Klaus Kienzler: Cézanne, Klee, Kandinsky: Zur Phänomenologie der Kunst des Sehens

Cézanne, Klee, Kandinsky: Zur Phänomenologie der Kunst des Sehens Book Cover Cézanne, Klee, Kandinsky: Zur Phänomenologie der Kunst des Sehens
Klaus Kienzler
Karl Alber
2020
Paperback 49,00 €
480

Reviewed by: Isabel Jacobs (Queen Mary University of London)

Introduction

In Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky (1988), French philosopher Michel Henry argues that Kandinsky’s abstract art “ceases to be the painting of the visible.” [1] Instead, Kandinsky’s paintings reveal the invisible essence of life. In a similar vein, Klaus Kienzler’s new book opens with Paul Klee’s famous claim: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.”

At the crossroads of phenomenology, art theory and existential thought, Kienzler explores three artists who embody the transition to modernism like no others: Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. Engaging with their artistic visions as a phenomenologist and theologian, Kienzler examines the ways in which each artist deals with time (Zeit) and motion (Bewegung), two phenomena that already played a central role in Kienzler’s previous book on the theologian Klaus Hemmerle [2].

Rooted in the tradition of German phenomenology, Kienzler was over many years part of the German-French circle around Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricœur and Bernhard Caspar. A professor of fundamental theology in Augsburg, Kienzler is, unlike other members of this circle, virtually unknown in the Anglophone world. As his new book demonstrates, Kienzler’s perspective on phenomenology is less academic than it is enriched by his personal experience. The reader who expects a concise study that engages with recent scholarship on art and phenomenology will thus be disappointed.

Kienzler’s book invites on a stimulating yet lengthy journey through an enormous amount of material, including phenomenological texts, paintings, art theory, and correspondences. Kienzler’s ambitious goal is to make his readers see the world through the eyes of Cézanne, Klee, and Kandinsky. Rather than using phenomenology as a method of investigation, Kienzler explores how artistic visions intervene into phenomenological discourses on subjectivity, time, movement, and embodiment.

Besides Husserl and Heidegger, Kienzler’s phenomenological references are Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Bernhard Waldenfels, a prolific contemporary phenomenologist and translator of Merleau-Ponty. In the footsteps of Waldenfels, Kienzler aims to fuse French and German theory, drawing on phenomenology and Bildwissenschaft (image-science), a peculiar German art-historical discipline close to visual studies. Oscillating between eye and mind, image and concept, Kienzler explores how art and phenomenology mutually enlighten each other.

As the title shows, Kienzler’s book is not a study on the phenomenology of art or the phenomenology of vision, but rather a phenomenology of the art of vision; this is, a journey to a clearer way of seeing, or, in Paul Klee’s words, “to the land of better knowledge” (17). The aim of my review is to analyze how Kienzler pursues this intriguing project and whether his study lives up to his claims. While critically addressing the book’s major arguments, my focus is to reveal some of its productive potentialities.

The book is divided into eight chapters, sparse pathmarks on Kienzler’s tour de force through the history of modern art and phenomenology. We can roughly divide the book into two parts; firstly, an extended theoretical prelude comprising five chapters; secondly, three chapters on Cézanne, Klee and Kandinsky. Although the second part is interspersed with long cross-references to the prelude, the transition between the individual chapters is not always smooth. In fact, Kienzler’s theoretical apparatus becomes at times a bit overly complex, overshadowing his engagement with the artists. The study also comprises an appendix with 24 coloured images.

Images are Motion (Paul Klee)

The following extract from Klee’s Creative Confession, published in 1920, opens the introductory chapter and remains a leitmotif throughout Kienzler’s book:

Let’s make a small journey into the country of better knowledge by applying a topographic plan. Over the dead point be the first moving act (line). After a short time stop to catch breath. (An interrupted or, in case of repeated stops, an articulated line.) Review how far we are already. (Counter movement). Considering in our mind the way here and there (bundles of lines). (17) [3]

Klee’s description of lines taking a walk had already fascinated Merleau-Ponty who drew on both Klee and Cézanne. For Kienzler, Klee’s treatment of lines is essentially phenomenological. More than geometrical constructs, Klee’s lines dynamize both artist and viewer. Kienzler investigates how Klee’s artist-in-motion translates into a phenomenological description of subjectivity. Rather than an uninvolved observer, Klee’s subject is embodied, temporalized, and interwoven with the world through motion.

Following Merleau-Ponty, Kienzler considers art an expression of corporeal consciousness or Leibbewusstsein (31). The post-Cartesian subject of “I walk therefore I am” is developed at the example of Klee’s 1923 painting “Der L=Platz im Bau” (20). In his insightful interpretation, Kienzler claims that Klee’s defamiliarized forms embody the way in which our gaze moves through the world. In this sense, Klee did not imitate the visible, but made visible. The movement of the gaze is temporalized, while the artwork itself is timeless (35). Kienzler’s notion of timelessness can be interpreted as the actualization of the work through the viewer’s eyes; this is, our gaze both temporalizes and detaches the image from its temporal limitations.

A Brief Introduction to Phenomenology

The second chapter elaborates a dense theoretical apparatus, focusing on Waldenfels’s theory of perception. The way in which Kienzler interlinks phenomenology, hermeneutics, and image-science breaks some new ground. However, the complex conceptual framework does not always serve the overarching goal to develop a phenomenology of artistic vision directly from the works of Cézanne, Klee, and Kandinsky. When tracking Kienzler’s theory back to Klee, it is particularly Waldenfels’s responsive phenomenology that cuts across. For Waldenfels, in Kienzler’s words, experience and perception are intersubjective:

This is how experiences and perceptions come about: we are hit, addressed, moved by something outside of ourselves. That is, something comes towards us before we go towards it from ourselves. The decisive factor here is the double direction of vision. It is a double event: on the one hand, the claim, an experience, a sight or an address, which Waldenfels calls “pathos (Widerfahrnis)”, triggers an answer, a “response” in the sense mentioned above. The pathos happens to me and hits me, and on the other hand, it is I myself who gives the response. The pathos is not an objective event that can be stated as a fact, but the pathos happens to me. (53)

Images affect us as a pathos to which we respond. For Waldenfels, art is thus an emotional event (“iconopathy”) between image, artist, and viewer (54). Kienzler’s distillation of Waldenfels is a good entry point to further explore the notion of responsivity in the reception of art.

Iconic — Phenomenology of Seeing

“Where to find the center of seeing between the eye and the world?” (77)

The third chapter introduces the term Ikonik (Iconic), a method by art historian Max Imdahl. Recalling the intricate connection between aesthetics and perception (aisthēsis), Kienzler traces the so-called “iconic turn” in visual studies of the early 1990s back to its phenomenological roots. He argues that the iconic turn in visual studies was indeed facilitated by Husserl’s radical rehabilitation of sensuality. Kienzler brings Imdahl in dialogue with Merleau Ponty, arguing that through Cézanne, Merleau-Ponty realized that the Cartesian conception of the image was inadequate (75).

Drawing on Waldenfels, Kienzler interprets the image as a simultaneous process of making visible and becoming visible (79). Kienzler frames the perception of art as a mode of phenomenological epoché. Another productive encounter with phenomenology is Kienzler’s interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of vision as an inversion of the gaze:

If our body is both seeing and visible, then why should not things, as annexes of the body, also be both visible and seeing? […] This leads to a reversal of the gaze, a renversement, as Paul Klee expresses it with the feeling “that the things, for example the trees in the forest, look at me (me regardent).” (78)

Here Kienzler successfully shows how artistic vision reflects on phenomenological theory. Kienzler reads the “me regardent” in the double sense of “looking at me” and “concerning me,” stating a responsive (Waldenfels) relation between subject and world. Although Kienzler does not mention Jacques Lacan, his theory of a reversal of the gaze could be productively read with Lacan’s idea that objects, reflecting our lack, look back at us. In a Lacanian spirit, Kienzler defines the image as a mirror of our own gaze, a mediating third of our seeing body (87). This potential encounter between Kienzler and Lacan is one of the many horizons Kienzler’s book opens up.

Iconic Difference

In the fourth chapter, Kienzler further entwines phenomenology and image theory, importing Gottfried Boehm’s iconic difference into the phenomenological discourse. Iconic difference means the structural principles or the “logic of images” different from language (94). Kienzler interlinks iconic difference with the phenomenological reduction. Images, Kienzler claims, are in themselves silent, they are not logos, instead we have to make them speak. Kienzler examines Cézanne’s paintings as a net of differential relations. While the elements are silent in themselves, “there is an unexpected ‘potentiality’ that we mobilize when we bring the individual elements into a context, ‘realise’ them as constellations of a whole.” (100)

We make images speak by moving the gaze from the whole to the parts and back. Kienzler suggests that this movement of the gaze, realizing endless potentialites, is time itself. While Kienzler’s voracious enthusiasm for theory may lead the reader into some dead ends, Boehm’s iconic difference has its reasonable place in Kienzler’s analysis of temporality and composition. Throughout the second part of the book, Kienzler will return to difference and temporality, particularly to the three modes inherent in vision: simultaneity, succession and potentiality (96).

Plato — Allegory of the Cave

The fifth chapter is an excursus on Plato’s famous analogies of the cave, the sun and the line from Plato’s Republic. Most attention is paid to the allegory of the line, which evokes previous ideas around visibility, movement and cognition. In the cave allegory, seeing only begins when the body moves away from its fixed position in the cave. With Waldenfels, Kienzler interprets the allegory as a story of kinesthesis (the perception of body movements) (119). Before shifting his attention to Cézanne, Kienzler further develops these notions through the lens of Mischa Kuball’s platon’s mirror (2007), a series of installations, projections and photographs.

Paul Cézanne

After this extensive prelude, stretching over nearly 130 pages, the sixth chapter finally arrives at Cézanne. With a focus on motion, Kienzler argues that Cézanne’s new realism emerged from a radical abandonment of the central perspective. Cézanne’s “copernican turn of vision” (129) was to realize that the way in which we see the world does not correspond with the static construction of the central perspective. In Kienzler’s view, Cézanne’s studies demonstrate that perception is neither geometric nor photographic; in other words, an eye is not a camera. Vision is instead moved by spontaneous shifts in perspective that fuse into a general impression or gestalt.

How did Cézanne make the invisible visible? Drawing on Boehm’s iconic difference, Kienzler describes Cézanne’s method as “starting from the individual, the differences, and keeping an eye on the whole” (140). The first elements in Cézanne’s painting are patches (taches) of colour, insignificant in isolation yet meaningful in their relational network. Like Klee’s “Der L=Platz im Bau,” Cézanne’s “carpet of colour patches” (141) modulates surfaces and sequences, visualizing different perspectives at once. Do Cézanne’s patches of colour represent the parts of the whole? Or do they refer to natural phenomena? For Kienzler, Cézanne’s paintings create a closed philosophical system, in which all individual elements have a meaningful relation to the whole.

Analyzing different commentaries on Cézanne, Kienzler concludes that Cézanne’s art makes visible by disclosing how we perceive. With Cézanne, Kienzler claims, we realize that it is not the mind that sees, but our eye that meets the world in the realm of colour (155). Kienzler dedicates the rest of the chapter to Cézanne’s notions of motif, sensation and réalisation. Here, Kienzler’s reading becomes increasingly interesting. Kienzler defines Cézanne’s realization as “transposing the visible into the visible, i.e. to bring the non-visible into the picture” (155). Kienzler explores Cézanne’s take on his motif in the repeated depiction of the Mont Sainte-Victoire (162). Borrowing extensively from Imdahl’s description of Cézanne’s series, Kienzler interprets the color patches as sensations of the motif, disparate optical impressions of the mountain that reveal new dimensions of its being.

Delving into various philosophical theories of colour, Kienzler defines Cézanne’s art as an ontology of colours. In Cézanne’s ontology, the colour sensation overcomes the divide between subject and object. Inspired by Boehm and Gilles Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981), Kienzler interprets Cézanne’s sensation as a uniquely ambivalent entwinement between subject and world:

The sensation, therefore, is a tense fusion of what we see with how we see. It can be assigned neither to the world of objects nor to that of subjects alternatively and unambiguously; it thus breaks through a fundamental epistemological distinction. Sensation combines the energy of the human senses with that of external reality. This gives it an oscillating status. (178)

Kienzler’s original interpretation of Cézanne catapults us back into the centre of phenomenology. Evoking Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit, Kienzler describes Cézanne’s sensation as an existential state of being (178). Through colours, the artist expresses her Dasein, transforming what she sees until it matches with what she feels; or, recalling Waldenfels, what she is taken by (pathos). In Cézanne’s view, there is no world, but “only colours and in them the clarity, the being, which cogitates them” (179). The goal of Cézanne’s artistic process, realization, means the congruence of vision and sensation. In the process of realization, the object is not given, but gradually constructed. Kienzler points out that Cézanne’s realization, just like the phenomenological reduction, does not gain truth through reflection of a given reality, but in an act of creation (212).

Paul Klee

The seventh chapter, the heart of Kienzler’s study, examines Klee’s voluminous body of writings and notes from the Bauhaus era (1921-32), known in English as the “Paul Klee Notebooks” [4]. Kienzler explores Klee’s views on motion and time in succession to Cézanne. The chapter opens with a phenomenological interpretation of Klee’s diagram for Ways of Studying Nature (1923). Retracing the relations between artist, object, and world, Kienzler emphasizes the responsive nature of Klee’s metaphysics of vision (245). In this network of relations, there are “optical force lines” (Kraftlinien) and invisible relations, interlacing into a cosmic totality that Klee calls “world” (Welt) in contrast to “earth” (Erde) (244).

Klee’s art strives for totalization, this is the “unity of inside and outside, […] the view of the whole [and] the visualization of the whole” (249). Kienzler claims that Klee’s totalization significantly influenced Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art, especially his notions of Geviert, Sichtbarmachen and Erde (250). Kienzler does not elaborate on this claim. However, precisely this relation between Klee and Heidegger might be one of the book’s fruitful yet unrealized routes into a parallel historiography of phenomenology and modernist art.

Kienzler closely reads Klee’s lecture notes, the Bildnerische Formlehre (Visual Theory of Form) and the later Bildnerische Gestaltungslehre (Visual Theory of Design). Why did Klee change the title from form to gestalt? Quoting Klee, Kienzler argues that a theory of Gestaltung (design) comes closer to the dynamic nature of Klee’s thought. While form refers to “a solid figure,” design traces the ways that lead to this form (255). Kienzler considers Klee’s visual theory an organic theory of life and movement.

Interpreting the Bildnerische Formlehre, Kienzler describes how Klee developed a formal order of basic pictorial elements: point, line, surface and space. These elements can be read through the prism of phenomenology. For Klee, motion, space and time are initiated from the point (with Husserl, the “zero point”) as an active element (268). With phenomenology in mind, Kienzler analyzes how Klee’s lines create rhythm and space:

The line makes visible, it is a mediator between the visible and the invisible world. […] Klee knows how to activate the line and suggest movement. He lets it tread paths in curvatures, angles, tensions and bends in an eternal up and down. The viewer feels movement, dynamically experiences the rhythm and free play. (271)

Kienzler explores Klee’s playful “physiognomics of motion” as a two-folded movement: the artist retraces movement with lines, the viewer retraces the lines with their bodies. Klee’s art is thus both productive and receptive (329). After analyzing other pictorial elements such as surface, space or weight, Kienzler moves into the depths of Klee’s compositional process. Kienzler stresses the cosmological dimension of Klee’s theory of colors, before shifting to the Bildnerische Gestaltungslehre, the sequel to Klee’s earlier lectures.

Focusing on creation and cosmos, this second part deepens the understanding of Klee’s theory, while not adding too much new insight. Kienzler is particularly interested in Klee’s idea of the artist-creator embedded in a dynamic cosmos. An organic totality in motion, Klee’s “polyphonic images appear here as a metaphor for the world as a whole, that is, in its cosmic dimension.” (316) One example for such a polyphonic image is Klee’s 1921 watercolor “Fugue in Red,” an experimental realization of Bach’s composition style.

Kienzler has a particular interest in Klee’s relationship to music and the use of rhythm, tonality, and repetition (287). For Kienzler, Klee’s paintings visualize rhythm following a strict composition scheme. Composition for Klee means defining the structure of living organisms and its interacting parts. Like in the Cézanne chapter, Kienzler understands Klee’s systems of pictorial composition as a philosophical universe. In Klee’s case, the system is a living organism, a metamorphosis, expressed in Klee’s natural motifs like plants or crystals. Klee’s paintings, for Kienzler, create a pictorial Gesamtkunstwerk, the “simultaneous vision of up and down, back and front, inside and outside, left and right, evoked by the movement of the viewer around the object, which is itself in motion” (298).

Kandinsky

Kienzler opens the last chapter with an overview of Kandinsky’s artistic development, starting at the decisive encounter with Claude Monet’s Haystacks in Moscow. Kienzler focuses on Kandinsky’s early texts On the Spiritual in Art (1912; written from 1904 onward) and “On the Question of Form” (1912) as well as Point and Line to Plane (1926) from the Bauhau time. As Kienzler demonstrates, Kandinsky’s philosophy strongly resonates with the phenomenological paradigm. Not paying much attention to Michel Henry’s Kandinsky book, Kienzler sides with Henry claiming that Kandinsky developed a phenomenology of the invisible life (347).

Kandinsky’s phenomenology visualizes inner experience through colour and form, based on the principle of inner necessity. Kienzler understands Kandinsky’s thought as “strict essentialism or substantialism,” stressing its religious-spiritual orientation (377). As a theologian, Kienzler follows the well-trodden path of reading Kandinsky’s oeuvre through the lens of spirituality, arguing that Kandinsky’s notion of the spiritual refers to “the Christian spirit.” (381). This interpretation is certainly justifiable regarding Kandinsky’s early writings. It is more difficult though when it comes to Kandinsky’s later writings in which he abandons a simple anti-materialism towards an ambiguous notion of abstraction.

Starting his phenomenological reading, Kienzler correlates Kandinsky’s distinction between interiority [Innen] and exteriority [Außen] with the phenomenological modes of “Aktmodus” and “Gegenstandsmodus” (372). Form, Kienzler continues, is “the expression [Äußerung] of the inner content” (373) and thus entwines inner and outer experience. Kandinsky’s method is described as a phenomenological reduction, switching between abstraction and realism. This reduction revolves to the essence of the things, or what Kandinsky calls the spiritual.

Kienzler persuasively argues that Kandinsky’s art does not represent, but rather “phenomenologize” the world (376). The act of seeing is an intentional act, transitioning from functionality to “the mode of action of things.” (378) The new world, phenomenologically revealed by Kandinsky, is spiritual, pure, and abstract. As Kienzler emphasizes, Kandinsky was fascinated by time, motion and tension (Spannung), a term he introduced at the Bauhaus. In contrast to motion, Kandinsky’s tension describes the inner forces of elements that lead to movement (384). With regard to Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, and Ludwig Klages, Kienzler retraces the origins and meanings of Kandinsky’s notions of tension and force (Kraft) (385).

Indeed, there is something like a missed encounter between Kandinsky and Klages here. Rather than exploring the potential overlaps between phenomenology and Kandinsky’s project, Kienzler  seems to lose track in Kandinsky’s writings. In what follows, Kienzler provides a summary of On the Spiritual in Art that barely leaves familiar terrain. Once again, Kienzler has an interest in the intimate relation between painting, colour, and music, especially Kandinsky’s synaesthesia as a new way of seeing with all senses (394).

Kienzler’s argument becomes more original when he shifts attention to Kandinsky’s “On the Question of Form” from the Blauer Reiter almanac. It is quite odd that Kienzler refers to this text as “Über die Formlehre,” maybe an erratum due to Klee’s similarly titled lectures? However, Kienzler’s auspicious reading leads us into the heart of Kandinsky’s thought. Circling around Kandinsky’s notions of abstractness and concreteness (Gegenständlichkeit), Kienzler aims to elucidate why Kandinsky later called his paintings concrete rather than abstract (402). How can abstract paintings be concrete?

Kienzler traces Kandinsky’s understanding of concreteness back to the artist’s notions of thing [Ding] and image-thing (Bild-Ding). Kandinsky, in Kienzler’s view, liberated the image from the thing, creating an image-thing that ceases to refer to any external object (see 403). Kandinsky’s image, Kienzler argues, is not mimesis or Abbild, but “an inner relational structure that initially refers only to itself and not to an external shape” (375). As Kienzler rightly points out, Kandinsky’s understanding of abstraction is ambivalent and polysemous. In contrast to Cubism, Kandinsky’s abstract art “creates the forms of expression itself”, thereby constructing a new concrete reality (405). Beyond purely non-figurative painting, Kandinsky understands all art as essentially abstract:

Kandinsky’s abstract image transcends the distinction between non-objectivity and objectivity, since it lies before the latter. In demonstrating something, it also always illustrates the conditions under which the demonstration takes place. Signifiers and signified are distinguishable, but do not exclude each other a priori. Kandinsky’s figurative works, too, are already no longer real representations. They do not represent what appears to be, but how it shows itself, represents itself. (406)

Kienzler traces the origins of Kandinsky’s concrete art back to Theo van Doesburg, Jean Arp, and Max Bill, referring to Doesburg’s conceptual twist of calling figurative painting abstract and non-figurative painting concrete (406). Kandinsky’s concrete art expresses the inner gaze, aiming to capture the spiritual, this is the nature of things (406). Kienzler analyzes in-depth Kandinsky’s attempt to synthesize realism and abstraction, as expressed in his terms of “Große Realistik” (Great Realism) and “Große Abstraktion” (Great Abstraction) (408).

Borrowing extensively from Kandinsky’s writings, Kienzler’s analysis culminates in an interpretation of various sketches and watercolours leading to Kandinsky’s “Komposition VII”, painted shortly before the First World War. Kienzler retraces the development of the final version, exploring Kandinsky’s method and composition. The chapter closes with a brief section on time and motion in Kandinsky’s art, contrasting Kandinsky’s Bild-Zeit (image-time) (440) with Klee’s philosophy of time. Kienzler leaves the reader without a satisfying conclusion, ending with the claim that art is influenced by different conceptions of time and motion.

Conclusion

What can we take from this nearly 500 page-long journey through modern painting and phenomenology? In short, Kienzler’s book is ambitious, open-ended, and potentially verbose. Readers looking for a systematic and concise account of phenomenological thought in the works of Cézanne, Klee, and Kandinsky, will remain rather dissatisfied. Roaming through the material without a clear roadmap, Kienzler’s book does not really come together as a whole. However, Kienzler leads various productive ways into the mutually entwined history of art and phenomenology. His book will hopefully be read as a rich theoretical conceptual toolbox that bears unfulfilled potentialities and opens up new horizons. It is particularly Kienzler’s fusion of phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Waldenfels) and image theory (Imdahl, Boehm) that can be valuable for scholars working at the borders of French and German thought, from visual studies and art theory to embodiment and philosophy of perception.


[1] Michel Henry, Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky, London; New York: Continuum, 2009, 8.

[2] Klaus Kienzler, Bewegung in die Theologie bringen: Theologie in Erinnerung an Klaus Hemmerle, Freiburg i.Br.: Verlag Herder, 2017.

[3] This and all following quotes are my translation from the original German.

[4] Klee’s Bauhaus notebooks are digitized, transcribed, and accessible online via the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. http://www.kleegestaltungslehre.zpk.org/ee/ZPK/Archiv/2011/01/25/00001/

James Jardine: Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person, Springer, 2021

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David Carr: Historical Experience: Essays on the Phenomenology of History, Routledge, 2021

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Patrick Howard, Tone Saevi, Andrew Foran, Gert Biesta (Eds.): Phenomenology and Educational Theory in Conversation, Routledge, 2020

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James Richard Mensch: Decisions and Transformations: The Phenomenology of Embodiment, ibidem Press, 2020

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The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019

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Reviewed by: Bence Peter Marosan (Budapest Business School, Pázmány Péter Catholic University)

The 2019 issue of The New Yearbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy has two main parts: the first one (consisting of eleven texts) is a Festschrift for the 65th birthday of Dermot Moran, the second one (with seven texts) contains updated version of the papers presented at a workshop held at the University of Montreal on the problem of imagination in Kant and in the phenomenological tradition, (The Imagination: Kantian and Phenomenological Models, 5-6 May, 2017). The volume ends with a “Varia” section,[1] with the study of Emiliano Trizio, (“Husserl’s Early Concept of Metaphysics As the Ultimate Science of Reality”).

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Dermot Moran is a key figure of contemporary philosophy and phenomenology. He has an immense, extensive knowledge in the field of natural sciences (having originally studied applied mathematics, physics, and chemistry), the humanities, and particularly, philosophy. He defended his PhD Thesis in Medieval Philosophy at the University of Yale University in 1986; the title of his thesis was: Nature and Mind in the Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study in Medieval Idealism.

He counts as one of the leading researchers and experts in phenomenology, and especially in Husserl. He wrote several excellent books on Husserl and phenomenology (Introduction to Phenomenology, 2000; Edmund Husserl – Founder of Phenomenology, 2005; Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology – An Introduction, 2012), and has a long list of articles published in a number of highly rated philosophy journals. His publications have always generated intensive scientific discussions. He was the President of the Programme Committee for the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy which took place in Athens (August 4-10 in 2013), as well as the President of the 24th World Congress of Philosophy which took place in Beijing (August 13–20 in 2018). Professor Moran is the founding editor of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies and the co-editor of the books series Contribution to Phenomenology.

One of his main goals has been to mediate in the greatest schism of our present day’s philosophy: the Analytic-Continental Division. He is urging a more intensive dialogue between the two sides. As an original philosopher, his basic philosophical stance is adopting transcendentalism, the critique of naturalism, with an openness to natural scientific research (from the transcendental point of view), and with continuous integration of the newest results of positive sciences into the considerations of transcendental philosophy. In our present days, when analytic naturalistic philosophy has a huge predominance, I think, these above-mentioned motifs are especially important.

I find myself fortunate that I was his PhD-student in 2008, so I know his personal side as well. I can say that he does not only represent the highest scientific and academic standards, and he is not just an exceptional teacher, but he is also an astonishingly kind person, very open to everybody and extremely helpful to all. This present volume pays a tribute to his outstanding career by his friends and colleagues. [2].

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  1. The Festschrift contains eleven texts, with the “Editors’ Introduction”. This part of the volume was edited and introduced by Timothy Burns, Thomas Szanto and Alessandro Salice. In their introduction, they give a detailed and also a very personal overview of Dermot Moran’s career; and they also briefly summarize the essays of the first part of the book. I think that every single essay of the Festschrift is an original contribution to it, with new insights concerning the topic they treat. The essays reflect issues or topics that were of concern to Dermot, such as: transcendentalism, embodiment, intersubjectivity.
  2. In his study “Husserl’s Account of Action: Naturalistic or Anti-Naturalistic? A Journey through the Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins”, Andrea Staiti touches upon two motifs which are central for Moran: his commitment to the transcendental and anti-naturalistic attitude and his openness to contemporary natural scientific research and analytic philosophy of mind. He refers to one of Moran’s more recent essays in this context: “Defending the Transcendental Attitude: Husserl’s Concept of the Person and the Challenges of Naturalism” (2014). In this essay, Staiti focuses on Husserl’s view of action, drawing on his – at the moment unpublished, but shortly forthcoming – research manuscript “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins” (1900-1914[-1924]) (Ms. M III 3 I-III). He tries to show that Husserl’s account of action, his fundamentally anti-naturalistic stance, is compatible with contemporary naturalistic description of action (according to which the action is not the result of the will as a supernatural causal source).

He attempts to prove this thesis through a microanalysis of Husserl’s depiction of the structure of action, as it is elaborated in “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins”. Husserl interprets the will as a peculiar sort of conscious acts, which stand under the law of motivation. In Husserl’s view, subjectivity is essentially embodied, bodily consciousness, which is part of nature, and this conscious body is the source of will (and voluntary decisions). According to Husserl, free will is just the free functioning of this lived, autonomous and conscious body. As Staiti emphasizes, Husserl creates an elegant balance between anti-naturalistic and naturalistic interpretations of the will, and this could be a fruitful approach within the contemporary debates concerning the relationship of will and action.

  1. Mette Lebech engages in reconstructive work in her paper „Essence, eidos, and dialogue in Stein’s ‘Husserl and Aquinas. A Comparison’”. She discusses the original version of Edith Stein’s Festschrift essay for Husserl’s 70th birthday essay entitled: “What Is Philosophy? A Conversation Between Edmund Husserl and Thomas Aquinas”, originally written, as the title suggests, as a dialogue. Heidegger, who edited the Festschrift, requested Edith Stein to rewrite her work in prosaic form – which she did. She gave the revised version the new title: “An Attempt to Contrast Husserl’s Phenomenology and the Philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas”. The revised version was a comparison of the thinking of the authors, which changed the original content, in so far as the dialogue form itself contributed to the content.

In the original paper a dialogue is recorded between Husserl, as founder of phenomenology, and Aquinas, committed to an ethos of rational faith. The dialogue is possible because of the willingness of the two thinkers to enter into it, and together explore the differences between their respective positions. An important motif is the discussion of the nature of philosophy as well as the idea of essence: together the two thinkers try to attain rational insights concerning basic philosophical topics. The main point of the article is that it is the idea of intelligibility present in their respective understanding of essence that allows the two interlocutors to engage in a dialogue, and that the dialogue form brings this out. According to Stein (in Lebech’s interpretation) essence is a presupposition for the intersubjective, dialogic praxis of communities.

  1. Steven Crowell’s article, “Twenty-first-Century Phenomenology? Pursuing Philosophy With and After Husserl”, partly treats Moran’s narrative in his seminal work: “Introduction to Phenomenology” (2000). In this book, Moran portrays the history of phenomenology of the 20th century as a deviation from Husserl’s transcendental and idealistic formulation of phenomenology. Crowell, on the one hand, offers a critical overview of this interpretation of the phenomenological movement, and poses the question (based on the results of his essay) of what should phenomenology be in the 21st century?

According to Moran, the main authors of phenomenology – after Husserl – rejected both his transcendental attitude and his idealistic tendencies. The “inflection point” of phenomenology in this story was Heidegger’s philosophy of Being, and his vehement criticism of Husserl. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, some really naturalistic features were gained, and finally in Derrida, the phenomenological method “collapsed” into deconstruction.

But in Crowell’s opinion, we could interpret the history of phenomenology in another way: phenomenologies – after Husserl – could be interpreted as transformations of transcendentalism. One could clearly identify the transcendental motif in Heidegger’s account of being-there (Dasein, the subject), as well as in (e.g.) Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of chiasm and the phenomenology of nature.

Relying on this interpretation of phenomenological tradition, Crowell offers us a possible way of phenomenology for the 21st century, which keeps the transcendental attitude onwards in the future, but abandons classical metaphysical demands. It should be a phenomenology – as Husserl (and also Moran) claimed – of radical self-responsibility, a radical claim concerning evidence and ethical responsibility.

  1. In his essay entitled: “Merleau-Ponty and Developing and Coping Reflectively”, Timothy Mooney takes issue with Hubert Dreyfus’ interpretation of Merleau-Ponty on “skilled coping,” arguing that reflective work is to be found in many of our daily embodied experiences. He emphasises a self-differentiating and bodily field of experience from which the conscious and objectifying subject emerges and to which it makes its own contributions.

In the background of every movement, there is an anonymously functioning body, though the embodied agent is at once an encultured and thoughtful one. In this account, we do not find an indifferent animal body surmounted by human reason. Following on Joseph Berendzen’s work, Mooney stresses that Merleau-Ponty rejects a “layer-cake” model of human subjectivity (according to which there could be hermetically separated layers of body and mind). As Berendzen states: “There are certainly elements that we share with animals, […] but there is no shared layer” (76). Both body and bodily-founded consciousness are specifically human, and every so-called layer mutually determines and shapes the other.

Mooney illustrates the functioning of this embodied and culturally formed awareness in everyday life with a series of examples. The central concept in his essay is that of “little reflections”. These refer to the way in which we consciously adjust our bodily movements (and not just our speech) to changing events in the lived environment. We frequently make explicit corrections to our movements and in so doing contribute to replanning them. Without these little reflections, we would be literally unable to survive.

  1. Similarly to the previous study, Matthew Ratcliffe’s paper “Grief and Phantom Limbs: A Phenomenological Comparison”, first and foremost also relies on Merleau-Ponty. Ratcliffe emphasizes certain deep parallelism, and what is even more: identity between phantom limb experience and experience of losing a beloved person, that is to say: grief. Phantom limb experiences manifest for us the essentially embodied nature of consciousness, and that we are entangled with the world – in the same way that in the experience of grief, it became clear for us that we and the other person belong together in a much stronger than metaphoric way, in a nearly literal sense. The other (beloved) person is almost an extension of my body. The other person grants me access to the world in nearly the same way as my sensory organs and limbs do. In his essay, Ratcliffe focuses on our active, back-and-forth determinative relationship to the world, and on the manner in which our relations to other persons shape the access to our own body and to the world that surrounds us.
  2. In the center of Lilian Alweiss’s contribution (“Back to Space”) discusses the relation between place and space. It is generally agreed that Husserl’s phenomenology prioritises place over space. Lilian Alweiss questions this interpretation of Husserl by drawing on Edward Casey’s work. Casey claims for both early Kant and Husserl embodiment, the place we find ourselves in, is central to our understanding of space. Although Alweiss acknowledges that embodiment plays a central role in cognition and our relation to others, she believes that neither Kant nor Husserl ever argue that our understanding of space is a posteri or derived from our understanding of space. She thereby takes to task Casey’s anti-modern or romantic reading that tries to question our scientific conception of space.
  3. Anthony J. Steinbock’s article: „Hating as Contrary to Loving” is an essential and enlightening study concerning the phenomenology of emotions and feelings. The principal thesis of Steinbock’s essay is that hate and love are not parallel and coeval feelings, neither do they have a dialectical relationship. Love is more fundamental and original than hate, and the latter is founded on the former; so they have a foundational relation.

Steinbock makes a difference between feeling-states and feeling-acts. States are objective and static, and they could be conceived as objects. Acts are always dynamic, and could never be conceived as objects, in the way states could be. States are founded by acts. Hate is founded by love, both as act and state. It gains its entire reality and energy from love.

A key conception of Steinbock’s paper is at first a mysteriously sounding phrase: the hate hates the beloved (121). What does it mean? It means that hate is founded upon the positivity of love and beloved. It is a counter-movement, a negative striving against love and the beloved; it is a closing down with regard to the beloved (or a turning away from it), or even a destructive action against the beloved. But in its entire negativity, it is made comprehensible only through love, against which it is directed. It is the denial of the beloved.

  1. Thomas Nenon’s study “Do Arguments about Subjective Origins Diminish the Reality of the Real?” again joins a central topic of the whole volume and Moran’s basic philosophical attitude: the defence of transcendental stance. Nenon treats the criticism of two main authors of “speculative realism”, Tom Sparrow and Quentin Meillassoux against transcendental philosophy in general, and Husserl in particular. According to the criticism of speculative realists, transcendental philosophy and especially phenomenology fall prey to “correlationism”, which means “the irreducibility of subject and object, thinking and being” and „never considering either term apart from the other”. According to speculative realism, transcendentalism makes reality dependent on subjectivity. Nenon attempts to show that this criticism is false.

In Nenon’s interpretation, transcendental philosophy does not make reality dependent (objectivity) from consciousness, nor is it unable to consider and treat them apart. Transcendentalism is rather the first-person view treatment of experienced objectivity, and the ways in which objectivity appear in experience. It is Meillassoux’s realism which is somehow naïve and naturalistic, because it is simply oriented toward the worldview and achievement of modern natural sciences. Nenon says that Meillassoux’s concept of objectivity is too narrow – as opposed to phenomenology which has a much richer and sophisticated notion of objectivity, with many different regions, (the world of nature, the realm of culture, the sphere of ideal meanings etc.).

  1. Richard Kearney’s essay: “God Making: An Essay in Theopoetic Imagination” is a really beautiful writing about philosophy (phenomenology) of religion. It is a survey about the transformation of divine into human and human into divine, a mutual fusion of these two spheres of Being. A main topic of the paper is creation: how God makes the human being a partner, a playmate in the act, the process of creation; moreover: how humans become lovers of God in the act of creation. Creation is an erotic act; it is the fusion of creator and creature, divine and human, their mutual transition into each other. Creation is the manifestation of an erotic desire of God. Creation is moreover a poetic deed; the divine creation is “theopoiesis”.

An important point of Kearney’s paper is the motif of return, which he emphasizes with the Greek prefix “ana”. Kearney speaks about “anatheism” which is “returning to God after God: a critical hermeneutic retrieval of sacred things” (152). Anatheism is not just the Hegelian “Aufhebung” (uplifting); it is not simply a moving through the opposition of theism and atheism towards something higher. It is an ultimate re-opening to the radically new, it is the final union with the divine dimension.

In the final part of his study, Kearney applies and demonstrates his insights on the artwork of the contemporary artist, Sheila Gallagher.

  1. Nicolas de Warren, in his essay “Husserl’s Awakening to Speech: Phenomenology as ‘Minor Philosophy’”, highlights the peculiar philosophical importance of Husserl’s working method of thinking in writing, using his special stenography. His study is also a novel approach to Husserl’s relationship to language and his philosophy in general. Husserl’s way of meditating in writing shaped his thoughts, and his streams of thoughts also formed the way he wrote. Nicolas de Warren also wants to revise the still currently prevailing view concerning Husserl’s conception of language, according to which language was merely external to thought. De Warren tries to show that this is not the case. Language, not in a thematic way, but rather in a methodological manner, gained a central role in Husserl’s works. In Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts (in the process of writing them) phenomenology became really linguistic and phenomenological. In Husserl’s writings, phenomena really seeked expression, and all the concepts were in formation, everything was fluid and flexible. In de Warren’s interpretation: “Husserlian phenomenology is an unprecedented historical awakening of philosophy to its own speech” (164). De Warren characterizes it as a “Minor Philosophy”, as a radically new form of philosophising, which “struggles to create novel philosophical concepts within established – inherited and institutionalized – dominant languages of philosophy” (161).

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  1. The second part of the volume (“The Imagination. Kant’s Phenomenological Legacy”) consists of six studies, plus the “Editors’ introduction” by Maxime Doyon and Augustin Dumont, which offers a brief survey of the philosophical importance of the imagination.
  2. Maxime Doyon’s study (entitled “Kant and Husserl on the (Alleged) Function of Imagination in Perception”) is a systematic comparison of Kant’s and Husserl’s conception of imagination and its purported role in experience and cognition. The text begins by arguing that there are at least three ways in which the imagination could be interpreted as playing an essential role in perception in Kant’s philosophy: firstly, it is said to be necessary to account for the amodal character of perception, (“amodal” in this context refers to the holistic feature of perception; that is to say: that we see objects as wholes, even if we see directly only a few details of them); secondly, the imagination would be essential to account for the constitution of the identity of object through time; and thirdly, the imagination would help us to classify objects, that is to say, to conceive them as particular examples of certain types or classes.

Doyon then tries to show that Husserl inherited this set of problems (amodal perception, constitution of perceptual identity through time and classificatory functioning of perception), without, however, subscribing to Kant’s explanation, which grants to the imagination a transcendental role. In Husserl, there is no place for the imagination in perception, except in two (relatively) rare situations: in image consciousness (when we perceive images [photos, paintings, sculptures, etc.]) and perceptive phantasies (experiencing of works of art; such as theatrical plays, operas, etc.). Otherwise, there is – pace Kant – just no place for the imagination at all in perception.

  1. Andreea Smaranda Aldea, in her long and thorough work entitled „Imagination and Its Critical Dimension: Lived Possibilities and An Other Kind of Otherwise” offers us a detailed and critical analysis of Husserl’s conception of imagination, highlighting its merits, but sketching a basically alternative model.

In Husserl, imagination and perception belong to essentially different sorts of acts. Imagination has a special – and very important! – epistemological role, but fundamentally it is the “inversed mirror” of perception. It is everything which perception is not, (with the exception that both are intuitive acts). Imagination is not-doxic, free, neutralized and quasi-positional act. According to Aldea this account, though at certain points grasps some fundamental features of imagination, at certain points it is rather insufficient, what is even more: misleading. In Aldea’s opinion, imagination cannot be interpreted in such a negative way as Husserl has.

Aldea, in an alternative model, which – notwithstanding – relies on Husserl, describes perception and imagination, which are radically different, but at certain essential points are nevertheless intertwined and in strong cooperation with each other. “Imagining possibilization” (a key conception in Aldea’s framework) has – as opposed to Husserl’s view on imagination –a motivated and teleological structure, and is embedded into the concrete medium of the life-world of the proper subject in question. “Imagining possibilization” plays a fundamental role in the constitution of meanings, and thus in cognition and experience in general. Aldea wishes to present such a model of imagination, which is bound by contingent cultural and historical conditions on the one hand, but – on the other hand – nevertheless has a fundamental transcendental necessity too.

  1. Samantha Matherne’s central thesis, in her essay, “The Hidden Art of Understanding: Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty’s Appropriation of Kant’s Theory of Imagination”, is that there is a fundamental continuity between Kant’s theory of imagination and Heidegger’s as well as Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (despite the no less important differences). In her study, she attempts to demonstrate some essential elements of this continuity.

In the beginning of her writing, she emphasizes that there are four basic claims in Kant’s conception of imagination: firstly, the “perceptual presence”-claim (according to which imagination plays a constitutive role in the perception of a concrete material thing); secondly, the “transcendental”-claim (which says that imagination makes experience possible in a transcendental and apriori way); thirdly, the “pre-cognitive”-claim (which states that imagination operates prior to cognition, and founds the latter), and fourthly, the “know-how”-claim (in accordance with which imagination has a deeply practical function). Matherne tries to show that all these motifs could be found in Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s notion of imagination.

The Heidegger-part of this study is also a very creative analysis: the author (Matherne) does not investigate Heidegger’s Kant-book, which would be all too trivial in this context (though she – of course – mentions that work). She focuses on Heidegger’s Being and Time (of which she offers a closer reading) in order to show that the above-mentioned four elements could be found in Heidegger’s existential analysis of the Dasein (being-there). She completed the same work in analysing Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception; highlighting that Merleau-Ponty embeds the fore-mentioned Kantian claims into his conception of bodily existence. Imagination, in Merleau-Ponty, is fundamentally the functioning of the embodied subjectivity – but this treatment of imagination, according to Matherne, also has its roots in Kant.

  1. Michela Summa’s essay entitled: “Are Fictional Emotion Genuine and Rational? Phenomenological Reflections on a Controversial Question”, is a very sensitive and even touching investigation concerning the problem of fictional emotions. Though her study is not restricted to that, but the article mostly treats the phenomenon of fictional emotions in the aesthetical context. The question: do we experience real and rationally motivated emotions within aesthetical circumstances (e.g. seeing a theatrical play or reading a novel)? For example: Kendall Walton says: “no”, to this question. Michela Summa, on the contrary, answers this question with a definite and emphatic “yes.”

According to her, though the characters of fictional stories aren’t real, our emotions concerning them could be. Presence and real existence of things aren’t criteria for our emotions to be real; as Summa emphasizes, (real) emotions are often intertwined with the absence of its object (as in the case of e.g. grief). The sadness, she states, we are feeling for Anna Karenina, is both real and rationally motivated; (the situation, the experience is such that it is just rational to feel this way); the tears we shed for her fate are real, though she is not. Our entire personality could live in such fictional emotions – just as in the case of real emotions.

  1. Daniele de Santis – in his study entitled: “‘Das Wunder hier ist die Rationalität’: Remarks on Husserl on Kant’s Einbildungskraft and the Idea of Transcendental Philosophy (With a Note on Kurd Laßwitz)” – offers us an exhaustive study on Husserl’s reading of Kant, at the early stage of his elaboration of transcendental phenomenology, mostly between the years 1907-1909 (manuscripts mostly published in Hua 7).[3] De Santis focuses on details of Husserl’s harsh criticism of Kant during this period; and also on the implicit ways in which Kant nevertheless influenced Husserl’s own transcendental position. Husserl criticized Kant in those, above-mentioned manuscripts, for his alleged anthropologism. That means: in Husserl’s interpretation, Kant states that a world, which is supposed to be understood by human beings, is essentially a human world, which presupposes human consciousness. Husserl, on the contrary, operates with a much broader form of rationality. The world need not be a particularly human world, in order to be understood, the rationality need not be specifically human in order to understand the world. The human being is a particular, empirical entity – but Husserl is interested in necessary and apriori structures of consciousness (and rationality) and of the world. De Santis emphasizes that we could highlight two different and fundamental forms of rationality in Husserl: a transcendental one (apriori structures of constituting consciousness) and ontology (apriori structures of constituted object); which together make up a non-anthropologic, more complete form of rationality.

An interesting and creative moment of this essay is the analysis, devoted to Husserl’s contemporary, Kurd Laußwitz, a Neo-Kantian author, who spoke about different, non-human parallel worlds, and to whom Husserl also refers in the manuscripts of the treated period.

  1. Augustin Dumont’s article entitled: “Imagination and Indeterminacy: The Problematic Object in Kant and Husserl” is a thorough, insightful, comparative analysis of Kant’s and Husserl’s account of imagination, and its role of the epistemology of these two authors; with special regard to their understanding of the “problematic object”.

Kant’s and Husserl’s conception of imagination, despite all the common points, are essentially different. Imagination, for Kant, in a certain way, serves as a condition of possible experience; while for Husserl, it is a possible (particular) form of experience. But there is also an important connection between them: the question of the “problematic object”. For Kant, the problematic object was the “object in general”, before every determination. In Husserl, the “problematic object” was the object of imagination or fantasy which – at certain points – played nevertheless an important role in Husserl’s epistemology, (e.g. in his method of “eidetic variations”).

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  1. The closing unit of this volume, Emiliano Trizio’s writing, entitled: “Husserl’s Early Concept of Metaphysics As the Ultimate Science of Reality”, is an enlightening, very profound, astonishingly in-depth survey of the formation of Husserl’s early notion of metaphysics. Trizio’s main aim in his essay is to dispel such misunderstanding, according to which Husserl’s phenomenologically was – at least – metaphysically neutral, or even anti-metaphysical. In contrast to this, Trizio attempts to show that Husserl’s chief philosophical efforts were deeply metaphysically motivated, and that his ultimate goal was to establish a phenomenologically grounded metaphysics. In this regard, what is of the utmost importance is Husserl’s considerations on the relationship between theory of knowledge and metaphysics.

Trizio follows Husserl’s intricate trains of thought concerning the relationship of these two disciplines – from 1896 (Lecture on Logic)[4] up to some of the earliest documents of his transcendental turn (Such as the Introduction to logic and the theory of knowledge. Lectures 1906/07).[5] The theory of knowledge, according to Husserl, was about the essence of justified knowledge, and the proper means to attain grounded knowledge. Metaphysics, on the other hand, was about being; in the end, for Husserl, it was the ultimate science of factual reality.

Husserl hesitated for a while on how to define the boundaries between theory of knowledge and metaphysics. His final stance on this question began to crystallize in his above-mentioned 1906/07 lectures; according to which they are distinct and separate fields. Theory of knowledge (as “first philosophy”) yields the ultimate foundation of every knowledge; metaphysics (as “second philosophy”) is the supreme form of the philosophical disclosure of reality.

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In my opinion, the 2019 volume of The New Yearbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy meets the highest standards. Both sections are excellent, with studies of very high standard, and the closing essay is also a very good one, treating a topic (Husserl’s early metaphysics), which deserves much more attention than it received until now. The first part is a compilation of studies of very high quality, in the honour of one of the most important contemporary philosophers; the second part is a collection of essays, which illuminate, in a very precise way, the peculiar philosophical importance of the phenomenon of imagination.


[1]  A section for papers, which do not fit into the thematic parts of the volume.

[2] This paper was supported by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, (No. BO/00421/18/2). I would like to express my gratitude to everybody, who helped with her/his comments and corrections the completion of the final version of this article – first of all, to the authors of this volume. I am also very grateful to Zsuzsanna Keglevich, for proofreading the article.

[3] Husserliana 7. Erste Philosophie (1923/4). Erster Teil: Kritische Ideengeschichte (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1956).

[4] Husserliana Materialien 1. Logik. Vorlesung 1896 (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001).

[5] Husserliana 24. Einleitung in die Logik und Erkenntnistheorie. Vorlesungen 1906/07 (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1985).

Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.): Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives

Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives Book Cover Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume: 18
Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.)
Brill
2018
Hardback €135.00, $162.00
x, 204

Reviewed by: Heath Williams (Sun Yat-sen University)

A series of variegated contributions to the development of the concept of experience. Thought provoking and refreshingly interesting, with some exceedingly high-quality scholarship. There is scant space here to do justice to all the topics, so I’ll touch on a few highlights and critique one low-point.

Emmanuel Alloa: What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch

Alloa argues that we ought to take a nuanced understanding of the notion of returning to the things themselves; just because Husserl states he can return to things themselves and therefore operate only within the realm of pure experience which is given to us in intuition, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that phenomenology has immediate access to the pure unadulterated stuff that experience is made of, nor should we assume that this stuff originates from consciousness. Alloa argues that phenomenology ought to be diaphenomenology: which rests on the core claims that what appears in experience (the phenomena) always “appears through [dia] something else” (12); diaphenomenology is, purportedly, the terminus of the development of phenomenology.

Alloa observes an aporia which begins from the observation that, for Husserl, the things themselves are given in intuition via a direct relation to an individual. Alloa then points out that such individuals, however, always appear as more than what they are because they are meant. “When something appears, it appears as something, and this appearing as something is what gives the appearance its very meaning” (17). For Husserl, the structuring function of intentionality allows experience to go beyond the perceptually given sense data and intend a meaningful object. Even though things are given directly, consciousness must do some of the work to allow individuals to appear ‘directly’ (i.e. be meant) in the first place. Alloa argues that, to account for how this is possible, Husserl’s analysis that begins with the things themselves inevitably ends up granting consciousness and the ego a wider role in the bestowal of sense than a phenomenological analysis allows.

Alloa argues that every way through the reduction leads to the same antimony between mediacy and appearance. The way through the lifeworld brings us only to the backdrop on which things appear, the way through the lived body leads only to that via which I experience the world. Thus, Alloa arrives at his central conclusion: “While Husserlian phenomenology sets off as an exclusion of all mediations, the very return to the things themselves forces him to take mediations into account” (24). Alloa’s analysis suggests an inevitability about this conclusion.

What is meaningful can only appear in a medium which can allow sense to be bestowed on it, a medium itself stripped of meaning. Thus, Alloa argues that we ought to adopt a diaphenomenological perspective which examines the mediums through which things appear.

This article presents a precise capitulation of a very important position within the landscape of contemporary phenomenology. It explains how Alloa’s position develops as a response to Husserl’s as much as via a reading of Merleau-Ponty (in Alloa 2017). But of course, one can ask what one asks of any reading of Husserl: which Husserl are you criticising? Alloa’s article explains how to avoid some of the pitfalls of the path taken by the transcendental and egological Husserl of Ideas 1 and Cartesian Meditations, yet many of Alloa’s suggestions concerning the development of a phenomenology of sensory medium would not contradict the Husserl of Ideas 2 (wherein we find the concrete analysis of sensation) and particularly Husserl’s suggestion, found in Ideas 3, that we ought to develop a somatological science. I found myself wondering whether these Husserlian works weren’t more in line with the method that Alloa is proposing.

This essay is mainly a theoretical piece which suggests how we might avoid the pitfalls of a particular path of analysis by practicing another, and in this regard the case is clear and compelling. However, it is very difficult to assess Alloa’s proposal without seeing exactly how the project of diaphenomenology might be put to practice in some concrete analyses, and how these analyses might differ from non-diaphenomenological ones. Perhaps I am asking to ‘brutish’ a question, and one that belies a lack of imagination or comprehension, but I struggled to understand how a standard Husserlian analysis would differ, precisely, from the sort of analyses Alloa has in mind.  What exactly does it mean to focus on the medium through which something appears instead of the thing itself, especially given that Alloa insists that the latter amounts to the former anyway?  A couple of examples wouldn’t go astray, but perhaps they are forthcoming in future works (his or others); I certainly hope so, as the last thing phenomenology needs is another theoretical banknote which is never cashed out in small change.

Bernardo Ainbinder: Transcendental Experience

Ainbinder begins by pointing out that transcendental conditions cannot be experienced (or else they would lie within the empirical field), and so the adherence to the principle of all principles conflicts with phenomenology’s transcendental aspirations. Ainbinder proposes that a solution is that the transcendental be considered “the multi-layered network of norms that govern our evidentiary practices” (33).

Points out that Husserl thought that normativity governed even our perceptual experiences, considering the noema an organising principle which governs object perception. We might, for example, fear that we are mistaken about the colour of an object. Under such circumstances, we might put our glasses on to view it better, view it under better light, or from different angles. We may conclude that the object is not as we thought, that it is orange instead of red. However, the colour of the object itself in this scenario serves as a sort of objective standard–an optimum. This optimum is judged against my physical state (my sore eyes) and the state of the world (the lighting and my position). Thus, the noema is a landmark that facilitates perceptual normativity.

This “normative network is the essential structure of experience” (37); it determines what is the case, what only seems to be the case, and on what basis we may correctly make judgements about the world. Thus, the analysis of everyday experience reveals the transcendental conditions of that experience. This is a hallmark characteristic of phenomenology’s transcendentalism: we do not ask transcendental questions “in order to arrive at a better understanding of the world… but rather to find legitimation for the pretences involved in such experience” (38). It also reveals that, the question isn’t how we can impose ‘oughts’ upon a neutral sensory experience, but how experience itself is already riddled with oughts–already normative through and through.

Thus, truth or ‘evidence’ is a transcendental ground towards which all experience tends. Truth is the “basis for any assessment” based in experience (41). This leads to Husserl’s idiomatic epistemological approach to practical and ethical life: “the disclosure of truth is to be seen as a part of an overall conception of rationality as an ideal for human life” (42). Thus, experience is normative, and this provides an ethical demand to behave rationally in our practical lives, but because experience and normativity are dialectical, rationality is tendentious, iterative, open to revision, and a matter of exercising our autonomy and freedom to look more closely (sometimes literally) and revise our beliefs.

So, we can access the transcendental field when “we make the rules that govern our processes of revising our position-takings in the future course of our experience explicit” (43). The final question concerns just how claims about this field might be justified.

Ainbinder shows that it is because the course of practical and ethical experience challenges not only what exists in the world but our own so-called ‘rational credentials’ as perceivers that we gravitate towards a transcendental inquiry into the conditions of truth. Ainbinder certainly explains why we are motivated toward transcendental inquiry, and that such an inquiry could never be satisfied via empirical investigation alone, but not sure if he has answered whether such an inquiry can be justified. How could we possibly judge whether such an account was correct? Surely, if truth is that into which we inquire, we would now need some account of the meta-criterion of the correctness of this inquiry, one which, if non-circular, doesn’t refer to truth as ground or standard. It is these sorts of ‘problems of the criterion’ that have motivated anti-foundationalism and anti-transcendentalism in the analytic and pragmatic traditions.

Lorenzo Girardi: Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis

This work demonstrates an expertise in the Crisis, Husserl’s overarching project, and secondary Husserlian literature. Girardi provides a lucid overview of Husserl’s two crises:

1) The idealisation of the lifeworld by the natural sciences.

2) The loss of the capability of the human sciences (and philosophy) to provide a rational basis for culture and society.

Girardi shows that Husserl’s solution to both problems lies in the metaphysical ideal of a perfectly ordered, rational, and complete system of science.

This ideal runs into conflict with the conception of the lifeworld, which is not exclusively nor even preeminently a perceptual world of spatial things but also cultural. However, the cultural lifeworld is too pluralistic to ever found Husserl’s rational ideal. The only all-pervasive and common notion that might found an ideal rational science is the pregiven lifeworld as backdrop or horizon for all experience. This shift from situated cultural world to universal horizon is realised via an incessant and progressive “double move of critique and rationalisation” (89).

So, Husserl’s ideal of completed science progresses via critique from individual cultural worlds towards a unified and hence singular conception of the world. But, as Girardi points out, this ideal belies a kind of intellectual chauvinism: after all, there “might be equally different, equally rational ways the world can take shape without these ways converging on each other” (90). Girardi argues that Husserl’s unificationism shows that he has made a category mistake and confused the lifeworld as horizon, which would by definition imply an open endedness, with the lifeworld as an object, which could at least in principle be brought to a (unified) state of completion (91). Objects are poles of identity which have an internal horizon; a lawlike givenness dictated by a correspondence with an object. The external horizon (the world), on the other hand, has no such object to determine it and this has no guarantee of ultimate coherence; it “operates according to a potential infinity” (93). Thus, in confusing external and internal horizonality, Husserl attributes a potential unity to the latter which is not within its nature to afford.

So, realising a universal science seems impossible. Girardi ends with the rather startling suggestion that for Husserl the possibility of realising a purely rational science is a matter of faith which is justifiable only from the perspective of practical reason; it is the sort of faith that there are practical reasons for holding. Girardi hits on the fact that there is an optimistic rationalism in Husserl’s philosophy which can’t ever really be grounded. For Husserl, this optimism was a matter of faith which prevented the encroachment of the sort of philosophical hopelessness and meaninglessness that pervades, for example, the anti-rationalist philosophy of Nietzsche or the existential philosophy of Sartre.

Genki Uemura & Alessandro Salice: Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein

This article aims to delineate three theories of motivation. This topic is certainly interesting and important. Unfortunately, much of the analysis in this article was confusing at key points and would’ve benefited from another round of review.

One of the strong parts of the article is the exposition of Pfänder’s account, the first stage of which is mentally noticing, in an interrogatory way, a stimulus (i.e. the cold of a room). Secondly, receiving an answer or demand to our interrogation: we know what we want to do in response to the stimulus (which may or may not convert to decision to act yet). Finally, I respond or rely on the answer and move into decision and action, and therefore develop a motive. The demand the cold air provided as a response to my interrogation of a stimulus becomes a motive as I rely on it and make the decision to leave the room. It is, thus, this ‘relying on’ that distinguishes motives from other inclinations that may arise yet are never acted on. Importantly, for Pfänder, the motive itself is not an act of consciousness but ‘out there,’ in the world (the demand made by chill in the air), which becomes a motive when treated in a certain attitude (reliance).

Uemura and Salice then attempt to show the difficulties Pfänder has, given his schema, in accounting for cases of ill-motivation. This section was unclear–I was left confused over how the authors were using the terms ‘grounds,’ ‘reasons,’ and ‘motives.’ Uemura and Salice talk about the example where we feel the chill of the air, register our desire to leave, but do not act on it. They dismiss the possibility that this amounts to a case of ill-motivation because “there is a sense in which the decision [not to leave the room] is motivated anyway. Being a decision, it must have a reason that grounds it” (136). I was left a little baffled at exactly what assumptions were informing this excerpt: are reasons, grounds, and motives thought of as largely synonymous here? Is the claim that Pfänder thinks they are synonymous? Clearer is the point that, in the case where we don’t leave the room, the reason for staying “must be something numerically distinct of the demand from the perceived chill in order for there to be a discrepancy between them” (136).

So, if Pfänder wants to identify motives with things out there in the world, then he “makes not room for the possibility of a discrepancy between the reason for a decision and the demand” (136). Even though Pfänder does allow for the possibility that the difference in question here might be relying-on the demand, such relying-on is a mental act (not a state of affairs in the world), and thus, if this is the explanation for ill-motivation, the ontological status of the motive becomes called into question (136). This, from what I could reconstruct, is the point.

The paper then moves on to discuss Geiger, for whom not only volitions but also emotions are motivated. In Geiger’s analysis, we can distinguish between the emotion (joy), the object of the emotion (a new car), and the motive for the emotion (now I can drive to work). The motivation for the emotion (the reason why we feel joy) is thus the experience of a possible state of affairs in which the object of the emotion is related. For Geiger, the possible state of affairs itself constitutes not the motivation but the grounds of the motivation. The object of the motive (the grounds) and the experience of possibly realising them can thus be pulled apart, which explains cases of ill-motivation.

So, three key shifts are made from Pfänder to Geiger. Firstly, we have moved from an extra- to an inter-mental phenomenon. Secondly, because of this we have been more clearly been able to distinguish between (objective) grounds and (mental) motives. Thirdly, we have moved from the sphere of action to other experiences.

Stein expands the concept of motivation so that any aspect of experience that results from another experience can be called a motivation. For Stein there are rational, perceptual, and volitional forms of motivation. Thus, both Husserl and Stein want to use the term ‘motivation’ in a much wider sense than is found in Pfänder and Geiger.

For Stein, motivations are the contents of our mental acts, or, intentional objects. Specifically, it is the relationship amongst contents of acts that constitutes the motivational relation. A motivates B if A is a content of a mental state that gives rise to B. We can deem Stein’s position noematic, Pfänder’s objective, and Geiger’s noetic.

One of the unclear passages in Uemura and Salice’s essay concerned the voluntary nature of motivation, given Stein’s radical expansion of this concept to cover a wider variety of phenomena. For example, according to Stein, perceptions motivate apperceptions (i.e., the front side of an object motivates my apperception of its non-presented third side). However, we can hardly call such a motivation voluntary, as it is not something we have a choice over, and it occurs automatically.

The authors write that, to solve this problem, Stein expands the definition of what free action consists in beyond the scope of decisions. However, they then say that “free acts include not only deciding but also asserting, lying and other acts we perform spontaneously” (144). I found this passage most puzzling; what exactly is spontaneous about these acts? Perhaps we might sort of lie or say something off the cuff but we definitely sometimes plan and decide to perform such actions in a contrived way. No explanation is given as to why we might classify these acts as spontaneous in the first place, and thus how classifying them as free serves to solve Stein’s problem.

Moreover, in this explanation, the authors seem to be targeting the wrong class of phenomena; the problem Stein has is that, if she thinks motivation is voluntary, how to account for perceptual motivations (like apperceptions) not motivations for our speech acts; the latter are uncontroversially voluntary.

The discussion of how these different conceptions of motivation map onto the present debate is one of the most useful aspects of the paper. However, I don’t think the claimed  correspondence between Davidson and Geiger is totally correct. For Davidson, it is not mental states qua mental states which are the reason for action, but that a certain position (desiring) is taken on a mental object of a specific sort. A “belief and a desire explain an action only if the contents of the belief and desire entail that there is something desirable about the action… This entailment marks a normative element, a primitive aspect of rationality” (Davidson 1987, 116). Thus, Davidson’s theory could be deemed a noematic account of reasons, in that it is the relationships amongst the intentional objects of our mental states that introduces normativity and accounts for why they count as reasons for acting. In this sense he is as close to Stein as he is to Geiger.

References:

Alloa, E. 2017. Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty: Fordham University Press.

Davidson, Donald. 1987. «Problems in the explanation of action.» In Metaphysics and Morality, edited by Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and J. Norman. Blackwell.

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