Claudio Rozzoni: The Phenomenological Image

The Phenomenological Image: A Husserlian Inquiry into Reality, Phantasy, and Aesthetic Experience Book Cover The Phenomenological Image: A Husserlian Inquiry into Reality, Phantasy, and Aesthetic Experience
Claudio Rozzoni
De Gruyter

Reviewed by: Marina Christodoulou
(Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences)

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-5721-833X

Rozzoni’s book is a work of double value, as should any book of philosophy be about: at first it has the value of serving as a secondary literature text, that is, offering comments and references to its various primary sources, which include works mainly by Husserl, but also Merleau-Ponty, and others, and various other artistic works (paintings, photographs, films, installation pieces, etc.). However, being a secondary literature text, it has the unique capacity of not sustaining/conforming/limiting the reader between its 247 pages, but motivating one to visit the sources, that is, the primary texts it deals with. This is a virtue that only seldomly do works labelled as secondary literature possess. This is why, Rozzoni’s book gains a double-acquired value, which is that it can serve as a work that can be labelled primary literature as well, as it can also be read as a work that in itself offers an original approach to both philosophy, and especially aesthetics (in both its meanings, as a discourse on the senses and thus on perception and experience, but also as a discourse on artistic works/experiences), and also to art, literary theory, and film theory and criticism. It offers to both aesthetics and art/literary/film criticism a new perspective and even a new method or approach, through phenomenology, but also it offers to phenomenology a new aesthetic and artistic/literary/cinematographic dimension. At last, it also introduces, but profoundly so, a so far neglected work of Husserl, only translated in 2005, and, so far, not much studied or researched. The aforementioned work of Husserl are the Nachlass manuscripts on Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory, published in 1980 in Husserliana XXIII in German, based on his 1905 course in Göttingen.[2]

Thus, Rozzoni’s The Phenomenological Image: a Husserlian Inquiry into Reality, Phantasy, and Aesthetic Experience is a work of multiple values and uses. Firstly, as a study of Husserl’s so far unnoticed Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory. Secondly, as a philosophical commentary on Husserl’s phenomenology in general, and more specifically his aforementioned work, as well as a commentary on the of aesthetics and phenomenology, a study on phantasy and/in phenomenology and the different forms of experience in phenomenology. And thirdly, as an original work on phenomenological aesthetics, or even aesthetic phenomenology, and more specifically on new approaches to art, literature, and film theory and criticism. In other words, it is a source offering new (phenomenological) ways towards film theory and criticism.

It is an indispensable book for philosophers already working in phenomenology, or on experience, on phantasy, fiction, reality and other relevant subjects. It is, in general, an excellent book regarding a philosophy of experience (phenomenology’s major preoccupation is experience, but in this book, it becomes even clearer), and more specifically perceptual experience, aesthetic experience etc.

However, it can be read even by audiences that have no familiarity with phenomenology or even philosophy, since Rozzoni is doing a great job explaining in simple words every new term or concept that he is using (such as intentionality and many other), thus, every next page of the book is already prepared by the previous ones. Thus, it is an indispensable book for artists, art criticism and filmmakers and film theorists and critics, as well.

For that reason, it is a self-contained and self-sufficient work that offers both an introduction to phenomenology, but at the same time an advanced study of it with original insights spanning further than phenomenology or even philosophy itself. What can serve as an introduction to phenomenology can simultaneously function as a further redefinition of it, which is an important philosophical methodological trait, that is, that a philosopher always clarifies the definitions they are working with and makes no pre-suppositions. Thus, Rozzoni’s definitions and descriptions (as well as normative depictions) of phenomenology are important not only for their pragmatic function but predominantly for the meta-philosophical or rather meta-phenomenological one. I quote some passages so as to make my points clearer:

Phenomenological description must be capable of rendering a satisfactory account of the different modes in which our acts (and, correlatively, their objects) and our objects (and, correlatively, their acts) are given to consciousness. When we say our acts are intentional, it implies the necessary corollary that there can be no “consciousness” that is not a “consciousness of.” The relationship between consciousness and object manifests itself in different ways depending on the particular act involved—for example, perception of a tree, phantasy of a tree, etc.—and such relationships are “expressed by the little word ‘of’” (Hua XVI, p. 12; Hua I, p. 33). (Rozzoni 2024, 15)

He continues a bit later in clarifying the different “modes of consciousness” which are important both for understanding phenomenology (“phenomenology must…”), intentionality (which is core to phenomenology), Husserl, phantasy, image, and this book in general:

These initial considerations are enough to suggest that Husserl’s primary interest lies in discerning qualitative differences between our experiences, a question that drives him to seek out an essential distinction between what he calls “modes of consciousness.” Perception is only one such mode; objects are given to us in several other modes as well—such as when we see objects either through images or, as they say, “in our minds.” As indicated, phenomenology must be able to provide an account of the essential differences among these modes of consciousness as well as of the particular nature of each mode’s inherent intentionality—the essential correlation between its subjective and objective poles. After dedicating his efforts to the perceptual dimension in the first two parts of the course, Husserl uses the third part to attempt to define the eidetic differences that distinguish phantasy consciousness from perceptual consciousness. (Rozzoni 2024, 16)

When analyzing phantasy through a phenomenological lens, we are soon confronted with a phenomenon that will prove challenging: it seems that any description of the ways in which phantasy manifests itself must necessarily involve the notion of image. Indeed, it is in this context that Husserl comes to examine the issue of defining the particular type of manifestation pertaining to image and the related form of intentionality called “image consciousness.” In the third part of the Göttingen course, when seeking to define the nature of intentionality pertaining to phantasy acts, Husserl begins by describing this intentionality in terms of “pictorialization [Verbildlichung]” (see, for example, Hua XXIII, § 8). Let us remark that he had already adopted this approach in an 1898 text devoted to “phantasy and representation in image” (see Appendix 1 to Hua XXIII, pp. 117– 152)—a text that did, indeed, serve as a starting point for his later Göttingen analysis. (Rozzoni 2024, 17)

Moreover, the constant use of simple examples (e.g. the photograph of a friend) render the book even more accessible and the concepts and terms explored easier to understand.

Adding to the preciseness and clarity, Rozzoni systematically and precisely clarifies terms/concepts, as it is already shown, both in English and how terms have distinct meanings in German: for example, reality [positionality] – phantasy, fiction, phantasy [Phantasie] – imagination [Einbildung] – imaginatio, perception [Perzeption] – perceptio Wahrnehmung. For example, he writes concerning the latter distinction, and the different choices of words in the original (by Husserl), but also by Rozzoni in the English translation:

Perzeption is Wahrnehmung without belief, and, as Husserl says, any Wahrnehmung that does not take (nimmt) something as true (wahr) is no longer Wahrnehmung in the proper sense of the word. It is legitimate to say that an object given perceptually (wahrnehmungsmäßig) is also given as complying with perceptio (perzeptiv), but the converse is not true: we cannot state that what is given when complying with perceptio (perzeptiv) is automatically given perceptually (wahrnehmungsmäßig). Though these terms may overlap in some cases, this does not change the fact that such a distinction can be rightfully (and not pleonastically) introduced in the English translation, thus allowing the reader to feel the distinction between Wahrnehmung and Perzeption that plays a seminal role in these analyses. This is why Husserl’s references to illusion claiming the status of reality are not, in principle, cases of phantasy complying with perceptio (perzeptiv), but rather of perceptual (wahrnehmungsmäßig) illusions that, once discovered, become canceled perceptions (Wahrnehmungen)—canceled realities only apprehended après coup as perzeptive Phantasien. Accordingly, we can also think of perceptio as a genus encompassing the species of positional perceptio (or Wahrnehmung) and positionless perceptio (or perceptio in the strict sense). (Rozzoni 2024, 17, n. 11)

At last, in a further way to be precise and clear, Rozzoni makes sure that he prevents possible misconceptions and misunderstandings, as for example in the sub-chapter 1.7: A Potential Misunderstanding: The “Image-Theory”, concerning “the unction Husserl assigns to the image object”. (Rozzoni 2024, 28)

Rozzoni engages in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue with artists (painters, installation artists, cinematographers), literary writers (Proust, Kafka), and philosophers (Plato, Nietzsche, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze). It furthermore offers numerous references to scholars dealing with relevant subjects such as imagination, phantasy, film theory and criticism etc. In this way, Rozzoni’s book can also serve as a reference book towards further researching the main topics it discusses (image, phantasy, imagination, reality, fiction, film, experience, perception, belief, time consciousness, epoché, content-form/style, etc.).

It is a book one can read multiple times, each time focusing on a different subject/topic, and each time feeling that they are reading a new book, since new perspectives and connections are opened at each reading, depending on the shift of focus.

Chapter 1 focuses, as it is already evident from its title, on the “Phenomenology of Image and Phantasy”, by visiting concepts such as reality, perception, imagination, phantasy, images, consciousness of reality, consciousness of fiction, etc., and also re-setting their inter-connections.

Chapter 2 entitled “The Aesthetic Consciousness”, evidently focuses on the nature and qualitative originality of aesthetic experience and consciousness, while also “deepen[ing] the originary phenomenological distinctions elucidated in the first [chapter]”. (Rozzoni 2024, 3) In more detail, I quote:

The second chapter deepens the originary phenomenological distinctions elucidated in the first but with a specific focus on the nature of aesthetic experience. Too often, the type of consciousness associated with aesthetic experience is confused with other modalities of consciousness which, despite possibly overlapping with aesthetic experience in some ways, must nonetheless be kept distinct as regards their originary sense. Specifically, the term “aesthetic” is often used interchangeably with terms like “fictional,” “artistic,” or “iconic,” thereby creating confusion that can fundamentally undermine research outcomes. Through the Husserlian manuscripts, I attempt to trace the roots of the “aesthetic” back to a consciousness which, though it may indeed have seminal connections to the associated terms listed above, ultimately possesses its own qualitative originality that cannot be reduced to any of those terms. (Rozzoni 2024, 3)

Moreover, it expands Husserl’s phenomenological re-appropriation of Kant’s “aesthetic disinterest”, through a phenomenological inquiry into the nature of this disinterest, emphasizing, as did Kant, “the moment of the “how” rather than the “what” of a manifestation”. (Rozzoni 2024, 4):

Despite entailing disinterest in something’s existence in the general sense (in other words, disinterest in whether something actually exists or not), aesthetic experience does involve another form of interest: though “existentially disinterested,” it is “axiologically interested.” In aesthetic experience, axiological interest manifests itself through the sphere of feeling—we experience a particular value, an appreciation for the manner in which something is given, and it is necessarily given in a feeling interrelated with this value.

Clearly, talking about the “how” of manifestation, the manner of appearing, might carry the risk of reintroducing the dichotomy between content (what) and form (how) into the discussion of aesthetic experience. […] In aesthetic experience, even the most ordinary object can emerge in the value of its manifestation—and strictly speaking, all manifestations can be aesthetically “expressive” in principle: a “zero degree” of aestheticity is only a limit point. (Rozzoni 2024, 4)

In more detail, Rozzoni discusses in the subchapter 2.6: Constituting the “How”: Stylistic Manifestations (pp. 110-112), this habitual dichotomy between style/form (how) and content (what), which is unfairly conceived as a dichotomy or a binary, as well as content is unfairly conceived as of being hierarchically superior (I would name it as a certain hegemony of the “what” in philosophy, which takes the dimensions of essentializing the philosophical discipline to a “science” -not even, at least, an “art”-, of the content, and allocating to other sciences or arts the “burden” of occupying themselves with the “lesser” “how” of the style or form.) This intra-hegemony of content over form, is a reflection of the general (meta-)philosophical inter-hegemony and supra-hegemony on all other disciplines and forms-of-thinking, found in its most systematized depiction in François Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy.

As Rozzoni observes, “the distinguishing element in aesthetic experiences is the particular mode of manifestation in which the phenomenon is given (among many possible such modes).” Afterwards, he is talking about the “precise phenomenal modalities whose specific manner of appearance yields an aesthetic effect” (Rozzoni 2024, 110). These “precise phenomenal modalities”, in my understanding, are another formulation for style or form, since, in the following paragraph, he proceeds to give an example from a film, where the director makes “specific stylistic choices […] when depicting one man killing another allow[ing] us to feel not only the what— […] —but also the how”. (Rozzoni 2024, 110) He then mentions the notion of “rhythm”, which is an important stylistic element, on which he also has a reference to Merleau-Ponty, on the “relationship between the how (style, rhythm) and value in cinema”. (Rozzoni 2024, 110, n. 123)

I quote this extended passage since I think it touches on important points concerning the aesthetic experience and style:

To sum up, with belief-acts of each of these four types, we have an essential, eidetic option to transform them into (modified) phantasy acts, rendering them neutral in terms of possible reference to actual existence. Crucially, however, the resulting phantasies do not yet constitute aesthetic experiences merely by virtue of having left reality out of play; rather, the distinguishing element in aesthetic experiences is the particular mode of manifestation in which the phenomenon is given (among many possible such modes). To continue with Husserl’s example, an iconic phantasy of one man killing another may take the form of a mere iconic presentification of a quasi-fact—with no attention to its mode of manifestation—or it may employ precise phenomenal modalities whose specific manner of appearance yields an aesthetic effect. (Rozzoni 2024, 110)

For example, in the duel scene near the end of For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), the specific stylistic choices Sergio Leone makes when depicting one man killing another allow us to feel not only the what—the quasi-occurrences on-screen that could just as easily be recounted through a purely iconic sequence, advancing the plot without artistic pretensions—but also the how, the value of this particular scene as it unfolds. Our aesthetic experience is affected by the fact that the different phases of the duel are depicted in this particular way, with this specific “rhythm.” Husserl rightly takes care to emphasize what may seem like an obvious point, namely that things are always given in accordance with a mode of manifestation (in the aesthetic sense just described), a mode that may or may not elicit aesthetic pleasure or displeasure—what we might describe as “positive” or “negative” aesthetic valence.

Further on, quoting from Husserl’s Text 15, he refers to phrases such as “object’s manner of appearing”, “mode of presentation [Darstellung]”, and “mode of manifestation”, which all put style, form, and in general the “how” of an object, in the spotlight, apart from its “objective position taking” and “the consciousness of an object as such” (the “what”). (Rozzoni 2024, 111, quoting Husserl in Hua XXIII)

Chapter 3, entitled “Toward Perspectival Images”, investigates “some of the ways that art can become a domain for broadening the notion of aesthetic experience to encompass the possibility of producing a perspective aesthetically (in a contemporary development of the Kantian notion of ‘aesthetic idea’).” Here the potential of art or artistic experience to “transform our conception of the world” (Rozzoni 2024, 4) is explored, “altering the perspectives in which we always live.” (Rozzoni 2024, 5) Thus, here, Rozzoni dares the intimate but neglected connection between art (artistic experience), ethics (how we live), and philosophy:

These transformations can be connoted either positively (by enlightening us to previously unknown facets of the world) or negatively (by concealing, anesthetizing, or speciously “spectacularizing” reality).

More fundamentally, I seek to demonstrate how, by acting upon sense as the foundational element of a (real or fictitious) world, art can operate in a dimension “refractory” to the distinction between documentary and fiction—sub specie sensus—and can even explore the thresholds between these two polarities in multiple directions; […]. Art recipients thus become participants in perspectives that force them to think at a cognitive-emotional-axiological level, whether or not they believe in the factuality of what they are seeing.

Artistic images can vary and deform reality— not so much to offer a diversion from it as to allow new essences to emerge and thereby create possibilities for expressing new perspectives.

The third chapter examines this concept in detail, specifically in relation to cinematographic images. (Rozzoni 2024, 5)

[…] If, as I propose, the condition of a world’s possibility for manifestation is the essential connection among narrative (perspective stricto sensu), values, and emotions, these authors think of cinematography as a privileged field that, though purely presentificational in nature, can create new perspectives directly affecting our perpetually perspectival comprehension of what we call “the world.”

In fact, cinematography can also provide an avenue through which to experiment with experiences we typically cannot or would not seek out in real life. (Rozzoni 2024, 6)

Proceeding to give some sample tastes of the possibilities of (attempting/essaying) thinking that it offers, à la Nietzsche’s sisyphean (saperesapio) method of philosophical thinking, that tastes over (thinking) possibilities, I will start from the first line of the Preface, which in a philosophical but mostly a psychoanalytical wording talks about a “return to […] the image”, in the same way that Lacan spoke of a return to Freud, or Aristotle of a visiting or a return to names (etymologies). This is the clear core purpose of the book “to promote a return to a description of the image that starts from its fundamental characteristics, its essential features.” (Rozzoni 2024, 1). Furthermore, “[t]he fundamental question that such lines of inquiry soon raise concerns whether there are structural differences between our image experiences and phantasy experiences—or, in phenomenological terms, between image conscious- ness and phantasy consciousness.” (Rozzoni 2024, 1) In the attempt to answer this Rozzoni takes different tastes of Husserl’s work, in discussion, as said, with commentators and scholars as well as other philosophers, artists, literary writers, filmmakers, etc. More specifically, to focus on Husserl, in his course from 1905 attempted to define the nature of image based on his inquiry on the nature of phantasy. Thus, it already becomes evident that in Husserl there is a direct correlation between imagery and phantasy. This is the key question here as Rozzoni locates it, “whether phantasy consciousness is ultimately founded upon image consciousness. […] In other words, does phantasy need images in order to represent absent objects, or is our ability to produce and see images instead grounded in phantasy consciousness?” (Rozzoni 2024, 2)

The Husserlian answer to this, which Rozzoni will keep analyzing, is a reversal of the hypothesis that “phantasy needs images”: I quote:

[…] his phenomenological inquiries yielded the result that phantasy need not necessarily be founded on the capacity to pro- duce mental images. In Husserl’s view, the capacity for phantasy (as an originary modality of consciousness) need not be grounded in images proper; rather, phantasy consciousness is what underlies the capacity to recognize and produce physical images. He determines that phantasizing is not projection of an image medium acting as a representative for an absent object but rather is perception in the as-if, quasi-perception carried out by a quasi-subject—hence the possibility of distinguishing between real and phantasy egos from a phenomenological standpoint. In this sense, phantasy is the originary mode of consciousness that, in more strict phenomenological terms, can be called presentification. We can then further distinguish between “private presentifications” (quasi-perceptions without images) and presentifications in image. (Rozzoni 2024, 2)

As part of his analysis, which involves further original questions inspired by this Husserlian answer, he is asking whether the usual distinction or even dichotomy between images pertaining to phantasy, and perception pertaining to reality, shall be further “tried” in terms of thinking: “in other words, that proper images (presentifications in image) are eo ipso considered nonreal, whereas perception involves things ‘in the flesh’ and thus taken as real.” (Rozzoni 2024, 2). This is the main inquiry of Chapter 1 entitled “Phenomenology of Image and Phantasy”:

[…] perception per se is no guarantee of reality, nor does the image per se guarantee unreality: it is possible for perceptual experiences (or, more precisely, experiences complying with perceptio) to pertain to phantasy and for image experiences to force associations with reality. Though the image in itself is “unreal” in the sense of its presentifying nature (it shows something not present in the flesh), this is not to say that the sujet— the thing or person we see by “looking into the image”—cannot or should not be considered real. In short, we can have phantasies in the flesh and images imbued with belief.

[…] The image in itself makes no absolute guarantees concerning belief or lack thereof: context is what motivates the emergence of a documentary or fictional consciousness in relation to any given image. The same can apply to perceptual, noniconic experiences: we can experience them either in a consciousness of reality (as occurs constantly in context of going about our everyday lives) or a consciousness of fiction (as is the case, to mention one paradigmatic example, when we watch events upon a theatrical stage, which represents one possible context in which fictional worlds can comply with perceptio). (Rozzoni 2024, 2-3)

Rozzoni’s methodological insights, appearing, apart from the Preface, in more detail under Chapter 1, Sub-chapter “Again and Again” (1.1) are interesting themselves. It seems to me that he is consciously or unconsciously following a Deleuzian methodological-creative approach regarding the definition of philosophy as a creation of concepts. I think that this creativity can only spring from a synthetic openness, a wide and broad variety of interests within a field, an interdisciplinary openness, and a personal passionate investment to the topic of the research, as much as a “diagnosis” of an issue that is critical for the spatiotemporal milieu of one’s living experience. Rozzoni’s project/book incorporates all of the aforementioned elements or criteria, which render it significant, and original. In more detail, the three criteria that Deleuze has set for the worth-writing book/work (“bon ouvrage”) are the following: at first, spotting an error in books on the same or neighbouring subject (polemical function), then adding something that you think was ignored or forgotten on that subject (inventive function), and, at last, creating a new concept (creative function).

Hence, Rozzoni starts by spotting an “error”, or rather an omission, concerning Husserl’s manuscripts, on which his study is rooted upon, which are the manuscripts on Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory, elaborated over a period of 20 years, and published in 1980 in Husserliana XXIII in German. Their importance according to Rozzoni is that they “serve as testimony to the father of Phenomenology’s style of work—evidence that is all the more significant because it concerns themes Husserl considered crucial to the destiny of the entire phenomenological project, despite having devoted comparatively little space to them in works published during his lifetime.” The fact that a manuscript is not published by a philosopher/writer shall “not mean that they are not of great importance: they offer valuable insights into published passages devoted to phantasy and image consciousness, offering beneficial context through which we can appreciate their relevance more fully.” (Rozzoni 2024, 10)

Thus, he is spotting an error in the research around these manuscripts and their corresponding thematic units and concepts (polemical function), and he is adding something that he thinks was ignored or forgotten on that subject (inventive function), which is the “underappreciated theme”, in Husserl’s corpus, of the phenomenology of (the) image (Rozzoni 2024, 11). The reasons for this underrepresentation and underappreciation are given as follows:

Whereas Husserl’s phenomenological analyses concerning theory of judgment, logic, perception, and time are well-known, his contributions toward a phenomenology of phantasy and image might be described as relatively unknown, or at least lesser known until recently. One reason for this is the aforementioned lack of space devoted to the topic in Husserl’s published works (see, for instance, Hua I; Husserl 1939, especially §§39–42), even though Husserl famously declared that “feigning [Fiktion],” exercised by our “free phantasy,” “makes up the vital element of phenomenology as of every other eidetic science” (Hua III/1, p. 160). Moreover, Husserliana XXIII, which collects the bulk of Husserl’s unpublished work on Phantasy and Image Consciousness (Hua XXIII), was only published in 1980, and John B. Brough’s English translation was not released until 2005. Now, however, several aspects previously overlooked or misunderstood by many contemporary theories of image can be addressed more thoroughly with the help of these richly complex writings, and these implicit potentialities are on the verge of finally taking their rightful place within philosophical debate on the subject (Brough 2012; Ferencz-Flatz/Hanich 2016; Wiesing 2005). (Rozzoni 2024, 11)

He continues by clearing up this lacuna (inventive function), and from the matrix of the lacuna to, then, proposing a new potential arising concept, or field of study, for new phenomena (of image) in phenomenology and in philosophy in general (aesthetic and other experiences), as well, as we will see in the following chapters, in art and in film. Thus, these phenomena pragmatically extend in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways, rendering them a concept:

[…] the Nachlass writings shed light on the specific (and difficult) genesis of some of the most significant results Husserl published within his lifetime, and even directly explore the complex (and problematic) nature of these processes of perpetual development. Another seminal aspect immediately relevant to our work is that these manuscripts on image and phantasy (and, more generally, on reality and unreality) invite others to embark upon their own explorations of these topics. (Rozzoni 2024, 10)

Though the Nachlass represents a corpus of posthumous manuscripts, it would be a mistake to discount the enormous potential within these pages for that reason alone. Rather than construing this as some insurmountable obstacle to the contemporary revival of such research, let us think of it as a precious—albeit complicated —opportunity to develop a new field of study concerning new types of descriptions for new phenomena. (Rozzoni 2024, 11)

The further pragmatic importance of studying these phenomena, apart from establishing a new field of study or a new concept (thus rendering this book a primary source), through which readers “embark upon investigative processes of their own” (Rozzoni 2024, 11), is that if we cast light on Husserl’s corpus, and read this book as a secondary source this time (as said, it has this double function), these unpublished philosophical manuscripts can have the value of revealing a “seminal role in shedding light on the genesis of an author’s published corpus and providing a treasure trove of new avenues through which to explore and develop the author’s thoughts.” (Rozzoni 2024, 11-12)

To emphasize it once more, as does Rozzoni, this does not mean that this study is limited to what I call its secondary function, namely, as commentary of the manuscripts of Husserl, thus merely opening up an horizon of study within Husserl’s scholarship, or what Husserl would also call a “regional ontology” or “ontological region”, but, and according to Husserl’s methodological insights on the phenomenological method, [thus studying these new horizons that these phenomena open up to, that is, the “essence of images”, based on Husserl’s phenomenological method; a cyclical meta-textual process, which constitutes another originality of this book], also opening “new horizons and descriptions such an approach could potentially reveal today, and how we might use Husserl’s legacy—which he encouraged others to test “again and again [immer wieder],” especially through variations—as a starting point for new inquiries.” (Rozzoni 2024, 11)

Such horizon-openings can be extended to phenomena which were not already there when Husserl was writing, but which are prominent nowadays (“phenomena that Husserl did not specifically describe”) (Rozzoni 2024, 10), that is on our own Umwelt, such as “image material found on the various electronic devices that have now become part of our everyday lives […].” (Rozzoni 2024, 10-11) If we were “to insist on subjecting any phenomena that Husserl did not specifically describe […] to static limits defined before such phenomena existed, it would betray the very spirit of phenomenology.” (Rozzoni 2024, 10-11)

Moreover, despite admitting that “[t]he present study does not pretend to be all-encompassing regarding the different ways in which such a task might be undertaken” (Rozzoni 2024, 12), that is, the different possibilities of horizons, a further horizon that Rozzoni’s book can achieve to open out is to “yield retrospective potential for new dialogues between Husserl and [these] philosophers, thereby opening up novel possibilities for interpretation, development, and critique that can and must serve as an avenue toward productive perspectives on our contemporary understanding of images.” (Rozzoni 2024, 12) This is due to the late publication of these Husserlian manuscripts in 1980, and the fact that philosophers that were influenced by Husserl, such as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and others, did not have access to it when forming their own concepts.

Such expansion of horizons and new conceptualizations (“paths”) “are never easy” as he admits, “and worse yet, they are perennially menaced by aporetical results.” (Rozzoni 2024, 10) This latter phrase, “perennially menaced by aporetical results”, I find to be a quintessential phenomenological but also philosophical “feeling” and disposition, or even a stylistic and a methodological philosophical act of epoché, dictated by the affirmation of aporia within a philosophical tendency and thinking, as it was also set to be in Ancient Philosophy, re-set by Friedrich Nietzsche’s method of ephexis, and systematized in François Laruelle’s non-philosophical methodology, abstaining from or suspending from arriving at a (final) decision, thus having the philosophical courage to stay and remain “menaced” by aporias; as much as posthuman feminists advocated on the virtue of “staying with the trouble”, against the totalitarian modern or positivistic (or “scientifistic” as I would prefer it) reflex or tendency (or rather obsessional or even psychotic tendency that in combination seek for a certainty-safety-trust nexus regarding an “unmovable earth” or ground of thinking, -to borrow Husserl’s phrase on the immovability of the earth-) of arriving at a final unmovable result. I quote from Rozzoni:

Such paths are never easy, of course—and worse yet, they are perennially menaced by aporetical results. Despite treading arduous ground, however, the material in these manuscripts offers us a unique opportunity to describe the iconic and imaginative dimension of our time in the spirit of phenomenology. Echoing a well-known Merleau-Ponty essay, this would mean striving to develop the “shadow” (Merleau-Ponty 1959) of Husserl’s legacy—a shadow that still looms large today, inviting us to take up the challenge and shed new light on these elusive domains (while simultaneously generating new and productive obscurities, as an essential counterpart of every process of clarification (Franzini 2009, pp. 37–47)). (Rozzoni 2024, 10)

At this point, I would like to raise three further points from this book which, I consider, at least from my own horizon/“regional-ontology”/“situated point of view”, as highlights that can motivate further thought.

The first, concerns what I would call the “Heideggerian colonization” of Continental Philosophy, and especially the “Heideggerian colonization” of the philosophers that Heidegger mostly deals with, as is the case of Husserl. Although Rozzoni does not either explicitly or implicitly make such a statement, I think this can be deducted as a comment, not only from various other instances of reading authors such as Plato, Schelling and others, from the point of view that Heidegger has read them, so that they become, in a way, more of a Heidegger’s Plato and a Heidegger’s Schelling than themselves as themselves, but in addition here from the fact that Heidegger happened to edit “the well-known ‘lectures on time consciousness’ in 1928 in Volume 9 of the Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung.” (Rozzoni 2024, 12-13) These lecturers are only the fourth part of the Principal Parts of the Phenomenology and Theory of Knowledge (Hauptstücke aus der Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis), which is a course that Husserl taught in Göttingen in 1904/05. I think that it is not completely irrelevant that Heidegger edited the fourth part of these lectures into a published volume, and this same fourth part gained the most notoriety out of the three other parts, where the first and second were devoted on the phenomenology of perception and attention, and the third on “a phenomenological description of phantasy as he considered it a necessary and complementary step to its account of perception.” As Rozzoni further explains: “He set out to uncover the essential differences between perception and phantasy, eventually finding them to be two originary modes of manifestation marked by an irreducible temporal difference (hence his devotion of the fourth and final part of the course to seminal investigations of time consciousness).” (Rozzoni 2024, 1) Thus, Rozzoni’s book comes to fill this lacuna in Husserlian studies and re-emplace the importance of all four parts, but especially of part three (on phantasy), within Husserl’s experiential strata comprising his “science of knowledge” or gnoseology, and their respective forms of intentionality. Maybe this bias that was taken up by Heidegger, was already initiated by Husserl, who, as he

explains at the beginning of this seminal course, [he] initially intended to devote the lectures exclusively to “the superior intellectual acts, […] the sphere of the so-called ‘theory of judgment.’” Later, however, he felt compelled to instead conduct an analysis at a “lower level,” i.e., of “those phenomena that, under the somewhat vague titles of perception, sensation, phantasy representation, representational image, memory, are well known to everyone, yet have still undergone far too little scientific investigation” (Hua XXXVIII, p. 3). This testifies to Husserl’s belief that a “science of knowledge” would inherently entail analyzing the “aesthetic ways in which this knowledge is articulated” (Franzini 2002, p. XIV); in this sense, this third Hauptstück may provide a capital contribution to the study of aesthetics as gnoseologia inferior.

It is in this context of inquiry into the lower experiential strata that Husserl confronts the challenging task of providing an account of the concept of phantasy, which he considered a necessary counterpoint to the account of perception he gave in the first two parts of the course (see Hua XXIII, p. 1). This would ultimately prove crucial to defining the particular form of intentionality pertaining to phantasy and image consciousness under scrutiny in this book. (Rozzoni 2024, 13-14)

Despite the fact that Husserl, as a philosopher critical to himself, changed his mind and made a four-part lecture onto experience/gnoseology, his commentators and editors were still biased towards the “superior intellectual acts”, as did Philosophy for most of its history, and especially philosophers that made it to the (hegemonic) canon, such as Heidegger.

The second point that I would like to highlight, concerns a possible connection, which I formed based on Rozzoni’s writing, between phenomenological epoché and psychoanalysis. This is not a connection that Rozzoni implies in any sense, but through the way he describes the phenomenon of Ichspaltung (ego-splitting) (in 1.10: Phantasy Ego, pp. 38-44), based on Husserl’s Text no. 15, he paves a connection between it and phenomenological epoché, which if thought further, since Ichspaltung can also concern psychopathology and psychoanalysis, then it might be said that there is a possible connection between phenomenological epoché  and psychoanalysis to be additionally elaborated on. To further unveil this thought, towards a possible future elaboration, Rozzoni explains, starting from the aforementioned section, that “the phenomenon of Ichspaltung” is “the division of the ego into the real ego and the phantasy ego” (Rozzoni 2024, 38). The corresponding footnote is the piece of text which inspired this connection to me: “The phenomenon of ego-splitting (Ichspaltung) does not concern the relationship between real and phantasy experiences exclusively. It goes to the very heart of the possibility of the phenomenological epoché.” (Rozzoni 2024, 38, n. 38) If the Ichspaltung is a presupposition or a precondition for the phenomenological epoché, then how could we connect both non-pathological (construction of the phantasy experience/intentionality) and pathological cases of ego-splitting (such as psychosis) with the methodological act of epoché? And also, could there be a linkage between epoché and pictorial arts and film (since they are, in a way, a parastasis of the phantasy experience/intentionality)? Which new methodology can we derive from these, which new insights into phantasy and psychosis, as well as which new insights from phantasy and psychosis concerning each other as well as the phenomenological epoché? These will remain open questions for the moment.

A last, the third point to highlight concerns style/form (how) and content (what), as already aforementioned in the presentation of Chapter 2. Such a stylistic emphasis is rarely found in philosophy, especially within academia and secondary literature on philosophers-but it is nearly always found in the work of all philosophers, which consists a paradox-, and thus I think it is always important to highlight it when an author/philosopher reserves some lines or pages on philosophical stylistics or the aesthetics of philosophical style.

There are further innumerable both systematic but also aphoristic points that one can locate in Rozzoni’s The Phenomenological Image, thus rendering it a work that can be read at and from multiple “places” and multiple times, offering different perspectives to not only phenomenologists or philosophers, but also to artists, filmmakers, art and film theorists and critics, literary theorists, but also to anyone seeking to see, in action, how philosophy operates, since, in my view, it is a book concentrating some of the best philosophical methodologies and traits one can use, as demonstrated in this review.

[1] This paper is prepared as part of my postdoctoral research project “Ontological Exhaustion: Being-Tired, and Tired-of-Being: a philosophy of fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout” at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, implemented with the financial support of the National Programme “Early-stage and Postdoctoral researchers” – 2, Stage 1, 2022–2024.

[2] Husserl, Edmund (1980): Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung. Zur Phänomenologie der anschaulichen Vergegenwärtigungen. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1898–1925). Ed. Marbach, Eduard. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff; – Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (1898–1925). Eng. transl. ed. by Brough, J., Dordrecht: Springer, 2005.

Luz Ascarate: Imaginer selon Paul Ricœur

Imaginer selon Paul Ricœur: La phénoménologie à la rencontre de l’ontologie sociale Book Cover Imaginer selon Paul Ricœur: La phénoménologie à la rencontre de l’ontologie sociale
Le Bel Aujourd'hui
Luz Ascarate
Paperback 28,00 €

Reviewed by: Sergej Seitz (University of Vienna)

Luz Ascarate’s dissertation Imaginer selon Paul Ricœur is a thorough study of Ricœur’s philosophy of imagination. It will be well received by at least three groups of readers. (1) Ricœur scholars will find in Ascarate’s book a novel interpretation of Ricœur’s philosophical oeuvre. Not only propounding yet another reconstruction of Ricoeur’s take on imagination (Kearney 1988; Taylor 2006), Ascarate’s account presents imagination as the key concept of his thought, structuring both his early phenomenological writings and his later hermeneutic and social-ontological reflections. (2) Phenomenologists will be drawn to the way the book retraces Ricœur’s explication of the pivotal role of imagination in phenomenological methodology. While in Husserl imagination remains by and large an operative concept,[1] Ricœur is the first to highlight the crucial “place of imagination in the philosophical method of foundation” (Ascarate 2022, 15), as Ascarate shows.[2] (3) Social and political philosophers, finally, will be interested in Ascarate’s reconstruction of how Ricœur’s phenomenology of imagination may inform the critical analysis of (ideological and utopian) social imaginaries, thus launching a dialogue between phenomenology and critical theory.

Combining these three points of intervention, Ascarate’s general aim is to sketch, with Ricœur, the contours of a post-foundationalist social ontology that unveils both the constitutive and the subversive functions of imagination at the heart of social relations. Crucially, this endeavor is not framed as a timeless philosophical reflection but as a response to contemporary social challenges. In view of a new foundational crisis—similar to the one Husserl takes as his point of departure in his Krisis book—Ascarate holds that it is high time to resuscitate imagination as a radical social and political force. Reclaiming imagination and the imaginary as the primary resources of our (inter)subjective self-understanding is necessary to counter neoliberal reification and the infamous ideological belief that “there is no alternative.”

As Olivier Abel notes in his favorable preface, Ricœur is indeed a promising interlocutor in this regard. On the one hand, Ricœur recognizes the “emancipatory potential” of imagination and its ability to “enlarge the sense of the real” (8) by disclosing hidden possibilities. On the other hand, he does not fall prey to the idea of an imaginary “creatio ex nihilo” (Castoriadis 1975; Papadimitropoulos 2015) that reproduces the metaphysical illusion of the imagining subject as an absolute, autonomous origin.[3] Following Ricœur, Ascarate stresses the productive power of imagination while at the same time recognizing the responsive condition of a human subject that never intervenes “out of nothing,” but inevitably acts within an already constituted socio-historical world.[4]

The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Ascarate reconstructs Ricoeur’s phenomenology of imagination in a roughly chronological manner, starting with (1) his “Husserlian heritage” and his early phenomenology of the will before proceeding to (2) the role of imagination in his hermeutics of symbols and to (3) his later reflections on ontology and anthropology. The second part deals with the import of Ricoeur’s thinking of imagination for social ontology. Here, Ascarate begins by (4) sketching the contemporary discourse in critical theory and post-foundationalist social philosophy before (5) outlining a phenomenology of utopias. In what follows, I trace the main steps in Ascarate’s argument before pointing out some problems and indicating how, in my view, critical reflection should proceed.

Ascarate does not confine herself to Ricœur’s published works but also takes into account his lecture courses (such as the important, yet still unpublished, Lectures on Imagination held in Chicago in 1976)[5] as well as his translator’s notes on the early translation of Husserl’s Ideen I (Husserl 1950) done during the war. Right from the beginning, Ricœur construes imagination as the philosophical faculty par excellence. As Ascarate makes clear, we find the conviction that doing philosophy would not be possible without the imaginary suspension of factual reality already in his early work. Even more than that, according to Ricoeur, phenomenology as a method is not feasible without the faculty of imagination. What Husserl calls epoché, the bracketing of our natural attitude toward the world, requires the ability to neutralize the grip of reality. In this sense, “imagination can appear as the foundation of phenomenology” (41). It is precisely this neutralizing function of imagination that Ascarate focuses on throughout her book. Phenomenological research involves neutralizing or suspending reality—not in the sense of denying it, but in terms of disclosing the contingency of its factual conditions. In this vein, Ascarate also speaks of the “suspending function of imagination” (76).

Imagination is not, however, confined to facilitating the epoché. As Ascarate emphasizes, Ricœur also shows that and how the eidetic reduction requires imagination. The intentional varying of an object’s characteristics that is at the heart of this methodological device of classical phenomenology would be impossible without the faculty of imagination. In this way, imagination surpasses perception. While perception (Wahrnehmung) always involves ‘value-ception’ (Wertnehmung), as Scheler points out (Scheler 1980, 205), it remains bound to the order of facts—to the specific way, that is, in which objects are empirically organized in the world. In the eidetic reduction, by contrast, imagination “deterritorializes our perception” and “breaks the order of facts” (47) that perception reveals. In short, where perception only registers facts (the given empirical reality), imagination penetrates the realm of essences.

Imagination thus plays a double role in phenomenological methodology. On the one hand, it is what suspends the firmness of empirical reality under the epoché: “Ricœur appropriates Husserl’s conviction to break the kingdom of the empirical law by force of the liberty of imagination in order to access the field of the possible” (69). On the other hand, imagination makes possible the eidetic reduction by allowing us to transcend the contingent world of facts and push through to the world of essences. Writing about the “illustrative function of imagination,” Ricœur claims that “fiction is the true revealer of essence” (Ricoeur, in Husserl 1950, 24). It discloses precisely what cannot be otherwise: “imagination … reveals, by way of free variation, the true resistance of essence and its non-contingency” (Ricoeur, in Husserl 1950, 223).

Turning to Ascarate’s presentation of the role of imagination within Ricœur’s own philosophy of the will, imagination functions as the precondition of decision and action. Imagination presents possibilities for intervention, thus directing our will toward the future. There is no genuine decision without imagination. At the same time, imagination can render us passive and lure us away from action whenever the “charm of an unreal” prompts “an escape from reality” (80). That is to say, even as imagination is oriented toward the absent, the other, and the beyond, it needs to remain bound to the present and the conditions of reality, at least to some extent.

This, Ascarate suggests, becomes especially clear in Ricœur’s thinking about evil and human fallibility in Fallible Man (Ricœur 1986). To understand the human condition of moral fallibility, Ricœur argues, we must first come up with a notion of innocence. For without a preliminary and counterfactual understanding of innocence, some inclination or other could not even be identified as evil (see also Ascárate 2021). Because we are never truly innocent, however, we cannot perceive innocence in its purity. Again, imagination has to step in, furnishing an “imagination of innocence” (112). This imagination of innocence displays our own innocence as a (forever unrealized) possibility. This is not some Hegelian daydream in which I imagine myself as beautiful soul with a clean moral sheet. As Ricœur emphasizes, “this imagination is not a fanciful dream; it is an ‘imaginative variation’, to use a Husserlian term, which manifests the essence by breaking the prestige of the fact. In imagining another state of affairs …, I perceive the possible, and in the possible, the essential.” (Ricœur 1986, 112) Thus, the imagination of innocence discloses not so much a random possibility among others as my essential humanity, while at the same time always running the risk of regressing into self-righteous reverie.

Indeed, every philosophical discourse is to some degree a walk on a tightrope on the edge of deceptive imagination. As evidenced by his reflections on symbols and symbolism, Ricœur is well aware of this. The fact that all thought takes place within a specific language and within a specific symbolism and imaginary does not mean that the philosopher has to renounce the idea of beginning anew. However, there is no beginning anew without some presuppositions. Thinking in and with symbols is what gives our thoughts content, but at the same time symbolism “introduces radical contingency” (Ricoeur 2004, 399) into our discourse. Ascarate argues that “the symbol is the eidos from the point of view of its contingency, an eidos from the point of view of its imaginary foundation that cannot be fully explicated” (134). Acknowledging the imaginary foundation of essence in this way leads to the surprising conclusion that essence is not simply discovered but always to some degree invented. In this context, Ascarate cites the Lectures on Imagination, where “Ricœur argues … that the imaginary variations take on a productive and creative function, for instead of verifying a concept they create new concepts” (167). As it turns out, the eidetic reduction is, to speak with Kant, not so much a kind of reproductive imagination as a kind of productive imagination.

Indeed, as Ascarate’s study makes clear, concerning the classical distinction between reproductive and productive imagination, Ricœur proves to be a fierce advocate of the latter. Apparently, one of his most elaborate pleas for productive imagination is to be found in the soon-to-be-published Lectures on Imagination. Here, Ricœur argues that it is only in productive imagination that we get an unobstructed view of the phenomenon of imagination. For as long as it is conceived in terms of reproduction, imagination is held captive by perception, making the former but a second-rate compensation for, or maidservant of, the latter. (Ascarate mentions that Ricœur accuses Sartre and Ryle of reducing imagination to this reproductive role.) Productive imagination, by contrast, roams freely, evading the suffocating grip of perception.

To see imagination in all its productivity, it is necessary, Ricœur argues, to cut the cord tying it to the image. Conceiving of imagination in terms of an image (an image-portrait, a depiction of something that already exists) inevitably leads to neglecting imagination’s creative powers. While reproductive imagination is associated with this notion of an image-portrait, productive imagination, as Ricœur understands it, ought to be thought of in terms of fiction. Productive imagination has the power to “open our mind to new perspectives on the real” (165). This again foreshadows the emancipatory function of utopian narratives: “productive imagination has an ontological force,” Ascarate writes, “that consists in enlarging and producing new visions of the world and new ways of seeing things. Thus, it can change our way of being in the world” (166). In renouncing the pictorial function of image-portraits, productive imagination is thus closer to language than to the visual realm. As Ascarate shows, Ricœur gains this insight from Gaston Bachelard and his phenomenology of poetic imagination (Bachelard 1983). True poetry, as in the case of the living metaphor, constitutes an event in the most radical sense: the birth of new meaning (Ricœur 2003; see also Seitz and Posselt 2017; Flatscher and Seitz 2023). Metaphor is in this sense language in statu nascendi: “According to Ricœur, Bachelard makes a decisive step … by understanding the new as an event born in language and through it.” (169) Bachelard’s conception of poetic imagination supports the “hypothesis of another life” (169).

However, as Ascarate makes clear, Ricœur does not stop here but in fact goes beyond Bachelard, arguing that productive imagination is not restricted to poetic metaphors. Far from being confined to art, productive imagination is at work even in scientific discourse. In Ricœur’s view, scientific models are the result of productive imagination, too; what science comes up with is not merely a picture of the real. In poetry as well as in science, “imagining does not consist in making appear what is absent from perception, but rather in edifying an autonomous sense.” (Foessel 2014, 245) This interest in the possibility of the new, Ascarate notes, is what unites Kant’s, Husserl’s, and Ricœur’s reflections on imagination. (One could also add Arendt to the list, who locates productive imagination at the heart of political judgment, referring to Kant’s notion of enlarged mentality [erweiterte Denkungsart], see Arendt 1992; Zerilli 2016).

Against this background, Ascarate seeks to draw from her reconstruction of Ricœur’s thinking of productive imagination both ontological and anthropological consequences. On the ontological level, Ascarate sketches how Ricœur’s take on imagination may engender a new ontology, an “ontology of the possible (175) or an “ontology of hyperreality” (30). The concept of hyperreality, although rather underdeveloped throughout the book, points to a conception of reality that does not limit the real to what is factually given but includes the possible. The possible, then, is not a separate sphere neatly cut off from the real but forms an intrinsic part of reality. On the anthropological level, (productive) imagination is framed as a uniquely human faculty. In Ascarate’s words, “the human being is the one who imagines; or the human being is the one who creates new possibilities from the real” (181). In this sense, the “productive function of imagination” (187) is what makes the essence of the human being.

It is here that the therapeutic import of Ricœur’s philosophy of imagination comes in. Productive imagination, Ascarate hopes, may enables us to respond to the present “crisis of sense” (146). Philosophy must combat the hegemony of instrumental rationality in which reason has lost its emancipatory force. Resuscitating this force requires that we draw on human creative power as “the experience of a human being to suspend the given world and access the possible” (189). Imaginative creativity should then help us reacquaint ourselves with the possibility of bringing about new ways of living together, new social foundations, and new ways of forging the social bond. Ascarate even trusts the “phenomenology of fiction” to assume the role of “a first philosophy for times of crisis: it would be a thinking that searches for foundations in an epoch that has lost them; an opening toward new ways of thinking” (191).

To explicate the critical and social-ontological implications of Ricœur’s philosophy of imagination, Ascarate draws primarily on his Lectures on Ideology and Utopia (Ricoeur 1986). Her goal is to show the relevance of Ricœur’s conception of imagination for critical theory and post-foundational social philosophy. Ricœur’s phenomenological account of ideology and utopia could, Ascarate argues, open up a new perspective on the critique of ideology, thus bringing into dialogue phenomenology and the Frankfurt school.[6]

In his analysis of the relation between ideology and utopia, Ricœur makes use of Karl Mannheim’s Ideologie und Utopie (Mannheim 2015). As Ascarate shows, Ricœur twines the phenomenological, hermeneutic, and anthropological strands of his thought together to give an account of the social and political imaginary in its various guises. Ricœur starts off by reformulating Mannheim’s distinction between ideology and utopia in Kantian terms: “utopia is the fiction of productive imagination and ideology is reproductive social imagination” (213). From a phenomenological perspective, then, utopia is a function of productive imagination. What is more, Ricœur explicitly associates utopia with Husserl’s idea of eidetic reduction. Utopia “is close to the imaginary variations around an essence as proposed by Husserl” (Ricoeur 1986, 36). (Which begs the question, of course, whether the assumption of an authentic essence runs the risk of blunting utopia’s critical edge.)

Ascarate also emphasizes that Ricœur does not simply pit utopia against ideology. Rather, he argues that both ideology and utopia have “constitutive as well as pathological dimensions” (214). Ideology’s constitutive function is social integration. It generates a sense of affiliation and belonging. In contrast to classical Marxian approaches, Ricœur renounces the idea of ideology as mere distortion of reality. As a form of social and political imagination, ideology does not primarily disguise material conditions but is constitutive of social cohesion. Utopia, for its part, can assume a pathological modality once it regresses into mere denial: “utopia is effectively pathological whenever it presents itself as a flight from reality” (253), causing us to lose ourselves in the passivity of fascination or reverie. Instead of dissolving reality, utopia has to reveal reality in a different way by providing an imaginary exterior standpoint. As Ascarate writes, “when utopia’s exterritoriality is turned toward reality, its constitutive, creative, and critical force is unleashed” (256).

Here, Ricœur distances his phenomenological account of ideology and utopia from Mannheim’s. Mannheim is concerned about the ways in which ideology and utopia attack the status of social facts. While ideology reifies facts, displaying them as unchanging, naturally given entities, utopia fails to recognize the binding character of facts, presenting them as arbitrarily changeable (Mannheim 2015). Ricœur, however, does not share Mannheim’s concern with regard to utopia: “Ricœur insists on the positive aspects of utopia, that is, on the constitutive or productive function of imagination” (231–2). Seen from this perspective, the pronounced distance to reality is not utopia’s weakness but its strength. Instructive in this respect is Ascarate’s mention of the different paradigms of utopia in Mannheim and Ricœur. In Mannheim, the paradigmatic utopia is Thomas Münzer’s anabaptism. Ricœur, by contrast, turns to Thomas More’s Utopia. Mannheim cherishes Münzer for his active desire and engagement to realize his utopia (in a religious revolution). For Ricœur, it is precisely utopia’s unrealizability that makes it a productive social and political force. The fact that utopia cannot turn its back on reality does not mean that the gap between reality and utopia should simply be closed. For this gap ensures society’s openness and non-totalization. In this sense, utopian thinking is necessary for any human community: “while it is possible to imagine a society without ideology, to think of a society without utopia amounts to creating a society without purpose: no longer exceeding reality would lead to a facticity that marks the ruin of human will” (237). In this view, exceeding factual reality is a matter of life and death for any genuinely human society. It is not the lack of congruence with reality that makes utopia constitutive of the social but the aspiration “to undermine the established order” (239).

Ascarate emphasizes that utopia unites imagination and emancipation. Imagination has to break with the past. Ricœur puts into question Marx’s distinction between interpretation and transformation. For utopian imagination at once interprets and transforms reality. This also points to the essentially antagonistic character of utopia that is already stressed by Mannheim. Every utopia implies an anti-utopianism launched against other utopian proposals: “in every utopia there is a counter-utopian aspect directed against another utopia. This antagonism dynamizes the relation between utopias” (235). The communist utopia, for example, denounces all other utopias as ideology, which also inhibits a clear-cut, ahistorical distinction of ideology and utopia. What seems utopian from one political perspective can appear ideological from another.

Despite its antagonistic character, Ricœur praises utopia for its potential of nonviolent transformation. In order to bring about something new, we have to break with the past, but this rupture should not be achieved by violence, Ricoeur argues, but by imagination: “instead of violence, imagination has to perform the break with the past” (Ricoeur 1986, 378). Ascarate notes that Ricœur’s role models in this context are Saint-Simon and Fourier. Utopian socialism favors imagination over violence. As Ricœur emphasizes with Fourier, utopia not only demands the possible but also that which, in a given situation, seems impossible. From this perspective, utopia seems to be the test case for the ontology Ascarate envisages in her reading of Ricœur—namely, a philosophy of hyperreality that conceives of reality not in terms of an abstraction from the possible but as a recognition of the manifold horizons of possibilities, even if they remain unacknowledged.

By way of conclusion, I raise some critical questions and mark points of departure for further reflection. These concern (1) the inner structure and articulation of the phenomenon of imagination, (2) the status of passivity in relation to the social imaginary, and (3) the search for foundations within a post-foundationalist framework.

First, let me note that, in my view, one of the merits of Ascarate’s book is the way it manages to capture the complexity of the phenomenon of imagination as well as its many dimensions. Note the long list of different functions of imagination that are discussed throughout the book. Needless to say, given that Ricœur “considers it the central function of imagination” (161), the function of neutralization or suspension looms large. However, reference is also made to an “emancipatory function” (8), a “practical function” (39), an “illustrative” and “exemplary function” (42), an “evasive” function (83), an “intermediary function” (97), a “productive function” (99), a “creative function” (125), an “integrative” and “distortive” function (of ideology, 213, 216), a “critical function” (of utopia, 229), and a “constitutive function” (232) of imagination. This list underscores imagination’s many faces. Ascarate does not, however, investigate how these different functions are interrelated. It remains unclear, for instance, whether some of them are mere synonyms or whether some are more fundamental or more primordial than others. Given that a phenomenology of imagination has to explicate the compossibility of imagination’s various functions, what we require is a more detailed and comprehensive cartography of its fault lines. This could also entail a less egological account of imagination, especially in regard to questions of political imagination. The attempt to render the phenomenology of imagination productive for social ontology can only succeed if it enables us to think of imagination in terms of collective acts and intersubjective processes (see Seitz 2022).

This becomes all the more urgent, second, in light of Ascarate’s/Ricœur’s aim to integrate imagination within an ontology of possibility and an anthropology of the capable subject. In this framework, the positive, productive, and creative aspects of imagination take center stage. Imagination’s productivity, its creative power, and its disclosing force always are presented as somehow ‘more essential’ than its deceptive, reproductive, and ideological aspects. This raises the question of how the coercive function of the social imaginary, the repressive function of ideology, and the fixating function of reproductive imagination are to be explicated within an approach that focuses primarily on human capabilities. For within such an approach, the passive aspects of our socio-political being come into view only as secondary, derivative, or pathological phenomena. On the other end of the spectrum of conceptualization, as Andreas Hetzel recently outlined with recourse to Bachelard, the contours of a different phenomenology of imagination come into relief—one that no longer thinks of imagination as the subject’s autonomous capability but as “a capability of the images themselves, the capability of presenting themselves before our eyes. Imagination would then be not so much the … capability of producing images as a consciously sought-out incapability, a readiness to be fascinated by the images … in their activity and waywardness” (Hetzel 2021, 112; see also Calin and Hetzel 2021). I bring this up to indicate the different routes theorization can take within the phenomenology of imagination—and to suggest that the problem of how to reconcile the intuition that imagination forms an essential part of human autonomy with the observation that imagination (or ‘the imaginary’) is all too often precisely what holds us firmly in its grip rather than what we command still remains to be solved.

This leads, third, to the question of autonomy or heteronomy in the context of the institution of social and political foundations. In my view, Ascarate remains rather vague in this respect. On the one hand, she inscribes Ricœur’s reflections on imagination into the discourse on post-foundationalist political philosophy, where the possibility of ultimate, transcendental foundations is rejected in favor of the need for contingent, historical foundations (Marchart 2018; Butler 1995). On the other hand, her diagnostics of crisis appears at times quite nostalgic, mourning the loss of an era where social foundations were not yet in question. Take, for instance, Ascarate’s description of the phenomenologist’s role in the present: “The phenomenologist is, for us, the one who still dreams of evidences in a world that has lost them; the one who” remains faithful to “those that search for foundations” (266). By contrast, we could ask whether it was not at times precisely the quest for strong foundations and infallible evidence that prevented us from genuinely dreaming. In other words, the nostalgic stance toward lost foundations seems incompatible with the post-foundationalist theory framework Ascarate claims to employ. Note, though, that such compatibility is not even desirable. As I see it, Ascarate has exemplarily shown how phenomenology can today proceed without continuing to be haunted by the specter of absolute evidence, which may also be one of the liberating powers of imagination in phenomenology.


I thank Matthias Flatscher and Anna Wieder for their helpful comments and remarks.

Funding Information

This work has been funded by the European Union (ERC, PREDEF, 101055015). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.


Adams, Suzi, ed. 2017. Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary. London/New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Lectures on Kants Political Philosophy. Edited and with an interpretive essay by Ronald Beiner. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ascarate, Luz. 2021. “The Imagination: From Ideation to Innocence.” In A Companion to Ricoeur’s Fallible Man, edited by Scott Davidson. New York/London: Lexington.

———. 2022. Imaginer selon Paul Ricœur: La phénoménologie à la rencontre de l’ontologie sociale. Paris: Hermann.

Bachelard, Gaston. 1983. Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter. Translated by Edith R. Farrell. Dallas: The Pegasus Foundation.

Butler, Judith. 1995. “Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of ‘Postmodernism’” In Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange, edited by Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, and Nancy Fraser. New York/London: Routledge.

Calin, Rodolphe, and Andreas Hetzel. 2021. “Einleitung.” In Kultur – Sprache – Einbildungskraft: Gaston Bachelard und die deutschsprachige Philosophie, edited by Rodolphe Calin, Andreas Hetzel, and Eva Schürmann, 11–20. Stuttgart: frommann-holzboog.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1975. L’institution imaginaire de la société. Paris: Seuil.

———. 1997. Fait et à faire: Les carrefours du labyrinthe 5. Paris: Seuil.

Flatscher, Matthias, and Sergej Seitz. 2023. “La métaphore vive.” In “Kraft” der Hermeneutik: Das Paradigma des Werkes Paul Ricoeurs, edited by Burkhard Liebsch. Freiburg/München: Alber.

Foessel, Michaël. 2014. “Action, normes et critique: Paul Ricoeur et les pouvoirs de l’imaginaire.” Philosophiques 41 (2): 241–52.

Hetzel, Andreas. 2021. “Die innere Unermesslichkeit: Bachelards Phänomenologie der Einbildungskraft.” In Kultur – Sprache – Einbildungskraft: Gaston Bachelard und die deutschsprachige Philosophie, edited by Andreas Hetzel, Rodolphe Calin, and Eva Schürmann, 111–47. Stuttgart: frommann-holzboog.

Husserl, Edmund. 1950. Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie et une philosophie phénoménologique pures. Translated by Paul Ricoeur. Paris: Gallimard.

———. 1983. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book. Translated by F. Kersten. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Jansen, Julia. 2016. “Husserl.” In The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Imagination, edited by Amy Kind, 69–81. New York/London: Routledge.

Kearney, Richard. 1988. “Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutic Imagination.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 14 (2): 115–45.

Mannheim, Karl. 2015. Ideologie und Utopie. 9th edition. Frankfurt/M.: Klostermann.

Marchart, Oliver. 2018. Thinking Antagonism: Political Ontology After Laclau. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP.

———. 2019. Die Politische Differenz: Zum Denken des Politischen bei Nancy, Lefort, Badiou, Laclau und Agamben. 4th edition. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1969. The Visible and the Invisible. Edited by Claude Lefort. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern UP.

Papadimitropoulos, Vangelis. 2015. “Indeterminacy and Creation in the Work of Cornelius Castoriadis.” Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 11 (1): 256–68.

Ricœur, Paul. 1986. Fallible Man: Philosophy of the Will. Translated by Charles A. Kelbey. Revised edition. New York: Fordham UP.

Ricoeur, Paul. 1986. Lectures on Ideology and Utopia. Edited by George H. Taylor. New York: Columbia UP.

Ricœur, Paul. 2003. The Rule of Metaphor: The Creation of Meaning in Language. Translated by Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, SJ. London/New York: Routledge.

Ricoeur, Paul. 2004. The Conflict of Interpretations. Essays in Hermeneutics. Edited by Don Ihde. London: Continuum.

Scheler, Max. 1980. Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik: Neuer Versuch der Grundlegung eines ethischen Personalismus. 6th edition. Bern/München: Francke Verlag.

Seitz, Sergej. 2022. “Affirmative Refusals: Reclaiming Political Imagination with Bonnie Honig and Lola Olufemi.” In Genealogy+Critique 8 (1): 1–22.

Seitz, Sergej, and Gerald Posselt. 2017. “Theorien der Metapher: Die Provokation der Philosophie durch das Unbegriffliche.” In Handbuch Rhetorik und Philosophie, edited by Andreas Hetzel and Gerald Posselt, 421–48. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter.

Taylor, George H. 2006. “Ricoeur’s Philosophy of Imagination.” Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy 16 (1–2): 93–104.

Zerilli, Linda M. G. 2016. A Democratic Theory of Judgment. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.

[1] That is not to say, of course, that the phenomenon of imagination eludes Husserl. As Julia Jansen points out, “[h]ardly any other philosopher in the history of philosophy has paid as much detailed attention to the nature of imagining and to the distinct characteristics of imagined objects as Husserl” (Jansen 2016, 69). Ascarate’s point is that though Husserl indeed calls imagination the “vital element” (Husserl 1983, 160) of phenomenology, he nonetheless privileges perception as the default form of intentionality.

[2] All translations from Ascarate’s book and other non-English sources are my own.

[3] The question of whether imagination is to be construed either as creation or as responsive productivity is at the center of the debate between Ricœur and Castoriadis (Adams 2017). Note, also, that Castoriadis repeatedly defends his account against this criticism, see (Castoriadis 1997).

[4] This conception seems close to Merleau-Ponty’s idea of “coherent deformation” (Merleau-Ponty 1969, 262).

[5] These lectures are currently edited by George Taylor and will be published in 2023.

[6] Ricœur’s attempt to rethink the social bond as constituted by the imaginary powers of ideology and utopia may, Ascarate argues, also resonate well with Oliver Marchart’s political ontology (Marchart 2019).

Gustav Șpet: Conștiința și posesorul ei, Editura Ratio et Revelatio, 2022

Conștiința și posesorul ei Book Cover Conștiința și posesorul ei
Gustav Șpet. Translated by Vasile Visoțchi
Ratio et Revelatio

James G. Hart: Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology

Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology Book Cover Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology
Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, Vol. 5
James G. Hart. Edited by Rodney K. B. Parker
Hardback 90,94 eBook € 71,68 €
XII, 272

Reviewed by: By Kevin M. Stevenson (PhD, of the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences, ICHAS)

Before one reads Hart’s work, an introduction to Conrad-Martius’ (henceforth: CM) method which is also the title of the book, Ontological Phenomenology, it is important to bear in mind that it was originally his doctoral dissertation from the 1970s. This is important if we are to consider that much reflection most likely occurred between the time of the dissertation completion and the revisiting and further publication of this work. Not only does this allow the reader to consider the expertise Hart might have on CM, but also the importance of Hart’s academic career in further developing his dissertation into its final form.

In the Introduction, the book is informed to essentially aim to do four things in relation to CM’s ontological phenomenology. It provides a clear and concise message to the reader that the work is an interpretive summary of this phenomenological method. The four points that are to come across in the book are a) the context of CM in philosophy in general, b) why her work is pivotal for phenomenology as a method and discipline (but also why as a historical figure she is so important in the realm of phenomenology), c) the influences she has received and given to others in the field in the history of philosophy, and finally d) CM’s relationship with Natur Philosophie, in which potency and possibility are considered real ontological states of affairs.

Hart’s road map at the start of the book allows the reader to know what to expect throughout the text and provides an important background for understanding why Conrad’s (CM’s) ontological phenomenology developed in the way that it did. Being aware of her influences, standpoints and personal situation is important for this understanding, such as the debate between Goethe and Newton, being against post-Cartesian cosmologies and the reduction of nature to mathematical equation, phenomenology of colours, her attempt to give Christian cosmology ontological-cosmological foundations, and on a personal level, her financial and health difficulties (4). Throughout the book, Hart implicitly focused on the distinction between theology and philosophy within CM’s work, and on how CM would have interpreted the two, in order for the reader to consider CM as more of a philosopher than a theologian. Afterall, the series in which the book is part is based on ‘Women in History of Philosophy and Sciences’. At the same time, Hart’s omission of focusing on a label for CM, informs the reader of the context within which CM was living, where science, philosophy and theology were more alchemized together than in comparison to today.

From the beginning, Hart emphasized the importance of space for CM, and how its interpretation can be skewed by mathematical, technical, and quantifying approaches to cosmology; for her such bias orthodoxly follows a positivist faith. The mathematization of nature to be considered as the ultimate theoretical explanation for nature is not a possibility for CM. Our interpretation of nature is thus important for our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves; hence, Hart informs of how theology through grace (which allows us to ‘see better’) fills the gap that appears to be missing in the interpretation of nature by positivist approaches. Disclosing the eidetic structure of the cosmos is essentially what Conrad’s ontological phenomenology aims to do through meta-methodological questioning that departs from positivism. Hart eloquently summarizes this notion within Conrad’s method that considers the world as being double-featured, stating: “One can speak of the essence of the world as it is immediately given to us on the level of felt-meaning, an essence-intuition in which we participate with the totality of our existence (5).” We can therefore ‘speak’ of the world in physical terms through essence-intuition but also in more difficult foundational terms which is characterized as metaphysical.

For Hart, CM’s ontological phenomenology essentially aims to explore the experience of the things themselves which is important for both ‘speakings’ of the world. According to Hart, CM does this in a way that does not merely repeat a Husserlian approach, despite the fact Husserl was her teacher. Rather her approach propounds that phenomenology is the ‘true’ positivism by attending fully to the given, which leads to two by-products as a result of undermining positivism: a) a qualitative rather than quantitative study of nature which considers the manner in which nature appears as inherent in realontological structure and b) the importance of the noesis and noema within the Husserlian excessiveness of particular experience. These by-products reinforce a spiritual attitude which equates with a phenomenological being-in-the-world, in turn cohering with the excessiveness of experience which Hart stresses is so important for CM’s later work. Hart thus allows his book to represent an excellent resource for first time readers of CM, not only to understand the content within his book, but other works of CM or on CM.

Throughout the book Hart does a good job at highlighting the importance of CM’s work for not only philosophy but the social sciences. This is particularly the case with the epistemological notions set out within the book which are of such importance for the social sciences. Perhaps one of the most important terms to be considered within the book, besides her realontology, is intuition. Hart emphasizes how CM countered the positivist notion that intuition is derived from inference, as the concept of an object’s body-face, in Hart’s words, is conceptualized as the totality of an objective content from self-presentation within intuitive vision’s realm (11). To comprehend CM’s approach, Hart is true to CM’s style in that he includes phenomenological experiments, such as thought experiments, in order help the reader understand her thought. His snail analogy for example challenges the reader to participate in phenomenological investigation in order to deepen one’s understanding of CM’s methodology and in this case of the snail, the aspectival presentation of body-face as intuition. This served as an excellent backdrop to understand CM’s realontology, which aims to bridge gaps between nature’s qualitative appearances and its scientific explanations (18).

The methodology for CM’s realontology involves essence-analysis, which essentially analyses that which exceeds the concretely given perceptual reality: excess which is characterized as a) immediately sensed body-face, b) materiality, c) meaning, and d) categorical foundations of things (substance/reality). The analysis of excess thus aims at a non-reductivist approach to nature without idealism. In this respect, Hart sizes CM up against Husserl to not only emphasize the influence his work on phenomenology had on CM in terms of maintaining a fresh philosophy free from scientific positivism, but also to place her within the great players of phenomenology and its intellectual historical trajectory at the time of her writings.

Hart is successful at pinpointing the important influences CM had received from other philosophers of phenomenology for clarity’s sake, such as how within the bracketing of the epoché there involves the eidetic reduction that is most influential for CM amongst the other conceptions of the epoché. The other two conceptions being bracketing epistemological questions and the transcendental reduction. The eidetic reduction is more important for CM because of its movement from the factual to the essential via essence-analysis or in other words, the search for essentials; the investigation which encapsulates CM’s ontological phenomenology. The eidetic reduction is a leading back to the essence or fact structure or in other words, the full phenomenality structure to essence on its own, which is a turning from actual concrete existence to an idea through bringing essence to its full bodiliness via ideation (23). Hart thus characterizes CM’s work as an ‘essence hunting’ that undermines the incidental, factual, and concrete. And Hart stresses that the best manner in which to conceptualize such essence-analysis is through the ideation involved in the eidetic reduction (20). The suspension involved in the epoché is crucial for understanding CM’s ontological phenomenology because not only does it cohere with the eidetic reduction which she values, but also because it highlights the importance of intuition in our analysis of nature. Intuition, as mentioned above, is important for considering immediate experience in which essential meaning can be detected without categories or systems; concepts that require reductions to objects rather than essentials.

Hart shows that CM was important for the social sciences by not only countering the positivism of her day, which believed or even still believes itself to be with the true original and immediate givens of experience as sense data and facts (21), but by showing how ideation can allow for reflection on the implicitly or intuitively known criteria of things found in nature. Hart uses his own terminology to help the reader understand this, by informing that ideation (essence-intuition) involves the know-how and the know-that of inquiry. Hart does not consider her as merely dovetailing on Husserl’s work, since though he also considered such positivist notions as the superstition of facts (21), she however did not embrace Husserlian intentionality. Hart rather frames her as a phenomenologist who was driven to discover the things themselves, and within her historical context, was brave to do so. Phenomenology was a passion for her since essences within the phenomenological method are considered immediate as well, not just the positivist criteria mentioned above is immediate therefore. To elucidate this, she originally considered there to be an intuitive essential realm in contrast to an intuitive factual realm.

The power of intuition thus lies at the heart of positivism and phenomenology for CM, though for her sake, essence-intuition requires phenomenology, since such essentiality involves the process of ideation, disciplined perception (such as in the case of the epoché) and an artistic sense of difference. Phenomenology’s principle of all principles is original intuition, as phenomenological essence does not lie simply on the surface of appearance as may be the case in positivistic approaches to nature. Hart characterizes CM’s method of ontological phenomenology as a reflexive cosmology, countering the forceful and direct approach of positivism on nature for an essence-analysis that permits the essential meaning of nature’s experience to emerge; an analysis that approaches that which in itself is considered inexhaustible and so irreducible. CM thus aims to expose the a priori laws and regions of nature through her realontology as her phenomenological ontology. Hart focuses on CM’s notions of this and the human challenge to do so, as the importance of fiction, thus the imagination and creativity, which are uniquely human attributes considered of utmost importance for CM’s approach. Essential meanings, alike those found in Husserl, are akin to ‘’horizons of indeterminate inklings’’, as peripheral inklings change our knowledge into essence-intuition. Analysing vague wholes into elements that bring forth essences, as a role of phenomenology, makes phenomenology a method more than mere language analysis (25). Hart is able to show CM’s Continental ‘feel’ by extracting concise information from the works that inspired CM, like Husserl, the Munich and Gottingen Circles, and Hering, without losing the importance and originality of her work.

Rather than get caught up in ‘works of meta’ which any work in philosophy can be guilty of committing, Hart is able to outline the relevance of CM’s work through its practical implications. This can be shown under the subtitle 2.3 ‘The Essence of Essence’, in which essence is considered something that discloses itself to the method of essence-intuition which avoids getting caught up in ‘meta-works’. Essence is thus taken to comprise of unique characteristics of objects’ fullness. Such fullness becomes understood to mean that essence requires a bearer and thus is always a reference for something else. The practical use of ideation thus becomes known to reveal if objects have core essential essences or if such elements are merely accidental. Hart emphasizes that object(s) is a broad concept and can even refer to practical issues we face in human life and experience. Hart thus informs how CM would inform of the utility of ideation in everyday life. The concept of promise was an example of a practical issue or what Hart considers as ‘states of affairs’ in contrast to the immutability of essences through a physical example involving a house, with the latter considering the notion of how its physical changes might not change its essence (27). The former example reveals the importance of CM’s work for practical ethical matters whereas the latter informs of unresolved philosophical issues since the ancient Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

CM’s method which takes the notion of essence belonging to objects themselves, in which the object’s idea remains separate from the object itself (as a result of ideating or objectifying an object’s essence leading to the object having it ideally in spite of the fact that the essence of the object is inseparable from the thing itself) has consequences for both physical scientific and social issues alike. Hart shows that the method is thus able to graft phenomenology and ontology together, echoing CM’s background in phenomenological concepts such as the Lebenswelt. CM’s Phenomenological Ontology clarifies the notion that the process of ideation leads to the idea that an object’s essence or whatness or morphé (such as the essence of an issue like promising for example) has a second separate existence to itself as an object, through a process of subsumption; a process that is often overlooked in the sciences but which CM brings to light. Although Hart could have brought in terms such as mereology or even Gestalt psychology to consider for the reader to investigate to assist in understanding CM’s method at this juncture, Hart appears to be aware of the danger of getting off topic and straying from the initial task of explaining CM’s approach from bringing in such concepts. One example however of when introducing other notions into the work could have been beneficial is with Hart quoting on CM and Hering (as one of CM’s influencers) on the importance of phenomenology’s consideration of: “relations of an object to its whatness is different than its relation to its properties (29).” Considering Gestalt psychology and even Cartesian dualism as additional notions to investigate could have been beneficial to the novice reader in philosophy or social sciences if introduced, however, we are aware of the limitations of Hart’s task at hand.

Understanding CM’s method thus requires the awareness of an object’s ‘what’ as taken to be the phenomenological basis of talking about ‘being-what’ or ‘being-such’. The concept of eidé is important here as it represents the essentialities of philosophical importance for both CM and Hering (as CM’s essential essence derives only from a comparison with Hering’s eidé). Eidé is a concept contrasted with objects which cannot be object realizable as eidé can. Here Hart does bring in Ancient philosophy to assist in considering how CM and Hering are disciples of Plato, perhaps in the sense of committing to the universality of ideas or in Plato’s terms, Forms. This helps in understanding that the eidé are not akin to whatnesses which need a bearer, since the eidé rest in themselves and are thus required for phenomena like objects (or social issues) to manifest their essences. Essences can thus be taken as eidé as that which are behind all essential essence.

Informing the reader of CM’s influences throughout the work does not lead Hart to simply consider CM as someone who chronological falls after Hering in terms of philosophical history, rather he frames their relationship as one that is akin to Husserl and Heidegger. Both relationships of their works can be said to contain an essence or spirit that does not replicate the other but rather challenges, reinforces, contributes and reciprocally builds on each other, which is perhaps why Hart was interested in nominating CM as a candidate for contributory women in philosophy and science. Her realontology in Chapter 2 is thus introduced by Hart in a manner in which we see it flowering out of the philosophical history of CM’s time. To emphasize the uniqueness of CM’s method, Hart does not hesitate to contrast it with positivistic approaches to reality. In CM’s ontological phenomenology or realontology, ideation subsumes an object’s eidos, so that eidos can be made concrete to a whatness or morphé. This is not an empirical process, but rather values more the idea that essential essences of objects are never realized in a concrete sense as a positivist would claim. Instead, an intuition or sense of an object is to be considered more fundamental than the empirical experience of an object. This is due to the fact that that which is presented to consciousness does so ‘as’ something. The object therefore bears the morphé (whatness or form) which is what is mediating the eidos (31).

In CM’s work, the eidos are juxtaposed to the universality of an idea and Hart gives the example of ‘redness’ being eidos instead of ‘red’ itself; hence the role of philosophy is to search and expose eidé as the meanings in themselves or intelligibility’s ultimate dimensions. The practicality within questioning or searching for eidé lies in the fact that such a task involves limit questions which involve reaching intelligibility’s foundations. The eidé provide objects with their essential meaning as via eidé the essence of ideal and real things can be understood which shows the epistemological implications of CM’s work. The eidé’s realm is important because it is the kosmos noetos, the latter term in this phrase related to noema and thus meaning, in turn considering a meaning-cosmos.

In order to keep in mind the fact that Hart is writing on a person of history, Hart does justice to CM’s cultural upbringing throughout the book in his analysis of the manner in which the term ‘meaning’ is taken by CM. He emphasizes that CM takes it with the German definition ‘Sinn’, which involves an objective meaning, one which is capable of disclosing itself to the intention of consciousness, thus a meaning that announces its essence through self-speaking objects (36). This unveils the ordering of CM’s approach to the experience of nature and all it entails, as essence, in its immediacy, is primary within the order of cognition, being first within knowing’s order, whereas eidé require an attachment to meaning to be cognized, since meaning realizes eidos. Ideation (the imaginary objectification of eidé) essentially brings eidé to givenness in order to get deeper into essence as the immediately given, so within the order of ontology, meaning (eidos) as defined as Sinn, is what holds as fundamental primacy within ontology. Hart informs that for CM, meaningful-topos is the terminology used to encapsulate the referential process of meaning making.

Within Chapter 2, Hart further elucidates the role of phenomenology within CM’s phenomenological ontology. Phenomenology is an investigation of essence that enters the realm of eidé, thus it is a ‘walking around’ of essence in order to find relations and properties of the meaning-topos of objects. Hart is critical of CM’s approach here, in that he believes that CM lacks an explanation of the causal categories she uses as that which is bounded to the metaphysics of participation, which is so crucial for meaning making. He highlights that Hering and CM founded phenomenology as essence analysis within meaning’s ultimate dimensions, which are apparently definite yet inexplicable. Eidé therefore cannot be merely grasped objectively, as any transcendental act of objectification of eidé in a positivistic sense distorts their essence. CM thus supports the indirect experience of objects through the concretization of eidé through ideation. Found within this notion is the practical implications of applying CM’s approach to nature and consequently science. The effort of objectification always leads to a distortion of the pure meaning of that which is objectified, so for CM, the purity of something is a realontology as essence-analysis, which involves a dialectic that is without pre-judgements and without any sort of Hegelian historical contradiction of truths. Hart explicates that for CM, it is the destined quest for meaning that is already and always intended within a horizon of meaning that is important; understood before any sort of cognition to be known through a kosmos noétos (which is juxtaposed to a reality cosmos which cannot unite with such a meaning cosmos). The horizon of meaning that is already set up for discovery and which ontology’s task is to illuminate through eidetic reduction and ideation is a study of the essence of that which presents itself. The Husserlian supported transcendental reduction on the other hand which as mentioned above CM does not adopt, purifies phenomena from the conferrals of reality. It is within these reductions that Hart highlights that CM, much like Heidegger, considered Husserl to be too subjective from the start, but she later revisited and supported his approach only to be finally contrasted with Husserl in his support for transcendental phenomenology whereas CM held onto an ontological phenomenology in which what is considered to hold meaning is actually a real being. The ‘really real’ is grounded in itself not in any sort of noema. Husserlian transcendental reduction does not involve the possibility of grasping fundamental structures of the ‘really real’ as such for CM, which allows her to refrain from supporting such a reduction.

Hart further outlines CM’s three senses of phenomenological attitude in Chapter 2, which further distances her approach from Husserl. These are a) Husserl with a purified world version, b) primacy to the eidetic reduction in order to allow for epistemological questions, and c) a realontological attitude. Essentially, CM’s realontology considers that it is only the method of essence-analysis that allows for transcendental elements to reach their givenness through the performance of the epoché bracketing. Essential analysis thus involves critical philosophy and theory of knowledge (epistemology), in turn allowing for transcendental phenomenology to correspond to realontology and the world-constitution ego without limiting itself to a transcendental reduction. Hart sums up the difference between a Husserlian approach and CM’s as the former thematizes the metaphysical-egological object of the world whereas the latter thematizes the metaphysical-transcendental actualization of the world via a realontological reduction which presents the factual and actually given. Hart emphasizes that CM’s approach can thus be considered a shift (a cosmological turn) from the finished to the pre-finished cosmological dimensions of reality. Realontology’s role can thus be considered a philosophy of nature via essence and horizonal analyses, provoking an examination of the full phenomena of nature.

The realontology thus reconnects the context within which rich concrete phenomena exits; phenomena which science essentially removes from context. In Chapter 3, the present context is considered to involve seeing the kind of being an idea possesses. Horizon-analysis increases the scientist’s awareness of the blind-spots, attitudes, and habits which they may involve towards nature. Hart stresses that this does not make CM anti-scientific nor embracing a romantic return to nature, rather her realontology involves a three-fold nature of a) a philosophy of nature, b) essence-analysis, and c) horizontal-analysis. Both a) and b) involve a reconnaissance (a unifying intuition akin to an unthematic felt-solution to issues), which Hart characterizes as looking at one’s surroundings in order to improve our perception of the immediately given, with b) involving specifically the seeing beyond of borders to see precise essence (topos) (50). Both b) and c) involve speculation, with b) having the character of seeing things within limits and c) involving the speculation of the limits we set on objection perception.

Commencing Chapter 3 by bringing an end to Chapter 2, Hart can be said to bring back the importance of the concept of the Lebenswelt. We see that for CM, any reductive mechanical interpretation of life would not be possible due to life-essences’ givenness of living creatures and the machine-ness of all that mechanical. This sort of contemporary view of CM’s work allows us to see her work as not a mere arm-chair phenomenology according to Hart (53), as the realontology intends to rescue the appearances of nature in order to thus grasp appearances’ essences and in turn disclose appearances which can be taken as mere appearances. We have seen that such analysis of essence is not of that just found in reality, but with social issues as well, which in turn gets the arm-chair phenomenologist to stand to their feet and engage with the social world around them, armed with the realontology as a method for living.

In Chapter 3, the foundation of the realontology is thus further elucidated and Hart informs of the realontology as a method aiming to show meaning objects as presented with ontological moments that are immanent, and this is framed by Hart as echoing Frege’s objects of thought with a third realm with a reality that differs from that of things. As mentioned above, promises, as states of affairs, involve objective dimensions in which judgements are considered intentional acts that must involve psychological adjustment. It is here that it is considered that the presentation of objects to consciousness does not suffice it to be a state of affair; categorical intuition (essence-intuition) thus immanently involves grasping something as such a thing that it is, which is a state of affairs through an ontological moment. It is ontological since our mere thinking of something includes us in being; a notion that must include the importance of time. Realontology’s fundamental movement is founded on the notion that that appearing in itself via out of itself in accordance with modalities of the rootedness of self involves three movements: a) substantial (bearer), b) essential (what), and c) existential (presenting object as union of a) and b)).

It is from these movements of the realontology that we consider that essence exists independently and prior to objects as things. Hart informs of the dichotomy between eidé (pure qualia, Logos, meaning) and meaning-being (objects which come from eidé) as important to understand this. The eidé are akin to Platonic Forms, and can exist without the physical world, as it is only when we speak of them that they transform from objects to subjects because they exist independently of knowing subjects. Eidos, as entities without references to anything else are thus distorted when they are objectified by human contact, as they become reduced to hypostases. Hart emphasizes here that for CM, it is phenomenology’s task as the study of the real and essence’s pure investigator, to disclose eide’s inexhaustible realm as pure meaning. For CM, reality is something that stands over nothing, a nothingness with a mode of being present which therefore allows for the possibility of eidetic analysis. Being’s essential level of present objects is through essential analysis as there is a three-fold sense of being a) pure, b) really existing, and c) existential movement linking the ideal and real. In 3.3, Hart informs that phenomenological experience which is synonymous with eidetic experience considers a potential mode of being. Any non-being involves a power in terms of emergence, as it allows for the consideration of a being grounding its own being whilst being the ground itself. This leads to the human capacity of not being confined to the present moment as the human being can ‘make present’ via the past and present; an intentional possession of time.

It is from this backdrop of connecting the essence-analysis of CM’s realontology to inspecting the emergence of essence that Hart considers CM’s transcendental-imaginative intuitive time which is grounded in fact through ontological means. The human being is thus not known empirically (as flowing in temporal time) nor transcendentally (holding a position that is outside of self and the empirical world). CM’s transcendental-imaginative time involves a z-fold motion which stands at the head of her realontological understanding of time which has important consequences for human understanding. For CM, the past therefore is the form of intuition that is transcendental imaginative, which Hart considers to be noughted (76). Time thus involves a founding process that is not within time itself, as the present holds its own kinetic. In terms of the future, it is incorrect for CM to consider it dictated by a forward motion of actuality for existence nor as moving forward into a distant future. Rather, the transcendental-imaginative temporal movement as a mere passing in the Aristotelian sense coheres with CM’s concept of time. Substance therefore involves a standing under of its own being, thus as self-grounding of itself whereas imagined objects are non-substances. Here, Hart informs that in relation to substances, there are two modes an object can stand in itself: hyletic (a being posited outside of itself) and pneumatic (substance free from essential constitutive form, thus pure essence of existing itselfness e.g. archonal being own self). The importance for this dichotomy is it allows for an understanding of how nature is able to realise itself within its own actuality.

For Hart, CM’s work over her lifetime was to inform of the speculative vision of the hyletic and pneumatic, as her realontology not only aims to link ontology and the philosophy of nature, but involves nature’s appearing in relation to metaphysical foundations; establishing the basic regions of nature through an analysis of nature in qualitative and concrete forms. Nature is taken as a symbolic whole revealing fundamental categories of the entire cosmos, which again involves the importance of her work for aesthetic and Gestalt psychology. CM thus aims to provide an analysis of nature which achieves what the idealistic tradition hopes or has hoped to do, as her involvement of retrocendence (reverse transcendence) is a spirituality that illuminates thought’s essence from the character of this mode of being itself without being limited to subjectivity. Throughout the book therefore, Hart continually informs of the importance of realising that CM’s approach is anti-Cartesian and anti-Augustinian, in the same sense that she does not adopt a transcendental reduction in a Husserlian sense. These three approaches in her view might limit themselves to either hyper-subjectivity in the case of the latter or a reduction of mind to matter in the former through hyperbolic internalization. Pneumatic substance allows her approach to hold, since it is a substance free from essential constitutional forms of itselfness, thus a substance that is being its own self, emerging as an archonal being. CM’s support of emergence reveals an underlying pragmatic essence that never completes itself.

Hart shows Heidegger’s influence on CM at this juncture on an emerging sense of substance, as the concept of care, as an ontological rather than psychological category, is existential. Such a conception of care allows for a hypokeimenal being which is thrown onto itself to be considered. This being is pneumatic and archonal as it projects beyond itself, finding itself in alterity through objectification and projection. Hart allows us to see CM’s reconfiguration of Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, as the pre-possession of the world is considered a pre-grasping of cosmic-meaning-being. The epoché is eternally in the background and such a conception of existence has implications for the manner in which space is conceptualized as well. Space that is intuited is not empty for CM, and so the essence-analysis through her realontology on apeiric space (the aperion being the infinite totality) holds great importance as it provides for this space’s ontological existence. The phenomenological experiment for CM in the sense of space is informed by Hart to involve the consideration of the qualitative change that occurs when apeiric space is aimed to be grasped. Such a task leads to a distortion and in turn the space loses its infinity as such a pure space in turn becomes a metric surface space. The concept of gestalt is important here, in that within such an experiment, the limits of dimensions’ definitions are considered and a dichotomy between a real surface space and a transcendental surface space are to be reckoned with. Heidegger again peaks his head into CM’s work at this point, as uncanniness becomes a concept to understand the ontological consideration of apeiron space. Such space is considered as an unmasking of space as something that goes beyond the limits of the human body. The real ‘now’ cannot be experienced thus a metric peiric space is taken as a ‘here’. Space thus has for CM an intuitive medium of continuity in which limits are established through essence which assists in the understanding of nature’s self-formation in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 begins with a consideration of the phenomenology of life as involving a subjectivity that discloses itself within matter. The concept to elucidate this is entelechy; a soulish potency to be realised, which is conceived psychologically. Hart informs how this put CM’s ideas against Driesh, as despite the latter’s rejection of phenomenological essence-intuition, the latter’s support of entelechy coheres with CM’s phenomenological notion of essence as having a unique character which makes it what it is. Hart informs that this consideration of the potentiality of the entelechy is important for the discipline of art, as the artist’s role is to explain the entelechy, as essence-entelechies do not equate with ideas but rather present them. And so art can assist in working out the notion of species found in nature. Hart informs that these notions coalesce into CM’s intuitive qualitative essential level which is juxtaposed to the modern causal-genetic level. This allows us to see the continental flavour of CM’s approach to nature which refrains from applying cybernetic models of machines to living organisms. Machines are given their selfness since their interiority is objective, and so Hart clarifies this with machines/computers as having subjective objectivity (subjectivity objectively), unconscious living things with objective subjectivity, and conscious living things with subjective subjectivity. Hart does not want the reader to lose sight of the view supported by CM that cybernetic perspectives for understanding the human being, just as we saw above with the mathematization of nature, are not possible for CM. The natural scientist will always involve a prejudice that considers intuitive understanding within nature’s realm to be intimately and concretely linked to physical extension and so causality; a physicalism that CM would consider dangerous for understanding nature.

Causal approaches to nature do not allow the essence of physical nature to unfold, and so the aim of phenomenology for CM is to bring forth new causal categories. Her realontology involves an essence analysis that is meant to discover the kinds of causes in nature; an ontological analysis of causality that analyses energy and potency and which reveals the two types of causality a) mechanical and b) conscious. Her essential ontological approach, however, is not to be confused with an intentional movement as a transcendental approach would support. It is within the entelechial potency that we are to discover essence-entelechy’s ontological nature. Here Hart considers the concept of actualization to encapsulate the potential energy and power that is so important for understanding CM’s view on the forces of nature. There is essentially no entelechial cause for CM, so there is no such epigenetic potency for CM as real potency (power) is always the ‘not yet’. It is from this potentiality that Hart informs of Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ as coherent with the essence-intuition of CM’s approach of a potential ‘not yet’ essence of nature (its pre-actual dimensions). Aether becomes known as the elementary substance acting as a medium for a rigid and empty elasticity for substance in contrast to light as serving the ontological and consciousness. Aether discloses itself ecstatically and so it is no wonder that the realontology involves the thesis of physical energy resting on a presupposed substrate of an ontology that is definite and constituting through actualization via another dynamic that sets itself in motion and thus becoming a tendency for an accomplishment. The method of realontology involves a phenomenology that increases the visibility of the essence of the phenomenon derived from its appearing as a way of recovering the primordial movement of the cosmos as an ecstatic othering. The realontology thus describes nature as self-generating through a dialectic between essence-entelechy and essence-material.

Within CM’s system, energy contains an ontological foundation, and Hart emphasizes that for CM, energy does not equate with aether but rather energy and mass-hyle are to be taken as substrates. Energy is not a substance, however, all energy is founded on substance. The qualitative actualizing factor of nature is thus an existential moment; we take the world able to come to a pause only on the surface therefore, but this does not consider the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos as Logos involves a continuing process of essence-entelechian expression. Nature is in constant revelation of essence-entelechy which is to be conceived as the complete logos of that which is in nature’s realm (AKA total essence), bringing the power of real potential into being. Within this philosophy of nature as essence-analysis disclosing essence-powers, the human being is conceived for CM as having a spirit rather than equating with spirit, with their emotions as being proper to them. The originating self in turn derives from the essence-entelechy using essence-material to configure individual Logos; an emergent essence from essence-entelechies and essence-material. Such emergence, as a philosophy of nature, is further elaborated in Chapter 5.

In Chapter 5 Hart aims to further CM’s approach as being understood as a non-empirical method. Time involves a motion that does not depend on empirical processes of change, but rather on an existential motion. The pure present in this sense is without a past and without knowledge of any real temporal motion, as CM is against any translatory motion. There exists thus the phenomenological experiment for CM of considering how the world does not change, and Hart here considers what change is for CM then, specifically if it is transcendental. If change is not empirical, then there is the consideration if nature and change involve a transcendental-empirical dimension. Hart informs of CM’s interest in Indian philosophy here, especially the transcendental character of the entity Vishnu, but also how Aristotle’s Physics had an impact on her. The latter’s notion of the world not being existent in space but rather constitutive of space is of importance for CM, as Aristotle considered that that circular motion is the only possibility of perfection. CM thus derives from these Aristotelian influences the transcendental concrete as the aethereal world-periphery (a sort of space-time), thus a cyclically moved reality as an aeonic motion. The circular motion is considered for CM the most accurate symbol of expression for the totality and trans-temporal presence. CM’s cosmos for Hart is thus to be considered as more of a tapestry than a ladder, which echoes the notion mentioned above that CM does not take the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos emerges continually and aeonic space-time in turn renews the world in a constant fashion. The human being is the microcosmos existing within a polarity between the world-periphery (heaven) and the world-centre (underworld), the former characterized as an energetic potency.

Hart stresses that the human being can generate and creatively constitute things rather than create according to CM, and involves an existence with nothingness and death.  The world is expanding which makes temporal existence derive from the constant actualization of the world-event as a totality. The world-peripheral entelechies spark change and this unfolding nature is characterized as hominization for Hart. Such hominization allows for technology, abstract art, and other peculiarities of human existence. Here there appears to be a Hegelian historical development from human freedom, however without the dialectical nature of a Hegelian approach to culture. For CM, the horizon is the world background and context which is an unthematical constitution of thematic and objective experience. This echoes Hegel’s notion of zeitgeist, in which world epochs involve spiritual powers within the background as horizons. It is here that Christian spirituality is important for CM’s approach, as Christ becomes known as the final mystical body in which we understand animals as deriving from human existence not vice-versa. The Christian ‘Fall’ is commensurate for the disintegration of the organic whole of any space-time, in which the wheel can represent the symbol for the aeonic world’s continual actualization through a cyclical time. The end of temporal time through a Christian cosmic notion of time as a coming aeon allows for the realization of the potential for the great waves of aeonic time.

Despite the intellectual depth of CM’s conceptions of the cosmos, time, and space, Hart is still successful at informing the reader the significance of her work for practical matters. The thought of the schizophrenic patient not having a future is an example utilized to assist the reader in understanding just how the realontology could assist someone suffering from such a condition to cope or provide a practitioner an approach to such a condition (211). Towards the end of the book Hart taps even more into the less theoretical of CM’s work by informing of some of the historical notions important for CM’s academic trajectory. CM’s place between the two movements in phenomenology is important to keep in mind for Hart; that of the realist ontological and the transcendental idealist, both of which would play out within the Gottingen and Munich Circles of her day. CM’s support of Logos being found within human reason and her insight into the speculative movement of the Christian cosmological understanding of nature allows Hart to conceive of her with a unique phenomenological but also hermeneutical method that remythologizes the cosmos. In Chapter 6, Hart informs of how CM thought that her work truly uncovered personal powers, times, and objective mythical spaces, through the use of the aeonic world periphery which re-interprets in a unique manner the Christian cosmos. Myth therefore has three senses, that of a symbolic epistemological, a phenomenological through epoché, and the realontological through objective reference. Her remythologizing of the cosmos thus considers heaven as more than a theological concept, but rather an anthropological, cosmological, and religious one. Heaven essentially creates a heterogenous dimension which allows for fiction, schizophrenia, and love to exist, as heaven represents a constant symbolism for the human being as a ‘really real’, thus a phenomenological point which allows for the creation of the horizon and everydayness of life.

Despite the mythical nature of CM’s cosmos, Hart does an excellent job of bringing the reader back into the history of ideas which this book succeeds at highlighting throughout. The homogeneous Newtonian cosmos is at odds with CM’s cosmology of heterogeneity, the latter of which considers the existential meaning to be derived from the spatio-temporal emergence of nature. CM aims for a description of how the world presents itself before scientific understanding’s distortion. Such a contrast allows the reader to understand CM’s cosmos as taking heaven as a state, which is a phenomenological hermeneutical ontology and task. Chapter 7 furthers this exploration into heaven and phenomenology’s importance for such a concept, but also how as a method it can assist in understanding heaven’s implications for the philosophy of nature. The world becomes known as the ultimate horizon that accompanies objects, as objects in the present are not within a punctual time of ‘Nows’, but rather in a continuous stream. Human beings thus bring to perception a grounding which is characterized as a sedimentation of a historical-horizontal retention of meanings, as the world is constituted by this grounding retention, but also infinite possibility (protention) and anticipation; a horizon that is open and which stretches into the distance. Hart then connects this human experience to Heidegger’s Dasein, as he informs how Dasein’s fallenness into its everydayness leads to an anxiety that makes Dasein feel they are not at home with such unfamiliarity. Such unfamiliarity is related to CM’s remoteness found in the realm of heaven as the human being experiences alienation from the world-periphery.

In the Conclusion, Chapter 8, Hart reminds the reader of the fact that CM’s realontology does not embrace a transcendental reduction, as her method does not involve a disengagement from the natural attitude’s belief system within the reality of the world’s self-preservation as a Husserlian approach would accept. Rather, CM presupposes that the natural attitude is hypothetically valid which leaves room for the possibility of the explication of the natural attitude’s noematic correlation. For CM this a correlation that contains an essence of the ‘really real’ as the transcendental reduction does not provide the chance for an essence-analysis of the real; hence her ontological phenomenology is not just of perception, as it is not just an eidetic of a life-world existential analysis. Instead, Hart emphasizes that for CM, phenomenology involves a disclosure of Logos and that which shows itself. Phenomenology is essentially essence-analysis which aims to disclose and uncover the full sense and meaning of world-space through a discovery of its realontological status. Realontology considers the world as not in space, as time and space are considered aspects of the world’s mode of being; the trans-physical dimensions which realontology points to preserve the lived-experience of the cosmos which consists of the earth’s and heaven’s regions. And so Hart has shown that CM’s realontology is not just a method that can reinforce the experience of the life-world, but can be a way of life as well, unmasking the world-space’s antinomies in the process. It does this through a cosmological turn that brings us to the tradition of symbolizing the universe into a story through an affirmation of a holy physics which affirms objective mythical times, spaces and powers. The other worldly dimension that the realontology can bring to life echoes that of the grotesque in human experience, which makes it an existential method whilst maintaining a natural attitude to the world.  It is no wonder that Hart included an Appendix including a translation of an excerpt from CM’s Metaphysics of the Earthly, written only slightly before the ugliness found within the atrocities before and during World War 2.

In closing, Hart’s book placed the spotlight on a figure in the Western intellectual tradition who deserved such attention. Not only for the obstacles she faced in terms of her sex, race, and geographical living, but the contribution she provided particularly for the philosophy of science. In general terms, however, not only was the philosophical method of CM shown to be original and important for a plethora of theoretical disciplines, from theology to aesthetics, but it was also shown to provide practical implications that allowed her approach to phenomenology as realontology to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal, and the objective and subjective. Intentionality however, in the phenomenological sense, was a concept in the book that appeared to be a bone of contention for Hart. It appeared to be a concept that equates with Husserlian phenomenology, however, was it or was it not a concept supported within CM’s method? It can be left for the readers of the book to determine.

Saulius Geniusas: The Phenomenology of Pain

The Phenomenology of Pain Book Cover The Phenomenology of Pain
Series in Continental Thought, № 53
Saulius Geniusas
Ohio University Press · Swallow Press
Hardback $95.00

Reviewed by: Fredrik Svenaeus (Södertörn University, Sweden)

In his recently published study The Phenomenology of Pain Saulius Geniusas sets himself the task of developing precisely that – a phenomenology of pain – on the basis of Edmund Husserl’s philosophy. According to Geniusas, in Husserl’s work (including the posthumously published manuscripts) we find all the resources needed to develop such a phenomenology. Husserl took the first steps himself in developing a phenomenology of pain and by following in his footsteps, proceeding by way of the phenomenological method and concepts he developed, we can achieve this important goal. Why is it important to develop a phenomenology of pain? Apart from the general impetus of exploring all phenomena relevant to human life, we may in this case also point towards the mission of helping those who suffer from severe and chronic forms of bodily pain. Pain is from the experiential point of view generally something bad to have, even though it may guide our actions and call for changes of life style that are in some cases beneficial for us in the long run.

The definition that Geniusas develops in his book and defends in comparison with other suggestions and conceptions of what pain consists in is the following: “Pain is an aversive bodily feeling with a distinct experiential quality, which can be given only in original firsthand experience, either as a feeling-sensation or as an emotion” (8). The strategy of his investigation is the following. In the first chapter he presents Husserl’s phenomenology and method, he then in the second chapter turns to the way pain was viewed by Husserl and some other (proto) phenomenologists in the beginning of the 20th century, primarily Franz Brentano, Carl Stumpf and Max Scheler. With the exception of Jean-Paul Sartre, other major phenomenologists that have dealt with pain, such as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricoeur, are scarcely mentioned, even less brought into the analysis. In chapter three Geniusas tests his Husserlian theory by confronting it with rare disorders, which have been reported in the medical literature and have been elaborated upon by (mostly) analytical philosophers, in which pain is not perceived in standard ways. In chapter four he turns to the temporality of pain on the basis of Husserl’s theory of internal time consciousness. In a sense this is the high peak of the analysis where Geniusas enters the terrain of the transcendental stream of consciousness and the constitution of the ego. In chapter five, the author moves downwards from the transcendental peak exploring more mundane topics such as the lived body, which is obviously an important subject for a phenomenologist of pain. Chapter six introduces the notion of personhood and the idea of a personalistic in contrast to naturalistic view on pain. In this and the following chapter seven, dealing with pain and the life world, Geniusas aims to show how his Husserlian alternative can improve upon the philosophical anthropology at work in fields such as medical humanities, cultural psychopathology, psychoanalysis and psychosomatic medicine when it comes to pain. The main concepts he makes use of in the last two chapters, in addition to the ones found in his definition of pain, are depersonalization, re-personalization, somatization and psychologization.

In general I think the strategy of first developing a phenomenological point of view on a subject and/or in a field of research and/or practice (in this case pain research and treatment of pain patients) and then try show how this phenomenological angle can enlighten the researchers and practitioners in the field(s) is a good one. I am convinced that pain needs a phenomenological analysis to be fully understood as the personal experience it truly is. What makes me ambivalent about Geniusas’ book is that I am less convinced that Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is the best, or, at least, only alternative to work with when it comes to developing a phenomenology of pain, and a bit disappointed that Geniusas does not acknowledge the works on pain that have been carried out in phenomenology of medicine and medical humanities already. The reason he omits, rejects or limits the discussion of such phenomenological efforts to the footnotes is no doubt that they proceed from phenomenological strategies and concepts that are rejected by the author because of deviating from Husserl’s basic set up. I am a bit worried that these two shortcomings (shortcomings at least to my mind) will make this review a bit more negative than I feel the author deserves. Geniusas is a fine philosopher and he certainly makes the most out of the cards that Husserl has dealt him when it comes to understanding pain. Researchers in the field of cognitive science and cultural anthropology will benefit greatly from reading this work and it will also be interesting to Husserl scholars. Phenomenologists of medicine could also learn a great deal from Geniusas’ consistent analysis although I think many of them will have objections similar to my own.

Geniusas distances his own definition of pain from the influential definition put forward by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP): “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage” (2). The reason for this is not only that Geniusas’ alternative is much more precise and comprehensive than IASP’s definition. Actually, the wording of “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience” comes quite close to the stratified phenomenology of pain that Geniusas wants to develop (“an aversive bodily feeling given as a feeling-sensation or emotion”) himself, but it is of vital importance for him to keep the first-person analysis clean of any third-person perspective involving the talk of tissue damage. This is phenomenologically spoken correct, of course, but I cannot help thinking that the cautious account of “actual or potential tissue damage” have been created by the IASP for the reason of prioritizing the point of view of the pain sufferer in comparison with the medical scientist, and I think this should be acknowledged rather than belittling the definition.

Geniusas states that he wants to keep a door open to enrich the phenomenology of pain with other perspectives, but the first impression in reading his book is that he is rather busy closing such doors to ensure that the phenomenology of pain will be “pure” in the sense of not resting on any “pain biology or pain sociology” (4). Many times in the book, the need to stay clear of naturalistic theories of pain is mentioned. At other points in his analysis the author questions the relevance of distinguishing between curing in contrast to healing and disease in contrast illness, distinctions standardly made in the philosophy of medicine (155-56). Geniusas’ reasons for this are no doubt to give privilege to the phenomenological (also called personalistic) perspective in health care in view of the dominance of medical science, but the phenomenological privilege-claim easily begins to sound a bit preposterous in the case of medicine. It is one thing to urge the medics to complement the third-person perspective with a first- (and second-) person perspective – this is greatly needed and called for in health care – but Geniusas appears to come close to a position in which phenomenology should replace other perspectives in the case of pain. This would, of course, be quite absurd in light of what medical science has achieved the last 70 years or so in understanding and treating pain. Most phenomenologists working with themes highlighted by illness and healing (including these two concepts) would be more humble than Geniusas when it comes to positioning their own work in relation to the research done by medical scientists, psychologists, sociologists, etc. Complementing is certainly different from replacing and although the phenomenologists would ultimately privilege the first-person perspective by understanding empirical science as a project originating in the life world, they could learn a lot of value for their own analyses by leaving the arm chair and inform themselves about what is happening not only in the everyday world but also in the world of empirical science, especially when it comes to themes such as pain.

Geniusas tries to keep such a door open to both medical science and the everyday world by the way he sets up and develops his Husserlian method. His elegant and promising idea is that what is known in phenomenology as eidetic variation can be used not only to imagine possible variations of a phenomenon but also to import examples found by way of everyday narratives and empirical science (27). Geniusas goes as far as calling this “dialogical phenomenology” but in order for his book to qualify as dialogical he would, to my mind, have needed to do more when it comes to learning from pain narratives and pain physiology, including brain science and current treatment programs for (especially) chronic pain. As it now stands the dialogue most often consists in showing other researchers of pain that they need to read more Husserlian phenomenology to even understand what they are dealing with. I think the third chapter of the book is indicative of this one-sidedness, this is the chapter in which we should have been taken through at least the basics of contemporary pain research, but what we get instead is a dialogue (or rather attempts to correct) various philosophers in the analytical tradition trying to define pain by taking account of various rare disorders, such as congenital insensitivity to pain, pain asymbolia and what is called pain affect without pain sensation. Do not get me wrong, I do think that these disorders are important to understand what pain truly is and they need to be brought into the analysis, but the way they are presented in this chapter, out of context, not taking into consideration all the interpretational difficulties created by the different historical time points and research traditions in which they have been gathered the last 100 years or so, makes it very hard to follow and critically evaluate the philosophical moves. This goes for phenomenologists, but also, and perhaps more importantly, for all sorts of people experiencing or working with people in pain. Geniusas perhaps succeeds in reaching through to the philosophers working in the field of cognitive science, but my guess is that he does so at the expense of losing many of the phenomenologists and researchers of pain on the way.

Chapter four, dealing with Husserl’s C-Manuscripts on how the living present opens up in and by the stream of consciousness, will probably do the job of scaring away the last remaining empiricist readers. Perhaps I am unfair to Geniusas at this point, after all it is perfectly possible to skip chapter three and four and move directly from the basic introduction of the Husserlian pain-theory outlined in chapter two to the discussions of pain and embodiment (chapter five), personhood (chapter six) and life world (chapter six). But I cannot help feeling there is something absurd about moving to the transcendental heights (or perhaps rather depths) of Husserl’s genetic phenomenology in a book on pain. How could the transcendental ego be in pain? The way I view Husserl’s analysis of transcendental consciousness and its underpinnings is as a methodological point of view for the phenomenologist, not as a piece of ontology per se.

This brings me back to Geniusas’ second chapter on the phenomenological method and what it means for him to do phenomenology. The author claims that for an investigation to qualify as phenomenological it is not enough to proceed from the first-person point of view in contrast to the third-person perspective; the moves performed by the phenomenologist must also include the well-known epoché paired with a phenomenological reduction including eidetic variation (12-20). As Dan Zahavi has recently pointed out, such demands will necessarily be rather off putting and unproductive for empirical researchers wanting to do phenomenology (Zahavi 2019). For a Husserlian – and Zahavi certainly qualifies as a such – it is better to distinguish between philosophers doing transcendental phenomenology – including the epoché and all steps of the phenomenological reduction – and empirical phenomenologists using phenomenological concepts in their research that have been developed by the philosophers (different types of intentionality, lived body, life world, etc.). I have issues with Zahavi concerning the understanding of what it means to perform the epoché – is a researcher not by default performing the epoché at least to some extent when making use of a phenomenological concept? – but when it comes to Husserl’s presentation of the phenomenological reduction I think Zahavi is perfectly right concerning empirically based phenomenologists not having to perform these moves. With Geniusas definition of phenomenology there will be very few remaining phenomenologists in the world except for philosophers like Zahavi, me and himself. From his point of view this may not be a problem, the empirical researchers working with first- and second-person accounts of and attitudes towards pain and persons in pain will just have to rechristen themselves; they can still go on with their work and ideally learn more and more about phenomenology by reading Husserl and Geniusas. At some point they may even become able of doing real phenomenology and earn the badge. To me, however, this sounds like a rather unilateral set up of phenomenology, not deserving the name of dialogical that Geniusas claims.

It is now about time to come back to Geniusas’ definition of pain that is stated early (already in the introduction) and then gradually explained, defended and repeated throughout the book: “Pain is an aversive bodily feeling with a distinct experiential quality, which can be given only in original firsthand experience, either as a feeling-sensation or as an emotion”. The author is commendably clear and pedagogical in the development of his phenomenological theory of pain even though he at some points walks through rather muddy terrains (muddy in the sense of hard to walk through, not in the sense of being obscure). That pain is given only in original firsthand experience is common sense, at least for a phenomenologist. We witness the pain of others and also to some extent feel their pain (it is called empathy and sympathy), but this pain is not a bodily feeling with the same experiential quality that pain in its original form has. That pain is aversive and, at least to some extent, distinct in contrast to other bodily sufferings is also, to my mind, phenomenologically correct. Some of the rather bizarre medical disorders mentioned above question the necessary aversiveness of pain, but I trust there are phenomenological explications of these cases that allow us to keep the aversiveness in the definition.

My quarrel with Geniusas regards the last part of his definition created by a combination of points found in Stumpf, Brentano and Husserl: that pain is given either as a feeling-sensation or as an emotion. The reason for my skepticism is that this appears to come rather close to what in the analytical tradition is known as a perceptual theory of pain (Svenaeus 2020). According to Geniusas, at the most basis level pain is a bodily sensation lacking meaning and content except for its aversively felt quality (Husserl calls these feelings “Empfindnisse”), but pain can also take on an object (the part of the body that hurts) and it then becomes an intentional feeling, what is known as an emotion in the philosophical literature. Inner perception is different from outer perception, Geniusas is quick to point out, but is not this difference an indication that we at this point need a different phenomenological conception of pain altogether? Emotions are standardly looked upon as feelings having objects by being about things in the world (say if you love or hate another person or a thing you have to do). The things emotions can be about admittedly includes one’s body (like when you love or hate your looks or the fact that you are, or are not, capable of running one mile in less than four minutes). But this is different from feeling your foot hurting when you trip on a stone or your chest hurting when you try to force yourself to run faster. Pain, also when it is recognized as “filling up” parts of one’s body, does not carry any cognitive content except the hurting feeling itself. Therefore it is to my mind misleading to call pain an intentional feeling (an emotion) if what is meant by this is merely that the feeling body has been brought to awareness of (parts) of itself. A better alternative is to talk about embodied moods or existential feelings that aside from making you aware of the body also opens up (and close down) various aspects of and possibilities in the surrounding world (Rattcliffe 2008). Geniusas mentions such pain moods (atmospheres) when briefly addressing Merleau-Ponty and Sartre in chapter two (48, 51, 60, 63) but he does not proceed with the concept in his own analysis. The reason for this, I think, is the way he looks upon the relationship between the subject (ego) and the lived body.

In chapter five, Geniusas finally arrives at the well-known phenomenological distinction between “Körper und Leib” introduced by Husserl himself and known in English as the distinction between the physical and the lived body. The lived body is no doubt a key concept for phenomenologists of pain but in Geniusas analysis it is developed in a different way than the standard more or less Merleau-Pontyian version. According to Geniusas, the lived body is not something I am, it is something I have constituted and consequently I exist separately from it (135, 142). This is in accordance with Husserl’s philosophy of transcendental consciousness, but such a position creates many difficulties when trying to give a phenomenological account of pain (and many other mundane matters). Geniusas claims that pain is necessarily “lived at a distance” (137 ff.) but the immediate question to such a position is: where is the conscious ego when it feels this distance between itself and the hurting knee or head (to just mention two examples)? In the head? Hardly. In the rest of the body that does not hurt? Definitely not. In transcendental space-time? Perhaps, but it is hard to even understand what this would mean in this case. Phenomenologists of pain and illness have most often worked with a more radical conception of the lived body according to which I am my own body but yet the this living body is also foreign to me because it has its own ways, which do not always fit with my ambitions and projects (when it hurts is a major example of this). Drew Leder is the most prominent phenomenologist in this tradition, he figures in the footnotes of Geniusas’ book but is never brought into the main analysis (Leder 1984-85, 1990).

In the last two chapters, the author enters into a discussion with philosophers of suffering and illness, such as Eric Cassell and Kay Toombs, and with cultural anthropologists, such as Laurence Kirmayer and Arthur Kleinman. His aim is to introduce the concepts of depersonalization, re-personalization, somatization and psychologization as pertinent for a phenomenology of chronic pain when it comes to understanding and helping patients. The concept of depersonalization is a bit surprising in this context given its standard meaning in psychiatry (a feature of psychotic experiences) but Geniusas aims to give it the meaning of being separated by way of pain from one’s body, one’s world, other people and, finally, one’s own personal being (148 ff.). Pain brings about a series of ruptures in human existence that makes one less of oneself. Having developed such a phenomenology of illness (including pain) since a long time by way of the keywords of bodily alienation and unhomelike being-in-the-world I cannot help feeling a bit hurt of not even being mentioned here (eg. Svenaeus 2000). The same goes for Geniusas’ praise of narratives as a way of better understanding experiences of pain and meeting with pain patients (157-162). What happened with the whole tradition of phenomenological hermeneutics as a way of articulating the understanding established by way of the clinical encounter? Hans-Georg Gadamer is just as absent as Martin Heidegger in this book and this may be perfectly fine concerning the phenomenology of pain – not every type of phenomenology can be made use of – but it is more than strange if you want to consider narratives in medicine and health care as a way of developing self-understanding (for patients) and clinical understanding (for physicians, nurses, psychotherapists and other medical professionals) (Gadamer 1996).

The terminology of somatization and psychologization employed by Geniusas in the last chapter fits nicely into the fields of cultural anthropology, psychosomatic medicine and psychoanalysis that he wants to connect with, but it also carries heavy dualistic cargo. The author is aware of this and assures us that the phenomenological perspective and attitude he is employing by way of his definition prevents us from ending up with any dualism. Nevertheless, I think it is hard to use this terminology without employing some form of at least minimal dualism and that there are better alternatives if you want to address medical professionals (including psychotherapists) trying to help persons suffering from chronic pain.

I want to end on a positive note by saying that even though I do not agree with some of the ideas concerning the basic set up and strategies for developing a phenomenology of pain in this book, I think the author shows admirable consequence and strength in pushing his Husserlian alternative through. Despite dealing with hard matters and making use of a very complex conceptual set up Geniusas is always lucid when arguing and stating his views. I hope the book gets many readers and would recommend skipping chapter three and four if you have any doubts or allergies concerning analytical philosophy of mind or Husserl’s theory of internal time-consciousness. If these are your preferences you will have no difficulties in getting through.


Gadamer, H.-G. 1996. The Enigma of Health: The Art of Healing in a Scientific Age. Trans. J. Gaiger and N. Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Leder, D. 1984-85. “Toward a Phenomenology of Pain.” Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry 19: 255–266.

Leder, D. 1990. The Absent Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ratcliffe, M. 2008. Feelings of Being: Phenomenology, Psychiatry and the Sense of Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Svenaeus, F. 2000. The Hermeneutics of Medicine and the Phenomenology of Health: Steps towards a Philosophy of Medical Practice. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Svenaeus, F. 2020. “Pain.” In Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Emotions, eds. T. Szanto and H. Landweer. London: Routledge, 543-552.

Zahavi, D. 2019. “Applied Phenomenology: Why it is Safe to Ignore the Epoché.” Continental Philosophy Review (published online). DOI:

Michael Barber: Religion and Humor as Emancipating Provinces of Meaning, Springer, 2017

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Marco Barcaro: Il mondo come paradosso. Patočka e lo sviluppo della Lebenswelt, Mimesis, 2016

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