Steven DeLay: In the Spirit: A Phenomenology of Faith

In the Spirit: A Phenomenology of Faith Book Cover In the Spirit: A Phenomenology of Faith
Steven DeLay
Christian Alternative Books: John Hunt Publishing
2022
Paperback
173

Reviewed by: Sarah Pawlett Jackson (St Mellitus College and University of London)

In the Spirit is a short text comprised of nine chapters and a conclusion. Each chapter has a loose thematic centre, which it explores associatively. The author draws out different existential threads in conversation with the Christian scriptures and a range of different works of art. There is a particular journey that the book hopes to take its reader on, although I didn’t fully appreciate this until I got to the end. Starting in darkness, with the soul asleep, journeying through resistance to conversion to a life renewed, the book ends with a vision of perfection and the pattern of a divinely ordered life.

The opening chapter – ‘A Drunkard’s Sleep’ – takes drunkenness as its phenomenological and theological meditation. In this chapter DeLay draws substantially on Adriaen van Ostade’s Drunkards in a Tavern to illuminate his various conceptual forays on this theme. He goes in a number of different directions exploring the image and experience of drunkenness. Intoxication by alcohol is associated variously with sleep, dreaming, lying, illusion, blindness, restlessness, simmering rage, hardness of heart and a failure to be satiated. These different qualities of the drunk and the addict find obvious correlates in the existential and spiritual realm. For DeLay, that which the drunk’s restless thirst longs for is ultimately the living water which Christ offers the Samaritan woman in John 4; the water that is himself. Yet the drunk ‘dulls his sensibility’ (12) to this living water, which is why there is a wakefulness, a ‘sober-mindedness’ (16) needed before it is even possible to drink from that which will satisfy. There is a particularly interesting reflection in the midst of this meandering exploration, on two types of blindness. DeLay takes us to Christ’s diagnosis in Matthew 11:18-19 of those that reject both he and John the Baptist, but for different reasons. John is rejected for his sobriety while Jesus is rejected for his so-called gluttony. As DeLay puts it: ‘Doubt, then, comes in two forms of blindness: with John, an unduly suspicious seeing that does not see what meets the eye, simply because it does not want to see it; with Christ, a self-servingly shallow seeing that sees only enough to be able to remain blind to whatever more it does not want to see.’ (18) DeLay puts the question to us – where else do these two types of blindness show up (or fail to show up) in the reader’s life and experience – the not seeing what is there and the only seeing what is there?

The second chapter – ‘The Strong Wind and a Still Small Voice’ – majors on the theme of dependence. It focuses on the Biblical story in 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah is fed by an angel after waking alone and exhausted in the wilderness. DeLay considers the weakness, fragility of Elijah in his moment, which leads him to a broader reflection on the vulnerability and dependency woven through the human condition, requiring a posture of something like Løgstrup’s ‘basic trust’. He notes the ways we can resist this part of ourselves and try to maintain an illusion of independence. DeLay considers different artist’s impressions of this moment in Elijah’s story (Escalante, Bol, Maggiotto and Moretto.) These different ways of depicting the moment give us, as the reader, a way into imagining different possible postures – both of resistance and of receptivity – in Elijah in this moment, and in ourselves.

The third chapter – ‘On the Broad Way’ – circles around the theme of desire. It considers both desires locked into their own sense of themselves, as well as the possibility of a desire that leads to divine transcendence. DeLay tells us, starkly, that ‘Desire’s transfiguration, from inattentive or feverish, on the one hand, to attentive and judicious, on the other, is an upheaval of everything, that great moment of lucidity marking the fear of God.’ (35) This chapter circles back to themes from the previous two, picking up the narcotising theme from the first chapter. He again uses different pieces of visual art (Rodin and Munch) to invite us to consider different ways of seeing-as-artist, and so different ways of desiring. With echoes of Levinas he identifies the desire which hoovers the world into one’s own totalising artistic project, and an alternative which is receptive to the interruption of God.

Chapter Four is called ‘The Golden Calf.’ As its title suggests, this portion of text riffs on the theme of idolatry. Here DeLay engages with the contemporary prevalence of social media, thinking phenomenologically about the pressure it exerts to keep us preoccupied with images of ourselves. He diagnoses a new very and yet very old phenomenon, traced back to the myth of Narcissus. In an enjoyable pun, he diagnoses: ‘Narcissus, in fact, is the ancient predecessor of what for us has become rampant, a transcendental egoism consisting in the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency from God, a shallow pride leading to the pursuit of self-adoration, thereby culminating in an existence whereby one becomes one’s own idol, one’s own golden calf.’ (54) Taking this pronouncement further, he claims that this narcissism becomes ‘demonic’, because ‘divorced from the goal of becoming wise, the task of being oneself meets with failure. For underestimating evil, it fails to take adequate refuge from it.’ (65)

Chapter Five – ‘Through the Veil of the Word made Flesh’ – is something of a hinge chapter. Here DeLay tells us retrospectively what he has been seeking to do so far, and why: ‘If, then, the preceding chapters have aimed to establish one thing, it is to disclose the stupor in which we grope when we are estranged from God, whatever the particular reason is. Having fought for however long it may be to live apart from God, how will coming to know him be achievable after persisting alone? What form can a reconciliation between God and us take?’ (66) This chapter tries to illuminate the moment of conversion, where the inverted, self-satisfied ego is taken out of itself and transformed. This, then, is the frame with which to read this chapter, and the whole of the second half of the book. The exploration of a phenomenology of the closed-off life becomes an exploration of the phenomenology of conversion becomes an exploration of the phenomenology of the spiritually open and given-over life. DeLay’s orthodox answer to the question of what form divine-human reconciliation might take, is that ‘the incarnation changes everything.’ (66) It is the incarnation of God that ruptures our experience (of drunkenness, independence, feverish desire and idolatry) and addresses us. The recurring image – once again explored through the eyes of various artists, but particularly in this case, Caravaggio – is of St Paul’s Damascus Road conversion. It is Paul’s confrontation with the incarnate and reconciling person of Christ that knocks him (and us) off our horse. DeLay describes it thus: ‘The haze lifts. The riddle dissolves. Life ceases to be a Promethean project of forging an identity by way of the purposes we choose to determine for ourselves. Now, it instead takes on the pure form of a divinely appointed vocation, a task God gives us…Henceforth, the incarnation points the way for us, because Christ, while in earth, dwelling among us, leaves the pattern of life by which reaching eternal life is possible.’ (68) In the second half of this chapter he starts the constructive work of articulating what a phenomenology of this life so patterned involves. He offers a rich description of the ‘spiritual senses’ – what-it-is-like to have spiritual sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch (the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands of the heart, as it puts it) awake and attuned.

The sixth chapter – ‘The Purple Robe’– takes evil as its theme, particularly evil’s resistance to the conversion held up in the previous chapter. Different manifestations of the resistance to conversion are explored, but DeLay’s focus is evil’s pattern of denial of the truth followed by violent attack on the truth. The counter-pattern of the converted life works against this grain of denial-and-attack: ‘Displaying the futility of evil’s will to destroy the truth, Christ’s personal victory over death takes on universal significance. Having passed through suffering unto death, and back to life, his resurrection guarantees the good’s ultimate triumph over evil. Even when evil seemingly has overpowered the truth to the point of putting it to death, it fails, for the truth only rises again. This is the eternal power of the good originating beyond the world, a good having issued its first word with creation, and its last word with the resurrection.’ (102)

Work and rest are the central theme of the seventh chapter, titled ‘Apparitions of the Kingdom’. By implicit contrast to the locked-in desire and restlessness explored in earlier chapters, this is an examination of a work redeemed and a true rest that springs from outside of the self. As we find in all these chapters, DeLay offers a taxonomy of experiences. Of particular interest here is his distinction between different types of restoring rest – rest found through connection with the whole, and rest found in meditation on the dignity of the details, which he demonstrates in his discussions of Turner and Monet respectively. Again, what is offered is a phenomenology of the life spiritual – after the pattern of Christ. Rather than embroiling himself in classic philosophical debates about work and rest (usually cashed out as activity and passivity, or freedom and determinism) he rather points us to the fact that ‘metaphysical questions regarding God’s relation to creation and the relation between divine and human action are resolved simply by imitating Christ.’ (109)

‘Paul and the Philosophers’, DeLay’s eight chapter, takes wisdom as its theme. Paul’s famous sermon to the Greeks at Mars Hill is explored through various painterly depictions (Raphael, Ricco, Fortuny, Pannini and Rothermel.) The wisdom that is the pattern of Christ DeLay describes as ‘a third way’ (120) between the wisdom of the Greek philosophers (both Stoic and Epicurean) and the Jewish wisdom tradition from which Paul himself comes. Most pertinently for the philosophers reading this text, DeLay puts forward the suggestion that intellectualism’s sceptical posture can be destructive not only as a form of idolatry, but also as a form of superstition. For ‘when the truth has been revealed, and one persists in ignorance, what previously had been an admirable attitude of epistemic modesty itself becomes superstition, for it clings to an ignorance that has ceased to be warranted.’ (125) By contrast, Paul preaches obedience to the truth revealed, the person of Christ himself.

Chapter Nine, ‘The World’, considers the theme of overcoming. The Biblical stories paired and explored through artworks here are that of St John’s Revelation on the island of Patmos, and Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. The connection hangs on Patmos as a site of temptation similar to that of Christ’s wilderness. Drawing on both stories, DeLay gives an account the work and experience of overcoming – overcoming the world, overcoming temptation and (rightly) overcoming oneself. Christ is again the pattern book for this existential task. In refusing Satan’s attempts to get him to use his power in the wilderness he shows us, for example, that real power does not always need to show itself, and this is the kind of overcoming that our more spiritually alive selves are called to.

We come to the Conclusion, which is titled ‘Perfection’. The telos of the journey is held before us to continually elevate us, to remind us of the nobility that is possible and to-be-pursued. ‘Existence assumes the form of faith, for it becomes a stretching forth, a perpetual exodus always in patience seeking after the heavenly city, rather than turning back to idle aimlessly where it had begun.’ (150) And yet lest we forget, we are reminded – ‘nobody begins elsewhere than with mercy.’ (151)

My experience of reading this book was that each chapter was something like a homily – less primarily a piece of conceptual analysis (although this is wound through DeLay’s prose) and more of a moral, spiritual and existential exhortation. Or perhaps the foreground use of artworks makes this book feel like visiting a gallery with someone, attending with them, jointly attending and seeing what they see. I could imagine a sermon or lecture companion series to this text. Knowing now the homiletic quality of the text, I might have chosen to read it differently. I suspect that the best way to approach this book is not to read it too quickly, but to treat each chapter as a meditation, pausing between each. There are strands of connection between the chapters, but similarly, one could easily read each chapter as standalone. As so much of the book involves discussion of unseen works of art, reading in a space where one has access to a high resolution screen to search for the images will probably serve this more tuned-in and contemplative reading. (Learn from this reader’s mistake – don’t read on the London Underground with no Wi-Fi to search for images). In an ideal world this book would have included all the images it refers to, but there are a huge number of artworks engaged, which would no doubt have been a huge cost and headache to compile.

Although I want to say that this is a homiletic piece of work, it is also certainly reads as a primary piece of phenomenology in the tradition of Christian existentialism. DeLay’s energy is not directed towards any secondary analysis of any other thinkers – the text is focused on making its own declarations, analyses and exhortations. The prose has a meandering and associative quality, with themes built on implicitly, and in a non-linear way. The form of the book seems to want to evoke some of the texture of our experiential and existential existence. It has no introduction, no framing, no signposting, no overview. We are dropped straight into the meditation on drunkenness and sleep with the question: ‘Am I in darkness?’ Initially I found this jarring and disorientating, but, in settling in to DeLay’s prose, I take it that this abruptness is intentional, evoking our thrownness and the disoriented sense of waking from sleep, not knowing quite where we are or what it is to find ourselves awake (or are we?)

As a work of phenomenology, the extent to which the reader will find it valuable will be the extent to which the rich phenomenological descriptions that DeLay paints resonate with the lived experience of the reader, or not. For this reader, there were many points at which the text spoke to my lived experience – see above, on blindness and intellectualism particularly. On this point I would be fascinated to speak to others who have also read the text. This text is accessible to the engaged and interested reader of any stripe – no previous expertise in philosophy is needed, although my suspicion is that the book may split a room. This is a book that I wish I had been able to read with others, to find out what did and didn’t resonate with them, what they saw, felt or noticed in reading this book that I didn’t, what rubbed them the wrong way. I am particularly curious as to how the book’s assertions might land with those who do not share the theological commitments that are made foreground. For this reader, immersed in and committed to the Christian faith, the theological assumptions are a familiar landscape in which I live, move and have my being. But how might the non-believer respond to the assertion that ‘the incarnation changes everything?’ This of course raises something of the meta-question of the nature, significance and legitimacy of the theological turn in phenomenology, although I think DeLay is rightly unapologetic in assuming that this kind of theological phenomenology is legitimate. I am interested less here in the meta-philosophical question and more in the interpersonal and experiential one: what-is-it-like for an atheist to read this book? There are many kinds of atheist, of course, so there will not be one answer to this question. My sense is that there are flavours and textures of human experience which DeLay puts words to, in conversation with art and scripture, which make this work the kind of site where theists and atheists can dialogue…but I seek the atheist’s opinion here.

In a similar vein, I am also curious as to how the tone and feel of the book is received by a non-Christian audience. The sermonising quality of DeLay’s writing has a certain severity or heaviness to it. This is a descriptive rather than critical point – again, the quality of a primary existential text (as we find in the likes of Kierkegaard, Levinas and friends) definitionally has a confronting tone. I would love to know for whom else this is a holy confrontation, and whether there are those for whom it leaves cold as moralising. One person’s aphorism is another’s cliché. Maybe all existential writing runs this risk, and there is a boldness to DeLay’s unironic frontal delivery which, in a philosophical landscape typically concerned with caveats and an obsession with narrowing the scope of a set of claims, is refreshing. As I say – I am curious to know where this text leads others.

Emmanuel Alloa: Looking Through Images: A Phenomenology of Visual Media

Looking Through Images: A Phenomenology of Visual Media Book Cover Looking Through Images: A Phenomenology of Visual Media
Emmanuel Alloa. Translated by Nils F. Schott. Afterword by Andrew Benjamin.
Columbia University Press
2021
Paperback $35.00 £28.00
408

Reviewed by: David Collins (SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Oxford)

Looking Through Images: A Phenomenology of Visual Media is an English translation of Emmanuel Alloa’s Das durchscheinende Bild: Konturen einer medialen Phänomenologie, which was first published in German in 2011 after having been presented as the author’s doctoral thesis in 2009. The range and breadth of Alloa’s knowledge of thinkers and views from different periods in the history of western philosophy is impressive, ranging from Ancient Greece through the early modern period and into the twentieth century, and including thinkers from different philosophical traditions, engaging with analytic philosophers of art such as Nelson Goodman and Richard Wollheim as well as the phenomenological and ‘continental’ philosophers in relation to whose ideas Alloa’s own account is mainly situated. However, due in part to the number and diversity of figures covered and the space required to present even a cursory account of their views, the book’s wide-ranging discussion ultimately fails to come together into a single—or even a coherently conjunctive—focus, with at least three aims being discernable that are never fully realized in a way that fulfills the initial promise of Alloa’s introduction.

One thing that this work aims to do is to analyze and give a theory of what it is for something to be an image—the ‘image-ness’ of images, as it were; their ‘pictoriality’—which Alloa contends remains largely unexamined in academic discourse despite the recent popularity of image-centric inter-disciplinary fields such as ‘visual studies’ and ‘media studies.’ Connected with this first concern, Alloa is also interested in explaining how images operate, or their distinct place in human experience and their importance within our socio-cultural world, and is guided by a phenomenological approach in investigating both concerns. “Th[e] book is conceived,” he notes upfront, “as a phenomenology of the way we deal with visual media and as a rehabilitation of images as irreplaceable agents of our everyday opening up of world” (3).

In particular, Alloa seeks to present an alternative to the widespread understanding of images as just, or primarily, representations, arguing that although an image is always an image of something, an image’s nature qua image goes beyond anything that could be called its ‘content’, where he calls this transcendence of (re)presentational content “iconic excess” and insists that this excess is itself “genuinely visible or phenomenal” (Ibid.). Rather than subordinating images to what they are images of, as secondary (i.e., ‘re-‘) presentations or copies of an original, and rather than understanding pictorial expression as derivative of verbal expression, which he thinks the currently dominant approaches to theorizing and understanding images are guilty of doing, Alloa wants to attend more to how things are presented in images than to what is presented. This distinction between what an image is of and the image qua image—including how the images presents, or is of, what it is of—might seem at first to mirror the two directions in visual studies that Alloa calls the ‘transparency’ and ‘opacity’ paradigms, respectively. His concern with images qua images rather than what they are of does not take the form of an interest in images as ‘opaque,’ since the latter involves an interest in the thing that bears an image—a painting, a photograph, etc.—qua material object—e.g., as a canvas of a certain size, shape, and weight with coloured pigments applied to it surface, or as a strip of celluloid containing arrangements of grains of silver halide—, and since Alloa takes both this approach and the ‘transparency’ approach, which looks past an image-bearing object’s materiality and pictorial surface to what is depicted therein, to overlook how something exists and operates qua image in the first place.

There are some claims that Alloa makes when introducing the basics of his view of images that seem odd or paradoxical at first glance. For instance, he claims that he takes images not to be phenomena themselves, strictly speaking, but rather to be media in which things appear, writing that a central part of the nature of images is that “they do not themselves appear but in them show something other than what they are” (5). One might wonder how a phenomenological approach can be usefully taken toward something that is not itself a phenomenon, and how what can come to understand by taking such an approach will be the nature or operation of images, if they are not phenomena, instead of the related phenomena that are claimed to be shown through images. One might also wonder whether Alloa is right to say that images “do not … appear,” which seems to entail that we never perceive images, but only what they are of and the objects that bear them. To claim that images are not perceived raises the question of just what is meant by ‘images’ here, since it would seem to go against most ordinary uses of this word.

This apparent difficulty may be resolved by noting that another of Alloa’s aims in the book is not only to apply a phenomenological approach to the study of images but to propose a new kind of phenomenological approach, which he calls ‘medial phenomenology,’ as an alternative to Husserlian ‘transcendental’ or ‘eidetic’ phenomenology. Framed against his claims that all phenomenal appearances are mediated, his own account might be understood as taking images to be media for appearances themselves rather than for independent objects that appear ‘through’ them. However, whether this view of images as media for appearances, rather than appearances themselves, is convincing, and so whether this helps resolve the difficulty, must be seen by considering how Alloa develops his twin concerns with pictoriality and mediation.

The book is divided into five chapters, with each chapter containing ten sections, although the reason for this uniform number of sections is not obvious. The division seems to be arbitrary at best: with some chapters, the inclusion of ten sections feels unnecessary and seems to be done for the sake of symmetry rather than from any organic need; with others, the division of some sections into further sub-sections (e.g., 3.4a–f; 5.7a–j) suggests that more than ten sections may have been warranted given the topics covered in the chapters. Although they follow one another in a thematic progression, for the most part each chapter can be read on its own, with the connections between chapters often being loose or general.

Chapter 1 focuses on the place of images in early Greek philosophy, centring on Plato’s dispute with the Sophists over the ontological status and value of images. Alloa contends that this question of the image has an important place in the ‘foundations’ of western philosophy itself, with the role that Plato’s answer to this question plays in his refutation of the Sophists setting the agenda for the subsequent course of metaphysics and epistemology. Specifically, Alloa sees Plato’s suspicion of images to be at the root of what he claims is philosophy’s ‘iconophobia,’ which explains what Alloa claims is a relative lack of philosophical accounts of, or engagements with questions about, the nature of images qua images. As well as containing a survey and explication of the ancient debate over images and their relation to truth and knowledge—or what we might call their cognitive significance—this is the chapter in which the dual paradigms of transparency and opacity are introduced and the ancient roots of the present forms of these paradigms are traced, with the transparency paradigm being linked to the notion that images make objects present to us so that, for instance, when we see a painted portrait of a family member or public figure, we are given access to something of that person’s essence through a kind of metaphysical ‘participation’ or methexis of the person (or object) in the painting. The opacity paradigm, on the other hand, holds that images are just marked surfaces, so that when one sees, for instance, a painting of some object, what one sees is only a flat material surface bearing an arrangement of coloured pigments that in some way resembles that object, where this resemblance can arouse thoughts of that object but where one does not perceive this object itself in any sense ‘through’ the painting. Early versions of each paradigm can be seen in the debate between Plato and the Sophists with, e.g., sophistical claims for the broad expertise of artists grounded in their ability to represent a wide variety of subjects being linked to the transparency paradigm, and the platonic denial of this expertise, with the reduction of images to ‘copies of copies’ doubly removing them from the proper objects of knowledge, being aligned with the opacity paradigm.

Chapter 2 stays with Ancient Greek thought but shifts in focus to Aristotle and his account of perception as being necessarily mediated, with Alloa reconstructing and attempting to rehabilitate a notion of ‘the diaphanous’ as a general medium of perception through which phenomena of all kinds appear. Chapter 3 looks at how this idea of the diaphanous as a medium for perception was taken up and used by thinkers after Aristotle, presenting a survey that ranges from later Hellenistic and early Medieval philosophers such as Themistius, Plotinus, and Aquinas up to early modern philosophers such as Descartes and Berkeley. Because the book’s initial concern with images takes a back seat in these chapters to a discussion of mediality and of perceptual appearance in general, it is not immediately clear how these chapters are meant to relate. Fortunately, the latter half of the third chapter ties together the central topics of the first two by framing various thinkers’ appeals to the idea of ‘diaphaneity’ in terms of the transparency and opacity paradigms. However, these ideas are still mainly applied here to ideas of a transparent medium, with a discussion of images only coming into play at the end of the chapter. As a result, the relevance or importance of some of the figures discussed in the third chapter is not clear, apart from their being thinkers who make some mention of the diaphanous. To be fair, this may be an artifact of the book’s origin as a doctoral dissertation, a genre for which literature reviews and demonstrations of a broad knowledge in the history of philosophy are expected. Nevertheless, the number of thinkers and ideas covered in this chapter does not allow for the more in-depth explication or analysis that might have helped tie these ideas together and show their relevance for Alloa’s overall project.

Chapter 4 puts the focus back on images and traces a different history involving a different period in philosophy: that of the place of images and the idea of a perceptual medium in the phenomenological tradition, running from Brentano and Husserl up through Sartre to Fink, Merleau-Ponty, and Derrida. This chapter helps to connect the initially disparate ideas discussed in the previous chapters, with the first six of the ten sections focusing more on images—especially in relation to Husserl and Sartre—and sections seven to ten discussing the idea of perception as being mediated, and sets the stage for the last chapter by leading us to see Alloa’s proposed medial phenomenology and its application to an analysis of images’ pictoriality as both part of a strand of thinking running through the phenomenological tradition and a continuation of the twentieth century development of these ideas. The discussions in this chapter of image-consciousness in Husserl and Sartre, and of Merleau-Ponty’s late ontology of ‘flesh’ (chair) as itself offering a kind of medial account of perception and experience, are particularly interesting and are worth the consideration of students and authors who are working on these topics.

These discussions, however, are not given enough space to do more than scratch the surface of the elements of these phenomenologists’ theories that are relevant to Alloa’s project—e.g., the discussion of Merleau-Ponty is only given a six-and-a-half page section at the end of the chapter—, where expanded discussions of all three thinkers would have been more valuable and would have helped to flesh out, and add depth to, the original positions that Alloa develops in his next and final chapter. The feeling that this chapter’s discussion of phenomenological thinkers has been given ‘short shrift’ to some degree increases when one notices that the thinkers and ideas discussed in the first three chapters do not directly tie into or set up the views in this chapter, leading to a feeling that the book’s chapters remain somewhat disconnected, despite each dealing with one or both of the two central topics. Because the discussions in the first three chapters, interesting though they are, are not strictly necessary to lead up to the discussion of twentieth century phenomenologists in this chapter, it is difficult not to think that an expansion of this chapter into two, or even three, chapters, along with the final chapter—possibly also expanded—would have worked better as a self-contained book, or at least if accompanied by a shorter discussion of the historical background in Plato and Aristotle in a single opening chapter. (Again, one wonders if this is largely an artifact of the book’s origins as a doctoral dissertation.)

Chapter 5 is the core of the book in both its length and substance: here, Alloa presents his original positions on the topics that have been discussed in the previous chapters. These primarily consist in (i) a medial phenomenology (or ‘diaphenomenology,’ as he also calls it) that is meant to offer an alternative to existing approaches to phenomenology—especially the eidetic and transcendental phenomenology of Husserl and those influenced by him—and (ii) an account of iconicity—i.e., of what it is for something to be an image—that is framed, after Nelson Goodman, as a ‘symptomatology’ rather than a definition framed in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. With respect to the latter, Alloa’s account features ten ‘symptoms’ that paradigmatically characterize images, viz.:

(a) ellipsis, by which Alloa means that images are always of a fixed aspect of an object and never the whole object, and are always specific rather than general;

(b) synopticity, which involves the simultaneous rather than sequential presentation of an image’s components as well as a phenomenal, if not always a literal, two-dimensionality or flatness;

(c) framing, as a way of both structuring the visual space of an image and marking it out from the rest of the phenomenal world;

(d) presentativity, meaning just that an image presents something to view by showing it rather than by ‘telling’ us about it or presenting it discursively;

(e) figurality, where exactly what this is is not entirely clear, but which Alloa ties to the evidentiary potential of images as well as to the idea that an image is always more than a sum of its individualizable ‘parts;’

(f) deixis, or depiction, which Alloa differentiates from both reference and representation;

(g) ostensivity, which has three forms: exemplification—where there is no distinction between the surface or bearer of an image and what the image shows—ostension—involving presenting something by pointing to it—and bareness—which refers to the possibility of an image not showing anything other than what it is as a material object, and which Alloa explains by talking of images “externalizing themselves” (262);

(h) variation sensitivity, which combines what Goodman calls ‘syntactic density’ and ‘relative repleteness,’ and, briefly put, is a matter of any change to one part of an image also making a change to the image as a whole;

(i) chiasmic gazes, which involves the image being a locus or meeting-place for two points of view, with the image both standing out to the viewer and drawing the viewer’s gaze inwards, where this is expressed in the metaphor of an image ‘looking back’ at those who look at it;

(j) seeing-with, which is Alloa’s addition to the categories of seeing-in and seeing-as that are familiar in philosophical discussions of images, whereby images are taken to mediate our seeing of their objects rather than our literally see images as what they are of or our being limited to seeing the object in the image.

It is understandable that Alloa should want to avoid formulating an essence of pictoriality by giving necessary and sufficient conditions for something being an image due to current suspicions of this kind of definition. However, it is not clear how gathering together these ten ‘symptoms’—i.e., features or characteristics that images of various kinds often have—adds to existing understandings of the nature of images since, with the exception of ‘seeing-with,’ each symptom picks out an already familiar feature of many types of image. If the claim were that all of these symptoms together, or some majority of them, is sufficient for something to count as an image, bringing together these otherwise independent features might be useful. Alternately, if more than the last symptom were novel, it would more clearly enhance our understanding of what it is to be an image. But with it being possible to be an image without having any of these features or symptoms (because none is necessary), or to have any number of them without being an image (because none is sufficient), this list does not obviously help us understand the nature and function of images as such, or what in virtue of which something is and functions as an image. In contrast, the symptom-based account of art that is found in Nelson Goodman’s aesthetics, which Alloa takes as the model for his own symptomatology, gives us insight into the nature and function of artworks qua art by highlighting features of art that had not often been thematized as such, and by letting us treat possession of all of the features or symptoms as being practically sufficient for something to count as art, and possession of at least one symptom as practically necessary for arthood, without any strictly logical entailment.

Aside from this worry about these symptoms giving us a useful account of pictoriality, there are further questions that can be raised about the individual symptoms on the list. For one thing, the difference between the three symptoms that Alloa calls ‘figurality,’ ‘presentativity,’ and ‘deixis’ is not made clear and could likely be presented as one symptom. For another, the second symptom, ‘synopticity,’ seems to contain elements that are distinct from one another and so would be better if presented as two symptoms, viz., the simultaneous rather than sequential presentation of an images ‘parts,’ and an image’s flatness. It is not only unclear what these features have to do with one another (consider: a large mural might be flat, but its flatness does not allow a viewer to take in its components in one glance), but it is not clear that the parts of an image are not commonly—or even perhaps necessarily—experienced in some sequence or other by the percipient, even if no sequence is specified by the image itself (but, then again, techniques of composition typically allow for a painter or photographer to lead viewers to attend to various parts of an image in a certain order). Further worries might be raised about the three characteristics that Alloa brings together under ‘ostensivity:’ one might wonder whether objects that exemplify certain properties are properly considered images (e,g., paint samples are not ‘images’ of the colour they exemplify); what Alloa calls ‘ostension’ seems, from his examples, to be more a matter of an image depicting an act of pointing than of an image itself pointing; and what he calls ‘bareness’ is, like exemplification, not clearly a characteristic of images per se, but rather would seem to apply to anything that appears—and one might wonder where the medium is through which the appearance appears when the appearance is a ‘bare’ one in Alloa’s terms. (It is also not clear how ‘bareness’ is a case of ostensivity, unless one takes every visible object to be ‘pointing to’ itself—but if one does, the notion of ‘pointing’ would need to be revised at risk of becoming otiose.)

The final symptom, ‘seeing-with,’ links Alloa’s account of pictoriality to his concern with mediation since it positions images as media for seeing things ‘through,’ i.e., via, them, and thereby with the theory of medial phenomenology that he aims to develop as this chapter’s other main focus. However, how exactly Alloa conceives of this medial phenomenology qua phenomenology or method, and why it should be accepted or seen as preferable to other approaches to phenomenological investigation or analysis, is unfortunately not made clear. The main idea seems to be that every appearance is an appearing-through something else, which is to say that every appearance is mediated by that through which it appears, but a case is not made for why this claim should be accepted. At one point (223-24), Alloa seems to be arguing that Husserl’s insistence that we only perceive an adumbration or aspect of an object at any one time entails that our perception of things is mediated through these adumbrations or partial views. However, this is not a case of our perceiving one thing through another thing, since the adumbration is an aspect of the object that we perceive and not a separate object: we perceive a table, for example, by seeing one side of it or one angle on it at a time, where any perception of a side or an angle just is a perception of that table, and where each side or angle—i.e., each adumbration—is not itself an entity distinct from the table and so cannot sensibly be said to be one thing that the table, as another thing, is seen ‘through.’ In Husserlian terms, what seems to be going on here is something akin to a confusion of part of an experience’s noetic content with an additional object over and above the object intended in the experience (i.e., the noema). However, a way of experiencing something is not itself a ‘thing,’ or at least not a thing in the same ontological sense in which the thing experienced is, and so it is not clear how any conclusion about the mediated nature of all appearing follows from this, or why this apparent ontological doubling is warranted.

Without making a case for why one should accept that every appearance appears through something other than itself, the grounds and motivation for adopting a medial phenomenology as one’s approach to studying all phenomenal appearances, or experience more broadly, would seem to be lacking; and this is in addition to what exactly ‘medial phenomenology’ involves not being outlined clearly. Alloa does state that “[t]he research domain of medial phenomenology would … concern above all the medial difference between that which appears and that through which it appears” (224), but little indication is given of how this difference between medium and appearance is to be investigated. If this chapter’s discussion of images as one type of appearance is meant to demonstrate how this medial phenomenology will work when applied to some other type of appearance or phenomenon, more could be said to make the methodological principles in this discussion more explicit, and to address the question of whether these principles would apply beyond a particular concern with images. More could also be said to clarify how what Alloa is proposing is distinct from, and why it is preferable to, existing approaches in phenomenology that might also be called ‘medial,’ especially Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy of ‘flesh’ which positions what he calls flesh as a kind of medium in and through which perception occurs, with flesh mediating our access to and awareness of objects.

Aside from the question of just what medial phenomenology involves as a phenomenology, one might think that an approach to investigating phenomena in terms of their mediation and the medium through which they are mediated would make sense—or at least be more plausible—when applied to images rather than to all phenomena that ‘appear.’ Still, there is some confusion over what exactly the medium is here. In most places, Alloa explicitly takes the image itself to be the medium (see again the remarks from p. 5 quoted at the beginning of this review), but in other places it seems more plausible to interpret his remarks as taking the image-bearing object, or ‘image-surface,’ to be the medium. On the first understanding, taking an image itself to be a medium raises the question of what it is mediating or allowing us to encounter through it. Images, in general and as such, are not plausibly media for the perception or appearing of what is referred to as the ‘image-subject,’ i.e., the thing in the world that an image is an image of, since it is not, for example, the person herself who appears in a painted portrait of her—although, arguably, the subject of a photograph is seen through the photograph as per Kendall Walton’s photographic transparency thesis, which gets a passing mention on p. 149. Moreover, in some cases—e.g., drawings of unicorns—what an image is ‘of’ does not exist and so cannot be itself perceived or appear, whether through the image or in any other way. On the other hand, if it is the ‘image-object,’ i.e., the phenomenal figure encountered an image that may or may not represent a subject or depict some kind of thing by having a certain shape or appearance, that is what appears through a medium, this would seem to make the image-surface the medium. It is unclear what else, apart from these candidates, could be the medium here, and the second interpretation seems more plausible with the image-bearing object—a paint-covered canvas, paper marked with ink, etc.—being the medium through which the image-object appears. It is, after all, most natural (at least in English) to talk of the image-object as an appearance, where this is a way of appearing of the image-bearing object, not in the sense that it is what makes the image-bearing object visible but in the sense that it is a ‘look’ that this object ‘has’ when marked, arranged, or otherwise organized in a certain way. However, more needs to be said to show why this could not be explained adequately with the notions of ‘seeing-in’ and ‘seeing-as,’ and why it is necessary to appeal to the further notion of ‘seeing-with’ that Alloa introduces.

Although the last several considerations have been largely critical in tone, I do not want to give the impression of having a wholly negative assessment of Alloa’s book. The breadth and scope of Alloa’s knowledge of different thinkers, eras, and philosophical traditions, and of the range of views on images that are discussed, is impressive, and there is much to interest scholars working on theories of perception or visual aesthetics in one the thinkers, traditions, or the time periods—e.g., Ancient Greece—that are covered here. Also, many of Alloa’s individual points about the nature and function of images are insightful and worth engaging with, especially the points he makes in connection with the many examples he discusses, and to the ten ‘illuminations’ that he intersperses throughout the main text which are extended analyses of specific examples that touch on or are tangentially related to, but do not always directly tie into, what is being discussed in the sections in which they occur. Nevertheless, there are some significant issues that detract from the value that this book might have had, most notably the lack of a clear focus or aim throughout. Is the main aim of the book to give a theory of the nature and function of images, or to develop a medial phenomenology, or to give a genealogical account of the concepts that still feature prominently in our thinking about images? The chapters and sections jump back and forth between each of these three aims, resulting in not enough space or attention being devoted to any one of them to fully and clearly develop a novel theory of pictoriality, or a medial phenomenology, or a comprehensive history of ideas about images and visual appearance in western philosophy. The genealogical aim is the most successfully realized, although certain thinkers whom one would expect to find included in such a history, such as Spinoza, Hume, and Kant, or Bergson and Deleuze, are conspicuously absent. This gives the book an unfocused, somewhat disjointed feel that never quite gets resolved by having these strands of inquiry get tied together in the final chapter, where this leaves some intriguing and promising ideas underdeveloped. While a longer book that had space for a fuller development of each focus and an ending that brings them all together would not have been ideal, simply due to considerations of length, all of this might have been accomplished better in two books, one being a history of thinking about images leading to an original ‘symptomatological’ account of image-ness or pictoriality, and the other being a history of thinking about perception as mediated, leading to a novel—and a more clearly explained and defended—form of medial phenomenology.

Ethan Kleinberg: Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought

Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought Book Cover Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought
Cultural Memory in the Present
Ethan Kleinberg
Stanford University Press
2021
Paperback $28.00
248

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

Reading Dialectically

1. Content and Structure

To begin, and with consideration for the nature of the journal in which this review appears, it should be acknowledged what this book is not: the work is weakest when it comes to philosophical analysis, for the most part providing descriptions of Levinas’ thought rather than interactions with it (although the latter is not entirely absent). I had expected otherwise and so this was somewhat disappointing, but – to slightly alter the old saying – perhaps we should not judge the book by the subtitle on its cover. The biographical information listed for the author tells us that Ethan Kleinberg is “the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of History and Letters at Wesleyan University” (this is also what is given on his institution’s faculty page), and a social media profile (for what such is worth, ours being the digital age) cites his PhD as being in History and Critical Theory. Thus, we should gear ourselves for history, and on that account the work is highly interesting and the reader does indeed gain much insight into Levinas the man from a careful reading of the text. This precisely – the act of careful reading – is the theme which I drew most from Kleinberg’s engaging and enjoyable presentation of Levinas’ Talmudic lectures as I journeyed alongside and through them, and the same shall become our concern in what follows.

A word or two must be given on the unique format that the book employs. Composed of six sections it is divided into four chapters that are flanked naturally enough by an introduction and a conclusion; the chapters, however, are “doubled” in the sense that each contains two separate columns of text which run parallel to each other: picture a single page with prose X on the left side and an entirely disconnected prose Y on the right; turn the page and X continues on as it had been still on the left with Y too carrying forwards on the right. In each of the chapters the right handed Y column ends before the left handed X, and therefore the final few pages simply have that side of the paper blank. It is admittedly not perfectly accurate to describe these two portions as “disconnected” however, for there is a thematic crossover between them which is related to Levinas’ life and personal educational mission. The left side sections offer biographical and institutional narratives connected to Levinas’ series of lectures on passages from the (Babylonian) Talmud delivered to the Colloque des intellectual juifs de langue française in Paris from 1960 to 1989, with an emphasis on what Kleinberg calls the “braid” of Levinas’ influences from and emphases on the trio of Western philosophy, French Enlightenment Universalism, and the Lithuanian Talmudic tradition. (See p. 12; Levinas had learned Talmud study under the mentorship of the well-known but perhaps mysterious Lithuanian master Shushani, being originally of Lithuanian stock himself although his family was forced to flee there for Ukraine after the German invasion of Lithuania in 1915, returning finally in 1920, only for Levinas to decide to leave again to attend university in France in 1923; these and other fascinating details are given in Chapter 1.) The right side sections relate to the content of the lectures themselves, titled respectively: “The Temptation of Temptation” (Shabbath, 88a and 88b); “Old as the World” (Sanhedrin, 36b-37a); “Beyond Memory” (Berakhot, 12b-13a); and “Contempt for the Torah as Idolatry” (Sanhedrin, 99a and 99b; note that the transliteration for these tractate names varies slightly from source to source, here I am simply following the spelling given in Kleinberg’s book).

The biographical (left) portion is further categorized as “Our Side” and the Talmudic (right) as “The Other Side” at the opening of each chapter, and these divisions are references to what Kleinberg outlines in the introduction as Levinas’ formulae – after Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, founder of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva – of “God on our side” and “God on God’s own side”: that is, for the “God as revealed in our finite and imperfect world and as such limited by that which we can conceive or imagine” and “the infinite and absolutely transcendent qualities of God that lie beyond our finite abilities to define, conceive, or even name God” (p. 5). We are additionally warned that we must take care (this from Levinas’ thinking) not to presume that what we know from “our side” can be understood as “the essence of God or we reduce God to a mere product of our imagination” (also p. 5). Clearly this makes for a healthy alert prior to any approach for or about the numinous, but there is also a methodological risk here in that these alignments could become useless if taken too seriously, such that the attempt to query and seek God on “God’s side” – however tentatively – is thereby perfunctorily given up; we must have some tools to work with, and moreover the courage to so work. We will therefore try; initially by taking Kleinberg’s “our side” texts before shifting to his “other side”, and finally offering some general summative remarks.

2. “Our Side”

Levinas is probably best remembered for his ethics, and as Kleinberg relates it this in part formed the impetus for Levinas’ pre-war move from Husserl to Heidegger, that it was “through the realization that there was no place for ‘others’ in Husserl’s phenomenological program” and hence the shift to a Heideggerean perspective (one thinks here of Heidegger’s emphases on embedded “world” issues, on Dasein as entering a historical trajectory already “in progress”, and on the necessity of a subject-bound hermeneutics as opposed to (the illusion of) objectivity) which provided Levinas with “themes [that] returned in Levinas’s later writing and in his Talmudic readings when they were recast in relation to his renewed emphasis on Jewish thought” (p. 29). After the war, in the dreadful awakening to the horrors of what came to be called HaShoah (The Catastrophe: the Holocaust) which confronted every thinking and feeling person, but of course most forcefully Europe’s surviving Jews, Levinas re-situated his own commitments to begin to place “his philosophy in terms of his Judaism: ‘My philosophy [this is a quote from Levinas found in the collection Carnets de la captivité (Notebooks from Captivity) published in 1946; he was a prisoner of war] is a philosophy of the face to face. The relation with the other without an intermediary. This is Judaism.’” Hereafter he also withdrew from Heidegger, and he enacted “the substitution of ‘Being-Jewish’ for Dasein” (p. 36).

This particularization and un-finitizing (this blurring) of the self and its place in the cosmos moreover entailed for Jewish identity a necessary tie to the past (election, and therefrom responsibility) within the still-not-yet of the promised messianic future, and it is this orientation to time that distinguishes “Being-Jewish” from, for example, the present focuses of Christianity with its “born anew”, or science with its discovery, or politics with its revolution. Therein lies “the fundamental difference between the ontological meaning of the everyday modern world and the ontological meaning of Being-Jewish” (p. 50). It might be objected at this point that Christianity, science, and politics do each clearly look to their own futures – and in the instances of “new birth”, discovery, and revolution especially so – but perhaps the idea here is that the stresses are on something akin to “May we have it now (new birth, discovery, revolution)” rather than the “split” “Being-Jewish” mindset which always has one eye over its shoulder, as it were, gazing both to the was-then and simultaneously the will-be.

On this issue of identity Kleinberg also locates what he describes as a “blind spot” for Levinas, a level at which he “conserves aspects of the authentic/inauthentic distinction inherited from the philosophy of Heidegger”; evidently this is through the relating of an assimilation into the broader culture with an inauthentic mode of “Being-Jewish” (p. 52). There is an interesting argument here in the sense of assimilated life as less “validly Jewish”, and therefore as juxtaposing with Heidegger’s inauthenticity as less philosophically realized, but for Heidegger inauthenticity was the “thrown” and default condition of the “they” (i.e. everyone) and Dasein needs to make (great) efforts to achieve authenticity, whereas the opposite is the case if one is born into the Jewish lineage: there the efforts required are for assimilation (moving out of one’s heritage, and having to try to be accepted as having so moved out by the “mainstream”), and hence the conceptual matching that Kleinberg asserts is not a perfect fit. Then too we might ask how thin the line is (or should be) between embrace and exclude when it comes to matters of identity, a question that ethically and existentially matters tremendously. Concern for the other is certainly at the core of Judaism, but if each other is always viewed in terms of “Being-Jewish” and vis-à-vis the kind of ranking system thereby implied, then that concern must become colored or even tainted; yet again, if we place ourselves historically in post-war Europe we find our sympathies are unreservedly extended to this manner of thought. It might be that the us/them aspect of any identity simply cannot be rid of the paradoxes and double-edges that adhere: that to ever assert any version of “we” is always and necessarily to negate it in a “they”. Whatever the case may be, this is a critique that Kleinberg returns to in his fourth chapter wherein he cites scholars who have been critical of what they label a hierarchy of people and cultures within Levinas’ writings and, as Kleinberg illustrates, his Talmudic lectures.

Let us though transition from ethics as point of view into ethics within/by/as text (scripture and exegesis), mindful of our stated theme of a “careful reading”. The Talmud came to be central to Levinas for his project of an ethical humanism – the responsibility for the other, facing the other and the taking on of accountability beyond the mere confines of one’s own acts – and that, “For Levinas, ‘the Bible clarified and accentuated by the commentaries of the great age that precedes and follows the destruction of the Second Temple, when an ancient and uninterrupted tradition finally blossoms, is a book that leads us not towards the mystery of God, but towards the human tasks of man’” (p. 73; emphasis in the original). It is the reading of the book (Bible) and the reading of the writings on the book (Mishnah, Talmud, et cetera) that properly conditions one to become a creature who can care, and this understanding both motivated Levinas in his pedagogical objectives and in his – shall we say – seizing of the Talmud away from its customary place in the yeshiva and thrusting it into the academy. Levinas, Kleinberg informs us, “wanted to take control of the chain of transmission, to prolong the spirit of Shushani, and thus to fulfil the call to transmit what has been heard. In essence, Levinas sought to start a new tradition, a new chain of transmission, in keeping with his goals for Jewish education, his reformulation of Judaism as a humanism” (p. 83). This then places us back at the beginning, and the Talmudic lectures themselves.

The initial 1959 lecture that Levinas delivered to the series of colloquia (given at the second commencement, he did not speak at the inaugural meeting) was on the influential philosopher and theologian – or maybe more properly: philotheologian, or theophilosopher – Franz Rosenzweig, but at the third event he presented a Talmud lesson opposite another’s biblical lesson (André Neher; see p. 94). At the time this was quite remarkable; Ady Steg, who would become the president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle from 1985 to 2011, recalled that: “The Bible was familiar to the intellectual world, to the non-Jewish world as well. But the Talmud was something totally ignored, reserved for those good Jews with long beards from Poland to Morocco. The idea that the Talmud could be studied in French, in public, and in the same manner that it was studied by Jews from eastern Europe or from Maghreb [northwest Africa] was extraordinary” (pp. 94-95). This was to become the motif for the years that followed. To Levinas, who accepted the being of God/“God” (I add the scare quotes to allow this concept some attitudinal flexibility), and the subsequent central position God/“God” attains through recognition, an associating with and/or orienting towards the divine was not to be done in the kind of non- (or anti-)rationalist ways that are typical of traditional religion, but instead via the same critical and reason-based thinking which is common in scholarship (p. 112). At numerous points Kleinberg refers to this as Levinas’ “religion for adults”, and the notion seems to have been one that was both dismissive and upholding vis-à-vis faith: denigrating “feeling” faith while lauding “thinking” faith would perhaps be one way to put it. Thus, for Levinas the sacred books were that – sacred – and were moreover of greater value than their interpreters and the schools of interpretation which history has granted alongside them; it is “the text that serves as the conduit or pathway to God on God’s own side” (p. 111). Kleinberg, commenting in general but also specifically about Levinas, remarks that we as readers should not depend upon “the genius of the reader or the writer” but rather “we should look to the transcendent meaning of the text, the opening to the Other that always retains the potential to say more than it says” (p. 126).

There is surely much wisdom in this, but it should also be noted the way that such an approach leaves the door ajar for relativism; Levinas did, it appears, insist on a proper training for taking from the Talmud (adhering to and promoting the method he learned from Shushani), but to bequeath the text (any text) with a “something beyond” is to give it a mysticism that supersedes its actual content (such as is signaled by “conduit”, “pathway”, “opening”, et cetera), and this is a facet of reading that both Levinas and Kleinberg seem comfortable with. Thereby the word can be made to “say” anything, and thusly to actually mean nothing. Yet there is, I think, another possibility here, and that is not to be bothered by this relativism so much as to embrace it in a particular way, to adopt a hermeneutics of the moment, and in this phenomenological reading to take care for the written meaning that one finds from within one’s place at one’s present, without making the additional move of affixing definitiveness to that. We are all, I suppose, postmoderns in this denial of a single, permanent interpretation, but in this latter now-construct just offered it is not a case of everything being there because no-“thing” is “there”, rather that what is there is indeed there but its instantiation rests within a spectrum of potentialities. The text is rooted, what it offers is limited, but even so with a depth that the surface might mask.

These thoughts call to mind Levinas’ concern for dissociating oneself from the prejudices of time, and as we suggested that a reading can be repetitious without ever being repeated (returned and returned to for re- and re-readings without ever finding the same set of results), Levinas advised that we leave aside “what we might call the bias of the modern that includes the presumption that we now know more and better than those who came before us” (p. 161). We do not of course, we merely know differently (as regards the humanities at least, for empirical matters the case is naturally distinct). In such a way Levinas was prepared to let the Talmud, through his “religion for adults”, speak its archaic words to contemporary readers and hearers, and in this he found too (the idea of) God/“God” as the “ethical ground or backstop that keeps reason from devolving into sophistry or the will to power…as the inspiration for good, for Ethics” (p. 138). It will be recognized how close this is to God/“God” as the “call” of writers like John D. Caputo, although on my understanding I suspect that Levinas would give a “meatier” rendering to God/“God” than Caputo might. On this note of the other, then, let us now turn to Kleinberg’s second (the right hand side) column of text – his “The Other Side” – in order to better explore the Talmudic lectures themselves.

3. “The Other Side”

The talk which Kleinberg chooses to begin with concerns itself with what Levinas calls “the temptation of temptation”, namely “the need to make the determination and offer an answer [which then] ascribes that meaning and, in doing so, wrests the event and the possibilities latent in its occurrence away from the Other…creating a closure instead of an opening” (p. 18). As we have here been contemplating, this is quite deleterious to a reading (now-constructed or not) that would be able to take – and be enabling of – an ancient source and apply its voice to the present. Whatever the participants whose discussions are recorded in the Talmud may have had to offer on this or that, the instant we affix Correct Interpretation M to such data then A through L along with N through Z disappear into the aether, leaving us not only the poorer for it but the text itself too greatly reduced. The passage on the page might “be” M now, but we must by all means resist the urge to make it ever-M; and, we may add, the related prompting to make my M forcefully become yours (after all, you could be reading N or O or P, and then let us talk about that and see if we do not in the end arrive at Q, or L). Such dialogical/dialectical proceedings (we will have more to add on this below) are of course not only in accord with the way of the Talmud, they are the way of the Talmud, and as Kleinberg writes, “Levinas instructs us to ‘enter into the Talmud’s game, which is concerned with the spirit beyond the letter, and is, for this reason, very wonderful’” (p. 64).

As an example of this, Kleinberg remarks that for Levinas the history of an institution such as the Sanhedrin “is unimportant, even its historical existence. What is important are the lessons that have been drawn from the Sanhedrin” (p. 55); and by reflecting on this once again we may find our now-construct reading with its rooted but broad word-trees, its textual branches. It does not matter one bit if the Sanhedrin sat in deliberation as is described, nor if its hallowed judges ever lived, what does are the manners by which these stories have been taken and applied to the lived situations of those who read and heard them. This is how the book attains (or is given) timelessness, how it instructs from its own side the reader as hearer as interpreter who then must do something with it today, irrespective of the “when” of its contents. However, in thinking thus we need to also recall the above caution about the inherent spectrums within the words and passages, the caveat that whatever the beauty and the intuited or claimed transcendence of a text, such will never be capable of fully standing outside history (arguably nothing can) and therefore will always be connected to the era of its production and the subsequent recorded interactions of the person(s)/community(ies) with the word. Again, Levinas’ “Being-Jewish” (we might substitute “reading-Jewish(ly)” here) that is at once backwards and forwards-facing. Kleinberg summarizes this aspect with: “the memory need not correlate to an ‘actual’ historical event. This is to say that the ‘memory’ of the exodus from Egypt need not be a memory of something that actually happened but instead the memory must be such that it carries the future within it. The promise for the future is more important than the fidelity to the past” (p. 96). This, I think, is not only indicative of the value a perspective can have but also of that for narratives, for myths and storytelling, for those repeated and beloved tales whose truths are in the virtues they (seek to) impart rather than the information they present. Superman, for instance, never “happened”, but his call for social justice and the championing of the weak (incidentally, highly biblical qualities) are as relevant today as they were when the comic first appeared in 1938; Levinas would no doubt make a very similar remark about the more complex and venerable biblical and extra-biblical incidents with which the Talmud concerns itself (not to compare the two!).

Within this very aspect of the text as having value and being loved, however, lies another danger which Kleinberg introduces in the final lecture he considers: “Contempt for the Torah as Idolatry” (Chapter 4). This is to take the Torah as itself an item due veneration, and Levinas counters this tendency (or temptation) by advising that – as Kleinberg puts it – “The general or universal rule is never enough and must be brought into contact with the actualities of the day [i.e. the reader’s time and place]. Invariable conceptual entities are to be avoided, perhaps, as one resists an idol” (pp. 130-131). For Levinas, a Jewishness which is based on a book (Torah) is that in which one is perforce a student, a reader, and it seems transparent enough that this is the kind of “Being-Jewish” that Levinas wishes to promote. The way, then, to avoid crossing the identity-based matter of “reader” with the commingled risk of an excessive reverence for the object of study is to seek to always read through what might be called a properly dialectical procedure, to move beyond mere dialogue with the words (itself already an improvement on a simple imbibing of the words) and into a realm where the text becomes an Other both affirmed and negated in a synthesis which produces something ever-ongoing: Kleinberg explains, “It is not the context in which the Torah was given that is important nor its status as a religious object. It is the act of reading and interpreting the Torah that brings Revelation to life” (p. 146), and therefore the “right and productive way [to engage the Torah] sees that the Torah must be studied, argued, and debated to be maintained. The wrong way is to take the Torah as a finished product worthy of worship in itself” (p. 148). A good reader, a non-idolatrous reader, will be someone who takes the pages as partners for interaction, who finds in them promptings that are always new and timeless precisely because they are timely, because they are connected to and responsive towards the needs of the moment: unlocked, unshackled from the past which birthed them and which must still nevertheless be known yet without allowing that information to circumspect their potential today. Kleinberg very colorfully describes the opposite of the dynamic approach just outlined as a version of “dogmatism” that “results in a harvest that cannot be consumed because the sowing has ceased” (p. 150). The message – its meaning, exercise, possibly even assessment – must be queried, argued, and found from what thereby emerges: again and again, world without end. The summary Kleinberg gives for Levinas’ focus is that, “Studying must not be a devotion in the sense of piety to an immobile code or rote memorization but a motion forward that reveals the way that such a self is always a work in process, a construction, an other me that can be a better me. As such, it is also an opening to the other” (p. 151).

It will be realized that the “self” of these concerns – for Levinas – is naturally connected to “Being-Jewish”, and Kleinberg transitions in his conclusion to contemplate some critics of Levinas’ work on these matters who find a (perhaps unbeknownst) favoritism or elitism within them that promotes his own in-group above all others. This is a matter of deep gravity for any system that would orient itself ethically, as both Levinas and the Talmud itself does, and moreover for one also dedicated to the legacies of Western philosophy and French Enlightenment Universalism (as Levinas was, outlined above), but it is also one terribly complicated by the “facts on the ground” of Jewish existence that at least in its Diaspora but possibly – in this globalized world – even in Eretz Yisrael faces regular threat and pressure to “be” elsewise. Levinas had lived through the Second World War, he had lost his family to the horrors of its pogroms, and he took it upon himself to struggle to assert a Jewish identity that could be proud and noble without retreating into either what he viewed to be a naïve form of Orthodoxy or a self-negating assimilation in the wider European (or other) culture: both of which would be a disappearance. Kleinberg wonders if these longings might not be extended further than the default exemplarism that comes part and parcel with membership-by-birth, reasoning that it is perhaps via a personal approach wherein such could be found: “He [Levinas] sought to make the past present for the future by blowing on the coals and reigniting the fire that he believed lives within the sacred texts of Judaism. It is in the relationship that we each can have with the text and not through the institutions that guard them” (p. 179). I sympathize with these thoughts, and certainly agree that almost limitless wisdom can be mined from the vast catalogue of writings that Judaism in its many formations has produced over the millennia, but I judge that too much structuring of self and personhood occurs from inside a belonging to permit a similarity of (let alone an equality of) reception to take place. “Being-Jewish” is something one cannot have without the constructive accoutrements that affix from the multitudinous angles of a people and a culture. Levinas wished to help his half-assimilated and/or “hidden” cohorts embrace themselves through his “religion for adults”; and with that as goal, and seen from inside that mindset, I think the preferentialism we can find in these lectures is probably inevitable. For the purposes they serve, moreover, that might not be a negative point.

4. A (Re-)Return to (Re-)Reading

In his turn to Talmud we find in Levinas a “return”, and thus we must invoke the concept of teshuvah, the “turning back” from having “gone astray” or – more colloquially – from “missing the mark”. We have not done what we ought to; we have not been as much as we could have; we have not lived up to our potential, or our calling. The challenge, the beckon, is always there: do (be) better, more. Levinas’ was a mission of education and encouragement, to go back and back and back to the text to seek from it what one may need in the moment for that moment, knowing full well that there can never be a mastery and that each re-reading is a confrontation anew. Kleinberg has given us an excellent snapshot of this facet of the great philosopher, of this piece of time within the man’s life, the concerns that enshrouded it and the motivations that animated it. The “stacked” or “doubled” nature of the four chapters that each contain biographical narratives alongside excerpts from and comments on the Talmudic lectures compel the reader to decide which he will engage with first (a strategy Kleinberg outrightly states in his introduction: this is the point of his arranging the book this way), and the choice may be self-revelatory in one way or another. Whether that is the case or not though, the opposite tack can thereafter be taken upon a second reading (“Our Side”/“The Other Side”: “The Other Side/“Our Side”; or vice versa), a notion one suspects Levinas would agree with (and probably Kleinberg be pleased by). The issue is a fittingly Jacobean one of “wrestling with God” (Genesis 32), of trying and trying and trying, of never giving up despite openly recognizing that there can be neither a completion nor finality. Kleinberg demonstrates how the Talmudic talks can be placed into Levinas’ broader oeuvre, and thereby how the treatments given in their contents might be matched with our own era and struggles for identity, purpose, and meaning. Levinas, along with his earlier contemporary and fellow imaginatively thinking European Jew Martin Buber, was an intellect of the other, of ethics, of relation. This too is a journey that does not end, but through our constant revisiting – and re-pondering – of the texts that help us on the way, may it be we find companions as provocative as these.

Rodney K. B. Parker (Ed.): The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics

The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics Book Cover The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics
Contributions to Phenomenology
Rodney K. B. Parker (Ed.)
Springer
Hardback, $119.99 USD; eBook, $89.00 USD
IX, 311

Reviewed by: Ryan Dradzynski

The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics is a multifaceted exploration of the historical context and ongoing influence of various epistemological, ontological, and methodological approaches to the problems of consciousness and reality. Part of Springer’s long-running Contributions to Phenomenology series, the essays in this collection complicate the conventional picture of idealist and realist phenomenology as two homogenous and warring camps through a number of close readings and re-interpretations of figures from this formative period of phenomenology.

In his introduction, editor Rodney K. B. Parker outlines two goals: first, to return Husserl’s early phenomenology to its historical context (4) and, second, “to understand the positions of the other early phenomenologists with respect to the idealism-realism debate.” (4) This is more than scholarly trivia. By drawing parallels between the idealism-realism debate of the early twentieth century and the current rivalry between phenomenology and speculative realism, (6) Parker makes a convincing case for the continued study of figures who left an indelible mark on the phenomenological landscape but for whom sustained engagement—especially in anglophone philosophy—has been elusive.

The structure of the work itself bolsters this conviction. Instead of a linear, chronological approach, the collection is divided into four sections. The two essays in the Part I provide background on Husserl’s philosophical development with a focus on his Logical Investigations. By dissecting the way his early work may have been interpreted as realist, they lay the foundation for the following chapters, the majority of which examine the philosophical conflict which erupted after the publication of Ideas I in 1913. Yet while there is a noticeable sense of progression, the collection withstands the procrustean temptation to place Husserl’s work on a rigid teleological timeline. Instead of proceeding chronologically, the collection revolves geographically around the loose constellation of philosophical schools that sprang up in Marburg (Part II), Munich (III), and Gottingen and Freiburg (IV).

By framing the idealism-realism debate around geography, which is necessarily imprecise and ambiguous, the contributors successfully tease out similarities and differences between positions and philosophers that have been historically understudied. Essays on Baltic, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese—as well as several female—philosophers serve to emphasize phenomenology’s cross-cultural appeal and socially inclusive character.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the portrait of Husserl offered by the collection is more of a mosaic than a picture. Yet it is not less useful for that. On the contrary, the variegated portrayal of Husserl challenges the conventional picture of the idealism-realism debate as a contest between two static, monolithic, and fundamentally hostile camps; readers receive a clear sense of the fluctuating philosophical milieu which phenomenology developed in and deeply influenced. Husserl’s philosophical positions and appropriations thereof were neither foregone conclusions nor incidental to phenomenology today. This volume sheds welcome light on a crucial and underappreciated period in philosophy.

This review largely follows the structure of the work, beginning with the introduction from the editor and reconstructing the arguments in the foundational first chapter on Husserl’s Logical Investigations before devoting the rest of the space—unfortunately not exhaustively—to several individual essays from the collection which serve as conceptual lodestones for thinkers and topics discussed elsewhere in the work.

Parker’s introduction clarifies the broad historical and philosophical context in which the idealism-realism debate among early phenomenologists arose. The core of the controversy centers on two distinct but closely related issues: first, “whether the ‘real’ world exists independent from the mind” (8) and second, whether the belief that the only object of knowledge is one’s subjective consciousness—epistemological idealism—necessarily entails metaphysical realism, or the belief “that nothing exists independently of the mind.” (6) Husserl’s early thought was characterized by a form of realism similar to Brentano’s descriptive psychology. However, after sustained engagement with Kant and disenchantment with psychologism, “Husserl’s project moved away from the descriptive psychology of the Logical Investigations and the account of intentionality presented therein toward a form of transcendental idealism.” (2) The position at which Husserl arrived, transcendental-phenomenological idealism, which “seeks to reconcile the empirical reality of the world with the dependence of that reality on consciousness,” (3) came as an unpleasant surprise to many of his followers and leading philosophical figures of the time.

Michele Averchi puts it succinctly in his article on Geiger: “We must ask ourselves: is Geiger’s reaction to Ideas I only worth exploring for the sake of historical completeness? Or does it contain some developed and original contribution to phenomenological thought?” (175)

The same could be asked, some may say, of Husserl—to say nothing of his less-famous interlocutors. Parker—and the work as a whole—is emphatic: Husserl and his fellow twentieth-century philosophers not only have much to contribute to contemporary debate today, but from a historical perspective, “if Husserl’s critics misunderstood his position, particularly with respect to idealism, then it is incumbent on Husserl scholars to clearly articulate how.” (12)

The two essays in Part I explore the intellectual heritage, Platonic underpinnings, and realist receptions and misconceptions of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. While both Fisette and Crespo conclude that a realist interpretation of Husserl is untenable, they also show that such an understanding is not historically inapposite.

Programs such as Fisette’s are normally nebulous, hinging on specious chronologies and dubious speculation. Fisette avoids these fatal pitfalls by staying scrupulously close to textual evidence, from Husserl’s correspondence and marginal notes (39) to the admittedly more ambiguous influence betrayed by the content of his work from that period. The centerpiece of Fisette’s essay is the close reading he performs on Husserl’s unpublished manuscript Mikrokosmos, which was itself a meticulous explication of Lotze’s Logic and was intended by Husserl to be published as an appendix to his Logical Investigations.

Fisette begins his robust intellectual genealogy of Husserl’s early philosophy by tracing the outline of Lotze’s influence. Though Lotze died in 1881, Fisette argues that he influenced Husserl in two ways: directly, through his work, and indirectly, through his students. Stumpf, for example, under whose tutelage Husserl completed his dissertation and habilitation (31), was a student of Lotze’s, as was Frege, whose withering critique of the ostensible psychologism contained in Husserl’s Philosophy of Arithmetic is often regarded as having provided the impetus for the anti-psychologism of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. This last point is particularly important, because Fisette attributes to Lotze, by way of Brentano and Stumpf, a good deal of credit for inspiring Husserl’s theory of relations as contained in his Philosophy of Arithmetic. (35, 40)

While he deplored Lotze’s “arguably strange view that arithmetic is only a relatively independent and since ancient times particularly sophisticated part of logic,” (38) in Mikrokosmos Husserl nevertheless “attributes to Lotze the merit of having stressed the decisive significance of the distinction between the subjective aspects of thought and the objective aspects of its propositional contents.” (39) In a letter to Brentano, Husserl declared that it was thanks to Lotze’s interpretation of Plato’s theory of Ideas (38) that he was able to articulate an understanding of consciousness as intentionally directed yet noetically distinct from both the subject and content of thought.

This is not to say Husserl blithely internalized Lotzean assumptions. On the contrary, he was deeply critical of Lotze. Husserl was dissatisfied with the descriptive approach inherited from Lotze, which rendered him unable to explain the mysteriously objective quality of subjective experience except by recourse to an empirical explanation. Since he received from Lotze no means by which to engage the transcendent qualities of consciousness without either immanentizing or mechanizing them, Husserl developed a critique of psychologism based on the ideality and objectivity of the laws of logic which he conceived in terms of Geltung and effectivity (Wirklichkeit). (40, 43)

Unlike Lotze, who muddled the division between the quality of judgment and “the propositional content of judgment” (42), Husserl argued that the meaning we intersubjectively imbue objects with is the basis for the existence of those objects independent of any mind. Far worse, according to Husserl, was the fact that Lotze distinguished “a representational world (Vorstellungswelt), which has merely human-subjective validity, from a metaphysical world of monads in-themselves” available only through ‘mysterious’ metaphysical methods, a situation Husserl dismissively called “inferior to novels.” (44) While in Husserl’s view it was perfectly valid to speak of logical laws as being ideal (47), he criticized psychologism for making that validity a function of psychological description and took pains to avoid the subjectivism to which Lotze fell victim when he created “a dependency between his Gedanken and the experiences of the knowing subject.” (43)

However, this leads to a problem: what exactly is being mediated if for Husserl “the function of the propositional content of a judgment is to mediate the relation of an act to its object”? (42) By strenuously opposing a Lotzean conception of ideality, Husserl inadvertently encouraged some interpreters to mistakenly impute to him a form of realism, as Mariano Crespo argues in the following chapter.

Analyzing the critiques of Spanish philosopher Antonio Millán-Puelles, Crespo suggests that in Husserl’s “effort to ground an autonomous logic freed from the threat of that particular form of empiricist phenomenalism that is logical psychologism, one can understand the initial impression of realism.” (56) Such an interpretation, Crespo suggests, turns on a failure to distinguish between the ontology of objects and the ontology of being.

Millán-Puelles makes his critique along three lines: first, “that the proof of ideality invoked by Husserl in the Second of his Logical Investigations is invalid” (57), second, that “conceiving the laws of logic as one conceives the laws of arithmetic” (64) leads to the mistaken belief that ‘universal natures’ correspond to ‘beings of reason’ (65), and, finally, the fact that Husserl transgresses the limits of phenomenology when he makes a jump “from the plane of propositions concerning universal objects to the ontological plane of ideal being.” (61)

These objections are made possible by the ambiguity that “for Husserl, universal objects present themselves, in their unity and ideal identity, in a special mode of consciousness.” (58) If phenomenology is the study of the structure and experience of consciousness, then by its very nature it privileges the operation of the mind over interaction with matter. Yet Husserl sometimes seems to assume the real, objective existence of objects, such as his defense of ideality in the Second Logical Investigation on the grounds that the objective existence of ideal objects presupposes the being of ideal objects. (62) For Millán-Puelles, there is little difference between the being of objects and their objective existence. More importantly, Millán-Puelles argued that “the use of terms such as “constitutive activity” or “genesis”…should not be interpreted in a psychologistic way, as though these objects remained absorbed by the reality of the mental processes they are made present by.” (55)

Like several critics covered elsewhere in the collection, Millán-Puelles focuses on ‘where’ or under what circumstances and conditions we ‘grasp’ ideal objects rather than considering their abstract nature. (58) This approach bears a certain resemblance to Husserl’s “phenomenological thesis of the constitution of objects present to consciousness.” (57) In effect, “Husserl’s defense of ideal beings would be more the affirmation of an unavoidable datum than the affirmation of a type or modality of being.” (66)

While Crespo ultimately considers Millán-Puelles’s realist critique to be based on a misunderstanding of “the distinction between the real genesis of the acts of the representation and the mere intentional genesis of irreal objects,” (68) Millán-Puelles’s work and interpretation of Husserl serve to clarify the plausibility of a realist interpretation and highlight persistent ambiguities in Husserl’s early phenomenological work, thereby setting the stage for parts II, III, and IV of the collection, which deal with the reception of Ideas I.

The two essays in Part II focus on the Marburg school, specifically Paul Natorp, Nicolai Hartmann, and Vasily Sesemann. However, after a minuscule sketch that frankly does not do justice to the essays of Part II, I am going to devote the next section and rest of the review to the first essay of Part III, which touches on several themes common to the collection as a whole.

Unlike those who focused on the theoretical underpinnings of Husserl’s phenomenology, Sesemann and Hartmann criticized Husserl for ignoring the importance of the practical context in which an actor’s intentionality is embedded. (114) Despite their differences, Jonkus points out that (somewhat like Millán-Puelles), Hartmann and Sesemann shared a conviction that Ideas I represented a return to idealism which elevated the experience of consciousness over the givenness of experience and thereby placed “the transcendent objects of the world…beyond the scope of phenomenological inquiry.” (113) It is this interplay of context, immanence, and intentionality that characterizes Susan Gottlöber’s essay on Max Scheler’s description of reality in terms of resistance. As a chronological outlier—the theories propounded by Scheler antedate but oppose the framework of Ideas I—her essay helps contextualize realist-inspired reactions to Husserl’s apparent turn toward idealism. Given the philosophical scope of Scheler’s critique, which encompassed methodology, epistemology, anthropology, psychology, and ontology, (122) Gottlöber’s essay also lends itself to comparisons with the critiques of other schools and thinkers discussed elsewhere in the collection.

According to Scheler, “consciousness is thus a necessary correlate of existence.”[1] (123) Moreover, “the experience of resistance necessarily precedes consciousness.” (126) Gottlöber reads Scheler, contra Dilthey, as viewing the experience of resistance not as a conscious action of the will but an unconscious and even inevitable product of the interaction between “involuntary (unwillkürlich) drives” and the external world (Außenwelt) (126). Placing the operation of these drives in a realm comprised of the ‘spheres’ of personal perspective, perception of essences, the natural environment, and communal relationships (126-127) allows Scheler to “make an argument for both expanding the concept of reality beyond the external world…and, secondly, draw attention to the fact that the problem of the different spheres has to be treated separately from the problem of reality.” (127)

By focusing on the involuntary and experiential nature of existence, Scheler inverts the conventional idealist perspective of reality as a predicate of consciousness. Scheler’s approach bears a marked resemblance that of Hartmann (discussed by Jonkus), especially in their shared emphasis on how we are ‘grasped’ by objects. Like Scheler, “Hartmann argues for the priority of transcendent objects and focuses on ontology, which—for him—precedes epistemology.” (113) The ‘grasping’ nature of objects would become a crucial element in Scheler’s understanding of reality-as-resistance, and stands in stark contrast to Husserl’s approach, which privileged the objective and primordial purity of eidetic consciousness as well as the unitary nature of phenomenological methodology.

Gottlöber’s primary purpose in the essay, however, is to determine the extent to which Scheler successfully defended his assertion that being and essence do not, necessarily, entail questions of meaning, and the ramifications of his success (or lack thereof) for a realist rebuttal to Husserl. To do so Gottlöber focuses on the relationship between the drives and their connection to essence and meaning in Scheler’s posthumous 1928 essay Idealismus — Realismus. (121)

At first glance, creating ontological categories of ‘spheres’ and ‘drives’ seems misguided. Scheler himself conceded that an image theory of reality is indefensible, since claims that consciousness operates by corresponding to immanent objects “presupposes the cognition of both the image and the object as such.” (128) He also responded positively to Husserl’s claim that “what is not able to be effective is not real,” (128) which linked causality and reality in a formal relationship.

Yet Scheler felt, Gottlöber writes, that the “mistake made by both the idealists and the critical realists” was “the erroneous presupposition that essence and existence are inseparable from consciousness.” (131) Scheler attributes this misunderstanding to a mistaken belief that 1.) “all realities are unities of meaning” and 2.) that the experience of reality is meaningful in itself—that we do not experience objects, but meanings of objects. (130) In contrast, Scheler conceptualized reality as pre-given and meaningfully neutral resistance. He formulated the spheres as the manifold by which reality-as-resistance, through various attitudes of being, or drives, mediated meaning. In other words, “since resistance is accessible neither to consciousness nor to knowledge, but rather to the drives only, the relationship of the drives to resistance is not a relation to an essence (Sosein) or meaning (Sinn) but rather is characterized by being pre-conscious and pre-known.” (129) By denying reality innate meaning, Scheler “established a relationship between knowledge and consciousness on one side and the experience of resistance on the other without the latter being relativized in relation to the former…[R]esistance remains transcendental to consciousness at all times.” (130)

Yet such an interpretation entails several problems. One could ask, for example, how we know that resistance transcends consciousness. Or, if knowledge and meaning are formally extraneous to the experience of resistance, then how does consciousness arise and what are its qualities? (129) Scheler unpersuasively attempts to avoid an infinite regression by attributing “intentionality not to transcendental consciousness but to the experience of resistance with consequences for ‘ideal being’” (131) and reiterating the belief that “reality, rather than being constituted by consciousness, itself constitutes consciousness.” (131)

On one hand, Scheler’s interpretation is realistic insofar as it affirms reality to be a mutually constitutive process between consciousness and some external experience (in this case, resistance). However, by according consciousness a critical role in the instantiation of resistance by way of the spheres of experience, Scheler opens his arguments to accusations of question-begging and the very form of idealism he attempts to oppose. (As Gottlöber demonstrates in the chapter, Scheler’s conception of reality “is always transintelligible: only the what of existence is intelligible for us, never the existence of the what.” (131))

Despite these shortcomings, Scheler’s work—and Gottlöber’s analysis thereof—is valuable for the light it sheds on several realist critiques of transcendental phenomenology. For example, Scheler’s theorization of resistance as the ground of consciousness bears a striking resemblance to Hartmann’s realist and rhetorical comment wondering “Wo also ist das Phänomen des idealen Seins fassbar?”[2] That is, the grasping of reality—or in Scheler’s case, the experience of resistance—precludes a phenomenology of pure consciousness. Such an assumption is corroborated by Scheler’s comment to the effect that phenomenology is less a delimited science than a new philosophical attitude (121)—a belief that corresponds strikingly with D. R. Sobota’s analysis of Daubert, and more explicitly in Michele Averchi’s essay on Geiger’s philosophy of “attitudes” (Einstellungen) and “stance” (Haltung). (175) Given the multidisciplinary nature of Scheler’s work, Gottlöber’s essay on him serves as a historical lodestone for the other realist philosophers discussed in this collection.

Yet not all of Husserl’s critics attacked him for his apparent idealism; the final paper, by Genki Uemura, explores the reactions of Satomi Takahashi and Tomoo Otaka to Husserl’s Ideas I and their contention that he had tried—but not successfully managed—to escape a realist philosophy. By concluding this way, the collection has come full circle, from the ostensibly realist origins of Husserl’s phenomenology in the philosophy of Lotze, Stumpf and Brentano to accusations by his later students that he never developed a fully idealist position at all.

Though it focuses on the European context of the idealism-realism debate and does not delve into international appropriations or influence, this volume draws from a wealth of diverse thinkers and makes a historically rich and philosophically compelling argument for the enduring significance of the idealism-realism debate among Edmund Husserl’s early followers and critics.


[1] Scheler, Max. 1995. «Idealismus–Realismus.» In Gesammelte Werke, vol. IX, ed. by Manfred Frings, 183–340. Bonn: Bouvier (186).

[2] Hartmann, N. 1965. Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie. Vierte Auflage. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (22).

Wojciech Kaftanski: Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity

Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity: A Study of Imitation, Existence, and Affect Book Cover Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity: A Study of Imitation, Existence, and Affect
Routledge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Wojciech Kaftanski
Routledge
2021
Hardback £120.00
264

Reviewed by:  Steven DeLay (Research Fellow, Global Centre for Advanced Studies)

The concept of mimesis has a rich, complicated career in the history of aesthetics, philosophy, and theology. Plato and Aristotle both make much of it. Later, Lessing, Kant, and the Romantics draw heavily upon it as well. More recently, so too have René Girard and Heidegger. The term’s power to compel widespread attention is due in part to its fascinating ambivalence. As the existentialists noted famously, imitation (a core notion at the heart of mimesis) can be pernicious, “a mysterious force animating masses of people to uncoordinated collective common action,” a source of “dissolution of differences leading to normative uniformity,” a “spontaneous reflexive process” responsible for “marginalizing the value of human individuality, the meaning of subjective experience, and the role of passion and faith” (1). At the same time, imitation is fundamental to the artistic representation of beauty, the creative and ethical tasks of grappling with ideality, and, of course, the theological notion of imitatio Christi. In the human search for meaning, mimesis is thus both fundamental and inescapable. And to be sure, modernity’s “way of thinking about […] the role of authority and institutions in humanity’s orientation in the world” (2), entails a reconceptualization of mimesis itself, and how in turn it shapes the distinctly modern pursuit of an authentic human existence. According to Wojciech Kaftanski’s study Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity, it is Søren Kierkegaard who “offer[s] us one of the most comprehensive and profound accounts of modernity” (1). “What, then,” Kaftanski naturally asks, “are we to make of Kierkegaard’s understanding and use of mimesis?” (7).

Mimesis can be variously defined, as Kaftanski observes. It can designate “emulation, mimicry, dissimulation, doubling, theatricality, realism, identification, correspondence, depiction, verisimilitude, resemblance” (7). In the classical world, it typically denoted “faithful imitation of a model” (7). In the modern context, it is has come to be associated with creativity, “as originality, genius, individuality, imagination” (7). It is thus “ambivalent, inconspicuous, and in many ways blurry” (7). For as Kaftanski notes, mimesis also admits of a “pharmacological” meaning—it is “both a problem and a cure for the maladies of the modern individual” (7). Realizing it is futile to give the term any single concrete and exhaustive definition, it is better to approach the term by treating its cluster of concepts along the lines of Wittgenstein’s theory of family resemblance.

This polyvalence of mimesis is apparent in Kierkegaard’s own handling of the term. Contrary, then, to what one might initially expect from a study of Kierkegaard, Kaftanski’s interest in the term extends beyond “simply imitation, or the imitation of Christ” (7). As he notes, Danish does not provide “a direct translation of the Greek mimesis into a noun” (9). The key term is Efterfølgelse (which can be literally translated into English as “following after”), a translation of the Latin term imitatio, itself the translation of mimesis (9). But Kierkegaard’s linguistic repertoire for mimesis is expansive and multi-layered, an “impressive and far wider” vocabulary than has been acknowledged (9). As Kaftanski says,

Kierkegaard uses a variety of terms to refer to the broad mimetic sphere in his corpus, such as Gjentagelsen (repetition), Ligne (likeness, and to liken, to resemble), Lighed (similarity and equality), Sammengligning (comparison), Eftergjøre (going and doing after), Efterabelse (aping or parroting), mimisk (mimic or mimical), but also Fordoblelse (redoubling), Reduplikation (reduplication), Dobbelt-Reflexion (double-reflection), Dobbelthed (doubleness or duplexity), Dobbelt-Bevoegelse (double-movement), Billede (image or picture), and Forbillede (prototype, model, tyfpe, pattern) (9).

In addition to the linguistic complexity of the phenomenon, there is the further fact that mimesis also reflects the multifaceted aesthetic, scholastic, economic, political, social, and religious context in which Kierkegaard was living and writing. Human beings orient themselves in place. And in the modern period, the city is central to that place. As Kaftanski says, the reinvention of Kierkegaard’s own Copenhagen was itself undertaken in mimetic fashion, by architecturally and culturally emulating Belin, Paris, and London (3). According to Kaftanski, the becoming of the modern city is a “macro-representation of the becoming of the individual […] the city and its inhabitants mirror one another” (4). How so? Part of it is that “mimesis entails both retaining the old and assimilating the new” (4). Copenhagen accordingly transformed itself into something new by reworking its past. But such reworking was not so banal, but in many ways radical. At the time, nineteenth-century Copenhagen was a city indelibly shaped by the formation of mass society, as well as class struggle. Consequently, a tendency emerged among its lower-classes to attempt to “imitate and appropriate” the standards, values, and tastes of the bourgeoisie (6). However, dissatisfied with their economic and political conditions, “an age of revolution” (2) quickly swept across Europe beginning in France and Germany, eventually finding its way to Copenhagen too. This “revolutionary mass action” exhibited a “mimetic-affective crowd behavior” (6)—a force of “mimetic magnetism, fascination, somnambulism, scapegoating, and violence” (12), which Kierkegaard himself was keen to resist, and led him to coin the pejorative terms “the public” and “the crowd.” Thus, as a modern critic of modernity, Kierkegaard’s account of becoming a single individual was deeply responsive to the interlocking mimetic structures of his economic, social, political, and religious milieu. Assuming a countercultural role resembling his philosophical hero Socrates, in this way the “gadfly of Copenhagen” was born.

As Kaftanski explains, Kierkegaard’s literary output reconceptualizes mimesis by creatively appropriating a variety of both classical and modern sources. At stake in doing so, is a conception of mimesis that shifts from “the ideal of representation characterizing pre-modern and the early modern” to an understanding that sees “humans as radically imitative creatures” (5). Mimesis, in short, is not simply an aesthetic phenomenon pertaining to the realm of artistic representation, but a fundamental feature of human existence as such. As Kaftanski says, “Representation is among the three fundamental meanings of mimesis conceptualized in classical Greece. The other two are ‘imitation’ and ‘expression’” (15). On such a view, mimesis is a process of “making present,” one guided by the goal of achieving “similarity and truth”—an artwork sets its vision on replicating “morally desirable objects,” aiming to reproduce something guided by “normativity and correspondence, form and mode” (15).

But whereas for classical art mimesis is “about representing some original, hence producing copies” (19), modern artists sought instead to create “new originals” (19). For the moderns, art should not merely seek to copy reality, but instead express something original or novel. Art, so the thought goes, “should not serve any other purpose but itself” (20). Here Lessing’s influential theory of aesthetics proves illustrative. “Lessing,” says Kaftanski, “asserts that the goal of art is to display beauty; hence, art is irreconcilable with suffering. Second, aesthetics is its own goal; it does not serve other ends” (21). Indeed, according to Lessing, art and religion have their distinct and largely “irreconcilable territories” (20). As is well-known, the Romantics consequently “tended to consecrate art as a religion” (19). Kierkegaard seizes on Lessing’s view, turning it to his own purposes. For according to Kierkegaard, if art and religion are in some way incompatible, this underscores the essential fact that art is said to be unable to express the religious dimension of suffering (15) which so interests Kierkegaard. Religious suffering, as Kaftanski says, is something Kierkegaard sometimes appears to maintain cannot be represented in the arts (20). If the goal of art is depicting beauty, then the ugliness and horror of the crucified Christ eludes its power of portrayal. For Kierkegaard, that art is unable to capture the inner truth of religious suffering in turn suggests that the religious life is itself irreducible to, and indeed higher than, the aesthetic life. For whereas a strictly aesthetic existence remains characterized by “human indecisiveness and a sensuous and disinterested attitude toward the world” (16), religious striving concerns “the pursuit of […] absolute fulfillment that the world cannot provide” (17), a “becoming an individual before God” (17). If art is undertaken simply for its own sake, it would appear to be irrelevant to the kind of authentic human existence Kierkegaard is so interested in expressing.

And yet, as Kaftanski notes, some of Kierkegaard’s own writings indicate a more ambivalent relationship to the value and function of both art and aesthetics. This becomes apparent when one considers the concept of ekphrasis important to Lessing himself—as Kaftanski says, “Ekphrasis is at work when a physical object of art, such as a painting or a sculpture, gets its written account” (21). Because ekphrasis uniquely “engages the subjectivity of the recipient” (21), it has the power to transform the viewer in ways that have implications for religious transformation. Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous author Anti-Climacus says as much. “The synergy of word and image,” Kaftanski writes, “can be seen in cases where Anti-Climacus refers to the activity of telling a picture, or describing what is represented in the picture, hence following the classical definition of ekphrasis, of re-presenting in words what already has a visual representation” (24). “Anti-Climacus,” says Kaftanski, “believes that if one can ‘be’ moved by the image of the suffering Christ to the imitation of His sufferings into one’s life, then one is becoming a genuine Christian” (25). In short, the experience of viewing the picture has an existential and mimetic dimension (27). Although, then, for Lessing, “the guiding task of aesthetics is to represent what is beautiful and harmonious, ‘the image of the crucified Christ’ is ugly and represents violence and chaos” (27), in Kierkegaard, because an artwork is not reserved to one particular medium, but instead consists of various media, it is possible to create a “spoken picture or, one could argue, a visualized narrative” (27). Such a work could in principle serve a mimetic function, by in effect calling the viewer to change.

Kierkegaard, thus, is neither a classical nor a full-fledged modern thinker (40), as his idiosyncratic view of the relationship between art and religion attests. For one thing, Kierkegaard is deeply suspicious of the modern ideal of human autonomy. Whereas the Enlightenment was wholly critical of classical mimesis, which it viewed as incompatible with the values of originality and creativity, Kierkegaard finds certain aspects of the modern conception of mimesis objectionable. For Kierkegaard, the modern ideal of an anti-mimetic, self-sufficient existence is a myth to be rejected (28). And yet, although the Enlightenment ideal of self-sufficiency is primarily hostile to mimesis, Kaftanski notes that it is actually Kant who in a way formulates a number of mimetic concepts that are relevant to Kierkegaard’s own attempt to work out a mimetic account of human existence. For Kant, the open-endedness of artistic production entails that aesthetics becomes a “judgment of taste” (30). Central to aesthetic production and valuation are four concepts of imitation: “copying [Nachmachung], aping [Nachäffung], imitation [Nachahmung], and emulation or following [Nachfolge]” (30). For Kant (and the Romantics too) who “cherished the ideal of mimesis understood as originality and criticized forms of art that aim to represent reality and hence were related to a pre-given existing model” (37), this modern criticism of classical mimesis led to the rejection of the mimesis-imitation of an artist to the elevation of the creativity of a genius (32). If for Kant, “genius cannot be taught and learned” (129), previous works of great art serve as exemplars “not for imitation” but “for emulation”—in encountering such a work, “another genius is thereby awakened to the feeling of his own originality, to exercise freedom from coercion in his art in such a way that the latter thereby itself acquires a new rule, by which the talent shows itself as exemplary” (127). Kierkegaard follows the Romantics in valuing originality over realistic representation of a model, but he “maintains that the Christian existential creation is in fact in relation to a model […] the model is transcendent” (37)—namely, Christ the prototype. Romantic anthropology, which takes autonomous agency to mark the human essentially, fails to provide the conceptual resources necessary to depict “the representational dimension of Kierkegaard’s own presentation of the ideal self” (33). As Kaftanski explains, “the aesthetic-religious puzzle of the representation of the suffering of the crucified Christ” (39) in turn leads Kierkegaard to formulate philosophical and literary works whose mimetic idioms seek to present an adequate picture of ideal Christian existence.

To do so, Kierkegaard begins by taking up existence in its “time-oriented and concrete, but also mundane, ordinary, and recurrent” everydayness (44). It is here that a pair of key Kierkegaardian notions, repetition and recollection, enter the picture. “Repetition—this is actuality and earnestness of existence,” says Kierkegaard (50). Repetition’s experiential task is to “recognize continuity in time” (45). In thinking about the drudgery of modern factory work and life, for instance, it is easy to understand how the banality of such an existence could lead to despair. One way it might do so is by leading those crushed beneath the weight of existence’s apparent absurdity and emptiness into substituting reality for a realm of ideality, of imagination. This is what happens in the aesthetic life, as Kierkegaard understands it. In this “hyper-reflective existence fueled by and lived in imagination” (51), there is a “lack of commitment to one’s life possibilities” (51). For the aesthete, “life splits up into a boundless multiplicity [held] within the sphere of reflection” (61). “Devoid of the ethical component,” the aesthete’s reflective “system” is not a life-view (61). The danger of imaginary dispersion in hyper-reflection is manifestly apparent in the theatrical. When producing or viewing a performance in the theater, one “entertain[s] a number of self-representations, which [Kierkegaard] calls ‘possible variations’” (52). The trouble is that, by doing so, one fails to actually be oneself, and instead loses oneself in imaginary characters and situations that have no real bearing on one’s real life. “This mimetic mirroring of the theater,” says Kaftanski, “constitutes a type of a private laboratory where one can fragment oneself” (52). Suffice it to say, if the dangers of idle escapism attending aesthetic enjoyment and diversion were already pressing with nineteenth-century forms of entertainment such as the theater and the newspaper, today that is only more so the case, given the advent of television, film, and the Internet.

According to Kierkegaard, however, the aesthete’s fragmentary response to existence is not the only possible form a response to the spectacles of the modern milieu may take. The key to appreciating the alternative Kierkegaard envisions lies in the concept of mimesis itself, which, according to Kaftanski, Kierkegaard himself sees “as embodied and performative” (44). Repetition as a mimetic concept entails “movement, imagination, and time” (45). And if this mimetic process is put in the service of a model truly worthy of imitation (60), then instead of remaining trapped in an imaginary world of ideality, ethical transformation and religious awakening is achievable.

If “life emulates art,” such emulation should “contribute to the becoming of a self in actual existence” (72). Here Kierkegaard exploits the mimetic power of texts themselves. For according to Kaftanski, Kierkegaard’s notion of repetition is a forerunner of Ricoeur’s refiguration. “The textual extension of real life,” says Kaftanski, “becomes mimetically re-appropriated back into real life and, essentially, becomes a part of it” (73). In a word, “the self emerges from the text. In effect, the text contributes to the creation of the self” (74). It is possible to actualize the ideality contained in a text. In this way, a text can function as a mirror of one’s existence, as a basis through which to pattern one’s own life. This becomes particularly salient in cases in which a text serves as a form of self-examination, not for any reader only, but especially for the author himself. Like Rousseau, whose Confessions were meant to be an exercise in self-judgment, so too Kierkegaard’s own partly autobiographical texts become an occasion for narrative self-examination (78). As Kaftanski says, “Kierkegaard’s autobiographical narratives participate in a formative process of the self—hence, the formation of the self—through a continuous and repetitive procedure of self-recognition, self-interpretation, self-understanding, and self-creation” (78). Writing becomes an extension of life, by enacting a process of “life-development,” through which Kierkegaard reworks himself “in and through his own literary production” (81). Rather than remaining a merely aesthetic pursuit, literary and philosophical production perform an ethical, even religious, function. “Autobiography,” so Kaftanski concludes, “is a peculiar mirror that allows the author to see oneself as another, to correct oneself, and, paradoxically, to correct the mirror” (82).

Central to this mimetic interplay between text and life is what Kierkegaard calls a “psychologiske Experiment” (82). The author invents various characters (which may or may not be versions of one’s actual self) that in turn serve as a source of ethical and religious self-assessment. Far from aesthetic production serving as an escape from reality, it can thus serve as a means of perfecting it, by cultivating an “authentic existence” (82). It does so by individuating the author (and its other readers) from the pernicious influence of social contagion and conformism. Due to the sociality of mimetic desire, “herd behaviors in humans include panic and rioting” (83), as such mimesis involves “affective and visceral mood-sharing” (84). While Plato’s conception of mimesis was focused on representing objects, and Aristotle’s at representing action (88), Kierkegaard’s coordination of action and fiction is not then simply about realistic representation, but demands an authentic existence—providing “templates of existence” (90), the resulting literary figurations are designed to be taken as existential prescriptions (90). Kierkegaard recognizes that stories needn’t be mere fictions, for poetic depictions of life can serve to perfect human life and transform it (89). By means of the text, mimesis effects a transition from literary representation to representation in action in real life. Informing us “about the world as it is and as it could be, or even sometimes as it should be” (90), they are not “simply fantasy or, for that matter, corrective mirrors” (91). They issue “blueprints” for existence, prescriptions for selfhood (91). These literary “experiments” (91) are exercises in life itself, for “writing and reading is a process of self-understanding, encapsulating oneself, and self-formation that is stretched between two worlds: the actual and the fictive” (91).

In Kierkegaard’s own case, the highest “poetic possibility of himself” (92) is to be a genuine Christian. At stake in his literary production is expressing a self-ideal of himself (“Kierkegaard the martyr”) and hence a “picture of the ideal Christian” (91). Thus, as Kaftanski notes, “Following Ricoeur’s mimetic arc, we can understand Kierkegaard’s ‘real’ life as dependent upon, or mediated through, a textual representation of himself” (91), and it is this tension between poetic and actual existence and the issue of translating a prescribed ideal of life into reality, that constitutes “the conundrum running through his authorship” (92).

How, then, can an “imaginary construction”[1] (94) assist the process of becoming a single individual, an authentic human before God? It is necessary to reduplicate, through action, the ideality embodied by Christ. Whereas the aesthete is one for whom his “life has no history, no unity, and no continuity to it,” the life of genuine faith “has a beginning, is organized around a unifying idea or a goal, and has a telos” (93). In reading Kierkegaard’s portrayal of such a life, one is called to undertake the task of becoming an individual, a form of existence itself “represented in descriptions of the imaginary characters’ wrestling with suffering, love, death, finitude, freedom, and time—but also with God, despair, and sin” (95). If the ideal expressed in the text is ever to be truly understood, it must be appropriated by a reduplication in the actual existence of the reader. When it comes to faith, this reduplication requires a far more earnest and serious effort than what in Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen was taken to suffice. As Kierkegaard says,

No, Christ has not appointed assistant-professors—but imitators or followers. When Christianity (precisely because it is not a doctrine) does not reduplicate itself in the one who presents it, he does not present Christianity; for Christianity is an existential-communication and can only be presented—by existing. Basically, to exist therein, to express it in one’s existence etc.—this is what it means to reduplicate (99).

Imitation, we see, is an experiential imperative for Kierkegaard’s account of the development of a life-view. As Kaftanski notes, a cluster of concepts—Eftergjøre, Efterligne, Lighed, and Ligne—are operative in the Dane’s account of existential redoubling and reduplication (113). “Eftergjøre,” Kaftanski explains, “refers primarily to a sophisticated human capacity for imitation that is has mostly secular application” (114). When, then, writing of the ideal of “Being like Christ, or resembling Him” (115), Kierkegaard sometimes uses the term Ligne, which, like Efterfølgelse (“following after”), is to be contrasted with Eftergiore and Efterligne, meaning “to counterfeit, to mimic” (118). He chooses Efterfølgelse to account for this task. While Kierkegaard frequently contrasts Efterfølgelse with Efterabelse (“mimicking” “aping”), towards the end of his literary production he attributes pejorative connotations to Eftergjøre and Efterligne. In any case, the point for Kierkegaard is that the individual ought to find a way to incorporate the ideality of authenticity into actuality. For in doing so, the authentic human being, which Kierkegaard names “the single individual” (122), transcends mundane “social expectations” (120), and, overcoming the tug of conformism and mediocrity characterized by a kind of “levelling” rooted in a pernicious perfectibility entailing a “certain plasticity, malleability, or moldability of human nature” (121), instead emulates the image of Christ genuinely, in what Kaftanski terms Kierkegaard’s “existential mimesis” (123). Here again, Kaftanski finds it fruitful to turn to Kant. Kant notes four types of imitation in the Critique of the Power of Judgment—“Nachäffung, Nachmachung, Nachahmung, and Nachfolge” (125).

The first word has been translated into English as ‘aping’ or ‘parroting’; Nachmachung has been translated as ‘copying;’ ‘imitation’ is the usual translation of Nachahmung; Nachfolge has been translated as ‘emulating,’ ‘following,’ but also as ‘succeeding’ (125-26).

Reworking Kant’s own conception of “exemplary originality” (127), Kierkegaard articulates a form of existential emulation whose ideal entails an “interpretive duty [with] an individual and subjective character, in contrast to imitation that follows a preset standardizing pattern that can be adhered to on a mass scale” (130). Whereas patterning oneself on societal everydayness “produces in individuals the feelings of estrangement and alienation, who then seek the remedy to these negative feelings in mimetic collective behavior” (130), Kierkegaard’s imitatio Christi is meant to produce an integrated, authentic individuality. In doing so, such existential mimesis “does not place the imitator in an elevated position based on their functions and education, as it is in Plato and Aristotle, nor based on their extraordinary skills or moral merits, as in Kant” (130). Rather, Kierkegaard’s existential mimesis is an egalitarian project (130), for everyone is able, if he is so willing, to follow after the pattern of Christ.

Of course, this is not to say that doing so is easy. As Kierkegaard himself notes repeatedly, many people fail to do so successfully. What particularly interests Kaftanski is the complex mimetic imagery Kierkegaard develops in the course of developing an account of how this process of becoming a single individual is supposed to work itself out in actual existence. As Kaftanski says, “Kierkegaard’s Forbillede denotes that which represents an idealized and hence ‘prototypical’ quality of someone or something. The Danish Forbillede, also translated into English as ‘pattern,’ comes from Billede, which stands for ‘image’” (133). These terms are roughly Danish equivalents to the classical notions of “figura and exemplum” (133). “Forbillede,” says Kaftanski, “the prototype—plays an important role in Kierkegaard’s Efterfølgelse—imitation” (133). At stake is a “movement from the ideal to the actual” (134), a “creation in reference to a model” (133) that captures for Kierkegaard what it “means to be and become a genuine Christian” (134). Because “figura denotes something material and visual, but also formal and structural” (135), not only does such a figure “already embody and determine modes of interpretation, appropriation, and representation” (135), it sets “an ideal that an individual should internalize” (137). It is an ideal that many fail to ever internalize—negative models, for Kierkegaard, include “pastors, assistant professors, journalists” (137). But there are examples of those who do accomplish it (or come close)—Abraham, Job, the sinful woman, even the lilies and the birds! Job, for instance, represents the “ideality” (151) of the biblical criterion for being human as a single individual—for in the “existential redoubling” (152) by which Job enacts the ideal of faithfulness to God, by “actually relating himself to the ideal” (153), he finds himself persecuted by all of those he knows, including his friends. Job becomes an offense. Unlike the hero who achieves the admiration of others, Job is scorned and hated. As Kaftanski recounts, “What follows is the public condemnation of Job, disapproval of his person, mockery, insults, and ostracism. This social phenomenon of universal punishment represents ‘the scapegoat mechanism,’ and Job is the scapegoat” (144); “The friends contribute to the suffering he experiences. Instead of soothing his pain, they condemn him and amplify his misery” (147). Depicting the suffering of Job, Kierkegaard expresses his own ideal of Christian martyrdom, of the idea that to be a true Christian is to suffer. Recollecting the life of Job in literary form in turn serves as an injunction to reduplicate that same suffering in one’s own life. As Kierkegaard says, “My entire work as an author has also been my own development” (141).

But as Kaftanski notes, if “Forbillede designates a perfected or ideal representation of someone or something” (150), for Kierkegaard, existential reduplication in the case of ideal Christianity is impossible. The Christian is always “a being in becoming” (155). This means that the typical view of Kierkegaard, which interprets him as straightforwardly recommending the imitation of Christ as prototype for human existence, must be modified. Kaftanski, rather audaciously, claims that, for Kierkegaard, “Christ as the prototype is not sufficient with respect to guiding would-be Christians to successfully imitating Him” (154). This is so, says Kaftanski, because according to Kierkegaard, “[Christ] is not a human being as we are” (157), but is rather “a God-man” (158). Paradoxically, then, Kierkegaard’s “ideal picture of being a Christian” (158) requires acknowledging that Christ himself is not a Christian. “Jesus Christ,” says Kierkegaard, “it is true, is himself the prototype, and will continue to be that, unchanged, until the end. But Christ is also much more than the prototype; he is the object of faith” (156).[2] In depicting the ideal picture of being a Christian, Kierkegaard intends to show others, particularly his complacent fellow Danes, that exposing “themselves to the mirror of the Word” (162) involves “perpetual self-accusation” (161).

Consequently, “an authentic Christian existence, which demands from Christians not admiration but imitation” of Christ (179), must navigate the reality of human frailty. This means, first, recognizing the pitfalls of admiration itself. As Kaftanski observes, “admiration is collective and contagious” (179), “is not powerful enough to motivate us to do the good” (182), and “is suspiciously like an evasion” (182). As an affective phenomenon, admiration is subject to “magnetism” and “prestige” (185), the “power of opinion” (186), a morass of “shared feelings, emotions, passions, and affects” (186), which, typified by the “readership of a newspaper” (188) only forms a contemptible “collective identity” (189) that stunts the individual’s becoming. That alone would be bad enough! Yet admiration, which lies at the root of social conformism, is also prone to violence and irrational upheaval. Here Kaftanski exploits the insights of Girard. For if, as Kierkegaard would say, “the public is a phantom” (192), this is because the “deindividualization created by mass media and public opinion” (193) is susceptible to dynamics of “social pressure, human collectivity, and affective contagion” (204) which for Girard culminates in violence and scapegoating. This is powerfully apparent in the horrific death of Christ himself, who the crowd turns upon. The Messiah, who was initially hailed as a King upon entering Jerusalem, is shortly thereafter handed over to the Romans in lieu of Barabbas—“crucify him!” As Kaftanski says, “The quickness and the spontaneity of this altering reaction of the crowd suggests a kind of affective independence of that swing of valences on the pendulum of affectivity” (196).

Given the fraught nature of such mimetic behavior, there is an admitted oddity in “Presenting mimesis as a remedy to the problems caused by mimesis” (215). But this is precisely what Kierkegaard’s account of existential mimesis aims to do. The important difference between good and bad mimesis, Kaftanski notes, lies in the “non-comparing” and “nonimitative” nature of the former. Here, “indirect prototypes” can be useful—as Kaftanski observes, “one can become a Christian by living as the lily and the bird live” (222). Such “icons” or “middle terms” are necessary in the process of becoming an authentic self, argues Kaftanski. For again, if “Christ is a God-man,” and thus “not a Christian” (227),[3] this means that the ideal of being like Christ is one for which we will always fall short. In some sense, emulating Christ entails being left to one’s own self—“In walking alone, one is deprived of the direct resource of the visible model” (229). I should note that, although Kierkegaard was highly critical of what he perceived to be the superficiality, insincerity, and hypocrisy of the Danish Lutheran Church, his attack on Christendom often remained largely beholden to the theological dogma inherited from Augustine and Luther. Kierkegaard for much of his career, like Luther, labors under the idea that human depravity essentially prevents one from ever measuring up adequately to the ideal of authentic Christian existence. In effect, one is never truly a Christian, because being a Christian involves a kind of perpetual incompletion, or, better, imperfection. However, it should be noted that, in his very last journal entries, Kierkegaard at times expresses discontent with this Augustinian and Lutheran conception of human depravity and weakness. Such an anthropology, Kierkegaard notes, unintentionally leads to the same mere admiration of Christ he criticized so adamantly, for it eliminates the sort of “primitivity” Kierkegaard comes to view as essential to New Testament Christianity. This is all to say that some of Kierkegaard’s more pessimistic remarks concerning the supposed impossibility of ever emulating Christ genuinely should perhaps be tempered by his own later comments on the subject—remarks which, abandoning Lutheran orthodoxy, underscore the legitimate possibility of emulation. Such a view, as it happens, would be more in line with a strand of optimism apparent in the New Testament itself, which frequently mentions the possibility of obeying God, insofar as God’s commandments are not burdensome and provide joy, peace, and rest.

Having traced the various shades of mimesis, their pertinence to modernity, and their relevance for the project of human authenticity, Kaftanski at the work’s conclusion can rightly conclude that, “Just as Kierkegaard is not perceived as an important theoretician or critic of mimesis, so Kierkegaardians do not seem to find mimesis to be of much importance to Kierkegaard’s thought and authorship” (238). Kaftanski’s book corrects both these errors by convincingly (and engrossingly!) reconstructing Kierkegaard as a thinker “contributing to the modern shift in appraising mimesis from artistic representation based on the ideals of similarity to mimesis as a human condition underpinning the individual and social aspects of human existence” (239).

Needless to say, philosophers of religion, readers of Kierkegaard, and scholars of post-Kantian European philosophy more generally, will benefit from Kaftanski’s text immensely. Everyone knows that reading somehow changes us. Kaftanski in effect provides us with a powerful account of how exactly the art of reading does so, by shaping and transforming the individual who authentically encounters a text. Of course, no work is flawless. Others will object to some of the things Kaftanski says. At this stage of the review, it would be customary to list the potential objections. Instead, however, I should like to emphasize that Kaftanski’s work is an important contribution to an influential body of works that has taken up the issues of authenticity and identity in modernity—to wit, Charles Larmore’s The Practices of the Self, Stephen Mulhall’s Inheritance and Originality, Claude Romano’s Être soi-même, and Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self. While reading this text, one’s mind frequently will inevitably turn to Heidegger, a figure who looms large in such a context. Fitting, then, that Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity’s very last line should mention Heidegger by name. The concluding reference to Heidegger proves timely. It is no small thing that, by the work’s end, Kaftanski has shown how it is Kierkegaard, not Heidegger, from whom we have the most to gain when reflecting upon what it means to live an authentic human existence. As for the significance of Kaftanski’s own text’s contribution to that task, it bears returning to an earlier moment in the text, in which Kaftanski examines Kierkegaard’s remarks from a book review of the nineteenth-century Danish novelist Thomasine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard. In his review, Kierkegaard is very complimentary of her work for many reasons. As Kaftanski says, chief among them is the fact that Kierkegaard found writing the review of Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard’s book to not only serve as an exercise in recollecting what the book contained. More importantly, Kierkegaard found himself “changed in the repetition” (57) of writing it. I have had a similar experience in writing this review. Having thought about what Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity gives to think in the course of writing this review of it, I have been reminded of what an extraordinary gift existence is, and how invigorating it is to feel the possibility of being able to continue the task of actualizing the ideal of becoming a single individual through Christ. No doubt other readers will have the same experience. For, more than just a theoretical meditation on existential mimesis, Kaftanski’s account is a call to it.


[1] The clear resonance between Kierkegaard’s notions of “imaginary construction” and “psychological experiments” and Husserl’s phenomenological technique of eidetic variation is not coincidental. As Shestov reported, Husserl once confided to him that a secret inspiration for his phenomenological method was Kierkegaard.

[2] According to Kierkegaard, in the New Testament, Christ is represented strictly in the mode of being, rather than becoming. For this reason, any strict emulation of Christ is rendered impossible for us, since as mere human beings we find ourselves in a contrasting process of incessant becoming. Without at all meaning to suggest that Kierkegaard is wrong for emphasizing the uniqueness of Christ as the God-man, I do think it is worth noting that there are apparent traces of Christ’s own process of becoming in the Gospels, a becoming that accentuates the humanity of Christ. For example: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

[3] Interestingly, Nietzsche says exactly the opposite: “There has only been one Christian, and he died on the Cross,” The Anti-Christ, §39.

Rüdiger Zill: Der absolute Leser

Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie Book Cover Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie
Rüdiger Zill
Suhrkamp
2020
Paperback 38.00 EUR
816

Reviewed by: Alexander Gerner (CFCUL, Faculdade de Ciência da Universidade de Lisboa)

1. Introduction: Towards an Intellectual History of Technology of Hans Blumenberg in Rüdiger Zill’s «Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg-Eine Intellektuelle Biographie»

Rüdiger Zill is a scientific referent of the Potsdam-based Einstein Forum, who, together with Oliver Müller, will soon present us with a first comprehensive Blumenberg Handbook (announced for 2022). Zill’s (2020) actual intellectual biography of Hans Blumenberg “Der absolute Leser” is a rich and extensive resource – including a chronology and a comprehensive register of primary and secondary (German) sources to access not only Blumenberg’s published work, including journal texts in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Akzente, the swiss NZZ or published under Blumenberg’s pseudonym of Axel Colly. Still, Zill’s book makes countless archive documents, such as the primary resource for posthumous editions from the Marbach archive accessible to the reader. In three circumnavigating parts after the plunging into the introduction on the readability of thinking, it enters in the first part, Description of Life, circles around his work in part two-Work on the works-, and circumnavigates in the third part around the process of philosophical curiosity.

Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996), besides Odo Marquard (1928-2015) as well as the spiritus rector of the reformed and interdisciplinary University of Konstanz -Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997), took part in the historically influential interdisciplinary research group Poetics and Hermeneutics (Boden & Zill 2017), that has shaped the landscape of humanities and cultural studies in the old Federal Republic of Germany as perhaps only Critical Theory has done comparatively. Zill provides us with a biographically augmented sphere of possibility to experience and reflect a diachronic examination of Blumenberg’s life and structures of ideas, rich in historical and biographical detail, exact in its descriptions, and up to date regarding the editions of posthumous work of the Marbach archive. Zill achieves this by going beyond imaginary soul checking or vicarious embarrassment regarding the uncovered and naked truth (Blumenberg 2019) of the philosopher’s life. By mapping out the internal motivations and external events, we are introduced to the thinking machine called Hans Blumenberg, one of the 20th century’s most curious and inspirational and still to be fully discovered post-WWII German philosophers. Suppose you want a diachronic introduction to Blumenberg or are fond of Hans Blumenberg as a philosopher of intellectual wit and richness of detail. In that case, you will read Zill’s book with assertive pleasure. In a techno-anthropological perspective on technical aiding tools and procedures, we get to remember that Blumenberg, from the very beginning, separates self-assertion as a historically rendered conscious phenomenon from self-preservation as a biological and factual principle. However, why Blumenberg localizes these thoughts historically in the shift towards the medieval age seems not clear to Zill. He assumes that the theory of meaningfulness (cf. Heidenreich 2018) and the theorem developed in Blumenberg´s work on myth relates to the banishment of the fear-inducing absolutism of reality (in Marquart’s perspective on Blumenberg). The employment of rhetoric relief figures- becomes paramount to handle the tension inside a critique of pure rationality that has emerged since the 1960s in Blumenberg’s work.

There are strategies that Blumenberg puts at the fore to generate significances: means of effectiveness {Wirksamkeit} for action as methods of conceptual formation of pregnant formulations, rhetorical forms such as “simultaneity, latent identity, circularity, recurrence of the same, reciprocity of resistance and increase of existence, isolation of the degree of reality.” (Blumenberg, in Zill 2020: 534). Zill mentions the loss of the absolute world picture {Weltbild} as an essential topic in Blumenberg: In Zill’s reading, the world picture as an institution is irreversible gone and lost for Blumenberg. Subsequently, human beings would have to live in a provisional (Blumenberg 2015: 136), groundless and unhinged world! For Blumenberg, so Zill, we have not fallen out of a worldview in modernity but out of the idea of worldview par excellence[1].

In this respect, Zill’s intellectual biography is a unique book within a biographic (cf. Blumenberg in Zill 2020) narrative philosophy (535) tradition that shows us how multifaceted archival sources can be made accessible for understanding a life´s work and a philosophers life -including Blumenberg’s interesting reading notes and sometimes surprising evaluations- by describing the lifetime and historiography not only of the philosopher himself, but by the life’s example of Hans Blumenberg lets us enter a society tentatively searching for new grounds in the post-WWII Federal Republic of Germany struggling with its Nazi heritage and cultural burden, starting with two central life experience: First, being the best pupil of his age group, and- nevertheless- not being allowed by his former schoolmaster to hold the farewell speech, — against the tradition of the high school Katharineum in Lübeck- as having being stigmatized as a half-jew at that time (cf. The review of Krajewski on to the topic – in my view overstated — of formative bitterness, even only because Blumenberg in this situation became his school friend´s -Karl August Rohrbach (Zill 2020)- ghostwriter (55) instead. Second, assisting the allied bombings -while hiding from the Nazis, of his hometown Lübeck on the Palm Sunday night 1942 with mixed feelings- referring to the destroyed church organs and feeling sorry for his friends from Lübeck, but with asserted clarity about this beacon of the turn of the war (93). Zill’s book not only shows excellently how Blumenberg dealt with conflict situations – anger and strength in his responses being indeed a more robust motivator of Blumenberg- elegantly and forcefully during his whole life but as well how the philosopher´s theoretical positions changed over time and how he has evolved consciously as a person far from any tentative spiritual glorification that recently even assimilated the philosopher to a sort of a reclusive mystic as in Wolf (2020). On the contrary, Zill offers us an overlooking expansion of the scholars and Blumenberg editor previous fundamental studies on the work of Blumenberg. Zill had already worked on Blumenberg’s Metaphorology (2010{1960}) as substructures of thought (Zill 2002) or the theme of the Minima Historia by analyzing forms of philosophical writing (Stegmaier 2021) traditionally, if at all, considered minor forms. As Zill emphasizes, Blumenberg’s technique and writing celebrated to become a significant textual focus, wittily densifying scenes to dramaturgically sharp to a point by which the philosophical anecdote (Zill 2014; Zill 2014b) installs a climatic horizon of thought, that readers then can think even further.

Zill shows how from the work on myth onwards, Blumenberg’s interest in the history of science turns into intellectual history in which he reflects on the possibilities of Blumenberg’s approach to describing a history of technology that focuses on the time of Copernicus and not, for example, Albert Einstein (cf. Zill 2020: 483). This argumentation, however, falls short in understanding the importance of the complex problem of the scientific image as a model that is treated inside Blumenberg’s thought on inconceptuality. We can reflect on the relation of metaphorical shortcomings of untreated metaphysics and metaphor use in philosophy and theological world views and even more so inside scientific praxis and rationalities (cf. Gerner 2012) where it is supposed to be entirely avoided. Zill designates Blumenberg’s posthumous anthropology {Beschreibung des Menschen} as a philosophy of speculative paleoanthropology that could also be called a narrative anthropological phenomenology. Zill’s  view is based on the idea that Blumenberg puts different explanatory models to the test to understand the pragmatic intellectual performance of each approach according to external criteria. Then, according to Zill, Blumenberg chooses the theory that can explain more, which Zill then points out, for Blumenberg to be the theory that can narrate more and might not yet be empirically proven any better than the other theories.

2. Towards technological rhetoric of reading, storing ideas for writing and finding philosophical forms

How do we organize the experience of reading and keeping ideas we want to work out further?

Blumenberg takes advantage of essential material order tools of the pre-digital humanities: Pencil, ruler, and foremost a system of index cards in a flexible slip box to organize the experience of reading and subsequent mapping of ideas in writing. Zill shows us that Blumenberg’s slip box is of utmost importance; as for Zill, it becomes clear that it is particularly productive when it stores the findings of many years of the author’s work of reading and with very few selected keywords of themes and authors as the articulative axis. From early on -in the late 1940s-Blumenberg organized his tools and traces. He carefully managed and meticulously documented the genesis of the intermediate textual steps. Moreover, Blumenberg used as material storage of quotations, rare notations collected in a flat hierarchy of broad categories — that he could restructure quickly and flexibly: keywords included concepts such as {Aufklärung,} or {Anthropologie,} or {Zeit,} {Technik,} {Welt,} {Judenfrage.} Late in Blumenberg’s slip box, in 1992, a new keyword entered the thinking stage: boredom {Langeweile}.

 

3. On Blumenberg´s assistants, detour technologies of the Stenorette and the file card box (Zettelkasten)

When do reading and reception finally turn into production and writing, and when does production cease?

In the chapter Finding philosophical styles, Zill follows Blumenberg’s technical methods and rehearsals of thinking: traces of reading, lecture, stenorette, index cards. Zill also provides us with insights into the terrain of production of typescripts tested in the auditorium. In a household of thought, big projects were produced with the help of 1 to 5 assistants and his wife Ursula Blumenberg Proofs corrections, as well as with the help of his main publishing house and its proofreader Axel Rütters at Suhrkamp, for the book project of the Genesis of the Copernican World. Zill lays out traces of the origin of The Copernican Turn from within essays of Blumenberg, as well as Blumenberg’s dialogue with his critics, evident in, for example, the correspondence with Carl Schmitt (Blumenberg and Schmitt 2007) — an ideological opponent and equal sufferer of “curiositas” (111).

Blumenberg’s preference for the anti-method of detour – especially in his late works, as shown in his Freud prize reception speech, is that the basic movement pattern of culture-based dynamics becomes evident via technical mediation devices. Instead of dictating to his secretary, Blumenberg often used a transcribable and correctable stenorette as a mediating and recording tool. Rehearsal stages of thinking, such as the testing and probing of actual lectures held, are later at night, respoken into this kind of tape-recorder. For Zill, the stenorette is a means of Blumenberg’s use of his time economy –, particularly the night work. But Zill insists that the stenorette is foremost a distance medium, enabling actio per distans, as an action tool from a safe distance: allowing a personal thinking recording machine when others sleep. After the transcription of the spoken dictation by his secretary Ute Vonnegut, usually, two copies were made, which were corrected and revised by hand. Blumenberg only typed significant additions again or asked his secretary to do so. On an important note, Zill reminds us that Blumenberg — ten months before his retirement — wrote (cf. Zill 2020) to Alfons Neukirchen about the ceasing of production by being thrown back to typewriting with his own hands: “In 300 days, I will lose my secretary, and then I will be back where I started: writing on my own. Fortunately, in 27 years of writing full time, I’ve never stopped keeping myself in practice. The >output< has decreased anyway: in Giessen, it was still 20 pages per day, here recently 8, and with self-writing, I will probably retreat to 3. “Braggart, I secretly call to myself, it will be two if it goes well — and 0 if it doesn’t go at all.”(393; my translation from the German original)

Regarding notes from friends, Blumenberg ironically remarks about his card index cabinet of the latest technology, filled at the time with 16000 file card entries: “All your hints are written on file card slips (…) When the thing is full, I stop collecting and start writing”. Zill carefully approaches this development of Blumenberg’s file card box {Zettelkasten} method of selected reading samples, collecting, and writing notes that predisposition and luck play a role in this diachronic textual genesis machine, denying any mysticism of any technical self-constitution texts of reading material bogged down as supposedly self-executing. Depending on the context of use, the quotations collected by Hans Blumenberg landed in ever new places, thus declaring the file cards box a dynamic turnover point that says nothing about the arbitrariness of what had been written down before. While a rigid pattern governs index cards, Zettelkästen is characterized by its flexibility. Individual notations can wander to other places and migrate into different contexts, creating flexible references. Only what is read into it can be read out of the card index. What does not fit into the thesis is left to the note box. In this venue, Zill interprets the laughter of the Thracian woman as a Blumenberg’s self-conscious treatment of the loss of recontextualization of the material that is necessary after its decontextualization. Blumenberg’s search pattern based on which the material is perceived according to its usefulness is already at work in his reading that served the philosopher as an incubator for his works. His activity of collected and set aside reading is connectable to what has already been collected and an expansion of his seeing and thinking in the sense of an expansion of man as a historian of ideas: a conceptual synthesis of person and thing, the reader and the read. Zill emphasizes that the term {Zettelkasten} as archive “note box” or file card box — after the liberation of the rigidly organized index cards as used by Lichtenberg- has become an established technical term that today has been even entitled as “ruminant machines”[2](Helbig 2019a, b). It might be essential to add to Zill´s (2020) excellent elaboration on the Zettelkasten, following the work of Bülow and Krusche that for Helbig (2019a), Blumenberg´s Zettelkasten-method is seen as crucial to developing a systematic theoretical attitude (Blumenberg 1981) towards the history of science and science studies. Inside a critical stance towards the interpretation of the Zettelkasten method by von Bülow and Krusche (2013) in a tendency to self-conversation as a medium of self-communication (113-114), Helbig positions Blumenberg´s index card method beyond a mere technique for Soliloquium. For Helbig (2019a), the importance of Blumenberg’s adoption of the method lies in the diachronically augmented degree of freedom and constitution of a ruminant field of play within the Zettelkasten-method that allows the establishment and cultivation of „a Geschichtsverhältnis, or “relation to history“(96) to provide „a space to play with connections as they have been formed by historical predecessors or might be formed in the present“(97).

Blumenberg’s project of a history of ideas includes, above all, work on the history of science, technology, metaphorology as the pragmatics of metaphysics inherent and thus often less reflected even in scientific world images, a metakinetics of historical changes in meaning horizons. Blumenberg, later in the 70s -and already pre-announced in a text in 1966- corrects his course of philosophical action into anthropology and theory of non-conceptuality {Unbegrifflichkeit}. In the tension between the infinity claim of reason and its procedures of finitude as anthropological conditions, Zill designates Blumenbergs writing as a philosophy and anthropological rhetoric of gaining or taking distance to stimulate Pensiveness— a process of meaning possibility exploration. Against coming directly to the point, >Pensiveness< digresses and, preliminarily in zigzags, allows itself detours as the most critical cultural operation.

Zill elaborates on the retreat of the late Blumenberg in which not only there were no more questions of his students answered by him, with an idea-historical approach. Blumenberg’s implicit aversion of the student revolt of 1968 elevates critics into a moral habit, despite Blumenberg’s preference for rhetoric as a trick of reason to install pragmatic reasonableness in disfavor of absolute reason. Reasonableness is an outcome of an anthropological variant of reason, one that has learned its limits in the passage through self-criticism and has become modest in its insurmountable provisionality. This becomes evident in {Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen} (cf. Zill’s 2014:38), in which Blumenberg launches a short anecdote in the direction of our forgetting of history entitled {Das jeweils Vergessene,} in which the “respectively forgotten” of each philosophical approach densifies in a short master-pupil anecdote of a joint hurrying towards a leaving train: Heidegger running after the forgetful professor Husserl, that asks his student what it was that he had forgotten to take with him on his journey: “Herr Geheimrat- And History?” Heidegger prompted, and Husserl supposedly answered: “History, yes that’s it, that´s what I have forgotten” (Blumenberg 2014: 63; my translation from the German original): a self-demarcation of Blumenberg to continue to work on the “respectively forgotten” in each thinker or epoch. This self-demarcation is present as well in one of the rare and hand-selected photo reproductions in Zill’s book (2020; image 35) of Hans Blumenberg; a photo of Hans Blumenberg’s handwritten remark posted onto his habilitation work on the “ontological distance” that had been labeled with a skull and a note that says: To be used only with great caution! (376) that Zill comments clearly: “His habilitation thesis thus went into the personal poison cabinet. The closeness to Heidegger annoyed him very soon.”(Ibid.)

4. Rehearsing the dramatization of philosophical curiosity: On the anecdote as a philosophical form

Zill´s book follows philosophical curiosity as a trial treatment of thinking, which I like to call rehearsals. In this sense, writes Zill, Blumenberg is less concerned with the ideology-critical search for some fundamental naked truth, but instead with the process of rendering visible something that has been self-evident to Blumenberg, but that is not or no longer self-evident to us. One of these rehearsals is Blumenberg’s anthropological phenomenological approach, not only of traditional topics such as the concept, as a technical device that allows us, humans, to act at a distance towards the thing described and back over language. For Blumenberg, man is only given inside time, which renders the historical dimension inherent in humankind: and this implies for Zill that historicity, according to Blumenberg, means relatedness of all certainty to horizons, to the temporally manifest real. Zill clarifies that Pensiveness lies beyond traditional hermeneutics as texts through Pensiveness are not an object to be understood but a technical means and opportunity to understand oneself.

Blumenberg’s stupendous erudition laid out his thinking paths in large and small forms precisely cut into short and often ironic and concise miscellanies. He is always form-conscious and ready for witty comments (cf. Alexander Kluges’ (2022) project of thinking as commenting). Despite his rhetoric’s that he might have published smaller text as a preliminary trial test or “rehearsal” {Probe} or even as “small escapes” {kleine Fluchten} and that some since 1973 might be better called “unauthorized fragments” {Unerlaubte Fragmente}, seems an ironic self-comment that shows that Blumenberg’s thinking and philosophy style lies beyond the rolling of problem-rocks, thick-bodied “problem thrillers” (Odo Marquard), but that Blumenberg growingly showed his delight in digressions into the shorter and densified philosophical forms: the compressed and pictorial, the dramaturgically sculptured episodic and the sharpness of the anecdotal.

Beyond lighthearted and history-forgotten narrative style memorials Blumenberg’s writing often could be condensed into a short narrative such as an ironic gloss or an anecdote up to a particular point: The non-edited, or the unpublished in a lifetime is precisely meant -as we deepen our understanding with Zill- with an-ekdoton. The importance of a precise anecdotal writing style is treated in the unpublished manuscript of Blumenberg “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (UNF2241; Zill 2014:36), in which Blumenberg refers to the unrealized program of Nietzsche’s attempt to extract three anecdotes from each philosophical system and accordingly the three basic narratives of a philosopher’s life we should still care about discarding at the same time each particular systems or exorbitant grand theory. What are these three densified anecdotes or philosophical and intellectual biographic narratives in turn that would reveal all the rest? Blumenberg comments on Nietzsche’s pre-announced but never fulfilled program Nietzsche that would have meant an ultimate rebellion against the monocracy of the concept. But, Blumenberg twistedly adds that we will never know if it succeeded. The short gloss of Blumenberg as philosophical crisp and straightforward narrative of an anecdote that grows into a formal philosophical statement, in my view, is missing in the recent edition of Werner Stegmaier’s introduction of “forms of philosophical works” (Stegmaier 2021: 260) which mentions Blumenberg au passant as merely part of one out of three contemporary forms (besides the philosophical, analytical scientific paper and new digital metric and designed forms) as having contributed to transdisciplinary theme volumes, that opening up new thematic fields put forward by the collective of poetics and hermeneutics. But, Blumenberg works on the transformation of hermeneutics through the minimal form of philosophical buccaneering in which the anecdote, according to Zill, becomes the third field of a theory of non-conceptuality alongside the work on myth and metaphor.

5. Towards an Intellectual History of Technology

Zill’s book is by far too rich to put down in a short review. However, still, I tentatively attempt to cut a breach into Zills work of the multifaceted reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography into an intellectual history of technology: Zill reconstructs Blumenberg’s project of development of an Intellectual History of Technology {Geistesgeschichte der Technik} but also assists in early archeology of Blumenberg of technology as a self-contained topic. In this vein, besides the important initial texts of the Kiel inaugural lecture of 1951 The Relationship Between Nature And Technology As A Philosophical Problem {Das Verhältnis von Natur und Technik als philosophisches Problem} and the Brussels conference contribution Technology and truth {Technik und Wahrheit} of 1953, among other writings and lectures in the volume Works On Technology {Schriften Zur Technik} published posthumously in 2015, Zill refers to the fragmentary text from a lecture of 1956 entitled Automation which Zill commented (Zill 2019) and which has now also been published (Blumenberg 2019b). As Rüdiger Zill points out, Blumenberg focuses not only on the economic and cultural but specifically on the spiritual and philosophical preconditions of automation. Blumenberg does not shy away from drawing a big bow from the human ability of symbolization to technology that means from the power of sign-use to automation. For automation, according to a manuscript transcribed by Zill — Blumenberg (2019b), goes back to mathematization: For Blumenberg -as Zill reminds us- what can be formalized, can be mechanized; and what can be mechanized, can be automated. Consequently, for Blumenberg in his text on automation, technology slumbers in theory, and in the sign reside the machine.

Zill notes that Blumenberg does not focus on the moral and social problems of technology because he does not consider the social and economic consequences of automation to be problems of technology itself, but rather to be technical problems: turning the appearance of a deficiency inside technology towards a problem of a lack of technology.” Blumenberg, with his early philosophy of technology — as Zill convincingly maps out- stands in contrast to positions of contemporaries such as Friedrich Georg Jünger, Martin Heidegger, or left-wing cultural critics such as Horkheimer, Adorno, or Günther Anders (cf. Eatherly, Anders, and Russell 1961) in questions of technology. However, Zill (2020) notes the astonishing – unquoted- familiarity in what Anders wrote on prompting and the technological shortcuts as a way to the barbaric and – in opposition- the cultural methods of digressions and the productive tensions created by detours in both authors (458-459) reconstructs that as early as 1966, Blumenberg sees the historical interest in technology seconded by its anthropological dimension of how to win time could be treated as a significant human technological category. However, Blumenberg’s strength does not lie in the scientific adequacy of evolutionary anthropology. For example, in the evolutionary theoretical he defends a kind of a savannah hypothesis, which is necessary for his argumentation to draw on the habitat change from forested terrain to free steppes and explain man as a distance being, currently historically aged scientific knowledge. What matters is much more his speculative detours on anthropological details: Since in Blumenberg visibility serves the self-determination and self-assertion of man, the examination of the history of technology was intensified in the 1960s. Zill shows how Blumenberg, through his publications and lectures as a member of the leading group “Man and Technology” in the “Association of German Engineers” (VDI), is perceived as a decisive philosopher of technology of his time, primarily through three lectures. Since the lectures on Some Difficulties in Writing an Intellectual History of Technology {Einige Schwierigkeiten, eine Geistesgeschichte der Technik zu schreiben}, which additionally was broadcasted as a radio transmission on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in 1966, moreover, the lecture Methodological Problems of an Intellectual History of Technology {Methodologische Probleme einer Geistesgeschichte der Technik} and Dogmatic and Rational Analysis of Motivations of Technical Progress {Dogmatische und rationale Analyse von Motivationen Technischen Fortschritts}, which was presented at the timely conference of the VDI in Ludwigshafen in 1970, Blumenberg relies on the elaboration of the relationship between theory and reality and the boundary between technology and craft in particular consideration of Cusanos. Zill is particularly interested in Marx’s development of machinery in the book “Das Kapital,” noting that in Marx’s chapter “Machinery and Great Industry,” the possibility of mechanizing a production process only became visible for Blumenberg through the division of labor.

If we speculate a bit further, we could ask: What would Blumenberg have thought of literary and cultural experiments such as the “1 the road” project (Goodwin, Mcdowell, and Google 2018) to write a — theoretically eternal and unstoppable — road trip book with a machine learning algorithm, or the works of the text collective of Gregor Weichbrod and Hannes Bajohr of the “0x0a” the hex code for the line break, as a character that does not exist in the analog, cannot be spoken and exists only as a “control character” – as attempts to produce genuinely digital literature in the line of algorithmic aesthetics today? We know that Blumenberg distinguished clearly unreflective monologs of AI protocol machines (Blumenberg 2002) based on unanimity {Einstimmigkeit} (39) of judgment or atomized sentences from dialogic concordance {Übereinstimmung}(Ibid.) after inspection {Prüfung} (Ibid.) of compatibility of different views and dialogic co-descriptions. By the automatization of writing (cf. Schönthaler 2022) of programmed contextual understanding of automata based on the operation of signs that must be determined and connected for interacting with humans; however, according to Blumenberg (2002), uninvolved world-less spectators are created, such as Joseph Weinbaum’s ELIZA artifact. Due to the lack of the non-mechanical intermittence of dialogic conscious experience of perception and reflective self-interruption, AI protocol machines are ruled out by Blumenberg (38-43) as any other kind of evidence establishing machine. Zill does not explicitly work out these possibilities of rethinking contemporary issues of philosophy of technology (cf. Bajohr 2021 and its relation to Blumenberg’s specific beginning with a technology of language (Blumenberg 1946; Blumenberg 2001; Bajohr 2018; Bajohr 2017). But there is still a possibility for such a philosophy of language and technology beyond mentioning that Blumenberg was more focused on initial human techniques and not abstracted technology systems questions in the words of Zill(2020):  “The algorithms of modern computer technology or the procedures of chemical industry were not fields in which he wanted to spend his efforts.” (497).

With Zill’s reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography, we might not reach an absolute end but come back to a preliminary beginning by continuing to think what it was that made Blumenberg’s life so fascinating to read in these short-lived 814 pages. What was it, we wanted to understand while observing the way Blumenberg thought and lived, particularly in the field of Intellectual History of Technology? For Blumenberg (2009) each science has to bare its own history (9), and each intellectual biography has to bare its history as well: I think it is time for us readers to (re-)read Rüdiger Zill’s book and discover Hans Blumenberg’s intellectual biography anew!

Bibliography:

Alsberg, Paul. 1922. Das Menschheitsrätsel. Jena.

Bajohr, Hannes. 2017. “History and Metaphor: Hans Blumenberg’s Theory of Language.” Doctoral Thesis, Columbia University. https://doi.org/10.7916/D83X8JX1.

———. “Ein Anfang Mit Der Sprache. Blumenbergs Erste Philosophische Veröffentlichung.».” Zfl Blog (blog). August 13, 2018. https://www.zflprojekte.de/zfl-blog/2018/08/13/hannes-bajohr-ein-anfang-mit-der-sprache-hans-blumenbergs-erste-philosophische-veroeffentlichung/.

———. 2020. “Die ‹Gestalt› Der KI. Jenseits von Holismus Und Atomismus.” Zeitschrift Für Medienwissenschaft 12 (23-2): 168–81. https://doi.org/10.14361/zfmw-2020-120215.

Bülow, Ulrich von, and Dorit Krusche. 2013. “Nachrichten an Sich Selbst: Der Zettelkasten von Hans Blumenberg,” In Zettelkästen: Maschinen Der Phantasie, edited by Heike Gfrereis and Ellen Strittmatter, 113–19. Marbach: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft.

Eatherly, Claude, Günther Anders, and Bertrand Russell. 1961. Burning Conscience: The Case of the Hiroshima Pilot, Claude Eatherly, Told in His Letters to Günther Anders; Preface by Bertrand Russell. London: Weidenfeld And Nicolson.

Bayertz, Kurt. 2014. Der Aufrechte Gang: Eine Geschichte Des Anthropologischen Denkens. München: C.H. Beck.

Blom, Philipp. 2017. Die Welt Aus Den Angeln Eine Geschichte Der Kleinen Eiszeit von 1570 Bis 1700 Sowie Der Entstehung Der Modernen Welt, Verbunden Mit Einigen Überlegungen Zum Klima Der Gegenwart. München: Hanser Verlag.

———. 2020. Das Große Welttheater: Von Der Macht Der Vorstellungskraft in Zeiten Des Umbruchs. Wien: Peter Zolnay.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1946 (Nachdruck 1991). «Die sprachliche Wirklichkeit der Philosophie».  Hamburger Akademische Rundschau 1 (1946/47) 1, Berlin: Reimer.

———. 1981. “Ernst Cassirer Gedenkend.” Essay. In: Hans Blumenberg, Wirklichkeiten, in Denen Wir Leben. Aufsätze Und Eine Rede, 163–72. Stuttgart: Reclam, Philipp.

———. 2001. “Sprachsituation Und Immanente Rhetorik.” In Ästhetische Und Metaphorologische Schriften, edited by Anselm Haverkamp, 120–35. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.

———. 2002. “Der Phänomenologe Kann Sich Nur Selbst Berichtigen.” In Zu Den Sachen Und Zurück, edited by Manfred Sommer, 19–43. Suhrkamp.

———. 2007. Theorie Der Unbegrifflichkeit. Edited by Anselm Haverkamp. Frankfurt, M. Suhrkamp.

———. 2009. Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Mit Einem Radiovortrag Auf CD. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———, and Carl Schmitt. 2007. Briefwechsel 1971-1978 Und Weitere Materialien. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Marcel Lepper. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

———. 2014. “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (n.d.)  UNF2241, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, in: R. Zill, «Minima historia. Die Anekdote als hermeneutische Form.» Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte 8(3), p.36.

———. 2014. Beschreibung Des Menschen. Edited by Manfred Sommer. Frankfurt Am Main: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015a. “Einige Schwierigkeiten Eine Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Zu Schreiben.” Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik., edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler, 203–29. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015b. “Weltbilder Und Weltmodelle.” In Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik, edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernhard Stiegler, 126–37. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2016. Paradigms for a Metaphorology. Translated by Robert Savage. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

———. 2019a. Die Nackte Wahrheit. Edited by Rüdiger Zill, Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019b“Automation.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio et al., 214–234. Freiburg, Albers.

———. 2020a. “An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rethorics.” In History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, edited by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll, 718–847. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———, 2020b. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. 2020. History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. “2020c. Prospect for a Theory of Inconceptuality.” History, Metaphors, Fables. A Hans Blumenberg Reader, by Blumenberg Hans, translated by Hannes Bajohr et al., edited by Hannes Bajohr et al., Ithaca: New York, Cornell University Press, 2020, pp. 739–799.

Boden, Petra, and Zill, Rüdiger. 2017. Poetik Und Hermeneutik Im Rückblick : Interviews Mit Beteiligten. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Gerner, Alexander Matthias. 2012. “Philosophical Investigations of Attention.” PhD Thesis, Universidade de Lisboa. https://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/6496.

Goodwin, Ross, Kenric Mcdowell, and Google. 2018. 1 the Road. Paris: Jean Boite Éditions.

Hanusch, Frederic, Claus Leggewie, and Erik Meyer. 2021. Planetar Denken Ein Einstieg. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Heidenreich, Friedrich. 2015. “Bedeutsamkeit.” In Blumenberg Lesen – Ein Glossar, edited by Daniel Weidner, 43–55. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Helbig, Daniela K. 2019a. “Life without Toothache: Hans Blumenberg’s Zettelkasten and History of Science as Theoretical Attitude.” Journal of the History of Ideas 80 (1): 91–112. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2019.0005.

———. 2019b. “Ruminant Machines: A Twentieth-Century Episode in the Material History of Ideas.” Journal of the History of Ideas (blog). April 17, 2019. https://jhiblog.org/2019/04/17/ruminant-machines-a-twentieth-century-episode-in-the-material-history-of-ideas/.

Kluge, Alexander. 2021. Das Buch Der Kommentare. Unruhiger Garten Der Seele. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Krajewski, Bruce J. “BLUMENBERG RECONSIDERED the Afterlife of Hans Blumenberg’s Centennial.” Journal of the History of Ideas Blog, 20 Sept. 2020, jhiblog.org/2020/09/14/blumenbergs-centennial/. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.

Merker, Barbara. 1999. “Bedürfnis Nach Bedeutsamkeit: Zwischen Lebenswelt Und Absolutismus Der Wirklichkeit.” In Die Kunst Des Überlebens: Nachdenken Über Hans Blumenberg, edited by Franz Josef Metz and Hermann Timm, 68–98. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Rothacker, Erich. 1963. Heitere Erinnerungen. Frankfurt a.M/ Bonn: Athenäum Verlag.

Schönthaler, Phillip. 2022. Die Automatisierung Des Schreibens & Gegenprogramme Der Literatur. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz Berlin.

Stegmaier, Werner. 2021. Formen Philosophischer Schriften. Zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch Des Philosophen : Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius.

Zill, Rüdiger. 2002. “>>Substrukturen Des Denkens<<.” In Begriffsgeschichte, Diskursgeschichte, MetapherngeschichteGrenzen Und Perspektiven Einer Metapherngeschichte Nach Hans Blumenberg, edited by Hans Erich Bödecker, 209–58. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag.

———. 2014. “Minima Historia. Die Anekdote Als Philosophische Form.” Zeitschrift Für Ideengeschichte 8 (3): 33–46. https://doi.org/10.17104/1863-8937-2014-3-33.

———. 2014a. “Anekdote.” In Blumenberg Lesen. Ein Glossar, edited by Robert Buch and Daniel Weidner, 26–42. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019. “>>Automation<<. Die Entstehung Der Blumenberg´schen Technikphilosophie Anhand Eines Frühen Vortragsmanuskripts . Freiburg: Albers, 187-213.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio, Martina Phillipi, and Josefa Ros Velasco, 187–213. Freiburg: Albers.

———. 2020. Der Absolute Leser Hans Blumenberg. Eine Intellektuelle Biographie. Berlin: Suhrkamp.


[1] An interesting point to explore, if we compare this view with the historian Phillip Blom who argues for the necessity of a reinvention of world pictures as part of a dramaturgically padded world theater (Blom 2020) by imaginative forms such as narratives to be able to face and act accordingly to our precarious planetary condition and thinking (cf. Hanusch, Leggewie and Meyer 2021) under the threat of mass extinction and climate change (Blom 2017) as one possible counter reading to Blumenberg.

[2]Wiederkäuer: a system to chew over various bits of reading material over periods that are long enough to allow new connections and combinations to appear, and thus to generate genuine surprises“ (Helbig 2019b.)

Caleb J. Basnett: Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal

Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal Book Cover Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal
Caleb J. Basnett
University of Toronto Press
2021
Hardback $65.00
216

Reviewed by: Matthew J. Delhey (University of Toronto)

In Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal, Caleb J. Basnett defends two major claims: first, that Adorno’s political thought cannot be separated from his concerns with art and animality; second, that Adorno’s unification of these themes delivers us the «surest guidance» for transforming ours into an emancipatory society (4). In my view, Basnett renders the first claim compelling but not the second. Nevertheless, Basnett’s book makes an important contribution to Adorno scholarship and post-humanist debates in political theory. It is recommended for specialists in these fields. It will also be of interest to students looking for an introduction to Adorno’s political thought.

Basnett structures his book argumentatively and thematically, not chronologically or textually. He unfolds his argument across a roughly four-step arc, although one that does not exactly map onto the book’s four chapters:

  1. the establishment of a hegemonic and domination-perpetuating theory of human capacities found in Aristotle, grounded in the biological differentiation of the human from the non-human, that Basnett calls the «Aristotelian problematic»;
  2. the development of Adorno’s conceptual framework of negative dialectic as responding to the metaphysics of identity found in Aristotle and Hegel;
  3. an investigation of the consequences of Adorno’s alternative conceptual framework of non-identity for his views on human reconciliation as a new kind of animality;
  4. the resolution of the Aristotelian problematic in Adorno’s revitalization of aesthetic education as a promise for radical subjective transformation, a utopian subjectivity that Basnett calls the «aesthetic animal.»

In what follows, I summarize each of these four interpretive claims advanced by Basnett vis-a-vis Adorno. After that, I return to my doubt regarding the persuasiveness of Basnett’s claim that Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic animal provides the most promising guide to transformative or revolutionary politics available to us today.

1. The Aristotelian Problematic (Introduction)

Basnett begins by discussing Aristotle’s famous claim from the Politics: the human being is by nature a political animal (13–22). The naturalness of human society asserted by Aristotle, Basnett argues, cannot be understood independently from his biological writings. This is because, for Aristotle, there exist non-human animals who are political in ways that differ from the political activity of human beings. So to specify the sense in which the human animal is political, Aristotle must distinguish between the political activity of human beings and that of other non-human animals. This differentiation requires Aristotle to introduce a politicized human-animal distinction based on a hierarchical ranking of organisms.

According to Basnett, Aristotle must articulate this human-animal distinction in terms of capacities. For Aristotle, an animal is essentially a soul constituted by a bundle of capacities (14). Animals can therefore only be distinguished from one another by their capacities. According to Aristotle’s comparative zoology, human beings uniquely possess nous, the divine capacity for intellection which underwrites our related capacities for speech and reason. The political life of human being, then, is that which best actualizes those capacities most closely associated with nous. Basnett concludes that Aristotle’s distinctly biological conception of the human capacity for nous amounts to nothing less than an «ur-politics» (17), since such a theory of human capacities necessarily institutes a normative hierarchy of living beings.

For Basnett, this identification of the political with the biological, one which determines genuinely human capacities by contrasting humans with animals, lies at the heart of the Western tradition of political theory. And this tradition is not dead. It forms what Basnett calls the Aristotelian problematic. This problematic has two diverging consequences for contemporary political thought. The first is regressive with respect to human emancipation. Since in this problematic what is valued is what is most distinctly human, a hierarchical ranking of individual organisms according to the barometer of humanity is unavoidable, both within human societies and between humans and non-humans. This hierarchy inheres in any animal-contrastive definition of the human and leads unavoidably, on Basnett’s view, to political practices of violence and domination. This is the same basic violence and domination that characterizes our societies today (3–5).

But Aristotle’s politicized separation of the human from the animal also contains two transformative dimensions, capable of being unleashed by later theorists like Adorno. First, Aristotle recognizes that humanity does not hold exclusive rights to politics. Since there exist non-human political animals, the realm of the political extends beyond the human. Second, against himself, Aristotle demonstrates in the Poetics the constitutive role of aesthetic education in the process of becoming human (21–22). For Aristotle, aesthetic education functions as a means of subjective transformation. In art, we not only learn what counts as human through mimesis but are also taught to recognize which possible capacities we ought to realize to become free individuals. Poetry, in other words, develops and transforms our subjective potentials. This transformative function of art thus shows us not only that human beings undertake cultural processes to learn how to be human and so to identify as «something other than simply animal» (22); it also teaches us that we can be otherwise (126). So although Aristotle «[fails] to recognize the role art plays in shaping the identity of the human being,» he nonetheless provides the theoretical resources for thinking about the politics of non-human animals and the transformative dimension of aesthetic experience (3).

Enter Adorno. Adorno’s political thought, Basnett argues, can be read in its entirety as responding to the Aristotelian problematic (23). This problematic also identifies Adorno’s argumentative strategy: radicalize art, ditch humanity. In the remainder of the book, Basnett portrays Adorno as developing across his writings an immanent critique of the human-animal distinction and its complicity in practices of human domination in the West.

Some readers may object to Basnett’s presumption that Adorno’s work forms «more or less a coherent whole» insofar as it responds to, or is «constellated around,» the intertwining of politics and animality in the Aristotelian problematic (22–23). However, this assumption is likely unavoidable for productive engagement with Adorno’s work on this topic. Moreover, the course of the book justifies, in my view, this assumed continuity in Adorno’s relation to Aristotle’s politics. Basnett’s careful attention to the understated but essential role of Aristotle in Adorno’s political thinking, often downplayed by his commentators (29–32), is a welcome contribution to the scholarly literature on Adorno.

2. Hegel’s Idealism and Negative Dialectics (Chapter 1)

In chapter one, Basnett draws on this Aristotelian framing of Adorno’s political thought to explicate the conceptual landmarks well-known to readers of Adorno, what we might call Adorno’s metaphysics. The most important of these landmarks for Basnett’s argument is Adorno’s negative dialectic or theory of conceptual non-identity. Basnett aims to elucidate the political import of negative dialectics, so his highly original account remains justifiably non-exhaustive.

As with Adorno’s encounter with humanism, Basnett reconstructs Adorno’s negative dialectic genetically. In particular, Basnett presents it as a developmental resolution of unresolved problems in Aristotle (29–40) and Hegel (43–50). These problems, Basnett argues, turn on the issue of conceptual mediation.

In the case of Aristotle, Basnett sees Adorno’s negative dialectic as addressing two obstacles in Aristotelian metaphysics: the possibility of change and the relation between universal and particular. Aristotle, lacking an appreciation of the dialectical interaction between particular things and universal concepts, cannot account for the way in which particular things necessarily supersede their original meaning and constitution and therefore always «pass beyond the limit that defines them» (40). A properly dialectical theory of mediation, one which tarries with the non-identity of objects to themselves and so with their perpetual escape from conceptual identification, is therefore necessary in order to give a satisfactory account of the possibility of objective change and, therefore, the futurity of objects and their potential transformations of subjects.

Hegel provides Adorno with just this sort of theory of dialectical mediation, according to Basnett. But in order to foreclose Hegel’s drive towards conceptual totalization, Adorno must separate Hegel’s idealism from his dialectic. This separation amounts to saving the dialectic’s ceaseless negativity from the «closure» of Hegel’s idealism (48). Such a separation has the further consequence of opening up the dialectic to the future and the historical horizon of redemption (ibid.). Dialectic without idealism is Adorno’s negative dialectic. It seeks the «non-identical in the identical,» the negative dynamics of the naturally selfsame, rather than purporting, as Hegel’s did, to discover «identity in non-identity» (43) and so «crush[ing]» and «devour[ing]» the non-conceptual into the concept (44). In this way, Adorno preserves Hegel’s insights into the conflictual dynamics of modern experience without taking on board the totalizing consequences endemic to Hegel’s idealistic system. Moreover, this separation entails that, pace Jay Bernstein, Adorno breaks completely with Hegel’s idealism (but not, of course, with Hegel’s thinking tout court); Adorno does not, according to Basnett, «[accept] the rudiments of Hegelian idealism» as Bernstein claims (quoted on 46). Only in breaking totally with Hegel’s idealism can the dialectic open itself up to the future possibility of a radical transformation of the sociopolitical world.

I have moved quickly through Basnett’s arguments in this chapter. Nevertheless, it is clear that some of the interpretive claims required by Basnett’s account of Adorno’s «determinate negation» of Aristotelian and Hegelian metaphysics will remain controversial (39), especially as regards Adorno’s «appropriation» of Hegel (43n8). For example, the meaning and significance of Hegel’s idealism remain quite obscure. Basnett suggests that Hegel’s idealism has something to do with spirit’s, or the absolute subject’s, projections onto objects.[1] This sounds much like Charles Taylor’s «cosmic spirit» reading of Hegel, or, if not that, then the old ontological reading of «idealist monism.» However, this interpretation of Hegel’s idealism has been met by influential criticisms from Robert Pippin and many others. However, Basnett does not acknowledge this literature on Hegel’s idealism in the book. Does Basnett intend his reading of Hegel, attributed to Adorno, to be compelling for us today? Moreover, if Hegel’s dialectic cannot be separated from his idealism as argued by at least some of his readers, then Bernstein’s contention that Adorno must accept some aspects of Hegelian idealism, if he is to retain the dialectic, begins to appear more plausible than Basnett’s suggestion of a complete break. But given the mode of exposition adopted by Basnett, it is difficult to say where Adorno ends and Basnett begins. I will return to this issue in §5.

3. Reconciled Humanity and Animality (Chapters 2 and 3)

Over the next two chapters, Basnett argues that Adorno’s theories of reconciled humanity and utopian animality form the relevant dialectic immanent to the Aristotelian problematic.

In chapter two, Basnett presents Adorno as using the image of reconciled humanity as a way of dialectically rethinking social progress. A reconciled humanity would be a humanity that no longer struggles: against nature, against other animals, and against itself (65). Basnett reasonably concludes that Adorno’s vision of reconciled humanity amounts to a set of «utopian speculations» that hold open the possibility of radical change to humanity in the future, changes which would put into question the very idea of humanity as inherited from Aristotle (66). This utopian vision of humanity is negative and non-identical. Negative because it carries no positive program for what this escape from struggle might look like. Non-identical because, in radically transforming the meaning of humanity, this transformation can only be conceived if we also recognize that the human being is not reducible to its natural determinations and so must be capable of being otherwise—in other words, that the human being is non-identical to itself. It is this possibility of an anti-naturalizing reconstitution of the subject to which Adorno refers when, in the Problems of Moral Philosophy, he announces, «if humanity [Humanität] has any meaning at all, it must consist in the discovery that human beings [Menschen] are not identical with their immediate existence as the creatures of nature» (quoted on 66).

In being non-identical to itself, humanity also resists domination. Non-identical humanity refers «not to a transcendental subject whose basic potentials are already given in advance of their actualization, but rather a subject constituted in resistance to the forms of domination that organize the objective world.» Human subjects, conceived non-identically, are thus «always pushing against the forces of compulsion» (61). We therefore have, on the one hand, a concept of the human being that is identical to struggle, domination, and violence. But, on the other, one which, like all concepts, is never exhausted by its identifications; it always maintains a non-identical side, a «preponderance of the object» (50–51, 61). In the case of the human being, the relevant non-identity lies precisely in the possibility of reconciliation. Realizing this redemptive possibility, one which inheres in the very idea of humanity itself, would, therefore, be the «end of humanity» as we know it in its self-identity (58). Naturally, we would like to know something about this reconstituted subject, even if our knowledge of it necessarily remains negative. This is the task of the book’s next chapter.

In chapter three, Basnett relates the notion of reconciled humanity to Adorno’s thinking about animals. In particular, Basnett advances a surprising interpretive thesis: the kind of thing that participates in Adorno’s reconciled humanity cannot be said to be a human being at all, but must instead count as a new kind of non-human animal (73, 77). The primary inspiration for this animalist interpretation of reconciled humanity comes from Adorno’s memorable imperative in Negative Dialectics, wherein we are told to live «so that one may believe himself to have been a good animal» (quoted on 106). But why must reconciled humanity be an in- or non-humanity? While Basnett does not present his argument in the following way (see his summary 77–78), his line of thought can, I think, be condensed into a sequence of three claims: first, that the idea of humanity is fundamentally tied up with compulsion, domination, and violence; second, that, since reconciled humanity demands the overcoming of such forms of struggle and since struggle is inherent in the idea of humanity, reconciliation must involve the determinate negation of humanity; third, that the appropriate determinate negation of humanity, one capable of producing a community free of constitutive struggle, is animality. Reconciled humanity therefore requires for its realization that the human subject become a utopian animal, that is, an animal which is no longer caught up in relations of violence and domination towards others, world, and self. In short, reconciled humanity is no longer identifiably human.

It strikes me that this part of the book will incur the most skepticism. There are two likely sticking points. One has to do with Adorno’s stipulation that the human being cannot be thought without necessarily invoking violence to self, world, and others. For Basnett, Adorno bakes violence into the very idea of humanity; violence is «deeply embedded in the human constitution» (166). There can be no instance of humanity, in thought or in the world, that does not contribute to domination: «the concept of humanism, and even the word ‘human,’ are deeply misleading and encourage the perpetuation of a cycle of violence» (58). The second sticking point concerns emancipation. Why must a successful redressing of the violence historically associated with humanity take us outside the realm of the human? Must we not invoke values, and thus enter the realm of the human, to justify our attempts to overcome violence (and, indeed, to justify any course of action)? This, at any rate, would be the humanist response to the challenges so far identified. But for Basnett, reconciled humanity cannot be an emancipation of humanity as we currently understand it—it cannot be an «emancipated humanity.» It must instead be «humanity emancipated from humanity» (58n8), and therefore a humanity «for whom the word ‘human’ would be an anachronism» (23).

These sticking points, closely related and perhaps even identical from a logical point of view, will elicit at least three responses. First of all, if it true that the very word ‘human’ misleads and anarchonizes, then it becomes difficult to understand why Adorno maintains his use of the concept across his writings, such as in reconciled humanity. By Basnett’s admission, such use of the human amounts at best to a ruse played by Adorno on his readers, since humanity turns out to be constitutively irreconcilable. This consideration suggests to me that Adorno does not conceive of emancipated humanity as strictly non-human.

Second, while it remains a historical truism that the human correlates with violence and domination, there remains an obvious humanist response to this fact: namely, that this correlation is just that, a coincidence, not a necessary connection; moreover, the humanist will also claim that the means of overcoming this historical connection between violence and humanity, so far more or less co-terminus, is to become more human, i.e., to further realize our human values (such as non-violence and non-domination), and not to abandon them. In short, we eliminate violence through humanity, not by overcoming it. Basnett addresses this humanist rejoinder on more than one occasion and is clear enough that he intends the book to provide an extended defense of the necessity of welding humanity with violence, both in humanity’s identity to violence and its surplus resistance. In effect, however, it is the Aristotelian problematic which provides this linkage for Basnett, since it is in it that we see how a differentiation of biological species based on their capacities necessarily entails a normative hierarchy, one that can later be recapitulated in a political community. But to generalize this claim to all forms of humanism clearly supposes that all humanism must be Aristotelian in the specific sense laid out in the Politics. And this further claim is by no means obviously true, either for Adorno or for us. If we instead permit the possibility of separating humanity from violence, things become quite different. In that world, Adorno could be suspicious of the legacy of humanism without affirming animality as its proper remedy.

Finally, there remains the general abstractness of these claims. Despite Basnett’s reasonable assurance that Adorno remains a deeply historical thinker, the violence, domination, and self-preservation that confront the reader throughout the book are nowhere historically differentiated. This makes it appear as if the violence in question bears no traces of its historical specificity in Adorno’s account. It is today the same violence to which Aristotle attested in antiquity. I will return to the issue of abstractness in §5.

4. Aesthetic Education (Chapter 4)

Finally, Basnett must show us how reconciled humanity, now understood as a new kind of animal, can be actualized in history. How are we to bridge the gap between our present humanity, tied up with domination, and the future utopia of a world populated by non-human political animals who no longer struggle? Accounting for the possibility of realizing this post-human world is the task of the book’s final chapter, wherein Basnett argues that such a transformation occurs only with the aid of a new kind of aesthetic education. It is through art that we «learn to live as good animals» (116).

What does this aesthetic education towards animality look like? Basnett’s most pertinent answer is that aesthetic education cultivates animal impulses through passive and active relations to art. As he puts it, aesthetic education

would attempt to cultivate animal impulses so as to enable them to resist human capture and thereby facilitate the kind of displacement of the subjective coordinates that constitute the human by turning toward non-identity through the addendum. In this way, Adorno’s aesthetics can be seen to address the question of producing an aesthetic animal, in the sense of an animal being constituted not simply through the senses, through its bodily comportment towards objects, but through the arts. (148–49)

Art reactivates our animal drives, mobilizing them against what we identify as our humanity and so «liberat[ing] the animal from the human through aesthetic experience» (26). In the remainder of the chapter, Basnett goes on to explain the distinct contributions made in aesthetic experience by the passive moment of reception and the active one of production in an illuminating reading of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.

Two things stand out to me as noteworthy in Basnett’s presentation of Adorno’s politics of the aesthetic animal. First, Basnett recognizes that the subjective transformation of the human into the animal, as theorized by Adorno, is not sufficient to realize sociopolitical transformation. Consciousness-raising about humanity’s inherent domination cannot on its own produce sociopolitical change. Adorno’s contribution is, after all, only a «theory of the subject» (1); it tells us how our agency and relation-to-self are constituted and how they could be constituted otherwise. It is in the very nature of this kind of theory of subjectivity that it describes only possibilities of subjective reconstitution. Thus Basnett rightly tells us that Adorno’s theory of subjective transformation only «might make possible» radical social change (26). Aesthetic experience, then, also offers merely «the possibility of sociopolitical transformation» (151). This important qualification makes it clear that Basnett sees aesthetic education into animality as necessary but insufficient for social change (173). Realizing a world of utopian animals would require other transformations of sociopolitical reality, too. We might imagine that this transformation would also require, for example, the development of labor-saving technologies.

Second, Basnett presents Adorno’s views on aesthetic education as responding primarily to Aristotle. This is a local instantiation of the book’s global claim, viz. that Adorno’s politics is, as a whole, best understood in its relation to the Aristotelian problematic. However this version of the global claim presents novel issues not found in the metaphysical questions discussed in chapter one, i.e., the relation between universals and particulars and the nature of the dialectic. Part of the problem is that the theme of aesthetic education is itself never explicitly thematized by Aristotle in the Poetics, a point, of course, acknowledged by Basnett. This omission is, after all, the reason why Aristotle fails to appreciate the full scope of art in constituting the human despite his own unconscious insights into the matter. The implicitness of Aristotle’s theory of aesthetic education makes Basnett’s task of presenting Adorno as primarily in dialogue with Aristotle more demanding than it was in the prior cases, where we found Aristotle addressing the issues explicitly and in some of his most famous works. Moreover, in the case of aesthetic education there exists other, more immediate figures standing in the way. Given the affinities between Adorno’s views on aesthetic education with those of Hegel and especially Schiller, why not see these figures as at least equally important as Aristotle in the development of Adorno’s views (148–49)? Finally, given Adorno’s insistence on treating specifically modern art, it is difficult to see how his views on aesthetic education can be understood as responding to what is naturally only a theory of ancient art in Aristotle. As a result of these concerns, some readers will remain understandably skeptical that Adorno develops his theory of aesthetic education primarily as a response to Aristotle’s Poetics. Unfortunately, Basnett provides no direct textual evidence in support of this claim, either. He instead provides a sophisticated account showing how one can read Adorno’s theory of aesthetic education as responding to problems which arise for Adorno in Aristotle’s Poetics and shows that, in responding to these problems, Adorno in turn address other aspects of Aristotle’s practical philosophy (thaumazein, praxis, theoria, etc.), forming a constellation (154–59). But this kind of argument, while philosophically compelling in many ways, cannot rule out the possibility that, pace Basnett, figures like Hegel and Schiller play equal or even more important roles than Aristotle in Adorno’s aesthetic theory.

5. Adorno Today

Finally, I would like to address what I take to be the second major contention of Basnett’s book, viz. that Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic animal provides the best available way of thinking about our present social and political moment. Here is how Basnett puts the point in the book’s final paragraph:

I have argued that Adorno is the most apt guide to our current political juncture and the theorizing of its transformation, for he allows us to see our own animality as it has emerged through the history of humanism and to take the possibilities for transformation as beginning from this situation. Moreover, unlike those who might through their focus on ontology or even their focus on particular struggles inadvertently reify the current place of struggle in political life, Adorno shows us that we cannot get rid of the utopian dimension of political struggle. Rather, we must hold dear to this utopian promise, even if, as Adorno himself admits, the moment of its realization may never arrive. (184)

As I have already noted, I find this first-order claim unconvincing despite finding much of value in Basnett’s project of reading Adorno’s political thought holistically and in dialogue with Aristotle’s. My recalcitrance lies in the general abstractness of Basnett’s argument and his conflation between Adorno’s standpoint and our own. Let me give a sense of what I mean.

First, Basnett’s exposition of Adorno’s politics occurs at a high level of abstraction. Perhaps such an altitude is unavoidable in a work of political theory that connects moderns with ancients, or is a product of the unrelenting negativity of Adorno’s thinking. Or maybe it simply reflects an arbitrary choice made by Adorno. In any case, the high level of abstraction in Basnett’s presentation of Adorno’s political theory lessens, in my opinion, its attractiveness for us today.

In §§3 and 4, I mentioned the abstract nature of the violence, domination, and struggle (characteristic of the human) and sociopolitical transformation in Basnett’s Adorno. Regarding the former, Basnett seems to claim that the distinctly human activities of struggle and violence have remained constant across history, at least insofar as they are capable of defining the human. All human history has been uniform insofar as it has been a history of domination, and it will continue to be so long as history remains human. If this were not so, we would no longer be in the grip of the Aristotelian problematic. Regarding the latter, we not only do not receive a set of conditions sufficient for achieving utopia (only necessary ones), but we also receive little assurance regarding the direction of sociopolitical transformation. Things can be otherwise, which means they can also get worse. To be sure, Basnett does provide some reasons for believing that the direction of this transformation will be positive, reasons grounded in the human necessity of resisting suffering and art’s solidarity with this suffering. But, again, this suffering and its resistance in art and life become historical constants, universals whose progressive credentials and even continued existence are open to reasonable doubt.

I found myself surprised to be worried about the abstractness of Basnett’s Adorno. Basnett makes it clear that he takes the concreteness of Adorno’s thought, his attentiveness to the historical and the material, as one of the primary reasons why Adorno remains more relevant for us today than other twentieth-century Continental philosophers. Indeed, Basnett criticizes Deleuze and Derrida for locating in animality something «inherently liberating» and therefore perniciously independent of «particular sociopolitical outcomes» (178); such approaches are «too abstractly theorized» (179). Honneth’s theory of rational capacities and their pathologies suffers the same verdict (48–49). Merely «abstract negations» should be avoided (98, cf. 49n77). But I struggle to see why, or in what sense, this criticism of abstraction does not equally apply to Adorno as interpreted by Basnett, given the ahistoricality of the Aristotelian problematic and the rudiments of its resolution in Adorno (against this see 182).

Second, Basnett nowhere distinguishes his own standpoint from Adorno’s. This conflation, unavoidable to some degree, to be sure, in any philosophical reconstruction, nevertheless introduces some challenges for accepting Basnett’s claim that Adorno offers us the surest guide to contemporary political theory. I have already mentioned in §2 that Adorno’s reading of Hegel, at least as presented by Basnett, does not appear to me very plausible in light of contemporary Hegel scholarship. Distinguishing between Adorno’s standpoint and our own would allow us to reengage with this sort of interpretive disagreement more productively. Such a distinction would also be the condition of a genuinely critical reading of Adorno, one in which we would need to evaluate the degree to which Adorno accomplishes the tasks that he sets for himself. True to Adorno’s principles, such a reading would also require us to theoretically acknowledge changes in our objective circumstances. In my view, a critical reading of this sort would be a precondition for defending the Basnett’s first-order claims about the usefulness of Adorno’s political thought. To put the point differently, one has the sense that, lacking a distinction between these two standpoints, Basnett’s book will do little to convince readers who have not already been converted to Adorno’s side.

That said, it is easy to recommend Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal to several audiences. Since Basnett deftly synthesizes across Adorno’s major works, the book functions well as a politically-minded introduction to Adorno. Basnett’s mastery of the literature on his subject also makes the book a helpful guide through the burgeoning field of Adorno studies. Moreover, Basnett redresses the state of this field, convincingly re-centering Aristotle in our understanding of Adorno. The book will therefore be essential for anyone concerned with Adorno’s relationship to ancient philosophy. Finally, Basnett’s leveraging of the Adornoian wedge in posthumanism will be of interest to interdisciplinary scholars wondering what Frankfurt School critical theory might contribute to these debates. In sum, Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal is a philosophically astute reconstruction of Adorno’s political thought that anyone with an interest in this topic will want to discuss.


[1] Basnett writes: «For Hegel, it is only through the activities of consciousness culminating in an absolute subject that all particulars find unity and so are assigned fixed identities in a totality. The absolute subject, or spirit, is at once found to be the origin of the process and its goal—the constitutive conception of the subject needed for dialectic noted by Adorno above becomes in Hegel the ultimate guarantor of objects in their particularity, for the subject does not simply project concepts onto objects; rather, the truth of the objects themselves is for Hegel to be found in these projections, in their ideality. Thus there is a preponderance of the subject and the concept over the object in Hegel that, like Aristotle’s metaphysics, falls back into a static conception of the totality of the world and of the positive identities of the objects therein» (44–45). Hegel’s «theodicy» is discussed on 45–46.

Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch, Thomas Zingelmann (Hg.): 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen

1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen Book Cover 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen
Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch, Thomas Zingelmann (Hg.)
zu Klampen Verlag
2019
Paperback 28,00 €
268

Reviewed by: Matthias Warkus

»1968«, die Studentenbewegung, die Jugendrevolte, wie auch immer man das Phänomen genau nennen mag, ist etwas, wozu es insbesondere aus der Außensicht des politisch interessierten Laien, wie der Verfasser dieser Rezension einer ist, zwei konfligierende Leiterzählungen gibt. Die eine könnte man die orthodoxe oder revolutionäre nennen. Ihr zufolge war »1968« tatsächlich ein Epochenbruch, ein – im Guten oder im Schlechten – grundstürzendes Ereignis, der Beginn unzähliger Kausalketten, die erheblichen Anteil an der Hervorbringung der Welt, in der wir heute leben, hatten. Die andere Erzählung könnte man, um einen Ausdruck von Jacques Rancière auszuborgen, die »furetistische« nennen.[1] Hält man sich an sie, dann war 1968 weniger ein Anfang als ein Ende: der Kulminationspunkt und die Sichtbarwerdung einer bereits seit Jahren im Schwange befindlichen Transformation der westlichen Industriegesellschaften.

Im Zuge der Rechtsbewegung zahlreicher westlicher Demokratien in den letzten Jahren (oder doch zumindest der Aktivierung und Sichtbarwerdung ihrer latenten rechten Kräfte) liegt auch die Frage erneut auf dem Tisch, inwieweit die heutigen Verhältnisse ein Produkt von »1968« sind, was auch gleichzeitig die Frage bedeutet, was anders sein könnte, hätte »1968« größere oder geringere Auswirkungen gehabt. Nicht die schlechteste Lektüre dazu ist der Sammelband 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen, herausgegeben von Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch und Thomas Zingelmann (Springe: zu Klampen! 2019, 270 S.).

Schon die Einleitung der Herausgeber führt auf hervorragende und kompakt Weise zu dem Problem der Einordnung des Phänomens »1968« heran (und diskutiert dabei mit hoher Aktualität die Bezüge zum »Rechtsruck« der letzten Jahre, 7–10). Die folgenden Beiträge gehen dieses Phänomen in schlaglichtartigen Einzelbetrachtungen multidimensional und ohne Anspruch auf eine »Entschlüsselung« oder klare Beantwortung der eingangs benannten Fragen an, wobei die Herausgeber (völlig zu Recht) eingangs betonen, dass »1968« Wurzeln hatte, die bis weit in die 50er zurückgehen (16).

Das theoretische Atomgewicht der Beiträge nimmt von vorne nach hinten weitgehend stetig zu. Den Auftakt machen Zeitdarstellungen: Sabine Pamperrien gibt in ihrem Beitrag »Szenen des Jahres 1967«, der laut Anmerkung auf einer Lesung aus ihrem Buch 1967. Das Jahr der zwei Sommer basiert, einen guten Überblick über die Ausgangslage in der Bundesrepublik und international. Sie arbeitet dabei überraschende Parallelen zur Gegenwart heraus. Wolfgang Kraushaar zeichnet anschließend die nach seiner These maßgeblich durch die Situationisten geprägte Entwicklung der in Deutschland führenden Akteure um Rudi Dutschke nach.

Der Beitrag von Hannah Chodura und Paul Helfritzsch nimmt sich für seine Kürze etwas viel vor, indem er anhand von Guy Debords Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels und Goyas berühmtem Alptraum-Capricho eine Neuausdeutung des Traums als Metapher für die kapitalistische Gesellschaft versucht. Deutlich »süffiger« liest sich der Aufsatz von Christian Dries, der in seinem Aufsatz einen hilfreichen Überblick über verschiedene Parameter des politischen Engagements von Günther Anders vor und um 1968 gibt.

Michael Jenewein und Jörg Müller Hipper beschäftigen sich in ihrem Beitrag am Beispiel der Rede Michael Köhlmeiers am 5.5.2018 mit den sartreschen Begriffen von engagierter Literatur und von Literatur überhaupt. Werner Jung diskutiert knapp, aber informativ die Lukács-Rezeption in der Studentenbewegung vor und um 1968, wozu Lukács’ Positionen zum Realsozialismus, aber auch seine Wirkung in die Inhalte von Lehre und Forschung (insbesondere in der Germanistik) gehören. Sein melancholisches Fazit ist allerdings, dass eine tatsächliche produktive und das Gesamtwerk nicht verzerrende Rezeption nie stattgefunden habe.

Gerhard Schweppenhäusers Beitrag über »Marcuse und die Metaphysik« liefert über die Erwartung des Titels hinaus eine kompakt und kurzweilig geschriebene Zusammenschau der frühen kritischen Theorie insgesamt und ihres Verhältnisses zur Metaphysik im Speziellen, die gegen Ende in eine Parallelsetzung von Marcuses und der heutigen Zeit einmündet. Diese geht mit einer in der kurzen Form arg thetisch und formelhaft wirkenden Programmatik für eine Erneuerung der kritischen Theorie einher, wie man sie schon öfters gesehen hat. Der Verfasser dieser Rezension ist in der »Szene« der gegenwärtigen kritischen Theorie ein informierter Außenseiter und weiß nicht so recht, was er von den immer neuen Aktualisierungsforderungen zu halten hat. Manche Punkte Schweppenhäusers erscheinen empirisch fragwürdig, dort, wo zum Beispiel die Rede davon ist, Phantasie konzentriere sich heute »auf das Ausmalen ›technischer Utopien‹«; während zu Marcuses Zeit und noch bis weit in die 1970er, wenn nicht 80er technische Utopien mit fliegenden Autos, Kuppelstädten, Raumkolonien, Abschaffung von Krankheit und Leid seriös präsentiert wurden,[2] hat dies heute eigentlich aufgehört. Die technischen Utopien unserer Zeit, soweit man sich überhaupt noch traut, welche zu äußern, sind sozialtechnische Utopien von »Connectivity« und »Digitalisierung«. Diese kritisiert Schweppenhäuser am Ende seines Beitrages eher schematisch und wenig überzeugend.

Ebenfalls Einführungscharakter hat Alfred Betscharts Beitrag über »Die Vordenker der sexuellen Revolution«, der in großem Bogen von Freud über Reich, Marcuse, Margaret Mead und Kinsey, Gide und Genet, Kerouac und Ginsberg die Wurzeln der sexuellen Befreiung der 60er skizziert, vor allem aber dichte Belege dafür liefert, dass der Einfluss von Sartre und Beauvoir auf diese kulturelle Bewegung nicht zu unterschätzen war. Der auch sprachlich gelungene Aufsatz schreckt vor zielsicheren Spitzen nicht zurück (wenn etwa mokant und eher nebenbei die »in der Frankfurter Schule nicht unübliche[] Umwandlung bildungsbürgerlicher Ideale in vermeintliche linke Postulate« aufgespießt wird, 154f.), lehnt sich aber hier und da etwas aus dem Fenster (es wird etwa angedeutet, Literatur habe nur noch bis in die 1970er eine »außerordentliche Reichweite in der Gesellschaft gehabt, 157, oder »die Ephebophilie« sei »bis in die 1980er Jahre die dominante Form von Homosexualität« gewesen (158), ohne dass dies belegt wird).

Eine pièce de résistance des Bandes, nicht nur aufgrund des gerade erschienen »neuen Houellebecq« Anéantir, stellt für mich der Aufsatz des Herausgebers Jens Bonnemann dar, der sich mit eben jenem französischen Bestsellerautor und seinem Verhältnis zum Erbe der sexuellen Befreiung beschäftigt. Er zeigt, deutlich detaillierter als Betschart zuvor, die Bedeutung von Wilhelm Reich für »die 68er« auf und arbeitet vor allem genau heraus, dass das der freudomarxistischen Kulturtheorie Marcuses immanente Konzept einer Befreiung des Eros nichts mit der zur wirtschaftlichen Deregulierung homologen Befreiung des Sexus bzw. des »Sexual Marketplace«[3] bei Houellebecq zu tun hat.

Jörg Müller Hipper führt in seinem Beitrag mit und gegen Helmuth Plessner den Nachweis, »dass soziale Konzepte der maximalen Nähe und Offenheit«, sprich der Gemeinschaftlichkeit im Gegensatz zur Gesellschaftlichkeit, entgegen der Intuition zahlreicher »68er« keine gangbare Grundlage für neue, bessere Formen menschlichen Zusammenlebens darstellen. Im Gegenteil müssten solche Formen schon aus rein anthropologischen Gründen auf einer Gesellschaftlichkeit von Distanz und Takt, »die Möglichkeit, unbehelligt zu bleiben, nicht mitmachen zu müssen« (205) aufbauen.

Herausgeber Thomas Zingelmann nimmt im Anschluss die beliebte Vorstellung auseinander, die verschiedenen Gegenkulturen, die heute mit der Zeit von »1968« assoziiert werden, seien miteinander verflochten und irgendwie eine Einheit gewesen. Er unterscheidet die verschiedenen Unterströme in kollektivistische Protestbewegungen und individualistische Gegenkulturen (und bleibt damit im Groben in der Spur von Müller Hipper zuvor). So liefert er eine knappe, aber informative historische Beschreibung und Einordnung von Beat Generation und Hippies als Vertreter des unpolitischen Gegenkulturaspekts.

Der dritte Herausgeber, Paul Helfritzsch, konzipiert in seinem Beitrag, der nicht mehr unmittelbar kulturhistorisch ist, im Ausgang von Jean-Paul Sartre und Frantz Fanon die Rolle des Intellektuellen als Instanz der performativen Benennung von Unterdrückungsverhältnissen auf Grundlage von Theoriewissen. Auf dem Intellektuellen liegt nach Helfritzsch eine »ontologische Verantwortung«, also eine Verantwortung für das Verfasstsein der Welt in durch diese performativen Benennungen erst etablierten Strukturen von praktischen Begriffen.

Der Band schließt mit einer geschichtsphilosophischen Betrachtung von Peggy Breitenstein, die sich implizit auch gegen eine Reihe der versammelten anderen Beiträge stellt, indem sie mit einem benjaminschen Geschichtsverständnis den Wert von Versuchen der Geschichtsschreibung, die Fragen wie »Was war…?« und »Was bleibt von…?« stellen und sie von berufenen Zeitzeugen (»Siegern«) deuten lassen (245), allgemein in Frage stellt. An verschiedenen Belegen (Erinnerungen der Malerin Sarah Haffner, die Thesen des Westberliner Aktionsrats zur Befreiung der Frauen sowie Kommentare und Reaktionen darauf wie das berühmte »Penisflugblatt«) entlang zeigt sie die der Studentenbewegung als Lebensstil und als politische Bewegung entgegen ihrem revolutionären Anspruch innewohnenden patriarchalischen Strukturen und Selbstwidersprüche auf. Ihre Bilanz bleibt eine melancholische: dass die »selbstreflexive und selbstkritische Praxis« (259), die jede Emanzipation mit Marx sein müsse und die in den weniger theoriegesättigten feministischen Seitenbewegungen von »1968« noch eher zu finden gewesen sei, bis auf Weiteres höchstens Dialogräume und solidarischen Rückzug bedeuten kann, da das Erbe der emanzipatorischen Diskurse bis heute zumindest im akademischen Raum vor allem in Form von »Debattenwettstreit und Konkurrenz«[4] (262) stattfinde. Breitensteins Aufsatz hat aufgrund seiner inhaltlichen Spannweite und stilistischen Brillanz die prominente Position am Schluss, sozusagen als »inoffizielles Fazit«, des Bandes mehr als verdient.

Insgesamt kann der Band, auch wenn nicht alle Beiträge gleich interessant sind und man sich mancherorts einige Belege mehr gewünscht hätte, trotz (oder gerade wegen) seiner Entstehung als Tagungsband für nicht ins Thema Eingelesene als gute Heranführung an das Phänomen 1968 dienen und auch Kundigeren die eine oder andere neue Perspektive vermitteln. Ein Wermutstropfen bleibt die leider nicht geringe Zahl von nicht nur Tipp-, sondern auch Grammatik- und Trennfehlern, über die man in der Lektüre immer wieder stolpert. Die Frage, ob »1968« nun eher Ursache oder eher Wirkung war, löst sich beim Studium des Bandes jedenfalls nach und nach zusammen mit jeder scheinbar kompakten Substanz des Phänomens auf. »1968« erweist sich als Sammelbegriff für eine heterogene, allenfalls familienähnliche Vielfalt von zeitlich grob koinzidierenden Entwicklungen, deren Zusammenordnung unter einer leitenden Erzählung selbst vielleicht am ehesten so etwas ist wie eine popkulturelle Retrofiktion.


[1] Vgl. Jacques Rancière, interviewt von Julia Christ und Bertrand Ogilvie: »Republikanismus ist heute ein Rassismus für Intellektuelle«, in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 65.4 (2017), 727–761, hier 731.

[2] Drastisch vor Augen führt dies ein Blick z.B. in Ulrich Schippke, Die 7 Weltwunder von morgen, Gütersloh 1972, oder ders., Zukunft, Gütersloh 1974.

[3] Dieser Ausdruck ist in der Szene der militanten modernen Frauenfeinde (»MRAs«, »Incels«) in den sozialen Medien, die u.a. für ihre Unterstützung von Donald Trump und die Anstiftung mehrerer Massenmorde berüchtigt sind, der geläufige. Houellebecq kann, wenn nicht als Stifter, so doch mindestens als geistiger Vorläufer dieses Denkens gesehen werden.

[4] Der Verf. dankt Katharina Herrmann, München, dafür, durch sie schon vor längerer Zeit auf Karl Helds berühmte Sentenz »Ihr wollt ja lieber dichten« beim konkret-Kongress 1993 hingewiesen worden zu sein.

Stefano Micali: Tra l’altro e se stessi

Tra l’altro e se stessi: Studi sull’identità Book Cover Tra l’altro e se stessi: Studi sull’identità
L'occhio e lo spirito
Stefano Micali
Mimésis
2020
Paperback 29,00 €
194

Reviewed by: Francesca Righetti (Ruhr-University of Bochum)

Tra l’altro e se stessi di Stefano Micali si propone di indagare il rapporto tra l’identità singolare e l’alterità attraverso temi e prospettive eterogenee incorniciati all’interno degli studi fenomenologici. L’indagine riguarda non solo il rapporto dialettico tra il proprio e l’estraneo, ma anche l’alterità che appartiene alla nostra stessa soggettività, e che può presentarsi nei termini della sorpresa dell’incontro con l’altro.

Probabilmente chi compra un libro che promette un’analisi fenomenologica sull’intersoggettività, non si aspetta di trovarsi a leggere un elaborato che inizia presentando un lavoro comparativo tra Kant e Ginzburg; che passa poi allo studio della soggettività attraverso la stupidità e il senso comune; e infine si conclude con un’indagine sulla preghiera rivolta a Dio. L’autore, tuttavia, riesce a mettere insieme argomenti e metodi eterogenei dentro la stessa cornice dell’indagine sull’io e sull’altro.

Va subito precisato che Tra l’altro e se stessi è una raccolta di articoli precedentemente pubblicati, i quali sono stati rielaborati  per questa pubblicazione, approfondendo la complessità della soggettività e dell’alterità attraverso prospettive e ambiti diversi. Per questa ragione, l’opera presenta una ricchezza argomentativa che non sarà possibile riportare nella sua completezza e complessità in questa recensione. Il mio scopo, piuttosto, sarà quello di evidenziare il filo rosso che lega i capitoli e presentare trasversalmente l’argomentazione di Micali.

Il libro si divide in tre parti. La prima, composta da due capitoli, approfondisce alcune questioni metodologiche della fenomenologia, come intitola Micali, “dall’esterno” o “dal di fuori”, volendo leggere La Critica del Giudizio di Immanuel Kant e le opere di Carlo Ginzburg attraverso le lenti del metodo fenomenologico. Questa prima parte si rivela interessante perché pone l’accento sulle domande riguardo cosa sia la fenomenologia e come identificarla: indagini metodologiche condotte, per l’appunto, da una prospettiva  esterna e  utili per riflettere criticamente sulle pratiche fenomenologiche stesse. La seconda parte è composta da tre capitoli ed è intitolata “aspetti della soggettivazione”, il cuore stesso del libro. Attraversando tre argomenti differenti (la stupidità, il riconoscimento del bisogno e il ruolo del terzo mediante nell’etica), Micali mette a fuoco la genesi della soggettivazione e il rapporto del soggetto con l’alterità. Infine la terza parte, che comprende gli ultimi due capitoli, risponde a due criticità identificate nella seconda sezione e presenta alcuni casi estremamente particolari del rapporto tra il soggetto e l’altro: il fenomeno della depressione e della preghiera a Dio, al fine di studiare tale rapporto ex negativo.

Parte I — La fenomenologia dal di fuori

Il filo rosso che lega i primi due capitoli del libro riguarda il concetto di straniamento, presentato utilizzando i metodi filosofici di Kant e Ginzburg come oggetto di studio. Nello specifico, per quanto riguarda il primo capitolo sul carattere del giudizio di gusto in Kant (1997), cercherò di far emergere il carattere tautegorico e l’attenzione verso la singolarità, che mi permetteranno di identificare il rapporto tra il bello e lo straniamento.

Nel primo capitolo, Micali propone una rilettura della Critica del Giudizio in cui gli elementi dell’opera possano essere utili in ambito fenomenologico e nella filosofia contemporanea. Per farlo, suggerisce di affrontare la questione seguendo quattro diversi momenti di analisi: 1) introdurre il concetto di giudizio riflettente estetico; 2) analizzare il carattere di finalità e la pretesa di universalità; 3) discutere l’articolazione tra sentire e pensare; e infine 4)  riflettere sul carattere disinteressato del giudizio di gusto comparato all’attitudine fenomenologica.

Il carattere tautegorico si riferisce al terzo momento dell’analisi, ovvero all’articolazione tra sentire e pensare. Per chiarire questo concetto, dobbiamo prima concentrarci brevemente sulla definizione del giudizio di gusto. Esso è 1) sintetico, “poiché il piacere oltrepassa tanto il concetto quanto l’intuizione dell’oggetto” (p. 15); e 2) a priori, perché intende essere condiviso da ognuno universalmente: “Chi afferma che qualcosa è bello intende definire una qualità dell’oggetto come se si trattasse di un giudizio logico” (p. 19).

Tuttavia, il problema dell’universalità del piacere è uno scomodo dilemma con cui Kant ha dovuto confrontarsi, poiché parte dal presupposto che l’universalità non appartiene al piacere — che invece è sempre particolare e particolarizzante — ma esclusivamente alle facoltà conoscitive, all’uso della logica e dell’intelletto. Come è possibile allora motivare che il giudizio sul bello abbia una vocazione all’universalità?

Per rispondere a questa domanda, l’autore propone l’interpretazione di Lyotard (1991), il quale afferma che l’analisi kantiana del giudizio di gusto, nei termini di qualità, quantità, relazione e modalità, tradisce un presupposto di fondo: ovvero che “i giudizi estetici possono essere analizzati soltanto attraverso un riferimento alle categorie dell’intelletto” (p. 23). Ed è qui che interviene il carattere tautegorico. Lyotard chiarisce che il piacere è un effetto del nostro essere riflettenti: del nostro sentirci pensanti o pensiero senziente nel momento in cui il bello si manifesta. Tale sensazione ci segnala il nostro proprio modo d’essere: di conseguenza, il piacere è una risonanza dell’atto del piacere. Il carattere tautegorico si collega al concetto di straniamento presentato nel capitolo successivo, in quanto  durante la percezione dell’arte o del bello si riconosce un’alterità in se stessi: in altre parole, si assume una prospettiva esterna, in cui il soggetto si compiace e stupisce di essere in grado di percepire e di riconoscere il bello.

Micali conclude che “questa risonanza […] non deve essere interpretata in relazione all’auto-rapportarsi del sé con se stesso” (p. 24), bensì come un sentire incompatibile con l’io trascendentale, che invece ospita il sé. Micali non approfondisce l’analisi su questo sé “ospitato”, ma invita le future ricerche a indagare i rapporti affettivi che modellano il sé, in analogia alla sensazione descritta nel giudizio riflettente estetico.

Un’osservazione rilevante dal punto di vista metodologico dell’analisi di Micali riguarda il giudizio estetico riflettente. L’attenzione si rivolge alla “fenomenalità precipua della singola apparizione nella sua fatticità, ovvero rispetto a quanto nella sua unicità e contingenza appare improvvisamente come bello” (p. 25). Questo interesse per l’emergenza del fenomeno nella sua singolarità, insieme al carattere disinteressato del giudizio riflettente del gusto, richiamano due fondamentali principi della pratica dell’analisi fenomenologica: lo studio del fenomeno nelle sua modalità di apparizione originaria e singolare, e il metodo dell’epochè, volta a sospendere l’attitudine naturale verso il mondo. L’incontro con il fenomeno nella sua singolarità porta allo stupore e allo straniamento, che a sua volta ci conduce alla sospensione del giudizio. Il concetto di straniamento viene poi approfondito nel capitolo successivo.

Chi come me è affascinato dalla microstoria e dalla scrittura di Ginzburg, sarà meravigliato dal capitolo a lui dedicato. Il capitolo è diviso in due parti: nella prima viene analizzato lo stile di ricerca di Ginzburg, nella seconda si considera il modello epistemologico dello straniamento.

Micali sostiene che lo stile di Ginzburg della polifonia e del mantenimento di tutte le voci dei protagonisti delle sue storie, senza un appiattimento sotto un’unica coscienza narrativa, è lo strumento stilistico che permette di comprendere l’alterità. In altre parole, Ginzburg sorprende il lettore, attraverso uno stile conduttore di contenuti che permettono di atterrire e di provocare un disorientamento di fronte all’alterità (sociale, culturale e identitaria). Tutti i presupposti di senso comune vengono sovvertiti attraverso l’incontro di microcosmi, di vite e di epoche molto lontane,socialmente e culturalmente, da noi.

Secondo la ricostruzione di Micali, l’interesse di Ginzburg per lo straniamento nasce dallo studio di Sklovskij (1976) sulla questione della natura dell’arte nel contesto del formalismo russo. Secondo Sklovskij, «l’arte è in grado di sospendere gli automatismi che caratterizzano il nostro rapporto con il mondo circostante» (p. 52). In questo modo, il problema dell’attitudine naturale verso il mondo si definisce più chiaramente: il nostro rapporto con il mondo cade sotto l’influenza dell’abitudine e lo straniamento diventa uno strumento a favore della sospensione di questo rapporto. Il momento sovversivo e fanciullesco di incontrare la realtà come fosse la prima volta: è una prospettiva che ci permette di dubitare del senso comune che noi stessi abitiamo.

Secondo Micali, attraverso il suo stile e particolare approccio alla ricerca, Ginzburg compie lo stesso lavoro di straniamento, che ci permette di assumere prospettive nuove per guadagnare «una distanza critica da quanto è immediatamente vissuto in modo così ovvio da rimanere invisibile» (p. 38). Da una parte, lo stile polifonico conduce al lavoro etico di dare voce a ogni personaggio, soprattutto quando marginalizzato. La motivazione che muove il lavoro di Ginzburg infatti è stata probabilmente determinata dall’idea di Benjamin di riscattare il passato degli oppressi: «riscattare la voce sofferente (e molto reale) dell’altro, dello sconfitto, del perseguitato» (p. 39). Curiosa è d’altronde la nota tra parentesi, «molto reale», sottolineando un altro aspetto filosofico del lavoro di Ginzburg: ovvero l’obiettivo di contrastare le derive post-moderne e decostruttiviste che conducono alla confusione tra realtà e finzione, tra testo ed evento. «Se il confine tra realtà e finzione diventa completamente fluido, si perde la possibilità di rendere giustizia alle flebili voci degli sconfitti» (p. 40).

Dall’altra, si rileva un inaspettato ponte tra Ginzburg e Merleau-Ponty: entrambi mirano a indagare l’essere umano all’interno della “intersezione tra attività simboliche e la nostra costituzione corporea” (p. 72). Contrapposto all’universale verticale, approccio antropologico che ha la pretesa di cogliere tutte le culture attraverso categorie universali, l’approccio di ricerca filosofica che accomuna Ginzburg e Merleau-Ponty è l’universale laterale, che accetta le differenze incompatibili di tipo simbolico e culturale, ma mira «alle identificazioni universali ancorate alla nostra costituzione corporea” (Ivi).

Per concludere, l’analisi attraverso le opere di Ginzburg e la microstoria risulta essere rilevante in due direzioni: metodologica ed etica. A livello metodologico, il percorso che procede dall’identità storica a quella personale, da Ginzburg a Levinas, sembra calcare la tradizione ermeneutica di Ricœur (2004), considerando l’epistemologia della storia e la fenomenologia come “due facce della stessa medaglia” (Dessingué 2019). A livello etico, la microstoria ci dà la possibilità di guardare con occhi diversi la nostra identità e la cultura entro la quale l’abbiamo costruita. All’interno dell’etica e della filosofia (vengono in mente autori come Marcuse 1999, Simmel 1976, Rorty 2008), lo straniero è considerato un potente medium per guardare alla propria identità culturale da un nuovo punto di vista.

Parte II — Aspetti della soggettivazione

La seconda parte del testo è dedicata ad alcuni modi fondamentali della soggettivazione, ovvero della formazione dell’identità attraverso dinamiche esistenziali di individuazione. Il terzo capitolo è uno studio sulla stupidità che ha l’obiettivo di avere uno sguardo privilegiato sul senso comune e sul nostro rapporto con esso, facendo così da ponte fra la prima e la seconda parte del libro. Con il quarto e il quinto capitolo Micali presenta il cuore del tema indagato e che motiva il titolo stesso del libro, “tra l’altro e se stessi”: lo studio dell’identità attraverso l’interlocuzione, il rapporto tra l’infante e l’adulto, il ruolo del terzo mediante, l’aspetto della giustizia etica attraverso lo sguardo del terzo. Prendiamo ora in esame i singoli capitoli.

Secondo Micali, l’indagine sulla stupidità deve partire dalle seguenti considerazioni. 1. Bisogna rimanere fedeli al principio fenomenologico di ritenere la stupidità un fenomeno specifico che non va ridotto al suo opposto, l’intelligenza. 2. Non si deve, tuttavia, ignorare la sua relazione con l’intelligenza, in quanto influenzerà il nostro modo di considerare la ragione. Per questi motivi, l’autore suggerisce di adottare un approccio olistico (Goldstein 1939, Canguilhem 1991), nonché di affrontare i fenomeni della mente da un punto di vista ecologico: fenomeni come la stupidità non hanno un valore assoluto in termini negativi, ma risultano funzionali o disfunzionali esclusivamente in rapporto all’ambiente circostante.

Innanzitutto, come evidenzia Micali, ogni tentativo di definire la stupidità sembra essere riduttivo: l’essere umano si trova ad affrontare infinite situazioni e, di conseguenza, infinite dovranno essere le forme di stupidità generate. Il suo obiettivo è quello di concentrarsi esclusivamente sulla forma di stupidità che riguarda e influenza la dimensione dell’identità e della soggettività.

Per questo, Micali presenta il contributo di Alain Roger (2008) sulla stupidità. Nonostante le criticità del suo lavoro, particolarmente interessanti sono i suoi meriti secondo Micali, in particolare l’aver evidenziato il ruolo della tautologia all’interno del paradigma del senso comune e della stupidità. Sia a livello sintattico sia a livello contenutistico, la tautologia è un potente strumento di violenza identitaria: si prenda come esempio il caso di alcune minoranze che sono costrette a sentirsi definite da membri esterni, con l’utilizzo di tautologie  che veicolano stereotipi e pregiudizi.

In seguito, Micali esplora l’idea che la stupidità possa appartenere a due estremi dell’identità soggettiva: alla coscienza assoluta anarchica che fa e dice tutto ciò che pensa senza freni oppure al polo opposto dello spirito di serietà, che si sovra-identifica con un ruolo sociale. Secondo Roland Breeur (2015), tale sovra-identificazione tradisce una segreta angoscia e paura nell’assenza di volto della coscienza assoluta. Contrariamente a questa linea di pensiero, adottando la metafora del fondo di Deleuze (2011), Micali vuole esplorare l’idea opposta, ovvero che chi dice o si comporta in modo stupido si possa compiacere di se stesso. Nonostante originariamente complesso, il fondo deleuziano va compreso nei termini del senso comune, nonché “inteso come insieme infinitamente complesso di eterogenei dispositivi sociali e di paradigmi epistemici che ci prendono e da cui proveniamo» (p. 99). Attraverso il linguaggio, assorbiamo dall’altro il senso comune in cui siamo immersi sin dalla nascita. Partendo da questa nozione, l’autocompiacimento dello stupido consisterebbe quindi nello sguazzare nei comportamenti trasmessi dalla società al fine dell’appiattimento alla norma: «Questa risalita del fondo può manifestarsi come auto-compiacimento del (e nel) triviale, triviale intersoggettivamente condiviso» (Ivi).

In conclusione, l’analisi di Micali mira ad argomentare che il fastidio provato di fronte all’incontro con la stupidità consisterebbe nel ricordare «l’indifferenziato punto di partenza» o il fondo a cui tutti apparteniamo. L’incontro con la stupidità sembra riportarci a quel senso comune da cui ci eravamo allontanati con la soggettivazione e la formazione identitaria. In questo modo Micali è in grado di concludere che:

Nella stupidità dell’altro vediamo riemergere quel fondo di luoghi comuni, di atteggiamenti affettati, di valori che sono stati da noi incorporati prima ancora di poter porre in essere una qualunque distanza critica verso di essi (p. 100).

In continuità con la costruzione dell’identità individuale dal fondo sociale a cui tutti siamo appartenuti (o continuiamo ad appartenere per certi aspetti), i due capitoli successivi mirano a indagare il concetto della terza persona in rapporto all’ordine di giustizia. Inizialmente, nel quarto capitolo, si approfondisce il rapporto tra la prima e la seconda persona, presentando il problema dell’appropriazione dell’essere da parte dell’altro. Questa appropriazione avviene attraverso il logos, o detto altrimenti attraverso la semiotica del bisogno. Usando l’accurata descrizione di Olivetti (1992), Micali presenta quattro stadi della dinamica dialettica del riconoscimento del bisogno nel rapporto infante-adulto, che conduce alla genesi della soggettività e in cui l’ultimo stadio coincide con la nascita dell’autocoscienza. Egli sostiene che l’interlocuzione permette di esplorare la nascita del soggetto, senza la necessità di dare valore fondativo all’autocoscienza. All’interno di questa relazione dialettica “si manifesta la traccia della terza persona” (p. 110): sia in rapporto al dire, sia in rapporto al rispondere. Nel dire, la società (la terza persona) si impone attraverso il linguaggio, ereditando significati, storie e memorie della comunità (un noi a cui si comincia ad appartenere). Nel rispondere, il soggetto misura la sua responsabilità nei confronti della società. Quest’ultima viene affrontata nei termini di giustizia etica nel capitolo successivo.

Nel quinto capitolo, infatti, questa distinzione del ruolo del linguaggio tra dire e rispondere viene presentata di nuovo nei termini di “donazione di senso” e “senso etico” facendo riferimento al lavoro di Levinas (1998). L’incontro con l’alterità si presenta attraverso il linguaggio e le espressioni linguistiche che dichiarano le manifestazioni infinite dell’altro. Queste ultime mettono in dubbio “il proprio mondo e se stessi:  tramite l’incontro con l’Altro affiora un senso di ordine differente […] che mi chiama e mi ordina di sacrificare la mia felicità” (p. 117). Infatti, in Totalità e Infinito (1998) Levinas introduce una dualità e un’ambiguità sul ruolo della terza persona: esso non è solo il sofferente che ci appella per il riconoscimento della sua fragilità, ma è anche lo sguardo sociale che ci chiama alla responsabilità verso l’alterità.

Da una parte, nell’incontro, la fragilità dell’altro nella sua esistenza mortale (“l’Altro nella sua nudità” p. 119) mi fa vergognare delle possibilità e potenzialità che ho di ferirlo in quanto essere umano. Secondo Levinas, da un lato, questo senso di fragilità permette all’io di trovare il suo senso ultimo: la sua propria umanità. Dall’altro, lo sguardo (giudicante) dell’Altro deforma le mie responsabilità nei confronti del mio interlocutore. In altre parole, l’Altro “mi fa dono di ciò che non era in me” (Ivi), ovvero mi introduce a una nuova dimensione di senso e attua l’etica della responsabilità che possiedo nei confronti del terzo: in questo dono o in questa anteriorità del terzo che mi precede nell’introduzione di senso, si può rintracciare l’analogia tra l’Altro e Dio.

Dall’altra, lo sguardo della società è costantemente assente e presente nel verbo e nel linguaggio: “esso non si esaurisce nel mettere in discussione il mio essere, ma include il momento della predica, dell’esortazione, della parola profetica” (p. 123). Al doppio ruolo del terzo, corrispondono due diverse forme di responsabilità. Al terzo come “umanità che ci guarda” (cfr, p. 124), bisognerà presentarsi nella forma della parola profetica; diversamente, verso il terzo nei termini del sofferente, il rapporto di responsabilità dovrà attuarsi nell’ eccomi.

In Altrimenti che essere (1983), Levinas abbandona uno dei due ruoli della “terza persona”, ovvero quello dello “sguardo”, e conseguentemente modifica il rapporto tra la prima e la seconda persona che precedentemente aveva bisogno del terzo perché il soggetto venisse a conoscenza del suo proprio senso. Tuttavia, in quest’opera, Levinas rileva e presenta un secondo conflitto, determinato da due ruoli della terza persona: l’appello del Volto e l’appello del terzo. Conflitto che, come sottolinea Micali, non è risolvibile pacificamente. A differenza che in Totalità ed infinito, dove il soggetto è sin da subito “votato per l’altro”, arrivando al punto dell’annichilimento della persona e della sostituzione all’altro; qui sembra presentarsi un annichilimento della volontà, per “rimettersi alla volontà del Padre” (cfr. p. 123) o del Padrone che mi comanda. L’altro in questo caso è rappresentato dal Volto, che nei termini di Levinas significa obbedienza a un ordine di giustizia e di volontà. Va ricordato che in Levinas tale obbedienza è una costrizione alla bontà “per servire Altri e per sostituirmi a loro” (p. 125). In questo contesto, però, il soggetto diventa ostaggio del Volto, ossia è costretto a essere votato all’altro ancora prima di cominciare a esistere in quanto soggetto.

A questo punto si inserisce l’altro ruolo della terza persona: quello di “limitare la mia soggezione” nei confronti dell’altro. “Il terzo introduce l’ordine di giustizia: io non sono solo responsabile nei confronti del mio prossimo, ma di chi è assente, del prossimo del mio prossimo” (p. 126). Moderando questa sostituzione introduce un ordine di giustizia diverso da quello del Volto.

Nell’architettura di Levinas, Micali tuttavia rileva due criticità, ben condivisibili. La prima criticità riguarda il ruolo del terzo e il suo rapporto con il soggetto. Per quanto Levinas sia interessato esclusivamente all’attuazione dell’etica e a quello che è stato definito “costrizione di bontà”, rimane il temibile problema del male. In un’intervista del 1982, intitolata Filosofia, giustizia e amore, viene posta la seguente domanda, che riassume paradigmaticamente il problema dell’architettura di Levinas: ha il carnefice un Volto? La risposta di Levinas esclude l’io dall’ordine di giustizia tramite la resistenza al male. Il rischio della sostituzione e del sacrificio — osserva Micali — è quello però di una “scrupolosità esacerbata, pericolosamente prossima a disturbi di tipo psicopatologico” (p. 130). In contrasto con la posizione di Levinas, Micali suggerisce di includere il soggetto nell’ordine di giustizia, e cioè dare la possibilità al soggetto di rispettarsi come terzo del proprio terzo, e di preservare se stesso dall’arbitrio dell’altro.

Come diretta conseguenza dell’analisi presentata, ritengo, tuttavia, che Micali avrebbe potuto proseguire rilevando un altro aspetto problematico della costruzione dell’identità individuale. Riepilogando, abbiamo detto che il Volto rappresenta un ordine di giustizia e si declina nei termini dell’annichilimento della volontà personale a favore di quella del Padre. Questa retorica dell’annichilimento diventa rischiosa durante il processo di costruzione identitaria: ovvero quello della pressione ad aderire a modelli determinati esclusivamente dal Volto, nonché dall’ordine sociale prestabilito. Potrebbe qui essere utile fare riferimento al concetto di “bisogno di riconoscimento” utilizzato da Micali nel capitolo precedente. Anche al giungere dell’autocoscienza e della soggettivazione, questo bisogno potrebbe non esaurirsi nell’identità riconosciuta per se stessi, ma potrebbe estendersi e approfondirsi: in larghezza e in profondità, il riconoscimento del bisogno diventa bisogno di essere riconosciuti nei propri modi di soggettivazione dalla società. Quando questo riconoscimento viene negato, quello sguardo a cui si riferisce Micali potrebbe non declinarsi nella spinta etica al rispetto della vita dell’altro, ma potenzialmente nella marginalizzazione.

La seconda criticità rilevata dall’autore, infine, è quella della riduzione della manifestazione di Dio esclusivamente ai termini della mia responsabilità dell’Altro. Come Micali osserva, ci sono altri modi di manifestazioni di Dio, per esempio l’atto della preghiera.

Parte III — Affezione e intersoggettività

L’ultima parte di questo libro si muove a partire proprio da queste due criticità: da una parte, la necessità di definire il rapporto tra se stessi e l’altro ex negativo, ovvero attraverso il caso disfunzionale della depressione; dall’altra, la manifestazione di Dio attraverso la preghiera.

Il settimo capitolo è tra i più interessanti e meglio argomentati. Micali riprende il problema posto nei capitoli precedenti e lo rilegge all’interno della dinamica fra il soggetto depresso e gli altri. Come nelle altre sezioni, l’autore parte dal presupposto che il rapporto tra due soggetti si basi su un’asimmetria originaria che tradisce una priorità dell’altro rispetto al sé. Lo aveva mostrato esplicitamente nel capitolo quinto quando aveva evidenziato che l’infante dà significato al proprio bisogno partendo dalle risposte dell’adulto. Lo aveva espresso poi eticamente attraverso l’incontro con l’altro che dà il senso ultimo alla propria umanità. Adesso, nel rapporto con il depresso, l’asimmetria diventa particolarmente chiara in rapporto a determinate condizioni affettive, come la vergogna.

Nel caso della vergogna, il processo di identificazione inizia dagli occhi di colui che mi osserva: “nella vergogna si acuisce il senso di ritrovarsi a essere quanto è riconosciuto dall’altro” (p. 138). Tuttavia, come ben riporta Micali attraverso Kierkegaard (1993), è necessario considerare che il sé è un rapporto: ciò significa che non vi è una lettura unidirezionale dell’altro sul sé. Di fronte alla lettura dell’altro sul mio comportamento e la mia identità, io ho la possibilità di rispondere e di modificare questo sguardo. Inoltre, non bisogna dimenticare che le considerazioni dell’altro sul mio comportamento nascono certamente dal mio comportamento stesso. Per concludere: questa asimmetria relazionale ha un fondamento comunque bidirezionale, in cui il soggetto ha la possibilità di modificare lo sguardo degli altri e di presentarsi agli altri nella sua esclusiva volontà di identificazione.

Partendo da queste premesse, Micali si pone l’obiettivo di fornire un’analisi fenomenologica della depressione, indagando il fenomeno attraverso le categorie husserliane di Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit (Husserl 1973). Successivamente procede con l’analisi della mancanza di senso, tipica della depressione, e della mancanza di affettività, che si riassume con la sensazione di vuoto. Infine mette in relazione queste due caratteristiche della condizione depressiva con il rapporto con l’altro.

In un articolo del 2013 (Micali 2013), aveva già analizzato questo rapporto chiasmatico nei termini delle menzionate nozioni husserliane. Il termine Innenleiblichkeit è una categoria che accompagna il sentire delle funzioni propriocettive e affettive. Invece, Aussenleinblichkeit riguarda l’espressività del proprio corpo. Naturalmente, “il proprio sentire interno si manifesta in espressioni visibili all’altro ma non coincide mai con esse” (p. 140). Nel rapporto non patologico, i soggetti di un’interazione sono consapevoli dello scarto tra ciò che si vive e ciò che si manifesta. Per esempio, non si è mai assolutamente certi se e in che misura il disagio provato in una situazione sia visibile. Nel rapporto chiasmatico con un soggetto depresso, Micali sostiene che questa comprensione tra Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit viene meno o “produce un corto-circuito” (p. 141). In altri termini, il depresso crede che la sua condizione interna disperata sia visibile a tutti. Tra i pazienti intervistati da Micali, c’è una certa persistenza nel dichiarare che non riescono a sostenere l’incontro con altre persone, perché queste ultime possono vedere chiaramente la loro condizione disperata. Micali suggerisce che l’indagine deve procedere mettendo in relazione il senso di vergogna con il rapporto chiasmatico tra Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit.

Infine, è molto interessante l’ultimo argomento del capitolo, dove l’autore presenta il rapporto affettivo che il soggetto depresso ha con gli altri, declinato nella sensazione di vuoto e di aggressività. La relazione con l’altro è caratterizzata per lo più dalla sensazione di vuoto affettivo, paradigmaticamente raccontato da una delle pazienti di Micali come un reale vuoto spaziale che non permette al soggetto di raggiungere gli altri. Così come il soggetto si sente visto e caratterizzato esclusivamente per la sua condizione disperata, e quindi in un certo senso stereotipato per un unico aspetto (ovvero quello dell’inabilità a partecipare al farsi del senso presso gli altri e presso il mondo), allo stesso modo vede gli altri come altamente stereotipati (cfr. p. 153), ovvero come persone che si sentono bene nella propria pelle e sono ancorate al farsi del senso degli altri. Questo scatena la percezione di ingiustizia, di invidia e quindi di aggressività. Tuttavia, il depresso non può fare a meno di paragonarsi alle azioni degli altri, nel tentativo di confermare le attese sociali. Come riassume Micali, queste considerazioni diventano fondamentali in riferimento a quanto presentato nei capitoli precedenti: il soggetto depresso tende a stereotipare l’altro, che perde la sua identità e diventa un altro indifferenziato, che lo guarda e lo giudica. Al contempo, cerca salvezza nella gratificazione altrui, nella possibilità di legarsi alla vita altrui. Come conclude Micali, questo tentativo di legarsi è un modo di compensare il vuoto e nello stesso tempo è “espressione di una fuga dal proprio sé” (p. 155).

Infine, l’ultimo capitolo riguarda l’interlocuzione con Dio tramite la preghiera. L’obiettivo di Micali è quello di evidenziare il modo in cui il credente si rivolge a Dio attraverso alcuni passi dei Vangeli sinottici. Se la preghiera è un particolare tipo di interlocuzione, allora l’autore ha anche la possibilità di ripensare gli studi precedenti attraverso questo straordinario tipo di interlocuzione. Egli infatti si pone la seguente domanda: come si differenzia l’incontro del volto dell’altro dall’incontro di Dio nella preghiera?

L’incontro con Dio, in questo caso, avviene nella presenza dell’assenza: a differenza dell’incontro con l’altro, che invece si qualifica nello spazio dell’ intercorporeità. Nella presenza dell’altro, quest’ultimo inevitabilmente mi sorprende nella differenza tra le mie aspettative su di lui e la manifestazione di se stesso attraverso le sue espressioni linguistiche e gestuali. Rispetto alle altre forme di interlocuzione, completamente diverso è il sentirsi al cospetto di Dio, seppur nella sua assenza. Secondo l’autore, si entra in uno stato febbrile, di trepidazione, in cui i sensi si affinano nella consapevolezza del contatto con Dio tramite la preghiera.

In questo rapporto di trepidazione, si presenta un’intima connessione tra preghiera e fede. Nella preghiera esiste infatti una contraddizione tra la propria volontà e la volontà di Dio: da una parte, la richiesta di salvezza dai problemi mondani o del miracolo e, dall’altra parte l’accettazione dei piani di Dio per ognuno di noi. In questo spiraglio, si manifesta la fede: quest’ultima risulta essere il presuppposto ultimo per ottenere quanto richiesto. Attraverso la fede nell’essere ascoltati e nell’affidarsi alla volontà di Dio, Micali è in grado di enfatizzare la complessa relazione tra il credente e Dio.

Considerazioni finali

L’opera di Micali presenta un originale punto di vista sulla relazione della soggettività con l’alterità. Intrecciando fenomeni e argomenti diversi, questo libro permette al lettore di farsi strada nella complessità dei temi dell’identità individuale e dell’intersoggettività, potendo nondimeno ricavare gli elementi essenziali del soggettivo ed individuale rapporto con l’alterità. Nella ricerca fenomenologica, c’è attualmente un crescente interesse verso la genesi della soggettivazione, il rapporto con l’alterità, l’intersoggettività e l’identità collettiva: un interesse che si risolve spesso con l’indagine sul primato dell’alterità sulla soggettivazione. Per questa ragione, nei capitoli centrali del libro, sarebbe stato utile avere una panoramica comparativa tra il lavoro di Levinas e quello di altri autori su questi temi rilevanti. Ciononostante, il percorso investigativo, presentato da Micali attraverso punti di vista eterogenei, ha permesso di approfondire alcuni aspetti che altrimenti non avrebbero avuto spazio di analisi.

Se l’eterogeneità e la complessità elaborata dall’analisi sono il punto di forza di questo libro, la sua debolezza consiste nell’assenza di una più lunga e dettagliata prefazione che avrebbe aiutato il lettore a destreggiarsi nei cambi di argomento, di prospettiva e metodo. Nonostante questo limite, ritengo che il libro esponga un interessante e originale intervento per le attuali ricerche sulla genesi della soggettivazione e del rapporto con l’alterità.

Bibliografia

Breeur R. 2015. Author de la bêtise, Philosophies contemporaines, 2, Classiques Garnier, Paris.

Canguilhem G. 1991. The Normal and the Pathological, Zone Books, New York.

Deleuze G. 2011. Différence et répétition, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris.

Dessingué A. 2019. Paul Ricoeur, in Bernecker S. e Michaelian K., The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory, Routledge, Oxon-New York City.

Ginzburg C. 1998. Occhiacci di legno. Nove riflessioni sulla distanza, Feltrinelli, Milano.

Goldstein K. 1939. The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man, American Book Company, New York.

Husserl E. 1973. Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Zweiter Teil 1921-1928, Husserliana XIV, Nijhoff, The Hague.

Kierkegaard S. 1993. Opere, C. Fabro (a cura di), Sansoni, Firenze.

Kant I. 1997. Critica del Giudizio, Laterza, Bari.

Levinas E. 1983. Altrimenti che essere, tr. it. a cura di S. Petrosino, M. Y. Aiello, Jaca Nook, Milano.

Levinas E. 1998. Totalità e infinito, tr. it. a cura di Adriano dell’Asta, Jaca Nook, Milano.

Lyotard J.-F. 1991. Leçons sur l’analytique du sublime, Galilée, Paris 1991.

Marcuse H. 2009. L’uomo ad una dimensione, Einaudi, Torino.

Micali S. 2013. The transformation of intercorporeality in melancholia. in Phenomenology and Cognitive Science 12, 215–234.

Olivetti M. M. 1992. Analogia del soggetto, Laterza, Bari.

Proust M. 1983. Alla ricerca del tempo perduto, tr. it. di G. Raboni, Mondadori, Milano.

Ricoeur P. 2004. Memory, History and Forgetting, traduzione di Blamey K. e Pellauer D., Chicago, IL: University Chicago Press.

Roger A. 2008. Bréviaire de la bêtise, Gallimard, Paris.

Rorty R. 2008. La filosofia dopo la filosofia, Laterza, Bari.

Sklovskij V. 1976. Una teoria della prosa, Einaudi, Torino.

Simmel G. 1976. Il conflitto della cultura moderna, Bulzoni, Roma.

Tolstoj L. 2005. Tutti i racconti, Vol. II, Mondadori, Milano.

Theodore George, Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Eds.): The Gadamerian Mind

The Gadamerian Mind Book Cover The Gadamerian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Theodore George, Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Eds.)
Routledge
2021
Hardback £152.00 Ebook £31.99
580

Reviewed by: Vladimir Lazurca (Central European University, Vienna)

Introduction

Recent decades have witnessed a current of uncertainty surrounding the afterlife of Gadamer’s philosophy. The critical challenges posed by poststructuralism, postmodernism, and deconstruction certainly had the potential to relegate philosophical hermeneutics to the role of a precursor or, worse, a vanquished adversary. What is more, a similar sentiment had troubled Gadamer himself, even before publishing his magnum opus. Finishing work on Truth and Method in 1959, he wondered whether it had not already come ‘too late’. By then, the kind of reflection he was advocating would have been deemed superfluous, as other philosophical movements and reforms in the social sciences already appeared to have left the romantic conception of the Geisteswissenschaften in their wake (Gadamer 1972, 449; 2004, 555).

As is well known, Truth and Method stood the test of the 20th century and indeed became one of the most important works of its time. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gadamer’s death, and it prompts an unavoidable question: does Gadamer’s thought remain ‘of its time’, or is it equipped for the challenges of our own? The ambition of the volume under review is to show that the reception and scholarship of Gadamer’s philosophy has been flourishing and that his influence remains felt within and beyond philosophy.

Aims

The Gadamerian Mind, edited by Theodore George and Gert-Jan van der Heiden, is the 8th volume in the Routledge Philosophical Minds. This series, currently encompassing 12 published titles and three forthcoming, aims to present a ‘comprehensive survey of all aspects of a major philosopher’s work, from analysis and criticism […] to the way their ideas are taken up in contemporary philosophy and beyond’ (ii). True to the series’ objectives, this volume promises to be a ‘comprehensive scholarly companion’ (4) and a ‘major survey of the fundamental aspects of Gadamer’s thought’ (i). It therefore focuses on the dominant themes of Gadamer’s main body of work, philosophical hermeneutics. On the other hand, the purpose of this collection is to also show that the scholarly reception of Gadamer’s philosophy has developed and increased in the decades since his death. Accordingly, in addition to tracing the diverse influence of his views in different areas of philosophy and other disciplines, the editors aim to chart new and emerging perspectives on his thinking in this ‘new and comprehensive survey of Gadamer’s thought and its significance’ (1).

Consequently, this collection promises to put forth a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’[1] that comprises what they call an increase in being. The term is borrowed from Gadamer’s discussion of images: according to him, an image is more than a mimetic replica of the original, but involves a presentation of what is essential, unique or merely possible in it, hence an increase in being. The editors thus aim to offer much more than a mere replication and exposition of Gadamerian themes. However, at a cursory glance, these different aims might in fact seem divergent. On the one hand, the volume aspires to be comprehensive, therefore self-contained. As such, it will necessarily repeat the structure and at least some of the content of previous volumes with similar goals. Companion volumes, as is well known, tend to be rather conventional, both in format and subject matter. On the other hand, this volume aims to not only distinguish itself from existing scholarship, but also forward and develop Gadamer’s own thinking. Hence, there is a danger, given these objectives, for it to splinter off in different directions and lose coherence. It will soon become clear that this danger is only apparent.

Structure

The Gadamerian Mind is composed of 38 chapters divided into six sections and enclosed by a brief introduction at the start and a comprehensive index at the end. The sections closely follow the stated aims. Roughly speaking, the first two sections review the main concepts and themes that return throughout Gadamer’s work, predominantly – but not exclusively – in his philosophical hermeneutics. Sections three and four canvass the philosophical background, both contemporary and historical, of Gadamer’s work, providing readers with contextual information about the diverse influences on his thought and its contemporary audience and critics. Finally, the concluding two sections focus on the second goal of this collection, that of assessing the importance of Gadamer’s work in recent philosophy and beyond.

The volume opens with Overviews, a section surveying the intellectual background of Gadamer’s life and philosophy as well as showcasing the chief focal points of his work. The contributions in this first section explore aspects of Gadamer’s intellectual biography and life, as well as sketching out the main outline of his philosophical legacy. His commitment to humanism and its significance, the importance of poetry and art in general for his thinking, the ongoing theme of dialogue and conversation are all touched on in this section. A stand-out essay, which highlights an important and often overlooked subject is Georgia Warnke’s ‘Gadamer on solidarity’. In this remarkably detailed and illuminating article, Warnke collects the threads of Gadamer’s scattered remarks on solidarity and friendship into a general account. In dialogue with previous scholarship, she identifies the cardinal dimensions which articulate Gadamer’s conception of solidarity. What emerges is brought into sharper focus through comparisons with relevant recent and contemporary accounts.

According to Warnke’s reconstruction, Gadamer’s understanding of solidarity is that of a substantive bond with others that does not depend on affinities or similarities, and neither on subjective intentions or attitudes. She finds here a stark contrast with some recent approaches, such as Banting and Wymlicka’s, for whom solidarity is ‘a set of attitudes and motivations’ (2017, 3). In line with this definition, these authors look to various political institutions and policies which can reinforce the attitudes underlying democratic solidarity. As Warnke explains, from a Gadamerian perspective this project would have to seem futile. Given that he does not think solidarity is a matter of attitudes, he would contest that cultivating the relevant ones can foster it. Warnke proceeds to compare Gadamer’s account to Rorty (1989), Shelby (2005), Jaeggi (2001), and Habermas (2001, 2008) in a highly persuasive and concise chapter on Gadamer’s continued relevance and significance for contemporary debates in the philosophy of solidarity, identity, race, and public policy.

Overviews is followed by Key Concepts, a section devoted to a critical examination and assessment of the primary conceptual makeup of Gadamer’s acclaimed philosophical hermeneutics. The chapters contained here track the notions of truth, experience, tradition, language, play, translation, image (picture) and health. These are well-written by well-known scholars and provide an approachable and comprehensive introduction to these concepts. A particularly notable essay, and indeed relevant in the global circumstances of today, is Kevin Aho’s ‘Gadamer and health’.

In his contribution, Aho details the enormous impact Gadamer’s The Enigma of Health had within philosophy and explores the way Gadamer’s pronouncements reflect the views of medical practitioners. According to Aho, the core aim of Gadamer’s book is to liberate medicine from the scientific method that governs it in order to arrive at patients’ own experiences of their illnesses and bodies. For Gadamer, health is hidden, enigmatic, it is ‘the condition of not noticing, of being unhindered’ (1996, 73). Further, he claims that it does not consist in ‘an increasing concern for every fluctuation in one’s general physical condition or the eager consumption of prophylactic medicines’ (Gadamer 1996, 112). This, for Aho, reflects the transparency of our own bodies. What is especially noteworthy in Aho’s contribution is the detailed account of exactly how and to what extent physicians and medical professionals are echoing Gadamer’s views. There is ample evidence here, for Aho, that Gadamer can help lay the conceptual groundwork for reforming our understanding of health and care. Although this connection is not explored in the text, this article is especially important at a time where health is no longer defined along these lines, where sick bodies are asymptomatic, and a ‘condition of not noticing’ can characterize both illness and health.

Unfortunately, there is also a notable absence from Key Concepts. Certainly, there are several important concepts not treated in this section and one could make a case for their inclusion. For instance, the concepts of pluralism, phronesis or scientific method are also key to Gadamer’s philosophy and are absent here. But, in the editors’ defence, a collective volume is finite, and their selection can certainly be justified with respect to these and perhaps other notions.

There is, however, an omission for which this cannot be said. In their introduction, the editors state that Gadamer’s name has become synonymous with philosophical hermeneutics, a field ‘concerned with the­ories of understanding and interpretation’ (1). A chapter dedicated to the concepts of understanding and interpretation, therefore, both undoubtedly key concepts in Gadamer’s philosophy, should not be missing in a comprehensive scholarly companion, more so since Gadamer’s use of these concepts is known to cause confusion and controversy among scholars and critics alike. This is a regrettable omission for which the other chapters, for all their merits, cannot make up.

The third section is entitled Historical Influences and is devoted to outlining the most important philosophers who left their mark on Gadamer’s thought and to evaluating his own account of their views. The papers composing this part examine the importance of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, and Heidegger for Gadamer’s thinking, undoubtedly the chief influences on his thought.

Francisco J. Gonzalez opens this section with ‘Gadamer and Plato: an unending dialogue’, a veritable tour de force of erudition. Not only is this paper a brilliant survey of Gadamer’s Plato studies and his significance for Gadamer’s own thought, but this article also details the extent to which the study of Plato’s dialogues played a key role in the development of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Gonzalez identifies the chief contributions of Gadamer’s commentaries and interpretations of Plato and investigates how his reading changed throughout his career. By subdividing Gadamer’s engagement with Plato in five distinct periods and analysing his hermeneutical approach to the study of the dialogues, Gonzales brings this ‘unending dialogue’ of the two philosophers into clear view. This paper’s discussion of the differences between these periods, the internal inconsistencies within them and the accounts of the parallel developments in Gadamer’s own philosophy in these periods are highly valuable to scholars of Plato and Gadamer alike.

The subsequent section, Contemporary Encounters, canvasses important conversations and debates between Gadamer and his critics about the possibility, nature, and limits of philosophical hermeneutics. The reader finds here all the usual suspects (Habermas, Derrida, Ricoeur, Vattimo) but will certainly be pleasantly surprised to see Paul Celan’s name mentioned among them. In his ‘Poem, dialogue and witness: Gadamer’s reading of Paul Celan’, Gert-Jan van der Heiden analyses a very important concern in Gadamer’s later philosophy, namely poetry. He specifically centres on the relation between dialogue and poem. According to Gadamer, they are two distinct modes of language, each with their own specific modality of disclosing meaning. What follows is a compelling discussion of this difference and a welcome addition to Gadamer scholarship. The focus on Gadamer’s interest in poetry is in general an important innovation to existing literature and can be seen throughout this volume.

A noticeable omission from this section, however, is a chapter on the Italian philosopher and jurist Emilio Betti. He and Gadamer had a private, epistolary debate and a lengthy public controversy, yet news of their engagement has not yet fully reached English-language scholarship. This is especially unfortunate as part of their disagreement revolves around central issues in hermeneutics. One such point of contention is the conceptual relation between understanding and interpretation, an issue concerning which these authors had opposing views and were sternly critical of one another. Another source of disagreement was the issue of validity and correctness in interpretation as well as the question of the diversity of interpretative criteria required by the variety of available hermeneutic objects. On the latter point, Betti criticized Gadamer for his undifferentiated view of objects of interpretation and argued that different items demand different hermeneutic approaches. But the deeper differences between these thinkers are yet to be thoroughly examined in Anglo-American academia and Betti’s unique voice is yet to be heard. I consider his omission from this collection regrettable for that reason.

In the penultimate section of this volume, Beyond Philosophy, the editors have compiled essays detailing the impact and significance of Gadamer’s work in areas and disciplines outside philosophy. From theology to jurisprudence, from medicine and healthcare to history and political science, Gadamer’s influence is thoroughly discussed here and, for many working within philosophy, brought into the open for the very first time. This entire section is undoubtedly a vital addition to existing scholarship and one of the areas where this volume more clearly innovates.

The collection concludes with Legacies and Questions, a section addressing significant philosophical currents that draw on Gadamer’s work, whether positively through further development, or negatively through critical engagement. The papers collected here deal with the encounter of Gadamer’s philosophy with postmodernism, analytic philosophy, race theory, metaphysics, and philosophy of culture. Particularly engaging and an excellent supplement to a growing literature is Catherine Homan’s article on Gadamer’s position within feminist philosophy.

In her ‘Gadamer and feminism’, Homan surveys Gadamer’s ambivalent reception by feminist philosophers. While many have criticized his position, others have viewed hermeneutics as fruitful for feminist purposes, adopting or adapting some of its cardinal tenets. In order to make sense of this varied reception, Homan enlists the help of Gadamerian hermeneutics itself. In particular, she claims that it is Gadamer’s insight into tradition that helps us understand feminist replies to his philosophy as well as what she provocatively calls the ‘tradition of feminism’. In her extensive treatment of the literature, Homan criticizes dominant strands of Gadamer reception in feminist philosophy by arguing that attending to tradition, rather than dismissing it, makes us better able to preserve valuable differences. Drawing hermeneutics and feminism together, she claims, invites more comprehensive interpretations and reinterpretations of both.

A regrettable lacuna of Legacies and Questions has to do with Gadamer’s reception in Anglo-America. Unfortunately, Greg Lynch’s ‘Gadamer in Anglo-America’ is not primarily concerned with the full range of this phenomenon. At first, this essay details Gadamer’s philosophical proximity to a well-known movement in the analytic philosophy of language, namely the so-called ‘ordinary language philosophy’. Lynch considers this starting point to be ‘the most natural spot in the analytic landscape’ in relation to which Gadamer’s philosophy ought to be discussed. After this initial section, which explores and assesses both significant commonalities and differences, Lynch proceeds to discuss the adoption of a Gadamerian-inspired perspective by two prominent analytic philosophers, Richard Rorty (1979) and John McDowell (1994). While Lynch’s treatment of this encounter and his critique of the adequacy of Rorty and McDowell’s reading of Gadamer are highly informative and valuable, what unfortunately does not emerge from this paper is the extent to which Gadamer’s reception in the ‘Anglo-American’ tradition of philosophy is still an ongoing process which continues to be relevant.

This is most visible when it comes to Gadamer’s proximity to Davidson and the ongoing exploration of their affinities in the philosophy of interpretation. Dialogues with Davidson (2011, ed. Jeff Malpas), an excellent volume on Davidson’s work in areas of philosophy of action, interpretation, and understanding, provides a good example of the fruitfulness and proportion of this endeavour. Nine out of the 21 chapters of this collection critically examine and assess this proximity, not to mention the Foreword, where Dagfinn Føllesdal states that Gadamer is a ‘natural point of contact’ with Davidson’s own views. In fact, Davidson himself claimed to have arrived ‘in Gadamer’s intellectual neighborhood’ (1997, 421). Dialogues with Davidson is a small sample of a new and growing debate in contemporary scholarship which focuses on drawing Gadamer and Davidson’s respective philosophies together and reaping the benefits of this comparison, thus bridging the unfortunate gap between the two major Western philosophical traditions. Gadamer is therefore very much part of an ongoing debate within analytic philosophy in recent decades and it is an oversight not to have included it in this collection.

The volume closes with a very detailed and useful index.

The Unity of the Collection

As mentioned at the outset, this collection might at first seem controlled by two sets of strings, comprehensiveness on one hand, innovation on the other. And the task of coordination appeared daunting. But has this volume nonetheless been able to strike a balance? Has it delivered a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’ that is at once comprehensive and tracks the state of the art? In my view, it has, and the articles cited are some excellent examples of the fruits that can be borne of this twofold ambition. These and many other papers in this collection show that the two directions can be harmonized into a cohesive volume. Moreover, this collection is not only held together by the skeleton of its primary goals. The connecting tissues stretching out between the chapters are just as vital to the unity of the work.

A pertinent example of such a link, running through the various contributions, is the theme of conceptual innovation. Several of the articles undertake novel deconstructions of Gadamerian concepts, some authors opting at times for a reconstruction and retranslation instead. For instance, there is the increased and usefully articulated emphasis on the presentational, as opposed to the representational in Gadamer, not only as it relates to aesthetics (see James Risser, Cynthia R. Nielsen and Günter Figal’s chapters), but also to language, where, for Gadamer, it is being that comes to presentation (see Nicholas Davey and Carolyn Culbertson’s contributions). The careful articulation of the differences between these concepts is a highly valuable, if unintended, sub-debate in this volume.

Another instance of this new interest in conceptual analysis in Gadamer scholarship is David Vessey’s ‘Tradition’. In this extensive and comprehensive contribution, the author distinguishes between Gadamer’s Tradition and Überlieferung, two concepts identically translated, and usually indistinctly understood. Through his careful analysis, Vessey has not only disambiguated some interpretations of Gadamer, but contributed positively to the philosophical study of tradition in English-speaking scholarship.

On the other hand, some authors have proposed and explored renewed translations of Gadamerian concepts. One such instance is the concept of linguality (and lingual as an adjective), here presented as a translation of the Gadamerian Sprachlichkeit (for which linguisticality is the norm) but extending in use beyond the scope of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Linguality, with its overtones of orality, might indeed be better fitted for a philosophy which sees the essence of language in its fluid, spoken form of Gespräch, as opposed to linguisticality, which evokes fixed structures and stable grammars. Bildung as enculturation, as opposed to the more common cultivation, might again figure as such an example. I, for one, salute these conceptual innovations and look forward to the fruits they might bear in the future.

The way I see it, these ‘connecting tissues’, as I called them, constitute part of that increase in being promised at the outset. For it is not a simple terminological update. A philosopher’s words are the body, and not only the dress of his thought. As such, the examples mentioned contribute to uncovering – for an English-speaking audience – the full texture of Gadamer’s conceptual apparatus and the different layers of inferential relations present between concepts in the original. At the same time, they provide, as already mentioned, precise instruments for novel philosophical reflection. One could say, with Gadamer on one’s side, that this represents a positive appropriation and integration of his philosophy into a new idiom, filled with possibilities for future application and potential insights into issues Gadamer himself didn’t grapple with. In my view, this is an excellent way of keeping Gadamer and his philosophy alive through translation and appropriation, and of demonstrating their relevance.

On the topic of translation, we can also applaud the inclusion of a chapter on this issue as one of Gadamer’s key concepts. While one can argue whether the concept is key, this is certainly an area of research that has been growing backstage for a while. Although the author, Theodore George, does not mention this debate in his ‘Translation’, as that was not necessarily his purpose, his chapter will nevertheless bring this area of research into the mainstream, attracting new and significant contributions to this promising and burgeoning field. After all, a collection of this scholarly calibre does not, in spite of its goals, merely canvass the state of the art: it also establishes it. For this reason too it deserves praise.

The Gadamerian Mind and the chapters it contains are more than likely to act as signposts marking the relevance and significance of a given topic. This is exactly why I have said that the absence of certain topics is regrettable. But it is also why the presence of others is praiseworthy, such as those explored in Kevin Aho, Georgia Warnke, Theodore George, or Catherine Homan’s contributions.

Concluding Remarks

Undoubtedly, the Gadamerian Mind is of the highest scholarly value as a comprehensive companion to Gadamer’s thought and its significance. That his philosophy remains relevant is both successfully argued for and evident from the quality of the contributions collected here. But I have also been suggesting in the previous section that part of the value of this volume lies in its potential for impact, and it’s important, in my submission, not to underestimate its possible repercussions for future research. In other words, this collection both provides an increase in being in Gadamer scholarship, as I’ve argued above, and promotes and forwards it through its selection of treated topics and its academic stature. The Gadamerian Mind stands as an open invitation for scholars to explore and actualize the latent possibilities of Gadamer’s philosophy themselves.

Bibliography

Banting, Keith, and Will Kymlicka. 2017. The Strains of Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davidson, Donald. 1997. ”Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus.” In Hahn 1997: 421-432.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1996. The Enigma of Health: The Art of Healing in the Scientific Age. Translated by Jason Gaiger and Nicholas Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1972. ”Nachwort zur 3. Auflage.” In Gadamer 1993, vol. II: 449-478.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1993. Gesammelte Werke. 8 vol. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. edn. Translation revised by Weinsheimer J. and Marshall D.G. Continuum: London, New York.

Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.” In The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, edited and translated by Max Pensky, 58– 112. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. “Prepolitical Foundations of the Constitutional State?” In Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, translated by Ciaran Cronin, 101– 13. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hahn, Lewis Edwin. 1997. The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer. The Library of Living Philosophers. Vol. 24. Chicago: Open Court.

Jaeggi, Rahel. 2001. “Solidarity and Indifference.” In Solidarity in Health and Social Care in Europe, edited by R. ter Meulen, Will Arts, and R. Muffels, 287– 308. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Malpas, Jeff. 2011. Dialogues with Davidson. Acting, Interpreting, Understanding. London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

McDowell, John. 1994. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shelby, Tommie. 2005. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


[1] Unfortunately, there is an ambivalence throughout this volume as to the precise meaning of the Gadamerian mind. For some, it is a placeholder for Gadamer himself, as an aggregate of ideas, interests, and commitments, for others it stands for ‘Gadamer’s theory of the mind’. So, it is unclear whether such a portrait would be of the former or the latter. Given the nature of the Philosophical Minds series, the editors’ intention is certainly for it to be of the former. But I believe a more thorough exploration of the latter would have been highly valuable and as such remains a missed opportunity of this collection.