Towards a Critique of Phenomenological Normativity
Emmanuel Falque’s latest book, Hors phénomène, implicitly opens up a tantalising new possibility by way of an alternative philosophical anthropology: namely, a critique of phenomenological normativity (i.e., of what phenomenology traditionally considers to be ‘the norm’ for its analysis), one that is moreover itself phenomenological in nature (i.e., demonstrates how these ‘norms’ belong to the natural attitude and therefore require reduction). It is, as he puts it, “the norm of all phenomenality” that is at issue here, for that norm does not appear to have been phenomenologically secured itself but entails—precisely—an “a priori of phenomenality” (9):
Are there not, to say the least, certain things taken to be self-evident that would rightly be scrutinised today? For nothing guarantees that health should a priori be the norm rather than illness, the event rather than the brute fact, the given rather than resistance, or indeed the other rather than solitude. (13)
Everything phenomenologists tend to think of as ‘normal’, Falque questions on phenomenological grounds: there are experiences, notably those he considers ‘traumatic’, that fall outside phenomenological ‘normality’ and thereby render it inadequate as a comprehensive framework for the analysis of the whole breadth of human experience. By focussing on these traumatic experiences that remain outside the norm of phenomenality, that are extra-phenomenal (hors phénomène), Falque hopes to reinvigorate phenomenology: specifically, Hors phénomène reconstructs the anthropological vision implicit in the phenomenological tradition around these experiences, which define the human being not according to their presupposed opening to the event of appearing but rather as existing in the transformation wrought by the traumatic events that befall them.
However, one wonders whether, in opening up this new and unexplored field of experience, in his correction of phenomenology’s naïve anthropological vision, Falque’s tendency to return immediately to the frameworks just declared inadequate might mean that he ultimately only scratches the surface of his important discovery: what he finds to be outside phenomenality is almost immediately brought back inside of it (albeit under the guise of modification) in the name of maintaining the phenomenological status of the investigation. Indeed, at times, we can even observe this tendency, not just in the progression of the argument, but in the cadence of a single sentence: “Having (…) dismantled the distinction between the normal and the pathological, I am now taking the additional step of asking whether there is not some kind of ‘privilege’ of the pathological over the normal” (309). Yet, what use is it to dismantle—indeed, to deconstruct—a distinction, only to re-establish and maintain it (albeit in the inverse) in a second instance? What Falque describes as taking a step further is only a very hesitant advance, one that perhaps appears all the more insufficient in light of the position from which it rightly retreats after the eloquent diagnosis the book provides. This, I would suggest, is the tension that haunts Falque’s admirable critique, one that perhaps necessarily plagues the phenomenological project as such (as Derrida might insist). With this book, Falque therefore cements his position as one of the most significant phenomenologists working today, whilst also illustrating the inherent difficulty of using phenomenology as an all-encompassing philosophical method.
Let us first, however, examine Falque’s interesting proposal. This is Falque’s first book of ‘pure philosophy’, without reference to the Christian theological tradition, yet the aim of his investigation remains as ever primarily anthropological in nature. Specifically, Hors phénomène articulates a phenomenological understanding of the human condition as transformation by rather than openness to experience: confronted with the experience of trauma, as “defeat of my categories, or rather ‘extra-categorial’, I can only reinvent myself differently—not just in the expectation of eventiality or the so-called salvation of alterity, but also in the confidence of a ‘power of the self’, having no other reason to exist than always being already ‘ahead of itself’ or as if ‘metamorphosed’” (8).
After rooting its starting point in the experience of trauma, the book’s first chapter sets out its titular notion of the extra-phenomenal in a programmatic way:
There is the infra-phenomenal (propaedeutic to phenomenality), there is the supra-phenomenal (excessive to phenomenality); and then there is the extra-phenomenal (outside all phenomenality). The first prepares phenomenalisation, the second overflows phenomenalisation (…), and the third is outside phenomenalisation. The ‘extra-phenomenal’ (…) is thus not itself a phenomenon in the ordinary sense, for it destroys (…) all capacity for phenomenalisation (the phenomenalising subject) and any phenomenalised object (the horizon of appearing). In this sense, speaking of the extra-phenomenal, is (…) to open up a ‘new field’—that of what is (now) without ‘field’ or ‘horizon’. (89-90).
The extra-phenomenal, understood as a traumatic experience that is neither infra- nor supra-phenomenal, is thus meant to counter what Falque calls the “a priori of manifestation” (93): namely, the normal course of phenomenological analysis in which anything that is non-phenomenal is immediately understood as either preparing or exceeding phenomenality, instead of being conceived of as properly outside of phenomenality. This diagnosis is indeed eminently correct and the perspective on the phenomenological method it opens extremely valuable: Falque seeks to give an account of the extra-phenomenal in its extra-phenomenality, namely in its deviation from the phenomenological norm of manifestation. On this account, the extra-phenomenal not only falls outside conditions of possible experience, but in being experienced also destroys these conditions and thus the very possibility of subsequent experiences being lived as phenomena. It accomplishes, as Falque puts it, the “annihilation of any transcendental focus of appearing” (63). Nevertheless, he insists, this account of what remains outside phenomenalisation is nevertheless itself a phenomenological one: a “(phenomenological) essay at the confines of phenomenality,” namely the exercise of “phenomenological scrutiny at the limits of phenomenology itself” (18). Yet, one can be forgiven for thinking that this is a contradiction in terms: at no point does Falque explain in what sense an extra-phenomenal experience can still be addressed by an intra-phenomenological discourse, which constitutes the necessary tension that haunts both this book in particular and phenomenology in general.
In that regard, we can perhaps immediately ask the perfectly reasonable question: why should infra and supra not simply be understood as two different ways of being extra? Falque gives a very eloquent descriptions of the various kinds of infra- and supra-phenomenality known to the phenomenological tradition (§§12-13), but never really explains quite how they differ from the negatively defined regime of extra-phenomenality. To his credit, Falque does provide examples of extra-phenomenal experiences that would constitute a trauma: illness (§1), separation (§2), death of a child (§3), natural disaster (§4), and the pandemic (§5). Here, too, we can ask: the death of a child is undoubtedly a traumatic experience that leaves its mark on whomever undergoes it (thus making it extra-phenomenal), but does it not equally and at the same time exceed any objective representation (thus being supra-phenomenal) and determine how other children appear subsequently (thus being infra-phenomenal)? The book never becomes specific enough to provide us with the material to verify or falsify its presupposition: that phenomenology can consider the extra-phenomenal as such without relating it to phenomenality as either infra- or supra-phenomenal.
It is therefore an abstract phenomenological framework that the book offers us, yet one that is undeniably ground-breaking. Having defined the extra-phenomenal programmatically in the first chapter, the subsequent two provide a detailed account of what Falque understands to be its mode of phenomenality—or, rather, extra-phenomenality. The second chapter, over and against the phenomenological norm of signification or givenness, conceives of it in terms of resistance: the “phenomenon” is “no longer what manifests itself or appears as such, but what resists, opposes, holds back, or simply ‘exists’, or even better ‘insists’” (123). Falque explains:
We no longer have to do here with phenomenalisation (phainesthai), quite the contrary. Rather, we stand at the limits or at the confines of phenomenology, as soon as the very idea of appearing does not or no longer appear. The discourse on the conditions of appearing finds itself disqualified here, as soon as the ‘resisting presence’ opposes itself to it in every way and even destroys the very conditions of its possibility. (122)
Here, Falque indeed identifies a radically new field of phenomenality and rightly insists that it is deserving of its own account. Moreover, he provides that account in the third chapter, which deals with the way in which the extra-phenomenal destroys the conditions of possible experience, notably in reference to a curious remark by Kant in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason about cinnabar (the main mineral ore of mercury): if cinnabar were sometimes red and sometimes black, sometimes heavy and sometimes light—i.e., if nature were not subject to the same normative rules as the association of ideas by human reason—, then the phenomenalising imagination would stumble before the sensational manifold that it offers. In thus in contemplating the possibility of the breakdown of the transcendental imagination, of its act of synthesis being rendered impossible by the very experience whose empirical manifold is subject to it, that Kant adumbrates the extra-phenomenal according to Falque: “Cinnabar not only contests the confrontation of opposites within the object (red and black, light and heavy), but glimpses this possible and ‘unimaginable’ decomposition of the object, even of the subject itself, in an experience where it loses even its identity” (209). In other words, the extra-phenomenal denotes the breakdown of the transcendental schematism: an experience that deviates from the norm, whose empirical manifold escapes the reach of the rule according to which it is associated with pure concepts—and thus, ultimately, resists constitution into an object or phenomenon.
The final three chapters develop the consequences of the extra-phenomenal thus conceived for the broader phenomenological method. Chapter 4 deals with the subject as self: far from being given to the subject by another as one would normally expect, ipseity exists in a constant process of modification or transformation by the traumatic experiences that befall me. Chapter 5 considers this transformation on the existential level: crisis, whose experience is the extra-phenomenal trauma, constitutes being-there ontologically, because it is the experience whose experiencing accomplishes transformation. Here, Falque therefore formulates a new principle of phenomenality according to which “so much exception, so much modification” (299): the experience that is experienced outside—and not just below or beyond—the conditions of possible experience (the trauma of crisis), accomplishes a modification or transformation of possibility itself (the being of Dasein). As Falque puts it: “The exception (within the phenomenalised horizon) and modification (of the phenomenalising subject) have in common that they go hand in hand in an all the more transformed being-oneself in one’s trauma, to the point that one loses any idea of what was once one’s identity” (302). Chapter 6 then frames the extra-phenomenal according to its most fundamental phenomenological contribution: consciousness is not originally characterised by intersubjectivity, but by a solitude that the phenomenological tradition considers to be abnormal—precisely because trauma does not let itself be shared (e.g., despite all the care I may receive, no one can suffer illness on my behalf). “Trauma,” Falque insists, “first of all and always returns me to this original solitude” (393).
The book is perhaps best understood as the first step in a bold and ambitious new programme in which the human condition as redefined phenomenologically as transformation rather than opening. It poses a radical challenge to the field in an attempt to disrupt the normal procedure of phenomenology by asking a crucial question with which every phenomenologist should reckon: how do we account phenomenologically for what remains persistently outside phenomenalisation? Falque’s answer is provided by his anthropological account of the transformation accomplished by the extra-phenomenal: “an experience becomes such that it simultaneously ruins the phenomenalising subject and the phenomenalised horizon. In light of the trauma, life is no longer the same” (12). The book’s main and impressive achievement is thus the opening up of this field of extra-phenomenality.
Yet, in achieving this result, perhaps the main question Falque leaves unanswered is that of the status of his investigation: in what sense are these “meditations” still truly phenomenological? When challenged on this front, Falque is inclined to respond that, ultimately, this question of jargon matters little. However, this response confirms and highlights a certain curious irony present throughout the book: in abandoning the Christian theological tradition as philosophical point of reference, Falque nevertheless for the first time becomes fundamentally complicit with phenomenology’s theological turn. I do not mean that Falque thereby abandons phenomenology in favour of theology, but rather that he nevertheless—and with good reason—leaves phenomenology proper behind in his attempt to articulate an “extra-horizontal” phenomenology (302). In a way, this book reverses the patricide Falque so eloquently committed against Jean-Luc Marion (his onetime doctoral supervisor): whereas Falque once defended the existential conditions within which givenness is received as forming the horizon for its phenomenalisation, precisely against Marion for whom these only come into view to the extent that they are exceeded by givenness; we now find Falque suggesting that the extra-phenomenal destroys the horizon against which phenomenalisation takes place along with the subject who projects it. To better understand the unexpected turn Falque takes here, we may perhaps refer to the famous debate Marion had with his own teacher:
Marion. I do not recognise the ‘as such’ as mine. What I have said, precisely in that horizon, is that the question of the claim to the ‘as such’ has no right to be made.
Derrida. Then would you disassociate what you call phenomenology from the authority of the as such? If you do that, it would be the first heresy in phenomenology. Phenomenology without as such!
Marion. Not my first, no! I said to Levinas some years ago that in fact the last step for a real phenomenology would be to give up the concept of horizon. Levinas answered my immediately: ‘Without horizon there is no phenomenology.’ And I boldly assume he was wrong.
Derrida. I am also for the suspension of the horizon, but, for that very reason, by saying so, I am not a phenomenologist anymore. I am very true to phenomenology, but when I agree on the necessity of suspending the horizon, then I am no longer a phenomenologists. So the problem remains if you give up the as such, what is the use that you can make of the word phenomenology.
Marion. (…) As to the question of whether what I am doing, or what Derrida is doing, is within phenomenology or beyond, it does not seem to me very important. (…) Whether Étant donné is still phenomenology we shall see ten years later. But now it is not very important. I claim that I am still faithful to phenomenology (…). But this will be an issue, if any, for our successors.
The debate around Étant donné, which could perhaps be repeated with Hors phénomène, is wrapped up in this brief exchange. Derrida is eminently correct, not only in his insistence that there is no phenomenology without a horizon (i.e., for then there would be no more phenomenon understood as the appearing of things as what they are to intentional consciousness), but also that it is out of a decidedly phenomenology exigency that he sees himself necessitated to go outside phenomenology proper. For now, however, it suffices to note that at this instance, suddenly, we could replace Marion in this conversation with his student Falque. Indeed, the critique that was once levelled against Marion, can perhaps now also be levelled against Falque: in their respective attempts at somehow cancelling out the horizon (whether by going beyond or outside of it), and their joint lack of interest in actually considering the question of the phenomenological nature of their proposal, they both end producing a discourse that is non-phenomenological or even extra-phenomenological—but, as Derrida insist, therefore no less true to phenomenology. Having dealt with Falque’s attempt at cancelling out the horizon higher up, let us now consider his lack of interest in the question of whether his discourse is phenomenological in nature or not, and what it may be instead if not phenomenological.
Revisiting Falque’s treatment of Kant’s reference to cinnabar—a highly sophisticated discussion that constitutes one of the book’s highlights—, we can directly observe his reluctance to properly engage with the question of the nature of his investigation into the extra-phenomenal. With much fanfare, Falque notes that Kant omits the reference to cinnabar from the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason: “Kant is frightened by the ‘conceptual monster’ he has created, in that the mere hypothesis of ‘cinnabar’ is enough to ‘take out’, even ‘blow up’, any principle of unification” (210). On Falque’s reading, Kant realised he had hit upon a notion that threatened the entire edifice of the critique and therefore quickly swept it under the rug. Yet, one wonders whether it is not just as likely that Kant—the first to articulate a transcendental theory of objective experience and therefore perhaps the original phenomenologist—omitted the reference to cinnabar, not because he worried that it risked undoing the very framework he had set out, but rather because he realised that there is nothing that can responsibly be said about this matter from within said framework? In other words, perhaps the first Critique—rightly—avoids further discussion of cinnabar, understood as the experience that destroys the transcendental schematism, precisely because its discussion of experience takes places on the basis of that transcendental schematism. An altogether different discourse would therefore be needed to address the experience Falque focusses on: if Kant says nothing more about cinnabar, perhaps that is because there is nothing more to say within the confines of transcendental-phenomenological investigation. This does not mean that there is nothing further left to say at all, but simply that it cannot be said within the register of phenomenology, that a different discourse is needed.
This is, ultimately, the paradox on which Derrida hits in his own critique of phenomenology and highlights again in his conversation with Marion: the questions that are most fundamental to phenomenology—whether that of presence (Derrida), givenness (Marion), or the confines of phenomenality (Falque)—, require us to leave phenomenological discourse behind in order to consider phenomenology itself from a position and in an investigation that is itself extra-phenomenological. In other words, if Falque wants to submit “the norm of all phenomenality” (13) to scrutiny by way of the valuable notion of the extra-phenomenal; he must also make good on his promise by facing up to the fact that, insofar as it succeeds in moving outside phenomenality (i.e., phenomenological normativity), this scrutiny necessarily takes place outside the phenomenological method. If this were not the case, if the account of the extra-phenomenal were itself an intra-phenomenological enterprise, then the critique of phenomenological normativity would in turn itself be subject to that normativity—leading to precisely the tension that Derrida thematises by way of deconstruction. Falque’s continual attempt at returning to the framework of phenomenology (its normativity) hampers his excellent account of the extra-phenomenal as destroying that very framework (its existence outside-the-norm). At times, we can literally see him struggling with this tension:
So much exception, so much modification: Kant’s hapax (cinnabar) thus becomes the rule here (…); what had thus been the ‘exception’ in a well-ordered phenomenality (…), becomes the norm for what precisely has no norm—the ‘extra-categorial’ of what has no or no longer categories, or the impossibility of all possibility. (302)
Falque’s advance thus proceeds with a certain amount of hesitation: he discovers that there are experiences that remain outside phenomenality, due to the fact that phenomenology operates certain norms that are themselves phenomenologically illegitimate (insofar as this normativity cannot be reduced to actual experience); but then immediately brings those experiences inside of phenomenality, and thus within the bounds of normativity, by turning the exception into the new phenomenological norm. Falque therefore perhaps also finds himself in the position he ascribes to Kant, namely a reluctance to fully exploit his valuable discovery of the extra-phenomenal since it would necessitate abandoning phenomenological discourse altogether—as Derrida already adumbrated: every possible “principle of phenomenology” requires deconstruction insofar as it excludes those experiences that make exception to it, that do not conform to the phenomenological norm, because these principles constitute a priori restrictions of the field of experience that are themselves phenomenologically illegitimate. In other words, what drove Derrida outside phenomenology was precisely what he learned on the inside: the phenomenological ambition is descriptive, not normative; but as scientific description, actual phenomenological analysis exists in bringing experience within a particular normative framework of transcendental rules that govern the intentional constitution of objects (i.e., the “principle of phenomenality”). However, Falque apparently refuses to abandon the discursive style of phenomenology, i.e. the description of experience in its essence by subjecting it to transcendental rules or normative principles; even though his book—rightly—proposes a critique of that normativity in response to a distinctly phenomenological exigency. This is therefore the true result of Hors phénomène (as of Étant donné, though in a very different way): there are experiences that persistently remain extra-phenomenal and therefore also require an analysis that is itself extra-phenomenological; phenomenology may be a perfectly valid way of analysing experience, but it is not exhaustive. Indeed, how else are we to understand what Falque calls the “night of phenomenology” and describes as “not the givenness of the phenomenon of givenness or non-givenness (the phenomenology of the night), but the non-givenness of givenness itself—not by privation, nor by excess, but only by negation” (89)—the negation of what if not phenomenology itself?
If Derrida moves outside phenomenology from within it so as to consider the infra-phenomenal (the deconstruction of presence), and Marion moves outside phenomenology from within it in order to consider the supra-phenomenal (the theology of revelation); then Falque’s book nevertheless sketches a similar way out of phenomenology for him: the psychoanalysis of trauma. After all, what is an investigation that operates “following Freud” (23) and is “built upon the basis of the traumatic” (127), if not psychoanalysis? Indeed, a psychoanalytic lens allows us to better appreciate what Falque means by the extra-phenomenal as exemplified by the experience of trauma:
A nothing that is not nothing, this is what makes up the ‘resistance of presence’—(…) not in that the Id takes refuge in invisibility (a kind of negative theology (…)), but in that its obscurity or thickness is such that it demonstrates impenetrability. (117)
In this sense, “so much exception, so much modification” (299) is perhaps best understood, not as a principle of phenomenality (for nothing appears in the exception), but rather as a principle of psychoanalysis (or, perhaps, of ‘traumaticity’): the traumatic experience is precisely the experience that is not phenomenalised, that is not lived-through in experience; but rather the experience that denotes “any excitations from outside which are powerful enough to break through the protective shield” of consciousness (exception) and thereby can “provoke a disturbance on a large scale in the functioning of the organism’s energy” (modification), ultimately resulting in “the problem of mastering the amounts of stimulus which have broken in and of binding them (…) so that they can be disposed of” (destruction).
Curiously, this path is arguably already forged by Falque’s book, but he appears reluctant to actually walk it by confessing his ultimately psychoanalytical perspective. This perspective, nevertheless, provides him with precisely what he needs in order to execute his critique of phenomenological normativity: a discourse that does not operate according to norms, or at least not according to the same norms as those of phenomenology, and is thus able to provide a critique of phenomenological normativity from outside the norm of phenomenality. Yet, such is the necessary tension that haunts Falque’s book in particular and all phenomenology in general, this critique of normativity from outside of it is an inherently phenomenological gesture: it goes by the name of reduction and extends to principles or norms as it does to judgments. We should therefore understand the present book alongside those other unorthodox yet major works of phenomenology that forge a path outside phenomenology from within in order to remain true to phenomenology, as Derrida put it, by justice to the full range of possible experience: Derrida’s Le toucher provides an extra-phenomenology of touch (deconstruction), Marion’s Étant donné provides an extra-phenomenology of revelation (theology), Falque’s Hors phénomène provides an extra-phenomenology of trauma (psychoanalysis)—each time showing how phenomenology can only be actual when confronted with and transformed by non-phenomenology.
 John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon (Eds.). 1999. God, the Gift, and Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 66-68.
 Sigmund Freud. 1961. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Translated by James Strachey. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 23-24.
In his book Nothing to It: Reading Freud as a Philosopher, Emmanuel Falque has provided a compact and dense argument in order to show the importance of Freud’s work for the phenomenological debate.
In the opening section, Falque chooses to present the affinities between Freud’s psychological theory and the ideas of Paul Ricoeur and Merleau-Ponty. As starting point, the author suggests that psychoanalysis as discipline, and in particular, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, can be studied independently of the practice underlying it. (24)
Thus, from the beginning, Falque abandons any issue concerning the practical aspects of psychoanalysis, following the lead of Ricouer. Previous philosophical approaches to Freudian psychoanalysis, like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972) or Jacques Derrida’s Resistances to Psychoanalysis (1996), were characterized, in the author’s view, by a polemic tone. (26) One may add that this line of criticism in France continues in the new millennium, for example in Michel Onfray’s The Twilight of an Idol: The Freudian Confabulation (2010).
However, Falque wants to focus on a more sympathetic, if minoritarian, current in French phenomenology. As example, he points at the work of Merleau- Ponty in the period from his Phenomenology of Perception (1945) to his death. Indeed, Merleau-Ponty has openly declared that the phenomenological method was developed with the contribution of psychoanalysis. Falque then concludes by saying:
In short, we need not to reconcile psychoanalysis and philosophy because in reality they have already been married for a long time. But we still have to nourish the link, and any fidelity demands not only self-denial, but instead a willingness to approach the other. (27-28)
After providing the historical precedent for his attempt, Falque considers which moments or stages of “fecundity” in psychoanalysis have produced a transformation in phenomenology.
The author describes them as ‘backlashes’ of psychoanalysis, producing a radical change of course in phenomenology. (28) The first moment is described in Ricouer’s Freud and Philosophy (1965), in which the earliest psychoanalytic theory is presented as one the greatest or even the principal authority of the unfurling of hermeneutics. (29)
In Ricoeur’s view, the conflict between psychoanalysis and phenomenology does not emerge from their original works, namely Freud’s Interpretations of Dreams (1899) and Husserl’s Logical Investigations (1900), which actually show a certain affinity, but rather in the
necessity, at least in Ricoeur’s eyes, to radicalize the theory of “signification” (Husserl) with a theory of “interpretation” (Freud). (29)
The second moment comes when Merleau-Ponty recognizes the shared interest in both psychoanalysis and phenomenology in applying reason to the irrational, which should be considered as a form of progress for reason (30). Yet, phenomenology, according to Falque, has not been able to move beyond the statement that “all consciousness is consciousness of something”.
The “below” of sense drills into spheres that do not reach the pair “sense” and “non-sense”. Deeper and more gaping, this stratum of the existent says nothing and has nothing to tell me, is not seen nor is demonstrable, is not understood, and does not let itself be read. (31)
So, it appears that psychoanalysis understood the multi-layered nature of the Id, Merleau-Ponty’s ‘raw nature’, and then phenomenology, influenced by Freud’s insight, developed its own theory.
The It is the pivotal point in Falque’s discussion, and he himself chooses this point to clarify his title, Nothing to It:
It only shows that “to see oneself”, following the Id, one first has to renounce seeing (…) because one is borne from below by the neuter of the “Self” of our existentiality. (32)
At this point, Falque develops his idea of a superiority of Freud’s idea of latency,
this hidden cache that stands in a place where there is nothing to “It” .(32)
compared to Husserl, Heidegger and Lévinas’ concepts of intuition, manifestation and invisible’s excess.
At this point, the author starts to expand his idea about the need to combine psychoanalytic insights and philosophical explorations. What makes the comparison harder to understand is the fact that Falque repeatedly compares a few notions of Freud’s theory, only his, and only his “second topography”, (37) with a variety of philosophers, usually French and broadly definable as phenomenologists, but sometimes including Nietzsche and even Kant as well. (35)
Chapter 1 opens with a few considerations about personal and historical events shaping Freud’s worldview in the last decades of his life. Personal and social tragedies have both contributed to change Freud’s optimism about an enduring Enlightenment. (40-42)
The First World War is thus for Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, not only a “crisis”, (…). It is properly speaking a “revolution”, the imposition of a change of paradigm and not merely the correction of an old system. (46)
At this point, Falque attempts to read “metaphysically” the impact of the Great War on psychoanalysis, claiming that
It introduces the ego and destroys not only the ego’s capacity to present or be represented, but the very idea that there is something to “present” or something “representable”. (46)
The impact of the historical event on the discipline of psychoanalysis, according to Falque, is analogous to that of the Second World War on Lévinas’s phenomenology, particularly about the question of “evil”. On the other hand, Freud’s contemporary philosophers, like Husserl, Bergson, and Russell, were unable to grasp this metaphysical level,
the “it” of the event of the war and the “id/it” of the submission or even of the annihilation of the ego. (47)
The discussion on Freud’s superior understanding of the Great War as the proof of humanity’s barbarism continues in Chapter 2, and Falque makes the claim that this barbarism is characteristic of the First but not of the Second World War:
One knows why people die, or rather why there is death in the Second World War, because it is thoroughly “rationalized” even if it is never “reasonable”. (…) Inversely, one does not die merely for nothing in the First World War, but one does not know why one dies, who dies, or where the people who die go or might want to go. (50)
Falque’s claims are debatable, not only for historical reasons, but also because Freud’s death before the Second World War prevented anyone from knowing if he would have shared Falque’s distinction between a “barbaric” First World War and an “ideological” Second World War, as the author seems to imply. (51)
In any case, Falque’s focus in this section is on the impact of barbarism on psychoanalysis, and, specifically, on the discovery of the “death drive”, which, in Falque’s view, had always been the ‘unknown object’ of psychoanalysis since the beginning. (51-52)
What First World War brought to the fore was the presence of a violent “primitive man” lying just beneath the surface of civilization (probably meaning Western Civilization, although Falque does not clarify).
The realization of the existence of a “death drive”, in the author’s opinion, makes Freud’s understanding of the conflict comparable with that of Franz Rosenzweig, author of The Star of Redemption (1921). (54)
The analogy between the experiences of a man fighting in the trenches, as was the case of Rosenzweig, with those of someone “in the rear guard” is rather contestable, as Falque himself recognizes. (57) Yet, they reach very similar conclusions regarding the loss of Enlightenment’s illusions, wiped away by the sheer violence of the fighting. (56)
What Freud comes to call the “Id” emerges as the brutality of the “animal component” of the individual, revealed by the war in all its brutal power. (57)
The conclusion of this chapter is:
That there is an “Id” prior to an “Ego” (Freud) or a “Self” prior to the “me” (Nietzsche) is the lesson drawn from the conflict- not primarily military or political but metaphysical- from which Freud and we after him have not finished drawing the lessons for philosophy itself. (58)
The change occurred to psychoanalysis in the aftermath of the war is the starting point for Chapter 3:
not only thinking through the war, but thinking oneself thinking through the war, and showing that the thought of the war becomes the place of and the tool for the destruction of all thought. (60)
The consequences of this change is a new consideration for the “somatic” component, whose corporeality is understood differently by Freud, Jung and Lacan. (60) Falque mentions here other psychoanalytic schools in order to clarify that the concept of “drive” should be understood only as
the force in me that I do not recognize as being me- appears to me as “a known that is unknown”. (61)
As noticed before, Falque usually restricts his discussion of psychoanalysis to Freud’s theory, while covering a number of philosophers. At this point, he briefly considers Lacan’s “symbolic”, only to notice how it ignores the “somatic origin of the drive”. (63) While it is understandable to reduce sometimes the differences between psychoanalysis and phenomenology, some clarification about the choice of excluding in toto any other psychoanalyst may have been useful at this stage.
In the following section, the author underlines once more the importance and utility of a greater consideration of Freud’s ideas in phenomenology, suggesting that the latter could gain some insights, for psychoanalytic theory would lead phenomenology
back to its Urgrund or toward the “obscure ground” of the human, which it cannot avoid (…). (63)
It seems that it has already done so in some measure, since Merleau-Ponty’s “raw nature” and Derrida’s Khora derive from the backlash of psychoanalysis as they recover
the obscure point of what is below or beneath any signification intended by the Freudian “unconscious”(…). (63)
After this passage, as in others, one may expect some explanation of the link between three concepts which are quite complex and debated on their own right. Yet, Falque moves on without further discussion, and he also exits the field of phenomenology for drawing two short comparisons between the Freudian drive and an idea of force that is to be found in Nietzsche and Spinoza. Again, there is no further analysis, and the interesting possibilities are left open.
Chapter 4 suspends the comparison between phenomenology and psychoanalysis, considering instead the latter’s similarities with some “spiritual” work by Christian authors. Falque considers Freud’s concepts of “uncanny” (69-70), “death and repetition” (71), and “anorganic” (72-73), as similar to the spiritual experience of being “outside of time” and “outside of space”, defined as “acedia” by the authors he quotes. (76)
The following chapters mostly discuss Freud’s works in the last decade of his life, in particular the confrontation between the Ego and the Id, which Falque sometimes writes as the it, as in the title, making hard to distinguish in some case which meaning of the word “it” he is employing. He sometimes interrupts what would be an historical overview of Freud’s ouvre for showing some possible link with phenomenology, mostly Derrida, and the spiritual and theological concepts he briefly considered in Chapter 4.
The conclusion of his analysis is that the Id, in order to be understood, requires the combination of three disciplines. This is necessary since the self to be explored is not only of the human, but of God and of the world as well. And thus
One “crosses the Rubicon” from phenomenology into theology, and vice versa, but also from phenomenology to psychoanalysis, and vice versa. It is by learning and by being modified by its “other” that phenomenology will advance and will stop condemning every other science as “ontic”. (90)
The concluding chapter presents an almost religious undertone, discussing the Id as something to be “saved”, and the Ego presented as its saviour (93-94). This considerations are inspired by the notes Freud made in the last months of his life, in which a mystical allure clearly emerges.
The epilogue lists the achievements of Freud:
To bring the Enlightenment to an end, to conceive the inconceivable, to be rooted in the organic, not to fear the uncanny, to go all the way to the anorganic, to be lived by the Id, (…) such is the path lived simultaneously by Freud himself, and through him, the history of the development of psychoanalysis. (100)
Each of these results has been analyzed in the book, although rather shortly. As noticed by Philippe Van Haute in the Foreword, Falque’s book “leaves many questions open”. Sometimes it is also rather obscure, adopting concepts from Freud, Derrida and others without a proper explanation, which would be in some case necessary . The continuous changes of terminology are quite confusing as well, with a few chapters discussing psychoanalysis but employing a phenomenological lexicon and another doing the contrary.
Another potential weakness of the book is the considerable difference between the analysis of Freud’s works, often involving historical and biographical considerations, and, on the other hand, the ideas of philosophers, which are usually thrown in as means of comparison without any elaboration or contextualization.
Yet, this book is undeniably fascinating in its re-evaluation of Freud’s theories, and all the parts concerning the founder of psychoanalysis and his ideas are rich in insights and make a strong case for further philosophical explorations.
Crossing without Confusing
During my first forays into so-called ‘continental philosophy of religion’, I mostly knew Emmanuel Falque as the author of a series of extraordinarily insightful essays on the major figures of contemporary French phenomenology, but never seriously explored his own original phenomenological work. After all, as a rare atheist philosopher active in this field who more or less shares Dominique Janicaud’s diagnosis of it, Falque’s work initially struck me as exacerbating the worst tendencies of that of Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry: a theologisation of phenomenology by way of a too close reconciliation of philosophy and theology that is not only unsatisfying philosophically but equally remains naïve theologically, thus disappointing both philosophers and theologians. This judgement on my part, however, was little more than a prejudice based on the back covers of Falque’s books—which, admittedly, carry extremely theological titles that might make even the most open-minded atheist philosopher suspicious—and some initial English-language scholarly discussion of their contents. Take for example the chapter on Falque in Christina Gschwandtner’s Postmodern Apologetics—for a while the only comprehensive overview available in English—, which initially describes him as follows: “He has degrees in both philosophy and theology and merges the two disciplines far more fully than any of the other thinkers, occasionally even challenging the boundaries between these subject matters as unnecessary and superficial.” It was only after seeing Falque speak in person that I was tempted to start reading his work more thoroughly, until I realised that Gschwandtner’s description seriously mischaracterised it. Indeed, I attended a conference on continental philosophy of religion at which both Falque and Marion, his former doctoral supervisor, delivered keynote addresses. Teacher and student made very different impressions, however. Marion addressed a crowded auditorium but simply repeated one of his Gifford lectures, a text that had been published a few years earlier and with which—presumably—most if not all attendants were therefore already familiar. Far fewer people showed up for Falque’s lecture early the next morning, but he displayed so much energy and enthusiasm that I myself certainly left feeling much more inspired than I had done the night before. I wanted to learn more about this man’s work and immediately ordered his Triduum philosophique upon my return home. What I found there was a philosophy that, whilst certainly making liberal use of theology, at no point risked merging the two but instead employed both disciplines separately and with an equal degree of sophistication—something that is both hard to do as an author and difficult to understand as a reader.
Having now come to appreciate Falque as one of the most interesting and audacious French philosophers working today, I am suitably embarrassed by my previous misconceptions. I am also equally excited by this first edited volume dedicated to his work in English, as it may help others avoid making the mistakes I did. Reassuringly, the editors acknowledge that we must be careful when reading Falque, for otherwise we might easily arrive at “the misunderstanding that Falque is the direct successor of the theological turn, and a cursory reading of Falque’s work can lend to the impression that he seeks an even deeper radicalization and abrupt intrusion of the theological into the philosophical. Even worse, one might think he intends to exact theological imperialism over philosophy, ultimately reducing any phenomenologically gained insights to ready-made theological truths” (xxi). To remedy this misunderstanding, the essays included in the book all confront Falque’s method, as set out in his Crossing the Rubicon, from a variety of perspectives. This method can be summarised using two of Falque’s favourite phrases. First, there is ‘crossing the Rubicon’, which becomes the title of Falque’s self-proclaimed ‘discourse on method’ and serves to indicate the act by which the philosopher transgresses the boundaries of their own field in order to set foot on that of theology and vice versa, leaving them transformed. Second, there is Falque’s ‘principle of proportionality’, which states that ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’, and according to which the two disciplines must thus be practiced together but without losing their respective rigour. The summary of this framework provided by the editors in their introduction is perhaps the clearest one available in the scholarly literature so far:
Nevertheless, in the context of the discourse on method, it must be stated clearly that the joint practice of theology and philosophy does not result in their fusion, which necessarily would result (and indeed already has) in confusion. The point in the making is that in crossing the Rubicon one is allowed to pass onto the other bank, look around, and then come back home before getting lost in its waters. In this sense, the boundaries are not abolished (Lacoste) or confused (as Falque’s critics interpret his work) but transformed. (xxiii)
Indeed, what perhaps causes the misunderstandings surrounding Falque’s method is that the act of returning to one’s proper bank, as well as avoiding drowning in the Rubicon’s perilous waters, are too often neglected in favour of that initial crossing: even in the transformation (i.e., the crossing) of one by the other, the distinction (i.e., the boundary) is maintained. After all, without acknowledging the reality of the boundary and confirming its legitimacy, there can be no crossing to speak of. We may then summarise the task this volume sets itself as facilitating crossing without confusing: to show how Emmanuel Falque, as a philosopher, crosses the disciplinary boundary between philosophy and theology, without ever confusing them and thus ceasing to be a philosopher. The difficulty of this enterprise, both for Falque to execute rigorously and for the book to document adequately, should not be underestimated.
Indeed, the difficulty is attested to by the volume itself: several of its contributors offer wholly contradictory interpretations of Falque, with the ‘crossing’ sometimes undeniably becoming ‘confusing’. However, given that this volume only constitutes the opening salvo for the many battles in the English-language reception of Falque that are sure to follow, the diversity of opinion on offer here is to be expected and indeed entirely welcome. Taken together, these essays provide a fascinating and varied overview of the many ways in which Falque’s method can reinvigorate the debate concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy. The book itself is divided in three parts: first, critical interpretations of Falque; second, comparisons between him and other philosophers (unfortunately somewhat limited to French intellectual sphere, with authors like Blondel, Ricœur and Lévinas); and, finally, constructive engagements with his work. The book also includes an essay by Falque that probably constitutes the most succinct statement of his method, as well as an afterword by him.
It is the question of that method, of crossing from one territory to another rather than confusing them, that runs through the entirety of the book. Therefore, that question will also be my focus here, particularly how it makes various contributors claim mutually contradictory interpretations of Falque and occasionally confuse the territories he wants to keep separate. Before exploring these confusions and contradictions, however, it would be remiss of me not to note that this volume also has plenty of other criticisms and developments of Falque to offer that do not primarily concern his method. There is, for example, Bruce Ellis Benson’s important observation that Falque’s “account fundamentally overlooks a concept that he mentions more than once but never analyzes: namely, what ‘religion’ is” (33). Indeed, Falque talks a lot about ‘religion’, but in doing so virtually always means something entirely different: namely, Christianity if not simply Roman Catholicism. He may provide a philosophy of Christianity (e.g., philosophical treatments of Christian concepts like the Passion, Resurrection and Eucharist), but in absolutely no way does he provide a philosophy of religion: i.e., an analysis of the troubled notion of the ‘essence of religion’, or any kind of discourse that also concerns other world-religions. To be fair to him, this problem is one of the field of ‘continental philosophy of religion’ as whole: it talks a lot about Christian theological concepts, but very little about those of other religious traditions or indeed about religion as such. Perhaps less excusable is what Benson calls Falque’s “religious homogeneity,” even when dealing with Christianity: “he shows remarkably little concern for the multiplicity that is found in world Christianity” (27). Of course, Falque has read the major 20th century German theologians, but that is where his engagement with anything outside Catholicism stops. Now, we shouldn’t expect a French philosopher to engage with, say, Asian or American Pentecostalism; but Christian thought in Europe—even in France—nevertheless has an abundance of sources to draw on beyond Catholicism and specifically German Lutheranism. The most glaring lacuna in Falque’s bibliography is perhaps the rich Orthodox theological traditions, including the Russian émigré theologians who often wrote in French (e.g., Lossky, Bulgakov, Florovsky, Berdyaev)—though the present volume remedies this oversight somewhat. A theologian can afford to dwell within a particular confessional framework when discussing Christian concepts since his labours serve a particular church; an author who claims to be philosophe avant tout and wants to address a larger audience, however, cannot.
Two more constructive contributions that do not directly concern Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology but are noteworthy nevertheless are those by William Connelly and Andrew Sackin-Poll respectively, for they show how phenomenological philosophy borders not just on theology but on other disciplines as well. Connelly situates Falque’s work at the confluence of phenomenology and non-phenomenology, impressively developing this notion by way of Merleau-Ponty and Blondel. In a complex and sophisticated essay, Sackin-Poll meanwhile explores the relation between phenomenology and metaphysics from a trinitarian perspective. It strikes me that Sackin-Poll’s essay could very well form a somewhat unexpected but nevertheless very welcome bridge between the sometimes excessively French preoccupations of this volume and recent developments in Anglo-American theology.
The volume’s chief concern, however, is Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology: what it means to ‘cross the Rubicon’ between both disciplines whereby one is transformed by the other without them ever being confused with it. The various contributions offer equally varying interpretations of this notion, resulting in some contributors directly contradicting others (which the editors are clearly aware of and exploit in their organisation of the material). This variety of opinion illustrates the difficulty of rigorously ‘crossing the Rubicon’, of jointly practicing philosophy and theology without ever confusing them. A source of the confusion and contradiction may be the liberal use of metaphor made throughout the volume to interpret the central metaphor used by Falque (i.e., ‘crossing the Rubicon’). In his contribution, for example, William Woody asks whether this crossing must be understood as ‘foreign exchange’ or ‘hostile incursion’: even though it uses a military metaphor, Woody asks, doesn’t “Falque’s account blithely ignore an essential—and perhaps necessary and productive—hostility between philosophy and theology?” (52). He explains:
Despite this, is there not a necessary hostility—or perhaps a less charged, beneficial antagonism—that we should maintain between theology and philosophy? Crossing the Rubicon provides an exemplary model that enables dialogue across difference, though such a movement also exposes a necessary inner tension that appears irresolvable in the relationship between philosophy and theology—a mutual necessity but also a mutual hostility or antagonism, or (at best) a mutual opposition and critique. I fear that, in some cases, Falque advocates an overly optimistic view of the potential for this relationship. (59)
Nevertheless, Woody does not give any examples of cases that concern him, sticking instead to the analysis of Falque’s method as Crossing the Rubicon states it generally and abstractly—often, he notes correctly, through various curious uses of metaphor. He then concludes with a metaphor of his own, reinterpreting Falque’s: “Without antagonism and hostility in the relationship, perhaps Falque advocates not so much crossing the Rubicon as the more docile exchange of crossing the Schengen zone” (60).
It is true that we Europeans have grown accustomed to our ability to cross borders easily, perhaps even blithely. Equally, ancient hostilities between European nations have ceased. Arguably, these two developments went hand in hand. However, to say that with them all antagonism has also disappeared—whether on the metaphorical level (between European nations) or as concerns the topic at hand (between philosophy and theology in Falque’s work)—could not be more wrong. Indeed, just like there remains plenty of antagonism amongst European nations, there very much is a necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology in the substantive parts of Falque’s work (which, after all, Crossing the Rubicon precisely looks back on methodologically). In his critique of Henry’s phenomenology of incarnation, for example, Falque questions the too close reconciliation of what theology and French phenomenology both have separately come to call ‘flesh’: sarx in John or caro in Tertullian, he argues vigorously, does not equal Leib in Husserl or chair in Henry. In this respect, there is a perfectly obvious and necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology, one that is precisely productive of what Falque calls the ‘backlash’ of theology on phenomenology and comprises the substance of his own philosophical contribution. This backlash, the result of an antagonism between the two disciplines, is the site where the ‘crossing’ takes place: the transformation of phenomenology in its encounter with theology. Moreover, Falque has explicitly thematised this antagonism—by way of another titular metaphor—in his The Loving Struggle: just like there continues to be strife amongst European nations, philosophy and theology remain mutual antagonists in their eternal struggle with one another; the point Falque wants to make, however, is that this antagonism never reaches the level of hostility. “We deceive ourselves,” he explains, “if we see this struggle as a war. Here, the opposition of contenders (agon) characterizes the conflict (polemos), such that the ‘loving struggle’ among thinkers consists of more than a clash of one ‘force against another force’ aimed at the obliteration of one by the other. (…) Instead, I envision a quasi-athletic clash (lutte) wherein the partners are adversaries only in order to measure themselves against one another and thereby surpass themselves.” For example, precisely in struggling with the theological notions of sarx and caro, will phenomenology truly come to appreciate the distinctly philosophical meaning of what it calls chair—i.e., one that is different from the theological one and therefore cannot be confused with it. In short, there obviously is antagonism between philosophy and theology, but Falque wants to show us how this antagonism should be understood, not as the hostilities of war, but as the loving struggle of an intellectual dialogue in which mutual transformation can take place: according to the principle of proportionality (‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’), it is not that philosophy becomes more theological by actually theologising more; rather, in exploring the other bank of the Rubicon, philosophy’s very philosophising is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical).
Fortunately, Tamsin Jones sets the record straight with an extremely clear essay that immediately follows Woody’s and eloquently captures Falque’s approach as follows:
Falque is interested in encounter, not conversion. Indeed, this is one of the markers which, arguably, separates him from a previous generation of French phenomenologists who, by refusing the distance between the two disciplines and claiming certain topics (such as revelation, liturgy, Eucharist) as properly philosophical, also were less explicit about the confessional origin of those topics. Distinctly, Falque has no need to ‘baptize’ philosophers like Badiou, Franck, and Nancy, who might, nevertheless, make use of theology in interesting ways. Despite the fact that Falque employs a militaristic metaphor—Caesar’s crossing is a movement into battle—(…) the ensuing encounter (…) need not result in ‘crushing’ one’s foe, but instead could be understood as an athletic contest in which one encounters an equal adversary against which to test, exercise, and thus strengthen one’s own abilities. (64)
Indeed, of all the contributions included here, Jones’ states Falque’s method most clearly and succinctly as intended to “at once, uphold and traverse the distance between the two disciplines” (63) (i.e., ‘crossing without confusing’). Indeed, she is so succinct when setting out Falque’s framework that she manages to have sufficient space left to use it for some interesting reflections on the institutional structures within which the relevant disciplines are practiced in North America.
In one of the most eloquent contributions to the edited volume, Barnabas Aspray then offers a final metaphor for the interpretation of Falque’s original one:
However, it would be a gross misunderstanding of Falque’s project to consider it as one of confusion. Falque is not a transgressor of boundaries but a marriage counselor; he calls for us to overcome the divorce between philosophy and theology. His aim is to break down the artificial barrier of separation between the disciplines that was erected in twentieth-century France. Just as a marriage makes ‘one flesh’ out of two individuals without destroying the uniqueness of each, so Falque’s reuniting of philosophy and theology does not homogenize them but rather restores their right mutual relation. (163)
Aspray writes well and develops the metaphor beautifully, so it is not without regret that I cannot help but feel that thinking of Falque as a marriage counsellor is seriously flawed. Indeed, though Aspray clearly knows that on Falque’s account “each discipline is transformed by the other without losing its core identity or its distinctive contribution” (164), I wonder if his own essay does not inadvertently end up confusing them after all due to this metaphor.
The metaphor of a marriage counsellor as Aspray presents it can be questioned from several perspectives. First of all, it strikes me as odd to think of an author who puts so much emphasis on the gesture of ‘crossing’ as anything but “a transgressor of boundaries.” However, perhaps what Aspray means by this is that Falque does not cross into foreign lands in order to conquer them, but rather to listen to those living there—which is an important part of his method that Aspray rightly emphasises:
Emmanuel Falque is first and foremost a true listener, reaching out across the barricades to engage in serious and honest dialogue with people who ‘see things differently’ than Christians. This listening attitude is laudable, because it shows love and respect for the humanity of the people to whom he listens. (168)
Secondly, Aspray’s choice of metaphor should also be criticised for downplaying the reality and significance of philosophy’s separation from theology: regardless of the “artificial” way in which it may have come about institutionally, it is a significant reality for the way in which each discipline understands itself and is practiced today. That this distinction should not be taken seriously is a claim some theologians and confessional philosophers like to make in the most casual of ways as supposedly self-evident. That it only seems to be confessional thinkers making this claim has apparently never given them any pause. Yet, if there is a Christian thinker who understands that even a confessional philosopher cannot display such a careless disregard towards the work of their atheist colleagues, it is Emmanuel Falque: he maintains that he is philosophe avant tout because he wants his argument to be intelligible to those who do not share his faith and might not even recognise theology as a valid intellectual enterprise, let alone understand their own philosophising as connected to it in any way. Finally, Aspray’s use of the marriage counsellor metaphor is perhaps too one-sided: after all, marriage counsellors do not just reconcile lovers who have grown apart; at times, they also facilitate an amicable divorce once the marriage has run its course. Perhaps Falque is then only a marriage counsellor in the latter sense: setting up the division of assets between two former partners who have grown apart after a long history together and must now reconfigure their relationship by way of a loving struggle. Falque’s question is first of all how to think the apparently still productive relationship between philosophy and theology once history has separated them from each other: he never questions this separation, for at no instance does he want to confuse the two.
It is curious that Aspray never acknowledges this alternative interpretation of the metaphor he uses. I wonder if that might be because the rest of his essay inadvertently tends to merge or confuse philosophy and theology in its apparent assumption that the two self-evidently belong together, meaning that any attempt at separating them must be dismissed as an artificial accident of history: the job of the marriage counsellor, for Aspray, is to reconcile what naturally belongs together. Yet, in thinking of the marriage of philosophy and theology as entirely natural, one risks confusing them. For example, Aspray writes: “Philosophy and theology can enrich each other precisely because they offer mutually complementary perspectives on the same object” (163). This statement seems innocent enough, yet we must be careful: in saying that philosophy and theology are complementary, i.e. that together they provide a full account of their shared object, it is implied that theology completes the limited account provided by philosophy (or vice versa). Yet, Falque’s principle of proportionality (i.e., ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’) does not state that in stepping onto the terrain of theology the philosopher ends up with a better ‘philosophy’ (i.e., a more complete one), but rather that their ‘philosophising’ is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical). There is thus a difference between saying that philosophy can learn from theology and saying that theology completes philosophy. A philosophical explanation is complete in itself, though it can be more philosophically rigorous when confronted with theology, for philosophy thereby gains an appreciation of its own distinction from theology (i.e., it does not confuse its own concepts with similar theological ones).
The confusion of theological and philosophical concepts might then be precisely what is going on in Aspray’s critique of Falque. Noting appreciatively that Falque advocates for constructing all theology on top of a secular philosophical anthropology—so that the Christian message may be available and intelligible to all (i.e., on the basis of our shared humanity) rather than to a privileged set of believers (i.e., on the basis of faith as a pre-existing God-relationship)—, Aspray is nevertheless concerned that Falque may be showing too much deference to philosophy in practice:
But if philosophy has such a large impact on theology, as Falque rightly insists, it becomes all the more important that philosophy is correct in its account of the human condition. Falque’s picture of the human is the one given to us by contemporary phenomenology (…). But is it the correct picture of the plain and simple human (l’homme tout court)? Should theology allow itself to be unilaterally determined by contemporary phenomenology? Such a position would open theology to be led about by the trends of philosophy like a dog on a leash that must follow wherever its master goes. (171)
Now, Aspray produces a valid theological critique of Falque’s larger framework which, when followed to its logical conclusion, really robs theology of any methodological independence: theology, too, would essentially exist in elucidation of the existentiality of the human being and a phenomenology of its transformation by the encounter with God. That being said, it is hard to think of a period in history where theology would have had complete methodological independence: theology has always had to borrow its method from philosophy, history, social science, etc. Aspray also rightly makes the important point that there can be philosophical discussion about what constitutes a good understanding of the human condition: there is no reason to privilege Heidegger’s analytic of finitude to the extent Falque does without real justification and to the detriment of alternative philosophical accounts. We might say that Aspray therefore accuses Falque of ‘anthropological homogeneity’ alongside Benson’s complaint of ‘religious homogeneity’. However, insofar as Aspray suggests that it is up to theology to decide what constitutes an adequate anthropology, he risks confusing philosophical and theological conceptualisations of the human condition. Theology, by definition, cannot evaluate the account philosophy provides of what Falque calls l’homme tout court, for this is a fundamentally philosophical notion: it indicates the human being ‘as such’ (tout court), i.e. in terms of its pure and simple humanity and thus without any reference to God whatsoever. Such an understanding of the human being as ‘pure nature’ is, of course, highly unorthodox in terms of Catholic theology, but Falque is not doing theology: insofar as he thinks of himself as philosophe avant tout, his methodology equally maintains philosophie avant tout. His method is really based on a fundamental rejection of the most influential ideas of Henri de Lubac’s:
Although it is absolutely invalid from a dogmatic point of view, insofar as it rejects a divine creation, the conjecture of a ‘pure nature’ retains here nonetheless a certain heuristic value. Human beings were not created without grace, but all the same we find ourselves first in nature (or better in finitude)—that is to say, independent of the evidence that will be the revelation of God. In this respect we return to our own humanity along with all of those of our contemporaries who are capable of living authentically without God. Contemporary philosophy thus finds, and in the shape of phenomenology in particular, what Catholic theology had thought already settled.
In other words, the philosophical conception of l’homme tout court by definition cannot be evaluated on a theological basis because theology never views the human being tout court, but always in relation to God. It is this perspective that makes theology theological, meaning distinct from philosophy insofar as they both entertain anthropological themes. Theology and philosophy are different disciplines and will therefore produces different anthropologies: theology cannot disprove philosophy’s claims about the human condition, just like physics cannot disprove theology’s claims about the origin of the world—such cross-disciplinary evaluation would amount to a confusion of disciplinary boundaries and concepts (or worse, a theological imperialism akin to the scientific naturalism theologians are often so eager to reject). In short, philosophy is not completed by theology and theology therefore cannot take anything away from philosophy; yet, this does not mean that they cannot learn from one another: in their mutual encounter, in crossing the boundary and setting foot on the terrain of the other, each gains a better appreciation of their own rigour without confusing it with that of the other.
Perhaps I can propose a metaphor of my own to interpret what Falque understands as the transformation of philosophy by theology and vice versa. Rather than military manoeuvres, athletic contests or marriage counselling, perhaps the philosopher or theologian’s venturing beyond their respective borders should be understood as a form of tourism. A tourist certainly crosses international borders, but always does so with the intention of returning home shortly afterwards. Moreover, a tourist clearly stands out as such and is never confused with a local. This is not to disparage tourism, for it is often a transformative experience: not because the tourist stays long enough so as to become a local, but precisely because the experience of having been abroad has transformed the way they perceive their homeland upon their return. The British tourist does not become French simply by taking the Eurostar to Paris. However, having enjoyed the gastronomy of France whilst away from home, they might find they have lost their previous appetite for English food upon their return. At the same time, simply setting foot in France has—sadly—in no way given them mastery of French cuisine so that they might recreate it at home. So, the transformation that takes place is not of the Brit into a Frenchman; instead, the Brit is changed insofar as they come to see or conceive of Britain and their own Britishness in a new way. Of course, they may have brought some things back with them from France, but souvenirs are generally tacky and unsophisticated things. We should think of the philosopher’s venturing onto the terrain of theology in the same way: unmistakeably not themselves one of the theologians who are native to this foreign land, and indeed probably unaware of much of this tribe’s sophistication; the philosopher courageous enough to listen will nevertheless have their philosophical practice enriched by this experience upon their return, as long as they can refrain from bringing with them ready-made theological truths that turn out to be garish once placed in a philosophical landscape and are aware that at no point do they themselves turn into a theologian or master the distinct rigour of theology. Perhaps the crossing Falque has in mind is then not Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC, but Lévinas’ crossing of the Rhine in 1928: not a hostile military invasion, but a relatively short and temporary scholarly stay abroad born out of intellectual interest in or love for a way of thinking that is different from what one is used to at home. After all, when he returned after his two semesters of study with Husserl, Lévinas did not spend his life developing Husserlian orthodoxy but rather renewed and transformed French philosophy by way of phenomenology: clearing the space for a distinctly French phenomenology and thereby immediately inscribing into that phenomenology the potential for its later theological turn (i.e., the epiphany of the face becoming the theophany of Christ).
Of course, I don’t claim any authority for my particular choice of metaphor. It will have flaws of its own, as all metaphors do (e.g., it would be wrong to think of Falque himself, personally, as a mere tourist on the terrain of theology). Indeed, given the variety of metaphors used by its contributors and the contradictions this leads to, this volume perfectly illustrates the philosophical endeavour itself: it is the necessarily metaphorical character of thinking that prohibits philosophy from ever considering any question as settled, including questions concerning the interpretation of other philosophers. For that is, ultimately, what this volume establishes most clearly: Emmanuel Falque is a philosopher worthy of the name; i.e., not just an author who thinks (and comes up with metaphors), but an author whose thinking spawns different ‘paths of thinking’ (Denkwege) in others (who come up with their own metaphors). As a result, the publication of this first edited volume on Falque’s work is an event to be celebrated: it will undoubtedly set the tone for scholarship of Falque in years to come and hopefully encourage further exercises in the rigorous crosspollination of philosophy and theology he advocates (i.e., crossing without confusing).
 Christina M. Gschwandtner. 2013. Postmodern Apologetics: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 184.
 Emmanuel Falque. 2018. The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates. Trans. by Bradley B. Onishi and Lucas McCracken. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1-2.
 Emmanuel Falque. 2012. The Metamorphosis of Finitude: An Essay on Birth and Resurrection. Trans. by George Hughes. New York: Fordham University Press, 16.
This remarkable book deals with the border between philosophy and theology and asks a question that Stephen Mulhall (2001) also poses at the end of his book Inheritance and Originality and leaves unanswered, namely, “[C]an philosophy acknowledge religion and still have faith in itself?” Falque argues very much in the affirmative and a repeated slogan of the text is “the more we theologize, the better we philosophise”, that is, philosophy finds its rightful place when it engages with theology and then returns to its own land of ‘the human per se’. In this book Falque is dealing mainly with the theological ‘turn’ in French phenomenology and what we are to make of it, but it will be of interest in this review to see if his arguments hold for the wider terrain of philosophy.
He starts out reviewing hermeneutics and its relation to phenomenology and examines how Ricoeur and Levinas both allow their confessional faith to help determine their hermeneutic approach; Protestant faith’s reliance on scripture alone for Ricoeur and Judaism’s trace of God in the letter of scripture for Levinas. In contrast to these approaches Falque puts forward his own Catholic hermeneutic of the body and the voice, which highlights that in the liturgy the Word of God nourishes the faithful both in the aspect of Scripture and in the Eucharist. This leads to the idea that phenomenology should engage with lived experience and the Catholic hermeneutic that he has expounded allows us to do this by making us aware of the body that speaks (the original form of the text) and should allow us to appropriate the text or be appropriated by the text in a bodily way that he calls ‘intercorporeality’. He then moves on to an analysis of what faith is and states that there is a common human faith in the reality of the world that he calls ‘philosophical faith’ that we attempt to suspend in Descartes method of doubt or in the phenomenological reduction and argues that confessional faith must be a transformation of this faith rather than a further step on from this faith. This is based on the theological foundation that God became man to transform humanity not to supercede it. Confessional faith is a transformation of the natural trust in the world all humanity shares. This leads on to the idea that philosophers who have taken the decision to believe need to produce not so much a philosophy of religion but rather a philosophy of religious experience as he claims Kierkegaard, Edith Stein and Simone Weil all worked on. This involves elucidating the reasons from within the faith that led to their decision ‘while not renouncing philosophy, conceive its activity quite otherwise’ (Falque 2016: 104). Falque then carries out such a philosophical investigation by looking at the choice of believing and concludes that it involves community, that I believe through a ‘we’. The next part looks at the relation between Theology and Philosophy and the final section is called ‘finally theology’ and reiterates Aquinas’ phrase that ‘philosophy is the servant of theology’. At this point I will quote Falque to make his position clear:
Finitude, or the human per se…are indeed starting points for philosophy and under the jurisdiction of the philosopher. But only as this finitude is then rejoined and transformed in the recited and assumed act of the Resurrection, is it made known that we were actually within the realm of true humanity and thus of philosophy-not of divinity concealed under the cover of humanity –that is, theology…This position can be summarized as the principle of ‘the philosopher before all else’ which should be adopted today not against theology but, on the contrary, for it, in order to dwell otherwise and situated within it. (Falque 2016: 148-149)
In what follows I shall look at Falque’s contestation that philosophy can be transformed by a confessional faith and still remain philosophy.
‘First live then philosophize’
The first point we shall look at is how a confessional faith can impact on the work of a philosopher. Mulhall (1994) in Faith and Reason gives a Wittgensteinian take on the limits of philosophy’s foraging into the territory of theology and I shall quote it at length in order to contrast it with Falque’s position:
Is there really room here for an exercise of reason that is not an employment of it on one side or another of the existential choice with which Christianity faces us?
Only if the following distinction can be made and observed: the distinction between a description and a defence of (or an attack upon) a form of life. For what can then follow is a distribution of duties, a division of intellectual labour. On this understanding, philosophy can spell out the features of the forms of life that face one another across the divide between religious and other modes of existence, and bring us to see how each will inevitably appear to the other…But it neither can, nor should, attempt to engage in those arguments with, let alone to make that choice for, its readers. The latter is always an error; the former is the business of edification, engagement, substantive discussion. It is, of course, neither an intellectually nor an ethically illegitimate enterprise – it is a perfectly valid use to which reason might be put, and forms a central part of any individual’s life; but it is not a philosophical use of reason, and it should form no part of a philosopher’s life qua philosopher. A philosopher should never forget that she is a human being, but not everything that a human being may do should be done in philosophy’s name. As Climacus might say, philosophy is not an edifying business. (Mulhall 1994: 76-77)
What seems to be missing here, and what Falque is very much aware of is that philosophy is never done in a vacuum. To take a hermeneutic approach for a moment, there is always, as Heidegger (1962) states, a fore-concept before the analysis begins and this is then where the enquiry starts from. If this is the case then the most intellectually honest way of proceeding is to make this fore-conception transparent. And so if you are philosophizing from the standpoint of someone with a confessional faith it is best if this faith is given an airing at the start to make the reader aware of the type of human life you envision and are trying to elucidate. Falque makes this point by looking at the Protestant hermeneutics of Ricoeur and the Judaic hermeneutics of Levinas before positing his own Catholic hermeneutic and what this allows us to see is how a confessional faith can help to make salient certain aspects of the philosophical enterprise that may be obscured from a primarily secular starting point. The life a person leads undoubtedly permeates their philosophy and although philosophy should be solely based on reason, the experiential ‘content’ given through a lived faith and the motivation, in terms of the mission of the philosopher will transform the subject matter and methodologies employed. This does not mean the resulting philosophy will necessarily be edificatory, but rather certain evidence, premises, topics and intuitions will have salience above others in the work of a philosopher with a confessional faith and this will not invalidate the philosophy by itself, but a self-aware philosopher would do well to make transparent how her faith informs her practice.
‘The more we theologize, the better we philosophise’
To make clear how a faith can inform a philosophical practice I would like to set out one particular practice in philosophy that is evident in philosophers such as Cavell, Mulhall, Wittgenstein and arguably Falque and argue that it is a legitimate philosophical practice. This practice might be called ‘transfiguring the ordinary’ and I will present a version of it developed elsewhere (Earnshaw 2011). A quote from Simone Weil sums up a way of understanding the interconnection of philosophy, ethics and aesthetics focused on the everyday:
The beautiful: that which we do not want to change. The good: not to want to change it, in fact (non-intervention). The true: not to want to change it in one’s mind (by means of illusion). The good — not to want to change what? My place, my importance in the world, limited by my body and by the existence of other souls, my equals (Weil 2004: 38).
The experience of beauty is of something that strikes us in such a way that we do not want to change it; the apprehension of it as beautiful just is seeing the object of our attention as perfect just as it is. Such an experience is articulated in McCarthy’s book The Road:
He remembered waking once on such a night to the clatter of crabs in the pan where he’d left steakbones from the night before. Faint coals of the driftwood fire pulsing in the onshore wind. Lying under such a myriad of stars. The seas black horizon. He rose and walked out and stood barefoot in the sand and watched the pale surf appear all down the shore and roll and crash and darken again. When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different (McCarthy 2007: 234).
Here the character describes an experience through which he is willing to affirm the whole world as it is. In such experiences we are able to ‘see’ the world as ‘good’, as God is said to have done in Genesis. These experiences allow us to affirm that there is a value to life and living, and, indeed, we are able to affirm the value of our own existence because it is only due to the fact that we exist that this consummation experience (of perceiving the goodness of the world) is possible.
So what is it about ourselves that leads us to want to escape the real and live in fantasy? One line of thought (developed by Cavell in The Claim of Reason (1979)) is that we become entangled in philosophical problems (in the widest sense) because of the tendency for humans to want to overcome what they see as the limitations of finitude. This is one way of understanding what Weil is responding to in the quote above when she talks about the true as not wanting to change the world by means of illusion. The work of philosophy can then be understood as getting the person to see that the facts about our lives that can seem like obstacles or limitations should instead be perceived as limits to our lives. Their overcoming does not make any sense as they are the conditions for the possibility of the intelligibility of the world and other people. Scepticism can be seen as a desire to know the world in a more secure way than through our human faculties, as if there were a means of arriving at a more direct access to the world than through our everyday procedures for finding things out and to other people than through the means provided by language. Ordinary language philosophy tackles scepticism by reminding us of ‘what we say when’ in order to bring the conditions for knowledge of the world and others to the fore. However, this can seem like a very deflationary account of what is possible for philosophy. Wittgenstein sums this feeling up when he says:
Where does our investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble) (Wittgenstein 1963: §118).
If ‘the destruction of anything interesting’ is all this methodology of philosophy can achieve, why should it claim any of our attention? Wittgenstein’s answer is that ‘the aspect of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity’ (Wittgenstein 1963: §129). The disappointment we feel at the humble task of philosophy is a hankering after the facility and seeming profundity found in fantasy. In order for us to see ‘the aspect of things most important for us’ it is necessary to find ways of exalting in the ordinary and recovering the hidden beauty therein.
One way of tackling this problem of familiarity can be found in art, but also in religion. In Catholicism, the sacraments involve taking some everyday activity and relating it to the divine. For instance, in the sacrament of Communion the value of sharing a meal is celebrated with all the related values of family and friendship. In Confession the process of repairing a relationship is connected with our relation to the divine. In all religions the life of the community is understood as bound up with the eternal. In this way everyday practices are transfigured and thereby their value as part of a life is re-presented (reflected back to the community) in a new light and reaffirmed. This reaffirming of the everyday is found in Wittgenstein’s philosophy where we are invited to pay careful attention to our life with words and how this is inextricably bound up with our form of life (thereby taking our anxieties about language and showing how they express anxieties about our lives). Wittgenstein’s writings focus our attention on the conditions of the human relationship to the world and others, and help us to recognise that the wish for depth in our understanding of things is inherently empty. Such a recognition is one way in which we can overcome artificial craving to go beyond the everyday. The words of this philosopher allow the familiar to become strange and enticing and thereby reignite our interest in the ordinary. Through the ordering of his words the ordinary is transfigured and our poor substitute fantasies can be left behind for a time.
The idea that ‘transfiguring the ordinary’ is a respectable aim of philosophy is given backing in the writings of Victor Shklovsky who takes the methodology of art as involving what he calls an ‘enstrangement’ of objects and forms of life. I will quote at length from Shklovsky’s book and then comment briefly afterwards:
If we examine the general laws of perception, we see that as it becomes habitual, it also becomes automatic. So eventually all of our skills and experiences function unconsciously – automatically. If someone were to compare the sensation of holding a pen in his hand or speaking a foreign tongue for the first time with the sensation of performing this same operation for the ten thousandth time, then he would no doubt agree with us. It is this process of automatization that explains the laws of our prose speech with its fragmentary phrases and half-articulated words…If the complex life of many people takes place entirely on the level of the unconscious, then it’s as if this life had never been.
And so, in order to return sensation to our limbs, in order to make us feel objects, to make a stone feel stony, man has been given the tool of art. The purpose of art, then, is to lead us to a knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition. By ‘enstranging’ objects and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and ‘laborious. (Shklovsky 1991: 5-6).
It is by creating a space in our workaday activity (by making the task ‘harder’ than it might normally be) that can release us from ‘enslavement’ to habitual practices. This disruption enables us to carry out projects in ways that interweave spontaneity into the rhythm of the task we are engaged in. This practice in philosophy of trying to ‘transfigure the ordinary’ for the reader can be seen as a practice adopted from a perspective of a confessional faith without overstepping the boundaries of the ‘human per se’. I believe this is what Falque is aiming towards and if it seems an important practice is worth defending.
Conclusion: ‘I am first of all a philosopher and want to remain one’
Mixing theology and philosophy can be seen as a path inherent with dangers that may mean that others convict you of not doing philosophy at all. Crossing the Rubicon is an important book in that Falque attempts to cross the stream between these two disciplines to eventually return and know philosophy better. It would seem his crossing is successful and that he does remain a philosopher in the end and I have tried to outline the practice within philosophy that he follows that has confessional roots but conforms to the boundaries of philosophy. The book is a testament to being honest about your motivations and trying to find a way to carry on in a discipline bound by the ‘human per se’ while being inspired by the divine and highlights an overwhelming need in philosophy for the recognition and the acknowledgement of the personal as an necessary partner of the rational.
Cavell, S. 1979. The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Earnshaw, O. 2011. Recovering the Voice of Insanity: A Phenomenology of Delusions. (Doctoral dissertation). Available at: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/3225/
Falque, E. 2016. Crossing the Rubicon: The Borderlands of Philosophy and Theology. trans. R. Shank. New York: Fordham University Press.
Heidegger, M. 1962. Being and Time. trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell.
McCarthy, C. 2007. The Road. London: Pan Mcmillan Ltd.
Mulhall, S. 1994. Faith and Reason. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.
Mulhall, S. 2001. Inheritance and Originality: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Kierkegaard. Oxford: OUP.
Shklovsky, V. 1991. Theory of Prose. trans. B. Sher. London: Dalkey Archive Press.
Weil, S. 2004. The Notebooks of Simone Weil. trans. A. Wills. London: Routledge.
Wittgenstein, L. 1963. Philosophical Investigations. trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.