In their introduction to this volume, co-editors Stefano Marino and Andrea Schembari reveal how the idea for this book project was born at a 2017 Pearl Jam concert in Firenze while they were waiting for the band to kick off their gig. They emphasise how music, particularly rock music in this case, has the power to change and even save a life, echoing Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder’s remarks on how he is a living proof of this. Recalling their youth in Sicily, the co-editors note how the bands they followed afforded them “great passion, thrill, euphoria, exaltation, excitement, and enthusiasm” (3). As scholars and fans, the co-editors argue that there is a case to be made for considering Pearl Jam in the growing literature of pop culture and philosophy. Marino and Schembari point out that, rather than a philosophical system of Pearl Jam, what they attempted to point towards through this book was how Pearl Jam’s songs and career entail notions and themes that have troubled philosophers for centuries.These include themes of a particularly phenomenological nature such as the notions of experience, temporality, death, the human condition, significance and the meaning of life, authenticity and identity. Other, more broadly philosophical themes covered in this book also include the critique of mass society and the culture industry embodied by Pearl Jam, as well as resistance to conformist pressures. In their introduction, the editors present some pointers to Pearl Jam’s philosophy or, rather, their ethos: namely, their fight against censorship and oppression, their endorsement of democratic and progressive values, their attempt to be part of the culture industry without being swallowed by it, and their commitment to ecology, gender issues and human rights. The different chapters attempt different ‘gestures’. Some chapters engage with the ethos of Pearl Jam, what they stood for, their development over time as a band and the power of their music; while others conduct more specific ‘readings’ of particular songs or albums. Other chapters draw on Pearl Jam to reflect more broadly on political aesthetics, subcultural authenticity and postmodern fashion, while other authors attempt a more literary engagements with an aspect of Pearl Jam’s music.
The book opens with a foreword by Theodore Gracyk, himself the author of various books on the aesthetics of rock music. Gracyk connects Pearl Jam with ‘rockism’, which is a term that gained prominence in music commentary in the late 1980s. Rockism, as Gracyk explains, is the adoption of a core set of values associated with rock bands, such as refusal to define greatness in terms of commercial success, or an expression of progressive values by rock musicians and their audience, or recognising the value of music to unify, and, importantly, the use of guitars. By these criteria, Pearl Jam qualify as rockist. Gracyk recognises that rockism can also entail a lot of snobbery, sexism and whiteness. Hence, while Pearl Jam can be seen to be exponents of a kind of rockism especially in their early work, they are also a dynamic band that motivate us to go beyond the reductive understandings of rockism. So, if Pearl Jam supposedly moved away from ‘rockist’ tenets by obtaining commercial success, their ‘rockist’ ethos was seen in the way they challenged Ticketmaster for over-charging their fans. Pearl Jam defy easy categorisations. They embody contradictions, dynamism and fluidity; this is arguably what makes them a good band to ‘philosophise’ with.
In Chapter 1, “Contingency, (In)significance, and the All-Encompassing Trip: Pearl Jam and the Question of the Meaning of Life,” Marino takes his cue from Vedder’s lyrics questioning whether we are ‘getting something out of this all-encompassing trip.’ He connects this with Karl Jasper’s notion of ‘the encompassing,’ that is, reality in its richness and fullness. Marino reads Pearl Jam’s questioning of modernist narratives of progress and evolution through various twentieth century philosophers such as Walter Benjamin, Horkheimer, Adorno and Gadamer. In Pearl Jam, Marino identifies a preoccupation with the act of questioning itself, showing that, in their songs, Pearl Jam often refer to the insurmountable questions and the insufficiency of answers. Marino links this with Wittgenstein’s therapeutic understanding of philosophical questioning as being akin to trying to treat an illness, that is, to overcome the torment of excessive philosophical doubt. Similarly, in Pearl Jam, we encounter conflicting views on the role of philosophising in human life: on one hand, Pearl Jam point toward the questioning nature of mankind while at the same time highlight the eventual futility, if not harm, of excessive questioning which can come at the expense of life or experience. Marino points to the numerous questions asked in Pearl Jam’s lyrics – questions of what is real, what is truth, what is human, who are we? – yet ultimately the lesson he finds in Pearl Jam is that some questions remain open precisely because they are meant to remain open. Marino then turns to the notion of temporality, claiming that the western philosophical tradition (particularly in the modern age) has tended to place primacy on the temporal mode of the future. To show this, Marino foregrounds a section from Being and Time in which Heidegger identifies the futurality associated with being-towards-death, whereby anticipation is tied to Dasein’s authentic being. Marino notes that, through songs such as ‘Present Tense’, Pearl Jam challenge this privileging of the future at the expense of the present. Meaning is found not in omnipotence, but in finitude, contingency, imperfection and ephemerality. Instead of surrendering oneself to a defeatist attitude in the face of insignificance, Pearl Jam call for action, fueled also by anger against oppression. With apologies to Gramsci, Marino refers to how Pearl Jam’s intellectual pessimism is coupled with critical optimism of the will. Marino’s extensive essay ends with a reading of Pearl Jam’s ethos in light of Mark Fisher’s comments on Kurt Cobain. In Capitalist Realism, Fisher claims that alternative and independent music had become absorbed by the mainstream, recuperating its subversive potential by transforming it into a commodified lifestyle. For Marino, Pearl Jam recognise this tension and learn to dwell in the ‘in-between’ while surviving in a world of contradictions.
In Chapter 2, “‘Just Like Innocence”: Pearl Jam and the (Re)Discovery of Hope,” Sam Morris draws parallels between Pearl Jam and British Romanticism, arguing that the relationship between the two is not always a smooth and complementary one, not least because romanticism is not easily defined. The early material of Pearl Jam – for example, the Mamasan traumatic trilogy of ‘Alive’, ‘Once’ and ‘Footsteps’ – portrays a difficult relationship between the self and others, which Morris reads alongside some moments from Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads that depict guilt, the inadequacy of society, and innocence as childlike wonder. Yet Morris also notes that in some of their early songs (such as ‘Rearviewmirror’) there is already a hint of a transition from childhood to adulthood, akin to the transition from innocence to experience described by Blake. There are also traces of hope, Morris writes, in songs such as ‘Leash’ and ‘Not for You’, echoing lines from Blake and Wordsworth about the joys of youth and the innocence of nature. Morris argues that No Code represents a turning point for the band, which also represents some divergences from the Romantic tradition. He reads Pearl Jam’s expression of longing for a lost past innocence as not completely in line with Wordsworth and Blake’s critique of the temptation of nostalgia, even if they too acknowledge that the feeling of childhood wonder fades as one grows. However, Morris argues that if the romantic poets placed their hope in embracing mature experience, Pearl Jam seem to go on a search for a lost innocence in No Code. Morris reads Pearl Jam’s engagement with feelings of anxiety and fear of death as attempts to overcome them so as to not forget the wonder of experience. This attempt to sustain hope in appreciating the beauty in the world is read by Morris as re-connecting Pearl Jam with the British Romantic tradition, even if they diverge from the romantic journey that leads from innocence to experience. The romantic impulse in Pearl Jam is read by Morris in their exhortation of listeners to turn inward for hope and a future-looking utopian energy to be ultimately turned outward to transform the world.
In Chapter 3, “Who’s the Elderly Band Behind the Counter in a Small Town?” Radu Uszkai and Mihail-Valentin Cernea reflect on the metaphysics of the transtemporal identity of a rock band. They ask questions on whether changes in band name, group composition or music style alter a band’s identity. Referring to John Searle’s notion, the authors point out that the existence of a band belongs to the realm of ‘institutional facts’, that is, bands can survive severe changes while still being recognized as the same thing, in the same way that a government would still exist despite a change in leadership. The authors draw on conceptual tools such as Robert Nozick’s ‘closest continuer’ theory and Saul Kripke’s notion of ‘rigid designator’ to discuss how metaphysical questions surrounding the transtemporal identity of rock bands can be approached. Uszkai and Cernea argue that the name of a band does not seem to be essential for the identity of a band over time, as otherwise the band Mookie Blaylock – the name under which Pearl Jam played their very first gigs – would not be the same band as Pearl Jam. With lineup changes, perhaps the question complicates itself further, as Pearl Jam had several changes in their drummers and have also been joined by guest musicians such as Boom Gaspar in their live shows. The authors discuss questions such as what happens in the case of a fission of a rock band into two bands, and both claim continuity with the original band. The authors also engage with what changes in music style do to a band’s identity. While some ‘die-hard’ fans may feel that a band is no longer that band if it deviates from its ‘original sound’, the authors argue that it is quite hard to argue that a band loses its metaphysical identity due to such aesthetic transformations. The authors conclude by indicating that the cultural recognition of bands is a crucial component of appropriately designating whether a band is the same band or not.
In Chapter 4, “Making a Choice When There is No ‘Better Man’,” Laura M. Bernhardt foregrounds the theme of compromised agency as it is presented in Pearl Jam’s song, ‘Better Man’. Bernhardt engages with the song’s portrayal of a female narrator anguishing about leaving an abusive relationship but ultimately opting not to. She reads this alongside the band’s own struggles with the pressures of commodification at the time when the song was released. Bernhardt analyses such compromised agency through the work of Carisa Showden on how compromised agents, such as victims of abuse, are required to choose from a selection of bad possibilities under circumstances that are not quite of their choosing. The author highlights the complexity of such situations because it is not a matter of the victim not knowing that the situation is not in her interest, but rather that her freedom is constrained in such a way that her autonomy is compromised. The author calls for an outlook to this issue that moves beyond denying the victim’s agency as well as implying that the victim is somehow complicit in her situation. One way out of this conundrum, Bernhardt suggests, is by looking at Simone Weil’s notion of affliction. For Weil, an afflicted person is someone abandoned to misery or isolation, and someone who is reduced to an object by powerful forces, such as a factor labourer working under oppressive and dehumanising conditions. The afflicted person, Bernhardt notes, would resign herself to unhappiness and feel undeserving of salvation from the wickedness to which she is subjugated. For this reason, apart from systemic and material solutions to improve her agency, the author argues that something more is also needed, namely, radical empathy. The author concludes by proposing that recognition of another person as afflicted may help us to better understand the complexity and ambiguity involved in situations involving compromised agency when people stay in situations where they would not necessarily want to remain, such as the character described in ‘Better Man’.
Chapter 5, “That’s Where We’re Living: Determinism and Free Will in ‘Unthought Known’,” by Enrico Terrone revolves around philosophical themes from FlashForward. This is a 2009-2010 sci-fi television series that engages with the question of what remains of human free will in circumstances where the future seems to be determined and the characters have had ‘flashforwards’ that showed them the outcome of their future. The Pearl Jam connection is that an edited version of their song “Unthought Known” is used in a scene from one of the episodes of this series. Terrone reminds us that the notion of ‘unthought known’ originated in Freud, and was later developed further by psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas. This concept describes how “one can know things about which one is unable to think” (97). Terrone notes that ample metaphysicians argue that science encourages a conception of the universe as strictly governed by natural laws. This view problematises free will as an epiphenomenon which we are unable to do away with simply because it is such a deep-rooted feeling which gives coherence to emotional responses and moral judgements that regulate societies. Various movies and fiction have engaged with the theme of free will and determinism, in which characters are given powers of clairvoyance. Yet, as Terrone argues, some of these artistic attempts are riddled with an obvious inconsistency, namely that although the characters become aware of the future, somehow they manage to contradict what they would have foreseen, which is, of course, untenable with the original clairvoyant ‘visions’. Such a move is often done in the spirit of critiquing the deterministic outlook by insisting on a sort of ‘humanistic’ sentiment that privileges free will over a cold deterministic universe. With regard to the Pearl Jam song and its use in the TV series, “Unthought Known” reflects on the human condition, finitude, the role of the human within the immensity of the cosmos, and ultimately the beauty of the richness of human experience. The author concludes by arguing that the way in which the song is deployed in the context of the narrative points towards the difficulties surrounding a notion of free will, but that its stakes within our practical thought may be too high to let go of it.
In chapter 6, “No Code Aesthetics,” Alberto L. Siani engages with Pearl Jam’s fourth album, No Code, noting that the heterogeneity that marks this album makes for interesting philosophical reflection, not least on the role of ‘codes’ and their rejection in art. The author reads the aesthetics of this album in terms of the ‘end of art thesis,’ which holds that the traditional conception of art as an expressive medium that transmits metaphysical and ethico-political content no longer exists. Siani maintains that this ‘end of art’ is not necessarily something to be decried, because it has emancipatory aspects that allow for veering away from traditional systems of values and embraces plurality. No Code complements this thesis insofar as it represents a rejection of various codes, including a break from the code of their preceding three albums. In a point that is also explored in other chapters, Siani reflects on whether this rejection of codes ultimately becomes a code in itself, that is, the code of rejecting codes, which would lead to a contradiction. However, Siani notes that “we should keep in mind that No Code is an artwork, not a logical investigation” (116). This is a welcome clarification; rather than excessive and intricate philosophical argumentation, Pearl Jam are embracing this unsolvable existential tension, and in this regard they represent the ‘madness’ of the decision, and the leap of affirming life in the face of uncertainty. For Siani, this is perhaps what ‘no code aesthetics’ stands for, that is, the aesthetics of heterogeneity and disharmony which may prompt the listener to a more reflective experience of the music.
Chapter 7, “Can Truth Be Found in the Wild?” by Paolo Stellino focuses on the story of Christopher McCandless, which was made into a movie in 2007 with a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder. In his early 20s McCandless set off wandering around North America until he hitchhiked his way to Alaska to live in the wild. His decomposing body was found around four months after he entered the wild, with the cause of death being probably starvation or poisoning due to ingesting seeds that contained a toxin. Various critics claim that the story of McCandless is often romanticized, ideologized and commodified, with sympathetic commentators insufficiently calling out his naivety and arrogance. Stellino remarks that Vedder’s lyrics too can be seen as contributing to this idealization of McCandless. However, while acknowledging these critiques, Stellino highlights that the appeal of this story does not lie in the specific details of McCandless’ life but rather in its universal significance. Interestingly, Stellino also draws on insights from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience to analyse McCandless’ story, particularly his notion of ‘the sick soul’. Stellino argues that McCandless was a ‘sick soul’ who suffered from the artificiality of consumer society, and thus opted to radically transform his life by seeking an asceticism through which he felt reborn. Drawing on Erich Fromm, Stellino writes that this transition marks McCandless’ preference for the authentic ‘being’ mode of existence, as opposed to the accumulative ‘having’ mode. The profound insight that McCandless seems to have had at the end of his spiritual search for truth is that authentic existence is relational; it requires the presence of others and is not a solitary mission. Hence, ‘happiness is only real when shared’, McCandless writes on the pages of the last book he was reading. This is why, Stellino concludes, although one may disagree with the specifics of McCandless’ diagnosis of society or with his decision to flee into the wild, what still remains admirable is the courage and honesty of the human pursuit of authentic existence. This is ultimately what Vedder gave voice to in the Into the Wild soundtrack, which highlights continuities with some of Pearl Jam’s lyrics.
Chapter 8’s title, “‘They Can Buy, But Can’t Put On My Clothes’: Pearl Jam, Grunge and Subcultural Authenticity in a Postmodern Fashion Climate” by Stephanie Kramer, makes reference to a verse from Pearl Jam’s song ‘Corduroy’. Kramer notes how the song was inspired from a corduroy jacket Vedder wore numerous times during his shows, including in their MTV Unplugged, and was remade by the fashion industry. According to Kramer, the song’s lyrics reflected the “band’s refusal to sell out as a grunge posterchild in the name of corporate greed” (158), with the jacket serving as a literal and metaphorical act of resistance. Kramer links the lyrics of this song with a ‘grunge’ fashion trend that picked up in 1992 where plaid flannel shirts, flamboyant hats, and other cheap and conventional clothing items that came to be associated with grunge were turned into fashionable icons and sold at higher prices. Kramer draws on the work of media theorist Dick Hebdige to note that although subculture fashion, like punk fashion, highlighted individuality, non-conformity, and resistance to mainstream social norms, with time these subversive trends become absorbed by the mass fashion industry and thus lost their subversive edge. According to Kramer, Pearl Jam refused to partake in the dynamic of fashion altogether and managed to resist artistic commodification itself. Pearl Jam always chose a convenient style of clothing comprising of t-shirts, shorts, boots or tennis shoes, with Ament wearing his flamboyant headdresses, and Vedder wearing plain t-shirts on which he could scribble political messages. Kramer argues that Pearl Jam did not give much weight to their outfits to the extent that the possible machismo associated with basketball jerseys and other sports symbols were in opposition to the feminist and political messages embedded in the band’s ethos and lyrics. The band members, ultimately, were after producing music and not becoming glorified symbols for imitation.
In Chapter 9, “Pearl Jam’s Ghosts: The Ethical Claim Made From the Exiled Space(s) of Homelessness and War – An Aesthetic Response-Ability,” Jacqueline Moulton considers Pearl Jam’s references to homelessness and war in their music and actions. She refers to the band’s 2018 gig in Seattle which they branded ‘The Home Shows’ since the band had not played in Seattle for some years. In fact, the juxtaposed theme of home/homelessness was central to this show as Pearl Jam raised money, awareness and knowledge on the homelessness crisis playing out at the time in Seattle. The author elaborates on what ‘home’ signifies in ethical terms, that is, “the ethical question of contemporary dwelling, the question of who is at home and who is not, of who is living exiled” (165). Referring to how the word ethos in ancient Greek signified both dwelling and mode of being, Moulton explores the ethical implications of being at home versus ‘not at-home’. She argues that this dichotomy unveils “the ideology of inside versus outside” (166). For this reason, those on the outside pose an ethical question to those on the inside, and for Moulton, the concept of home is always haunted by its constitutive outside – “the sense of being not at-home” (167). This unsettling and displacing feeling of foreignness and familiarity, for Moulton, is best grasped through Freud’s notion of the uncanny which brings this juxtaposed duality of homeness and foreignness into the realm of the aesthetic. According to Moulton, during ‘The Home Shows’, Pearl Jam conjured the audience to respond ethically and aesthetically to the ethical claim made from those who are ‘exiled’. The aesthetic displaces the hegemonic elements that structure language and helps to invert the antagonistic dichotomy between inside and outside. Indeed, Moulton follows Adorno’s assertion that ethics emerges from the outside. Moulton notes how Pearl Jam’s songs ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ and ‘Bu$hleaguer’ – embedded with references of war – echo the sense of ‘the uncanny’ as a haunting from within, “a fear that comes up from within, a fear which is familiar and therefore impactful, fear which is close” (169). For Moulton, this form of haunting cuts across the realms of ethics and aesthetics, and poses a new question of what the ethical claims and responses can be and how to translate them into “communal and equitable structures of living interdependently upon a shared world” (169).
Cristina Parapar’s contribution in Chapter 10, titled “Pearl Jam: Responsible Music or the Tragedy of Culture?” evaluates Pearl Jam’s ethos as a form of popular music. Parapar notes how Adorno distinguishes between responsible music and light music, arguing that light music is standardized, contributes to one-dimensional thinking and, unlike responsible music, plays into a capitalist system that seeks to alienate and passively entertain its consumers. Parapar challenges Adorno’s understanding of popular music through French philosopher and music Agnès Gayraud’s work, arguing that Adorno seems to ignore the fact that popular music denotes a broad variety of genres that can merge different traditions, scales, modulations, and influences from both high and low culture. Following from this defense of pop music, Parapar argues that Pearl Jam’s music can at least on occasion speak to its listeners about their own situation in the same way Adorno speaks of dissonance. Following Terry Eagleton’s take on left aesthetics, Parapar argues that a piece of art is in itself subversive because it refuses identification and reveals the impossibility of the union between “form and content, between language and meaning, and between the artistic form and empirical reality” (190). Pearl Jam’s music, according to Parapar, serves this purpose. The ‘dirty’ sounds of grunge, with its partially out of tune music together with its form-content, reflect the Zeitgeist of disillusionment with American society in the 1990s. Parapar argues that while some pop music fits within Adorno’s critique, other types of music contain the potential for critique. Following Gert Keunen’s typology of pop mainstream, underground, and alternative mainstream, Parapar argues that Pearl Jam’s music lies within the third category. This is because while they speak to a wider audience through mass distribution they still maintained “the authorship of their pieces, the less familiar sound of grunge, and the rejection of musical recipes” (197). Correspondingly, Parapar argues that Pearl Jam’s music requires a certain kind of listening. Pearl Jam listeners are, in a sense, negotiators, “negotiating between intellectualism and catharsis, between adequate and structural listening and enjoyment (jouissance)” (199). Thus, for Parapar, Pearl Jam’s listener can be best described as the ‘postmodern listener’, that is, a listener who enjoys the pleasure offered by the music, but at the same time is aware of the way in which the music reveals the ideological fantasy and its symptom. Ultimately, Parapar concludes that Pearl Jam’s music is both responsible and authentic.
In Chapter 11, “Pearl Jam/Nirvana: A Dialectical Vortex that Revolves Around the Void,” Alessandro Alfieri discusses the dialectic opposition of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Alfieri argues that, as opposed to the music scene of the 1980s such as glam rock, grunge represented a turn to a sober, existential and introverted music scene that expressed the void experienced by a whole generation. He notes that, paradoxically, this wave of existential dread came at a time of expansion of well-being as discourses around mental health expanded in the 1990s. According to Alfieri, Nirvana was one of the few bands that reflected this existential dissatisfaction with their “message of pain and death” (207), in comparison to that of, for example, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Although both Nirvana and Pearl Jam originate from this sense of existential crisis, the bands have long been seen as rivals. Alfieri notes how on many occasions Kurt Cobain was critical of Pearl Jam, although once he admitted that he actually liked Eddie Vedder and came to appreciate him more. Alfieri argues that Pearl Jam fall on the side of the vitalistic dynamic rock of the 1990s and 2000s, whereas Nirvana was more nihilistic, self-destructive, visceral and transgressive. Alfieri notes how the two bands are caught up in a dialectical vortex. Cobain’s aesthetic made Nirvana attractive to mass media even though their ethos was linked to the rejection to success and social prestige. Cobain himself was caught up in this unsolvable contradiction of detesting success while at the same time basking in it and becoming paranoid when it recedes. Pearl Jam turned to mass distribution, but were more reserved in front of the cameras, with Vedder turning down many interviews. Alfieri also argues that Pearl Jam had a more mature stance, with their music reflecting more intellectual and political awareness. For Alfieri, Pearl Jam manage to negotiate the melancholic existential dread of our time through a ‘nostalgia for the present’ set between “anhedonic nihilism and vitalism” (214) where rage, dissent and a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs are expressed alongside the life-affirming pleasure that the experience of their music provides.
In the concluding Chapter 12, “The Tide on the Shell: Pearl Jam and the Aquatic Allegories of Existence,” Andrea Schembari notes how in their music Pearl Jam express the experience of living through aquatic allegories and metaphors, such as navigation, the ocean and the river. Schembari illuminates these dimensions through the work of other thinkers who, like Pearl Jam, recognized how these dimensions can express the condition of life. Schembari argues that the work of Pearl Jam often reflects an understanding of being as if one is navigating a ship out at sea. He reads this alongside the work of Blaise Pascal who maintains that to live one must always face the opposition between taking the plunge ‘into the sea’ and the inclination toward stability. However, stability and safety are never guaranteed, as depicted in the band’s song ‘Force of Nature’ and as expressed through the Roman poet Lucretius. The songs ‘Oceans’ and ‘Release’ reflect water as a form of energy that directs one to a desired goal, where nothing remains static or unmoving, whereas ‘Big Wave’ speaks of human adaptation – ‘surfing the waves’ – to whatever life brings. As Pascal’s wager reveals, one cannot avoid making choices, and this inevitability to make choices is outlined in the band’s song ‘Infallible’ which, according to Schembari, denounces “the arrogance and distortions of an economic progress disjointed from a true social and cultural progress” (226-7). The band also explores aquatic metaphors of love keeping swimmers afloat reflected in ‘Amongst the Waves’. From allegories of the condition of living to allegories of time, Schembari takes us through instances where Pearl Jam refer to the passage of time as “phenomenological time” and a “time of consciousness” (230) as outlined by Husserl and Heidegger respectively. These allegories of time become more apparent in Pearl Jam’s later albums, particularly their 2020 Gigaton but also in earlier songs like ‘I am Mine’. Finally, Schembari also engages with Pearl Jam’s aquatic metaphors on the meaning of life, such as like murmuring and hollow shells washed ashore, which he reads alongside reflections by Paul Valéry and Italo Calvino.
All in all, Marino and Schembari have completed an interesting curation of high-quality essays that capture the diversity of affects and themes in Pearl Jam songs, as well as their engagement, oftentimes critical, with the culture industry. The title of this project may, at first glance, raise an eyebrow (if not an eyeroll), for example, of those for whom ‘low culture’ is no place to look for serious theorising; or of those who perhaps due to an anti-intellectualist stance perceive such a project as unnecessary intellectual posturing. But this book strikes a good balance in this regard. In no way does it pretend that an appreciation of such chapters is necessary in order for one to understand the true depths of Pearl Jam. Yet, on the other hand, the authors appreciate that the band that originated in 1990 in Seattle during the golden days of grunge is one of those bands that lend themselves to theoretical engagement. Ultimately, the chapters that compose this book are written by scholars who are also fans. It is not incidental that some of the authors make references to the role, big or small, that Pearl Jam has played in their personal lives. In this positive way that this book seems like it was a labour of love.
This is a book for fans: the reader must have great familiarity with Pearl Jam’s music, as well as the band’s history, actions and position within rock history. Do some of the chapters engage in over-reading? Maybe. And if a listener knows what it is like to feel undone by ‘Black’, or to feel goosebumps during ‘Alive’, or to go crazy with ‘Porch’, then perhaps they may not need this book to tell them what they are feeling. But, nonetheless, the chapters that constitute this book will be appreciated by philosophically-inclined fans of the band who, for years, have lived with the band’s music, or perhaps have even witnessed the deep experience that is a Pearl Jam concert; have experienced the wild exhilaration that the band provides. In other words, if you get it, then you get it. Not unlike a lot of philosophy, ultimately, Pearl Jam can be seen to embody a fundamental question: what does it mean to be alive?
Jan Patočka is not an obvious place to go looking for Christian theology. While his writings have a clear emphasis on Europe and its Greek-Christian heritage, his explicit remarks on Christianity appear most often as a matter of intellectual history, part of the attempt to understand the intellectual and spiritual framework of modernity. The philosopher is of course best known for inspiring a generation of Czech intellectuals and dissidents in his role as spokesperson for the human rights appeal Charter 77, a role which ultimately cost him his life. Drawn to this dissident legacy and to Patočka’s vision of a post-European Europe, there has been a renewed interest in Patočka among contemporary political philosophers.[i] His work as a scholar of Husserl continues to be read and appreciated in Husserlian circles. But there have been few attempts to read him as a religious or Christian thinker.
One might expect otherwise, given Patočka’s closeness to Heidegger on a number of issues, and given Heidegger’s importance to the so-called ‘theological turn’ in phenomenology in the latter part of the twentieth century. Judith Wolfe, author of Heidegger and Theology characterises this turn as ‘an attempt to responding to the call of the divine without turning God into an idol by metaphysical speculations’ (Wolfe 2014, 193-194). Beyond what Patočka has to say about Christianity explicitly, many themes in his work—sacrifice, conversion, the nothing, care for the soul—are ripe for a theological reading in the above sense. Jean-Luc Marion and Jacques Derrida’s efforts in this direction are perhaps the best known and most thought-provoking; both read Patočka’s conception of sacrifice in a religious light, as a phenomenology of the gift. Yet a religious approach to Patočka’s work has yet to be taken up in any sustained way in contemporary scholarship.
In English-language scholarship, the special issue of The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy 14 (2015), on ‘Religion, War, and the Crisis of Modernity’ in Patočka’s work, edited by Ludger Hagedorn and James Dodd, is the most substantial offering on Patočka’s religious import and his thinking about Christianity. Hagedorn, Martin Ritter, Eddo Evink, Nicolas De Warren, and Riccardo Paparusso have given important readings in this vein though none in a book-length study. Martin Koci’s book is therefore a welcome and important contribution to an underdeveloped field. It reflects an extensive knowledge of continental theology and offers an admirably clear view of the terrain at the present moment, as well as suggesting how Patočka may help to shape this terrain.
Patočka as Post-Christian Christian Thinker
Koci sees Patočka as anticipating the theological turn in phenomenology that began with Marion’s Dieu sans l’etre (1982). Although, in Koci’s view, Patočka’s social and political environment did not permit him to fully explore the religious resonances in his own thought, he can credibly be read as a post-secular thinker avant la lettre. Koci’s aim to establish Patočka as a serious thinker of Christianity contrasts with the standard line taken by Czech scholarship that Patočka is ‘a pure-blooded phenomenologist with no interest in theology’ (216). Those who are sceptical of a theological approach have plenty of support from Patočka’s texts, where he insists on a definite boundary between philosophical activity and religion. However, this need not prevent a reading of Patočka as a phenomenological thinker of theological import. Furthermore, there are reasons to think such an approach is not against the grain of Patočka’s own thinking. Patočka was raised by a Catholic mother and was a believer as a young man, though he grew dissatisfied with a religious framework as he began to study philosophy. He engaged seriously with numerous theological thinkers, in particular his fellow Bohemian John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), and he maintained a long friendship with the (Barthian) Protestant theologian Josef Bohumil Souček, with whom he discussed matters of faith and the meaning of Christianity. In his later years, Patočka gave lectures on theological topics to his students. Patočka’s engagement with Christianity increases in his writings from the prolific period of the 1960s and 70s, which present his mature thought.
Following Ludger Hagedorn, Koci’s study is an exercise in what he calls ‘after’ thinking, in this case, as the title suggests, thinking what Christianity might continue to mean after the death of God, and in the face of the various (related) crises of modernity. Yet, he explains, the project is not to develop a Christianity that ‘works’ in a postmodern context. It is rather to develop a Christian theology that challenges and questions the status quo and offers the possibility for transformation. ‘Christianity after Christianity does not therefore refer to the current state of religion in a post-Christian age. The “after” is not a relation to the past but an opening to the future’ (171-172). Christianity, as Koci understands it, always involves this dimension of ‘after’, since it a way of thinking that is oriented toward the not yet, harbouring the seeds of its own undoing and remaking. Within this framework, it becomes clearer how Patočka can be of value. Patočka’s own conception of history or historical life (a life in truth) involves an awareness of ‘problematicity’, a radical openness to possibility that calls for a repeated dismantling of what one takes to be solid truths.
A single sentence from Patočka’s late work Heretical Essays provides the refrain throughout Koci’s study:
By virtue of this foundation in the abysmal deepening of the soul, Christianity remains thus far the greatest, unsurpassed but also un-thought-through human outreach (vzmach, upsurge, élan) that enabled humans to struggle against decadence. (Patočka 1999, 108).
Koci attempts to make sense of this suggestive and somewhat obscure remark by exploring a number of interrelated issues in Patočka’s thought: from the crisis of modernity, issuing in nihilism or ‘decadence’ (Ch 2) to his critique of metaphysics (Ch 3), to ‘negative Platonism’ (Ch 4), to the three movements of existence (Ch 5) to ‘care for the soul’ and sacrifice (Ch 6-7). The emphasis of Koci’s analysis of the above remark falls heavily on the notion of the ‘unthought’ dimension of Christianity to which Patočka alludes, and he interprets this along the lines that Hagedorn develops in his article ‘“Christianity Unthought”—A Reconsideration of Myth, Faith, and Historicity’ (2015). Quoting Hagedorn,
Christianity unthought would then indicate the maintenance of some core of Christianity even after its suspension, and through its suspension […] in the sense of metaphorically reclaiming some resurrection after the Cross. […] It is the signal for an investigation into what is left of the Christian spirit without being confessional or credulous (Hagedorn 2015, 43).
The Anselmian understanding of theology of fides quaerens intellectum—faith seeking understanding—in Koci’s hands becomes both 1) an affirmation that faith is ‘a way of thinking’ and 2) an explanation for why Christian theology must involve the continual questioning of itself, must relate to its own unthought. Christianity is, in this sense, a thinking of the unthought. Yet this could easily be misconstrued. Thinking the unthought does not mean ‘neutralizing’ (59) the unthought by bringing it in into the totalising framework of closed reason (the framework of modernity). Put in Heideggerian terms, the unthought signifies an openness and responsiveness to being, beyond the metaphysics of beings. Koci reads Patočka’s account of Christianity in the context of his account of the crisis of modernity and modern rationality, which has become closed in on itself (Patočka contrasts the ‘closed’ and the ‘open’ soul). In Koci’s words, ‘religion breaks with the modern enclosure precisely because it allows the others, the otherwise, and, last but not least, the Other to enter the discussion’ (60).
Regarding Christianity’s ‘abysmal deepening of the soul’ Patočka places special emphasis on the soul’s ‘incommensurability with all eternal being’ (Patočka 1999, 108) because of the soul’s placement in history and its call to responsibility by virtue of being in the world (See the fifth heretical essay for this discussion). Quoting Koci, the soul becomes:
the locus of our engagement with problematicity; it is where we experience the upheaval of being-in-the-world. The soul is the organ of reflection upon the concrete historical situation into which we are thrown; it is the flexibility to think, to question, to challenge given meaning in order to search for a deeper meaning, time and again. The soul is what leads us into thinking (194).
The final word of this exposition is key. Christianity is the ‘greatest, unsurpassed’ struggle against decadence, against any account that would seek to settle things once and for all and close off further thinking. This is important for the overall project here, which is, in part, to use the un-thought of Christianity to challenge both philosophical and theological thinking. The proposal is that we take Christianity seriously as a way of thinking and continual questioning that can help to awaken us from our dogmatic slumber, whether the content of this dogmatism is instrumental rationality, nihilism, secularism, or traditional metaphysics.
It might be wise to pause and return again to Patočka’s claim that Christianity is the ‘greatest, unsurpassed’ movement in the fight for meaning. At first glance, this remark looks like an example of what Koci calls ‘Christian triumphalism’, proclaiming the supremacy of Christianity. Indeed, Christianity does occupy a privileged philosophical position in Patočka’s thought, for reasons that have been explained in part above. But I agree with Koci’s assessment that reading Patočka as a Christian triumphalist, as John D. Caputo does in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (1997), mistakes his aim altogether; he is not calling for the triumphal return of Christendom as a political power (Koci surmises that the only way Caputo could make such an error is by not having read any Patočka). On the other hand, Koci’s insistence that ‘for Patočka, Christianity is not “better” than other religions’ (193) is less convincing. He claims that:
Patočka does not understand Christianity in Hegelian terms and is far from situating Christianity on top of the religious tree. Neither does Patočka understand Christianity in Kantian terms as the highest moral call […] I see the “unsurpassed” nature of Christianity [in Patočka’s remark quoted above] as referring to a recontextualization of the soul advanced by Christianity.’ (194).
It is true that Patočka does not understand Christianity in either a Hegelian or a Kantian light; these would be grave misreadings (Caputo appears to be the main target here, since he is guilty of mistaking Patočka for a Hegelian). But it is nevertheless apparent across Patočka’s texts that Christianity is the only religion Patočka takes seriously as properly historical-philosophical; others are relegated to mythical thinking. So by Patočka’s own philosophical standards Christianity is ‘better’ than other religions, better not by virtue of its confessional content but by its contribution to being in the world. In Christianity, the soul is understood in all its problematicity and openness. This is a controversial claim, to be sure, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Patočka does in fact situate Christianity ‘on top’.
Koci argues that there are three features of Christianity that Patočka allows us to see which have serious bearing on contemporary philosophical and theological thinking. First, Patočka:
reintroduces the centrality of Christianity as a new “religiosity” of thinking. In thinking, Christianity overcomes both mythos [a mythical thinking is characterised by the maintenance of life and by adherence to the past] and logos [closed rationality]. (172)
This religiosity of thinking goes in the opposite direction of a demythologization of Christianity. In Patočka’s picture, the world is reenchanted, in contrast to the disenchantment of the scientific-rationalist picture. We open ourselves to the world anew. Koci reads this shift as proposing ‘more Christianity rather than less of it […] Of course, this is not a return to anything from the past. Nonetheless, something is coming, and this something is related to Christianity’ (172).
Second, Christianity ‘becomes an existential category whose basic expression is faith as openness to the future’, ‘faith that is a radicalized, philosophical notion—the care for the soul’ (172). This rather dramatically removes the specific confessional content of Christianity, a move to which I will return below. Third, Christianity is an ‘existential thinking’ that realises itself in ‘acting and living’, living as a person who cares for the soul (173). The authenticity of such an attitude is found in the willingness to take responsibility for life through self-surrender or sacrifice, ‘in the name of a truth beyond positive contents’ (173). Patočka’s emphasis on the ‘experience’ [or activity] of sacrifice, in Koci’s reading, contrasts with the language of ‘participation’ in the absolute gift in both Derrida and Marion, which he reads as more of a conceptual schema than an existential one (see Ch 6 and 7 for an extended discussion).
Does Koci make a convincing case for the value of reading Patočka theologically? I had not been inclined to interpret Patočka along these lines prior to reading Koci’s book, but I see enormous value for Patočka scholarship in opening up this line of thought. Koci’s reading of Patočka as a post-Christian Christian thinker is creative and thought-provoking for those familiar with Patočka and for anyone interested in how to think about faith meaningfully in a contemporary postmodern context.
I have two criticisms, centred around the style of exposition in the book and the unresolved tension between the philosophical and the specifically Christian.
One feels that there is a good deal of stage setting in this work: offering context for Patočka’s thought by way of an exploration of the death of God, the crises of modernity, twentieth-century phenomenological thought, and contemporary continental theology. This is all relevant and helpful to the project of thinking about what Patočka has to offer, but the sustained engagement in the details of Patočka’s own account, especially sustained reflection on the writings that are meant to be of theological interest, is less developed. Koci is well-versed in both continental philosophy-theology (see his recent edited volume on the French philosopher Emmanuel Falque) and in Patočka’s writings, yet the former threatens to swallow up the latter in this book; it is only toward the end of Chapter 5 that Koci asks the question: ‘what is Patočka’s Christianity?’ (p 165), and only in Chapters 6 and 7, in comparisons with Derrida and Marion, that one sees a sustained attention to the details of this Christianity. What I miss in the breadth of the author’s treatment is the depth that comes from close textual analysis, especially when dealing with texts as condensed as Patočka’s.
There are perhaps unavoidable reasons for the thinness of detail in the present account of Patočka’s post-Christian Christianity. It may be the result of Patočka’s own writing, which does not lend itself well to systematic treatment, especially in the case of his writings that might be deemed of theological value, which are naturally scattered across various works. Furthermore, Patočka’s writings often have a provisional quality, not lacking in depth but with a tendency toward ellipses, presenting many rich ideas but often leaving the reader wanting further explication. Whether the root of this elliptical quality is to be found in Patočka’s philosophical commitments, in his own idiosyncrasies as a writer, or in the extremely straitened historical circumstances in which he was forced to work is a question with no definitive answer. However, this quality of Patočka’s writing is especially pronounced when he speaks about quasi-Christian themes such as sacrifice and mystery (see 233-234 for an example). Koci intelligently reads these silences—pace Kierkegaard and Derrida—as pregnant with significance. One of Koci’s examples of this is Patočka’s failure to explicitly name Christ in his writings, though he makes significant allusions to him, as in the discussion of sacrifice in the end of the 1973 Varna lecture and the reference to the Passion narrative in the ‘Four Lectures on Europe’. Koci also speculates that Patočka might well have developed his post-Christian ideas more explicitly given a different intellectual and political climate. Both assessments seem plausible to me.
That said, other than the excellent description of kenotic sacrifice in Chapter 7, the present book is rather thin on the details of what Patočka’s Christianity might look like. One example is the very truncated discussion of Christian community that ends the book. These considerations were, to me, very ripe for development, and I would have liked to hear more of Koci’s own vision of what forms a Patočkian Christian community could take, what forms of worship, what shared rituals. Koci is inspired by Patočka’s key idea of the ‘solidarity of the shaken’ from the Heretical Essays, and other scholars could certainly build on Koci’s groundwork. Naturally questions of post-Christian ritual and worship go beyond the scope of Patočka’s own writings, but Koci’s reading of Patočka raises these questions and invites imaginative responses. Such exercises in filling out Patočka’s own account may risk heresy to the master, yet without them, one is left with a portrait of Christianity that does not differ very much from a purely philosophical account: each person strives to ‘care for the soul’, living in a full awareness of the problematicity of finitude, dedicating themselves to a truth that is not embodied in anything present or actual.
Beyond Patočka’s writing style, there may be another reason for the sense of thinness I noted earlier, and this is one that Koci addresses directly, namely that Patočka’s understanding of Christianity is not a positive theology. There is no content, per se, no dogma in Patočka’s understanding of the divine or in the way of relating to the world that is taken up in an attitude of faith. While this kind of theological approach has an impressive pedigree, reading Patočka in this tradition raises the question anew of how and to what extent Patočka’s Christianity differs from a wholly philosophical account. Christianity in Patočka can easily be seen as having philosophical value, value for the question of how to orient oneself in the world, but I remain unconvinced that the lessons that Patočka draws from it are fundamentally different from the lessons he draws from Socrates. A distance from true being and a recognition of the limits of knowledge are, to Patočka’s mind, the distinctly Christian intellectual contributions. This is distinct from Platonism, to be sure, but Hannah Arendt, for one, draws the same lessons from Socrates.
Koci to his credit directly tackles the question of whether the features that he identifies as Christian in Patočka’s work may just as well be called Socratic. Patočka’s ‘care for the soul’ and ‘sacrifice’ can—and have—been read either way. On the topic of sacrifice, Koci offers a comparison of the deaths of Socrates and Christ to see which best accords with Patočka’s understanding of a sacrifice for nothing, elaborated in his 1973 lecture ‘The Dangers of Technicization in the Sciences According to E. Husserl and the Essence of Technology as Danger in M. Heidegger’ and in the Heretical Essays. In Patočka, sacrifice for nothing, as opposed to a transactional sacrifice for some specific end, is a central concept; sacrifice in the radical, non-transactional sense discloses the ontological difference, elaborated by Heidegger, between specific beings or things—taken individually or as a set—and being proper, which is no-thing and is not of the order of beings (see the postscript of Heidegger’s ‘What is Metaphysics?’ for the origin of this discussion). In an act of sacrifice, an individual brings this ontological difference, otherwise hidden and supressed, into view. A new understanding of truth is thus affirmed.
Construed in this way, Socrates and Christ both seem equally apt examples of a sacrifice for nothing—both die for a truth that is not obvious or present (and certainly not recognised by those around them) but which they nonetheless affirm by being willing to give their lives. Neither of these deaths could be thought of as transactional. Koci’s reading of these deaths focusses on a different feature, however. Socrates is serene, even happy in the face of death, requesting that his friends remember to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius—for ridding him of the malady of life. Koci points to this attitude and to passages in the Phaedo as evidence that Socrates thought of death as a welcome release from life, that his serenity came from the certainty that he would finally be in direct contact with higher being and would be able to know what he only glimpsed in part. Christ, by contrast, utters the anguished cry ‘eli eli lama sabachthani’. While Christ accepts that he must sacrifice himself, he does not understand it. Rather than embracing death in the certain knowledge that immortality was preferable, he holds onto finitude and it remains problematic for him. Patočka quotes Christ’s final words in his ‘Four Seminars on Europe’ (Patočka, ‘Čtyři semináře k problému Evropy’, 403–404 and 412–413), suggesting his attention to this aspect of the passion narrative. Christ’s kenosis or self-emptying is, for Koci:
a scandalous provocation to shift from a simple life and its preservation to thinking about human being. It seems that herein lies the motivation behind Patočka’s plea for fighting for the Christian legacy, albeit in a deconstructed and demythologized manner, for the post-Christian world (215).
Ultimately Koci admits that one cannot decide on a purely Greek or Christian reading of sacrifice since Patočka himself tends to read Socrates through the lens of Christ and Christ through the lens of Socrates. For Koci, this ambiguity reflects a deeper one in Patočka’s work: Christian theology is a response to (Greek) philosophy, but philosophy must learn lessons from Christianity if it to break free from its own dogma. It is only in the relationship between the two that an authentic orientation to the world emerges.
I am sympathetic to the project of this book, and I am greatly attracted to ‘Patočka’s Christianity’, as Koci presents it. However, I remain unsure of the legitimacy and value of putting this account under the heading of ‘Christianity’, or even ‘post-Christian Christianity’, I freely admit that this may have more to do with my own understanding of Christianity, and it is certainly rooted in my understanding of philosophy. Koci writes in Ch 4, ‘I am convinced that Patočka invites us to think about a certain vision of philosophical faith (147).’ I agree much more readily with this formulation. I am convinced that the texts themselves authorise a ‘post-secular’ reading; it seems to me the natural result of good philosophical thinking, that, like Patočka’s, it remain open to transcendence.
Hagedorn, Ludger and Dodd, James, eds. 2015. The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy XIV. Religion, War and the Crisis of Modernity: A Special Issue Dedicated to the Philosophy of Jan Patočka. London: Routledge.
Hagedorn, Ludger. 2015. ‘“Christianity Unthought”—A Reconsideration of Myth, Faith, and Historicity’. The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy 14: 31–46.
Patočka, Jan. 1999. Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. Translated by Erazim Kohák and edited by James Dodd. Chicago: Open Court.
Patočka, Jan. 2002. In Sebranné spisy Jana Patočky, vol. 3. Péče o duši, III: Kacířské eseje o filosofii dějin; Varianty a přípravné práce z let 1973–1977; Dodatky k Péči o duši I a II. Edited by Ivan Chvatík and Pavel Kouba. Prague: Oikoymenh.
Wolfe, Judith. 2014. Heidegger and Theology. London: Bloomsbury.
[i] See e.g. Meacham, Darian and Tava, Francesco, eds. 2016. Thinking after Europe: Jan Patočka and Politics. London: Rowman and Littlefield.
*For those interested in reading more of Patočka, the forthcoming Care for the Soul: Jan Patočka Selected Writings (Bloomsbury, 2022) will offer a number of his texts available in English for the first time.
The Crucifix and the Candle: Gschwandtner on (Lived) Orthodox Liturgy
I. Stepping into the Narthex
For those of us unfamiliar with Orthodox Christian modes of worship, or indeed those unfamiliar with Christian worship in general, Christina M. Gschwandtner’s text provides an introductory route in while pointing to phenomenological possibilities for a study thereof, but also an account that at times presumes perhaps too much reader background knowledge of ritual form, and hence will have one reaching for a good dictionary (…if online does one still “reach”?). To give the reader of this review some idea of my own inadequacies, I admit having to look up, amongst many others, the term “narthex” – but then used it in the section title here, so that at least is something.
Gschwandtner gives us many somethings in her book, broadly divided into seven distinct topical chapters and framed with unnumbered but important introduction and conclusion chapters. The topics, in order of appearance, are: Temporality, Spatiality, Corporeality, Sensoriality, Affectivity, Community, and Intentionality. Each chapter opens with an overview of the pertinent theological issues as discussed in the Orthodox literature, moves to a review of relevant philosophical concerns from phenomenological thinkers, and then lastly to Gschwandtner’s application of the latter to the former, now finding relevance and now not, seeking to enlighten via her own analyses and personal experiential and/or evidential references. Although there is no sole overarching argument that could be considered singularly sustained (other than, perhaps, that liturgy can be studied phenomenologically), the focus on Orthodox liturgy as lived by its adherents does provide a naturally unifying (although rather broad) thematic thread, and Gschwandtner mentions that in this her work fills a gap heretofore left open by the preponderance of other such studies’ almost exclusive concerns with Roman Catholic perspectives. In the below I should therefore like to more or less follow the roadmap Gschwandtner lays in her chapter divisions, summarizing and commenting along the way, before finishing with some general remarks on the book as such. Let us begin.
II. Standing in the Nave
In her Introduction Gschwandtner seeks firstly to equip her enterprise with a properly phenomenological methodology by making the case that despite the tradition of dividing religious experiences (and those of God in general, inside or outside religious settings) as transcendent or absolute and therefore apart from the working portfolio of phenomenology – a tradition started by Husserl himself, reinforced by Heidegger, and re-reinforced by more contemporary (French) writers like Marion, Lacoste, and Falque – the tools themselves match perfectly well to the task. Criticizing what she takes to be a false dichotomy (religious experience from the “science of phenomenology”), she states that:
it is hard to see how this neat division can be fully maintained. On the one hand, is it possible to speak about something like an experience of the “Absolute” without the religious structures and practices that give some content to what that might mean? Without some reference to how the Absolute actually has been or currently is encountered, how is this any more than a purely abstract thought experiment rather than the examination of “the thing itself as it shows itself”? (10)
There of course arises here a question of whether it is even possible to write of the “Absolute” (and note that Gschwandtner herself uses those quotation marks/inverted double commas) as itself (or rather, “Itself”?) experienced instead of e.g. the idea of the “Absolute” as experienced, and this query indeed is very much in line with Heidegger’s general objection regarding religious experience as ontic but not ontological – hence fair game for one type of analysis but not another. This is important and is a point we will return to, as does Gschwandtner in her book as her considerations go on, but I raise it here at the outset more to highlight a certain underlying friction than to confront it in depth. That can be – conveniently perfectly Husserlean – “bracketed” for later.
Suffice it to conclude that Gschwandtner’s emphasis is on the essential impossibility of a genuine objectivity as academics’ dissections will inevitably be colored by their own personal religious backgrounds (to whatever degree); her working methodological definition is therefore given as: “As long as it maintains the attitude of the reduction – allowing phenomena to unfold rather than imposing scientific parameters upon them – and investigates the structures and meaning of these practices rather than simply describing particular empirical instantiations, it remains phenomenological.” (12) I am inclined to agree, and whatever his ontic/ontological stance in the matter, I think that Heidegger’s more robust “world” expansion of Husserl’s “lifeworld” concept makes the necessary room available for a reading of this type to be made and position taken. We can arguably consider liturgical structures in similar ways to those we do for other structures of social being, and hence perhaps more accurately put the case as one in which we analyze empirical experiential involvement with notion-related/notion-building praxes aligned with (transcendental) abstractions instead of claiming an explanatory capability for the “Absolute” as such. It is the doing, and the effects thereof, inherent in religion; I believe mentally framing it thusly allows us to agree with both the Husserl/Heidegger cautionary side and the Gschwandtner embracing side.
On the element of time (Temporality), Gschwandtner writes that liturgical practice involves both memory and anticipation as it is inherently cyclical and repetitive, and that it moreover fuses future and past in the present. The liturgical “world” (or liturgical life or living) is not a linear one, and nor, argues Gschwandtner, is linearity the only way to experience time. (Instances of déjà vu come to mind for me here, where the past seems to spiral into a re-introduced now in a way both remembered and yet felt as entirely new.) Gschwandtner also makes what I consider to be the very apposite point that the rites and rituals involved in liturgy are not merely repeated from one’s personal past but are portions of a legacy stretching for centuries (at least in the Orthodox tradition), and thus the acts themselves are transcendent, we “are thrown into it [i.e. liturgy], and we always come to it in media res.” (55) We might combine these thoughts such that liturgical time is/has become participatory and beyond participation, identitarian and ever-identity (re)forming, and the deeper the heritage received the more deeply so.
One issue of contention I did have in this section was on Gschwandtner’s frequent expression of liturgical references as being to (specific) historical events, which to me as a reader indicated that assumptions were being made about quite controversial historicities, and furthermore seemed to foreclose without discussion that such might be (“only”) narrative truths instead of historical/empirical truths. This is unfortunate, I think, as when it comes to a topic such as described religious experience a narrative truth (by which I mean a non-literal accounting held to be “true” in the soft sense of the ideational truth it imparts – e.g. whatever the veracity of what the New Testament gospels relay about what came out of Jesus’ mouth the tales, if we accept them, could help us live in a manner that may prove beneficial or partially beneficial) would be no less valuable than an historic/empirical truth, and indeed such would likely be more valuable as they would not face the risk of crumbling should the empirical edifice(s) be removed by further discovery.
Spatiality is dealt with by Gschwandtner along the pleasingly novel lines, suggested by the Orthodox theologians whose writings she considers, of cosmoses and microcosmoses. The architectural church itself mirrors the “realms of heaven and earth” and the Church’s teachings state that what happens within its walls influence the wider physical world, it is “weighty” space filled with memory and pre-habited by previous worshipers and the presence of the multiple icons that are greeted and venerated upon entry. All of this, Gschwandtner writes, leads to liturgical spaces (those set aside and regulated areas in which defined practices are appropriately performed – a necessarily public aspect) that is intuitively meaningful to believers, but “this ‘meaning’ becomes possible because it is ‘intentional’ space, because it has been prepared by the ‘intentionality’ directed towards it and organized in concrete ways that allow for an intuitive experience to occur.’ (72-73)
One does wonder if by this assertion Gschwandtner does not think it possible for a non-Orthodox Christian or non-Christian altogether to be able to intuit meaning from participating in (to whatever extent is allowed for an “outsider”) – or perhaps only by observing – the liturgy since at least some shared intuitive reactions appear possible given what is common across religious and/or sociolinguistic lines, yet an argument is not forthcoming and the question is probably anyway not pertinent enough to warrant one. For those in the Orthodox “world” or “lifeworld” the sacral space adds layers of experiential content that become meaning-making while being always reinforcing of the doctrine the faithful have accepted as participants, with subsequent experience rising or falling by the degree, one would think, of that acceptance. The more fervent one believes in the veracity of what one is engaged in while within that specialized area the more potently it is likely to be felt.
In her highlighting of the performance aspects to liturgy Gschwandtner makes a case that these result in a form of training, aimed at an alteration in adherents’ lifestyles, which is centered in the present act of doing and thus is neither a threshold nor a crossing (e.g. into another way of being). The transformation (or “growth”) that is espoused here is evidently an evolutionary one, attained over a long(ish) period of time through repetitive physical practices that “through” the body also affect the “mind, emotions, and affects… [teaching or training one] to be ‘bent into’ a shape that allows it [i.e. the body; the rendering of such as “it” is revelatory and we will need to comment on this] to be receptive to the call addressed to it in liturgy.” (92) Gschwandtner moreover argues that the penitent stances taken in Orthodox liturgical acts like bowing to one another, hugging one another, confessing before one another, et cetera, amount to a manner of being that is more authentic than the one Heidegger has famously promoted because it is more revealing of the self than a defensive or protective mode would be, and that this “more authentic” way “may not ultimately be about a resolute grasp of one’s own being (as Eigentlichkeit in Entschlossenheit), but instead an exposure and offering of one’s self to the other – whether divine or human.” (97)
I have some real problems with the thoughts in this section, but the most minor first. I am not sure why a less personally defensive attitude/behavior vis-à-vis the social realm would by itself be more authentic in a Heideggerean sense, and without further defining what she means by “authenticity” I am afraid we must conclude Gschwandtner is using the term in this same Heideggerean manner (particularly given her references to him). If so, then why her version should be perceived as more (or greater) than the “self-examined, self-sufficient subject, in charge of its own life and thought” (as she relates Heidegger’s “authentic self”, 97) at least requires some form of argumentation beyond the assertion that exposure of oneself drops the “covering up” typical of everyday being, that mode (the “everyday”) that is inauthentic. There may be good reasons for this, but I should like to know them from Gschwandtner’s point of view before considering the point further.
Another, and deeper (at least for me), issue I have with this chapter is that I sense an unacknowledged dualism lying behind Gschwandtner’s account. As indicated above, her phrasing of “it” (the body) as conduit through which mind, emotions, et cetera, become reformed or reshaped implies the body being understood in a “vehicular” sense as regards the mind, and even perhaps segregating “emotions and affects” (and I would like the latter defined as well if they are to be cut out from the former) further yet. This is certainly not the place to enter fully into the discussion, but the centrality of the mind/body question in philosophy historically and still (perhaps more so) today calls, I think, for a more delicate treatment than is given here. If we reject a Cartesian model we find ourselves approaching instead one where mind is emergent in some way from the workings of the brain, and the brain is clearly (merely) one part of the body, thus mind is not something to be trained “through” the body, it simply is body and the training of one is the selfsame and simultaneous training of the other (although there is no “other”, really!). Thus it is only a single training of a unitary node, and if we insist on delineating mind out of body (or affixing labels like “mind-body unit” rather than “person”) we only perpetuate the Cartesianism we thought we had left behind. All of this naturally requires argumentation as well, and again sadly this is not the place for that, and it may even be that Gschwandtner accepts Descartes’ account, but she does not state so and does state that the corporeal is centrally important. Hence as a reader I find myself left wanting.
This dimension of mind/body, or mind-body, or mind and body, raises my final objection, one that falls along experiential lines. Gschwandtner writes that “We do not leave the world behind in prayer – at least not in any way that would be phenomenologically discernible” and “to assume that encounter with the Absolute [i.e. in liturgy] constitutes a radical break with the world is a theological interpretation, but no longer a phenomenological description of actual liturgical experience or of the overall structures it displays.” (96 and 97, respectively) These quotes occur in the context of arguing against Lacoste’s position in his Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man (trans. by Mark Raftery–Skeban. New York: Fordham University Press, 2004.), and Gschwandtner’s objections are valid and interesting as far as that goes, but purely with regards to the actual phenomenological situation engaged in prayer or the thoughtful (willed) practice of liturgical ritual I take them as amiss since in deep prayer it does feel like we leave the world, break radically with it, and this I think is what generates the ontic side that is phenomenologically discernible and describable as such. Indeed perhaps the structure of liturgy when viewed from an external Husserlean observer (or the like) framing does not, but that is distinct from the experience one undergoes when directly executing that structure and/or pouring oneself into prayer (as opposed to only mouthing the words emptily, for example). Once more aspects of mind are relevant, and will too, which actually is Gschwandtner’s final main chapter (Intentionality), and so let us now behave like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan and leave the body by the wayside, carrying on down our road.
This chapter deals with the spectacle, as it were, of Orthodox liturgy, and of especial interest was its treatment of icons and the Eucharistic meal. Gschwandtner describes how in Orthodox churches the sheer multiplicity of icons makes one feel as if one were being viewed by them “from everywhere”, and how due to the inverse perspective employed by the images this aspect of “watched” is further enforced, as opposed to a more Western approach of outside or objective contemplation (we might shorthand this as “being before” versus “standing before”: in the former we are present perhaps with entirely other considerations, in the latter we are present purposely to enact an observation). The notion of oneself as passively surveilled by surrounding holy icons is an intriguing – possibly disturbing – one, and Gschwandtner adds that liturgy can even be overwhelming with its sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes. Yet, she also warns, “the bedazzlement comes from the sensory experience itself, not obviously from a ‘phenomenon of revelation.’ Certainly the experience can be interpreted in that way, but that is an activity of interpretation, not the immediate phenomenological experience.” (118) Furthermore, on this aspect of interpretation and specifically in regards to one’s reception of the Eucharist, that:
What ought to be clear up front is that phenomenology makes no metaphysical or ontological claims about what the eucharistic [sic.] body “is”; language of substance and accidents or of a correspondence between the material of the bread to the sacrificed body of Christ cannot be sustained phenomenologically and are not really experienced, even when they are “believed”. (121)
I think Gschwandtner is certainly correct on the first point here but I am not so sure on the second. Interpretation is another issue altogether from the phenomenological peruse, whether about a potential revelation or the ontology of the bread and wine used in a Eucharistic rite, but on my analysis a fervent belief in X would be sufficient to generate an experience of Y: the qualia would all be there, it would “feel like” one were eating the “sacrificed body of Christ” in a way that would be altogether separate from the physical taste sensation involved yet would nevertheless still be there experientially. It might be objected that such would only be psychological, but is not the psychological just as much a part of human phenomenology as taste or touch? Again, we must come to terms with mind/body, mind-body, mind and body, what have you. An “as”, I think, can without question feel enough like an “is” that whatever the abstract definitions may indicate, for the subject in her being an equality is established.
On this central area of feeling we continue. In this section Gschwandtner distinguishes between the emotions an individual has (or may have) during the time spent in liturgical ritual and the constructing mood(s) of the ceremony itself, that “one can say more fundamentally that the experience of liturgy is never ‘neutral,’ but always characterized by an essential ‘atmosphere’ that is sensed on multiple levels”, and moreover such become foundational parts of what is the “fundamental phenomenological liturgical attitude of openness to each other.” (138 and 140, respectively) It is clear that Gschwandtner hereby establishes two stages upon which liturgy operates (or within which a worshipper engages): the personal and the communal (which indeed is her next chapter: Community), and it is interesting to think as well that the latter might be emergent from the former in at least some ways even while it influences and generates particular affects in its participants, differing, one would presume, in degrees that are highly dependent on the many other embedded factors involved in each believer’s wider life. On the whole Gschwandtner emphasizes the shared experience inherent in liturgical feeling (if we may compound a phrase like “liturgical feeling” – would these not simply be “standard” feelings that happen to be experienced in or generated by the activities of liturgy?), and exalts this process somewhat by declaring that it “acknowledges our finitude and frailty and gives them room for expression in the various demonstrations of guilt, sorrow, and even despair”, and then furthermore adds that it also “allows for a redirecting and even transforming of disabling and destructive emotions and directs them toward a deeper underlying affect of contrition, desire for forgiveness, and determination to change. It cultivates new dispositions…” (141).
The Aristotelean-type virtue ethics implications at the end of that last quote match her earlier remarks on the self-building potential of liturgical practice, but again such are contended to occur “across and via the body and expressed through and by it” (141), appearing at first to maintain either by an unacknowledged default or with purpose the dualism we previously saw presented. However, Gschwandtner does state thereafter that “These elements [i.e. emotions, affects, dispositions] are always already intimately connected, separated only in thought or description, not in experience.” (141) While I would like a clearer parsing of her usage of emotions, affects, dispositions, moods, feelings, et cetera, and how she might consider them differentiated, the more holistic approach to mind/body as evidenced in this chapter is quite welcome. Emotions, as one portion of our ever-ongoing biological functioning, are after all an excellent example of the difficulties involved in (and undesirability of) trying to force a dividing line between the mental and (other dimensions of) the physical.
As alluded to immediately above, Gschwandtner places much emphasis on what is experienced in common within liturgical settings, and naturally rightly so. In this her portion on the communal properly considered, she evocatively reminds the reader that the very term “liturgy” means “work of the people”, that it is plural and is something designed expressly to make of its parts a unified whole. What is perhaps of especial interest is the claim – justifiably, I think – that this “plural” is both a before and an after, constituted by one’s (either literally familial or “familial” in a looser co-religionist way) ancestors and predecessors in the faith, and too an inheritance that one will oneself someday bequeath, assuming that one brings one’s children into the same grouping or otherwise engages with others’ children who have been so brought in. The cycles of doing the same things with the same people at the same time of year, year after year, cannot but act as an adhesive, garnering strength by and for the social.
The social may, however, cut both ways. As her topic is within Christianity Gschwandtner calls in the notion of sin to argue that liturgy does not accuse but rather opens space for the recognition of fault and its necessarily – or so she asserts – corresponding loneliness into a re-entry of community, forgiveness, and transformation (see especially 165). I admit that I find this a bit too generous with regards to that heavy idea of “sin” (and guilt) that we in Western cultural traditions are so (overly) familiar with. By its very remonstrations and recognitions of what is wrongdoing and requires (demands?) the requesting of forgiveness from the divine and/or one’s fellows liturgy very much acts in an accusatory role, supporting and based on the reinforcement of dogma which functionally establish the defining features of “sin” and without which one would have a very different (or none at all) conception of personal fault. Is polyandry a sin while polygyny is not? How would the community react if one sat (and stood and knelt, et cetera) with one’s multiple husbands in an Orthodox liturgical service? Of course multiple wives would not be accepted in this instance either, but I do not raise this counterfactual imagining to compare matriarchal societies with one approach to marriage versus patriarchal societies with another, I simply wish to highlight that however much the liturgy might claim “all have sinned” or employ phraseology like “I am the worst of sinners” uttered in unison (examples Gschwandtner references), the fact of the matter is that one will have individualized guilt pressed upon one in a liturgy that includes such abstractions as “sin”. Possibly this is rightly so, possibly it is extremely beneficial for human sociality and modes of existence to be structured in this way; my argument is not against that (but neither is it for it), I mean only to point out that in such religious settings as the various Christianities execute in their liturgies (of course other religions too) accusation will not only occur but be inevitable. Orthodox Christianity might have a milder version of accusation – I honestly do not know – but it will be present. If such further builds the community it might be a price some consider worth paying, but that is an issue beyond our scope and Gschwandtner does not raise it.
The final main chapter in Gschwandtner’s work concerns itself with the question of will in experience and the phenomenological (study) role thereof. Initially she makes what is probably the rather self-evident case that within a liturgical context a hermeneutics will always be bound up with an experience, that whatever a believer might take from a period of liturgy and then apply to their thinking and living as an instance – a gift – of revelation, a previously held prejudice towards such an interpretation is required. We come into liturgy with certain expectations of interaction on spiritual planes and not only community ones – sometimes they are met and sometimes not, but for such to ever be met they must first already be there. Note that this does seem to close out miraculous interventions like Moses’ encounter with the burning bush as relayed in the third chapter of Exodus, and this “pre-packaged” stance is affirmed by Gschwandtner when she writes that, “God does not come in entirely unforeseeable, unpredictable, utterly overwhelming fashion, but whatever is experienced in liturgy is experienced in temporal, spatial, corporeal, sensorial, affective, and communal ways that have been prepared for us and precede us.” (181)
Many believers may wish to take umbrage with Gschwandtner on this, and the Biblical record at least does contain many narratives of God doing precisely that and appearing out of the blue, but our concerns in the present are more down to earth. The notions of will and expectation have already been broached in our thoughts on the Introduction, and here we return to them. There is undoubtedly a manner in which the conceptual set held by an individual will act to influence and/or produce the perceptual within that person’s “lifeworld” – Husserlean horizons, core to any decent phenomenological undertaking – but how Gschwandtner approaches this makes one think immediately of Heidegger’s “ontic but not ontological” objection to the study of religion, and in that we find ourselves having looped right back to Gschwandtner’s opening arguments for the methodology she employs, only this time now questioning whether she has not been on shaky ground all along.
Moreover, I think it fair to raise the facet of meaning here too, because even if these liturgical/revelatory experiences are purely self-generated they would remain as experiences for the experiencer, and in that one would think deeply personally meaningful and meaning-generating. Such would also remain, whatever metaphysical status may or may not be attributed by others to the reported instantiations of revelation, the divine, or more broadly numinous. We find ourselves pondering these queries when Gschwandtner then rescues herself and us along with her through the riposte that, “Phenomenology instead (albeit not in opposition [that is, to hermeneutics]) examines how such [interpretive] expectation is marked in human experience, how it shapes the self, what it does to our bodies, minds, and emotions.” (182) Save for the repeated buried dualism lingering in a segregated triad like “bodies, minds, and emotions” we appreciatively agree.
Gschwandtner’s summary largely focuses its attention on what she considers the perceived benefits of liturgical practice to be (self-transformation, self-opening, finding the “sacred” or “holy” in the everyday, discovery of transcendence, et cetera), but she does also directly return to Heidegger’s comment on appropriateness (i.e. theology is “merely” ontic while phenomenology is ontological), answering it with: “Religious expression – maybe especially engagement in ritual practices – do reach a primordial level of human experience (assuming levels must be distinguished in this way in the first place.” (201) Again, this is intended as a rejoinder to Heidegger’s stratification, but as far as I can understand the distinction being made, Heidegger’s emphasis is on defining and not reaching. However that may or may not be (and I might be off mark myself), what I take Gschwandtner’s very apposite final thought to be is that any phenomenological concern with experience of the divine is one for and about human experience, and that “can be examined as such, without theologically extrapolating in regard to the existence or nature of God.” (202)
III. Peeking Under the Altar
Finally I would like to make some very brief general comments on the book as such, as a book. Gschwandtner writes with a welcome transparency and obvious wellspring of knowledge that runs extremely deep, especially when it comes to phenomenologists in the French tradition, and her chapter structuring of firstly reviewing background Orthodox theological concerns, background phenomenological concerns, and then applying each to her own concerns vis-à-vis liturgical praxis was clear and easy to follow. It was also, however, unfortunately rather surgical and I found myself engaged with the text only in rare instances.
There is a tendency too towards repetition, in which a particular point is made and then immediately remade via rephrasing; both this aspect and the general style adopted made me think that the work is perhaps aimed at an undergraduate audience, meant to be used as a course textbook. Naturally there is nothing amiss with that, and anyone teaching a subject where this might fit could well benefit from its inclusion; I mention it only as an impression imparted. What would really have helped my reading experience (phenomenology!), however, would be the inclusion of a glossary for the detailed and undefined Orthodox and/or broadly Christian terminology that Gschwandtner frequently uses. I am not sure why the publisher did not include a listing at the back or a similar device (I presume this was an editorial decision, but perhaps it was an authorial one), but terms like troparion, kontakion, Theotokos, Pascha, ekphrasis, Aposticha, parousia, eschaton, and kenosis will in likelihood only be fully understood by a small set of readers, whereas a text internal guide or reference would be gratefully accepted by all. Those issues aside, scholars of whatever sort will find food for thought in Gschwandtner’s work and an addition to the subfield of the phenomenology of religion that is ready for comparison with other studies that either do not overtly cover liturgical matters or do so from a differing tradition.
In his WS 1935-36 lecture course on Kant, Heidegger remarks that every philosopher must attempt the impossible task of leaping over his own shadow. In his excellent book Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn, Chad Engelland persuasively argues that Heidegger’s shadow is transcendental philosophy. Transcendental philosophy, and in particular Heidegger’s Husserlian reading of Kant, serves as a necessary entry point into Heidegger’s thinking, and the unity of Heidegger’s thought between his two masterworks—Being and Time and the Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event)—must be understood in terms of Heidegger’s struggles to free himself of the limitations of the transcendental tradition. A recurring theme of Engelland’s discussion is the “problem of motivation,” that is, the problem of explaining what motivates the turn from mundane experience toward the transcendental “experience of experience” (2). On Engelland’s reading, Heidegger grows dissatisfied with the “Cartesian” appeal to the authenticity of the researcher as a motivation for the transcendental turn, turning in his work of the 30s to an account of the “fundamental dispositions” that motivate philosophy.
There is much to applaud in Engelland’s treatment. Particularly welcome is Engelland’s suggestion that mining the transcendental origins of Heidegger’s thinking may not only resolve stand-offs in the literature on the abiding topic of Heidegger’s long career, but also help us to identify and fill the aporias in Heidegger’s own thinking and thus “find ourselves working as transcendental phenomenologists in the Heideggerian tradition” (4). To this end, Engelland closes the book with some critical reflections on the limitations of Heidegger’s own approach and the promise for creative appropriation of his thought in the future. In the same spirit, after briefly summarizing the central chapters of the book, I will suggest some directions in which I would like to see more philosophical development of some of the positive proposals Engelland puts forward.
After an introductory chapter that situates Engelland’s reading in relation to contemporary Heidegger scholarship and raises the problem of motivation, Engelland traces Heidegger’s development from the “casting” of the shadow in Being and Time (Chapter 1) and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (Chapter 2) to his attempts to leap over the shadow in the “revised Kant book” of 1935-36 (Chapter 3) and the Contributions (Chapter 4). A closing chapter reflects upon both the merits and limits of what Engelland calls Heidegger’s ‘affective transcendentalism’.
Engelland begins Chapter 1 by arguing that commentators have failed to distinguish two questions that the Being and Time project seeks to answer: the “preparatory [question] about the timely openness of Dasein” and the “fundamental [question] about the temporal reciprocity of that openness and being” (30). The preparatory question is taken up in the extant part of Being and Time, whereas the fundamental question would have been addressed in the unpublished third division. Engelland claims that Heidegger came to recognize that his transcendental approach to the preparatory question was a necessary, if misleading and transitional, path to his later attempts to answer the fundamental question, which “is not itself adequately stated in transcendental terms” (30). Chapter 1 also offers an interpretation of the “destruction of the history of ontology” envisaged for the second part of the book. Engelland presents the destruction as a corrective to two prejudices: the “logical prejudice” that locates the locus of truth in the judgment and the “mathematical prejudice” that interprets all beings as on-hand (vorhanden) (51-4).
Chapter 2 begins with a helpful tour of the development of Heidegger’s reading of Kant: “In four phases and with reference to Husserl, Heidegger interpreted Kant as first falling short of phenomenology, then approaching phenomenology, then advancing phenomenology, and finally recovering phenomenology” (84). Engelland then argues that Heidegger reads Kant as a “phenomenological collaborator” who “glimpsed that intentionality can happen thanks to the transcendence engendered by the ecstatic-horizonal bringing forth of timeliness” (105). Engelland suggests that we who are working as transcendental phenomenologists today should follow Heidegger’s lead in “returning judgment to givenness” by disclosing “the transcendental ground that makes judgment possible” (105). What is most novel and perhaps unusual about Engelland’s reading is his claim that Heidegger’s reading of Leibniz is the key to understanding the Kantbuch (see Golob’s review for criticism of this claim).
There are two significant omissions in Engelland’s otherwise careful and interesting discussion of the Kantbuch. The first is a lack of any significant discussion of Husserl’s attitude toward Kant. Engelland claims that by Being and Time and especially in the Kantbuch, “[f]or Heidegger, Husserl has been superseded by the phenomenological Kant he made visible” (75). I think a case can be made that Husserl is drawn to precisely that aspect of Kant’s critical philosophy that Heidegger considers the “central core” of the first Critique (KPM 63): the doctrine of the schematism and the transcendental imagination (see Kinkaid, “Phenomenology, Idealism, and the Legacy of Kant”). A thorough account of Husserl’s relation to Kant is surely outside the scope of Engelland’s specific concerns, but it would, I suggest, be important for a full accounting of how new work in transcendental phenomenology should proceed—and in particular, whether and to what extent there is a need to “supersede” Husserl. The second omission is the lack of discussion of the Marburg neo-Kantian reading of Kant. Engelland mentions the contrast between the constructivist tendencies of the neo-Kantians and the “genuine empiricism” that Heidegger adapts from Husserl (71), but another striking feature of the Marburg interpretation that puts it at complete odds with Heidegger’s phenomenological interpretation is the claim that “‘intuition’ no longer remains a cognitive factor which stands across from or is opposed to thinking […] It is thinking […]” (Natorp, “Kant and the Marburg School,” 186). These gaps could be filled, I suggest, by reading the Kantbuch more closely in conjunction with the WS 1927-28 lectures Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
In Chapter 3 Engelland examines Heidegger’s revised interpretation of Kant in his WS 1935-36 lectures, which are published as What Is a Thing? Toward Kant’s Doctrine of the Transcendental Principles. This revised reading focuses on the Analytic of Principles, which Heidegger reads as uncovering the “‘context’ (Zusammenhang) in which we can encounter and know things that are genuinely other than ourselves” (148). Heidegger interprets the “context” uncovered by the principles as the “open” or “between” in which intelligibility happens. Though he sees Kant as anticipating this important concept of his Contributions, Heidegger is also critical: “The subjective starting point and the exclusive interest in objectivity mean that, while Kant illumines the open between in which alone judgments are possible, he does not fathom that the open in fact allows humans to be themselves” (149). A more adequate account of the “open between,” Engelland suggests, requires a recognition of the historical and affective character of the context of experience, as well as of its self-concealing nature: “Put in the poetic terms of Heidegger’s later philosophy, we can say that Kant glimpsed world, but missing history, he could not fathom earth” (157-8).
Chapter 4 explores how Heidegger’s being-historical thinking in the Contributions answers the question of what motivates philosophy. In the “first beginning,” philosophy was motivated by the fundamental disposition (Grundstimmung) of wonder, but “[c]uriously, wonder carries within itself the seeds of its own dissolution” (181). This is because, by disclosing entities, wonder covers over the self-withdrawing space or clearing in which entities come to presence. Heidegger thus calls for an “other beginning” motivated by a fundamental disposition comprised of terror, awe, intimating, and reservedness (192-3). Heidegger’s narrative about the history of being, Engelland explains, is his attempt to awaken the fundamental disposition that discloses the “between” that “is richer than transcendental philosophy could fathom” (198).
In the closing chapter Engelland praises Heidegger for his “post-subjective” “affective transcendentalism” while leveling three criticisms. First, Engelland argues that Heidegger is a mere theoretician rather than a philosopher. By this Engelland means that Heidegger is concerned throughout his career solely with the transcendental theme of the grounds of experience, rather than with questions concerning the examined life. One upshot of this limitation, Engelland argues, is that Heidegger’s many personal failings are irrelevant to the interpretation of his thought. Second, Engelland finds Heidegger’s narrative about the history of being to be dogmatic and unnecessary to motivate transcendental philosophy. Pointing to his own earlier work on ostension, Engelland suggests that “the manifestation of the body in ostensive acts or the difference in presentation between an actor on stage and in real life” may function like Heidegger’s famous description of tool breakdown to motivate reflection on “the play of presence and absence at work in all our experience” (238). Third, Engelland finds Heidegger’s later tendency to speak of the clearing in anthropomorphic terms unnecessarily mystifying.
Having completed a summary of the rich contents of Engelland’s book, let me now turn to some criticisms, requests for clarification, and directions for future research into the promise of transcendental phenomenology in a Heideggerian style. I wholeheartedly agree with Engelland concerning the continued philosophical significance of transcendental phenomenology, but I think this significance comes out most forcefully when emphasis is placed on the relationship between transcendental phenomenology and metaphysics. As I read Being and Time, Heidegger is centrally concerned with what makes a priori knowledge—in particular the a priori sciences that Husserl calls ‘formal’ and ‘regional’ or ‘material’ ontology—possible. Consider how Heidegger describes his inquiry into being and its meaning:
The question of being aims therefore at ascertaining the a priori conditions not only for the possibility of the sciences which examine entities as entities of such and such a type […] but also for the possibility of those ontologies themselves which are prior to the ontical sciences and provide their foundation. Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task. (BT 31)
On the one hand, an inquiry into being involves the development of regional ontologies, i.e., accounts of the natures or essences of entities that fall into highly natural kinds and comprise the subject matters of the natural, mathematical, and social sciences. The central question of Being and Time, however, is the question of how that is possible—how ontological knowledge is possible. Answering this deeper question—the question of the meaning of being—requires an ontology of the ontological questioner, i.e., a “fundamental ontology.” Similarly, Heidegger reads the first Critique as “laying […] the ground for metaphysics” through an “ontological analytic of the finite essence of human beings” (KPM 1).
One interesting upshot of reading Being and Time as an account of how a priori knowledge is possible is that it sheds light on Heidegger’s notion of the clearing (die Lichtung). Die Lichtung is clearly meant (in Being and Time) to have resonances of Descartes’s lumen naturale and Augustinian divine illumination. (See Capobianco, Engaging Heidegger, Chapter 5 for a discussion of Heidegger’s shift away from understanding die Lichtung in terms of light.) Both of these concepts are meant to explain how a priori knowledge is possible, and both appeal to a divine guarantee of that knowledge. For Heidegger, “[t]o say that it is ‘illuminated’ means that as being-in-the-world it is cleared in itself, not through any other entity, but in such a way that it is itself the clearing (BT 171). Heidegger’s suggestion here seems to be that skepticism about a priori knowledge is put to rest by an adequate ontology of Dasein. This is an intriguing suggestion, which would require much more space to develop in a plausible way than I have here. This way of understanding Heidegger’s transcendental aspirations, though, has a number of ramifications.
First, it would allow us to make a powerful case for the continued philosophical relevance of transcendental phenomenology. In recent years there has been a surge in interest within analytic philosophy in metametaphysical questions about the substantivity and methodology of metaphysics. One important question concerns modal epistemology: metaphysicians often claim knowledge of possibility, impossibility, necessity, and essence, and there is a growing body of literature on how such knowledge is possible (see Tahko, Chapter 7 for a survey). Husserl and Heidegger’s writings are also rife with claims to modal knowledge, and I suggest a central task of both of their brands of phenomenology is to vindicate such claims. If this is right, it opens up room for a productive discussion between transcendental phenomenologists and analytic metaphysicians.
Second, this reading of the role of transcendental philosophy has the advantage of answering Engelland’s “problem of motivation.” Metaphysics has long between the target of suspicion and abuse by Humeans and Carnapians, giving the likes of Kant and David Lewis plenty of motivation for defending it (albeit in very different ways). Indeed, this reading explains Heidegger’s attraction to Kant, whose primary goal in the first Critique and Prolegomena was to put metaphysics on the secure path of a science. It is suggestive that Husserl explicitly identifies the subject matter of material ontology with synthetic a priori truths. This reading raises an important interpretive question: if Husserl and Heidegger are, like Kant, interested in putting metaphysics on the secure path of a science, do they also follow him in holding that the “proud name of an ontology […] must give way to the modest one of a mere analytic of the pure understanding” (A247/B303)?
I agree with Engelland, then, in giving pride of place to the transcendental aspects of Heidegger’s thought, but I think a shift in emphasis toward the connection between transcendental philosophy and metaphysics would bring out its most promising aspects. This is not to say that Engelland doesn’t recognize this thread of Heidegger’s thought at all; he repeatedly and approvingly cites, for example, Heidegger’s praise of Husserl’s non-constructive, intuitive conception of the a priori (BT 75n). The importance of Heidegger’s metametaphysical project is obscured, however, by a lack of clarity about the meaning of some of Heidegger’s terminology, especially Sein.
In the introductory chapter, Engelland discusses the debate between Thomas Sheehan and Richard Capobianco over the topic of Heidegger’s Seinsfrage: “for Sheehan, the lasting topic is the finitude of human existence as that which makes meaning possible; for Capobianco, the lasting topic is the manifestation of being” (6). Though Engelland does not endorse either position outright, he does seem to foreclose an interpretation on which Sein means, well, being. In Being and Time and surrounding works, Heidegger distinguishes the following senses of ‘being’: that-being, essence, and such-being. On my reading, the early Heidegger uses ‘being’ in a wholly traditional sense; where he disagrees with the tradition is in his substantive critiques of previous category schemes and accounts of the essence of the human person. Relying on an interpretation on which talk of being is really talk about meaning or manifestation, I submit, covers up the promising connection between Heidegger’s transcendentalism and metaphysics.
Getting clearer on what ‘being’ means would also substantially enrich Engelland’s discussion of realism. In the final chapter, Engelland criticizes Taylor Carman’s view that Heidegger is an ontic realist and an ontological idealist. Carman defines ‘ontic realism’ as “the claim that occurrent entities exist and have a determinate spatiotemporal structure independently of us and our understanding of them” (Heidegger’s Analytic, 157). Engelland accepts ontic realism but rejects ontological idealism, the claim that being depends on Dasein:
Yes, “there is” no being independent of Dasein, but that does not make being into a projection of Dasein; rather Dasein only is thanks to the affectivity of being […] Realism about entities entails realism about the context for interpretation. The meaning of being is not some thing independent of entities; it is the domain in which we meet with them. The domain and the entities can be distinguished but not separated
Engelland here alludes to an infamous passage that has been enlisted in support of two ways of interpreting Being and Time: (1) interpretations on which Sein means Sinn and (2) Blattner’s temporal idealist interpretation.
Of course only as long as Dasein is […] ‘is there’ [gibt es] being. When Dasein does not exist, ‘independence’ ‘is’ not either, nor ‘is’ the ‘in-itself’. In such a case this sort of thing can be neither understood nor not understood. In such a case even entities within-the-world can neither be discovered nor lie hidden. In such a case it cannot be said that entities are, nor can it be said that they are not. But now, as long as there is an understanding of being and therefore an understanding of presence-at-hand, it can be said that in this case entities will still continue to be. (BT 255)
Engelland’s passing endorsement of a realist reading would benefit from dwelling longer on this puzzling passage. If I’m right that ‘being’ means that-being, essence, and such-being, it’s hard to see how this passage is even compatible with ontic realism. One strategy for taking the anti-realist bite out of the passage is suggested by Sacha Golob: “it should be read with the stress on the phrase ‘“gibt es’ Sein’” (Freedom, Concepts and Normativity, 177). In other words, Heidegger is making a substantive claim about the conditions for having being given. That is, he is gesturing toward an analysis of how a priori ontological knowledge, understood on the model of Husserl’s “genuine empiricism,” is possible (see Kinkaid, “Phenomenology, Idealism, and the Legacy of Kant,” 609-11).
In general, I’d like to hear more about how Engelland understands the relations between being, the meaning of being, and the domain of intelligibility. I’d like to hear more, too, about how he understands Heidegger’s praise of idealism in Being and Time: “If what the term ‘idealism’ says, amounts to the understanding that being can never be explained by entities but is already that which is ‘transcendental’ for every entity, then idealism affords the only correct possibility for a philosophical problematic” (BT 251). I agree with Engelland that Heidegger is a realist, but absent clarification about how he understands ‘realism’, ‘idealism’, and ‘being’, it’s not clear to me what this agreement amounts to. Is Heidegger a metaphysical realist, as Lafont and Carman deny he is (see Lafont, “Hermeneutics,” 269 and Carman, Heidegger’s Analytic, 166)? How does his position relate to Husserl’s brand of transcendental idealism or analytic anti-realists like Hilary Putnam? Is there any interesting sense in which Heidegger is a relativist (see Lafont, “Hermeneutics” versus Golob, “Was Heidegger a Relativist?” and McManus, “Heidegger and the Supposition of a Single, Objective World”)? A full-blown defense of a realist interpretation of Heidegger would need to answer these and other questions.
As a reader sympathetic to Heidegger’s Being and Time project, I find myself unpersuaded of the need to make the “post-subjective turn” Engelland praises. Similarly, Golob urges Engelland to take up a more critical stance with respect to Heidegger’s claims about the open: “What exactly is this deeper sense that the tradition has missed?” (review of Heidegger’s Shadow). As I read it, Being and Time is already as “post-subjective” as we need to get. That is, Being and Time articulates a compelling picture of human persons as constitutively dependent on a holistic and historically contingent network of social kinds, roles, and institutions. As Engelland notes, Heidegger criticizes Husserl in his SS 1925 lectures for a failure to clarify the mode of being of the subject (33). Doing so requires an analysis of the structure of being-in-the-world. Now the world, understood as a referential totality of significance, stands in interesting relations of dependence with Dasein. On the one hand, there clearly would not be a world, in Heidegger’s sense of the word, without Dasein. But the world also has a kind of independence from Dasein. Consider an economy, for instance. Economies depend for their existence and nature on human beings, but once established, they take on a life of their own. Economic facts have a kind of objectivity, which is why social scientists can be wrong about or discover economic facts and I cannot through sheer force of will increase the balance of my bank account (though willing a decrease is no trouble at all). Furthermore, the existential possibilities for being a self available to a person depend on a world: what it is to be a stockbroker or an economist, say, depends on the existence and nature of economies. Finally, what existential possibilities are open to me is a historical matter: “I cannot now be a samurai since the necessary web of goals, tools and dispositions of other agents no longer exist” (Golob, Freedom, Concepts and Normativity, 217).
What is missing in this account? Engelland suggests that this early account places too much emphasis on projection at the expense of thrownness, is too ahistorical, and misses the phenomenon Heidegger calls ‘earth’. I can’t evaluate each of these charges in detail here, but one point worth noting is the importance of a kind of historical reflection in the early work. Ontology is supposed to be guided by our “vague understanding of being,” but that understanding is “infiltrated with traditional theories and opinions about being” (BT 25). Rooting out the distortive effects of this infiltration, I suggest, requires not only a destruction of the history of ontology (which Engelland skillfully discusses in Chapter 1), but also attention to non-philosophical ways in which Dasein expresses itself. Think here of Heidegger’s early interests in Paul and Augustine, his remarks about ethnology and myth (BT 76 and the review of Cassirer’s Mythical Thought), the fable of Cura in BT §42, and the analysis of the existential content of the concept of original sin (BT 354n and “Phenomenology and Theology”). This element of Heidegger’s method has both interpretive and philosophical significance. On the one hand, interpreters have long worried that Being and Time is, as Karl Löwith claimed, a “disguised theology,” which has been taken to undermine its transcendental ambitions (see Kisiel, Genesis, 423 and Philipse, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being). On the other hand, the suggestion that transcendental philosophy needs this kind of historical corrective is a ripe topic for future research.
Heidegger’s later affective and historical thought is supposed to be a deepening of “the phenomenological task […] to undermine prejudice and recover the breadth of experience” (224). We need Heidegger’s later thought today, Engelland argues, because “[t]he contemporary intellectual landscape remains dominated by the mathematical prejudice” (207). I have two worries about the claim that the contemporary intellectual landscape is dominated by this prejudice. First, the contemporary intellectual landscape is not as monolithic as Engelland’s comment suggests, and I would at least like to see some representative examples of the mathematical prejudice from contemporary philosophy. Second, the mathematical prejudice seems to pick out two distinct worries, the conflation of which, I suggest, creates an illusion of more continuity between Heidegger’s early and late work than is really there. On the one hand, the mathematical prejudice may be the tendency to interpret all entities, including artifacts and persons, as on-hand. More needs to be said about what Vorhandenheit means (see McManus, Measure of Truth, 53-6 for a discussion of some interpretive difficulties); even assuming we have a firm grasp on the concept, what resistance to the mathematical prejudice in this first sense requires is a more sophisticated ontology—one that does justice not only to natural kinds but also social kinds. On the other hand, the mathematical prejudice may be the tendency to interpret nature as something to be mastered, to overlook the meaning of ordinary objects, and so on. On the first reading, the mathematical prejudice is primarily a theoretical error; on the second, it’s an evaluative error. Now Heidegger certainly sees some connection between these two errors, but that connection surely falls short of entailment. Moreover, it seems to me that Heidegger’s attempts to awaken a new fundamental disposition serve primarily to combat the second kind of error. If this is right, though, it is highly misleading to represent Heidegger’s entire career of thought as answering one question, the Seinsfrage.
This last suggestion surely contradicts Heidegger’s own pronouncements about the path of his thought. It seems to me, however, that commentators need to balance two, perhaps competing, hermeneutic principles when interpreting Heidegger’s staggering body of work. Interpretations like Engelland’s and Sheehan’s have the merit of respecting Heidegger’s claims to continuity, while my interpretation runs the risk of being uncharitable by accusing Heidegger of changing the subject while misleadingly calling it by the same name. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Heidegger’s attempt to bring experience to greater givenness is serving very different ends in the early and late work: in the early work, to show how ontology is possible, and in the late work, to evoke a new fundamental disposition in the face of the threat of nihilism. If this is right, I remain unconvinced that we need to follow Heidegger’s way in order to get the most out of the transcendental elements of his early thought.
These worries and requests for clarification should not be taken to detract from what Engelland has accomplished in Heidegger’s Shadow. The book is clearly written and carefully researched, drawing on an enormous swath of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe. Like Engelland, I believe the tradition of transcendental phenomenology contains philosophical riches that are yet to be fully mined; the foregoing challenges come from someone who, like Engelland, stands in Heidegger’s shadow but seeks to go beyond him. While my assessment of what is most worth preserving in Heidegger’s thought surely differs from Engelland’s, he has done a great service to scholarship by attempting the daunting task of motivating a way into Heidegger’s huge body of at once fascinating and frustrating thought.
Capobianco, Richard M. 2011. Engaging Heidegger. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Carman, Taylor. 2007. Heidegger’s Analytic: Interpretation, Discourse and Authenticity in Being and Time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Engelland, Chad. 2017. Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn. New York: Routledge.
Golob, Sacha. 2014. Heidegger on Freedom, Concepts and Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Golob, Sacha. 2017. Review of Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn by Chad Engelland, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/heideggers-shadow-kant-husserl-and-the-transcendental-turn/.
Golob, Sacha. 2019. “Was Heidegger a Relativist?” In The Emergence of Relativism: German Thought from the Enlightenment to National Socialism, edited by Martin Kusch, Katherina Kinzel, Johannes Steizinger, and Niels Wildschut, 181-95. New York: Routledge.
Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time [BT]. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Heidegger, Martin. 1997. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics [KPM]. Translated by Richard Taft. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Heidegger, Martin. 1998. “Phenomenology and Theology.” Translated by James G. Hart and John C. Maraldo. In Pathmarks, edited by William McNeill, 39-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kinkaid, James. 2019. “Phenomenology, Idealism, and the Legacy of Kant.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27: (3): 593-614.
Kisiel, Theodore. 1993. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lafont, Cristina. 2005. “Hermeneutics.” In A Companion to Heidegger, edited by Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall, 265-84. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
McManus, Denis. 2012. Heidegger and the Measure of Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McManus, Denis. 2012. “Heidegger and the Supposition of a Single, Objective World.” European Journal of Philosophy 23 (2): 195-220.
Natorp, Paul. 2015. “Kant and the Marburg School.” In The Neo-Kantian Reader, edited by Sebastian Luft, 180-97. New York: Routledge.
Philipse, Herman. 1998. Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Tahko, Tuomas E. 2015. An Introduction to Metametaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 Parenthetical citations refer to Engelland, Heidegger’s Shadow unless indicated otherwise.
 Thanks to Dan Dahlstrom, Emma Jerndal, and Eden Kinkaid for helpful comments and discussion.
With the publication of the Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche, Rafael Winkler embarks on a much needed contemporary re-evaluation of the human cogito beyond a traditional Cartesian and Kantian framework of analysis in which what is own-most to human experience, its uniqueness, must be understood beyond the limits of the ‘I think’ of the first person as the necessary condition and foundation of possible experience. On a walk of thought that is, at least for this reviewer, echoing a problem poetically explored by Paul Celan’s Gespräch im Gebirg, the present book is concerned with the existential movement from one’s being to one’s self; a passage seemingly accomplished on the horizon of a fundamental absence. This absence is that of the unified self and the sense of ownership one may often take for granted regarding one’s uniqueness as conveyed by the human cogito, the cardinal ‘I’ of the first person which is commonly thought to accompany all possible human experience.
Here, we could say that ‘thought’ is directed upon the ‘one’ that does not accompany our ‘self’ in its life experiences; this part of what we are which is absent from the conscious mind of everyday deliberative thinking. Winkler’s analysis asks us about what happens when the seeming certainty of the Cartesian ‘I think’, as the ground of human existence, dissolves and one’s experience can no longer be thought of, or expressed as ‘mine’, my own, as if emerging from an unrecognisable other. Most importantly, one may ask how this phenomenon itself emerges. What may such an experience, if at all possible, tell us about what we are?
As the reader discovers early on in the pages of the first chapter, Winkler invites us to consider the figure of the schizophrenic as an example to shed light on this existential problem in concrete terms. By turning one’s attention to the issue of dissociation or dislocation of the self, what is posed as a problem here is not the discovery of the unique as a singular entity or what is own-most to Man as an essence or a ‘what’ which would lie behind the I of the unified self rather, the problem posed is that of the whole horizon of being as a passage which itself discloses the plenitude of what we are as human beings. It is not question of uncovering that secret chamber of the mind in which may lie the true nature of human uniqueness, who we truly are. The book generously approaches the ground of uniqueness as a passage and movement through which the anonymous language of the ‘other’ of Man, of this absolute stranger, gradually trans-forms into the language of the subject who identifies himself as an individual, a recognisable self. As such, what is at stake is then not only to see whether such an experience of the dissolution of the self is even possible, but how to talk about it. Winkler presents a philosophical attempt to bring intelligibility to the ambiguous and anonymous language of absolute difference and by this process, he also provides the reader with a highly interesting contribution to contemporary phenomenological thinking.
Exploring the legacies of Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche, Winkler invites us to confront the possibility that the genuine uniqueness of human experience is prior to its formalisation under the expression of the ‘I’, which at first glance, always seem to accompany conscious thought. The bold nature of this claim is best expressed when Winkler tells us that ‘the unique is not the individual’ but a ‘formal feature of existence’; one that is experienced as an original absence in the world and makes the emergence of the first person possible. And it is as such that a thinking of uniqueness may be approached as a thinking of absolute difference which, as he argues, calls for a thinking of finitude. But as the author carefully reminds us, the language of finitude must extend beyond the consideration of Man’s ultimate finiteness, the inescapable advent of its death. A thinking of finitude must press us to the very limits of thought, of the thinkable, as it is perhaps only when the unity of the self is dissolved and our habitual reliance on the concept, language and experience of identity is overcome, that we can really start to embrace the thought of uniqueness. Maybe it is here that lies the most enduring relevance and actuality of phenomenology; when it reminds us of the un-thought of thought as the inescapable and unremovable ‘other’ of Man where the unique really emerges. Here, it is with particular attention to the works of authors such as Derrida, Levinas, Ricœur and especially Heidegger that Winkler invites his readership to consider the unique in terms of ‘the uniqueness of being, of the self, of the other human being, of death, and of the responsibility for the other’.
If the general theme of the book allows for a wide variety of philosophical approaches, its overall tone and character would be best described as scholarly and aimed at a specialised audience interested in Heidegger studies more specifically. The methodology sustained in this volume is exegetical and the specialism of its author is made particularly evident by an ubiquitous focus on Heidegger’s works of the 1930s and 1940s, which at times appear to overshadow other philosophical discussions regarding the two other thinkers announced in the title of the book, namely Levinas and Nietzsche. Although the chapters are often dominated by a sustained exercise in textual interpretation of this interesting period of Heidegger’s work, it cannot be said that it diminishes the impact and relevance of the general thesis presented in the volume. In fact, Winkler’s clear interpretative competence and lucidity regarding the author of Being and Time adds a certain degree of depth to a contemporary re-thinking of finitude. However, it must be said that the title of the book may appear somehow confusing to some readers expecting more of an interpretative balance between the three major figures which the title announces. One is at times surprised to read more about Derrida and Ricœur than about Levinas and Nietzsche, more particularly as the latter’s published works are unfortunately only mentioned and discussed with greater depth in section 7 of the 5th chapter of the book. Elsewhere in the same chapter, the reader will find out more about Winkler’s interpretation of Heidegger’s Nietzsche than about Nietzsche’s own significance and original contribution to a thinking of finitude. It is perhaps only when one comes to read the introduction to the volume that one may realise that an exegetical exercise focused on Heidegger’s literature of the 1930s and 1940s is the connecting rod which holds the book together. Taking this issue into consideration, this most interesting project may be better characterised as a significant contribution to Heidegger Studies. The symptoms of this analytical posture are visible in each chapter of the book through the unmissable reliance on a Heideggerian vocabulary which non-specialists may at times struggle with in the case of a first encounter.
The opening chapter of the book concentrates on the idea of the uniqueness of existence where the author argues that what we may call ‘existence’ in ontological terms does not emerge from the unity of the first person but from immanence of death or the responsibility for the other. From the onset, the Heideggerian focus sets the tone. This may give a hint to the reader that the use of the word ‘existence’ will from now on have to be understood in Heideggerian terms, in a way closer to the Latin ‘Ex –sistere’ denoting the idea of that which stands out of itself or of that which is ‘made to stand out and beyond’. Only with this prior understanding in mind will the reader feel comfortable with the term’s relation to the other notion of Dasein (being there), which is here recurrently used to explore the theme of uniqueness. Indeed, as Heidegger suggests in Being and Time, one would have to see the uniqueness of Dasein in its existence  and thus the study of fundamental ontology will have to be found in ‘the existential analytic of Dasein’.
As previously mentioned in this review, future readers for whom Heidegger’s philosophy remains an unfamiliar terrain may find it difficult to get to grips with this meticulous and rich vocabulary which is not often problematized or re-evaluated in this book. That said, Winkler’s scholarly analysis does carry the message across with its clarity of phrasing and with a carefully executed argumentative development which is always impeccably introduced in all chapters; an aspect which most readers will greatly appreciate. This indeed may help the reader overcome the complexity of the Heideggerian terminology and the first chapter does succeed in bringing an interesting discussion of the dynamism or mouvance implied in the notion of ‘the uniqueness of existence’, which, as Winkler reminds us, is not to be misunderstood as implying an essence or fixed entity.
To explore the notion of the uniqueness of existence in this important first chapter, the author argues that Heidegger and Derrida’s reflections on death may call for a radical rethinking of the sense of consciousness or experience one may usually find in previous contributions to the history of transcendental phenomenology. That is, both thinkers may be read as presenting the human relation to death as dissolving the unity of the self, and moreover, as making the argument that the relation to death and this phenomenon of estrangement is indeed a possible experience or encounter. This brings Winkler to boldly ask the reader: ‘Is Dying Possible?’ Or in other words, can one encounter one’s own death, this ultimate finitude, this absolute absence of presence where one is no longer ‘able to be able’? A possible answer, according to Winkler, may lie in Heidegger’s analysis of the phenomenon of being-towards-death. Through a close reading of the latter, it is suggested that finitude should not be reduced to the thought of a morbid passivity of the human animal (das Man) destined to die but should rather be thought through as the very activity which in itself calls for emergence of one’s receptivity regarding what is. The idea seems to be that, in order for something (e.g. death, finitude) to possibly be encountered, the horizon of its appearing (i.e. the phenomena) must have already been deployed. Perhaps, one could then say that the relation of the human being towards death and dying, rather than being a relation of passivity and mere resignation to fate, is a relation that is itself constitutive of Man’s own being. Hence, our relation to death, this active mode of being-towards-death can be understood as a formal or constitutive feature of existence. As such, this uniquely Human mode of being towards death is here given sense to as prior to, and constitutive of, the emergence of the first person of the ‘I think’ which will subsequently accompanies conscious experiences.
As Winkler interestingly points out across sections 3 and 4 of this first chapter, this particular instance of a Heideggerian ‘thinking of finitude’ would suggest that Man, in its unique existence, already has a relation or encounter with death prior to being able to consciously called it ‘his’ as one would talk of ‘my death’, ‘her death’, ‘theirs’ etc. as if it were possible to be in possession of it and individually declare ownership over it. As Winkler remarks concerning Heidegger’s confrontation of the idea of one’s sense of ownership over one’s own death: ‘death is in every case mine’ but only ‘in so far as it “is” at all’. With diligence and clarity, Winkler at this stage understands that the discussion of this possible experience with uniqueness, in terms of the Human being’s relation to death, must be extended to the possibility of expressing this experience; of making it intelligible by giving it a voice. In that regard, he succeeds brilliantly by introducing the reader to Heidegger’s treatment of ‘anxiety’ as a mood (stimmung) which discloses this unique mode of being towards death. The uniqueness of this experience, if it indeed comes prior to the emergence of the first person, could hardly be thought as expressible conceptually through the habitual language of identity. As Winkler puts it:
‘The unique is, strictly speaking, the unclassifiable, the unidentifiable.(…) That is why an experience of it leaves us speechless, is traumatic, is, like an event that cannot be anticipated in advance, an absolute surprise, a shock.’
Hence, the language of the experience of the unique can only be grasped as the anonymous language of the absolute ‘other’ of Man. The conscious I of the Cartesian cogito is here absent in such an experience. The experience is one that is felt or thought in the sense of the activity of the un-thought of thought. As Winkler suggests, it is in such terms that we could better understand what Rimbaud meant when he expressed in a poetic letter to an old mentor that in the process of one’s poetic encounter with oneself, ‘I is another’ (Je est un autre). It is through this subtle approach to the problem of the possibility of one’s experience of the unique that Winkler, is at the end of the chapter, able to meet previous scepticism, as that expressed by Derrida in that regard, by arguing that the unique relation to death is possibly one that could only be encountered as an anxious anticipation and ‘a mode of being beyond mere presence’.
In chapter 2 titled ‘Self and Other’, Winkler brings the discussion of the uniqueness of human experience, of this ‘other’ of Man (i.e. absolute difference) deeper by arguing that the experience of uniqueness does not grant access to the uniqueness of some other human being. Here the author refers to this problem as the ‘principle of singularisation’ which finds its expression in Heidegger through the notion of the ‘immanence of death’ and as the ‘responsibility for the other’ in Ricœur and Levinas. In Winkler’s own words, the core of the argument in this part of the book is that the fundamental alterity that is interior to oneself, the unique, is ‘neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to access the alterity of the other human being, that is, his or her uniqueness’. Here the author chooses to approach this problem by focusing on comparative accounts of Heidegger’s position in the period of the 1930s and 1940s with selected elements Levinas’ thesis in Time and the Other and Totality and Infinity. The chapter thus attempts to offer a new reading of Heidegger’s position which would effectively undermine the Levinassian stance which proposes that the irreducibility of the ‘alterity of the other human being’ to ‘the alterity that inhabits the self’ is ‘a necessary and sufficient condition of ethics, and by extension, of sociality’. With added support extracted from the more recent works of Ricœur (i.e. Oneself as Another), as well as Heideggerian scholars such as Françoise Dastur (The Call of Conscience: The Most Intimate Alterity) and François Raffoul (The Origins of Responsibility), the main concern of the author is to show that the Heideggerian perspective would bring a serious challenge to the idea that one’s uniqueness of being allows for the experience of another’s, thus destabilising all possibility of founding an ethics on such a basis.
Although the introduction to the chapter suggests an in depth analysis and discussion of Levinas’ legacy as a thinker of finitude, one gradually realises that Levinas’ corpus will not be the subject of the same depth of engagement that is reserved for Heidegger as the cement which connects each chapters of this book. In fact, rigorous discussion of Levinas’ material is mostly limited to the first three sections before a return, for the three remaining sections of the chapter, to the more familiar domain of Heideggerian scholarship. Perhaps, we could say that the genuine originality and strength of this chapter lies less in its analysis of Levinas’ work and more in hermeneutical efforts to dissect Heidegger’s perspective from Being and Time up to the finer tuning of his positions in the 1940s. In this chapter, the reader will find the themes of ‘alterity’, ‘the call’, ‘guilt’ and ‘responsibility’ as the points of articulation of Winkler’s exegetical work. Therein, most of the other sources called upon to approach the theme of ‘self and other’ seem to serve as a fulcrum enabling the author to test the ‘workability’ of the Heideggerian system, which will ultimately be presented as getting us ‘closer to the truth’ of the matter while Levinas’ perspective is presented as doomed to fail as a phenomenological argument. What remains undeniable is that the originality of the argument in this chapter lies in the competency of the exegetical exercise prompted by each of the chapter’s subsections; and it may be best not to spoil the reader’s pleasure by pre-emptively dissecting each part of the chapter. That said, it would not be doing justice to the rigour and assertiveness of the voice of this book’s author if we were to abstain from providing an example of clarity with which the core of the argument is expressed in the concluding section of this chapter. There, after careful considerations of Ricœur’s thesis in Oneself as Another, Winkler asserts that:
‘There is no phenomenological or hermeneutic justification for transposing the vertical relation that structures the interiority of the self onto the social relation between the self and the other (something that Ricœur apparently thinks we can do with good reason). In the final analysis, I know who the source of the injunction is. It is my conscience that enjoins me in the second person that I am indebted to the other. I assign myself that responsibility towards the other in the hetero- affective experience of conscience. Since it is authored and conditioned by nothing other than myself, it issues from an act of freedom.’
Having shown us how one’s relation to death (chapter 1) and sociality (chapter 2) can, in different ways, only be accomplished as a relation with a future that is discontinuous with the present; chapters 3 and 4 attempt to bring intelligibility to the phenomenon of being as a passage, a movement towards. To do so, the third chapter considers the idea that ‘being’ is perhaps unthinkable otherwise than as a ‘figuration of someone or something’, an image formed around a potentiality or possibilities rather than an actual entity which can be truthfully seized and represented. This figurative atmosphere with which the philosopher wraps the phenomenon of the uniqueness of being could indeed be argued to be more real, that is, closer to the phenomena than the mundane representation one could formulate through the language of identity.
In this chapter, Winkler attempts to make the phenomenon of being intelligible in these terms through two different figures of ‘hospitality’: the ‘feminine’ in Levinas and the ‘Absolute Arrivant’ in Derrida. Here once again, Heidegger comes into the picture as a key reference point to evaluate the fruitfulness of these two figurations of being proposed by Levinas and Derrida. These figures of the ‘feminine’ and the ‘absolute arrivant’ are discussed against the background of Heidegger’s notion of ‘dwelling’ which Winkler presents as inextricably linked to the notion of hospitality; especially in the latter’s literature of the 1940s. This argumentative strategy on the author’s part will then prepare the reader for a deeper consideration of the theme of dwelling in Heidegger in chapter 4 which explores the possibility of ‘being at home in the world’ without relying on the traditional metaphysical assumption of being as presence and the language of identity. Here, Winkler considers some of the said ‘figurations of being’ that appear in Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin, with a particular accent on the 1934-5 lecture on Germania and the 1942 lecture on Der Ister. In these complementary chapters, Winkler sails to and fro between a variety of images of thought present in Levinas, Heidegger and Derrida in order to highlight the necessarily protean quality of the language of being. The language of figuration is an original and pertinent addition to Winkler’s analysis and one which convincingly shows that the phenomenon of being can only be rendered intelligible if it actively resists the ossification that the language of identity would bring. It is precisely because the phenomenon of ‘being’ existentially precedes the advent of the conscious ‘I’ that we cannot reduce it to a stable language, a singular point of reference, word, concept or even image. As Winkler seems to suggest in these two chapters, the uniqueness of being and its experience could best be expressed through a multiplicity of figures of passage and transition. Echoing the insights of the first chapter which posed the problem of the nature of the unique and the possibility of experiencing the uniqueness of being and absolute difference, it is here question of the possibility of talking about the experience of uniqueness and therefore the limits of its expressibility. Thus, what the philosophers of finitude tell us is that expressing the ground of the uniqueness of being might require us to think and talk about it in terms of a passage or movement between Man and its other. Never one with ourselves, it would seem that what we are, the uniqueness of our being, lies in the multiplicity of facets by which it emerges in time as an ever unique event that is always in the process of being determined.
With the fifth chapter of this volume, Winkler announces an analysis of Nietzsche’s contribution to the philosophy of finitude which he titles ‘Beyond Truth’. At first glance, one may justifiably think that the problem of truth, which hasn’t been discussed in the book so far, presents an awkward shift from the previous discussions about the possibilities of thinking and talking about the uniqueness of being as the ‘really real’. In fact, the introduction to the volume only mentions Nietzsche in one brief sentence, thus leaving the reader somehow in the dark as to the possible importance of the author in Winkler’s project. From the onset, Winkler’s concern seem to lie more with how the author of Also Sprach Zarathustra has been painted in 20th century philosophy than with the latter’s enduring relevance in contemporary thought as a thinker of finitude. The aim of the chapter is thus announced: to offer ‘an alternative reading of Nietzsche to the one Heidegger and Derrida respectively provide and consider the non- metaphysical sense of being as light that is operative in Nietzsche’s text’. These two authoritative readings of Nietzsche Winkler seeks to overcome are described as such: ‘Nietzsche, the metaphysician of the will to power and the eternal return’ whose main proponent is Heidegger, and ‘Nietzsche, the sceptic, the iconoclast and the destroyer of metaphysical systems and ideas’ which Winkler perceives in Derrida’s treatment. These two categorisations are, to say the least, rather broad and do little to tell the reader how they may come to be antithetical in the first place. However, as the chapter develops, one is able to see the main trajectory of the author unfold with greater clarity: to dress a portrait of Nietzsche and Heidegger as thinkers of the ‘limit’ of Metaphysics. What this ‘limit’ – in the singular – is, however, remains unclear and underdeveloped within the chapter as the analysis therein privileges a textual interpretation of Heidegger’s 1930s and 1940s reading of Nietzsche’s late notebooks and posthumously crafted Will to Power. That said, the chapter offers its strongest arguments in the last three sections where Winkler’s own reading of Nietzsche emerges and where selected parts of the latter’s late published works are analysed. Here, the strength of the chapter lies less in the analysis of Heidegger’s Nietzsche and the critique of the ‘will to truth’, than in Winkler’s exploration of the physiological dimension of Nietzsche’s thought of finitude through a discussion of the latter’s attempt at a philosophy of self-overcoming which would assert as its condition of possibility, the ‘forgottenness of being’. This is perhaps the more pertinent element of the analysis in relation to the book as a comprehensive whole as it links Nietzsche’s late work to previous discussions of European thought’s attempt to overcome traditional metaphysics’ reliance on the language of identity and being as presence which had been dominant since Plato.
Finally, in its sixth and final chapter, the book offers what may be its most original contribution with an interesting philological approach to the language of substance and the peculiarity of its philosophical uses in Roman literature (1st Century BC – 4th Century AD) – with a particular focus on Cicero and Seneca. This tactful exploration of the language of substance allows Winkler to bring back the discussion to the problem of the uniqueness of being as substantia without its traditional metaphysical amalgamation with the language of determinable identity and entity. This is a brilliant move on Winkler’s part and an original way to close the volume. Indeed, this brings to the author the possibility to present a strong argument regarding the need for philosophy to adopt a plastic, supple attitude towards the language of being via metaphorical language or what Nietzsche would call the importance of learning to ‘think in images’. The chapter thus comes to strengthen what was previously argued in Chapter 3 wherein ‘being’ is presented as ‘unthinkable except as a figuration of something or someone, that is, as a figure in which the force of the distinction between the who and the what is suspended’. In the pages of this chapter, the reader is invited to re-think the relevance of previously discussed authors such as Derrida and Levinas whose figures of the ‘absolute Arrivant’ and the ‘Feminine’ could now be read anew as examples among a multitude of possible simulacra for the experience of the ‘really real’ or the uniqueness of being which Winkler has attempted to make intelligible in this interesting project. With this return to the problem of possible figurations of being, the reader is now better equipped to consider the unique as the differential element grounding all discursive representations in Human experience and to ponder upon the significance of such claims. The last chapter of the book ultimately reminds us of the enduring relevance of phenomenological inquiry for contemporary philosophy. However, it is perhaps because of the highly relevant nature of the topic explored here that a more fastidious reader may wonder what could have been or could be if the author wondered away from Heidegger’s gravitational pull and turned his attention to more secondary, yet key, philosophical sources such as Deleuze’s influential analysis of ‘Différence’ as found in Différence et Répétition or indeed Michel Guerin’s ‘Figurologie’ as it appears in La Terreur et La Pitié, among others.
Overall, with the publication of Philosophy of Finitude, Rafael Winkler offers a highly relevant and insightful analysis of key figures who have effectively shaped the way contemporary philosophy explores the problem of the unique and the ‘other’ of Man. However, the very manner in which the philosophical investigation is here conducted could have benefited from a greater degree of reflexive engagement. One could here think that the predominantly exegetical nature of the exercise, if left unquestioned by the inquirer, could mask a non-negligible issue which today often seems to mark philosophical practice. Indeed, each time that we meticulously dig within the depth of such authors’ corpus and translate their work into our professional philosophical agenda, we do what is required, but as Ansell-Pearson and Hatab have pointed out, in doing so we perhaps also ‘bring to ruin something special and vital. … It seems we must “murder to dissect”’. But what does it mean? And what is the nature of the risk? This problem extends far beyond the present book and is not specifically directed at it but to all of us who engage in philosophical research today.
William Wordsworth once tried to bring this issue to our attention in his beautiful poem the Tables Turned (1798) in which he suggested that all too often in our appreciation and at times scientific exploration of literature, ‘Our meddling intellect — Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things; – We murder to dissect’. And indeed, this warning was not left unheeding by two of the key figures considered in the present volume. Namely, Nietzsche and Heidegger for whom our search for knowledge should resist being turned into an autopsy by which the inquirer is compelled to cut and dig within the entrails of the author’s corpus in order to bring to the light of the microscope elements of clarity concerning the ‘workability’ and soundness of the thought presented therein. Yet again, it will be argued that it often must be done in order to encounter the author, to find him or her and ‘understand’ the material. But can this only be achieved by means of analytical vivisection, by having blood on our hands? A difficult question to answer, without a doubt; but one that should not escape the contemporary philosopher’s scrutiny. As Heidegger himself noted, being no stranger to the complexity of this issue which Nietzsche’s works would have brought to his mind: ‘(…) in order to encounter [the author’s] thought, one must first find it’. And as both he and Nietzsche remarked, the task of the philosopher as well as that of the respectful and agile reader is not to re-cognise signs, ideas and fragments within the corpus of the author, but rather to encounter the thought of the author; and from this vivid encounter, to find the other’s thought only in order to lose it. Thus, opening ourselves to the possibility of thinking differently, of creating new images of thought and thereby even bring new life to a contemporary thought of finitude. But losing the thought of the author that inspires us does not mean discarding or leaving it behind as one would dispose of an inanimate object of inquiry. Rather, it implies leaving the thought of the author alive, to rest in its own enigmatic place awaiting future encounters from which could spring new thought, new possibilities of life. Here, the tact and obvious respect Winkler demonstrates with regards to the authors analysed in this book only too clearly suggest that such a path of thought has a place within contemporary academic writing; but it may also show that it could be pursued with a greater degree of intensity if it is to become ever more fruitful in the future.
 Celan, P. Entretien dans la Montagne [Gespräch im Gebirg]. Verdier (bilingue), Der Doppelganger. Lagrasse. 2001.
 Cf. Blanchot, M. Celui Qui Ne m’Accompagnait Pas. L’Imaginaire, Editions Gallimard, Paris. 1953.
 Winkler, Rafael. Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas, Nietzsche. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. 2018, p. xiv.
 Ibid. p. xvii.
 Sheehan, T. Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift. New Heidegger Research Series. Rowman & Littlefield Int. London. 2015, p. xvi.
 Winkler, R. Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche. Bloomsbury Press. London. 2018, pp. 1-2.
 Heidegger, M. Being and Time. Translated by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962 (first published in 1927), 3: 33–4.
 Winkler, 2018, pp. 6-9.
 Levinas mentioned in Winkler, 2018, p. 28.
 Heidegger cited in Winkler, 2018, p. 7.
 Winkler, 2018, p. xv. See also, pp. 15-19.
 Ibid. pp. 19-24.
 Ibid. p. 25.
 Ibid. pp. 25-26.
 Ibid. p. 46.
 Ibid. p. 45.
 Ibid. p. 55.
 Ibid. xii.
 Ibid. xvii.
 Ibid. p. 88-110.
 Ibid. p. 126.
 Keith Ansell-Pearson. Nietzsche’s Search for Philosophy – On the Middle Writings. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. 2018, p. 6.
 Martin Heidegger. Was heißt Denken? [Qu’appelle –t- on penser?], Trans. By Gerard Grand, 1959. PUF, Paris. , p. 50.
 Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche. UM, I, 6. pp. 36-7.