological issues brilliantly by Karin de Boer’s Thinking in the Light of Time. Whereas Kraatz views the counter-ruinant tendency of anxiety and being-towards-death as experiences, de Boer manages to address the temporality of these functions as the opening up of the horizon through which the formal indications of these concepts can be attained (De Boer, 2000, 106ff). For instance, once destruction is initiated through the realization of being-towards-death, Dasein has already entered a mode of ecstatic temporality, being-ahead-of-oneself (De Boer, 2000, 110). This thematic focus notwithstanding, Kraatz’s account of the methodological position of these paragraphs is convincing. The ensuing manifold of conceptions of being is termed Seinsrelativität (being’s relativity), establishing Being and Time as the metaontological fundamental ontology, comprising different regional ontologies (165). Through it, beings remain relative to respective conceptions of the I. This is the methodological function granted to the self-knowledge, which is preceded by the yet ahistorical enforcement of destruction, the removal of the layers of typification, yielding disclosure.

The avoidance of potential misunderstandings and the overall cohesion of the first chapter is the aim of the second. To do so, the need of the Heideggerian account of the relativity of being and his conception of the I to others is underscored. Clearly, the constitution of Dasein is not to be understood as a Tathandlung but binds the conception of a ground of being sui generis together with the concrete engagement of phenomenology. Kraatz deploys the notion of an originary synthesis so as to render intelligible the constitution of the self through being (173). The danger of circularity is managed through the notion of thrownness, which acts as an anchor towards facticity and responsibility. Keeping the original insight of transcendental philosophy, Dasein entertains a ‘theoretical’ and an ethical side to it. Kraatz subsequently draws on the work of fellow Heidegger scholar Steven Crowell to demonstrate Dasein’s sociality and the justifiability constitutive of normative claims, a characteristic allegedly lacking from Being and Time and one taken to be missing from Heidegger’s work generally. The being of the self is taken to be an essentially normative one, leading to the cultivation of a true ethical life and an ideally well-founded community on responsible conceptions of being and self by way of the truthful character of letting-be as disclosure (183ff). Because the I is the ground of the world in the sense of fundamental ontology, Dasein bears responsibility for the being of others, which Kraatz circumscribes, citing Crowell, with the dictum that care is prior to reason (182). Attention is drawn to the similarity of Adorno’s conceptions of a non-instrumental rationality and the interplay between contemplation and normativity and it is in this sense that responsibility functions as the properly a priori foundation for any rational discourse – at least as Kraatz, following Crowell, develops it (195). Against claims for the incoherent character of Heidegger’s work, Kraatz rather demonstrates that it renders legible the constitutive aspects of rationality and normativity altogether. This line of thought, again very much inspired by Crowell, appears almost Brandomian in intention as the making explicit of the conditions of possibility of normativity and rationality.

Part b of the second chapter elucidates on the notion of the relativity of being more broadly conceived and takes the published writings after Being and Time into account. Kraatz summarizes its content aptly by the “fact that the being of the world is dependent on the being of the I,” a move attainable through the ontologization of the I (165). Letting-be functions as a stand-in for the Heideggerian notion of truth as disclosure and ties the ethical and temporal-existential (‘theoretical’) sides together. In passing, Kraatz addresses the frequent strawman that labels Heidegger as a fatal relativist by both sketching out the merely potentially disagreeable properties of relativism and demonstrating how the transcendental approach avoids them. Through the accountability of Dasein, the Heideggerian self is rather the precise opposite of the threat the relativist bogeyman is supposed to embody. Rather, morality and rationality are jointly implicated in this fundamental approach (203). The remainder of the second part of chapter two is devoted to Heidegger’s philosophical development from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, where the relation of the grounding self and the historicity of factical life is expounded. This is further developed through the metaphysical ontic, metontology, which asks fundamentally – ontologically after beings (221). Dasein’s self founds its own thrownness. So as to further thematize Dasein’s relation to thrownness, the modalities of ground take center stage. Sketching a theory of ontological constitution leaves Dasein as the placeholder for the responsibility of ground that is conferred upon it. This decision is described in inherently voluntaristic terms, as one toward transcendental freedom and ground. Hence, responsibility functions as a methodological concept, as it ties the decision towards freedom and the grounding function together (254ff.). As fundamentally tied to facticity this decision takes, however, not place in pure sphere of principles, but in the historical realm of freedom, leading to the formation of a “transcendental-ontological genealogy” (224). The thesis of the flight remains intact, largely unaltered. The tension between thrownness and transcendentality remains constitutive of the ensuing reflections, in particular the three-fold modality of ground or grounding. Part two is concluded with the transition to beyng-historical thought, wherein primary thrownness is attained by way of the event of beyng (283ff.). Accordingly, the responsibility and the concomitant culpability that is conferred upon Dasein is only potentialized: “It is now localized in the ontological dimension, which deals with the possibility of letting-be logical spaces of modalities” (286, [Sie wird nun in der ontologischen Dimension verortet, in der es um das Seinlassen und Nichtseinlassen von Möglichkeitsspielräumen geht].)

Part three carries this walkthrough almost seamlessly forward. Kraatz’s reconstruction commences until Contributions to Philosophy, where these issues are elaborated in a new manner. Relatively little attention is devoted to Heidegger’s second major work regarding its composition and re-formulation of older investigations. The distinction between the ontological and historical dimension of the event, so central to Contributions to Philosophy, appears somewhat flimsy and neither the terminological shift from Dasein to Da-sein is mentioned or explained. (Heidegger, 2012, passim) Rather, convinced to have demonstrated the possibility to move past these shifts and accentuations, Kraatz devotes his attention almost exclusively to the diagnostical parts in Heidegger’s book. Clearly, paragraphs on machination serve more than a cursory function, something that Kraatz acknowledges when he speaks of them as methodological (294).  Subsequently, Dasein is stripped of its (however weak) voluntarism and the relativity of being reconfigured as the release of beyng in historical epochs or conceptions. This later conception aims at filling out all possible onto-logical spaces while itself remaining mostly obscured or, as Heidegger would say, withdrawn. Kraatz devotes comparatively little attention to the historicization of truth this conception accomplishes, other than by way of invoking the transcendental ontological genealogy, but no attention is devoted to whether this undertaking might be in need of new methodological underpinnings other than remaining relative to the self. Taking only Heidegger’s ‘critical accomplishments’ into account, the fourfold or the later seminars in Thor and Zähringen are not mentioned at all. Having conceptualized beyng as the totality of all logical spaces of possibility he continues his critique of the tendencies of typification, the now historical configuration of modernity, to prove the continuity of destruction and its relevance for the self as method (286). Individuation, which the aforementioned process is to accomplish, pushes forward into the concrete, historical situation which can then, presumably, be transformed (288ff.). Kraatz follows Heidegger in declaring modern science as the best possible option for Dasein to conduct its flight successfully. The method deployed mirrors in this respect the one already used beforehand: demonstrating that an otherwise merely negative aspect of analysis is, in fact, crucial to an elaborated issue or could not have been adequately theorized at all were it not to be counter-posed through its negation

Having demonstrated the need for the self to take flight from the ontological responsibility the ground (beyng) confers upon it, modern science and modernity, whose essence the former is supposed to constitute, come into the picture. The ground of all regional ontological spaces – beyng – and the accompanying culpability and responsibility are too much for the lacking being that the I is and, accordingly, invents a mode of worldmaking that obscures this characteristic (278). Kraatz terms this product the ‘implicit ontology’ that underlies modern science and that becomes further obscured as it progresses (308). While the author admirably demonstrates the overall cohesion of said critique in the greater context of the Nietzsche lectures and attempts to relate enframing to the formation of data-science as the pinnacle of that process, the chapter appears rather tame in comparison to its precursors both in terms of significance for the book’s overall topic and contribution to scholarship (385ff). It acts, rather, as an exemplary demonstration of the possibility of this beyng-historical destruction, tying together the critique of technology or machination with the reading of Nietzsche as the closure of metaphysics and the advent of modern science. Though admirable in depth and rigor, it does rather little in comparison to push the investigation of methodology further in thematic terms.

Chapter four ties the aforementioned questions over methodology and justifiability together. Refuting the influential claims of the irrational character of Heideggerian philosophy made by Habermas in the Philosophical discourse of modernity acts as the threshold for setting Heidegger’s philosophy and functions as a summary and conclusion of the survey – something that is achieved thoroughly and convincingly. To recap, Heidegger’s method is conceptualized as a process of individuation through the mechanism of an experience of destruction which aims at removing layers of said experience and enables a formal indication of different concepts. The conceptuality of philosophical cognitions is thus not abandoned; Heidegger merely transforms the concept sufficiently so as to yield a different understanding of experience and of itself. What it achieves is a conceptual demonstration of the freedom of Dasein. Kraatz frames this as individuation and the struggle of a self toward existential orientation or, more negatively, the avoidance of that experience. The later Heidegger’s chief merit lies in historicizing that experience or relation between Dasein and its ontological epistemology by making recourse to an inaccessible origin or absolute ground, beyng. As has been mentioned, the different ‘negative’ instances of typification drive the analysis itself forward as ‘obstacles’ to be overcome and are, in this sense, themselves of methodological relevance, as Kraatz repeatedly insists with regard to, for instance, modern science. For the author, the innovation and radicality of the German philosopher lie thus in the possibility to provide justification of both practical and theoretical instances while avoiding the counter-intuitiveness and abstraction of more traditional framings of transcendental philosophy. Against what might be perceived as an all-too sympathetic approach, Kraatz does lament the tendency of Heidegger to largely abstain from clarifying these methodological and grounding theoretical attitudes as well as his continuing denial to expose oneself to criticism from other philosophical positions. While this abstinence is philosophical it does make for appearance of esotericism and a secret doctrine.

While Kraatz’s book is admirable for its insistence for justification towards and competence of Heideggerian philosophy, what remains missing, however, is an explicit reconstruction of the Heideggerian methodology within the greater context of historical approaches to the subject. Although a brief paragraph addresses the “historio-philosophical place of Heidegger’s philosophy” (416) this glance refers only to Husserl and, given the similar thematic of a critique of reified life, developments from the Frankfurt school. This is all the more surprising given the title of the chapter. In the following one, Kraatz once again reiterates the basic concepts of Heidegger’s philosophical methodology cognition, truth and justifiability. An elaboration of the extent to which the method of the German philosopher is to be conceived of as a radicalized version of neo-Kantianism, phenomenology or existentialism would have shed light on its novelty. This would involve a negotiation of these different forms of philosophy and their respective methods, read with recourse to Heidegger’s engagement with the former two and how he remains potentially indebted to them. Despite the fact the Heidegger’s philosophical development marked of course decisive breaks with both Neo-Kantianism and phenomenology it would have been interesting to see the extent to which his attempt of releasing himself from the metaphysical tradition was eventually reflected in his approach to methodology. This concerns in particular the Neo-Kantian notion of a history of problems whose similarity to the ‘history of beyng’ is rather apparent. This omission is all the more unfortunate given the various programmatic titles of Heidegger’s lecture courses and publications such as The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, and the frequent invocation of philosophy as ‘questioning’. This reflects in the last instance Kraatz’s own concept of methodology, which, although frequently invoking the triad of justifiability, cognition and truth, does not seem to take this aspect of Heidegger’s philosophy worthy of further investigation. Hence, terms such as ‘problem’ or even the more Heideggerian ‘question’ are largely absent in terms of thematic concern.[1] Guiseppe Bianco contraposes this difference and similarity succinctly:

Heidegger’s philosophy started to be dominated by a series of structuring oppositions: he juxtaposed the Neo-Kantian conception of the history of problems (Problemgeschichte) with his history of being (Seinsgeschick), and philosophical “problems” (Problemen) with a set of ontological “questions” (Fragen). In a regressive series he related the “guiding question” (Leitfrage) proper to philosophy qua metaphysics (“what is the being of entities?”) to a “basic question” (Grundfrage) concerning the ground of metaphysics (“what is the meaning of being?”), which he then related to a final “ontological question” (Seinsfrage) concerning being (“what does it mean to be?”). […] Heidegger’s dual operation of the “repetition” (Wiederholung) of problems and “destruction” (Destruktion) of concepts inherited from the philosophical tradition consisted in the syncretism of religious hermeneutics and philology, resulting in an erudite but mostly uncontrolled appeal to etymology. This method attempted to remove (from the Latin de-struere) layers (or strues) that, through time, ossified as concepts, in order to return to “original experiences” and “grounding questions.” (Bianco, 2018, 20f.)

While it would seem unfair to demand a properly historical recontextualization of Heideggerian method in the overarching trajectory of early twentieth century philosophy from a book whose primary concerns are exegetical, such an undertaking would perhaps, with the advantage of hindsight, make of Heidegger a more conventional and, in turn, more a comprehensible author. While Kraatz does achieve an eventual tying of the philosophy of Heidegger with the themes of rationality and reasonability it remains open whether historicizing him would not have been the more fruitful approach rather than to provide textual coherence. This circumstance is reflected in the literature the author draws primarily on: with the few exceptions of avowed names of Heidegger scholars or pupils the book makes reference primarily to the quasi-analytical reconstruing of Heidegger in certain places of Germany and the United States. Crowell is a case in point here. This fact is not necessarily one to be lamented – it just puts Heidegger closer to someone like Brandom than, say, Derrida.

This criticism notwithstanding, Kraatz’s study is remarkable in its rigor, clarity and cogency. Whether one concurs with Kraatz’s central thesis that Heideggerian philosophy ultimately occupies a therapeutic, almost ‘eudaimonic’ relevance for the self or not, his reading is remarkably coherent in terms of exegesis and formulates a new approach in Heidegger scholarship. Although the later part of the oeuvre is put in second place pursuing the outlined approach and devoting an independent study of it might shed even more light on the constructive part of Heidegger’s work and Kraatz’s reconstruction. While the aspect of methodology proper is primarily viewed in the purview of destruction and its relation to the negativity of the tendencies of typification, or their methodological position, the account exposes various options for developing its approach further and in different directions. The book constitutes a valuable resource concerning the legacy and continuing relevance of its subject and puts a challenge to all those negligent approaches and readers who dismiss Heideggerian philosophy out of hand because of its mere appearance.

Bibliography

Bianco, Guiseppe. 2018. ‘The Misadventures of the “Problem” in “Philosophy.” Angelaki 23 (2): 8-30.

De Boer, Karin. 2000. Thinking in the Light of Time. Heidegger’s Encounter with Hegel. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Feher, Istvan M. 1997. ‘Die Hermeneutik der Faktizität als Destruktion der Philosophiegeschichte als Problemgeschichte. Zu Heideggers und Gadamers Kritik der Problembegriffes.’ Heidegger Studies 13: 47-68.

Heidegger, Martin. 2012. Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Kraatz, Karl. 2020. Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie. Über die Grenzen der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaft und die Möglichkeiten der Philosophie. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

Williamson, Timothy. 2020. Philosophical Method. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


[1] Feher provides an elaboration of the preference of questions over problem for Heidegger’s methodology, although this issue would need to be configured differently for the later philosophy.

Philipp von Wussow: Leo Strauss and the Theopolitics of Culture

Leo Strauss and the Theopolitics of Culture Book Cover Leo Strauss and the Theopolitics of Culture
SUNY series in the Thought and Legacy of Leo Strauss
Philipp von Wussow
SUNY Press
2020
Paperback $33.95
402

Reviewed by: Andrew Oberg (Associate Professor, Faculty of Humanities, University of Kochi, Japan)

The “Faith”-ful Social: von Wussow on Leo Strauss’ Legacy

 

I. Orienting: A Premise

Philipp von Wussow has given us an excellent and engaging study of Leo Strauss’ oeuvre in his compact and accessible Leo Strauss and the Theopolitics of Culture (SUNY Press, 2020). In the below, although I will consider the book generally, particular focus shall be given – as von Wussow himself does – to the centrality and importance of Philosophy and Law, Strauss’ publication of 1935, and then to a lesser extent his 1967 talk/essay “Jerusalem and Athens: Some Preliminary Reflections”, which repeated Philosophy and Law’s underlying thematic thrust. With the reader’s permission I will endeavor to do so from my own perspective, one prompted both by Strauss and by von Wussow’s interaction with Strauss, a viewpoint which situates itself around the idea that, as with every human structuring, politics of course always gets involved in religion; but further: religion itself (as revelation, as a social(ly-oriented) phenomenon) is political. What this means for praxis, ritually and conceptually, we shall try to draw out, and thus we join the game of Strauss that von Wussow teaches and illumines. While we may be unlikely to find any hard conclusions therefrom, we might nevertheless arrive at some enlightening reflections of our own.

II. Philosophy and Law: Finding the Religiopolitico

Von Wussow declares this text to be “one of the greatest philosophical works of the twentieth century, along with the Tractatus, Being and Time, and Dialectic of Enlightenment” (p. xvi; referencing Wittgenstein 1921, Heidegger 1927, and Adorno and Horkheimer 1944, respectively). These are extraordinarily illustrious fellows, and the assertion immediately alerts us to the esteem with which von Wussow holds Strauss’ book. We are advised to read Strauss as an author who made “directional” arguments, indicative of and instructional on comprehensive movements. He wrote philosophy as drama, with the concepts being the characters in the play (and I do intend “play” here in both senses of “theatre” and of “amusement”); already we may remark on how such an informed approach stands philosophy against yet within religion: exterior to the sturdiness of a belief as that-which-is-accepted (full stop), but interior to the shifting flow(s) of a being-in-the-world. Strauss indeed is said to be a proponent of the rational in the ‘reason versus revelation’ debate (as “Jerusalem and Athens” would consider too), but the outright impression one gets from von Wussow is that this was never definitively settled for Strauss, that even for him the question was one of (perhaps undecidable) struggle. Each was a type of wisdom, and the tension in the dialogue between we shall need to consider in the next section of our review. Still, for Strauss (and, we might add, for us) it is necessary for philosophy to differentiate itself from the thinking of a numinous lifeworld; whether or not such is truly (totally) achievable in any philosophy which includes a robust metaphysics and does not merely parade logical tools and/or associated analyses as its entirety may also be an open question. (In philosophy – as we who practice it know all too well – sooner or later one often simply has to take a stand; at such times any boundary between that “stand” and an arguably quasi-faith type “belief” is a blurry line at best, a broken one at worst.)

Von Wussow begins by giving a background to the book and its historical setting, doing so in a very accessible manner which is open to all readers regardless of familiarity with Strauss and his works (and kudos to the author are well deserved on this). Moving first through the text’s Introduction we are informed of Strauss’ fundamental position that “compromises and syntheses are untenable”, that “a new movement remains entangled in the premises of what it opposes” (68), and thus in his (i.e. Strauss’) reaching back to Maimonides and medieval reasoning in the manner he does a way of thinking/approach might thereby be found which need neither be one of the Enlightenment nor of the orthodox sort vis-à-vis a rational methodology fit for the present age. The insight here Strauss yields is that:

one can believe in miracles, in God’s creation of the world, and His [sic.] revealing Himself [sic.] to man [sic.]; and there is no decisive counterargument as long as one believes in a thorough and sincere manner… Religious or nonreligious beliefs and attitudes are a matter of choice, an act of the will. Religious and antireligious discourses are a matter of rhetorical persuasion. (71)

Every matter within these discourses (and indeed every other) are already interpreted, we come to understand, and interpretation itself is a matter of the will (this point is given its Nietzschean due); hence ultimately, we might infer, the entire issue – the “clearing” in which we stand and wherefrom our vantage point extends (stealing (and slightly distorting) some Heideggerean imagery here) – becomes non-consciously derivative from the default influence(s) of said prior choice (employing our own terms now; the emphasis being on the aspect’s absence of cognitive awareness while it yet retains a deep psychological reach). Let us then think about what it might entail to “take a stand” in such a manner in light of our own opening (our orienting) central premise that religion is itself political.

Maimonides (or Rambam) and his Islamic predecessors and contemporaries (a member of the Sephardic Jewish community, he was born in Spain in 1138 CE and died in Egypt in 1204 CE, living in and under the rule of the Islamic Golden Age) placed philosophy (“reason”) as justified through revelation, indeed even divinely commanded to be pursued by those capable of it (the born thinkers; this is an elite). Thus for these medieval theo-philosophers there simply was no ‘battle’ to be had between reason and revelation: one stood under the other, and it took its place and purpose from that positioning, as did its practitioners. Although – to my knowledge – this was not explicitly stated in the historical record that has been bequeathed to us, upon examination the profoundly political stance of such is manifest: reason/philosophy is hereby a device designed (by “Heaven”?) to be employed for the service of revelation (religion), as both apart from yet paradoxically housed within. (We might further add that in this facet at least it is not terribly unlike how Christian medieval theologians were arguing, only with very different means and – as compared with the Christians – vastly more unfettered in form). Philosophy here, as under Law (Torah), is one of a suite of tools for the service of religious self-structuring and religiously inflected societal edifice building. This is critically not an interplay, not an interaction, but instead is the twinned existence of religion and the appended political functioning of the metaphysical, the ontological conclusions; in short, the result is an emergent religiopolitico: a singularity. Conceptually, and probably practically, Law does have precedence in that philosophy takes its rationale thence; yet given its divine sanction – and again, even command – philosophy becomes not merely a potentiality of religion but a necessary aspect of it. Revelation instructs (demands) reason to be a part of it; revelation does not ‘birth’ reason so much as bodily adhere it: analysis as a prophetological prosthesis, and that carried always into the social realm. (The call of the prophet may be a voice in the wilderness, but it is one that is heard.)

If the Enlightenment Project was designed to safely rid the world of orthodoxy (but notably, as is visible from such systems as Deism, not eliminate faith per se) – and this orthodoxy is understood as a cipher for Law – then clearly it has failed, as Strauss pointed out, von Wussow discusses, and we can surely agree with. This reflection in itself shines fascinating new light (from an older source) on the current ‘culture wars’ and reaffirms how very relevant Strauss’ book is for our times today, already approaching a century from its publication (which itself is hard to think; 1935 a century ago?). Revelation, religion, the meanings for and in human lives; these are impulses apparently destined to ever be with us (there are echoes here of Pascal’s famous “God-shaped vacuum”). Strauss, in this work, calls on us to return (a supremely Jewish idea: our, everyone’s, teshuvah); not, of course, to an orthodoxy for ourselves, but rather that we re-attune our comportment in facing the challenges that confront us. As von Wussow puts it, quoting from Strauss:

Strauss instructed his imaginary readers to make a change in perspective and consider the possibility that the situation is insoluble only “as long as one clings to the modern premises.” Hence, the entire discourse on orthodoxy and the Enlightenment, and the indefatigable insistence on the insolubility of the conflict between the two, serves as a preparation for the turn to medieval philosophy: “One sees oneself induced…to apply for aid to the medieval Enlightenment, the Enlightenment of Maimonides.” (p. 89; p. 38 in Philosophy and Law)

Having thus placed his audience/partner, Strauss moves to a consideration of his contemporary Julius Guttmann’s efforts on the history of Jewish philosophy, arguing against many of Guttmann’s conclusions based on understandings of the parameters and implications of “culture” (as variously defined, and over whose definition many arguments were themselves then being made, particularly in wider extant scholarly contexts). Here Strauss proposes that religion (and the political) cannot be found within a cultural framing since such “are not spontaneous products of the human mind” but somehow “transcend” culture (p. 97). This is somewhat curious, and unless one is willing (again: a willed, determinedly chosen interpretation) to grant a literalness to revelation (an actual exotericism to it) it is hard to accede that what are ultimately abstractions may exist prior to the brain processing them. Personally I have difficulty agreeing with Strauss on this point since I take whatever numinousness there might be in the cosmos (about which I have no unshakable dogmas) to of necessity work through the existentially given; in this I suppose Strauss might accuse me of being insufficiently Maimonidean (i.e. reason within revelation, philosophy under Law), and he may be right. Perhaps then we have a clear example of the need for the very third path Strauss has been proposing, and I am revealed to be ‘too Enlightenment’ myself.

Strauss continues working with/against Guttmann to present a “resolute return” wherein the political philosopher’s task is to take revelation as relevant; it certainly was heavily influential in medieval thought. For Islamic and Jewish philosophy of the period (which is represented in Strauss by Averroes (Ibn Rushd, 1126-1198 CE), Maimonides, and Gersonides (Levi ben Gershon (or Gershom), 1288-1344 CE)), “philosophy is commanded by the law, free before the law, and bound by the authority of the law… By presupposing the law, the Islamic and Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages are continuously referred to something beyond human reason.” (p. 112; emphasis in the original) A presumption of this sort would obviously provide the foundation for the transcendence which I seem to be having trouble with; our question is: Why accept it? Why should we – in will, in chosen lifeworld interpretation – follow suit? Strauss thinks this allows us to philosophize better, that revelation can therefore become a topic (an object) for reason, but “not the first or most important one…although – or precisely because – the law is not the most important topic of philosophy, it attains a systematic omnipresence in the whole of philosophy”, and – to my mind the most tenuous – “this inconspicuous systematic omnipresence of the law ultimately safeguards the rationality of philosophy.” (117) Philosophy can certainly become midrash (as it were), but Strauss has still not convinced me of why this stance if preferable over one which, for example, simply rejects revelation as a grounding for religion and shears it away from religion, replacing the latter as a culture (product of the human mind) and tabling the former (epoché) for sheer inability to know what to do with it (the struggle over/for a faith). Nevertheless, in its incessant referral to the Law, Strauss saw in medieval philosophy a radical foundation whereby its version of rationalism attained superiority over modern incarnations. Von Wussow very helpfully summarizes Strauss’ endpoint:

for a rationalism with belief in revelation there is no excess of revelation over the sphere of reason. Nothing in the content of revelation transcends reason [recall that the transcendence alluded to above was over culture]. The content is identical with reason, and reason is capable of knowing this content. There is no conflict between reason and revelation. (118)

That last – “there is no conflict” – is perhaps the ultimate consequence in that it therefore ‘solves’ the conflict inherent in the entire revelation versus reason debate, transforming its entirety to the effect that the “versus” becomes an “encompassing”, or maybe even a “cradling”: revelation as mother to reason, whose babe then looks upon her with eyes of a loving search. This establishes Strauss’ other contention – with which I have no qualms about agreeing – that prophetology must be taken as a part of the political. Only thusly, Strauss argues, can there be an explanation for its purpose and “final end”: why else rely on prophets? There is a kind of Platonic element at work here (I am thinking along lines drawn from Republic), but the added layer of revelation certainly does contribute to the interest of the view being espoused. Further, Strauss puts forth that such a comprehension, as against the psychological take on prophetology, enables political objectives to override any mantic ones. This is quite striking, and so let us briefly pause at this juncture: what is being claimed is that the politics – which we understand as social, as policy for the body politic – actually supersedes the divinatory aspects of the prophetic utterance. Reason as within revelation has already blurred the distinctions that might have been made, but ‘the political’ is not necessarily ‘the rational’. (Indeed, looking around one the thought hits that it is hardly ever so!) However, in the doubly tweaked religiopolitico monad we have proposed this does make sense; yet it does so without the need for a substantive revelation, and thus we are still somewhat at odds with Strauss (unless of course I misunderstand him, which is entirely possible).

Strauss has an answer for this, and it too calls upon Plato, in explaining how the medieval philosophers (and therefore too how we ought to become) were contextualized as bound, but thereby unexpectedly free:

The Platonism of these philosophers is given with their situation, with their standing in fact under the law. Since they stand in fact under the law, they admittedly no longer need, like Plato, to seek the law, the state, to inquire into it: the binding and absolutely perfect regimen of human life is given to them by a prophet. Hence they are, as authorized by the law, free to philosophize in Aristotelian freedom (p. 130; pp. 132-133 in Philosophy and Law; emphases in the original)

By having the outlines, their being-in-the-world, defined and determined at the outset through revelation (or “revelation” if we do not will the belief as such), philosophers of this ilk are declared liberated to thereby pursue other issues. Yet I must protest here that for me at least the really crucial question in being is that of being: I want to search a being-in-the-world, even if I recognize how much easier life is in having such gifted. Perhaps I am ungrateful in this desire, but the reader may understand. Whatever we might or might not feel in this regard, I think von Wussow is correct to highlight that Philosophy and Law “forces us to rethink the social and political responsibility of philosophy” (132), and if our small offering in this review (religiopolitico) is at all valid then that duty must apply within any religious system possibly even more so than it does without, for the two – the religious and the political – are not two, they are one.

III. “Jerusalem and Athens”: Thinking further on the Religiopolitico

Von Wussow judges “Jerusalem and Athens” to be a beautiful text but one without a great deal of depth; in the large I agree. It is very readable, highly interesting in parts, contains some wonderful remarks and comments, but does not boast any particularly provocative prods. Perhaps this is due to its inception as an inaugural address in a series of public talks (the Frank Cohen Memorial Lectureship at City University of New York), or for other reasons personal, mundane, or the like. (The entirety can be found in the collection: Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity: Essays and Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought, ed. and intro. by Kenneth Hart Green (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1997); pp. 377-405.) As von Wussow explains, “the guiding question of ‘Jerusalem and Athens’ is how to approach the Bible and Greek philosophy.” (p. 262; emphases in the original) Does one favor one or the other? It seems impossible not to; yet which? Why? On this query of method, Strauss begins by stating that, “By saying that we wish to hear first and then to act to decide, we have already decided in favor of Athens against Jerusalem” (in Jewish Philosophy, p. 380). In other words, through the assertion of an initial openness one has – possibly without meaning to – enacted a closure: revelation is shut off because it, by its nature, requires an initial act of acceptance, not restraint. Choosing not to choose is itself a choice, and it is the philosopher’s (Athens’) choice.

Yet when regarding this topic, this “and/versus”, we are dangerously apt to apply anachronisms, and these manifest clearly in the “tension between its [the West’s] double heritage [i.e. Jerusalem and Athens, revelation and reason], or its two foundational traditions”, as per von Wussow (271). For example, it is a simple enough matter for a contemporary person to reject miracles outright, without the slightest bat of an eye, and thence dispose of large parts of revelation and its sacred books; Strauss, however, wisely teaches that “we cannot ascribe to the Bible the theological concept of miracles, for that concept presupposes that of nature and the concept of nature is foreign to the Bible.” (Jewish Philosophy, p. 381) Hermeneutically we start from our “prior defaults” (as above), and busily go about reading into what was never intended (since not thought: disparate “prior defaults”) in any body of a claimed revelation. How does this affect the debate, the dialogue, the flowing and the tremor betwixt letter and eye?

It is a matter of some importance, particularly for Strauss, of whom von Wussow writes, “By the late 1920s, Strauss had convinced himself that the conflict between belief and unbelief was the everlasting theme of philosophy”, and that “the right and the necessity of philosophical reason could become evident only vis-à-vis revelation” (i.e., it could only be questioned or challenged on religious grounds; 272 and 274, respectively). Reason (philosophy), it seems, is not only justified by revelation (religion) – as with Maimonides – but actively needs it to establish itself; one apparently cannot even have reason without revelation, if we correctly follow this lecture and its place within Straussean thought. Again, though, we have hereby circled back to the issue of transcendence, and whence to our same doubts, our troubles – our discomfort – in what appears a necessitated embrace of the unempirical and the aethereal; what (for or by us) is to be done? Strauss, regarding the “ingredients” of the admixture here (Plato/reason/human nature as unchangeable on the one hand (Athens) over that of prophets/revelation/human nature as changeable (Jerusalem) on the other), states: “Since we are less certain than Cohen [i.e., referencing the context of the Memorial series] was that the modern synthesis is superior to its pre-modern ingredients, and since the two ingredients [i.e., the two triads just mentioned] are in fundamental opposition to each other, we are ultimately confronted by a problem rather than by a solution.” (Jewish Philosophy, p. 399) Or, as von Wussow expresses it, we arrive at a “standstill”: summarizing the figurative argument of “Jerusalem and Athens” as a “Socratic atheism” – i.e., the restraint on human thought and the refusal of divine thought preceding revelation (and that last presumably agreed upon as being undeniable) – he writes: “The enigmatic figure of Socrates assisting the god by trying to disprove the god’s reply [re: Apollo proclaiming through the oracle at Delphi that no one was wiser than Socrates, which Socrates then set out to challenge], only to find out that it is true, is the image in which the whole semantic process eventually came to a standstill.” (282)

In reading through and trying to work out along with Strauss – ‘along with’, but also alongside-cum-beside(s) (paralleling) him – this abiding doubled call of revelation and reason as alternative foundations, we discover the forked path remains forked (a dead end?), and we are yet adrift. That is, unless perhaps we might trade out that conjunctive in the title (and further still: all conjunctives) such that there is neither an “and” nor a “versus” in our “Jerusalem…Athens” binary, but rather a grouping more akin to: “Jerusalem under/with/enclosing Athens”, or “Athens on/of/in Jerusalem”. If we decide here – if we will it – a positivity, then we might understand the complex as a required never-ending work in progress, a dialectic bound to give more strength than it takes. (To borrow a phrase from Torah study: We turn the religiopolitico and turn it again, for all is in it.). We might do this; we might seek a resolution through an either/both and a neither/nor: it is a choice, it is a will, it is a belief. Religion is political, reason is political; what politics do we want? What social do we seek?

IV. Generalities: Contents and Tangibility

Strauss, in later university courses he gave on his chosen “great books” of collective Western heritage, encouraged his students to read so that they might “free the text from the debris of its own afterlife” (285) as von Wussow puts it, and naturally he would have us do that for Strauss too; and so we should, indeed. In this excellent labor on, over, and within the decades of Strauss’ scholarship, von Wussow surveys: Part I: Strauss’ relationship with the Neo-Kantians of his time, the then relevant debates over the categorization and systematic elements of ethics and politics (five chapters); Part II: the main work Philosophy and Law (in great detail, as expressed above; four chapters); Part III: his arguments on “German Nihilism” and the roots of National Socialist thought (two chapters); Part IV: ideas on culture and relativism (especially as related to developments in anthropology; four chapters); and Part V: “Jerusalem and Athens” (one chapter) with a final conclusion on the “natural way” of reading (one chapter). Throughout von Wussow’s book is highly readable, always enjoyable, and often quite gripping. Von Wussow writes with evident passion for his topic and displays an enviable erudition.

Physically speaking (I was sent an e-copy for review, but who can stomach e-copies? I bought the paperback), the work is very attractive, packaged exceedingly well by SUNY Press in a pleasant layout with a becoming format, logically adjusted margins and a font and print size that are easy on one’s eyes (if only Routledge could learn a thing or two from SUNY on these matters). As one might expect, there are numerous notes to the main text; these are grouped together in a single section at the end. While I typically prefer footnotes, in this case von Wussow’s extras beyond the usual referencing material are not overly done, and thus they might be skipped without any harm coming to one’s comprehension of and appreciation for the subject. Here again we can compliment von Wussow and the production team. I would happily recommend this book to any reader interested in twentieth century German and/or German Jewish thought and culture, its interstices with American schools during and after the Second World War, and of course with the nexus that is religion and politics as bound into culture: what we have called the religiopolitico. To such may we find ourselves “faithful”.

Hanneke Grootenboer: The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking

The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking Book Cover The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking
Hanneke Grootenboer
The University of Chicago Press
2021
Cloth $35.00
240

Reviewed by: Kayla Dold (Master’s of Arts student in the Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario)

Why is there being instead of nothing? Hanneke Grootenboer’s The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking takes this Heideggerian question as it’s starting point. Like Martin Heidegger, Grootenboer’s task is to reflect on what constitutes philosophical thinking about being. In a discipline like philosophy, with its wide array of methodological approaches, traditions, and applications, it is easy to lose sight of simple yet profound questions like Heidegger’s. In this sea of approaches, Grootenboer’s book provides an accessible, clear, and innovating means of thinking about being by revealing a new philosophical subject: artworks.

In a succinct five chapters, Grootenboer describes a means of doing philosophy with pensive images. This is an ambitious task; however, for all its brevity (its body is approximately 170 pages), The Pensive Image remains philosophically vigorous and firmly rooted in the philosophical traditions that precede it, including German idealism, romanticism, phenomenology, post-structuralism, and of course, modern and contemporary art history. It is a blend of modern Western philosophy and art history; while Grootenboer discusses some contemporary artworks (like Richard Estes’ photorealism in chapter five), their focus is on seventeenth century Dutch artworks and modern continental philosophy. Its blend of continental philosophy and modern art produces a hybrid means of philosophizing and expands our conception of what is philosophically relevant to include modern artworks.

Despite their blend of philosophy and art, Grootenboer’s attention to detail and clear prose is consistent throughout, making The Pensive Image a valuable resource for art historians, philosophers, students, and the general public. Its clarity and wide range of commentary makes The Pensive Image interesting and accessible for a general audience, while its theoretical contributions to philosophical methods makes it valuable to the undergraduate and highly trained researcher alike.

Grootenboer’s The Pensive Image describes a novel philosophical subject—the pensive image—and prepare it for application in art history (15). Grootenboer justifies this task by arguing that philosophy (insofar as it is interested in reflection, being, essence, and thinking) needs artworks to articulate complex and layered clusters of concepts that are difficult, or impossible, to articulate with words (5). Visual arguments articulate clusters of concepts that are related yet cannot be systematically explained using cause and effect, logic puzzles, or thought experiments. Therefore, visual arguments add invaluable tools to our philosophical tool belts; however, this methodological implication is not the book’s sole source of value.

The Pensive Image does not only describe a new philosophical subject and means of thinking about being. Grootenboer’s meticulous invocation of the Western philosophical tradition, ranging from Descartes to Deleuze, offers us clear and descriptive secondary literature on great philosophical minds. The Pensive Image provides excellent commentary on those whom Grootenboer builds their theory (including Descartes, Diderot, Kant, Locke, Hegel, Herder, Goethe, Heidegger, Barthes, Lessing, Rancière, and Deleuze, amongst others). For example, the description of Heidegger’s conception of uncanniness [unheimlich] from Being and Time in chapter three is as clear and succinct as the description of dewdrops on flower petals in chapter four. Its balance between commentary and description makes The Pensive Image an indispensable handbook to anyone interested in the history of the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of art, and their intersection in the Western continental tradition.

While The Pensive Image provides clear and detailed commentary on other thinkers, it is primarily methodological. Despite its engagement with artwork, it is not hermeneutical. Instead, it follows Edmund Husserl’s original phenomenological directive: to pay close attention to things themselves. Grootenboer’s approach depends on describing artworks as autonomous philosophical subjects. Through a careful consideration of images and their effects on their viewers, Grootenboer describes a relationship between artwork and viewer that does not depend on interpretation, cracking a code, or deciphering a message. Instead, Grootenboer pays close attention to the visuals presented—a open door, a vast black background, the translucent shine of dew on a flower petal—and how these direct our thoughts. Throughout The Pensive Image, Grootenboer acknowledges that these effects may or may not have been the intension of the artist (5, 59, 60, 97, 99, 122, 146). Either way, intentionality (or lack thereof) does not change the artwork’s effect, its capacity to mediate our process of reflection, or to direct our thoughts (10-11). Whether or not Grootenboer’s description and conclusions are possible without an interpretive element is the topic for another book; regardless, Grootenboer describes interactions with artworks readers have likely experienced themselves. It is their description of our shared experience of artworks that makes Grootenboer’s conception of the pensive image and its application so compelling.

What exactly is a pensive image, and what are its effects? Grootenboer’s first section, “Defining the Pensive Image,” describes this philosophical subject and justifies its relevance to modern continental philosophy and art history. Grootenboer sets up their description with an account of the relationship between philosophical thinking and artworks over time. They situate the pensive image in two related traditions: the phenomenology and the relationship between modern artworks and contemplation. Thus, Grootenboer does more than simply revive Heidegger’s question of why there is being. They also situate the pensive image in a tradition of phenomenological approaches to art taken by Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1-5).

Grootenboer then surveys the historical relationship between modern artworks and philosophy. Grootenboer describes their thesis as a secular extension of the medieval tradition of contemplation, which uses images as mnemonic devices to transcend the secular domain (3). Grootenboer also notes how many modern philosophical ideas were explained using visual representation, though the intimate relation between art and philosophy generally declines after the seventeenth century (4). Thus, Grootenboer’s thesis revives and expands upon a previous philosophical tradition and is legitimized by its relation to phenomenological approaches to artworks.

The Pensive Image argues for the relevance of artworks to philosophy on multiple levels. Broadly speaking, it argues that artworks are a form of thinking. Artworks offer viewers entrance into a mode of thinking we would not enter on our own (1). This does not mean the artwork offers a particular narrative or meaning but that it inspires a new train of thought (22). Grootenboer writes that pensive images are “those that confront us in such a way that our wondering about the work of art—its subject of meaning—is transformed into our thinking according to it” (6). Rather than offering a narrative, a pensive image offers us the opportunity to think by guiding our thoughts in ways we might not have gone without its inspiration. This presupposes artworks can be effective: they do something to us. Therefore, pensive images are not meant to be interpreted but experienced.

Specifically, The Pensive Image argues that modern Dutch painting includes pensive images that guide our thoughts and reflections on being. (Though its focus is modern Dutch art, the book includes commentary on film and photography that helps us understand how different forms of art are concerned with different questions.) The first chapter, “Theorizing Stillness,” is devoted to describing the particulars of the pensive image as it applies to Dutch painting. The pensive image has two chief characteristics: firstly, while its meaning is indeterminant, a pensive image redirects our thoughts to contemplate being in new ways. It initiates a line of thinking we can follow indefinitely (9). It is not there to draw conclusions but to serve as an opening that allows a multiplicity of ideas to exist at the same time. Secondly, a pensive image visualizes a snapshot in time. This frozen moment, the anticipation of something more that is not visually articulated, is what directs our thoughts (24). A pensive image is therefore characterized by a movement paradox. Its stillness arrests us and from this arrest comes a flow of thought; pensive images generate “a passive, uneasy, and indeterminant state of openness that allows for the unthought to surface” (26).  A pensive image is open, tense, and suggests the possibility of movement (37). It stops our thoughts to redirect them in a new direction undetermined by specific signs or signifiers, meanings or narratives.

If the pensive image does not signify meaning nor tell stories, what does it contain, or, in other words, what is its essence? Chapter two, “Tracing the Denkbild,” answers this question. Instead of a specific signification, the pensive image is the embodiment of thought. This chapter describes different means of understanding an image as embodied thought over time. Through an analysis of stillness, it argues that the pensiveness of a pensive image can be understood as a moment of anticipation (47). Here, stillness is characterized by the theoretical potential for movement, rather than a lack of movement. Thus, tension, anticipation, and potential define a pensive image; it is open, uneasy, and ambiguous. Its openness and ambiguity make the pensive image a valuable philosophical subject worthy of our engagement.

While the idea that painting can be more than images on a canvas is not new, Grootenboer invites us to see painting as a partner in philosophizing that guides us where ‘it’ wants us to go (11). This metaphor of movement, guidance, and journey is central to Grootenboer’s pensive image and recurs through the book. For example, landscape paintings are “maps” that help viewers shape their interior selves, “entrances” into the pictorial realm (2, 1). They invite us to “dwell” within them, they reach out and touch us, set things in motion, and vibrate with potential (5, 26, 43). We are invited to get lost in the image, to rest in it, or to bord it like a vehicle (77, 78). Like Lucy, Edmond, and Eustice in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who are literally pulled into a painting of an ocean, allowing the pensive image to direct our thoughts is like being carried away by a wave (58). The tension between stillness and motion, journey and rest are fundamental to the pensive image.

Chapter three expands upon these relationships to think through what Grootenboer pithily calls philosophy’s housing problem. In this chapter, Grootenboer’s philosophical subjects include paintings of bourgeois Dutch homes and a dollhouse. These artworks provide a place for our thoughts to dwell, or, in Grootenboer’s words, “a home for the philosophical self,” by offering the opportunity to reflect on the permeable membranes between publicity and retreat, inside and outside (79). This chapter describes how artworks serve as metaphorical spaces where we can house our thoughts and subjectivities, thereby solving philosophy’s housing problem.

Drawing theoretical support from René Descartes’ construction metaphor and Heidegger’s conception of dwelling, Grootenboer demonstrates how Emanuel De Witte’s Interior with Woman at a Virginal (c. 1660–1667) and Petronella Oortman’s dollhouse (1686– 1710) host our thoughts. Descartes compares self-reflection to construction: in order to achieve self-understanding, we must clear away old foundations and build anew (81). Descartes himself formulated this approach while traveling. In his home-away-from-home, Descartes constructs himself a metaphorical home to house his thoughts and reflections (82). To philosophize is therefore conceived of as being on a mental journey while physically at rest. This implies that the philosopher’s home is not an actual resting place but their journey: the act of philosophizing itself.

Grootenboer builds on this tension between journey and rest by invoking Heidegger’s conception of dwelling. Heidegger argues that constructing something implies we already dwell there (85-86). To dwell implies a movement towards materiality. For Heidegger, dwelling is not a static condition but a constant movement towards something that cannot be achieved (to achieve it would no longer be to dwell). It is to be drawn towards something without ever arriving, a constant becoming (87). De Witte’s interior painting, as a pensive image, helps us understand this situation. It allows our thought to dwell within it. Our eyes and subsequent thoughts are drawn through doorways to the vanishing point beyond, a point we will never actually behold.

While we cannot inhabit De Witte’s painting, Oortman’s dollhouse appears inhabitable. Yet, because the dollhouse replicates Oortman’s home on a miniature scale, it is ultimately uninhabitable, what Grootenboer calls “a borrowed home” (105). That being so, the dollhouse contains elements, like a collection of seashells, that provide an opportunity to think through the dialectics of inside and outside and journey and rest. For example, what was once the travelling home of a sea creature is now an empty shell. The dollhouse allows us the opportunity to think through the uncanny nature of uninhabitable spaces that appear inhabitable. What these artworks offer us is not the ability to determine what is inside and outside, on journey or at rest, but to recognize that as philosophical subjects, we are wanderers (109). It is the pensive image, which offers a temporary place to dwell, that saves us from getting lost.

In chapter four, “The Profundity of Still Life,” Grootenboer analyzes pensive images that guide us through the relationship between finitude and infinity. For example, Adriaene Coorte’s Three Medlars and a Butterfly (1696-1705) mediates our understanding of the relationship between the infinitively large and the finitely small by visualizing a small butterfly approaching three fruits against a black background (119). The painting serves as a plot point between two extremes: the expansive background and the small butterfly. We can use this point as a reference when thinking through the implications of each extreme. This pensive image provides perspective; the butterfly and fruit in the foreground impose a sense of proportion, direction, and space onto a painting that would otherwise stretch into infinity. Grootenboer’s analysis suggests that as situated subjects, we are unable to think through the implications of limitlessness or infinity without a mental anchor or reference point. We can only understand infinity through its comparison with the finite, which Three Medlars and a Butterfly provides. By describing Three Medlars and a Butterfly in detail, Grootenboer demonstrates its philosophical relevance. By mediating our conceptualization of infinity, it embodies a form of thinking and self-reflection (133).

Grootenboer moves past self-reflection in the final chapter, “Painting as Space for Thought,” to invoke G. W. F. Hegel’s conception of self-consciousness. Hegel writes that painting’s function is not to reflect the world, but to provide some permanence for contemplation (135). For Grootenboer and Hegel, what inspires contemplation is shine. Painting is unique amongst artistic mediums in its capacity to represent light and to, therefore, shine (136-138). In this chapter, Grootenboer contrasts Hegel’s conception of self-consciousness with self-reflection, arguing that photorealism is a self-conscious genre whose self-consciousness helps us better understand Hegel’s concept. Grootenboer argues this point via an analysis of shine in Richard Estes’s photorealism.

Where does a reflection lie? In the object that reflects, or the subject that is reflected? Richard Estes’s Central Savings (1975) mimics a photograph of a storefront, in which the objects on the street are reflected and layered on top of each other so that we are unsure what is inside or outside the store. Estes’s painting serves as a means to reflect on reflection, visualizing both the reflected subjects and objects in which they are reflected. The painting is therefore both itself and its negation or mirror image, providing us an opportunity to think through the dialectic of self and other. The painting, whose self-consciousness comes from its ability to facilitate a synthesis of reflected and reflection, helps us think past this dialectic and synthesize the two (142-143).

Estes’ painting does not separate inside from outside nor opacity from transparency. Instead, it allows us to see how what is reflected always meets itself in its reflection, preventing an endless cycle of reflection in a synthesis of reflection and reflected (156). Central Savings, like Hegel’s conception of self-consciousness, is bold enough to think through and overcome oppositions (159). Grootenboer’s analysis of Central Savings reveals that the philosophical tradition of reflecting on reflection is not exclusive to written philosophy. It is enacted by pensive images as well.

Grootenboer concludes The Pensive Image with commentary on the relationship between philosophy and wonder. Grootenboer reminds us that according to Plato, Socrates believed wonder was the beginning of philosophy (167). Do artworks offer a similar starting point? For Heidegger, wonder is a basic element of ordinary life (168). According to Grootenboer, the association between wonder, philosophy, and ordinary life is what makes seventeenth century Dutch artworks such fruitful contributors to philosophical investigations of being. Their focus on the ordinary and their reward of slow looking leads us to new discoveries. Ultimately, the pensive image is a valuable philosophical subject because it provides the opportunity to philosophize from, and about, ordinary experience. They stop us in our tracks and suggest a new courses for our philosophical journeys. In contrast to trompe l’oeil, panorama, of other kinds of illusionism that overwhelm us by enchantment and delight to lift us out of our ordinary experience, pensive images slowly overtake us. They do not to lift from the ordinary but to push us deeper into it, guiding us home (169). The Pensive Image thus concludes with all the optimism a new philosophical approach deserves, the hope for new discoveries that bring us home to ourselves.

The Pensive Image has the potential for broad application. Its description of the pensive image, its commentary on painting, film, and material culture, and its overlapping imagery with literary analysis implies the possibility of using the pensive image to understand the philosophical importance of other cultural products. The pensive image, applied metaphorically to literary imagery, might reveal an intimate relationship between image, text, and mind, in which the text’s imagery compels us to follow its logic. This, combined with its phenomenological approach, provides a framework we can apply to the existential literature of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and others. For example, Beauvoir’s imagery of barren wastelands in her 1946 novel All Men Are Mortal guides us through a similar meditation on finitude and infinity as Grootenboer describes in chapter four, implying an opportunity for comparison and new perspectives. Grootenboer’s The Pensive Image describes an approach potentially more far reaching than its introduction’s humble proposal, which could potentially be applied to imagery in literature, film, performance art, and even music.

While it is sometimes difficult to discern whether Grootenboer argues in favour of artworks as aids to understanding philosophical ideas articulated elsewhere (as is the case for Heidegger’s dwelling or Hegel’s self-consciousness) or as containing autonomous philosophical arguments themselves (as is the case for Three Medlars and a Butterfly), their oscillation between the two demonstrates that for artworks to be taken seriously as philosophical subjects, we do not have to decide between one and the other. As a philosophical subject, a pensive image can clarify an idea articulated elsewhere without depending on others’ ideas to articulate its own arguments. Its status as independent philosophical subject does not preclude its ability to aid our understanding of others.

Some aesthetic purists might balk at the idea of using artworks this way. They could argue that art is meant to be enjoyed, valued for its own sake, rather than used for philosophical ends. Grootenboer successfully counters such arguments by describing how the pensive images’ effects are part of its being. We do not use a pensive image for our own purposes. Instead, we let it guide our thoughts according to its own logic. Grootenboer thus avoids accusations of the ‘use and abuse’ of artworks for philosophical ends by focusing on the artworks themselves, their effects, and their autonomous properties. Rather than using a pensive image to achieve our own goals, we enter into a relationship with it. We following it where it needs to go without the added baggage of hypotheses, interpretive frameworks, or ulterior motives. Engagement with pensive images allows us to engage in a philosophy of free play, curiously, and wonder, rather than one of hermeneutic or analytical investigation. It is an appreciation of the things themselves without contorting them by imposing artificial frameworks and hypothesis.

In addition to its methodological implications, The Pensive Image challenges the artificial distinctions between art and philosophy, perceiving and thinking, reason and emotion. It models how to challenge disciplinary boundaries, which can get in the way of innovative thinking. Grootenboer conceptualizes the pensive image as a “predisciplinary blueprint” because it directs the thinker on a journey that knows no disciplinary bounds, be they philosophical, historical, literary, or artistic (71). Its most valuable contribution to philosophy is its emphasis on philosophy as a conscious reflection unbound by discipline, subject, or object.

In chapter three, Grootenboer writes that their main concern is not what thought is but how artworks help house it. The Pensive Image might not focus on defining thought but implies a simple yet profound definition of philosophy: a free flow of reflection, contemplation, and investigation mediated by permeable boundaries, boundaries that allow for movement so that dwelling and journeying merge. The Pensive Image provides us with a vision of philosophy and art in a mutually constituting relationship, a roadmap to theoretical places yet unexplored, and thereby a philosophical home.

Witold Płotka, Patrick Eldridge (Eds.): Early Phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe. Main Figures, Ideas, and Problems

Early Phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe: Main Figures, Ideas, and Problems Book Cover Early Phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe: Main Figures, Ideas, and Problems
Contributions to Phenomenology, Vol. 113
Witold Płotka, Patrick Eldridge (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Softcover 72,79 €
IX, 220

Reviewed by: Peter Andras Varga (Institute of Philosophy, Research Centre for the Humanities, Budapest, Hungary)

Why study Central and Eastern European Phenomenology?

I. Introduction: The Geographies of Phenomenology

There have been conspicuous asymmetries in the historiography of local phenomenological traditions which are as unjust as they are pauperizing phenomenology in its entirety. Already the pioneering professional historian of phenomenology, Herbert Spiegelberg (1904-1990), a late-generation Munich phenomenologist who studied at Husserl in Freiburg in WS 1924/25, contributed dedicated studies on key episodes of the nascent Anglophone reception of phenomenology (see esp. Spiegelberg 1981, 105 ff., 144 ff.), and the research field has, in the meantime, matured enough to accommodate, e.g., a comprehensive survey of the institutional focal points and leading figures of North American phenomenology (Ferri 2019). In the recent decades, the historiography of Francophone phenomenology has developed into a genre on its own (see esp. Waldenfels 1983; Gondek and Tengelyi 2011), which is arguably on the verge of being a form of productive phenomenology in historiographical disguise (consider, e.g., the announcement of a purported “theological turn” of its subject matter, see Janicaud et al. 2000). Regardless of its creative ambitions, there also exists an exemplary historiographical study of the origins of Francophone phenomenology, written as early as in 1997 (Dupont 2014).

Other local branches of phenomenology proved less fortunate. Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge aim to remedy one of the most conspicuous omissions by charting the large terra incognita that lies east of the Central European phenomenological heartland on the imagined historical map of phenomenology. Geographical explorations have always been welcome parts of scientific endeavor, and maybe it is ample time for phenomenology, which turned from an iconoclastic philosophical revolution into a century-old philosophical tradition, to engage in comprehensive stocktaking, including the survey of its own geographical diversity. However, this raises the crucial question as to whether the historiography of local phenomenological traditions would become capable of enriching phenomenology in a direct and generally relevant way. The editors of the reviewed volume appear to think so, as they not only argue that the “survey of Husserl’s students from Göttingen, or from Freiburg, or Stumpf’s pupils from Berlin” (3) could provide us with East European phenomenologists in dire need of dedicated scholarly analyses, but the editors also emphasize the potential broader contributions of Central and Eastern European (CEE) phenomenology, respectively of its study, to phenomenology in general: The inhabitants of this white patch “confronted phenomenology with new schools in philosophy, e.g., the Prague school in linguistics, the Lvov-Warsaw School in logic, or the strain of irrationalism in Russian thought,” thereby fostering “a permanent dialogue and confrontation with these traditions” (5). The promise of cross-fertilization with local traditions undoubtedly constitutes one of the main rationale for studying the local varieties of intellectual traditions in general, but Płotka and Eldridge put forward another, more specific and simultaneously more phenomenological consideration in favor of including Central and Eastern Europe in the general historical narrative of phenomenology: The “lack of centre,” which is a peculiar feature of this geographical region, “resulted in pluralistic interpretations and reinterpretations of Husserl which were not dominated by any ‘standard’ reading” (6). The purported standard reading of Husserl is, the editors believe, epitomized by the case of Germany, where “the reception of Husserl was to some extent centralized, or dominated by such a reading” (ibid.). The latter claim might sound surprising, given the relatively low profile of phenomenology against other contemporaneous currents of thought in Germany, e.g., pre-war Neo-Kantianism, not to mention Husserl’s delayed academic career (his first full professorial appointment came only in 1916), and the sweeping rise of aphenomenological scientific philosophy in the post-1945 German philosophical climate. In fact, pre-1945 phenomenology, even in its heydays, is probably best regarded as a creative philosophical niche (especially in terms of its institutional footprint), the radiating philosophical and general scientific-cultural influence of which had much exceeded the number of its actual followers. But let us set aside the historiography of German-speaking phenomenology (by the way, writing the specific history of phenomenology in German-speaking countries, in contrast to the usual German-centric universal history of phenomenology, still remains an unfulfilled desideratum; not to mention the inexplicable lack of biographical attention dedicated to phenomenology’s founding fathers); and let us return to the subject matter of phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe.

I am inclined to concur with the editors that there is also a specifically phenomenological stake of studying CEE phenomenology (besides the usual legitimation of comparative investigations detailed above); albeit it might be less trivial to ascertain what this alleged benefit consists in. The review of the individual chapters in Section II below, thus, simultaneously serves the aim of identifying the purported larger stakes of studying CEE phenomenology. Finally, in Section III, I will try to directly address these general observations.

II. Individual Chapters: From an Eccentric Baron to the Passengers of the Philosopher Streamer and to a Magnum Opus lost in a Ghetto

Hynek Janoušek and Robin D. Rollinger’s study of the Prague roots of phenomenology – which, as the authors point out, reach as deep as Carl Stumpf’s Prague professorship between 1879 and 1884 (!) – is, as always, impressively well-informed and conceptually insightful. They introduce a fresh angle by contrasting Anton Marty (1847-1914), the doyen of the Prague School of orthodox Brentanoism, with baron Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932), an eccentric philosopher associated with the heterodox wing of Brentano’s disciples. Marty was not only self-avowedly unoriginal in transmitting Brentano’s doctrine, but he also constitutes a surprise counterexample to the conspicuous lack of progress in publishing Brentano’s Nachlass (see esp. Marty 2011; cf. Binder 2012). Based on these texts, the authors present Brentano’s idiosyncratic tripartite division of psychical phenomena into presentations, judgements, and emotive-volative acts. They skillfully contrast Marty’s reluctance to bestow object-presenting power to the acts of the third class with Ehrenfels’s less-studied theory of values. The object-presenting function of acts beyond presentations also played a prominent role in Husserl’s own development between the two editions of the Logical Investigations (cf. Melle 1990), which, in turn, is mirrored in Husserl’s correspondence with Marty that the authors analyze with an exemplary sensitivity towards its polyphonic historical subtexts.

Janoušek and Rollinger’s chapter is, regrettably, the only one dealing with phenomenology’s (pre)history prior to Husserl’s watershed first publication of the Logical Investigation in 1900-1901, respectively one of the very few parts of the book exclusively dedicated to pre-WWI phenomenology. It is not only that, as even the editors seem to admit (cf. 8), the School of Brentano constitutes an integral part of Early Phenomenology (extending, by the way, well into the 1930s); but the different political geography of pre-WWI Central Europe, especially the existence of the Habsburg Monarchy until 1918, created the preconditions of a shared cultural and scientific space, without which the eastward migration of phenomenology – or, maybe, its genesis in the first place (!) – would not have been possible.

One is even compelled to ask whether pre-WWI CEE phenomenology should be regarded as part and parcel of phenomenology per se? In terms of the geographical designator employed, one might wonder whether it would be better suited with regard to pre-war phenomenology to talk about Central European phenomenology (especially given the general prominence of German-speaking culture and philosophy at that time)? Conversely, whether and to which extent could the undeniably distinct philosophical and cultural identity of CEE phenomenology be regarded as a product of the political and life-world divisions introduced in the wake of the wars, most notably, the installment of the Iron Curtain?

The equally excellent chapter by Dariusz Łukasiewicz is dedicated to another branch of the early School of Brentano, namely the semi-heterodox Viennese student Kasimir (Kazimierz) Twardowski (1866-1938), even though the chapter’s temporal focus is shifted towards the first half of the twentieth century. The author intends to map the historical and conceptual interactions between not only Husserl and Twardowski, but also the Lvow-Warsaw School (LWS), “one of the first branches of analytic philosophy in the world” (37). Not unlike the authors of the previous chapter, Dariusz Łukasiewicz is also preoccupied with the ontological status of intentional objects, though he confined himself to theoretical acts. In exchange for this thematic limitation, his chapter involves a compelling metaphilosophical perspective, ranging from Jan Łukasiewicz (1878-1956) – who not only was a “Christian believer,” loyal “to the Roman Catholic Church in public,” but also believed “that logic and mathematics have their foundation in the divine mind” (48), even though he restraining this conviction from directly influencing his scientific research – to the “logical anti-irrationalism” (3) of the LWS, which, as Dariusz Łukasiewicz argued, still significantly differed from the standpoint of the Vienna Circle, insofar as metaphysical propositions were regarded by the former as “scientifically undecided,” rather than “cognitively nonsensical” (39).

However, the declared main aim of Dariusz Łukasiewicz’s chapter is to identify influences (including both unilateral influences originating from Husserl, as well as interactions and parallel developments) between Husserl’s early philosophy and the LWS. He seems to concur (see esp. 48) with an interpretative tradition in the Polish history of phenomenology, namely with the claim of Władysław Tatarkiewicz (1886–1980), according to which Twardowski’s Viennese habilitation thesis (Twardowski 1894) “inspired Husserl to reject psychologism” and “even stimulated the beginning of Husserl’s phenomenology” (43). At the same time, he claims (see 51 ff) that precisely his pronounced metaphilosophical framework prevented Twardowski from developing a detailed theory of states of affairs (Sachverhalten), in contrast with the developments around Husserl in Göttingen (cf. esp. Reinach 1911).

The question of influences undeniably stands in the focal point of the research in CEE phenomenology, since influences – especially ones purportedly originating from Eastward directions (as assumed by Tatarkiewicz’s original thesis) – would, all at once, solve the aforementioned problem of the relevance of studying the history of CEE phenomenology. This kind of solution, however, is too attractive and convenient to be true. For instance, and with all due respect to long-standing local interpretative traditions in the history of philosophy, Tatarkiewicz’s thesis about the origins of the content-object distinction (COD) is, at best, oversimplifying: Even though Husserl indeed penned a text he himself described an immediate “reaction to Twardowski” (Husserl 1994, I:144; cf. Husserl 1990); the development of his theory of intentionality between 1894 and the Logical Investigations in 1900/1901 is complex and far from being linear, not least due to the roots of COD at others members of the School of Brentano (e.g. Alois Höfler’s [1853-1922], cf. Höfler 1890), as well as Robert Zimmermann (1824-1898), the oft-ignored teacher of Husserl and other Brentanoists in Vienna. This clue is briefly mentioned, but left undeveloped by Dariusz Łukasiewicz (see 44), even though a broader survey of published and archival sources could further corroborate the non-Brentanoian roots of Husserl’s theory of intentionality (see also Varga 2014, 2015, 2018a). What renders this subordinated question of historical details especially important for the purposes of CEE phenomenology is, I think, that precisely these non-Brentanoian sources of Husserl’s philosophy represented the specifically CEE philosophy of the late nineteenth century (e.g., Herbartianism and the omission of German Idealism in general, cf. Sauer 1982).

In general, the historiographic model of simple causal »influences« – let them be uni- or bidirectional – will probably have to be refined, as already indicated by clues of a more nuanced understanding scattered in Dariusz Łukasiewicz’s sophisticated chapter (e.g.: “indirect reference to Husserl,” p. 41, n. 11; “partial” influence, p. 41; historical prejudices concerning a certain epoch of the history of philosophy, p. 45, n. 24 etc.). On the one hand, such a refined notion of »influence« designates an even broader fertile field of research for historians of CEE phenomenology. On the other hand, it could also prevent us from reducing the merits of CEE phenomenology to its purported direct influences on some canonical figures of the general history of phenomenology.

Natalia Artemenko’s thoughtful and thoroughgoing chapter not only moves the geographical focus further Eastwards, but her investigation of Gustav Špet (or Shpet; 1879-1937) also involves another promise – and, simultaneously, another methodological challenge – of mapping the potential contribution of CEE phenomenology: namely, the issue of isolated »towering figures« who were philosophically significant on their own (at least in their local cultures and under the constraints of their personal fates), but whose actual ties to the mainstream Phenomenological Movement were not always unambiguous, both in biographical and intellectual terms, as well as regarding their reception histories. While Artemenko acknowledges that Špet’s “early creative work […] lies in the wake of phenomenology” (already allowing for some “deviations;” 60); she argues that Špet’s oeuvre is best regarded as an example of “the synthesis of the humanities that emerged during the first half of the twentieth century” (ibid.). What makes Špet’s case intriguing is that the historical problem of his allegiance to the Phenomenological Movement (Špet studied at Husserl in Göttingen in 1912-1913) is, at the same time, a theoretical problem of the viability and outlook of his “conjunction of phenomenology and hermeneutics” (70). Similar projects aiming at the phenomenology of historical knowledge were also pursued by other phenomenologists in Husserl’s shadow (to name a less prominent example: Landgrebe 2010); but what distinguishes Špet’s one is its proximity to Husserl’s Ideas (Husserl 1913), not only temporally, but also in terms of Špet’s appropriation, though not entirely uncritical, of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology expounded therein, which infamously became the stumbling block for early phenomenologists around Husserl in Germany (even if, contrary to p. 62, the prize for the first monograph on Husserl’s  Ideas goes, technically, to Eugen Enyvvari’s [1884-1959] fifty-five-pages-long book of descriptive nature: Enyvvári 1913). Špet, Artemenko believes, was “immersed in the tradition of humanistic thought (Dilthey, Schleiermacher)” (69) but “adhered” to Husserl’s “phenomenology” “in his hermeneutical studies” (67); thereby challenging the path famously taken by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). As Artemenko aptly remarks, this raises the question: “does the semantic history [of hermeneutics] coincide with the actual history and chronology?” (66.)  It is all the more regrettable that the unfolding of Špet’s philosophy, as well as of its contemporaneous reception, were tragically precluded by the course of history; even if Artemenko, interestingly, regards Špet’s status as “ ‘outsider,’ […] not shackled by institutional constraints or disciplinary frameworks” (63) as a philosophically beneficial factor for him. In any case, it tells a lot about the Sitz im Leben of twentieth-century CEE phenomenology to compare the admittedly not entirely unhospitable conditions, under which Paul Ricoer (1913-2005) translated Husserl’s Ideas in Western prisoners of war camps (see Reagan 1996, 9 ff.), with Špet’s ill-fated attempt to re-translate Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit in a lager in Siberia.

The descriptive-phenomenologically dense and rewarding chapter by Alexander Kozin continues the thread of Russian contributions to phenomenology, even if its subject matter exemplifies a different, though not uncommon kind of biographical trajectory. Semyon Frank (1877-1950) was born and raised in an affluent Jewish family in Moscow. Around 1912, he became converted to orthodoxy; within one decade, he found himself aboard one of the two infamous Philosophy Streamers, which deported more than 150 members of the Russian intelligentsia – handpicked by Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) himself – from Petrograd (today’s Saint Petersburg) to Stettin (today’s Szczecin in Poland), where, unbeknownst to many, another series of misfortunes awaited them (see Chamberlain 2008).

While Frank is not customarily labelled as phenomenologist, Kozin argues that “Frank’s philosophical psychology is more phenomenological than it seems” (90); thereby Frank could belong to the series of thinkers embodying the intertwinement of CEE phenomenology and religious thought (more specifically in Frank’s case, “Christian idealism;” 76). In order to demonstrate this classification, Kozin analyses at length Frank’s phenomenological psychology of the soul, which involved not only Brentano and Husserl, but also Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). In an interesting footnote, Kozin claims, on the basis of referring to Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (first partial edition: Husserl 1936; unabridged critical edition: Husserl 1962), that “Frank anticipated Husserl’s appreciation of psychology as a discipline adjacent to phenomenology by its purpose and method.” (82, n. 7), since Husserl’s Crisis “points to psychology as one of the two ways into phenomenology” (ibid.). I think this insightful remark could be made even stronger on the basis of Husserl scholarship, insofar as Husserl, according to the received scholarly view, regarded the »way through psychology« as any one of three main types of introducing phenomenology philosophically (see its classical exposition: Kern 1962). In other words, Husserl was convinced throughout the entirely mature phase of his career that a pure (i.e., non-transcendental) psychology, if executed in a careful enough way phenomenologically, would necessarily transfigure into transcendental phenomenology (or, at least, lead us directly to the doorsteps of the latter). From this point of view, the envisaged historical parallel between Frank’s religious psychology of the soul and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology could acquire a deeply theoretical-philosophical underpinning.

The informative and sensitive chapter by Dalius Jonkus on the Lithuanian and Russian philosopher Vasily (or: Vosylius) Sesemann (1884-1963) also involves one of the main historical counterparts of phenomenology, namely Neo-Kantianism, especially its scientifically-oriented Marburg variant, as epitomized by Paul Natorp (1854-1924), with whom, by the way, Husserl sought to be on friendly terms, even if this friendship remained somewhat unilateral. According to Jonkus’ theses, Sesemann’s philosophy was “more associated with the phenomenological tradition rather than the Neo-Kantian one” (94); and, furthermore, Sesemann’s philosophy “is very close to Husserl’s own late project of genetic phenomenology, which Husserl developed within roughly the same timeframe” (109). While Jonkus’ reconstruction of Sesemann’s analysis of the significance of non-objectifying, pre-scientifical knowledge is convincing, this thesis hints at a serious challenge for the historiography of phenomenology in general, namely the lack of an effective two-way communication of ideas between the historical figures, especially the asynchrony between the inner development of Husserl’s thought and what his disciples, located in Germany or abroad, ascribed him as influence. After all, as seen above, already in the 1900s Husserl started working in the 1900s on the problem of non-objectifying presentation that involve domains of knowledge beyond pure logic (see already Melle 1990), not to mention that Husserl seems to have formulated the basic tenets of his genetic phenomenology already around 1910-1911 (see already Sakakibara 1997). In this regard, one could speak of the »synchronicity of non-synchronicities« within the history of phenomenology. Of course, what it implies for us is only to double-down our efforts at writing the history of phenomenology. It also belongs to the merits of Jonkus’ chapter that he also takes into account possible lateral connections between early phenomenologists (involving not only Max Scheler [1874-1928] but even Dietrich von Hildebrand [1889-1977], see 100).

The impressive chapter by Marek Piwowarczyk is dedicated to Roman Ingarden (1893-1970). There is, Piwowarczyk observes, a tectonic movement taking place in Ingarden scholarship, insofar as “now his ontology and epistemology” comes to the fore (instead of “his work on aesthetics;” 111), which goes hand in hand with a change in scholarly audience: “analytic philosophers” nowadays “seem to be more interested in the Ingardenian legacy than phenomenologists” (114). I wonder whether this shift is not entirely unconnected to a certain general waning of Ingarden’s fame in the phenomenological pantheon (even though he still counts as one of, if not the most known CEE phenomenologist, especially as we become more and more distant from the core scholarly community of present-day phenomenologists). In any case, Piwowarczyk’s study of Ingarden’s early works (up to Ingarden’s habilitation thesis) undoubtedly transcends the old rigid dichotomy between analytical philosophy and phenomenology: it combines a meticulous conceptual and philological analysis (he is aware, e.g., of Ingarden’s “change of mind” between the “first and second parts” of a text; 177) with general references to the scientifical-philosophical mainstream views of that time (cf. 115). In his hands, Ingarden’s “youthful theory of the objects” manifests itself as a theory that is not only distinctly different from its version at the mature Ingarden, but maybe even exemplifies a “sui generis doctrine” (125) that cannot be directly classified under any of the textbook object theories that gained currency in contemporary analytical philosophy (cf. 118 ff.).

The informative chapter by Viorel Cernica on Nae Ionescu (1890-1940), who studied at Husserl around 1913-14 (cf. 129), and Romanian phenomenology in general is important not only because it further augments the picture of local sub-histories of phenomenology, but also because it touches upon a topic that animated the interest in phenomenology in CEE and beyond, namely religion and metaphysics (not to mention their »grafting« onto phenomenology by Martin Heidegger). According to Cernica, Ionescu could legitimately be regarded as phenomenologist, because, even though his oeuvre undoubtedly belongs “to a metaphysical way of philosophizing, he carries it out with phenomenological techniques from Husserl’s toolbox” (137). Intriguing elements of this toolbox include the phenomenological ontology of images and the issue of “virtuality” (133), respectively intentional modifications in general; while the open questions raised by Ionescu’s approach and Cernica’s interpretative thesis range from the long-standing debate on whether phenomenology should be considered as a system of doctrines or, rather, as a mere method to the question of theistic intentionality – in this regard, Cernica rightly invokes Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological theology (see 139) – and to the historiographical questions of school formation and philosophical lineages. In the latter regard, Cernica mentions that Ionescu himself instructed some of his own pupils to study phenomenology in Germany in the 1930s (cf. 142), which hints at a certain generational dynamism – in phenomenological parlance: generativity – in the encounters between CEE and global (German) phenomenology. In each of these facts, Cernica’s chapter manifests the richness of the Romanian local sub-history of CEE phenomenology, as well as the exemplary intensity of interest in phenomenology by present-day philosophers in Romania.

The chapter by Uldis Vēgners on the Latvian phenomenologist Theodor Celms (1893-1989) is well-researched and philosophically engaging. While Vēgners definitely maintains an independent scholarly profile with regard to Celms (see, e.g. Vēgners 2012), he also stands on the shoulders of giants: one can but wish that all CEE phenomenologists would be devoted as much scholarly attention as Celms, who is not only subject of a several research articles but there also exists a scholarly edition of his selected writings in German. The other side of the same coin is that Celms, as acknowledged by Vēgners (see esp. 147), stands in the intersection of complex historical and philosophical identities: he could be equally well regarded as member of the Freiburg Phase of Early Phenomenology (after all, he studies at Husserl in Freiburg in the 1920s), not to mention his explicit ties to unambiguously non-phenomenological philosophers (to begin with, Celms obtained his doctoral degree in 1923 under the supervision of Josef Geyser [1869-1948] who, even though Vēgners did not mention this, was a Catholic philosopher explicitly committed to philosophia perennis and his professorship was officially a Catholic chair, see, e.g., Husserl 1994, VIII: 163, n. 6). What I find particularly fascinating is that prior to 1928, Celms had been working on interpreting “Husserl’s phenomenology as transcendental historism” (146). Together with the aforementioned Ludwig Landgrebe and Gustav Špet, there seems to have been a forgotten strain of phenomenological hermeneutics – i.e., Husserlian phenomenology of history and interpretation – with a noteworthy considerable CEE involvement, which is completely overshadowed by Dilthey-Heidegger-Gadamer lineage, not to mention the charges of Husserl’s lack of sensitivity towards history which were circulating already amongst his contemporaries.

Vēgners’ chapter is, however, dedicated to another facet of Celms’ oeuvre, namely his involvement in the ill-fated Idealism-Realism Debate, which erupted already in Göttingen by 1913 at the latest and which, sadly, led to the deterioration of the personal and professional relationships between Husserl and his disciplines and, possibly, to the demise of classical phenomenology as such (and the subsequent rise of Heidegger’s fame). In this debate, Celms is customarily perceived as a comrade-in-arms of the realist Göttingen phenomenologists, but Vēgners also argues that Celsm, on the basis of his philosophical allegiances and occasional writings, “actually might not have been a phenomenologist anymore, but rather a critical realist” (149) by that time. He provides a meticulous analysis of Celms’ standpoint and arguments. It belongs to Vēgners’ virtues that he pays special attention to the reception of Celms, including not only the historical thesis that Celms was behind the anonymous objections to which Husserl replied in his Fifth Cartesian Meditation, but also the discussion of Celms 1928 book by his contemporaries, in which CEE phenomenologists, too, played a fully legitimate role. Interestingly, the issue of phenomenological hermeneutics returns twice: First, Vēgners conjectures that Celms’ “turn was a consequence of his realization that Husserl’s phenomenology does not lead to transcendental historism as he previously believed” (149). The second promising lead is constituted by Vēgners’ discussions (see 155-156) of Celms’ idea of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology being a “Lebensphilosophie” (155), more precisely an “absolute biographism” (156).

That said, I disagree with the way Vēgners, in the introduction of his chapter (145 f.), equates phenomenological reduction and transcendental idealism (following in the footsteps of the old Munich interpretation by Eberhard Avé-Lallemant and others). I think that the former is a method of avoiding explanatory circularities (see the masterly interpretation: Lohmar 2002) and the latter is a standpoint vis-à-vis the classic metaphysical question regarding the priority of opposite poles (usually the world and the sense-giving ego). This sense of transcendental idealism is, I think, well expounded in the texts of the recent volume of Husserliana on transcendental idealism (Husserl 2003), which might have been a good addition to Vēgners’ bibliography. By the way, it also makes the historical case that Husserl already arrived at idealism in around 1908 (while the discovery of reduction is customarily dated at 1906).

The exemplary chapter by Witold Płotka on Leopold Blaustein (1905-1942/1944) explores a “rather unknown” (164) actor of CEE phenomenology and his contribution to aesthetics, another neighboring discipline of core phenomenological philosophy (which Blaustein, in a fascinating way, also applied to the new media of his age: “radio” and “cinema;” 180). Blaustein’s intellectual biography epitomizes the multifaceted and, more often than not, ruptured nature of CEE phenomenology: born in a Polish-Jewish family in Lemberg in Galicia (then part of the Habsburg Empire; during Blaustein’s adult life: Lvov in Poland; today Lviv in Ukraina), his philosophical allegiances ranged from Twardowski and the LWS to Husserl, at whom he studied in Freiburg in 1925, and to orthodox members of the School of Brentano, e.g., Alexius Meinong (1853-1920). He never assumed a teaching position at a university and died, together with his wife, a fellow disciple of Twardowski, and their child in the Lvov Ghetto (it is also possible that he took his own life). His German “magnum opus” (165), entitled Die ästhethische Perzeption (The Aesthethical Experience), was also lost in historical calamities.

Płotka’s masterful chapter is a match for the complexity Blaustein’s biography and oeuvre: It is not only that Płotka offers a meticulous reconstruction of the circumstances of Blaustein’s encounter with Husserlian phenomenology (up to the question as to exactly which portions of Husserl’s lecture courses were attended by him, cf. 166, esp. n. 4), as well as his philosophical standpoint on the basis of his extant Polish doctoral dissertation of 1928 and other minor writings (including Blaustein’s review of Ingarden). As if that were not enough, Płotka goes on to reconstruct a possible Husserlian counter-critique of Blaustein’s critique of Husserl, based on not only Ingarden’s own critique of Blaustein and what Blaustein could have learnt from his studies at Husserl (cf. 175), but also on the most recent text on Husserl’s eidetical phenomenology (Husserl 2012), not yet available to many of the scholars writing about Blaustein (not to mention Blaustein himself). Blaustein’s misconstruction of eidos as “transcendent timeless object” (174) is, Płotka argued, ultimately rooted in a combination of specific and general misinterpretations: e.g., overseeing the iterative closure operation of eidetical intuition, as well as a general ignorance of the proper nature and vistas of transcendental-constitutive phenomenology. Just one side remark: it might also be interesting to assess the possible consonance between Blaustein’s proposal of anti-eidetical phenomenology as a “descriptive science of types […] of lived experiences” (as quoted on p. 167) and the understanding of eidos as intuited type (Typus), as proposed by the interpretation devised by Dieter Lohmar (see, e.g., Lohmar 2005), in contrast to the interpretation by Rochus Sowa (see already: Sowa 2008), upon which Płotka’s analysis relied.

Płotka goes even further, insofar as he proceeds to locate the own merits of Blaustein’s aesthetical theory, using philosophically tricky edge cases of intentionality (mathematical objects possessing too many sides to be intuited, nested pictures etc.). In sum, Płotka’s chapter aptly demonstrates that historical and philosophical-thematical sensitivities are far from being mutually exclusive alternatives in approaching the history of philosophy.

The chapter on Jan Patočka’s (1907-1977) early confrontation with Husserlian phenomenology by Karel Novotný is yet another masterful contribution in an excellent volume. In fact, it is safe to regard Patočka as the currently most studied CEE phenomenologist and Novotný as not only one of Patočka’s most skilful interpreters but also as one of the major voices of contemporary phenomenology eastwards of Germany. The philosophical and historical analyses and the textual basis of the chapter are correspondingly dense (to begin with, it relies on writings of Patočka first published posthumously only in 2014 and even then, only in Czech). Patočka was “the first in the Czechoslovakia to” (189) introduce Husserl’s ideas but, in contrast to his fellow philosophers with same epitheton ornans throughout CEE (as presented in the reviewed volume), Patočka was also keen to embrace Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as well. I dare to think that the latter fact is not entirely unrelated to his later ability to put forward an original philosophical oeuvre that deserves a place in the global canon of twentieth century philosophy in general. At the same time, Patočka was also not devoid of an interest towards Lebensphilosophie, another recurring thread of CEE phenomenologists in the reviewed volume. It must also be said, in defence of Patočka’s fellow CEE phenomenologists, that the Czech philosopher was fortunate in two key respects: (1) he had a privileged access to Husserl’s mature research manuscripts (see esp. p. 191, n. 6 and p. 192, n. 7), which enabled him, inter alia, to harmonize Husserl’s mature genetic phenomenology – that not infrequently speaks of »transcendental life« – with the pretensions of Lebensphilosophie; (2) his habilitation thesis late (and well-informed) enough to investigate the published fragment of Husserl’s last book torso, the Crisis (Husserl 1936), which is not only the most accessible amongst Husserl’s mature published writings (in 1937, Husserl himself deemed his previous book nearly incomprehensible, see Husserl 1994, IV:60), but also promising thematically.

The novel texts discussed by Novotný manifest “fundamental change” in Patočka’s understanding of Husserl’s genetic-transcendental phenomenology (Patočka as quoted by Novotný, p. 197); and, according to Novotný’s central and significant interpretative thesis, in is this “novel interpretation” upon which the post-war writings “that garnered Patočka the most fame as original philosopher with innovative views […] were grounded” (201). This tectonic change stems from Patočka’s quest for a “pristine” coincidence “between subject and object enclosed within itself” (Patočka as quoted by Novotný, p. 197), on the basis of which special experience (“lacking the very possibility of distance;” 199), Novotný argues, Patočka developed a non-subjective version of the transcendental-phenomenological correlation that became productive when, in the post-war period, Patočka once again resumed his intellectual investment in the philosophy of life. In this regard, it might be interesting to draw a comparison with the contemporaneous ideas of Eugen Fink (1905-1975) who, in an even closer personal proximity to Husserl, also experimented in a similar, though more overtly metaphysical form of closure of the subject-object movement in the form of his ambitious notion of the meontic absolute. Even though the declared scope of Novotný’s chapter prevents him from dwelling upon Patočka’s biography, it is worth mentioning for the sake of foreign readers that Patočka’s life, too, ended prematurely at the merciless hands of history: the septuagenarian philosopher had to become hospitalized and died after being interrogated by the secret police due to his involvement in the Charta 77 anti-communist civil rights movement.

The last chapter of the book, written by Dragan Prole on the Zagorka Mićić (1903-1982), not only casts light on a lesser-known local sub-history of phenomenology, but it is also of paramount importance because Mićić is the only woman amongst the protagonists of the reviewed volume (apart from the passim reference to Eugénie Blaustein née Ginsberg; cf. 165).

It is generally acknowledged that Early Phenomenology, especially the circle of disciples around Husserl in the late Göttingen and early Freiburg years, was at the forefront of academic emancipation of women. Several of the female early phenomenologists – most notably Edith Stein (1891-1942) and Hedwig-Conrad Martius née Martius (1888-1966) – embarked on philosophical careers on their own and the academic hindrances they encountered in doing so, e.g., the refusal of Stein’s repeated habitation attempts, were, I think, outside of the scope of control of the core Phenomenological Movement (at least, when it comes to the scope of Husserl’s direct influence). From this point of view, it might be desirable to address this aspect of CEE phenomenology in more detail, as I am convinced that CEE phenomenology was in no way inferior to its global counterpart in this regard.

Prole thankfully introduces a refreshing angle into presenting the early reception of phenomenology in the inter-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia, insofar as he discusses the broader political and cultural debates in the wide-ranging and often contradictory contexts of which the reception process took place. Not unlike the intellectual preconditions in other countries (the German heartland included), the pioneers of phenomenology in Yugoslavia were, Prole wrote, philosophers who “no longer believed in the mere appropriation of inherited forms” (206). It also belongs to the virtues of Prole’s chapters that he takes into account the explicitly theological strain of the early reception of phenomenology (curiously or not, phenomenology was fiercely opposed by Jesuits on the grounds that it “embodies the Protestant longing for the truth and the real world;” 207).

Mićić’s private studies at Husserl and Fink – in early 1935 (see Husserl 1994, IV:373, n. 219) or in 1934 (cf. 210) – dated at the less-documented period when only a seclusive tiny group of disciples remained around Husserl (in exchange, Mićić had easier access to Husserl’s Crisis that was published in an exile journal precisely in Belgrade). Mićić’s dissertation, originally defended in 1934, was published three years later, thus she was able to utilize Husserl’s book published in the meantime (Husserl 1936), not to mention her “personal communication” with Husserl, as well as the ability “to consult a wealth of Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts” (209). The threads of the chapter’s investigation join in Mićić’s claim that the exposition of transcendental phenomenology must pay a greater attention to history (cf. 211). In doing so, she self-avowedly diverged from Fink’s views – who contributed a separate preface to her book – with regard, e.g., to the possibility of motivating or criticising phenomenology from an external, non-phenomenological standpoint (while she simultaneously participated replied to a fierce external critique of Husserl by one her compatriots). Ironically, the young doctoral student whose dissertation had, until now, buried by being written in a non-Western language (not to mention its place of publication), could have been closer to Husserl’s own specific understanding of the methodology of his mature phenomenological philosophy, than Eugen Fink, Husserl’s privileged assistance and co-philosophizing partner in Freiburg. It is, thus, not only the circumstances of her life that, I think, should make translating her original doctoral dissertation into English or German into one of the top priorities of scholarly efforts dedicated to CEE phenomenology (besides expressing our gratitude to Prole for filling the gaps of our knowledge about Mićić).

III. General Remarks: The Movement without a Centre?

It is hard to overstate the merits of Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge in putting together this volume. For international readers, it is also worth highlighting that Witold Płotka not only maintains a strong scholarly profile in researching the history of phenomenology in Poland (see, e.g., Płotka 2017), but – through his enthusiasm, commitment,  and professionalism – he is one of the main driving forces behind the current fortunate revival of cooperation between younger CEE phenomenologists (following in the footsteps of similar earlier revival attempts undertaken by the previous scholarly generations in this region, several meritorious representatives of them are included amongst the contributors of the reviewed volume). For a venture of this kind, it is only natural that the reviewed volume did not attain an exhaustive enumeration of the history of CEE phenomenology, either geographically or temporally or in terms of senior contemporary representatives of phenomenology in this region (as far as I am aware of it, what came closest to such an attempt was the enumeration of the local traditions of phenomenology in the entries of Lester Embree’s [1938-2017] encyclopedia: see, e.g., Mezei 1997). It also goes without saying that the selection and weighting of historical figures in such a volume do not exactly correlate with the full historical canon of CEE phenomenology (not least because the complete exploration of the latter still remains a scholarly desideratum). While many of the omitted historical figures are buried by their primary and secondary literature being available only in local languages; there is, in a welcome change, a growing body of scholarly editions and research literature on CEE phenomenology in Western languages. In their introduction, the editors mention some of these publications which might help augmenting the historical picture provided by them (e.g., Zoltán Szalai’s German monograph [Szalai 2017] on the Hungarian-born Wilhelm Szilasi [Szilasi Vilmos; 1889-1966] who was teaching at the chair of philosophy in Freiburg, once assumed by none else than Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger). Let me mention only one further piece of writing in this regard (Vydrová 2020), both for the sake of its methodological sensitivity and as a representative of the local phenomenological and interpretative traditions in the CEE region not covered by the reviewed volume.

One general aspect that the readers might find underexposed in the reviewed volume is, though, the presentation of CEE phenomenology’s deep embeddedness in its multifaceted historical, political, and social contexts (some of these possible contexts were specially emphasized above in the present review essay). Perhaps we can attribute this underexposure to phenomenology’s deep-seated aversion against a historical approach to philosophy: “the mathematician too will not turn to historical science,” Husserl once thundered in his ill-fortunate Philosophy as rigorous science, “[…h]ow, then, is it to be the historian’s task to decide as to the truth of given philosophical systems” (Husserl 1911, 325–326; quoted translation: Husserl 1965, 126)? But this heritage should not necessarily bind the historians of CEE phenomenology, especially since investigations of these rich contexts could serve as a bridge between scholars of phenomenology and other disciples in humanities and social sciences. What I find particularly fascinating in this regard is the fact that the reception of phenomenology fulfilled different, sometimes even diametrically opposed roles in this region, especially in the Eastern Bloc states. For instance, it is instructive to compare the role classical phenomenology played in the thinking of, say, Karol Wojtyła (Pope St John Paul II; 1920-2005; cf., e.g., Gubser 2014, 188 ff.) vis-à-vis some members of the Budapest School around Georg Lukács (1885-1971), see: Vajda 2016. This variety of phenomenology’s multifaceted political involvements and social contexts – in which respect CEE phenomenology might be ahead of its more fortunate Western counterpart – seems like a worthy and promising subject matter of further scholarly investigations.

CEE phenomenology has, since its inception, been haunted by its geographic and linguistic fragmentation, resulting in a strange form of compartmentalized parallel sub-histories of phenomenology in this region, with little vertical integration between its strains, except for the Western (i.e., German and French) tradition of phenomenology being their common origin and contemporary points of reference. Curiously, one of the rare counterexamples to this peculiar twist of reception history took place precisely due to the now-forgotten dialogue between phenomenology and Eastern bloc Marxism that might be worthy of further scholarly attention (see, e.g., Waldenfels et al. 1977 and the subsequent volumes), including the general institutional substructure of philosophical exchange of ideas within the Eastern bloc (e.g., the regular symposia in the island of Korčula in the then relatively permissive Yugoslavia). It also goes without saying that the unfolding of the full promise inherent in CEE phenomenology has been further impeded by the multifaceted calamities of history in this region, as well as its comparative lack of academic and general cultural and societal resources. The latter issue, arguably, still persists today, even if only to a lesser degree; and we can but hope that history will not repeat itself in the former respect.

From a scholarly point of view, there is, however, a further scientific factor that impedes the historiography of CEE phenomenology, namely yet incomplete task of writing the history of CEE philosophy in the first place. Given its similarly fragmented and compartmentalized nature, as well as its incomparably broader scope, this task present itself as an even more demanding and, more often than not, a thankless job. To cite a specific local example: The nineteenth and twentieth century Hungarian philosophers frequently questioned whether Hungarian philosophy existed at all, referring to the specifically anti-philosophical nature of their supposed national character (see Steindler 1988), which, of course, amounts to a form of performative contradiction, ultimately rooted in the tension of philosophical creativity versus reception (cf. Perecz 2003). At the same time, the “chimaera of the concept of national philosophy” is, at least from a historiographic-scholarly point of view, probably better accommodated within the framework of a comparative history of CEE philosophy and its neighboring disciples, e.g., literature (Mester 2012, 271); and exploratory research (e.g., Varga 2020) may still be needed in many areas. Yet, non-phenomenological historical figures could shed light even on the (pre-)history of global phenomenology (see, e.g., Alexander 2018; cf. Varga 2018b). In sum, even though the actual intricacies of CEE history of philosophy might vary from region to region and from language to language, it could be safely assumed that neither of them constitutes an easy historiographical prerequisite for writing the history of the corresponding local chapter of phenomenology that is to be embedded in it (not to mention the problem of their comparative investigations).

Interestingly, an analogous problem arises within the history of German philosophy: Rather than being a creatio ex nihilo, phenomenology originated from the oft-ignored historical context of late nineteenth century post-Hegelian German academic philosophy (Universitätsphilosophie). This period has, for long, been overshadowed by an alternative canon of the history of nineteenth century German philosophy after Hegel, the monumental protagonists of which were proto-existentialist and left-Hegelian thinkers (as presented emphatically by, e.g., Löwith 1941). This scholarly situation is gradually changing (cf., Köhnke 1986; Beiser 2014), even though comparatively less attention is paid to finding the place of phenomenology within this new paradigm of post-Hegelian German philosophy (cf. Varga 2016a; a case study on the role of the hitherto forgotten nineteenth century logician Christoph von Sigwart [1830-1904]: Varga 2016b). In this regard, the compartmentalized pre-histories of CEE phenomenology can serve as instructive example for the historiography of phenomenology in general. There is, however, more to it, insofar as CEE phenomenology could bring more to global phenomenology.

As I said above, I disagree with the editors’ assessment that CEE phenomenology were a “pluralistic movement which we cannot reduce to a few research centres” (5). I disagree because I think it applies not only to CEE phenomenology, but, a fortiori, to global phenomenology as well. Setting aside the historical question concerning the weight of the Phenomenological Movement in pre-war and inter-war periods of German philosophy; it is a well-known phenomenon of contemporary academic philosophy that phenomenology (especially its classical core), is to a large extent, sustained by an intense interest in it by scholars on the peripheries, rather than at the academic centers in Western world – i.e., the nominal centers of phenomenology – which are, with some honorable exceptions, dominated by Analytical Philosophy or other branches of contemporary nonphenomenological philosophy. Central and Eastern Europe, esp. the former Eastern bloc, is, of course, not the only such periphery (in this regard, one should definitely mention Far East and South America as well); but it is undoubtedly one of the regions whose historically rooted, rejuvenating enthusiasm for phenomenology contributes to keeping phenomenology at the forefront of contemporary philosophy. It is through the laudable and courageous achievement of Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge, as well as their authors that this lesson – and with it, the special legacy of CEE phenomenology, namely the heightened sensitivity towards historical and thematical ruptures – is brought to our attention once again.

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———. 2018b. “A Snapshot of Austrian Philosophy on the Eve of Franz Brentano’s Arrival. The Young Bernhard Alexander in Vienna in 1868–1871.” Magyar Filozófiai Szemle 62 (4): 182–207.

———. 2020. “Who Were the First Modern Professional Philosophers in Hungary? The Authors of the Journal Magyar Philosophiai Szemle (1882–1891).” In Lords and Boors – Westernisers and ‘Narodniks’ : Chapters from Polish and Hungarian Intellectual History, edited by Béla Mester and Rafał Smoczyński, 135–170. Budapest: Gondolat.

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* Page numbers without further bibliographical specifications refer to the reviewed volume. If possible, I only cite literature that is not mentioned in the reviewed volume.

Jean Grondin (Dir.): Herméneutique et métaphysique. Une articulation renouvelée

Herméneutique et métaphysique. Une articulation renouvelée Book Cover Herméneutique et métaphysique. Une articulation renouvelée
Revue Le Cercle Herméneutique, 34-35 (2020)
Jean Grondin (Dir.)
Le Cercle Herméneutique
2020
Paperback 23,00 €
208

Reviewed by: Elena Romagnoli (Scuola Normale Superiore –Pisa)

There is no doubt that hermeneutics today does not have the role of cultural koinè it enjoyed at the end of the last century. On the contrary, hermeneutical thought appears underestimated and misunderstood as fundamentally anti-modern. The rediscovery of the real essence of hermeneutics and the appreciation of its contemporary relevance requires that we critique several of its post-modern interpretations. This volume goes precisely in this direction. It is the product of a conference held on the 27th and 28th of September at the University of Montréal, where some of the most relevant scholars of hermeneutics aimed to rethink the relation between hermeneutics and metaphysics, traditionally considered antithetical.

Jean Grondin, the editor of the volume, immediately underlines that this signals a specific stance against those post-modern philosophers (Vattimo, Rorty, Ferraris), who have tried to read hermeneutics as “anti-metaphysical” or “post-metaphysical”, unbinding it from every “perennial structure” and underlining the heterogeneity of reality and languages with no possibility of a superior unity. These interpretations also differ, I can add, from Di Cesare’s conception of hermeneutics as “a-metaphysical” (Di Cesare 2013). The aim of this volume is to delineate a new way of connecting these two disciplines – a path already traced by Grondin’s fundamental works (Grondin 2004, 2013, 2019) – with the presupposition that metaphysics is only possible as hermeneutics just as hermeneutics is only possible as metaphysics.

As Jean Greisch notes in his contribution, this might appear as a “backward-looking operation” (18). Indeed, hermeneutics is based on the assumption of radical finitude and the centrality of history, which seems opposed to the metaphysical inclination to determine universal and perennial structures. However, the two most important heirs of Heidegger’s philosophy, i.e., Gadamer and Ricoeur, distanced themselves both from Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics and from post-metaphysical readings. Against the Nietzsche-Heidegger duo that criticizes metaphysics and claims its overcoming, the authors of this volume follow distinct paths that go in the same general direction: they try to show the intimate connection between hermeneutics and metaphysics. The relevance of this volume rests in this attempt to highlight some possibilities for the renewal of hermeneutics. At the same time, the contributors to this volume try to reassess the very concept of metaphysics, freeing it from exceedingly rigid interpretations and trying to harmonize metaphysics with contemporary needs.

The task of this volume is in this respect very ambitious and tackles two complex and variegated concepts, hermeneutics and metaphysics, both from historical and theoretical points of view. The risks of generalization or naiveté, sometimes incurred in the single contributions, is on the whole avoided. The different papers promote stimulating proposals that invite further development. In particular, the focus of the volume and its relevance consists in the fundamental aim just mentioned; namely, rethinking hermeneutics against its underestimation, an underestimation that derives from the association of hermeneutical thought with so called “weak thought” or with “new realism”. This accords with a recent recovery given to hermeneutics, in particular in the USA (George-Heyden, 2021), a path that could hopefully be developed in order to underline and exploit the import of hermeneutics with regard to contemporary questions. Paradoxically, its contemporaneity can be underlined only by reconnecting it with metaphysics: this is the fundamental challenge of this volume.

The contributions can be divided into three main parts: in the first, the authors (Greisch, Rodrìguez) try to rethink hermeneutics, while in the second, complementarily, the essays aim to renew metaphysics (Perrin, Beuchot). In the last part, the contributions focus on the main “hermeneutical thinkers” in order to see how they realize (Boutet, Jaran, Canullo) or trace (Vallée) a renewing of the relation between hermeneutics and metaphysics.

Rethinking Hermeneutics: Transcendence and Ontology

There are different ways to tackle the complex question of the relation between hermeneutics and metaphysics. Jean Greisch chooses a theoretical approach that moves from the conceptual analysis of the notions of “hermeneutics”, “metaphysics” and “transcendence”. He follows a thread that unites Dilthey, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, showing that they do not simply oppose metaphysics; rather, they stress the “meta” function of thought, which is a crucial element of metaphysics as such. Both Dilthey (in Introduction to the Human Sciences) and Rosenzweig (in The Star of Redemption) underline the need for a new understanding of metaphysics. The latter, moreover, talks not merely of philosophical anthropology, cosmology and theology, but rather of “meta-physics”, “meta-ethics” and “meta-logic”. Analogously, Heidegger talks of a “metaphysics of Dasein” that has its prerogative in the “transcendence of Dasein”, as it emerges in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics and in the 1928-30 lessons in Freiburg and Marburg (Introduction to Philosophy, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and The Basic Problem of Phenomenology). The author stresses that for Heidegger (as for Dilthey) Dasein is intrinsically “transcendent”. As the fundamental quote of Heidegger emblematically explains, Dasein, as a monad, has no door and no windows because it does not need them. This is not because Dasein does not need to “go beyond”, but because it is “already beyond”. Indeed, Heidegger focuses on the concept of the “hermeneutic of transcendence” in relation to the concepts of “freedom”, “essence of ground”, and “essence of truth”. Greisch affirms that all of us “engage” an explicit metaphysical questioning, because we all are fundamentally the play of “originary transcendence” (23).

Greisch follows this path, aiming to underline the need to keep transcendence as an intrinsic characteristic of Dasein: this necessarily requires the elaboration of a “metaphysics of Dasein”. Moving from the strict connection between metaphysics and Dasein, reconnecting to a terminology used by Ricoeur (in Réflexion faite), he focuses on the double structure that characterizes metaphysics: expansion [enlargement] (with Aristotle’s refutation of Parmenides that shows the unification of the attributes in ousia) and hierarchisation [hiérarchisation] (with Plato’s discourse on the five categories of same, other, being, rest and movement). In this same direction, the author refers to Stanislas Breton, who, in Reflexion sur la function méta, analyses three aspects of the “meta” function, and which become four in Greisch’s own account (metaphor, metamorphosis, metastasis, metabolism). These issues of the function “meta” are connected by the author with those of transcendence. Transcendence relates to “trans-ascendance”, an idealization without elevation, and to “trans-descendance”, as incarnation. The author explains this structure by drawing a diagram that shows how the vertical axis (consisting of trans-ascendance and trans-descendance), intersects with the horizontal axis, encompassing the directions of “trans-possibility” (understood as the extension of Dasein into the future, with reference to Heidegger’s “project”) and “trans-passibility” (understood as excess and not as mere constriction, like Heidegger’s “thrownness”).

Ramon Rodrìguez’s contribution focuses on another fundamental pair of concepts, often considered opposites: historicity (the leading concept of the nineteenth century, indicating what is essentially becoming and situated in a specific context) and ontology (the emblem of perennial structures). The author analyses Gadamer’s conception, which has often been misinterpreted as “historicist”, with the intent to underline that, on the contrary, Gadamerian thought must be considered opposed to historicism [Historismus]. He thus reads Gadamer as capable of thinking a new way forward not only for hermeneutics, but also for metaphysics, by conceiving the concept of history in connection with truth.

At first glance, Gadamerian hermeneutics might appear clearly distinct from metaphysics, as several post-metaphysical thinkers claim. First of all, hermeneutics focuses on the concept of the “radical finitude” of the human being: only on that basis can every relation between Dasein and the world be understood. In this respect, we are in front of a thought that rejects every globalizing or exhaustive concept of existence. Secondly, hermeneutics opposes presence, which is characteristic of the structure of essence and being in metaphysics, with “the happening of the event [Geschehen]”. Hermeneutics in fact aims to think the constant motility and openness of understanding [Verstehen]. Despite this fundamental claim, Rodrìguez determinately claims that it is possible to talk of a “hermeneutical philosophia prima” (42).

The author aims to stress the relevance of Gadamer’s conception of history for a correct understanding of his conception of language. Analyzing the second part of Gadamer’s Truth and Method, he shows Gadamer’s intent to criticize historicism as the tendency, I claim, to historicize everything except the very subject who understands the historicized content. In opposition to this idea, Gadamer points to the relevance of tradition (as Überlieferung, and not as monolithic tradition, as the author correctly stresses). History is a specific spatial-temporal context where Dasein is situated and where comprehension begins. It is remarkable that here the author underlines Hegel’s influence over Gadamer’s philosophy. However, this fundamental reference is not fully developed. It might be relevant to analyze how Gadamer develops the insights of Hegel’s philosophy in contraposition to historicism, pointing to the fundamental issue of the connection between history and truth without returning to the concept of “absolute spirit”. This emerges not only in Truth and Method but also in a previous essay titled The Problem of Historical Consciousness. It is also notable for the relation with metaphysics that Gadamer often defines himself as a defender of the “bad infinite”.

Rodrìguez wants to show that only by focusing on this issue it is possible to correctly understand the famous and controversial Gadamerian saying “being that can be understood is language” (Gadamer, 1960). This sentence must be conceived neither as a classical metaphysical formulation, namely that language is the supreme being – in this respect I claim that it is important to stress that Gadamer himself returned to these questions, rethinking the role of language in relation to its limits (as the essay on The Limits of the Language testifies) – nor as a post-metaphysical complete absence of truth in the multiplicity of languages that lack any unity. The author claims that we need to understand language as the fundamental medium of our historical being (45). Passing from Geschichtlichkeit to Sprachlichkeit means that the famous concept of the “fusion of horizons” (between the interpreter and the text, between different cultures) is only possible in the communal horizon of language. When it comes to this fundamental claim, I think it is crucial to stress that speaking of language as a medium does not mean it is an instrument [Mittel], but rather is a center [Mitte] where the human being is inevitably situated, as Gadamer affirms with reference to Hegel.

At the end of his contribution the author aims to restate his claim: it is possible to conceive of a “philosophia prima” in Gadamer, but this does not imply the recovery of the idea of a final foundation of philosophy. The connection between being and history constitutes a path of Dasein open to experience and connected with its transcendence (as Heidegger understands it). It is my belief that this could be explained as the infinite possibility of the finite. In this direction, Rodrìguez stresses that there is no reference to an “onto-theological” conception, with a hierarchical classification of being. As the concept of the “classical” implied by Gadamer testifies, his conception of history does not entail an atemporal vision, but rather the way in which the past is able to talk to the present: “This atemporality is rather a way of historical being” (51).

Rethinking Metaphysics: Physis and Analogy

The next two contributions in the volume follow a complementary path, renovating the concept of metaphysics in order to show its compatibility with contemporary hermeneutics. Christophe Perrin’s paper inspects the conflictual relation between physics and metaphysics, aiming to underline the impossibility of doing away with metaphysics. In light of this, not even hermeneutics can surpass metaphysics: what must be done is to establish a ground for a “metaphysical hermeneutics”. The author moves from the famous assertion ascribed to Newton to “guard oneself against metaphysics”. This represented a fundamental warning to the positivists and, in general, for those thinkers who tried to overcome metaphysics. The author tries to show that the assertion does not mean a mere critique of metaphysics, but rather a “sage memento” (62), by appealing to the classical argument that criticizing metaphysics necessarily implies doing metaphysics. In this respect, the two disciplines – i.e., physics and metaphysics – appear strongly connected, despite having been considered separate since the modern age, with the former being focused on corporeal entities and the latter on the higher causes that account for the very possibility of those entities (God, the cosmos, the soul). The author follows this path by analyzing the conception expressed by Newton, showing that the exhortation to “guard oneself against metaphysics” does not refer to something external one must drive away, but rather to an intrinsic tendency that is always present in the physicist himself, a “metaphysical drive” that may lead physics to lose its purpose and dissolve in the “curiosity” mentioned by Aristotle. In this respect, the physicist must follow the advice presented in Voltaire’s Candide: cultivate your garden. In sum, Perrin aims to show the hermeneutical circularity that inhabits metaphysics: “In order to understand metaphysics we must think, but in order to think we must understand metaphysics” (68). The somewhat rhetorical conclusion of the author is that the perpetual stimulus to think metaphysically helps us understand that not even hermeneutics can escape the metaphysical temptation.

Mauricio Beuchot also engages with the concept of metaphysics in order to propose its reformulation. He focuses on ontology in particular, claiming, contra Vattimo, that hermeneutics without ontology would be “acephalous”. The author underlines that both Gadamer and Ricoeur – the two fundamental hermeneutical thinkers of the contemporary world – developed a kind of ontology (an ontology of art in Gadamer, an ontology of the self in Ricoeur). For the author it is possible to rethink metaphysics only by elaborating a concept able to face the objection raised by Nietzsche and Heidegger. In this direction, the author develops the concept of “analogical ontology” proposed by Paul Gilbert. He focuses on the role of analogy, moving from Aristotle’s intuition that “being can be said in many ways”. Analogy – as developed by Pseudo-Dionigi in the three phases of negation, affirmation, and excess – aims to affirm that God’s being neither coincides with that of other entities nor wholly transcends it; rather, it is analogically related to it, encompassing both similarity and differentiation. An analogical ontology makes use of the concept of symbol as what mediates between the universal and the particular. In light of this, the human being is a symbol of God in a way that is neither univocal (as in classical metaphysics) nor equivocal (as in post-modern thought). These categories are of course too schematic, but they are directed at exposing the author’s proposal: “The human is the metaphor of being in a metonymical way, as a part that is sign of the whole” (77). The focus is an ontology of man that follows Heidegger’s conception expressed in his fundamental Ontology: Hermeneutics of facticity. The author wants to present an intermediate way. The last part of the essay appears to be less cogent, for the author tries to show the need for this concept of metaphysics by considering the metaphysical tendency as a sort of “pharmakon” for the modern melancholia that would be aggravated by post-metaphysical thinking. The aim of analogical ontology should thus be ethical and political. It should be a concept able to take into account the motility of the modern philosopher and to answer Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s critiques: an ontology that is both universal and concrete, based on the historical situation of man.

Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricouer: “Hermeneutical Metaphysics?”

Rudolf Boutet’s contribution aims to stress the connection between metaphysics and hermeneutics moving from the tendency, common to Gadamer and Ricouer, to hearken back to the metaphysical tradition. This approach, the author stresses, is not merely a kind of “history of philosophy”, but rather a “creative interpretation of metaphysics”. This is particularly evident in Ricouer’s The rule of metaphor where he recovers the Aristotelian conception of being with the aim of giving a metaphysical basis to the internal dynamism of being concealed by the historical assimilation of being to substance. He addresses the Aristotelian doctrine of being conceived of as a “poetic of being”: being reveals the metaphor as an actualization of being (Ricouer, 1975). Analogously, Gadamer concludes Truth and method by making referencing to the Platonic-Plotinian conception of beauty as the emblem of the manifestation of truth. Boutet claims that this is not just a historical reference but rather a movement that keeps together philosophy and history. He specifically analyses Ricouer’s conception of time developed in Time and narrative.  Ricouer deals with the aporia of time, that is, time is at the same time both plural and unique. The author correctly affirms that this analysis is the basis for Ricouer’s conception of history and its criticism of both utopianism (that paralyses action) and the mere restatement of past structures. This approach to tradition is what the author defines as a “creative interpretation” of metaphysics that does not come down to a merely subjective decision. It is rather “an interpretation that, in order to be adequate to the object, decides to produce a sense” (91). The fundamental claim is to rethink the creation of sense through a symbolic interpretation connected to both the metaphorical and conceptual levels. Just like Beuchot proposes an intermediate way via analogy, Boutet claims a mediation between the metaphysical issue and the multiplicity of reality.

François Jaran’s paper contributes to the general aim of the volume by focusing on how hermeneutics is able to tackle fundamental metaphysical questions such as the existence of the external world. In particular he wants to show that Heidegger inherits the “resolution” of this problem from Dilthey, despite his critique of Dilthey’s philosophy. The author contends that the intent animating Dilthey’s thought is to “explain life with itself”. This informs his critique of metaphysics and in particular its separation between man and world, such as theory and praxis, as it appears in the Introduction to the Human Sciences. Even though Dilthey strongly criticizes metaphysics (Dilthey, 1924), the author affirms that it is possible to talk of a “Diltheyan ontology” (101). According to the author, the concept of Erlebnis (crucial for Dilthey) should constitute the analogy of being. In fact, for Dilthey, the problem of the justification of the external world does not exist, because man is naturally situated in this world, as it emerges from his lived experience. From here, the author comes to affirm that, for Dilthey, Erlebnis is substance and the external world its accidents. This entails that the external world is given immediately to human beings. In strong connection with this, Dilthey refers to the concept of Innewerden (to become aware) that perfectly fits the relation between man and reality. In this direction Jaran claims: “Erlebnis is a primitive datum, whose seizing gives access to the more fundamental reality” (104). The author also claims that the concept of Innenwende is at the center of Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s conception, as a sort of key word of hermeneutics – I would rather claim that this cannot be the case for Heidegger nor for Gadamer, even though they inherit Dilthey’s conception of the relation between human and world. Indeed, they distance themselves from a philosophy of mere interiority based on Erlebnis, opposing to it, as is well known, the concept of Erfahrung.

Dilthey’s claim is undoubtedly a rehabilitation of a kind of experience where there is no distinction between the perceiver and the perceived; as such, he is critical of the traditional metaphysical conceptions that separate man and world. So the author aims to stress the “metaphysical aspect” present in Dilthey’s philosophy: “It is a philosophy that criticized the so-called ‘metaphysical speculation’, but it is however itself a metaphysical speculation” (106). Using this interpretative key, Jaran stresses that this is the main thread that leads to Heidegger, in particular referencing paragraph 43 of Being and Time, defined by Jaran as one of the “most metaphysical” paragraphs of Heidegger’s book. Heidegger in fact, following Dilthey, affirms that there is no separation between man and the world, because Dasein is co-originary with the world: it is not possible to think the world and Dasein separately; in fact Dasein gibt es (is given) together with the world. Thus, the author wants to stress that both Dilthey and Heidegger provide a solution to a crucial metaphysical problem. One last remark: following this parallelism, it would seem that Heidegger’s Dasein has the same role as Dilthey’s Erlebnis, being (in the author’s view) the substance whose accidents make up the world. I think this could be problematic and could make us lose sight of the claim of Heidegger’s philosophy (the role of Dasein as a peculiar being and not at all as being), thereby implying an existentialist reading of Dasein.

Marc-Antoine Vallée’s intent is to investigate whether hermeneutics has the “sufficient resources” to elaborate a metaphysics, conceived in the widest possible sense as “a reflection on beings and on its principles” (114). The author has a prudent (and sharable) vision, claiming that in the main contemporary hermeneutical thinkers, namely Gadamer and Ricouer, there is only the basis for a further development of “metaphysical hermeneutics”. The author rightly wants to oppose Caputo’s criticism of Gadamer’s hermeneutics (Caputo, 1987) as still connected with metaphysics, proposing a “radical hermeneutics” that intertwines with deconstruction and refuses every metaphysical problem. On the contrary Vallée claims that we must recover the relation of Gadamer and Ricouer to the main metaphysical questions. He investigates two central metaphysical topics in Truth and method, namely, the role of language and the connection of beauty with truth. I think, however, that it could be useful to remind ourselves that, as far as the question of art is concerned, Gadamer has notably rethought the Platonic-Plotinian conception of art in a more “anthropological” direction, as we see in the fundamental essay The Relevance of the Beautiful. Vallée also focuses on Gadamer essay Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Metaphysics, in which the author affirms that “phenomenology, hermeneutics and metaphysics are not different philosophical points of view, but rather the same expression of the philosophical act itself” (116). Analogously, the author indicates three possible metaphysical directions in Ricouer: the metaphysics of symbol (in Existence and Hermeneutics), the metaphysics of text (The Rule of Metaphor), and the metaphysics of the self (Oneself as Another).

The author’s main claim is that these philosophers are not metaphysical in a traditional sense (as Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel), but rather, following Grondin (2003), it is possible to talk of a “silent metaphysical dimension”. For Vallée, Gadamer and Ricoeur exhibit a sort of reticence to explicitly think metaphysically; moreover, there are some bases that prevent a complete development of a metaphysical conception. In fact, hermeneutics inherits the main claim of Heidegger’s thought as the openness of thinking and a refusal of every fundamental. From this point of view, going beyond the conceptions of Gadamer and Ricouer, hermeneutics could deal with a concept of “metaphysical rationality”. In his last remark, the author wants to recover the thought of Augustine, considered as a metaphysical thinker who set the stage for a “metaphysics of existence”. The message that emerges, I claim, is that, to promote hermeneutics nowadays, we need to recover a metaphysical conception, as proposed by Augustine.

The last article moves from Gadamer’s proposal in the above mentioned essay Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Metaphysics, in which he claims that the question of metaphysics is “still open” in the contemporary age. Carla Canullo aims to show the intrinsic connection of metaphysics and hermeneutics by taking into account their etymologies. The two disciplines emerge in Greek philosophy: specifically, while metaphysics arises in Aristotelian thought in the aim of showing that being can be said in different ways, hermeneutics is conceived by Plato in his Ion, affirming that the poet’s interpretation is able to grasp the essence of reality. However, in modern metaphysics (since the Scholastics) being is thought in terms of a “fixed conception”, while hermeneutics is a discipline that allows for the openness of thought. In opposition to this conception, the author claims that since its birth, metaphysics represents a “second navigation” that moves from the investigations of natural beings to their essence. Since that time, metaphysics is always renovating itself. This can be confirmed by the term “meta” (already at the center of Greisch’s contribution) which, among different significances, means “between two”, i.e., the crack which metaphysics has always left open. Following the author’s argumentation, this implies that metaphysics is not a fixed discipline, but is rather in a constant, dynamic movement from and to physis – the movement expressed by the “meta” of metaphysics. On the other hand, hermeneutics, following the Greek “legein”, is connected with “collection”, keeping together. So, as metaphysics passes through physics, hermeneutics presupposes the need of “something” that must be collected: “Hermeneutics collects what the ‘meta’ prefix divides” (131). This recollection, however, does not imply the elimination of difference. The author affirms that metaphysics and hermeneutics mirror each other in a continuous work of renewal. This movement, which happens continuously, constitutes the emblem of the relation between the two, and can never arrive to an end.

Bibliography:

Caputo, John D. 1987. Radical Hermeneutics. Indiana University Press.

Di Cesare, Donatella. 2013. Gadamer. A Philosophical Portrait. Translated by Niall Keane. Indiana University Press.

Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1924. Die geistige Welt. Einleitung in die Philosophie des Lebens. Teubner. Translated by R.A. Makkereel, F. Rodi, Introduction to the Human sciences. 1989. Princeton University Press.

Ferraris, Maurizio. 2014. Introduction to New Realism. Bloomsbury.

Gadamer, Hans-George. 1960. Wahrheit und Methode, Mohr Siebeck. Translated by J. Weinsheimer, D.G. Marshall. 2004. Truth and Method. Continuum.

George, Theodore, Gert, Jan Van der Heyden (eds.). 2021. The Gadamerian Mind. Routledge.

Grondin, Jean. 2004. Introduction à la métaphasique. Presses de l’Université de Montréal.

Grondin, Jean. 2013. Du sens de choses. L’idée de la métaphysique. Puf.

Grondin, Jean. 2019. La beauté de la métaphasique. Essais sur ses piliers herméneutiques. Puf.

Heidegger, Martin. 1927. Sein und Zeit, Niemeyer. Translated by J. Stambaugh, 2010. Being and Time. State University of New York Press.

Ricouer, Paul. 1975. La métaphore vive, Éditions du Seuil. Translated by R. Czerny. The Rule of Metaphor. 1977. University of Toronto Press.

Vattimo, Gianni, Rovatti Pier Aldo (Eds.). 2012. The Weak Thought. SUNY Press.

Paul Mendes-Flohr: Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent

Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent Book Cover Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent
Jewish Lives
Paul Mendes-Flohr
Yale University Press
2019
Hardback $26.00
440

Reviewed by: Guilel Treiber (Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven)

It was a destabilizing experience reading about Martin Buber’s pessimistic predictions of the future of Jewish nationalism while Israel was bombing Gaza (yet again) in the spring of 2021. Mendes-Flohr’s Martin Buber, A Life of Faith and Dissent highlights Buber’s prophetic criticism of what has now become an intractable conflict and a violent domination of the lives of at least 3 million Palestinians. However, Mendes-Flohr’s much anticipated biography falls short of recognizing that Buber’s unique position in the history of Zionism can make him a beacon for contemporary Israelis or even Jews worldwide critical of Israel’s policies and desirous of a just solution in Israel-Palestine. There is something domesticated about his Buber, something almost naïve. I will go back to these points later in this review. For the moment, it is enough to state that Mendes-Flohr’s biography of Martin Buber, a synthetic work that sums up 40 years of research dedicated to Buber’s work, is impressive as it is enjoyable. In about 350 pages, Mendes-Flohr draws lines of continuity and change through the life and thought of one of the most emblematic Jewish intellectuals of the 20th century. If it has any failings, these are centred around the disappointment of making of Buber nothing more than a historical figure. To use Buber’s terms, it is a biography of I-It, one of historical and scholarly acumen, yet one that does not lead to any possible encounter with what Buber was all about, the lived experience of dialogue.

Many of the details of Buber’s life are well known by now. He has left behind many letters exchanged with the leading luminaries of the 20th century, from Einstein to Gandhi, spanning the 60 years of his career. His work has been translated and read in many languages, cultures, and religious contexts. Maurice Friedman, his student and later collaborator, published during the eighties a three-volume biography that meticulously traced every event in Buber’s life. However, no full biography has been published since then. There was an unavoidable necessity to publish a new, more concise biography that deals with the main issues in Buber’s life. Mendes-Flohr has done that with bravado. His biography will become the entry point for every student and lay-reader interested in Buber’s life and work. It traces his contributions to Judaism, philosophy, inter-religious dialogue, politics, his changing relation with Zionism, his critique of nationalism in the aftermath of WWI, and his consistent work towards an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Indeed, between «faith» and «dissent», Mendes-Flohr shows how Buber was continuously understood as an outsider, as a truth-speaker in the public square (213), as a civil disobedient committed to a life of dialogue and meetings, an «anomalous Jew» (232). Read with the eye of a contemporary reader, Mendes-Flohr succeeds in making Buber attractive and (to some extent) relevant again. He constructs a narrative of an individual who always grasped himself as a representative of the Jewish people (all the while remaining on its margins) and who struggled to live up to the highest demands of that burden.

The book is divided into 11 chapters in addition to an introduction. There is no conclusion. The eleventh chapter ends with the passing of Buber on June 13, 1965, at 87. One can divide the book into three sections: the first four chapters detail Buber’s early life and career, his early interaction with Zionism and Jewish collective existence in Europe; chapters five to eight are structured around the dramatic events in Europe between the two world wars and Buber’s transformation following his friendships with Gustav Landauer and Franz Rosenzweig; chapters nine to eleven begin with the Bubers leaving Europe to Palestine in mid-1938, five years after the Nazis took control of Germany. The last three chapters focus mainly on Buber’s passage to writing and teaching in Hebrew and his interaction with the radical transformation in Jewish collective life that the double events of the destruction of European Jewry (1939-1945) and the establishment of the State of Israel (1948) brought about.

The biography is an intellectual biography; hence, specific life events are sometimes passed over rather quickly: Buber’s absent mother, tense relationship with his father and grandfather, and the fact that he and his wife raised his son’s two daughters. On the other hand, marginal intellectual meetings are somewhat overplayed and not always in a very satisfactory fashion. Two of these were addressed by Mendes-Flohr in independent contributions. However, the main thrust of the biography is not interrupted to allow for a long detour into these issues. I refer here to Buber’s engagement and contributions to early German sociology (44-51) and his ongoing critical reading of Heidegger, which led to a meeting after the war (278-286). It is often time forgotten that Buber was heavily influenced by Dilthey and had a long-standing friendship with Simmel (Mendes-Flohr’s doctoral dissertation focused on the way Buber’s dialogical philosophy was shaped by German sociology). Buber was even part of Simmel’s inner circle (47). However, not much more is given as details in this biography.

In fact, one cannot help but wonder whether the biography is more destined to the lay-reader or early student of Buber or Jewish and Continental Philosophy than to the academic philosopher. From the perspective of a philosopher, I would have liked to read more details concerning Buber’s philosophical thought, about his later formulations of philosophical anthropology, about his Nieztscheanism and critique of Heidegger. All these are present, yet always too quickly and too little, giving the biography an introductory character. To be sure, the biography may certainly contribute to renewing interest in Buber’s work and perhaps even research into his philosophical contributions beyond the disciplinary tag of Jewish Philosophy. However, the reader will not find these fully explored here.

Mendes-Flohr structures the biography around two elements in his subject’s life and thought: the tension between the «supernatural Jew» and the «natural Jew» (xiv). The supernatural Jew is in some respect the Weberian ideal-type Jew «beholden to the timeless religious vocation of the Jewish people as defined by the (divinely revealed) Torah and rabbinic tradition.» The natural Jew is the concrete, individual and collective existence of Jews in a specific historical moment. However, although Mendes-Flohr contends that Buber’s «overarching concern» was to reintegrate the natural and the supernatural Jew, this significant claim is not defended systematically. In fact, after getting mentioned in the introduction it is not brought up again until page 241. Moreover, there are some conceptual issues with this definition since it assumes, indeed as Buber did, that there is some essential core to Judaism that is constantly the same, i.e., the direct, unmediated relationship to God. One may argue that perhaps the structure of a relation to God is a-historical, while the content constantly changes throughout history. Nevertheless, this would be an un-Buberian position, and Mendes-Flohr does not adopt such a critical stance.  It is only when treating Buber’s critique of Gandhi – who suggested to the Jews of Europe that it is better to suffer and die under Nazi rule than engage in a colonialist enterprise in the Middle East even if their lives depended on it – that Mendes-Flohr suddenly brings back the issue. According to Mendes-Flohr, Buber argues against Gandhi that doing what he suggests will amount to a preference for the supernatural Jew over the concrete lives and experiences of millions. Mendes-Flohr’s return to the issue at this moment in Buber’s life is crucial. With the rise of the threat of Nazi persecution from the mid-thirties, Jews found themselves torn between the immediate demands of their empirical existence and the «unremitting calling» of the supernatural Jew (243). Moreover, from this moment onward, Buber would be acutely aware of the tension between these two. In contradistinction to Gandhi, who preferred the supernatural Jew over the natural one, the Zionist movement according to Mendes-Flohr reading of Buber, prefers the natural Jew (259) thus neglecting the moral calling of God for Tikkun Olam, the repairing of the world according to the social vision of the prophets (114). One can understand Buber’s critique of Gandhi and Zionism only when one replaces our commonplace definition of Zionism as a national movement with Buber’s claim that it is more about cultural renewal than national sovereignty, more about social justice than military prowess. For Buber, a bi-national state was completely coherent with his vision of Zionism, far removed from the nationalistic hegemony that many Zionists promulgate today.

Buber was understood by many of his critics and friends alike to be a utopian thinker, undisturbed by the concrete realities of the Jewish people. Indeed, a striking example of this is a series of conferences he gave in Poland on the eve of WWII. Jews had gathered by the thousands to listen to his every word. But instead of giving them hope or encouraging them to resist, Buber choose to talk about Jewish education. He regretted it later (218). It is clear that Buber was not a political realist, but nor was he detached from the political demands of his day. Mendes-Flohr partly recognizes the critical potential of Buber’s thought showing his ability to detect latent threats and problems years before they are actualized (e.g., concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Nevertheless, the narrative Mendes-Flohr constructs falls into the trapping of telling the story of a dreamer, endowed with a «prophetic realism» (227) exacerbated by WWII. This may have been true of the Buber of his own time, but it is very far from true concerning a Buber for our own.

It is in our own time that Buber’s critical positions concerning Judaism, Zionism, nationalism, and legalistic religion are most relevant. As stated earlier, Mendes-Flohr renders Buber to be some naïve prophet shouting inertly at the entrance of the city. This is a sad mistake. Focusing more on the contrasting views of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and a crucial figure in the establishment of the Hebrew state, and Buber would have shown that it is not Ben Gurion’s political realism but rather Buber’s visionary warnings concerning the dangers of Jewish nationalism that seem to have been correct. As some Israeli Jews engaged in mob violence against Palestinians during May 2021, Buber’s warning that «there can be no peace between Jews and Arabs that is merely a cessation of war; there can only be a peace of genuine cooperation» (255) is timely. Indeed, Buber was among the only Hebrew intellectuals calling for a bi-national state—a vision that avoids what still plagues any effort for peace in the region, the nationalistic logic of majority-minority relations. As Mendes-Flohr writes, Buber found the idea of a binational state in Palestine to be «sounder» than any other solution. It was not an «infallible formula,» but it enabled «thinking beyond the conceptual boxes of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’, political configurations that would inevitably lead to violent conflict between the Jews and the Arabs.» (246)

Two crucial, highly intellectual, and emotional friendships have shaped Buber’s life. The first, his friendship with Gustav Landauer, the Jewish anarchist who was murdered by German militias in the aftermath of the fall of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. While Buber brought Landauer closer to Judaism, Landauer convinced Buber that his early understanding of Jews as a community of blood is erroneous. To some extent, Landauer shaped Buber’s spiritual anarchism which will inform his thought throughout his life and that made him a prescient critic of nationalism and its dangers. Indeed, one of the most significant contributions of this biography is that it highlights the relationship as a formative one for Buber. It attaches, correctly in my view, more importance to Landauer’s influence and the impact of his tragic death on the morrow of WWI in moving Buber definitively to the anarchist, socialist left than to the experience of the harrowing cost of lives due to the war. Mendes-Flohr thus goes against the somewhat simplistic explanation of Buber himself and supported by Friedman that it was a missed meeting with a young man on his way to the front that made Buber realize the dangers of his mystic understanding of the union between community and God (see the story «Conversion» in Buber’s Meetings and Friedman’s introduction to the text). The second relationship, with Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, ended just as tragically as the first. Rosenzweig died from muscular degeneration (ALS) on December 10, 1929, three days after Buber visited him to work on their translation of the Hebrew Bible to German. His last words were uttered as he was struggling to dictate a letter to Buber. This relation pushed Buber deeper into Jewish philosophy. Rosenzweig was one of the first readers of I and Thou, and their joint translation of the Bible is a landmark work of translation. Yet, each remained relatively firm in their respective beliefs. Buber emphasized Judaism as a lived faith, while for Rosenzweig, it was its legalistic aspects that made it a unique religion. For Rosenzweig, the Law (halakha) and the commandments (mitzvot) were at the basis of a spiritual renewal of Judaism (149). Buber stated in response that revelation is never a direct formulation of the Law, thus rejecting a basic tenet of Judaism. For Buber, it was the meeting between humans and God, i.e., revelation, that led to the formulation of the Law by humans themselves through their «self-contradiction» (153).

Reading Buber’s biography is more than reading about the life of a particular individual, or even a particular Jew (or Jewish individual). Indeed, as the editors of the series in which the book was published, «Jewish Lives,» state, the series aims «to explore the many facets of Jewish identity.» I think of no other Jewish thinker of the 20th century who can give such an englobing and engrossing image of the many facets of this identity. I see no other writer than Paul Mendes-Flohr, who could have done justice to such a complex subject in less than 350 pages of text. As stated, this is a synthetic work, concise as is expected from such a series of books. As such, none of my critical points could have been addressed in the space given to an intellectual life stretching for over 60 years during one of the more tumultuous times in Jewish history. Mendes-Flohr does a wonderful work of introducing Buber to the reader with love and respect, to the great benefit of the general interest in Buber’s life and works. The work may strike scholars who are familiar with Buber’s life and works or with 20th-century Jewish history and thought as somewhat too simple, too introductory. Notwithstanding, it is an enormously enjoyable read that addresses important aspects and raises central issues concerning Buber. I believe it will become the entry point for many future students of Buber and Judaism, and as such, Mendes-Flohr has done an excellent service to both.

Matthew Beaumont: Lev Shestov: Philosopher of the Sleepless Night

Lev Shestov: Philosopher of the Sleepless Night Book Cover Lev Shestov: Philosopher of the Sleepless Night
Matthew Beaumont
Bloomsbury
2020
Paperback $39.95
216

Reviewed by: Benjamin Rees (KU Leuven)

In Lev Shestov: Philosopher of the Sleepless Night, Matthew Beaumont gives us a long overdue reassessment of the mostly forgotten Russian philosopher Lev Shestov. History has been both substantially marked as well as unkind to Shestov’s legacy, and modern readers rarely come across his name but for the occasional comment by better known philosophers of the interwar Parisian milieu. Beaumont picks up the potential for a novel reading of the philosopher where Boris Groys’ chapter length treatment in his Introduction to Anti-Philosophers (Groys 2012) left off. In doing so, many of the previously overlooked possibilities for placing Shestov in a dialogue with post-modern and continental philosophies are brought to light as Beaumont carefully reveals the implicit connections between Shestov and anti-enlightenment philosophers such as Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Jacques Derrida, as well as many others.

Beaumont’s reading of Shestov is an ethical one rooted in a hyper-vigilant insomnia that cannot find rest until there is an accounting for all the suffering of our present time, as well as an impossible accounting for the suffering of the past. This endless vigilance is capable of distorting the world away from it’s current state into a world that does not permit of any suffering, no matter how idealistic this may seem. To accomplish this Beaumont gives us a detailed reading of Shestov’s reading of Pascal. These accounts are all characterized by Beaumont’s, Shestov’s and Pascal’s obsessive orbiting of the idea that “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world: there must be no sleeping during that time” (Beaumont 2020, 20). This imperative is rooted in Jesus’ disciples failing Christ at his most vulnerable moment in the garden of Gethsemane when his despair was at its highest point due to his utter alienation from even those closest to him. Beaumont follows Pascal and Shestov in the need to remain absolutely vigilant, and he develops this theme of sleeplessness into a radical and constant rejection of any practice or institution, past or present, that justifies suffering at any level. In this way it is more so a modality of endless vigilance rather than any particular act or systematic way of thinking that can determine in advance how we are to interpret any given moment or event. What is demanded from Shestov then, as an ethical thinker, is constant and perpetual revolt. We can understand the direction, gravity, and force of Beaumont’s argument when he says that this ethics of eternal vigilance:

is […] about ‘staying awake,’ in some active and even agonistic sense. And, to this extent, though it does not address questions of race, it deliberately situates the political discourse of wakefulness, the resonance of which it emphatically underlines, in a rather different, more fully philosophical context, thereby defamiliarizing and displacing it in an attempt to restore a sense of its persistent, and urgent, importance. (Beaumont 2020, 3)

To develop this ethical state, Beaumont points to the idea of homo vigilans (waking man), as opposed to homo dormiens (sleeping man), found in Shestov’s writings.

For Beaumont homo vigilans is a state of engagement so intense that it is metaphorically brighter than the light outside of Plato’s cave, given that the glow of rationality itself can act as a narcotic if compared with his wakefulness. Beaumont shows us the ways in which, according to Shestov, reason can submerge and subordinate the individual to history, such as we find in Hegel, in a way that justifies their suffering as the necessary costs of historical progress and so rationalizes these casualties into a kind of indifferent acceptance (Beaumont 2020, 140-143). Yet we are also shown how the assurances of reason itself can lull us back to sleep with the peace and quiet found in formulations like the agreeable and eternal assurance that two times two is four (Beaumont 2020, 131-132). Beaumont’s homo vigilans is to be on guard against every one of these intellectual balms and is to always be present to the worlds failings. With this in mind, I would like to turn look more closely at Beaumont’s conceptualizing of homo vigilans.

The only locations in Shestov’s texts cited by Beaumont regarding Shestov’s use of homo vigilans are found where Shestov is attacking Husserlian phenomenology. Our first encounter with homo vigilans comes from a debates between Shestov and the Alsatian philosopher Jean Héring. To be exact, Shestov uses the term homo vigilans in “What is Truth? On Ethics and Ontology” (Shestov 1968c, 400-401); an essay that replies directly to Héring’s defense of Husserlian phenomenology. This essay itself, however, is part of a much larger debate that goes back to an essay titled “Memento Mori(Shestov 1968c, 287-359), where Shestov argues that if we are to believe Husserl’s argument that the evidence of consciousness (i.e. the modality of objects given as actual/evidential) can ground a theory of knowledge, then there is no accounting for the fact that dreaming gives to homo dormiens a variety of seemingly real and evident moments that are indistinguishable from the way evidence is given to homo vigilans. To put it differently: while asleep, homo dormiens takes the objects given to consciousness as if they were evidential/actual in the same way that homo vigilans takes objects while awake, and so Shestov argues that Husserl’s notion of evidence cannot used to ground a theory of knowledge unless it can make a distinction between the way objects are given with the same degrees of evidence in both waking and dreaming alike (Shestov 1968c, 326-328). From this perspective, according to Shestov, homo dormiens and homo vigilans end up becoming two states that relativize each other in away that sets up a tension where one “devour[s]” the other (Shestov 1968c, 340).

With these remarks in mind, I feel it is fair to argue that Shestov does not seem to be offering any solid phenomenological state along the lines of homo vigilans in any of his texts. Instead, he is calling into question the possibility for any truly stable state at all – phenomenological or otherwise. The second use of the term homo vigilans is found where Shestov essentially repeats this argument almost two decades later in Athens and Jerusalem (Shestov 1968a, 432), with nothing new added in terms of the possibility for an ethical reading.

On the heels of these comments, Beaumont’s appropriation of homo vigilans as central to his ethical reading of Shestov might not be beyond questioning. While metaphorically sound and proper, this use of homo vigilans does not seem to be found anywhere in Shestov’s writings, and it is only ever spoken of in a problematic context. If there are other instances of Shestov’s use of homo vigilans then Beaumont has overlooked them, as the ones cited in his book only point to these pages that do not support homo vigilans as an ethical state.

There is another perspective taken by Beaumont that is worth considering. Throughout his book he often uses the term ‘anti-Necessity’ to characterize the unpredictable nature of being that marks Shestov’s philosophy, and this term serves as one of the cornerstones of Beaumont’s reading of Shestov as an original thinker. Yet, this phrase is not one used by Shestov himself. Instead, as Beaumont points out, it is one Czesław Miłosz uses to describe Shestov’s precarious understanding of being (Beaumont 2020, 43). While initially this may not appear significant, the use of anti-Necesity is not without a few unintended, though perhaps wide reaching consequences.

The first is the way in which the concept of revelation is replaced and essentially overlooked by this term. For Shestov, revelations are the point at which there may be effects without causes, when what is unpredictable and beyond any given situation comes in and violently disrupt the order of things. This concept of revelation seems to be the precursor to the concept of the event in post modernity, such as Alain Badiou’s understanding of events, and so overlooking this aspect of Shestov accidentally still keeps his impact on European thought in the dark. To truly consider the profundity of this concept, take the following example:

A thing was suddenly revealed to Descartes of which he had been in ignorance; that he, Descartes, really existed. It was revealed to him; it was a revelation which was in direct contradiction to all the principles of reason. Reason, which questions everything, this pure, super-individual reason, this «consciousness as such», without which all objective knowledge is impossible, had begun to question the existence of Descartes. And where reason is doubted, rational arguments cannot convince. When «the light of truth was revealed» to Descartes (as he himself describes his «cogito, ergo sum«), this was, I repeat, a true revelation which triumphantly dispersed all considerations of reason. (Shestov 1975, 110)

Were we to replace the ‘anti-Necessity’ with the word revelation in the quote above, it is clear that much of the sense will become lost or distorted, as it becomes specifically confusing to grasp the relationship between anti-Necessity and the sense of something being ‘revealed.’ It is for this reason that I believe Beaumont’s use of the term seems to further occlude Shestov’s relationship with future thinkers of the event.

The second problem with the term anti-Necessity is that it still seems to be beholden to necessity at some level; as if anti-Necessity exists insofar as it is a dialectical negation of necessity. Shestov’s understanding of revelation, however, is not in any relation to necessity, but instead is always coming from some kind excess.[1] In this way, if anything, Shestov is more so a pre-Necessity thinker rather than one who champions any anti-Necessity, and if we do indeed attribute to his work any notion of anti-Necessity, I would argue that this is only ever half the story. Taking into account this perspective matters because framing Shestov as a messianic thinker by way of thinking towards anti-Necessity still further accidentally covers over a few of Shestov’s unconventional and novel arguments.

While there are some messianic elements in Shestov, if we would read him as a pre-Necessity thinker, rather than a thinker of anti-Necessity, it becomes merely a choice to either follow the totalizing claims of necessity (which, for Shestov, seems to be synonymous with reason, universality, eternal truths, etc), or to reject it’s claim as the last word in determining the nature of existence. It is of the utmost importance to point out how Shestov ceaselessly argues that we are in fact making a choice when we submit to necessity as the final authority governing reality, and that for him it is a choice, and so one that can be chosen against. Thus it is not a question of refuting necessity, of arguing against it’s alleged authority, but simply a rejection that does entertain the need for any refutation. This kind of rejection resembles Job when he rejects his friends (their reliance on wisdom, on the authority of tradition, their reasoning, etc), rather than engaging in any argument against them on their own terms. Yet there is still a further and more nuanced point to consider with respect to Beaumont’s messianic reading.

Throughout all his writings, Shestov quotes the Psalms, where it is unequivocally declared that “All things are possible.” Messianic along Beaumont’s reading yields the necessity of a future tense to be interjected into this statement, and we would rather need to believe that ‘All things will be possible.’ Yet such an element of futurity is almost entirely absent in Shestov’s oeuvre (and where it does exist, it does not seem to exist in a manner that could be called messianic [Shestov 1968a, 434).

More to the point, in In Job’s Balance we find Shestov reading Dostoyevsky’s The Dream of a Ridiculous Man to demonstrate how it is that necessity, as well as the knowledge of good and evil, are not essential characters of humanity but are instead the consequences of choosing to follow the knowledge of good and evil (Shestov 1975, 64-66). The fallen state of man is shown not to be an absolute state of being but rather a state that can one day be radically overturned, perhaps even by a cultivation of the docta ignorantia (Shestov 1968a. 412), and in this way spiritual liberation is not necessarily contingent on any messiah, and so not intrinsically based on something beyond an individual’s capacity at any given moment, including the present. Beaumont does not provide us with this insight, and if anything, he accidentally steers Shestov into a kind of emancipatory ideology rather than towards the existent as being always-already emancipated, yet curiously an existent who willingly turns themselves over to external authorities (ie. necessity, reason, etc.). I would like to focus on one of the last arguments made by Beaumont’s book before turning to some broader considerations of his argument.

In the conclusion Beaumont indicates that Shestov’s anti-Necessity grounds his claim that one day it may no longer be true that “the Athenians poisoned Socrates” (Beaumont 2020, 151-152). Here Beaumont offers a vivid and enlightening way in which Shestov can be read as one of the most hopeful of philosophers. Such an optimistic undoing of Socrates fate rests on the fact that as a truth is born so too may it perish, and one day Socrates will never have been poisoned. Beaumont tells us that Shestov “prophesies a universe in which anti-Necessity finally supervenes, transforming the conditions in which cause and effect unfold from one another in linear narrative sequence, terrible historical events that retrospectively seem to have been inevitable simply will not have taken place” (Beaumont 2020, 153). However, while this kind of thought does match Shestov’s writings, it seems unclear how it is that such anti-Necessity can supervene.

Necessity in Shestov, as well as Beaumont’s reading of Shestov, is a general concept who’s domain extends over all of existence thoroughly and blindly. I am left wondering: in what way can anti-Necessity, itself seemingly a kind of general concept, ‘supervene’ (Beaumont 2020, 153)? In light of this question with the previous considerations of this concept in mind, it becomes evident that Beaumont’s concept of anti-Necessity is still lacking the disruptive nature of Shestov’s understanding of revelation, given that this anti-Necessity more so has the register of something general, like necessity, which acts indiscriminately on all things at all times. It seems to resemble a special category of some sort rather than a specific particular moment of disruption or intervention. I would like to propose instead that, rather than pit anti-Necessity against necessity (which seems to be placing one kind of generality against another generality), we read Shestov’s reversal of the truth of Socrates death as a kind of anti-revelation, as this seems more suited to Shestov’s terms.[2] Shestov’s argument that one day it may come about that Socrates has never in fact been poisoned is not to palimpsestically write over a truth so at to undo its presence, existence, or sense, but is rather for the truth to never have been written at all in the first place. It is to imagine some kind of anti-revelation whose polarity is one that covers what has been done altogether, and in this way is a revelation that is one particular devouring another particular – an anti-revelation that un-reveals what has been disclosed.[3] Strangely enough this ethical idea of a great reversal could be familiar to contemporary readers of French philosophy, as it seems to be touched upon by French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux in similarities that are worth considering, even if lightly and in passing.

When Meillassoux says “the fourth World ought to be called the World of justice: for it is only the World of the rebirth of humans that makes universal justice possible, by erasing even the injustice of shattered lives” (cited from: Harman 2011, 190) it is almost impossible not to think back to Shestov’s undoing of Socrates death as it is outlined above. While it is not possible here to determine whether the connection here is accidental or not, this connection should perhaps not be seen as purely arbitrary. Where Beaumont has explored Shestov’s impact on Delueze, the impact of Deleuze on Badiou was not mentioned even in passing and yet aspects of Badiou’s heritage seem to have possibly retained something of Shestov’s radical thinking (whether implicitly or explicitly), and this interesting link deserves a few more words on the matter, as it could contain the link between Shestov and Meillassoux in terms of the degrees in which both of these thinkers are philosophizing on the fringes of thought.

The overlap between Shestov and Alain Badiou becomes evident if we compare the following three quotes. The first is Badiou arguing that there are nothing but differences between anything and everything, a claim fundamental to his differential ontology. Specifically, he says that:

Infinite alterity is quite simply what there is. Any experience at all is the infinite deployment of infinite differences. Even the apparently reflexive experience of myself is by no means the intuition of a unity but a labyrinth of differentiations […]. There are as many differences, say, between a Chinese peasant and a young Norwegian professional as between myself and anybody at all, including myself. (Badiou 2012, 25-26)

By contrast, we also find Shestov arguing in In Job’s Balance similarly, that:

It is impossible to speak of ‘man’ generally, so long as the metaphysical destinies of individual men are different […]. There is a Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Alexander’s groom, but each of these differs from the other far more strongly than he does from a rhinoceros, a peacock, a cypress, or a cabbage; perhaps even from a tree trunk or a rock. (Shestov 1975, 220-221)

And, furthermore, in Potestas Clavium, Shestov says:

Even when men pronounce the same words, they each mean and see different things. Two orthodox Moslems swear in the name of two different Allahs. And I would say more: every Moslem today worships a completely other Allah than the one for whom he risked his life yesterday. The principle of identity applies only in logic. (Shestov 1968c, 167)

With these quotes in mind that it seems clear to me that some aspects of the differential ontology that came to prominence in post World War 2 French thought can be traced back to Shestov at least at some level, and this claim can be rather well substantiated by Beaumont’s book under consideration, albeit by way of different avenues. And yet, perhaps even more to this point, we can consider an otherwise overlooked rapport between Shestov and Levinas that is absent from Beaumont’ text in question.

It seems clear that Levinas has borrowed (without any citation I am aware of) Shestov’s notion of Socrates and Abraham, while simply changing the name of Socrates to Ulysses (Shestov 1968a, 440) (Levinas 1963, 610). Moreover, both Shestov and Levinas share a strikingly similar perspective with respect to the violence of Socrates’ dialectic in Platonic dialogues (Shestov 1968c, 115-119) (Levinas 1969, 171 – specifically his criticism of ‘maieutics’). While more similarities could be drawn between Shestov’s never ending attack on Western ontology and Levinas’ own ontological deconstruction (though, undertaken in different terms), to explore this at any length is to diverge too far, and I can do nothing more here than encourage a curious reader to simply read In Job’s Balance and Athens and Jerusalem with such suggestions in mind. I have drawn these connections overlooked by Beaumont to indicate how there is still more work to be done in bringing to light Shestov’s profound impact on 20th century philosophy.

Perhaps, in the end, it is worth mentioning that Shestov himself seemed to be a thinker opposed to ethics of any kind, given there can be no form of ethics without an appeal to a concept that is universal, and his attacks on any and every form of universality as the ultimate criteria for truth, and so philosophy, are not few or far between. For example, take the following quote from his book on Kierkegaard:

Reason eagerly strives for universal and necessary truths which are uncreated and dependent upon no one! Is not reason itself in the power of some hostile force that has so bewitched it that the fortuitous and the transitory seem to it necessary and eternal? And ethics, which suggests to man that resignation is the highest virtue—is it not in the same position as reason? It, too, has been bewitched by mysterious spells; man’s destruction awaits him where ethics promises him happiness and salvation. One must escape from reason, escape from ethics, without trying to find out beforehand what the end of the journey will be. (Shestov 1968b, 100)

Yet this is not to say that Beaumont has taken too many liberties with his reading of Shestov, and I am primarily mentioning this to encourage readers to read Shestov for themselves, and not to discredit Beaumont’s ethical insomnia, one that Shestov would have probably approved of at some level. Vladimir Jankélévitch goes so far as to say “je me croyais Chestov lui-même, Chestov réincarné” (Suarès 1986, 79) and still goes further in developing his own ethics (cf. The Bad Conscience or Forgiveness), and it is thus perfectly reasonable for Beaumont to do the same; that is, to work within a Shestovian framework with the intentions of deriving some kind of ethics.

Let me clearly stress that none of my comments above are to detract from the brilliance of Beaumont’s work, which is distinguished for its skillful mixing of clarity and depth. Lev Shestov Philosopher of the Sleepless Night serves as the first overdue step towards bringing to contemporary readers an inspired and original interpretation of an otherwise forgotten philosopher. I cannot strongly enough recommend this book as a fresh and concise starting point for engaging with Shestov’s works as a whole. For these, and many of the other reasons a reader will find while reading this book, Beaumont’s work deserves a close and attentive reading.

Bibliography

Badiou, Alain. 2012. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Translated by Peter Hallward. Verso.

Beaumont, Matthew. 2020. Lev Shestov. Philosopher of the Sleepless Night. Bloomsbury Academic.

Groys, Boris. 2012. Introduction to Anti-Philosophy. Trans. David Fernbach. Verso.

Harman, Graham. 2011. Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making. Edinburgh University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1963. “La trace de l’autre.” Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie, vol. 25 (3): 605–623.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Duquesne University Press.

Shestov, Lev. 1968a. Athens and Jerusalem. Clarion Books.

Shestov, Lev. 1975. In Job’s Balance. Ohio University Press.

Shestov, Lev. 1968b. Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy. Ohio University Press.

Shestov, Lev. 1968c. Potestas Clavium. Ohio University Press.

Suarès, G. 1986. Vladimir Jankélévitch Qui suis-je? La Manufacture.


[1] cf. Shestov 1975, 221 – “The Irrational Residue of Being”

[2] Shestov’s reading of Socrates’ poisoning argues that it was entirely needless and contrary to reason that the wisest individual had an unjust and lowly death. Repeatedly Shestov stresses that something is rationally wrong with seeing how Socrates’ drinking of hemlock is as logically equivalent to that of a dog’s being poisoned in the same manner, and the sheer absurdity of Socrates’ fate in itself seems to fit the bill of the definition of revelation in many respects (Shestov 1968a, 94), and this all the more so if we consider the following lines of the quote regarding Descartes above: “There is something in life which is above reason. What reason cannot conceive is not therefore always impossible. And conversely, where reason establishes a necessity the chain may nevertheless break” (Shestov 1975, 110-111). And so Socrates death itself proves how contingent, accidental, and unstructured the world may be, how the chain of necessity may be broken, and yet how we can be coerced by necessity into accepting this truth of Socrates’ dead as being just as reasonable as the death of a dog’s from being poisoned.

[3]It is precisely in this line of thinking that I would place any hope of approaching Shestov in an ethically fruitful way.

Chad Engelland (Ed.): Language and Phenomenology

Language and Phenomenology Book Cover Language and Phenomenology
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Chad Engelland (Ed.)
Routledge
2020
Hardback £120.00
318

Reviewed by: Sarah Pawlett Jackson (St Mellitus College)

Language and Phenomenology is a collection of 15 essays edited by Chad Engelland. Doing what it says on the tin, these essays cluster around questions about the relationship between language and phenomenology, in a range of different ways and with different axes of analysis in view. The text is bookended by Engelland himself. In both his Introduction and the essay that culminates the text he draws our attention to the fact that phenomenological discourse is itself a language with its own vocabulary and grammar. As Richard Kearney tells us in his contribution on linguistic and narrative hospitality, ‘a mother tongue has many children’ (267). The text exemplifies these two points in its form and content. If all the contributing authors are fluent in the language of phenomenology, there are nevertheless different dialects, or – to use Engelland’s own terminology – ‘inflections’ (273) represented.

Reading the text as a whole presents as a question the extent to which there is agreement or disagreement between the authors that it gives voice to. The collection seems to offer different conclusions about the nature of the relationship between phenomenology and language, but there is a question in this reader’s mind as to how much of this difference is ultimately terminological, rather than substantively philosophical. These questions of interpretation themselves find a mirror in the questions that are put to us in the text. As reviewing a work involves mediation and a kind of ‘translation’ of the authors, I am minded of Kearney’s observation that ‘…each dialect has its secrets, whence the legitimate double-injunction of every guest language cries to its host: ‘Translate me! Don’t translate me!’ (265). I will explore some of the threads, themes and tensions that the text presents, then, whilst recognising the limits of this ‘translation’.

Between them these essays variously look at the possible relationships and connections between speech and language, language and thought, language and meaning, dialogue and language, dialogue and mood, dialogue and perceptual experience, experience and judgement, language and normativity, language and self-consciousness, experience and interpretation, language and embodiment and language and truth. The most prominent scholarly figures in this text are Husserl and Heidegger, with multiple essays dedicated to exegeting both the early and late work of this prominent pair. Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer and others are also brought into these overlapping and intersecting conversations. All of the essays are rooted in the phenomenological tradition, but many find a natural conversation partner with analytic philosophy, drawing the likes of Wittgenstein and Frege. Aristotle is another figure who makes several appearances, offering another bridging point between traditions, as Heidegger’s analysis of language interacts and modifies Aristotle’s account of language.

This bridging of traditions is perhaps in part a natural feature of the subject matter itself, where the philosophy of language has more typically been seen to be the domain of the of the Anglo-American tradition. As Engelland highlights at the off, the domain of ‘phenomenology of language’ ‘initially appears empty’…While philosophy as conceptual analysis obviously involves a close interaction with language and problems of language, it is not at all clear that the same holds for philosophy as description of the structure of experience. What is the specifically phenomenological contribution to language?’ (1). This text seeks to be part of clarifying and constituting this contribution. It succeeds in offering a rich contribution to ‘phenomenology of language’ as its own domain, tracing some central threads about the fundamental presuppositions such a domain has to grapple with, whilst also making space for detailed reflection on the lived experience of our linguistic lives. In this task the form of a multiplicity of voices is a strength, offering a snapshot of this field in both its depth and breadth. This text would not suit beginners to phenomenology, as it assumes a ready familiarity with the tradition. For those already engaged in phenomenological ideas, the writing is largely very accessible and illuminating.

The text is split into two parts, the first titled ‘Language and Experience’, the second ‘Language and Joint Experience’. The second part therefore takes a specific slant on the over-arching theme of the text, namely the relationship between language and experience in the light of the fact that both are inescapably tied to our intersubjective interactions with others. These two parts, Engelland tells us, seek to track both the first-person and the second-person character of language in our lived experience.

The first section offers eight contributions: Daniel O. Dahlstrom argues that language is the ‘light’ by which objects are illuminated. Taylor Carmen evaluates Merleau-Ponty’s account of the connection between language and the expressive body. Dominique Pradelle explores a way of understanding the ‘pre-predicative’ dimension of experience. Jacob Rump argues that perception has normativity ‘baked in’ and outlines why this is relevant to an understanding of the relationship between language and experience. Scott Campbell offers that Heidegger’s understanding of ‘taking notice’ offers a way of speaking that discloses rather than conceals our experience. Leslie MacAvoy outlines how Heidegger modifies Aristotle’s account by shifting logos to perceptual experience itself. Katherine Whitby offers us eight possible ways that language can disclose the world to us, landing with the centrality of dialogue as world-disclosing. Anna Gosetti-Ferencei focuses on poetry as a particular form of language, exploring the phenomenology of poetry and poetry as phenomenology.

The second section is comprised of seven essays. As the focus here is on the intersubjective dimensions of language and experience, many of these authors interface their analyses with analyses in developmental psychology. The joint attention contexts of language learning shared by infants and their caregivers shed light on connections between intersubjectivity, language and experience which are others hiding in plain sight in our adult experience. Andrew Inkpin argues that neither individualism not social holism are adequate ways of accounting for language, but that both the individual and social aspects of language are compound, complex and co-constitutive. Pol Vandevelde draws on the work of Vygotsky to argue both that language scaffolds thought and thought scaffolds language. Michele Averchi uses Husserl’s distinction between expressions and indications to make the case that while there are non-linguistic forms of information transfer, only linguistic forms can function as truly communicative acts. Lawrence Hatab argues for the priority and necessity of language in all forms of world-disclosure. With a different emphasis, Cathy Culbertson argues that forms of play mirror and prefigure spoken conversation. Richard Kearney offers both an analysis and a manifesto for what he calls ‘narrative hospitality’, characterised by flexibility, plurality, transfiguration and pardon. Engelland culminates with a meditation on the ways that we learn a phenomenological language, arguing that this is grounded in, and a completion of, our ordinary language learning. He sketches a distinction between linguistic and non-linguistic forms of communication in terms of the capacity of the former to reach beyond presence to that which is absent.

Whilst the polycentric nature of an essay collection means that there is not a straightforward over-arching argument to analyse here, the key thread that runs through the text as a whole – as the section headings suggest – is that of the nature of the relationship between language and experience. There are at least three different possible positions one might take to the question of the fundamental relationship between experience and language. Broadly speaking these are: (i) Language is imposed on or secondary to the ‘raw data’ of phenomenal experience, where these are two distinct kinds of thing. (ii) Phenomenal experience is in fact linguistic ‘all the way through’, and there is no such thing as pre-linguistic experience – this is a myth. (iii) There is some category of (something like) pre-linguistic experience but this aspect of our experience is nevertheless still structured in a way that is congruent with or isomorphic to linguistic structure.

If we were to caricature phenomenology, we might be inclined to say that it preaches the first of these positions. One might suppose that in the Husserlian exhortation to get ‘back to the things themselves’ the phenomenologist is seeking to analyse that which is prior to language itself. It soon becomes clear, however, that this is not necessarily the case, and indeed, not the tack that most phenomenologists take, despite the emphasis on lived experience as a methodological starting point. This is both because language survives the bracketing process as part of the content of our experience of the world, but also because it becomes clear that (in some way) language is a condition of the possibility of our experiencing the world in the way that we experience it.

Most phenomenologists want a more nuanced account of the relationship between language and phenomenology, but what is the nature of this relationship – or set of relationships? As Engelland makes foreground in his Introduction, we see in the work of classic and contemporary phenomenologists both that: ‘Experience takes the lead but it is an experience widened by speech. One can thereby identify a basic tension within the phenomenological treatment of language: on the one hand, phenomenology subordinates speech to experience. On the other hand, phenomenology identifies the reciprocity of speech and experience’ (3). Further, phenomenologists want to be ‘mindful of the linguisticality of experience’ (13). Engelland here roughly lays out the three emphases above, highlighting that the phenomenological tradition has included elements that imply (i), (ii) and (iii). These positions, when laid out beside each other, seem mutually incompatible. What then are we to make of these competing emphases? What are the arguments in favour of each? This collection seeks to help us think through this question, by together taking a long hard look at these tensions. Each of the essays in their own way make an attempt to ascertain a coherent understanding of where and how language sits in both the form and the content of our lived experience.

On the face of it, it seems as though different authors in the collection come to different conclusions with respect to the question of whether experience is linguistic ‘all the way through’ or not. Contributors such as Hatab make claims in favour of ‘the priority of language in world-disclosure’ (229), emphasising the way that human beings always already dwell in language – which looks like option (ii). Others such as Pradelle argue that the pre-predicative dimension of experience is more primitive than the linguistic dimension, yet there is a form of logos that structures this ‘lower order’ (58) of experience which bridges it to the linguistic – which looks like option (iii).

Another way of framing the key question here might be: Is logos simply the domain of language? And if not, how are we to understand pre- or extra-linguistic logos, or ‘logos in its nascent state’ (72)? Or again to re-frame, in the inverse: If there is some logical structure to our pre-verbal experience, is this because this pre-verbal content is in fact still in some way ‘linguistic’, so tracks the logos of language (as MacAvoy seems to argue with the claim that ‘perception already speaks’ (120))? Or is there a logic that is genuinely and distinctly pre-linguistic here (As Pradelle and Rump both seem to argue)?

These different suggested relationships cash out in a particular way in the second section of book, which focuses on the intersubjective contexts of both language and experience. These papers focus on communication between people, including both pre-verbal forms of communication and verbal dialogue. Mirroring the questions above, we might ask – when we talk about ‘pre-verbal’, ‘extra-verbal’ or ‘non-verbal’ communication (including, for example tone, gestures and body language) are we saying that there is a kind of ‘grammar’ built into these forms of communication that is quasi-linguistic? Or do these forms of interaction have their own logic which is distinct from language, only secondarily entering into some kind of relationship with the linguistic elements of an interaction? Again, we seem to get different answers to this question. Averchi argues that there is a distinct logical and structural difference between verbal and non-verbal forms of communication, which shows up in the difference between language’s capacity to communicate the absent and the abstract – this looks like option (i). Hatab argues that all communication is linguistic and denies the possibility of experience not already shaped by language, which looks like option (ii). A seemingly different position comes through in Culbertson’s article. She looks at the structural similarities between forms of play and spoken conversation, making a case for a structural similarity, congruence and interconnection of pre-verbal and verbal forms of dialogue in this way. A slightly different take but a similar conclusion comes from Pol Vandevelde, using Husserl, who highlights the difference between ‘semantic consciousness’ and ‘phonetic consciousness’ (199). Semantic consciousness is the ‘perceiving-as’ that we are most familiar with: when I hear someone speaking in English, I cannot hear this as ‘mere noise’ but I non-inferentially hear the meaning of the words and sentences. Phonetic consciousness however highlights a slightly different layer of meaning in my reception of speech. Even when I hear someone speaking in a foreign language that I don’t understand, I still grasp it as speech. This maps onto the development of speech in infants, where an infant can recognise speech patterns as speech, and join in proto-dialogue, before understanding the meaning of the words themselves. In Vygotsky’s words, there is ‘a prelinguistic phase in the development of thought and a preintellectual phase in the development of speech’ (195). Vandevelde’s endorsement of this here looks like option (iii).

This central question re-framed yet another way asks: Is language a broader category than we might ordinarily think it is (incorporating the seemingly non-verbal) or is logos a broader category than we might ordinarily think it is (incorporating the non-linguistic)? And – what is at stake in this difference, if anything? This is where the question of the philosophically substantive vs merely terminological comes into play. Does it make a difference if we think about this dimension of our experience as structured by pre-linguistic logos or by pre-verbal language? Are these two ways of saying the same thing? If not, what further might be needed to distinguish these two ways of thinking? This is a genuine question, but I don’t think that the collection as a whole can land us either way.

A slightly different take on this central question asks whether language is necessarily objectifying of our experience, with this question is addressed head on by Campbell. Again, the caricature of the phenomenologist in our minds might say that all language is theory-laden, and it brings a distorting or at least limited and limiting lens to the ‘given’ of experience. This perspective, which has a clear alignment with option (i) above, might argue that language is always re-presenting what is presented in experience. However, there is another suggestion, that language can also straightforwardly present our experience, and successfully communicate this experience to another. Here we have the thought that different types of speech do different kinds of things, in different ‘phenomenological registers’ (109) and perhaps disclose or conceal the world in different ways. Campbell looks at Heidegger’s analysis of the writings of St Paul as a case of ‘taking notice’. Gosetti-Ferencei’s account of the ‘phenomenological moments’ (150) in poetry also offers a picture of language which ‘presents’ rather than represents. ‘Taking notice’ is ‘a kind of pre-predicative and non-propositional language, that is, a language that is evocative, perhaps even stream of consciousness, narrative and exploratory instead of theoretical and objectifiying’ (96). This kind of language is to be distinguished from Heideggerian ‘idle talk’, which conceals the lived reality of our experience. We might read Campbell’s interpretation of Heidegger as akin to option (ii), particularly where he contrasts this with his interpretation of Husserl, which looks more like option (iii). He says: ‘Husserl…thought that predicative language could bring to light the inherent meaningfulness in pre-predicative experience. Heidegger on the other hand, explored a way of thinking about language that was itself pre-predicative’ (110). Whether Campbell’s interpretation of both Husserl and Heidegger is right here is its own question, but even if Campbell is right here, this is not necessarily a point that forces a further dialectic, as both positions could be true. These two articulations of how language might disclose the meaning of experience are not mutually exclusive. There is nothing in this analysis which can arbitrate between option (ii) or (iii) for us. Again, we might wonder how much is ultimately at stake between them, if anything.

Part of the difficulty in assessing where philosophical differences lie and where differences are merely terminological is connected to the fact that both ‘language’ and ‘experience’ ae themselves such wide and contested terms. Each have a cloud of (overlapping) concepts associated with them, and how one understands these associations makes all the difference for the conclusions one draws about the nature of other associations. How one understands the relationship between, for example, dialogue and language will shape how one understands the relationship between dialogue and experience and therefore between experience and language. What gets defined into the relata in question defines what is claimed about the nature and possibility of the relationship. For example, whilst Hatab makes the strong claim that ‘the disclosure of the world is gathered in language, not objects, perception, thought or consciousness’ (299), we find that he defines ‘language’ in such as way that includes ‘facial expressions, touch, physical interactions, gestures, sounds, rhythms, intonations, emotional cues, and a host of behavioral contexts’ (236). This to say, Hatab defines a host of non-verbal embodied interactions into what he means by language. With all manner of embodied meaning brought under the umbrella of language, the claim that language is the sole discloser of the world no longer looks like the narrow claim it initially did. And as above, once language is given a wide definition, it is less clear what is at stake, if anything, between a position like Hatab’s and a position like Pradelle’s. Perhaps Hatab’s non-verbal ‘language’ and Pradelle’s ‘pre-linguistic logos’ are the same thing, and there are ways of seeing option (ii) and option (iii) as the same thing viewed two different ways.

This point about definitional difference noted, a more fertile way of exploring further the possibility of extra-linguistic dimension of our experience might ask: how are we to understand the nature and structure of a pre-linguistic logos (or a pre-verbal language)? The suggestion from a number of authors is that this is given by the normativity that is built into perceptual experience itself. The structure of consciousness as intentionality, which means that seeing is seeing-as, hearing is hearing-as, and so on, gives us the logos embedded in perception. What are the conditions of possibility for consciousness so structured? As MacAvoy gestures towards in her essay, the structure of the world itself is relevant here, and further analysis of the networks of meaning embedded in the ‘interobjectivity’ of things might be part of this further exploration. There is also a possible theological direction in view here, as Kearney indicates – ‘there is no pure pristine logos, unless it is God’s’ (265). Indeed, further exploration of the pre-linguistic logos might take the famous opening lines of St John’s gospel as its starting cue: ‘In the beginning was the logos.Language and Phenomenology offers a springboard to further exploration of this logos baked into to fabric of reality and the logic of phenomenal consciousness, though the conversation is still unfolding.

Andreas Beinsteiner: Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität

Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität Book Cover Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität
Heidegger Forum 17
Andreas Beinsteiner
Klostermann
2021
Paperback 29,00 €
318

Reviewed by: Daniel Neumann (Universität Klagenfurt)

In Heideggers Philosophie der Medialität, Andreas Beinsteiner sets out to reconceive Heidegger’s central term “Being” as mediality. The overarching goal of the book is twofold: giving a coherent interpretation of the meaning of Being throughout Heidegger’s oeuvre, as well as contributing to the foundational thought of media studies. In doing so, Beinsteiner takes a cue from Dieter Mersch, whose concept of “negative mediality” is based on the assumption that what constitutes the mediality of media has yet to be philosophically elucidated. The “manifest justification deficit of the media concept” (Mersch 2015, 19) could be remedied, Beinsteiner argues, with Heidegger’s thinking of Being. Thirty-seven years before Marshall McLuhan famously pronounced that “the medium is the message”, shifting the focus on the elusive role the medium itself plays in the process of mediation, Heidegger had similarly discovered the constitutive withdrawal of Being itself in the unconcealment of beings (205). The role of mediality is thereby expanded beyond that of media in the strict sense. By looking at Heidegger’s philosophy, Beinsteiner suggests that the way we experience digital media, but also art and technology in the broader sense, has to be grasped from how we experience anything at all, in other words, how we come to experience the Being of beings. As he makes clear in later chapters of his book, Beinsteiner is convinced that Heidegger does not just speak to the fundamental mediality of our being in the world, but also to specific modern forms of mediality of technology, such as autonomously operating machines. The aim of the book is of philosophical and media theoretical interest not just because it aims at laying the groundwork for a concept of mediality, based on a close reading of Heidegger’s philosophy up to his later years, but also because this reading promises an integrated account of mediality, comprising its fundamental and specific aspects equally.

In the first two thirds of the book, Beinsteiner develops this idea vis-à-vis central concepts found in Heidegger’s works, such as presence, event and equipment. In Sein und Zeit, the interested involvement which unveils Being as equipment (Zeug), putting me in a pragmatic mode in which I use this equipment without thinking about its significance, is conceived as a paradigmatic case of mediality. It is not just my existence, being oriented around the care of the being that I am, which mediates the concernful handling of equipment. It is also the equipment as concrete artifact that helps to shape my access to the world. Thus, “contrary to the dominant anti-hermeneutical reading of Heidegger in media studies” (33), artifacts play a central role in the constitution of mediality and the mediation of sense. Mediality here is shown to depend on an interplay of our pre-understanding (Vorverständnis) for equipment to even be recognized as such (a requirement that Beinsteiner shows to be based on Heidegger’s understanding of Platonic ideas) as well as the material artifact, in which understanding, purpose and craftsmanship have coagulated into a being which mediates our access to the world in different ways. Here, basic Heideggerian terminology such as availableness (Zuhandenheit) and occurrentness (Vorhandenheit) are coherently interpreted as modes of mediality. While the scope of the meaning of being in Sein und Zeit seems to follow the paradigm of the availability of being-as-equipment, in later writings Heidegger thinks of the meaning of Being as taking on historical proportions: the meaning of Being concerns historicity, instead of the temporality of an individual existence (51). Yet across the Kehre, mediality retains its central significance for how Heidegger thinks Being. Thus, Beinsteiner argues for a continuity and an expansion between Heidegger’s earlier and later writings, instead of a break, based on the interpretation of Being as mediality.

Throughout the book, a consistent vocabulary is developed to capture this continuity. The early Heidegger’s concern with the meaning of finite existence is conceived by Beinsteiner as the “existential-hermeneutical as” (existentialhermeneutisches als). The “as”, that Being appears as is hermeneutically motivated, following the existential structure of existence. In other words, how we grasp Being, e.g. via equipment, language and mood, is a matter of the constitution of Dasein’s being in the world. In later Heidegger, the way Being discloses the world is still a question of the “as” of Being. But to account for the historical dimension of Heidegger’s questioning, Beinsteiner now speaks of Being appearing as “regimes of accessibility” (Zugänglichkeitsregime), which imply an unavoidable reduction of the ambiguity of Being, i.e. mediality. The regime (or paradigm) of accessibility is what pre-selects the way in which Being is perceived (vernommen). Just as the manners of being (Seinsarten) in Sein und Zeit are shown to be forms of mediality, the historical regimes of Being (roughly, physis in Antiquity, creation in Medieval Times and subjective representation beginning in Modernity) turn out to be forms in which Being is collectively understood. Through this synthetical reading of early and later Heidegger, Beinsteiner is able to demonstrate a basic selectivity of mediality, which spans the understanding of individual being, Being as a whole as well as the selectivity of accessibility to Being itself (65).

The latter aspect is especially important as Heidegger’s interest is not just in discussing the multivalence of Being in existential or historical terms, but more fundamentally in showing that the way Being can be grasped, perceived and understood, is irreducible to any one meaning. According to Beinsteiner, Heidegger comes closest to the idea of Being as mediality when discussing Being in terms of immediacy and mediatedness:

“What is first present in all gathers everything isolated together into a single presence and mediates to each thing its appearing. Immediate allpresence is the mediator for everything mediated, that is, for the mediate. The immediate is itself never something mediate; on the other hand, the immediate, strictly speaking, is the mediation, that is, the mediatedness of the mediated, because it renders the mediated possible in its essence.” (Heidegger 2000, 84).

“Das in allem zuvor Gegenwärtige [d.h. die physis, AB] versammelt alles Vereinzelte in die eine Anwesenheit und vermittelt Jeglichem das Erscheinen. Die unmittelbare Allgegenwart ist die Mittlerin für alles Vermittelte und d.h. für das Mittelbare. Das Unmittelbare [die physis] ist selbst nie ein Mittelbares, wohl dagegen ist das Unmittelbare, streng genommen, die Vermittelung, d.h. die Mittelbarkeit des Mittelbaren, weil sie dieses in seinem Wesen ermöglicht.” (cited in Beinsteiner, 76f)

In opening and selecting our access to the world, Being (or mediality) takes on the double role of immediate allpresence and mediation. Being is immediate, insofar as everything we perceive is necessarily a manner of it. Yet Being is mediation, since it is never grasped in itself, but only in a certain way. Being is immediate mediation or mediated immediacy. From this, Beinsteiner concludes that “nothing is immediate, except for mediality” (77), while also conceding that grasping this “accessibility of accessibility” confronts us with a fundamental difficulty in thinking about the unconcealment of Being.

Yet neither for Heidegger nor Beinsteiner does this constitute a purely epistemological issue. One of the challenges in interpreting Heidegger lies exactly in characterizing the meaning of Being itself, and the role of the philosopher in taking up this meaning. Beinsteiner’s approach is to grasp this as a fundamentally ethical question: to be sensitive to the irreducible meaning of Being and to become aware of the historical and philosophical contingency of a specific regime of accessibility is to increase one’s own freedom, whereas to insist on an established form of mediality without even realizing its ontological antecedents is to become less free. While this may be characterized as the individual’s share in the exercise of freedom, equally important for Beinsteiner’s interpretation is the fact the specific regime of mediality precedes individual thinking and understanding. Taking up the idea of thrownness (Geworfenheit), Beinsteiner deems this the “ek-sistential disempowerment” (ek-sistentiale Depotenzierung) of human beings. In other words, the fact that we are always already participating in the modes of Being of a certain regime cannot be overcome by philosophical reflection. The “thinking of Being” will not lead to a supreme position from where all its meanings unfold in a cohesive picture. No matter how many ways of Being’s mediality are grasped, neither any one of them, nor their totality, amounts to a grasping of Being itself.

Instead, Beinsteiner takes Heidegger’s thinking of the event as the paradigmatic case in which the sensitivity for Being’s irreducible and abyssal meaning is articulated. Since his discussion is mostly restricted to the works published in his lifetime, Heidegger’s thinking of the event is considered only cursorily. Yet what matters to Beinsteiner’s approach is that the event is what brings us closest to the contingency of the being we perceive. To understand the event (the happening of Being) as event means refocusing thinking from one’s immediate engagement with ontic things towards that which makes this engagement possible. Grasping the fact that Being happens enables us to realize the openness in which we stand as reasonable (vernünftig or vernehmend) beings. The exercise of freedom, according to this interpretation, is this movement or “stepping back”, as Heidegger calls it in his Beiträge zur Philosophie, which decenters our place in the world and which simultaneously makes thinkable our taking place in the world, which is inseparable from Being, taking on a specific meaning. Beinsteiner connects this exercise of freedom with Heidegger’s terminology of comportment (Verhaltenheit) and releasement (Gelassenheit), the latter taking the place of the former in the writings after the Second World War (145). The two terms express a somewhat different attitude towards abyssal Being, Verhaltenheit insinuates a timidity and hesitation, while Gelassenheit seems to emphasize a receptive and patient attitude. The semantics get plausibly streamlined so that in Beinsteiner’s interpretation, both terms are shown to attempt to think the necessary selectiveness of our access to the world.

In Heidegger’s own writings, the thinking of the event is often, though not always in a clear way, connected to the mediality of language. Language is what lets things be, it enables the meaningful grasping of things. In this sense, Beinsteiner speaks of the “as-like structure” (alshafte Struktur) of language. In speaking and hearing language, something can be thought, perceived or grasped as something. Language is medium of sense as well as mediality, because in using language we are not merely participating in a specific regime of accessibility, but we are shaping and changing its mechanism of selectivity. Thus, a poem might make us see a statue in a completely new way and Descartes, in writing a meditation about the nature of his mind, helps to create and stabilize subjectivity, making possible a new understanding of our being in the world which becomes our representation. These examples are to suggest that the thinking of Being in Heidegger doubtlessly relies on language as a key paradigm of mediality, though it certainly is not exclusively a philosophy of language. In arguing that Heidegger strives to critically examine and question the meaning of a regime of accessibility by broadening the scope (Spielraum) of how we understand the meaning of being (169), Beinsteiner seems to concur with the emphasis on language without clearly separating the mediality of language from Being as mediality. The “politics of reinterpretation” (172) that Heidegger is said to put into motion presumably operates on different levels of mediality.

This equivocality might be due to the interpretative decision underlying the whole book, which is to understand Being as mediality. The expression of the “mediality of Being” used above is thus not wholly accurate, as it is not Being itself which mediates our access to the world but mediality in its stead. Beinsteiner speaks of a “forgetting of mediality” (Medialitätsvergessenheit) instead of a Seinsvergessenheit, and a “history of mediality” (Medialitätsgeschichte) instead of a Seinsgeschichte to indicate the shift his interpretation operates. Yet it seems to me that the reconfiguration of the ontological difference between Being/beings (Sein/Seiendes) as Medialität/Seiendes is not fully reflected upon. The notion that all beings refer to mediality has different implications than their referral to Being: beings are of Being, in the sense that Being ontologically comprises what beings are, whether this be in a more general, immediate or truer fashion. One of the momentous assumptions of Sein und Zeit was the idea that what is most proper to beings, their being (or Being) itself, has yet to be fully grasped. There is an intimate connection between Being and beings, which might be compared to the relationship between presence (Anwesenheit) und present things (Anwesendes), bearing in mind that presence for Heidegger is merely one way to understand Being temporally. But there is no such relationship, ontological or otherwise, between mediality and beings. Rather, when we understand the specific form of beings as due to an underlying mediality, this necessarily turns these beings themselves into media of this mediality and thus narrows their ontological meaning. While a being might be considered a unity in many ways (following Aristotles’ famous dictum of being as pollachos legomenon), a being that is the medium of mediality is already designated to present something as something else.

Possibly to avert such difficulties, Beinsteiner does not build his interpretation on the ontological difference of Being and beings, but instead suggests speaking of “a difference between mediality and the phenomenal” (42). While this solves the issue of the missing affinity between mediality and what it discloses, it raises another problem because it seemingly restricts phenomenality to what is made available by mediality, whereas in Heidegger there is a sense in which Being itself, even though it does not manifest itself in an ontic way, has a phenomenal quality as well. An essential aspect of the experience of the event consists in Being, in order to disclose beings, withdrawing itself. This withdrawal of Being, as Beinsteiner shows as well, is not something purely negative, but a concealment which can be experienced as such (198). Instead of a simple absence, concealment draws our attention to the fact that there is concealing. But when Beinsteiner quotes Heidegger in insisting that this concealment is one of the characteristics of artworks (200), an aesthetic or phenomenal quality is evidently involved. If it is thus correct to speak of a phenomenality of concealment, then what conceals itself (i.e. mediality in Beinsteiner’s interpretation) cannot be clearly distinguished from the phenomenal. It seems to me that this aesthetic aspect of withdrawal hinges on the intrinsic affinity between Being and beings, which is abandoned when replacing Being with mediality.

Would the situation have been different if mediality was not understood as replacing Being but instead as the way that Being discloses itself to us, in other words, if it was a matter of the mediality of Being? This would have added another conceptual layer between Being and beings, one in which Being would be grasped as itself in a concrete form. But this would turn Being into an absolute entity, existing beside beings. The strength of Heidegger’s philosophy, and one which is amply expounded in the book, is to resist hypostasizing either Being or beings as absolute, and instead implicating them in what Beinsteiner calls a constant “hermeneutical oscillation” (155ff). With Dieter Mersch, one could say that the question is not how Being is mediated, or how something can appear as something else, but instead how the “as” itself comes to be (Mersch 2015, 20). This in turn means that mediality, the “as itself”, is foundational, in the sense that it enables the appearance of something as something, but that it remains concealed, or rather, that it can only be noticed in the seamless way in which it operates ontic unconcealment.

The last third of the book deals with the specific forms mediality takes on, and the role of media in the usual sense of the word. These issues are tackled by Beinsteiner’s interpretation of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology, in which a dominant form of mediality threatens to permanently bar alternative accesses to phenomenality. In this approach, two things seem especially remarkable. Firstly, Beinsteiner forcefully argues for the idea that Heidegger’s thinking of technology is one of artefacts, not an abstract philosopher’s critique of the contemporary world, making an empirical turn against Heidegger unnecessary (237). Secondly, the different forms of “phenomenological artifacts”, comprising not just technological objects but also artworks, are seamlessly integrated into the idea of Being as mediality. Beinsteiner suggests that equipment and the artwork are two paradigmatic artifacts which refer to the maximum concealment (as technological Gestell) and unconcealment (as event) of mediality. In other words, these artifacts exist on a continuum of concealment, as it were, which either question and broaden the regime of accessibility, or by contrast, insist in it, naturalizing the criteria of accessibility to the point where they almost seem without alternative.

This latter stage is reached with technology when the handling of technological objects becomes more and more a manner of maintenance. With fully automated, interoperative machines, the scope of possible meanings diminishes in the face of efficient, planned and unceasing repetition. Beinsteiner emphasizes that this is not meant as a scathing critique, nor as a call to simpler times in which the relationship between techne and physis was less determined, but that it merely follows the logic of increased insistence within a specific regime of accessibility. While the whole argument of the book mostly focuses on Heidegger’s own writing, at this point a sideways glance to other contemporary theories of technology would have been interesting. Gilbert Simondon, in his On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (originally published in 1958) offers for instance a much more positive account of the relationship between man and automated machine, which is not merely one of maintenance but of engineering. More to the point of Heidegger, Simondon also constructs a genealogy of technical objects stretching back as far as animist theories. But in Simondon, increased levels of technological ingenuity are described as enabling more creativity and openness, based on the knowledge of the modes of existence of these technological objects. Thus, the complex inner workings of an automated machine present not merely a closed system to the outside observer, but an intricate set of ideas which have taken on a fixed form that can be amended and emended through playful experimentation. This creativity that is manifest in the complexity of the machine is not found in Heidegger. On the other hand, Heidegger’s philosophy of technology could be construed as a lifelong struggle with the “technological condition” of his own thinking, for instance as an underlying technological bias dating back as far as Sein und Zeit, where the world is disclosed in the form of technical or pragmatic affordances (Hörl 2008, 651f).

Some of the ambivalences in Heidegger’s view of the role of technology are conveyed by Beinsteiner’s concepts of the hermeneutics of the user and designer, respectively. Technological objects always entertain a complex relationship to their surrounding sense. They are not abstract functions, but first of all projected ideas. In their objective form, they are subject to the sense the user, as a hermeneutical creature makes, of them, just as their design is not merely the application of a form on matter, but an Entwurf and Zuwurf in which the possibility of unexpected discovery appears (246). In this sense, there is a Simondonian quality to Heidegger’s technological thinking. Outside the realm of subservience, technological artifacts may thus gain relevance in the play with accessibility.

In the last chapter, Beinsteiner draws some consequences from the fact that humans are constitutively related to media strictly speaking and to mediality broadly speaking. This exteriority, which is tied back to the basic condition of ek-sistence, is distinguished from concepts in which technology is understood as the extension of an interiority, like Ernst Kapps’s thesis of technology as organ projection. The argument Beinsteiner makes is that Heidegger does not think technology as an anthropological feature: technology will never determine what humans are, or vice versa, as it is just one part of a broader regime of accessibility which is always open to variability through language (283). This variability of language is also at play when Heidegger’s writing process is deemed a “media-philosophical strategy” (289) which mediates the volatile movement of thinking and the crystallization of thought in letters.

It is not just in this work-biographical self-attribution (Wege, nicht Werke is the epigram of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe) that Beinsteiner follows Heidegger. Throughout the book, it becomes clear that the defense of the coherence of the thesis of Being as mediality coincides with the defense of Heidegger’s philosophy itself. But in arguing for Heidegger’s continuous effort to hold open and question existing regimes of accessibility, the mediality elucidated by the interpretation appears much more uniform than Heidegger’s own term of Being, which, as Dasein or event, signifies quite different forms of mediality. It would have been thinkable, for instance, to distinguish mediality as disclosedness and as unconcealment, relative to the ontological framework in which mediality operates. I also disagree with Beinsteiner’s negative assessment of “critical Heidegger studies”, which historicize Heideggerian terminology, thus going against Heidegger’s own semantic intentions (173). On the next page, Beinsteiner warns that, for it not to seem dogmatic and authoritative, one has to follow closely Heidegger’s own “expanding reinterpretation” of metaphysical concepts to liberate and transform thinking (174). Thus, while Heidegger is granted maximum semantic freedom, reading him seems to require abstaining from calling his semantics into question. From this hermeneutical attitude also follows that the historicity of Being, i.e. mediality, remains elusive. In other words, the regime of accessibility is always already in place and we may increase our freedom by thinking its very mediality, but this remains an exercise of reason, not a media archaeology. Yet it would have been possible to grasp Heidegger’s thinking of mediality, especially as it relates to media in the strict sense, in a more empirical way, that is by consulting the invention and distribution of machines. Likewise, paradigm changes in artworks, for instance from figural to more abstract paintings, emphasizing the creative act rather than reproducing ontic features, might have played a role in describing the artwork as an event showing us the limits of our selectivity of accessibility. But the fact that Beinsteiner chose to follow Heidegger closely instead results in a very consistent interpretation, one which is able to convincingly incorporate ideas and terminology from early to late Heidegger.

Thus, the book succeeds in what it set out to do: providing a coherent interpretation of “Being” as mediality, which is shown to be of central importance for concrete media such as artworks, equipment and interoperative machines. Through this careful and thorough reading, Beinsteiner also exposes the limits of a mediality according to Heidegger, thereby laying out premises for media ontologies to come.

References:

Heidegger, Martin. 2000. Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry. Translated by Keith Hoeller. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Hörl, Erich. 2008. “Die offene Maschine. Heidegger, Günther und Simondon über die technologische Bedingung.” MLN 123(3): 632-655.

Mersch, Dieter. 2015. “Wozu Medienphilosophie? Eine programmatische Einleitung.” Internationales Jahrbuch für Medienphilosophie 1(1): 13-48.

Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, Max Pensky (Eds.): A Companion to Adorno

A Companion to Adorno Book Cover A Companion to Adorno
Blackwell Companions to Philosophy
Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, Max Pensky (Eds.)
Wiley-Blackwell
2020
Hardback $190.00
680

Reviewed by: Conrad Mattli (University of Basel)

The WileyBlackwell Companions to Philosophy series is an encyclopedic project committed to delivering “a comprehensive and authoritative survey of philosophy as a whole” (ii). The 71st addition to the series is, however, an attempt at the impossible. It is determined to summarize a philosophy which rose up precisely against all ‘summary approaches’ to philosophy. “Essentially”, Adorno wrote in Negative Dialectics, “philosophy is not expoundable [referierbar]. If it were, it would be superfluous; the fact that most of it can be expounded speaks against it” (Adorno 2006, 33–34).[1] Luckily for us all, however, the editors of this volume—perfectly aware that “the very idea of a comprehensive summary would have aroused Adorno’s ire” (xv)—chose to disobey the master’s interdiction. And they are right in doing so. The desire to ‘expound’ Adorno’s philosophy is, after all, justifiable on Adornian grounds. For one, because the ability to ‘formalize’ complex matters without unduly reducing their complexity should count among a dialectician’s cardinal virtues. But even more so, because 55 years and counting after Negative Dialectics was published, philosophical academia still seems blissfully unaffected by the profound irritation of negative dialectics. The mere existence of volumes like A Companion to Adorno could help address such unaffectedness, together with the general eschewal of dialectical thought that seems to have become a matter of course, as a self-incurred immaturity.

It is thus all the more welcome that Peter E. Gordon, Espen Hammer, and Max Pensky did not shy away from the difficult task of expounding Adorno’s dialectical body of knowledge by compiling A Companion to Adorno. The volume is a grand endeavor at overcoming common inhibiting factors for ‘scholasticizing’ Adorno. The volume puts Adorno’s original insights in touch with state-of-the-art research. It aspires to cover nearly every aspect of Adorno’s multifaceted legacy and consists of an impressive 39 contributions by contributors from all over the world; thus, it mirrors the international recognition Adorno’s thought continues to receive, by both admirers and critics, since his death in 1969. Since the 2003 centennial, a gradual resurgence of Adornian thought—out from under the communicative paradigm established in the wake of the Habermasian line of critique—can be witnessed. Wiley-Blackwell now plays its part in this slow but steady rise of Adorno scholarship. Flanked by OUP’s forthcoming Oxford Handbook to Adorno, as well as precedent publications from the past[2], not to mention a general, unbroken interest in Adorno across the globe, A Companion to Adorno gives further rise to the hopes of Adorno scholarship that the ‘dialectical path’ will, at long last, engender broader discourse.

The book begins with the “Editors’ Introduction”, and is then divided into seven major subsections, each section covering a significant dimension of Adorno’s intellectual legacy. In addition to short notes on the contributing authors, it is furnished with a handy index at the end. In the following, I will provide brief sketches of each section, while taking up cues from selected contributions. Due to reasons of limited space, I am skipping over some chapters. This skipping-over does by no means imply a claim to their inferiority. I will conclude my discussion by addressing apparent difficulties for Adorno scholarship in general, and by considering the possible impact of the Companion on the field, today and tomorrow.

Intellectual Foundations

Part I of the volume is dedicated to Adorno’s “Intellectual Foundations”. Building on Peter E. Gordon’s lucid biographical sketch, the first part of the Companion already introduces a wide array of themes that are central to Adornian thought. However, Part I is not really a viable introduction for the beginner (aside from Gordon’s bio-essay, maybe), since the individual contributions already involve some previous knowledge of the core issues of Adorno’s philosophy. This, however, does not diminish their worth for the Companion. Tracing the foundations for all later developments of Adorno’s thinking, these chapters provide the contextual framework for the rest of the book. Gordon’s first of two chapters (not including his co-authorship in the editors’ introduction) “Adorno: A biographical sketch” traces the intellectual development of Adorno in his earliest influences (Kracauer, Cornelius, Benjamin, Horkheimer), to the years as an emigré, from rather fruitless interactions with English philosophers in Oxford to the re-establishing of the Institute in America during the War, up to the definite return to Germany which covers the prime years of his activities as a renowned philosopher in post–War Germany. Gordon’s sketch is of remarkable historical far-sightedness, but gets by without losing sight of informative details. Gordon eventually touches on the delicate subject of the APO student protest movement during the Kiesinger era, and sets the events of 1967–69 in correlation to Adorno’s personal downfall, leading to his untimely death in 1969. After reading Gordon’s sketch, one is left with the wish that some of these intellectual foundations received more attention in the book. I am primarily thinking of Adorno’s relationship to his teacher Hans Cornelius—that is, the intellectual upbringing in neo-Kantianism which is still a widely neglected aspect of Adorno’s allegedly purely Hegelian philosophy—as well as the young Adorno’s intense preoccupation with Husserlian phenomenology. Speaking of the constitutive role of neo-Kantianism for Adorno’s development, Roger Foster approaches Adorno’s vision of “philosophy as a form of interpretation” (22), developed early in his Frankfurt inaugural lecture in 1931, by way of placing it within both the broader neo-Kantian context and its subversions, respectively. Adorno’s early vision of philosophy is set in determinate contrast both to the alleged narrowing of the bourgeois concept of rationality in the Weimar Republic, as well as to the vitalist irrationalism that was on the rise at the time (eventually coinciding with the fascist uprising). Foster provides an interesting outlook on the development of Adorno between these extremes, displaying his thought as an attempt at rescuing the ‘actuality’ of philosophy on its way to a “critical social theory of instrumental reason” (33). That Walter Benjamin did of course play a decisive role in the intellectual formation of Adorno is vividly displayed in Alexander Stern’s contribution. Stern’s representation of the intellectual relationship between Adorno and Benjamin is a swift attempt at summing up their complicated intellectual history. This is a most welcome contribution, since it is still widely disputed where the differences and parallels between the two exactly lie, who inspired who—or stole from whom. Stern chooses to focus on their differing, but in certain respects coextensive, takes on language, and comes to the clear-cut but perhaps surprising conclusion that “Adorno’s project is ultimately irreconcilable with the one sketched in Benjamin’s Arcades Project” (62). This is a welcome clarification, for it delivers the young Adorno from the prejudice of having merely acted out Benjamin’s plans. Marcia Morgan’s contribution revolves around Adorno’s interpretation of Kierkegaard’s existentialism. Morgan thereby takes up problems recently discussed by Peter E. Gordon in his monograph on Adorno and Existence, with a firm foot in Kierkegaard scholarship (Morgan has authored the monograph Kierkegaard and Critical Theory, 2012). She successfully shows how Adorno’s early preoccupation with Kierkegaard in his (understudied) Habilitationsschrift plays a decisive role for Adorno’s intellectual formation. Finally, Part I is completed by Sherry D. Lee’s outlook on Adorno’s musical education. Theory and compositional practice generally go hand in hand for the young Adorno, who quickly found himself under the influence of the Second Viennese School and its towering figures Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. Lee’s contribution covers an indispensable aspect of Adornian thought by providing a genealogical reconstruction of Adorno’s “path toward a complex philosophy of the New Music and its socio-historical position” (67). Adorno’s partial break with the Second Viennese School in “developing a sociological approach to the elucidation of modern music” (81) is to be seen in relation to his life-long fascination with the dialectic between musical form and musical material, leading him to embrace compositional practices that reflect his outlook on philosophy, and vice versa. Lee’s outlook is interesting, leaving the impression that Adorno’s philosophy of New Music is not really the apology of high-brow Avant-Garde culture it came to represent for many. Instead, Adorno’s life-long efforts for securing the possibility of New Music are scrutinized with great scholarly rigor and, more importantly, rendered more plausible than their reputation suggests.

Cultural Analysis

Part II immediately builds on these foundations and examines Adorno’s contributions to cultural analysis. There seems to be a ‘methodological’ problem pervading these contributions that I would like to address first. It consists in the fact that common objections raised against Adorno and Horkheimer’s conception of a ‘dialectic of enlightenment’ still treat it as a descriptive theory of ‘the way things were’. When read as a grand narrative, the thesis of a dialectic of enlightenment indeed presents substantial shortcomings. What Adorno and Horkheimer are actually doing, however, is not describing how things were, but precisely reflecting on the very drive to say ‘how things actually were’ in light of an analytic of a catastrophic present. Why else would they use a myth (The Odyssey) to display mankind’s emancipatory transition from the mythical totality to the confines of instrumental reason? Correspondingly, defending the theory of a dialectic of enlightenment must mean, in each case, specifying the modality of ‘critical theory’ as such. This implies showing how critical theorizing never merely consists of recognizing that which is, but in recognizing the rational possibilities obstructed by that which is. In short: the dialectic of enlightenment is not a scientific account of history and society, but the result of the critical self-reflection of ‘science’ regarding its role in history and society. Hence, a critical theory of history and society—in the sense of first-generation critical theory—can never be ‘plain’ historiography, nor exclusively ‘empirical’ sociology, but always entails a philosophy of history, reflecting on the very role of enlightenment in contexts of domination.

Walking through Part II, we can discern several instances where this methodological dilemma becomes pressing with regards to adequately interpreting Adornian cultural analysis: Fred Rush takes up the critical concept of a Kulturindustrie (culture industry) from the section of the same title in Dialectic of Enlightenment, and sets the stage for measuring its systematic role for Adorno’s philosophy in general. Rush’s fairly dense yet rewarding overview hits the nail on the head with the observation that Horkheimer and Adorno—despite their seeming advocacy for ‘high’ culture—are not supporting a decadence theory of allegedly ‘low’ mass culture (95). The values of ‘high’ and ‘low’ themselves become somewhat inadequate measurements, once they are recognized as interrelated moments in reflecting on the disrupted ‘unity’ of culture. Correspondingly, the culture of commodification requires of the dialectician to recognize the “truly horrible” dimension of “mass deception”, namely “that it is a product of structures that seem benign and ordinary” (95). Therefore, Adorno is not out to equip the elitist mind with a schematism of high and low culture. He is rather interested in learning about the very nature of such schematizations themselves—and, with it, the causes for the diremption of culture both sides partake in. Adorno thus uses the antagonistic pair of ‘high’ and ‘low’ primarily as a critical (i.e. not ‘merely’ descriptive) function, in order to dialectically overcome their complementary shortcomings. The merits of this critical function are now also exactly what appears to most as questionable with regards to Adorno’s disdain for jazz music. Andrew Bowie, who is not only a renowned philosopher, but a proficient jazz saxophonist himself, discusses the controversial subject in his lucid essay “Adorno and Jazz”. Adorno’s interpretation of jazz—overtly lacking complexity, often being “very wide of the mark” (135), mostly seeing jazz “through the prism of white European music” (126)—has unsurprisingly not benefited Adorno’s status as a philosopher of music. Bowie considers Adorno’s criticism of jazz, with its obvious shortcomings, within the broader scheme of Adorno’s philosophy. Considered as ‘its own time comprehended in thought’, Adorno’s failure to see jazz for what it is corresponds to “his era’s failure in relation to the understanding of the history of black oppression” (135), according to Bowie. The true Hegelian, it seems, is not exempt from also partaking in the blunders of his time. Charles Clavey’s chapter seeks explanations for similar contradictions in Adorno’s methods of empirical social research. Here, things are somewhat looking up again for Adornian cultural analysis; namely that it can namely be said to provide a standard for scientific reflection on empirical methods. The empirical methods Adorno developed and applied as an émigré in the US are, after all, not only the ones suited to an ‘inhumane world’, but, as Clavey convincingly shows, also the ones working towards the aim of Adorno’s philosophy “to use the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of constitutive subjectivity” (Adorno 2006, xx; referred to on 166). Clavey ends with an interesting note on the proximity of Adorno’s theory of anti-Semitism to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew. It is such proximity which only serves, however, to show the difference between Adorno and the existentialists; namely that Adorno strictly refrained from integrating ‘empirical findings’ into his philosophical framework—apart from treating them as another ground for critique, of course. Fabian Freyenhagen wants to re-examine and re-evaluate (cf. 103) another major impulse from the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno’s (and Löwenthal’s) ‘theory’ of anti-Semitism. Freyenhagen tries to show how common objections raised against Horkheimer and Adorno (basically that their theory is lacking complexity) can be met. Of course, the rhetoric of Dialectic of Enlightenment can be considered ‘hyperbolic’, oftentimes deliberately lacking complexity, all in all promoting a totalizing critique, perhaps at the cost of providing fine-grained descriptions of the “multifaceted nature of anti-Semitism” (120). The crucial point is, however, to understand the specific level of complexity necessary to display the thesis that “civilization and its hatred are dialectically intertwined” (108) in anti-Semitism, thereby ‘crystallizing’ the dialectic of enlightenment. Freyenhagen’s detailed account of Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory of the multi-faceted nature of Anti-Semitism being united in hatred of civilization opens up ways to mitigate their polemic distortions, by virtue of a more complex account (primarily to be traced in the Institute’s typological research on anti-Semitism), without sacrificing overall coherence. Shannon Mariotti addresses the needs of contemporary political theory by bringing Adorno into the picture. Mariotti’s refreshing take on Adorno’s political thought gets by without the usual indignation surrounding Adorno’s alleged apoliticality. Mariotti convincingly shows that a broader picture of Adorno’s cultural analysis could even allow us to re-read Adorno “not just as a political theorist, but as a democratic theorist” (139, cf. also 150). Part II all in all opens up surprisingly new perspectives on Adorno’s critical analyses of culture, both with regards to their logical place in the Adornian framework and to their broader applicability today. Rush’s contribution stands out, inducing a wish for the concept of ‘Kulturindustrie’ to become adjusted to the needs of culture criticism today. Adorno could, after all, still provide the adequate means to face the methodological dilemmas that any ‘cultural analysis’ is confronted with in an incessantly ‘dialectical’ modernity.

History and Domination

Dedicating an entire section to the topic of “History and Domination” seems like a peculiar choice at first. Upon reading its chapters, however, it becomes clear why this actually makes a lot of sense. Part III turns out to harbor some of the volume’s most interesting contributions. Two chapters really stand out. Martin Jay for one, whose description in the list of contributors has unfortunately gone missing (luckily, he a known figure in the field, long before the recently published, brilliant collection of essays Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations), examines the fascinating parallel between Adorno and Blumenberg with regards to “Nonconceptuality and the Bilderverbot”. Jay discusses Adorno’s and Blumenberg’s differing, and yet in many ways overlapping subversion efforts against the tyranny of analyticity and ahistorical definitions. They both “appreciated the performative contradiction entailed by conceptualizing the nonconceptual” (178). But while Adorno’s use of the concept of nonconceptuality amounts to the employment of a radically defamiliarizing strategy by way of “an apophatic term in negative theology, which can only indirectly gesture toward what it cannot positively express” (177), Blumenberg, as Jay shows, differs from Adorno by affirming the familiarizing function of myth and metaphor. Jay’s contribution is a perfect example for a fruitful approach to Adorno by means of confronting his key thoughts with those of others. The real gemstone in Jay’s essay is the discussion of the Bilderverbot. It is not only that which makes the difference between Adorno and Blumenberg; the Bilderverbot is moreover immensely important for understanding Adorno’s dialectic in general. Martin Jay is one of very few scholars who acknowledge Adorno’s Kantian critique of the Hegelian concept of the concept. (We’ll get to that later). This critique places trust in the concept’s ability to critically (not affirmatively) transcend itself, thereby—negatively—making room for nonconceptuality beyond absolute identity. It is thus that negative theology coincides with Adorno’s ‘imageless’ materialism. The other rather remarkable chapter is Iain Macdonald’s on Adorno’s “Philosophy of History”. It is important to see that Adorno’s philosophy as whole, if there is indeed a discrete theoretical body to be demarcated as such, relies heavily on the philosophy of history. Macdonald guides the reader in a few well-chosen steps (Kant-Hegel-Marx) to the Adornian core insight. Macdonald thereby manages to let aspects of systematicity and historicity converge into one comprehensive complex, that could well serve as an introductory framework to Adorno’s philosophy. The only point to criticize in Macdonald’s account is that he makes it look as if Kant’s philosophy of history, that is, the ‘constitutive’ role antagonism plays for progress, is a kind of naturalistic anthropological Heracliteanism. This neither does justice to Kant, nor to Adorno’s interpretation of Kant, considering that Kant’s concept of a ‘cosmopolitan purpose’ (‘weltbürgerliche Absicht’)[3] is precisely not a ‘dogmatic’ presupposition; it is moreover unfounded, considering that Adorno’s philosophy of history delivers a ‘Kantian’ criticism of the Hegelian concept of Weltgeist. Adorno seeks to retain the cosmopolitan purpose—perpetual peace—by way of seeking to overcome natural antagonism. This entails precisely rendering antagonism merely ‘natural’, instead of rendering it absolutely necessary. Adorno’s critical method is to remind Hegelian spirit of what is lost in the unity of the absolute idea—the violent contingency of its origins. Such potential shortcomings regarding the relation between Kant and Hegel, which are controversial in themselves, however do not diminish the importance of the problems addressed by Iain Macdonald; the upshot of the discussion being, that Adorno’s philosophy of history stands between Kant’s teleological idealism of freedom on the one hand, and the Marxist subversion of Hegelian spirit on the other. All in all, Part III rewards the reader by elucidating a most fascinating aspect of Adorno’s legacy, his philosophy of history and utopia—that is, the well-founded, ‘metaphysical’ disappointment regarding the repeatedly failed windows of opportunity to leave our seemingly never-ending ‘prehistory’ behind.

Social Theory and Empirical Enquiry

The chapters in section IV are covering Adorno’s sociological project, the legacy of The Authoritarian Personality, his relation to Marx, and his “deep encounter with Freud’s work” (333), respectively—aspects which, especially the latter, permeated Adorno’s social theory from the very beginning of his ‘career’, until and including his intellectual activities in postwar Germany. The latter is examined in Jakob Norberg’s chapter. Although all chapters are worth considering, I would like to make a few remarks regarding Eli Zaretsky’s discussion of Adorno’s relation to Freud here. In fact, one could say that the early introduction of a sociologically disenchanted Freudianism into Adorno’s discussion of the transcendental doctrine of the soul marks the first time that the ‘social realm’ (as a transcendental substrate of our individual thought) openly interferes with the privacy of bourgeois subjectivity in Adorno (cf. Adorno 2020a, 320–322). The New School historian Zaretsky examines Adorno’s never fully ceasing, but eventually compromised Freudianism. The overall tone of Zaretsky’s essay is refreshing in the context of Adorno scholarship. It refrains from blindly accepting established lines of argument. The upshot of Zaretsky’s chapter, linking mass psychology and critical theory together, being that Adorno’s “three contributions” to social theory matter beyond their original scope, meaning today. The three contributions revolve around a sharpening of the speculative tools for mass and group psychology, especially in light of reiterating uprisings of fascism, eventually pushing towards the socio-historicization of ‘individualistic’ psychoanalysis. According to Zaretsky’s pointed analysis, “[a]s the fervor of the 1960s gave way to the constrains of the 1970s, the Dionysian crowds turned into Thermidorean scolds.” And he goes on to notice:

That trajectory holds lessons for the present. Building a progressive movement today entails turning the repressive egalitarianism of the crowd into a self‐reflective movement for structural change. The movements of the 1960s absorbed and generalized many Frankfurt School ideas including the critique of the Enlightenment as a source of domination; the idea that the forces of domination precede, even if they also include, capitalism; and the rejection of spurious totalities or universals in favor of alterity, otherness, and difference. Yet they rejected the Freudian heritage, including mass psychology, which is one reason we have not yet been able to truly move beyond the 1960s. (333)

This observation is striking. It alone should lead critical theorists to reconsider the (dialectical) insights of mass psychology—including the ones that not even critical theorists are safe from.

Aesthetics

It is an often-overlooked aspect of Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ (cf. Adorno 2006, xx) that the form in which he sought to publicize it more or less blends into the tripartite structure of Kant’s critical project. This becomes fully evident only towards the end of Adorno’s life, however. While his magnum opus Negative Dialectics could be said to be dedicated to ‘pure’ theoretical philosophy (in so far as ‘mediating’ metaphysics with the ‘impurity’ of historical experience by way of a ‘logic of decay’ still stands within that context), he appears to have made plans for a full book on the problems of moral philosophy (not to be mistaken with the homonymous lecture series); but most importantly, the book he was working on before he died was Aesthetic Theory. While the Adornian ‘critical project’ has thus sadly never been consummated, the ‘fragment’ called Aesthetic Theory nonetheless embarked on a steep career as a modern classic in the field. The idea of an ‘aesthetic theory’ is particularly worthwhile to study closely, because it connects and renders his accounts on aesthetic matters both relevant to the overall framework of his philosophy, and to his compositional practice. Both sides coalesce in Adorno’s reflections on the artwork. The concept of the artwork is the centerpiece of Adorno’s aesthetic, equally because of its function as an enigma, and as a product of ‘social labor’. But what is aesthetic theory exactly? The answer is far less simple than it seems—a difficulty mirrored by Eva Geulen’s contribution “Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory”. As Geulen notices, the proclivity to ‘fashion one’s own Adorno’ has often stood greatly in the way of seeing Aesthetic Theory for what it is. As a result, “much scholarship on Adornos Aesthetic Theory tends to be even more unreadable than the book itself, especially and precisely when critics try to live up to the high demands of their subject matter” (399)—a harrowing observation. Her attempt to do better justice to this situation is convincing at first: she places Adorno’s aesthetic theory ‘between Kant and Hegel’ (400). Thereby, Geulen is able to bring up problems that were all too often neglected in the discussion of Adorno’s aesthetic theory, first and foremost, the Kantian import of natural beauty. A possible shortcoming of Geulen’s reading is that she stops at a dualistic interpretation of Kant and Hegel as formalist-subjectivist vs. content-oriented-objectivist aesthetics. It is a seemingly imperishable prejudice that Kant founded aesthetics on the pole of the subject and, consequently, did not bother too much about objects and artworks. The third Critique tells a thoroughly different story. There simply is no subjective realm of judgment (be it aesthetic or teleological), apart from our reflecting on the subject’s relation to concrete objects; just as—yes, already in Kant—there is nothing under the sun that isn’t ‘mediated’ through judgment. Similarly, in Adorno’s reflections on art (and in his philosophy in general) subject and object are highly equivocal concepts (cf. Adorno 2020, 741). Adorno’s ‘dialecticizing’ of Kant and Hegel thus suggests an alternative to Geulen’s dualistic interpretation: Adorno reads Kant’s formalism precisely as object-oriented, while exposing Hegel’s idealist objectivism as absolute subjectivism, thereby limiting it. Adorno needs Kant to criticize Hegel, Hegel to criticize Kant—there is no synthesis between the two. Only in light of such a critical inversion of the usual dualist reading between “formalistic Kant and object-oriented Hegel” (400) can Aesthetic Theory come into its own, as a dialectical theory of artistic form and content—as Geulen then adequately shows—a theory determined to secure the possibility of the artwork in modernity. Another chapter that stands out is Henry Pickford’s “Adorno and Literary Criticism”. After a concise characterization of Adorno’s aesthetic theory, and lucid discussions of Adorno’s interpretations of Heine and Hölderlin, Pickford comes to the interesting conclusion, that “for Adorno ‘literary criticism’ means not only the criticism of literature in the objective sense, but also in the subjective sense of the genitive: literature, the experience of literature, can be a privileged activity of critique and resistance to the way of the world under late capitalism” (378). Pickford’s account is a great example of arranging a fruitful interplay between interpreting Adorno’s references to art and literature with regards to their content, while keeping in mind the determinant ethos of Adorno’s critical social theory. Eventually, Adorno’s literary criticism is displayed both as a ‘realist’ alternative to Lukács, and an ‘ethical’ alternative to the neo-Aristotelian ‘ethical criticism’ of Martha Nussbaum and others. Pickford thereby successfully sets Adorno’s literary criticism ‘into stark relief’ to these strands.

Negative Dialectics

Part VI is arguably the centerpiece of the book. Revolving around Adorno’s contribution to philosophy as such, the chapters minutely weigh key aspects of it against one another. Terry Pinkard sets the stage by looking at Adorno’s philosophy in light of its obvious relation to Hegel. Pinkard takes up the difficult task of determining the specific difference between Adornian negative dialectics with and against Hegel’s ‘affirmative’ dialectic. As Pinkard rightly notes, this double-headed outlook on Hegel is conferrable to the form of Adorno’s philosophy itself: “So it seems, for Adorno, we must be systematic and anti‐systematic, holist and anti‐holist, at the same time” (459). Accordingly, determining the nature of the dialectic in Adorno amounts to coming to grips with “a massive struggle or even potential contradiction at its heart” (459). It is interesting that Pinkard brings up the ‘anti-system’ in this context. The telos of Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ never was to dismiss systematicity altogether, but rather, quite like Hegel promises, to fully actualize the potential of systematic thinking. Like Hegelian logic, Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ relies on the self-transcending powers of the system itself: “It attempts by means of logical consistency to substitute for the unity principle, and for the paramountcy of the supraordinated concept, the idea of what would be outside the sway of such unity” (Adorno 2006, xx). For most Hegelian readers of Adorno, statements like these are evidence enough to consider negative dialectics a mere variation on Hegel’s absolute idealism. First, because for Hegelians, most of what Adorno says may be “what Hegel meant by the dialectic all along” (467)—the logicity of the absolute system is a synthetic unity of spirit and its externalizations to begin with. Secondly, because right in the moment Adorno subscribes to a dialectical notion of ‘logical consistency’, the anti-system retains the power of Hegelian thinking. Robert Pippin, for example, seems to promote such a reading, when saying: “If Adorno is leaning towards metaphysics, then we must think of his claim about the right ‘logical’ relation between identity and nonidentity as true – that is, as identical with, as saying, what is in fact the case. And we are then in Hegel’s space” (Pippin 2017). Such readings seem to provide the background to Pinkard’s gripping discussion. Pinkard namely seems to have noticed that they are misleading when it comes to grasping the true nature of negative dialectics. The central question of Pinkard’s chapter is what sets Adorno’s negative dialectic apart from ‘Hegel’s space’. Because without accounting for “[t]he negative in negative dialectics” (466) as the difference to Hegel, Adorno’s philosophical outlook collapses into absolute idealism. Pinkard, therefore, looks for ways to do justice to Adorno’s emancipation from Hegel. As Pinkard shows, Adorno, in a sense, follows Hegel in aspiring to the systematic unity of thought and being, but breaks with him by reviewing the role of negativity in the ‘unity’ of thought and being. Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ is the self-undermining consequence of the Hegelianism of the Phenomenology of Spirit. But in Adorno’s ‘anti-system’, diachronic history disturbs logic’s synchronicity. History does not merely enrich the system with the ‘outside’ that the logic had to neglect first for its abstract purity. That history is the medium in which spirit actualizes itself is more than a giant euphemism for Hegel; it is the very locus of dialectical truth. But for Adorno, even if returning to that locus for the truth of his dialectic, spirit will remain a giant euphemism, nevertheless—therefore, the absoluteness of spirit is wrong, until it undergoes a dialectical critique of reason. It is surprising, but perhaps very telling that Pinkard mobilizes an allegedly Heideggerian argument for radical finitude in order to deduce the negative in negative dialectics. (466) Even if we set aside that Pinkard is building his argument on what seems like a Wittgensteinian strawman-Heidegger, this is a wrong turn and missing the point. If Adorno was in any sense “crucially indebted to Heidegger” (466), it is rather because of the fact that his dialectic partly took shape as a critique of ontology. And I am not sure how far Pinkard’s paralleling Adorno to Schelling carries in this respect, either. (cf. 463f.) Pinkard is therefore right in looking to Kant for Adorno’s specific difference to Hegel. Adorno’s “siding with Kant” (464) remains a much-neglected aspect of Adorno’s philosophy. Adorno’s deep connection to Kant becomes somewhat obvious when considering a central systematic feature of Adorno’s Hegelianism: Adorno’s anti-system ‘thinks’ the negative but harbors no category of ‘negativity’.[4] If indeed the anti-system is thereby invoking an ‘experience’ of radical otherness against Hegel, it does so not by affirmatively picking ‘one side’ in the absolute conceptual unity of concept and otherness—namely otherness, like Pippin and others seem to think it does. Instead, the anti-system could be said to ‘be’ the difference of this absolute conceptual unity and radical otherness. This difference is precisely what makes theory critical, that is, of itself. Who else could reason criticize but itself? More than a brainy contradiction, the “massive struggle” (459) of Adornian thinking serves to rescue the nonidentical from the affirmative embrace of identity thinking. “Hegelians are not completely unconvinced” (467), Pinkard loosely concludes. But as long as their partial affirmation of Adorno entails denying negative dialectics its specific difference, they surely will never be convinced either. Espen Hammer’s contribution picks up another thread that permeates Adorno’s work – “Adorno’s Critique of Heidegger”. Adorno’s relation to Heidegger stands under the bad sign of a ‘refusal of communication’ (Kommunikationsverweigerung) first called out by the Heidegger scholar Hermann Mörchen. A synopsis of their communicative catastrophe goes something like this: Adorno developed key aspects of his dialectic in the form of a harrowing critique of Heideggerian existential ontology and its jargon, while Heidegger famously reacted by not reacting at all. Apparently perpetuating Heidegger’s silent treatment, it is a disturbing fact that the nature and scope of Adorno’s critique of Heidegger is still not being fathomed accordingly with regards to its content. After the controversy surrounding the publication of the Black Notebooks, working through Heidegger’s anti-Semitism must be of general interest. Its ramifications might extend well into Heidegger’s philosophy and the history of being (‘Seinsgeschichte’). Despite acknowledging that “Adorno pioneered the now widespread approach to Heidegger’s writings as politically motivated and ideologically compromised” (473), Hammer eventually fails to see Adorno’s polemic for what it is. Instead, he expresses doubts regarding the soundness of Adorno’s arguments, primarily concerning the ontological difference between being and beings. Hammer dismisses Adorno’s reading of Heidegger as “simply not correct”, claiming it does “not withstand scrutiny” (476). In Hammer’s eyes,

the fact that Adorno displays no real awareness of Heidegger’s actual ambition is striking. Adorno does not hold Heidegger to his own standards. He simply misunderstands the nature of his project. Given Adorno’s unquestionable abilities as a philosopher, this is both surprising and puzzling. It could be that Adorno does not reveal the true nature of his interpretation. (477)

This interpretation is in itself rather puzzling. Is it even conceivable that Adorno was simply not ‘aware’ of Heidegger’s true ambitions? And what does it even mean that Adorno could not have revealed ‘the true nature of his interpretation’? What if the opposite is the case? In line even with Hermann Mörchen (!) (1981, 292), it should be stressed that it is very hard to imagine that Adorno would have exposed himself to the public with blunt misreadings, even harder to think he would not get corrected by his colleagues—some of whom knew Heidegger’s philosophy considerably well—and moreover to sustain an overtly false argument throughout his whole intellectual career, and, on top of it, in his major outputs. Furthermore, attributing alleged misreadings to Adorno’s “competitive instinct”, or “hostility and aversion” (477) is an ad hominem argument that, even if it were true, made no difference to the success or failure of Adorno’s vindication of dialectics against the pretenses of existential ontology. The really pressing question is being avoided by Hammer, namely why Adorno consciously chose to raise these provocative accusations against Heidegger—that Heidegger is reverting back into subjectivism and idealism—despite the obvious fact that Heidegger understood his thought precisely as overcoming idealism. This would entail further scrutinizing of the nature of Adorno’s dialectical critique, perhaps even touching on a Socratic element in Adornian dialectics. In any case, showing that Adorno was ‘wrong’, in the sense attributed to him by Hammer, just doesn’t do justice to the rhetorical dimension of dialectical content. We should not forget, however, that, in line with a remark in Negative Dialectics, “contrary to popular opinion, the rhetorical element is on the side of content” (56), and not the other way around. Be that as it may, these shortcomings in Hammer’s otherwise highly informed account of the Adorno-Heidegger debate can only contribute to re-vitalizing the discussion. Jay Bernstein, too, addresses “deeply puzzling” (488) traits of Adorno’s dialectic and traces them in Adorno’s fruitful reception of Kant. Bernstein, who is known for having made seminal contributions to the field in the past, successfully lays new ground for discussions on the topic, showing that key aspects of Adornian thought (the concept of the concept; the critique of transcendental subjectivity; the alleged non-conceptuality of the nonidentical etc., in short: the relation between “Concept and Object”, as the chapter’s title indicates) can be traced in Adorno’s continuing preoccupation with Kant. Bernstein thereby makes a far-reaching observation:

Although Negative Dialectics is premised on a conversation with Hegel over dialectics, both its critical object, constitutive subjectivity, and its metaphysical promise, aesthetic semblance, derive fundamentally from a dialog with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Getting this in plain view is the first task for a reading of Adorno’s philosophy (499).

Perhaps an equally far-reaching claim to this might be added: specifically, that the conversation with Hegel over dialectics should itself be seen within a Kantian framework, and not merely the other way around—the conversation with Kant within a Hegelian framework. Adorno took it “as a general guide for the understanding of the problem of dialectic that dialectic must, in an eminent sense, be regarded as Kantian philosophy which has come to self-consciousness and self-understanding” (Adorno 2017, 14). Following Adorno down that road entails reading Hegel himself as a Kantian (cf. Hindrichs 2020, 47), which of course exceeds the Companion’s purview. Nevertheless, seeing Adorno’s Hegelianism in a Kantian horizon could possibly affect the discussion of Adorno’s neglected ‘Kantianism’ in relation to modern idealists such as Robert Pippin, Robert Brandom, John McDowell, and those in their wake.[5] Adorno’s primacy of the object—disenchanting the myth of the myth of the given and promoting again the idea of otherness—can only be defended on Kantian and not on Hegelian grounds. Here, I cannot help but express puzzlement over one of Bernstein’s concluding remarks. Can Adorno really be said to have “always defended the now widely dismissed two-worlds version of Kant’s idealism” (499)? Isn’t Adorno’s own (widely ignored) contribution to the field that he reads Kant ‘dialectically’, whereby worlds and aspects necessarily coalesce in one sense, in order to then be set apart ‘negatively’ and thereby retain the idea of otherness? Apart from the discussion-worthy conclusion, Bernstein’s essay is easily one of the highlights of this volume, and everyone in the field is advised to read it. Kantian self-criticism of reason is, however, only one side of the coin. In keeping with Pinkard’s observation, the other side of Adorno’s ‘anti-system’ is that it must equally promote the seeming opposite of Kantian self-limitation. In accordance with Hegel’s program of a phenomenology of spirit, it both “demands that phenomena be allowed to speak as such—in a ‘pure looking-on’—and yet that their relation to consciousness as the subject, reflection, be at every moment maintained” (Adorno 2005, 74). Brian O’Connor and Peter E. Gordon accordingly examine the active contribution of Adorno to philosophy, that is, his account of the nature of philosophical truth. According to O’Connor, “Adorno offers us two notions of philosophical truth: the singular one and the critical one” (528). And of course, the two are interconnected, the singular truth being the ‘non-reportable’ correlate of a singular rhetorical engagement of a philosopher. These different notions of truth articulate a dialectic between the universal and the particular that is essential for the overall outlook of a ‘changed philosophy’. O’Connor thus provides a convincing ‘solution’ both to the problem mentioned in the beginning, that philosophy is ‘inexpoundable’ in essence, as well as to the double-headed nature of the anti-system that Pinkard hints at. ‘Metaphysical experience’ consequently is, according to Peter Gordon, “caught in an apparent self-contradiction” (549). It’s that same contradiction again, whose elucidation amounted to understanding Adornian thought for what it really is—genuinely philosophical dialectic. Gordon’s second independent contribution to the volume provides reflections on the place of Adorno’s philosophy in tradition. Departing from the relation to Classical Metaphysics (Ch. 2), Gordon delivers an intricate discussion of Adorno’s concept of metaphysical experience. Adorno’s philosophy can be said to draw from the insight that philosophy in general “rests on the texts it criticizes”—an insight, which, according to Adorno, “justifies the move from philosophy to exegesis, which exalts neither the interpretation nor the symbol into an absolute but seeks the truth where thinking secularizes the irretrievable archetype of sacred texts” (Adorno 2006, 55). How this coalition between philosophy and theology, between the most radical materialism and the ontological argument, comes about, can be read in Asaf Angermann’s chapter. Albeit mostly focusing on Anglophone discussions of the topic, the chapter nonetheless manages to show how a “Heretical Redemption of Metaphysics” is to be conceived—the upshot being that the union of theology and philosophy in Adorno is not a unio mystica but a unio in haeresia (between Adorno and Gershom Scholem), by virtue of which the dialectic of enlightenment stays in touch with its utmost extremes.

Ethics

The framework by which Adorno’s Ethics is introduced and discussed is its specific historical situation. The historical outlook of Adornian ethics is essentially articulated through “the new categorical imperative” imposed on humanity by Hitler: “to arrange their thinking and conduct, so that Auschwitz never repeats itself, so that nothing similar ever happens again” (Adorno 2006, 365). According to Christian Skirke,

Adorno’s reflections on life after Auschwitz strike a chord with these urgent concerns of our times. The least his reflections can do for us is to train us to see the dehumanizing logic of those practices. His reflections can forewarn those who are on the safe side of these practices that not to resist this logic amounts to passing over in silence the worst transgressions against others. (580)

Skirke then draws the memorable conclusion that “It is not unlikely that Adorno’s diagnosis would be exactly the same today”. The concluding chapters of the volume all revolve around Adorno’s negatively normative imperative. A shared problem of these chapters seems to be if we should, and if yes, how to extract positive normative purports from Adorno’s negativism. The section on ethics is thus an interesting end note that provides a rich discussion of Adorno’s negativism—a discussion likely to develop further in the near future.

Interpretive Uncertainty: The Fate of Adorno Scholarship?

Upon reviewing these sections covering Adorno’s lifework in its entirety, one thing especially stands out: Contrary to the apparent wording in the passage quoted at the outset, Adorno is a ‘systematic’ thinker in his own right. As a consequence, the apparent contradiction between affirming and criticizing systematic thinking engenders what I would call an interpretive uncertainty that every Adorno scholar has to come to grips with, at some point. The uncertainty arises from the double-headed nature of the dialectic between critique and theory. Needless to say, this interpretive uncertainty has not exactly matched ‘scholasticizing’ tendencies in academia. Beyond a growing circle of Adorno scholars, Adorno’s dialectic is still mostly met with shoulder shrugs, superficial criticism, or allergic reactions. Its negativistic character, the result of these aporetic ‘placements’, seems to present an unspeakable irritation to academia. And it still appears to be the prime inhibiting factor for a successful scholastic cultivation of negative dialectics.

In spite of such inhibiting factors, A Companion to Adorno manages to brave the challenge of ordering a heterogeneous field of scholarly activities into one integral approach, albeit mostly (and thankfully) by means of fleshing out problems, rather than by throwing clear-cut solutions at the reader. As a bottom-line from this integral approach of the Companion, the following methodological problems for Adorno scholarship can be identified:

1) There is, without a doubt, such a thing as ‘Adorno’s thought’—it can be called ‘critical theory’ or ‘negative dialectics’ (for Adorno, these two titles essentially mean the same thing).

2) Critical theory qua negative dialectics cannot be expounded or summarized. The best of it is lost when taking the form of a positive system of fixed concepts and ideas.

3) Key tenets of Adorno’s philosophy can, therefore, only be ‘traced’ and expounded indirectly, that is, when taking into consideration Adorno’s critical interactions with society, capitalism, art, artists, writers, and importantly with other philosophers. Examples of the latter include refined criticisms of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, most importantly Kant and Hegel, but also Schelling and Fichte, Marx, Kierkegaard, Husserl, Freud, Nietzsche, Lukács, and Walter Benjamin, of course. (The most notable ‘interlocution’ with a contemporary being the one with Heidegger, who in turn remained as silent as the dead.)

4) Since Adorno’s dialectical path is—in contrast with Hegel’s—terminally negative, the universal functionality of dialectical thought must saturate itself with ‘material’ themata (hence its proclivity towards Cultural Analysis, History, Sociology, Aesthetics, etc.) in order to fulfill the promise of philosophical truth. This need for ‘materiality’ is, however, not merely an epistemic virtue of Adornian dialectics and surely not an end in itself, like Hegelian readings of Adorno tend to suggest. To the contrary, being a mere “ontology of the wrong state of things” (Adorno 2006, 11) dialectics both expresses and stands in the way of philosophical truth, in other words, in the way of actualizing the “cognitive utopia” (Adorno 2006, 10). Until utopia becomes actual (never?) the isomorphy between the dialectic of the philosophical system and the all-too ‘real’ antagonisms must be interpreted as the ultimate ground for a critique of absolute reason, i.e. precisely not as an index that the rational always already is, or is about to become, real. The dialectic of form and matter is a vice, a profound irritation to logical thought, and an index to the finitude of universal forms—ultimately an articulation of the all-too real experiences of catastrophes during the age of extremes. In short, dialectics is the absolute limit of philosophy, drawn from within, with no possibility for transgression but through relentless self-criticism. To deem dialectics a virtue of the philosopher is to be blind to the fact of mediation continually jeopardizing the absolute status of philosophical truth.

5) Therefore, the fundamental question for ‘Adorno scholarship’ is how to examine Adorno’s philosophy as a self-standing theoretical body of knowledge while, at the same time (!) taking into account that, qua critique, Adorno’s philosophy can only ever be thematized indirectly, by taking into account its critical, and oftentimes polemic, interactions with tradition.

It is this interplay between theoretical autonomy and dialogical ‘indirectness’ which is constitutive of Adorno’s dialectics, and which, coming full circle, promotes interpretive uncertainty. All in all, the uncertainty revolves around the one fundamental difficulty of how to account for the systematicity of Adorno’s anti-system. Much like Plato’s, Adorno’s dialectical body of work inevitably gives rise to the wearisome question of an ‘unwritten doctrine’, while equally making it impossible to pinpoint it as a static system. ‘Adorno scholarship’ is an aporia. Its only ‘way out’ is to show that it articulates the very aporia of philosophy itself.

Conclusion

Aspiring to a comprehensive survey of a philosophy, there is always a fine line between unduly reducing its complexity and doing it justice in recognizing its overall coherence. Correspondingly, Blackwell’s comprehensive summary of Adorno seeks to avoid undue simplifications and reductive schematizations and maintain a high level of differentiation at all times. This greatly inspires further scholarly investigation and the concentrated reader is rewarded with a challenging yet fascinating read. On the downside, however, its high level of differentiation makes the Companion not any easier to ‘expound’ than the philosophy it is supposed to help comprehend in the first place. One is sometimes tempted to ask, if a more ‘systematic’ approach to Adorno really amounted to a cardinal sin.

A Companion to Adorno will hopefully be received as a call to reactivate the critical dialogue between Adorno and academic philosophy—past, present, and future. But will it convince the majority of philosophers who still find negative dialectics either too brainy and complex, a mere variation on the grand Hegelian theme, or—even worse—no dialectic proper? It probably won’t. Stuart Walton, in a recent review of this very Companion, commented on the book’s material richness by mobilizing Brecht “who scarcely took the first generation of Frankfurt thinkers seriously” and his remark “that nobody who lacked a sense of humour would stand a chance of understanding dialectics” (Walton 2020, 175).[6] Meanwhile, the challenge of ‘taking in the entirety of Adorno’s thought’ may have become a rather serious one, however. For it resonates a little too perfectly with ‘academic’ philosophy today, by which I mean with the challenge to remain relevant and in touch with its time, on the one hand, and not to defect to the powers that are trying to instrumentalize it, on the other. In light of such challenges, philosophy may be well advised to take dialectics more ‘seriously’, if only to account for the dilemma it finds itself in. This, however, entailed taking Adorno’s philosophical wit seriously, at long last.

To conclude, although the volume cannot (and does not) aspire to become a surrogate for the richness of Adorno’s anti-system itself, it succeeds in showing us where and how to look for its treasures. Luckily, however, these contributions mostly refrain from cherry-picking, sorting out what’s still ‘useful’ and what’s not, and from patronizingly assigning Adorno his place on the basis of the dubious privilege of being born later. The Companion’s integral approach thus helps Adorno’s dialectic come into its own, as a mode of thinking aimed at securing the sheer possibility of philosophical truth. “There is solidarity between such thinking and metaphysics at the time of its fall” (Adorno 2006, 408) reads the last sentence of Negative Dialectics. Congruously, A Companion to Adorno is an impressive testimonial for Adorno’s unrelenting solidarity with philosophy, aesthetics, and critical social theory in a catastrophic time. Thereby, the lines of what Brian O’Connor calls “a changed philosophy” (cf. 520–522) have become more visible than ever before. This philosophy should be both determinately critical and ‘modern’ (in the emphatic sense of lat. modo = just now), all the while keeping in mind its aporetic starting point from after “the moment to realize it was missed” (Adorno 2006, 3). The Companion can moreover help students first become familiar with Adorno’s philosophy, by promoting awareness of the unique fashion Adorno had addressed philosophical problems with. And quite possibly, it will thus even help engender broader discourse in the long run. If the book is not received as a compilation of last words on these matters, of course.

References

Adorno, Theodor W., and Edmund F. N. Jephcott. 2005. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. London: Verso.

Adorno, Theodor W. (1966) 2006. Negative Dialectics. Transferred to digital printing. London: Routledge.

Adorno, Theodor W. 32020a. Philosophische Frühschriften. Gesammelte Schriften Band 1. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Adorno, Theodor W. 82020b. Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II: Eingriffe–Stichworte. Gesammelte Schriften Band 10.2. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Gordon, Peter Eli, Espen Hammer, and Max Pensky (eds.). 2020. A Companion to Adorno. First edition. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.

Jay, Martin. 2020. Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations. London: Verso Books.

Hindrichs, Gunnar. 2020. Der Weltbegriff der Philosophie. In: Merkur. Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken. Nr. 854. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.

Kant, Immanuel, Paul Guyer, and Allen W. Wood. (1781=A/1787=B) 182016. Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meillassoux, Quentin. 2008. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Translated by Ray Brassier. New York: Continuum.

Mörchen, Hermann. 1981. Adorno und Heidegger. Untersuchung einer philosophischen Kommunikationsverweigerung. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.

Morgan, Marcia. 2012. Kierkegaard and Critical Theory. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Pippin, Robert. 2017. Review of Peter E. Gordon. Adorno and Existence. In: Critical Inquiry. [https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/robert_pippin_reviews_adorno_and_existence/] Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1948. Anti-Semite and Jew. Translated by George J. Becker. New York: Schocken Books.

Walton, Stuart. 2020. Review of ‘A Companion to Adorno.’. In: Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, vol. 43, no. 3, 2020, p. 175–178. (Online: Gale Literature Resource Center. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.)


[1] Brian O’Connor translates ‘referierbar’ as ‘reportable’ (526), which seems a more elegant solution.

[2] To be mentioned are (in no specific order): Huhn, Tom (ed.). 2004. The Cambridge Companion to Adorno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Cook, Deborah (ed.). Theodor Adorno: Key Concepts. Stocksfield: Acumen, 2008; Klein, Richard (ed.). 2011. Adorno-Handbuch: Leben–Werk–Wirkung. Stuttgart: Metzler; Honneth, Axel, and Christoph Menke (eds.). 2010. Theodor W. Adorno: Negative Dialektik. Berlin: Akademie Verlag; Hindrichs, Gunnar (ed.). 2013. Max Horkheimer/Theodor W. Adorno: Dialektik der Aufklärung. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

[3] Tellingly, and in accordance with the dialectic of teleological judgment in the third Critique, ‘Absicht’ is sometimes translated as ‘purpose’ or ‘aim’, sometimes as ‘point of view’ or ‘perspective’.

[4] “[…] for the category is a mere function of thinking, through which no object is given to me, but rather only that through which what may be given in intuition is thought” Kant 2016, 349 [A 253/B 308].

[5] Whoever subscribes to Adorno’s neglected ‘Kantianism’ might, on another note, also have a word to say regarding the widespread allergy of modern ‘realists’ to so called ‘correlationism’ (see Meillassoux 2008, 5). The upshot of an Adornian rejoinder would be that the negativistic nature of the dialectic manages to break with ‘strong correlationists’ such as Heidegger without claiming to have gained epistemic access to the thing-in-itself (and thereby falling behind Kant and Hegel) but by vindicating the only absolute correlation: the one between dialectics and the critique of reason. It may not be impossible, after all, that there are things we—being ‘finite’ beings—cannot know.

[6] The upshot of Walton’s (2020, 175) analogy being: “By much the same token, nobody who lacks a gigantic range of cultural and philosophical reference, and one that is ever vigilant for the first trace of oxidation into ideology in any of its component parts, will find themselves equipped to take on the entirety of Adorno’s thought.”