Rodolphe Gasché’s latest book Locating Europe: A Figure, a Concept, an Idea? is a collection of interrelated philosophical essays which employ the phenomenological and post-phenomenological traditions in order to answer the question of what it means to live in Europe or, to put it more precisely, what Europe means in itself. The fundamental premise of the text is that many today have taken for granted the ongoing layering process of meaning within Europe since Greek antiquity. Europe, as Gasché sees it, requires an intellectual recalibration in which it can come to terms with its prior heritage, overcome its past mistakes, and enable its hopes for the future. In today’s climate that is keen on pursuing either reparations for past mistakes or protections for previous agendas, it is altogether fitting to approach these judgments on theoretical grounds thus laying bare the inner motivations for guilt or defensiveness. In so far as Locating Europe: A Figure, a Concept, an Idea? answers the question in its own title it also helps us better understand political and cultural turmoil today. Importantly, what makes this text unique is that it is sophisticated enough to confront present problems in a manner that avoids hyperbole and remains rooted in philosophical insights. In other words, Locating Europe is a much-needed investigation of Europe’s role in not only strengthening appeals for progress and reform but also emboldening calls for self-criticism and reevaluation.
The book’s elevens chapters challenge older attempts at a phenomenology of Europe and reposition more recent ones. Indeed, as the title suggests, there are three basic sections to the text: Europe as a figurative meaning, Europe as a conceptual meaning, and Europe as an idea. Gasché constructs each sphere (i.e., figure, concept, or idea) and shows their implications in relationship to the past, present, and future. The overall argument is that Europe is more than a political or economic entity; it is a highly dynamic expanse in which all forms of life are embraced in thought and deed. According to Gasché, Europe is a mode of living and thinking which opens itself up to new beginnings and harnesses the discoverability of new paths despite threats of decay or degeneration. In the twenty-first century, some critics assert that Europe no longer has a legitimate place in the world due to its imperial projects since the onset of Western colonialism. Others, paradoxically, argue that Europe’s trajectory as a political project is too self-consumed in utopian ideals such as the European Union. Gasché rejects the false choice between dismissal and idealization by teasing out deep continuities in European culture that have remained since ancient Greece: “rationality, self-accounting, self-criticism, responsibility toward the other, freedom, equality (including for the different sexes), justice, human rights, democracy, and the list goes on” (ix). To question these values would be to question Europe itself.
Following Maria Zambrano’s line of thought, Locating Europe begins by showing that Europe’s origins come from the periphery, namely, Classical Greece and ancient North Africa. This preliminary point is integral. If it is true to say that Europe’s way of thinking and living is conducive to the ‘new’ or the ‘different’, then one must be able to locate these standards within the structures and narratives of Western thought. The point is to say neither that Europe is privileged in nature nor that it is monolithic in scope (xi). Rather, what is imperative is showing that the plane on which this issue is discussed and debated is itself a demonstration of what Europe’s inherent purpose is all about. In other words, the make-up of Europe as debatable, as contestable, as a forum of reflection serves as the self-evidence for its redemptive qualities for the purpose of “constant renewal” (xi). It is, thus, the perennial goal of Europe to maintain an unrelenting reflection of itself without which it could not achieve a conscious understanding of its traditional inspirations, creative aspirations, and lived ambitions.
So, what does it mean for Europe to be a figure, a concept, or an idea? Which rubric offers the best representational status? Gasché asserts that a figurative Europe revolves around notions of intuited spaces or interactive intelligible schemas such as “the archipelago, the horizon, or indistinguishable from light” (xiv). Or, perhaps Europe is more aptly understood as a concept linked to language development, idiomatic gestation, or universal communicative capacities. Lastly, Europe as an idea—which Gasché primarily focuses on as most feasible—manifests the highest form of representation in the sense that it provides a regulative function for understanding which “does not exhaust itself” and perpetually leaves open opportunity as a metaphysical possibility. As Gasché puts it: “It is, in particular, this identification of Europe as an idea that undergirds all the distinct essays collected in this volume, which also feature studies such as the intrinsic interweaving of the notion of Europe with the question of responsibility to the other, primarily Europe’s responsibility toward its twofold (and aporetic) heritage of Greek and Christian and Judaic thought” (xiv). In effect, by lending legitimacy to this last approach of Europe as an idea, Gasché allows for conceiving Europe in a more dynamic cognizable space.
Europe as a Figure
The first major section of the text involves three chapters: “Archipelago,” “Without a Horizon,” and “In Light of Light.” Though distinct in their own rights, each chapter coheres with the first proposition of Europe as a figure. “Archipelago” centers on the notion of plurality and diversity of figures as intrinsic to Europe’s trajectory and growth through history since its inception in the ancient Mediterranean world. For instance, drawing from the philosophy of Massimo Cacciari, the Archipelago stands as the perennial figure by which the dialogue of home and abroad, far and near, different and same all synchronize with one another to formulate an origin story of variance and similarity that can still account for progress. In other words, the ancient traditions which speak of an archipelago of nations, ports, and tribes co-existing with one another despite their differences and distances seems to suggest that it may very well still be possible today, especially in view of the fact that Us versus Them mentalities remain. The essential issue at hand is how Europe can account for basic individuality while at the same time foster interconnectivity. Can the figurative meaning of the Archipelago still be operative to answer urgent cultural questions of divisiveness today? Or, to put it in metaphysical terms: how can the part cohere with the whole, how can the One bond with the Many? For Gasché this possibility is rooted in a conversion, a movement to self-transcendence (6). Although this movement may come with the dangers of loss of identity, of conquest of the Other, or even inter-subjective friction, the very acceptance of this kind of fractious reality may be the key to unlocking a bright future. By accepting difference as fundamental to the origin of Europe—as seen in the Archipelago—then perhaps the notion of self-transcendence will appear all the more intelligible as a purposive task rather than an accidental fate.
“Without a Horizon” further expands the notion of spatial perception as it relates to Europe’s figurative meaning. Here, Gasché employs the philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy to explain the components and impediments latent in a ‘universal vision’ (15). If the gaze of the twenty-first century European is cast forward as a conscious aim, then it is also possible to redirect it as a lived reappropriation. ‘The look’ as construed by Nancy is that which can go beyond as well as move within. In short, the look has the deepest proximity with itself. “It is a seeing that before having the power of sight, ‘sees’ seeing nothing. It is seeing affected by itself in advance of all ‘itself’, and, hence, before all seeing that sees something particular” (16). Accordingly, the goal of self-identity is made further dynamic once realized as a perceptive consciousness endowed with the capacity to both look from itself as well as look at itself. In this way, the viewer can touch the vision and maintain intimacy with the act (17-18). More than this, the viewer stretches the outer limits of the horizon, thus, going beyond what was previously held to be a self-contained universal scope. In this way, the infinite becomes intelligible and the beyond appears possible. “At the extreme border of the horizon, the world appears in its horizonless infinity, a finite world, and hence an infinite one” (24). If there is a blind spot of the European gaze, then Europe need only to recast its look beyond the status quo horizon into darker untested spaces.
“In Light of Light” marks the final portion of the book’s first section. Though it moves in the direction of Europe as a concept, it nonetheless maintains the character of Europe a figure. Gasché starts by framing the chapter in terms of Husserl’s work “The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.” If Husserl is correct to assert that Europe is the idea of progress par excellence he inherently upgrades Europe to a conceptual level in which case the entity (i.e., Europe) represents the task of knowledge acquisition itself (i.e., philosophy or science properly construed). On the flip-side, however, perhaps Europe as an idea is nothing more than a spiritual figure with a mythical pregnancy and legendary birth. This philosophical dilemma, according to Gasché, is an intrinsic tension to Europe as figure, concept, and idea. Either Europe is a conceptual standard on universal grounds, or it is particular only to itself and its own figurative germinations. Gasché, therefore, employs Jan Patočka’s seminal work Plato and Europe in order to reorient Husserl’s conception of Europe from theoretical grounds toward more pragmatic attitudes. Patočka marks a departure from Husserl’s ‘things in themselves’ to a form of how things ‘present themselves’, most especially the human being (35). What was previously held to be non-real or non-phenomenological in the Husserlian sense now functions in a deeply human way that, as Patočka suggests, centers on the Greek conception of the soul. “The soul is what properly distinguishes the human being; that precise instance in us to which the totality of being shows itself, hence becoming phenomenon” (36). In so far as the soul is the ‘becoming’ of the human it is also that which summons a response and realization from the non-real to the real. In other words, the importance of the Greek conception of the soul was not so much its theoretical insights but rather the intimacy and transparency by which the human being manifests itself in the world through actualization. Furthermore, this manifestation process is the guiding light that the Greeks sparked first and through which hidden appearances become truly tangible. Just as the care of the soul persists, so, too, does the light continue to beam forth.
Europe as a Concept
The second set of texts deals with Europe as a concept. In “The Form of the Concept,” Gasché employs Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophy as a way to frame a conceptually robust representation of Europe by utilizing the phenomenon of ‘world-shaping’. For Gadamer, Europe’s role as an arbiter on the world-stage is more than simply a political or economic intervention; it is one that holds together the fabric of higher questions in which disagreement, synthesis, and transformative change can cohere with one another in a dynamic unity. Understood conceptually, Europe is the “differentiation that calls for science” as well as the “unifying power of science that allows differentiation to take place from within” (51). In short, a conceptual Europe is one that can account for the Other in a way that also enables a revivifying encounter with Oneself. Additionally, European philosophy and science have allowed for such progression since the birth of Greek theoria so that ‘higher questions’ maintain within themselves an inertia of enlightening proportions. Moreover, Indo-Germanic languages have facilitated a form of knowledge-seeking that relies fundamentally on the Western grammatical form. To the extent that meaning is extracted from its deep, hidden deposits by virtue of transmittable grammar, it also allows for its recognition as a continuous human affair. Literature, religion, and history testify to this reality in the sense that they all rely on a communicability which allows for the unfolding of the meaning in an intelligible manner—whether it be in the mold of storytelling, theological mystery, or accounts of human events. Europe as a civilization would not be what it is if it could not muster a unity between the diversity of disciplines. The form of Western disciplines is the center of gravity—the glue of togetherness—by which Europe can determine itself conceptually. “The discovery of the form of the concept is Europe’s most distinguishing trait” (57).
“Axial Time” relies on Karl Jaspers interpretation of the Axial Period, an era or event that goes to the historical root of itself. “The Axial Period is an empirically evident formation of meaning that can be intuited by everyone and can be understood as a measure against which to judge history” (67). Its purpose, or, rather its parameters, involves that of renewal or the process by which renewal can be an empirically possible reality. For Jaspers, the Axial Period is a Greek phenomenon in which for the first time Western man reached beyond itself into the realm of Being and participated in issues larger than natural life; moreover, it was mirrored by break-through ideas in the Middle East and Asia. It is “the emergence of the individual person in the shape of the philosopher, the traveling thinker, the prophet, and so forth” (69). However, Jaspers laments that twentieth century humankind has lost touch with this prior Axial Period. According to Gasché, this has occurred because modern man has forgotten that the conceptual project of Europe is as much tied to others (e.g., the East) in as much as it is linked to Europe (e.g., the West). What was so incredible about the Greek breakthrough is that it was carried forth and intimated in ways that resembled the Middle East and Asia. In so far as the Greeks vied to go beyond practical and mythical attitudes, so, too, did the great minds of the Eastern world. Though two distinct worlds, each sphere constitutes each other on a more profound level in which cohesions succeeds not because of isolation but by an appreciation of uniqueness. “In fact, it is a difference that is constitutive of Europe and implies the recognition that every spiritual phenomenon is divided, and comes to life only when the spiritual heeds the difference that divides it from within, thus establishing it in relation to another recognized as capable of truth” (83). The question is to what extent Europe can live up to its end of the bargain.
“Eastward Trajectories” encompasses nicely what the previous two chapters laid forth. In short, Gasché traces how major thinkers in the twentieth century shifted their philosophical lens to the East in order to improve what was most prized in the West. The principal example is Karl Löwith’s travels to Japan during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s and 1940s. Fundamentally, Löwith asserts that to grasp Europe conceptually in the modern moment requires that it be approached from the outside looking in. What is perhaps most surprising about his account is that the more he explored Japan the more that he realized the similarities between it and Europe. The spiritual affinities at the level of the natural world, the preoccupation with the cosmos, and mythical attitudes toward the divine each resembled structures which he found to be true also in Greek antiquity. Moreover, Löwith blames the ‘new Europe’ of the contemporary situation for forgetting these essential qualities of Europe’s origin story. In so far as hyper-nationalism parallels the grave travesties of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so, too, does a naïve self-love incur loss of identity on a metaphysical level. Simply put, what Europe lacks is an awareness of being wrong—of being conceptually mistaken. In dialectical terms, Europe is impoverished by its inability to accept that which is other and outside of itself—another consciousness without which its own consciousness could not realize itself (102). A renewed philosophical attitude “is predicated on a critical self-distancing of the human being that allows for a contemplation of this order in all its otherness, as other than the passing concerns of humans within the historical world, but that also makes it possible for human beings to be, as Hegel put it, with themselves precisely in being-other” (106).
Europe as an Idea
The third and final section of Locating Europe is that of Europe as an idea; it is the largest and most intellectually striking part of the book. Each chapter is preoccupied with the challenge of Europe as an idea which, for Gasché, is either a doubtful illusion or an empowering authenticity.
In “Feeling Anew for the Idea of Europe,” Gasché sets the stage for what an idea of Europe might possibly look like and if it can hold as the identity of Europe. Following Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive focus on difference, Gasché asserts that Europe as ‘a heading’ (i.e., trajectory) cannot ignore the possibility of there being another ‘heading’ that proliferates all around us in everyday terms (114). If the goal is to achieve an idea of Europe that can account for all modes of living and thinking, then perhaps it is worthwhile to destabilize the previous concept of Europe and bring about new ideas of it. In so far as Europe differs from its own Europe-ness as well as from Eastern cultures, it discovers what kind of identity it could be tomorrow rather than remain with its conceptual stagnation of yesterday. As Gasché writes: “It is about the always possible change of that identity” (116). In short, feeling for a new Europe amounts to what it is as much as what it is not. “Differently put, this feeling that registers an essential debt to the other heading, and the other of the heading, a debt so essential that the possibility of change is intrinsically tied into the positivity of identity, hence, that an element of unpredictability is inevitably part of identity, is the ‘new’ felt identity of what it means to be European” (117). Although Europeans may feel their identity, they feel it in differences and not in sameness. Alas, they have lost sight of what is unique about all perspectives available in the landscape of the everyday.
Gasché also permits the reader to consider Kant’s definition of the idea or, as the title of the next chapter suggests, ““An Idea in the Kantian Sense?.” The premise is that if Europe is a task to be fulfilled, then it follows that one must have ‘an idea’ of what needs to be done. In this way, Kant’s notion of the idea as regulative might shed some light; the idea is not self-contained slice of information but rather the ground for further reflection. Or, as Gasché defines it: “an idea in the Kantian sense is not only a representation to which no congruent sensory or empirical object corresponds but which, nonetheless, is necessary to the function of reason” (135). Kantian ideas supposedly maximize psychological space and push the boundaries by which reason can operate, irrespective of empirical reality. However, Gasché argues that to accept an idea of Europe in the Kantian sense presupposes that all regulation of reason succeeds in its aims towards systematic unity. In other words, Kant misunderstands that purposive unity cannot account for all thoughts and deeds; what it forgets is the everyday. And, to Derrida’s point, it is the everyday that Europe has forgotten.
“Responsibility, a Strange Concept” appears to be Gasché’s own way of answering the call to the everyday, suggested in the previous chapter. In short, this chapter demonstrates the inner complexity of an appeal to responsibility—meant absolutely as well as inter-personally. In this way, Europe might be better positioned to balance its heritage of moral philosophy, on the one hand, and current demands for decentering arcane laws of morality, on the other. The modern subject is indebted to previous notions, but it does not de facto obey them. “Our relationship to heritage is a critical relationship” (153). To render an ethics proper to the contemporary situation requires that it be put in doubt, that is, experimented and tested for its cultural endurance. If Europe is to have a future, it must be responsible. At the same, however, responsibility is not synonymous with obedience. Rather, it is more germane to the notion of response. By stepping outside of rules and duties and into the domain of intuitive contact, one opens up what a response could and ought to be. The goal is to meet the Other as the Other rather than to create or define them. Therein, lies the truth of responsibility.
Importantly, if the previous conception of responsibility is compelling, then it follows that Derrida’s phenomenological approach deserves more investigating. Or, to put it differently, what actually remains of Derrida’s deconstruction of Europe? Such is the subject-matter of “An Immemorial Remainder: The Legacy of Europe.” According to Gasché, there is something that remains with us from Derrida: “It is a legacy that concerns the formal possibility of legacy itself, or, more precisely, since without such remaining no such thing as a heritage would exist, it concerns the very (‘performative’) imparting of legacy itself” (169). What is crucial to the legacy of Derrida is the way in which he pushes abstraction into contestation with itself in order to render lived experience more conducive to the inter-subjective world. His goal is to open up a khora (i.e., a place of middle-ground) so indefinable yet indispensable that it resists appropriation and therefore remains a place of sacredness. Indeed, this place’s unconditional purpose is that of tolerance which respects singularity and allows for distance. Moreover, it is: “a place where each discrete singularity would be able to have a place, or rather, to take place” (188). For Gasché, the khora allows for the idea.
Having considered Gasché’s three options of Europe as figure, concept, and idea, it is necessary to point out a significant tension within the text. This tension is not an adverse feature of Gasché’s phenomenology, rather its appearance serves more as a reminder of the deep complexity within his question. Gasché admits that he is partial to the notion of Europe as an idea (xiv). However, he also confesses that if Europe is taken as an idea in the Derridean sense and not in the Kantian sense, then the stance leaves itself vulnerable to vague representation or naïve abstraction, even if the idea of Europe is grounded in responsibility to the Other as Other. “It reveals itself as incapable of sufficiently and adequately thematizing what responsibility is and must be,” he writes (165). In this case, the Derridean idea of Europe as responsible cannot provide logical cohesion for its future operations; it becomes mere accident. A proper idea of Europe would have to meet the richness of what Europe actually means. It would need to go beyond itself in this regard.
According to Gasché, it is precisely phenomenology itself that not only tolerates this dilemma but also is equipped to respond to it. In other words, to be able to identify the problem (e.g.., the idea of European decay) necessitates a discourse that can support this endeavor for all its intricacies, rather than subsuming the problem into traditional philosophical positions (e.g., Kant’s definition of the idea of reason). “This is the very reason why [phenomenology], more than any other one, has the necessary resources to think responsibility otherwise. Paradoxically, it is the motifs of giving and appearing that are so dominant in phenomenology that permit us to bring our attention to what it is in responsibility that necessarily escapes thematization and phenomenology itself” (166). Moreover, it is due to phenomenology that responsibility has attained such a championed status in the history of Western thought. “Given all that we have seen, it now seems obvious that if responsibility has been able to become a thematic priority in phenomenological reflection, then it is because the character of its response to a prior demand—one that emanates from the other— corresponds to a structure of phenomenal being insofar as the latter offers itself to an intuitive look and issues the demand to understanding as such that which then manifests itself” (164). The issue is not that Europe is an idea, the issue is what we have turned the idea of Europe into (216). “The end of Europe and the beginning of a post-European world makes it incumbent on Europe, which has understood itself so far from the idea of reason and universality, to revisit the concept of the idea with which it represented itself” (217). This is fundamentally the essential character of phenomenology in the twentieth and twenty-first century—to open up the totality of lived experience and enter into the various essences that comprise it for the betterment of each.
Overall, Locating Europe: A Figure, a Concept, an Idea? is a superb addition to the European phenomenological tradition. The collected essays demonstrate the multiple attitudes one might take in responding to the European question as well as defend the privileged role of phenomenology in reflecting on that question. In so far as the reader encounters divergent positions, they also become familiar with major streams of Western thought in a new and improved lens. Gasché further emboldens continental philosophy to assert its ability to ask profoundly urgent questions in the hopes of arriving at sound conclusions. Indeed, this text is a testament to the effort necessary to unveil the inner brilliance of such an approach.
Why study Central and Eastern European Phenomenology?
I. Introduction: The Geographies of Phenomenology
There have been conspicuous asymmetries in the historiography of local phenomenological traditions which are as unjust as they are pauperizing phenomenology in its entirety. Already the pioneering professional historian of phenomenology, Herbert Spiegelberg (1904-1990), a late-generation Munich phenomenologist who studied at Husserl in Freiburg in WS 1924/25, contributed dedicated studies on key episodes of the nascent Anglophone reception of phenomenology (see esp. Spiegelberg 1981, 105 ff., 144 ff.), and the research field has, in the meantime, matured enough to accommodate, e.g., a comprehensive survey of the institutional focal points and leading figures of North American phenomenology (Ferri 2019). In the recent decades, the historiography of Francophone phenomenology has developed into a genre on its own (see esp. Waldenfels 1983; Gondek and Tengelyi 2011), which is arguably on the verge of being a form of productive phenomenology in historiographical disguise (consider, e.g., the announcement of a purported “theological turn” of its subject matter, see Janicaud et al. 2000). Regardless of its creative ambitions, there also exists an exemplary historiographical study of the origins of Francophone phenomenology, written as early as in 1997 (Dupont 2014).
Other local branches of phenomenology proved less fortunate. Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge aim to remedy one of the most conspicuous omissions by charting the large terra incognita that lies east of the Central European phenomenological heartland on the imagined historical map of phenomenology. Geographical explorations have always been welcome parts of scientific endeavor, and maybe it is ample time for phenomenology, which turned from an iconoclastic philosophical revolution into a century-old philosophical tradition, to engage in comprehensive stocktaking, including the survey of its own geographical diversity. However, this raises the crucial question as to whether the historiography of local phenomenological traditions would become capable of enriching phenomenology in a direct and generally relevant way. The editors of the reviewed volume appear to think so, as they not only argue that the “survey of Husserl’s students from Göttingen, or from Freiburg, or Stumpf’s pupils from Berlin” (3) could provide us with East European phenomenologists in dire need of dedicated scholarly analyses, but the editors also emphasize the potential broader contributions of Central and Eastern European (CEE) phenomenology, respectively of its study, to phenomenology in general: The inhabitants of this white patch “confronted phenomenology with new schools in philosophy, e.g., the Prague school in linguistics, the Lvov-Warsaw School in logic, or the strain of irrationalism in Russian thought,” thereby fostering “a permanent dialogue and confrontation with these traditions” (5). The promise of cross-fertilization with local traditions undoubtedly constitutes one of the main rationale for studying the local varieties of intellectual traditions in general, but Płotka and Eldridge put forward another, more specific and simultaneously more phenomenological consideration in favor of including Central and Eastern Europe in the general historical narrative of phenomenology: The “lack of centre,” which is a peculiar feature of this geographical region, “resulted in pluralistic interpretations and reinterpretations of Husserl which were not dominated by any ‘standard’ reading” (6). The purported standard reading of Husserl is, the editors believe, epitomized by the case of Germany, where “the reception of Husserl was to some extent centralized, or dominated by such a reading” (ibid.). The latter claim might sound surprising, given the relatively low profile of phenomenology against other contemporaneous currents of thought in Germany, e.g., pre-war Neo-Kantianism, not to mention Husserl’s delayed academic career (his first full professorial appointment came only in 1916), and the sweeping rise of aphenomenological scientific philosophy in the post-1945 German philosophical climate. In fact, pre-1945 phenomenology, even in its heydays, is probably best regarded as a creative philosophical niche (especially in terms of its institutional footprint), the radiating philosophical and general scientific-cultural influence of which had much exceeded the number of its actual followers. But let us set aside the historiography of German-speaking phenomenology (by the way, writing the specific history of phenomenology in German-speaking countries, in contrast to the usual German-centric universal history of phenomenology, still remains an unfulfilled desideratum; not to mention the inexplicable lack of biographical attention dedicated to phenomenology’s founding fathers); and let us return to the subject matter of phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe.
I am inclined to concur with the editors that there is also a specifically phenomenological stake of studying CEE phenomenology (besides the usual legitimation of comparative investigations detailed above); albeit it might be less trivial to ascertain what this alleged benefit consists in. The review of the individual chapters in Section II below, thus, simultaneously serves the aim of identifying the purported larger stakes of studying CEE phenomenology. Finally, in Section III, I will try to directly address these general observations.
II. Individual Chapters: From an Eccentric Baron to the Passengers of the Philosopher Streamer and to a Magnum Opus lost in a Ghetto
Hynek Janoušek and Robin D. Rollinger’s study of the Prague roots of phenomenology – which, as the authors point out, reach as deep as Carl Stumpf’s Prague professorship between 1879 and 1884 (!) – is, as always, impressively well-informed and conceptually insightful. They introduce a fresh angle by contrasting Anton Marty (1847-1914), the doyen of the Prague School of orthodox Brentanoism, with baron Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932), an eccentric philosopher associated with the heterodox wing of Brentano’s disciples. Marty was not only self-avowedly unoriginal in transmitting Brentano’s doctrine, but he also constitutes a surprise counterexample to the conspicuous lack of progress in publishing Brentano’s Nachlass (see esp. Marty 2011; cf. Binder 2012). Based on these texts, the authors present Brentano’s idiosyncratic tripartite division of psychical phenomena into presentations, judgements, and emotive-volative acts. They skillfully contrast Marty’s reluctance to bestow object-presenting power to the acts of the third class with Ehrenfels’s less-studied theory of values. The object-presenting function of acts beyond presentations also played a prominent role in Husserl’s own development between the two editions of the Logical Investigations (cf. Melle 1990), which, in turn, is mirrored in Husserl’s correspondence with Marty that the authors analyze with an exemplary sensitivity towards its polyphonic historical subtexts.
Janoušek and Rollinger’s chapter is, regrettably, the only one dealing with phenomenology’s (pre)history prior to Husserl’s watershed first publication of the Logical Investigation in 1900-1901, respectively one of the very few parts of the book exclusively dedicated to pre-WWI phenomenology. It is not only that, as even the editors seem to admit (cf. 8), the School of Brentano constitutes an integral part of Early Phenomenology (extending, by the way, well into the 1930s); but the different political geography of pre-WWI Central Europe, especially the existence of the Habsburg Monarchy until 1918, created the preconditions of a shared cultural and scientific space, without which the eastward migration of phenomenology – or, maybe, its genesis in the first place (!) – would not have been possible.
One is even compelled to ask whether pre-WWI CEE phenomenology should be regarded as part and parcel of phenomenology per se? In terms of the geographical designator employed, one might wonder whether it would be better suited with regard to pre-war phenomenology to talk about Central European phenomenology (especially given the general prominence of German-speaking culture and philosophy at that time)? Conversely, whether and to which extent could the undeniably distinct philosophical and cultural identity of CEE phenomenology be regarded as a product of the political and life-world divisions introduced in the wake of the wars, most notably, the installment of the Iron Curtain?
The equally excellent chapter by Dariusz Łukasiewicz is dedicated to another branch of the early School of Brentano, namely the semi-heterodox Viennese student Kasimir (Kazimierz) Twardowski (1866-1938), even though the chapter’s temporal focus is shifted towards the first half of the twentieth century. The author intends to map the historical and conceptual interactions between not only Husserl and Twardowski, but also the Lvow-Warsaw School (LWS), “one of the first branches of analytic philosophy in the world” (37). Not unlike the authors of the previous chapter, Dariusz Łukasiewicz is also preoccupied with the ontological status of intentional objects, though he confined himself to theoretical acts. In exchange for this thematic limitation, his chapter involves a compelling metaphilosophical perspective, ranging from Jan Łukasiewicz (1878-1956) – who not only was a “Christian believer,” loyal “to the Roman Catholic Church in public,” but also believed “that logic and mathematics have their foundation in the divine mind” (48), even though he restraining this conviction from directly influencing his scientific research – to the “logical anti-irrationalism” (3) of the LWS, which, as Dariusz Łukasiewicz argued, still significantly differed from the standpoint of the Vienna Circle, insofar as metaphysical propositions were regarded by the former as “scientifically undecided,” rather than “cognitively nonsensical” (39).
However, the declared main aim of Dariusz Łukasiewicz’s chapter is to identify influences (including both unilateral influences originating from Husserl, as well as interactions and parallel developments) between Husserl’s early philosophy and the LWS. He seems to concur (see esp. 48) with an interpretative tradition in the Polish history of phenomenology, namely with the claim of Władysław Tatarkiewicz (1886–1980), according to which Twardowski’s Viennese habilitation thesis (Twardowski 1894) “inspired Husserl to reject psychologism” and “even stimulated the beginning of Husserl’s phenomenology” (43). At the same time, he claims (see 51 ff) that precisely his pronounced metaphilosophical framework prevented Twardowski from developing a detailed theory of states of affairs (Sachverhalten), in contrast with the developments around Husserl in Göttingen (cf. esp. Reinach 1911).
The question of influences undeniably stands in the focal point of the research in CEE phenomenology, since influences – especially ones purportedly originating from Eastward directions (as assumed by Tatarkiewicz’s original thesis) – would, all at once, solve the aforementioned problem of the relevance of studying the history of CEE phenomenology. This kind of solution, however, is too attractive and convenient to be true. For instance, and with all due respect to long-standing local interpretative traditions in the history of philosophy, Tatarkiewicz’s thesis about the origins of the content-object distinction (COD) is, at best, oversimplifying: Even though Husserl indeed penned a text he himself described an immediate “reaction to Twardowski” (Husserl 1994, I:144; cf. Husserl 1990); the development of his theory of intentionality between 1894 and the Logical Investigations in 1900/1901 is complex and far from being linear, not least due to the roots of COD at others members of the School of Brentano (e.g. Alois Höfler’s [1853-1922], cf. Höfler 1890), as well as Robert Zimmermann (1824-1898), the oft-ignored teacher of Husserl and other Brentanoists in Vienna. This clue is briefly mentioned, but left undeveloped by Dariusz Łukasiewicz (see 44), even though a broader survey of published and archival sources could further corroborate the non-Brentanoian roots of Husserl’s theory of intentionality (see also Varga 2014, 2015, 2018a). What renders this subordinated question of historical details especially important for the purposes of CEE phenomenology is, I think, that precisely these non-Brentanoian sources of Husserl’s philosophy represented the specifically CEE philosophy of the late nineteenth century (e.g., Herbartianism and the omission of German Idealism in general, cf. Sauer 1982).
In general, the historiographic model of simple causal »influences« – let them be uni- or bidirectional – will probably have to be refined, as already indicated by clues of a more nuanced understanding scattered in Dariusz Łukasiewicz’s sophisticated chapter (e.g.: “indirect reference to Husserl,” p. 41, n. 11; “partial” influence, p. 41; historical prejudices concerning a certain epoch of the history of philosophy, p. 45, n. 24 etc.). On the one hand, such a refined notion of »influence« designates an even broader fertile field of research for historians of CEE phenomenology. On the other hand, it could also prevent us from reducing the merits of CEE phenomenology to its purported direct influences on some canonical figures of the general history of phenomenology.
Natalia Artemenko’s thoughtful and thoroughgoing chapter not only moves the geographical focus further Eastwards, but her investigation of Gustav Špet (or Shpet; 1879-1937) also involves another promise – and, simultaneously, another methodological challenge – of mapping the potential contribution of CEE phenomenology: namely, the issue of isolated »towering figures« who were philosophically significant on their own (at least in their local cultures and under the constraints of their personal fates), but whose actual ties to the mainstream Phenomenological Movement were not always unambiguous, both in biographical and intellectual terms, as well as regarding their reception histories. While Artemenko acknowledges that Špet’s “early creative work […] lies in the wake of phenomenology” (already allowing for some “deviations;” 60); she argues that Špet’s oeuvre is best regarded as an example of “the synthesis of the humanities that emerged during the first half of the twentieth century” (ibid.). What makes Špet’s case intriguing is that the historical problem of his allegiance to the Phenomenological Movement (Špet studied at Husserl in Göttingen in 1912-1913) is, at the same time, a theoretical problem of the viability and outlook of his “conjunction of phenomenology and hermeneutics” (70). Similar projects aiming at the phenomenology of historical knowledge were also pursued by other phenomenologists in Husserl’s shadow (to name a less prominent example: Landgrebe 2010); but what distinguishes Špet’s one is its proximity to Husserl’s Ideas (Husserl 1913), not only temporally, but also in terms of Špet’s appropriation, though not entirely uncritical, of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology expounded therein, which infamously became the stumbling block for early phenomenologists around Husserl in Germany (even if, contrary to p. 62, the prize for the first monograph on Husserl’s Ideas goes, technically, to Eugen Enyvvari’s [1884-1959] fifty-five-pages-long book of descriptive nature: Enyvvári 1913). Špet, Artemenko believes, was “immersed in the tradition of humanistic thought (Dilthey, Schleiermacher)” (69) but “adhered” to Husserl’s “phenomenology” “in his hermeneutical studies” (67); thereby challenging the path famously taken by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). As Artemenko aptly remarks, this raises the question: “does the semantic history [of hermeneutics] coincide with the actual history and chronology?” (66.) It is all the more regrettable that the unfolding of Špet’s philosophy, as well as of its contemporaneous reception, were tragically precluded by the course of history; even if Artemenko, interestingly, regards Špet’s status as “ ‘outsider,’ […] not shackled by institutional constraints or disciplinary frameworks” (63) as a philosophically beneficial factor for him. In any case, it tells a lot about the Sitz im Leben of twentieth-century CEE phenomenology to compare the admittedly not entirely unhospitable conditions, under which Paul Ricoer (1913-2005) translated Husserl’s Ideas in Western prisoners of war camps (see Reagan 1996, 9 ff.), with Špet’s ill-fated attempt to re-translate Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit in a lager in Siberia.
The descriptive-phenomenologically dense and rewarding chapter by Alexander Kozin continues the thread of Russian contributions to phenomenology, even if its subject matter exemplifies a different, though not uncommon kind of biographical trajectory. Semyon Frank (1877-1950) was born and raised in an affluent Jewish family in Moscow. Around 1912, he became converted to orthodoxy; within one decade, he found himself aboard one of the two infamous Philosophy Streamers, which deported more than 150 members of the Russian intelligentsia – handpicked by Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) himself – from Petrograd (today’s Saint Petersburg) to Stettin (today’s Szczecin in Poland), where, unbeknownst to many, another series of misfortunes awaited them (see Chamberlain 2008).
While Frank is not customarily labelled as phenomenologist, Kozin argues that “Frank’s philosophical psychology is more phenomenological than it seems” (90); thereby Frank could belong to the series of thinkers embodying the intertwinement of CEE phenomenology and religious thought (more specifically in Frank’s case, “Christian idealism;” 76). In order to demonstrate this classification, Kozin analyses at length Frank’s phenomenological psychology of the soul, which involved not only Brentano and Husserl, but also Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). In an interesting footnote, Kozin claims, on the basis of referring to Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (first partial edition: Husserl 1936; unabridged critical edition: Husserl 1962), that “Frank anticipated Husserl’s appreciation of psychology as a discipline adjacent to phenomenology by its purpose and method.” (82, n. 7), since Husserl’s Crisis “points to psychology as one of the two ways into phenomenology” (ibid.). I think this insightful remark could be made even stronger on the basis of Husserl scholarship, insofar as Husserl, according to the received scholarly view, regarded the »way through psychology« as any one of three main types of introducing phenomenology philosophically (see its classical exposition: Kern 1962). In other words, Husserl was convinced throughout the entirely mature phase of his career that a pure (i.e., non-transcendental) psychology, if executed in a careful enough way phenomenologically, would necessarily transfigure into transcendental phenomenology (or, at least, lead us directly to the doorsteps of the latter). From this point of view, the envisaged historical parallel between Frank’s religious psychology of the soul and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology could acquire a deeply theoretical-philosophical underpinning.
The informative and sensitive chapter by Dalius Jonkus on the Lithuanian and Russian philosopher Vasily (or: Vosylius) Sesemann (1884-1963) also involves one of the main historical counterparts of phenomenology, namely Neo-Kantianism, especially its scientifically-oriented Marburg variant, as epitomized by Paul Natorp (1854-1924), with whom, by the way, Husserl sought to be on friendly terms, even if this friendship remained somewhat unilateral. According to Jonkus’ theses, Sesemann’s philosophy was “more associated with the phenomenological tradition rather than the Neo-Kantian one” (94); and, furthermore, Sesemann’s philosophy “is very close to Husserl’s own late project of genetic phenomenology, which Husserl developed within roughly the same timeframe” (109). While Jonkus’ reconstruction of Sesemann’s analysis of the significance of non-objectifying, pre-scientifical knowledge is convincing, this thesis hints at a serious challenge for the historiography of phenomenology in general, namely the lack of an effective two-way communication of ideas between the historical figures, especially the asynchrony between the inner development of Husserl’s thought and what his disciples, located in Germany or abroad, ascribed him as influence. After all, as seen above, already in the 1900s Husserl started working in the 1900s on the problem of non-objectifying presentation that involve domains of knowledge beyond pure logic (see already Melle 1990), not to mention that Husserl seems to have formulated the basic tenets of his genetic phenomenology already around 1910-1911 (see already Sakakibara 1997). In this regard, one could speak of the »synchronicity of non-synchronicities« within the history of phenomenology. Of course, what it implies for us is only to double-down our efforts at writing the history of phenomenology. It also belongs to the merits of Jonkus’ chapter that he also takes into account possible lateral connections between early phenomenologists (involving not only Max Scheler [1874-1928] but even Dietrich von Hildebrand [1889-1977], see 100).
The impressive chapter by Marek Piwowarczyk is dedicated to Roman Ingarden (1893-1970). There is, Piwowarczyk observes, a tectonic movement taking place in Ingarden scholarship, insofar as “now his ontology and epistemology” comes to the fore (instead of “his work on aesthetics;” 111), which goes hand in hand with a change in scholarly audience: “analytic philosophers” nowadays “seem to be more interested in the Ingardenian legacy than phenomenologists” (114). I wonder whether this shift is not entirely unconnected to a certain general waning of Ingarden’s fame in the phenomenological pantheon (even though he still counts as one of, if not the most known CEE phenomenologist, especially as we become more and more distant from the core scholarly community of present-day phenomenologists). In any case, Piwowarczyk’s study of Ingarden’s early works (up to Ingarden’s habilitation thesis) undoubtedly transcends the old rigid dichotomy between analytical philosophy and phenomenology: it combines a meticulous conceptual and philological analysis (he is aware, e.g., of Ingarden’s “change of mind” between the “first and second parts” of a text; 177) with general references to the scientifical-philosophical mainstream views of that time (cf. 115). In his hands, Ingarden’s “youthful theory of the objects” manifests itself as a theory that is not only distinctly different from its version at the mature Ingarden, but maybe even exemplifies a “sui generis doctrine” (125) that cannot be directly classified under any of the textbook object theories that gained currency in contemporary analytical philosophy (cf. 118 ff.).
The informative chapter by Viorel Cernica on Nae Ionescu (1890-1940), who studied at Husserl around 1913-14 (cf. 129), and Romanian phenomenology in general is important not only because it further augments the picture of local sub-histories of phenomenology, but also because it touches upon a topic that animated the interest in phenomenology in CEE and beyond, namely religion and metaphysics (not to mention their »grafting« onto phenomenology by Martin Heidegger). According to Cernica, Ionescu could legitimately be regarded as phenomenologist, because, even though his oeuvre undoubtedly belongs “to a metaphysical way of philosophizing, he carries it out with phenomenological techniques from Husserl’s toolbox” (137). Intriguing elements of this toolbox include the phenomenological ontology of images and the issue of “virtuality” (133), respectively intentional modifications in general; while the open questions raised by Ionescu’s approach and Cernica’s interpretative thesis range from the long-standing debate on whether phenomenology should be considered as a system of doctrines or, rather, as a mere method to the question of theistic intentionality – in this regard, Cernica rightly invokes Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological theology (see 139) – and to the historiographical questions of school formation and philosophical lineages. In the latter regard, Cernica mentions that Ionescu himself instructed some of his own pupils to study phenomenology in Germany in the 1930s (cf. 142), which hints at a certain generational dynamism – in phenomenological parlance: generativity – in the encounters between CEE and global (German) phenomenology. In each of these facts, Cernica’s chapter manifests the richness of the Romanian local sub-history of CEE phenomenology, as well as the exemplary intensity of interest in phenomenology by present-day philosophers in Romania.
The chapter by Uldis Vēgners on the Latvian phenomenologist Theodor Celms (1893-1989) is well-researched and philosophically engaging. While Vēgners definitely maintains an independent scholarly profile with regard to Celms (see, e.g. Vēgners 2012), he also stands on the shoulders of giants: one can but wish that all CEE phenomenologists would be devoted as much scholarly attention as Celms, who is not only subject of a several research articles but there also exists a scholarly edition of his selected writings in German. The other side of the same coin is that Celms, as acknowledged by Vēgners (see esp. 147), stands in the intersection of complex historical and philosophical identities: he could be equally well regarded as member of the Freiburg Phase of Early Phenomenology (after all, he studies at Husserl in Freiburg in the 1920s), not to mention his explicit ties to unambiguously non-phenomenological philosophers (to begin with, Celms obtained his doctoral degree in 1923 under the supervision of Josef Geyser [1869-1948] who, even though Vēgners did not mention this, was a Catholic philosopher explicitly committed to philosophia perennis and his professorship was officially a Catholic chair, see, e.g., Husserl 1994, VIII: 163, n. 6). What I find particularly fascinating is that prior to 1928, Celms had been working on interpreting “Husserl’s phenomenology as transcendental historism” (146). Together with the aforementioned Ludwig Landgrebe and Gustav Špet, there seems to have been a forgotten strain of phenomenological hermeneutics – i.e., Husserlian phenomenology of history and interpretation – with a noteworthy considerable CEE involvement, which is completely overshadowed by Dilthey-Heidegger-Gadamer lineage, not to mention the charges of Husserl’s lack of sensitivity towards history which were circulating already amongst his contemporaries.
Vēgners’ chapter is, however, dedicated to another facet of Celms’ oeuvre, namely his involvement in the ill-fated Idealism-Realism Debate, which erupted already in Göttingen by 1913 at the latest and which, sadly, led to the deterioration of the personal and professional relationships between Husserl and his disciplines and, possibly, to the demise of classical phenomenology as such (and the subsequent rise of Heidegger’s fame). In this debate, Celms is customarily perceived as a comrade-in-arms of the realist Göttingen phenomenologists, but Vēgners also argues that Celsm, on the basis of his philosophical allegiances and occasional writings, “actually might not have been a phenomenologist anymore, but rather a critical realist” (149) by that time. He provides a meticulous analysis of Celms’ standpoint and arguments. It belongs to Vēgners’ virtues that he pays special attention to the reception of Celms, including not only the historical thesis that Celms was behind the anonymous objections to which Husserl replied in his Fifth Cartesian Meditation, but also the discussion of Celms 1928 book by his contemporaries, in which CEE phenomenologists, too, played a fully legitimate role. Interestingly, the issue of phenomenological hermeneutics returns twice: First, Vēgners conjectures that Celms’ “turn was a consequence of his realization that Husserl’s phenomenology does not lead to transcendental historism as he previously believed” (149). The second promising lead is constituted by Vēgners’ discussions (see 155-156) of Celms’ idea of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology being a “Lebensphilosophie” (155), more precisely an “absolute biographism” (156).
That said, I disagree with the way Vēgners, in the introduction of his chapter (145 f.), equates phenomenological reduction and transcendental idealism (following in the footsteps of the old Munich interpretation by Eberhard Avé-Lallemant and others). I think that the former is a method of avoiding explanatory circularities (see the masterly interpretation: Lohmar 2002) and the latter is a standpoint vis-à-vis the classic metaphysical question regarding the priority of opposite poles (usually the world and the sense-giving ego). This sense of transcendental idealism is, I think, well expounded in the texts of the recent volume of Husserliana on transcendental idealism (Husserl 2003), which might have been a good addition to Vēgners’ bibliography. By the way, it also makes the historical case that Husserl already arrived at idealism in around 1908 (while the discovery of reduction is customarily dated at 1906).
The exemplary chapter by Witold Płotka on Leopold Blaustein (1905-1942/1944) explores a “rather unknown” (164) actor of CEE phenomenology and his contribution to aesthetics, another neighboring discipline of core phenomenological philosophy (which Blaustein, in a fascinating way, also applied to the new media of his age: “radio” and “cinema;” 180). Blaustein’s intellectual biography epitomizes the multifaceted and, more often than not, ruptured nature of CEE phenomenology: born in a Polish-Jewish family in Lemberg in Galicia (then part of the Habsburg Empire; during Blaustein’s adult life: Lvov in Poland; today Lviv in Ukraina), his philosophical allegiances ranged from Twardowski and the LWS to Husserl, at whom he studied in Freiburg in 1925, and to orthodox members of the School of Brentano, e.g., Alexius Meinong (1853-1920). He never assumed a teaching position at a university and died, together with his wife, a fellow disciple of Twardowski, and their child in the Lvov Ghetto (it is also possible that he took his own life). His German “magnum opus” (165), entitled Die ästhethische Perzeption (The Aesthethical Experience), was also lost in historical calamities.
Płotka’s masterful chapter is a match for the complexity Blaustein’s biography and oeuvre: It is not only that Płotka offers a meticulous reconstruction of the circumstances of Blaustein’s encounter with Husserlian phenomenology (up to the question as to exactly which portions of Husserl’s lecture courses were attended by him, cf. 166, esp. n. 4), as well as his philosophical standpoint on the basis of his extant Polish doctoral dissertation of 1928 and other minor writings (including Blaustein’s review of Ingarden). As if that were not enough, Płotka goes on to reconstruct a possible Husserlian counter-critique of Blaustein’s critique of Husserl, based on not only Ingarden’s own critique of Blaustein and what Blaustein could have learnt from his studies at Husserl (cf. 175), but also on the most recent text on Husserl’s eidetical phenomenology (Husserl 2012), not yet available to many of the scholars writing about Blaustein (not to mention Blaustein himself). Blaustein’s misconstruction of eidos as “transcendent timeless object” (174) is, Płotka argued, ultimately rooted in a combination of specific and general misinterpretations: e.g., overseeing the iterative closure operation of eidetical intuition, as well as a general ignorance of the proper nature and vistas of transcendental-constitutive phenomenology. Just one side remark: it might also be interesting to assess the possible consonance between Blaustein’s proposal of anti-eidetical phenomenology as a “descriptive science of types […] of lived experiences” (as quoted on p. 167) and the understanding of eidos as intuited type (Typus), as proposed by the interpretation devised by Dieter Lohmar (see, e.g., Lohmar 2005), in contrast to the interpretation by Rochus Sowa (see already: Sowa 2008), upon which Płotka’s analysis relied.
Płotka goes even further, insofar as he proceeds to locate the own merits of Blaustein’s aesthetical theory, using philosophically tricky edge cases of intentionality (mathematical objects possessing too many sides to be intuited, nested pictures etc.). In sum, Płotka’s chapter aptly demonstrates that historical and philosophical-thematical sensitivities are far from being mutually exclusive alternatives in approaching the history of philosophy.
The chapter on Jan Patočka’s (1907-1977) early confrontation with Husserlian phenomenology by Karel Novotný is yet another masterful contribution in an excellent volume. In fact, it is safe to regard Patočka as the currently most studied CEE phenomenologist and Novotný as not only one of Patočka’s most skilful interpreters but also as one of the major voices of contemporary phenomenology eastwards of Germany. The philosophical and historical analyses and the textual basis of the chapter are correspondingly dense (to begin with, it relies on writings of Patočka first published posthumously only in 2014 and even then, only in Czech). Patočka was “the first in the Czechoslovakia to” (189) introduce Husserl’s ideas but, in contrast to his fellow philosophers with same epitheton ornans throughout CEE (as presented in the reviewed volume), Patočka was also keen to embrace Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as well. I dare to think that the latter fact is not entirely unrelated to his later ability to put forward an original philosophical oeuvre that deserves a place in the global canon of twentieth century philosophy in general. At the same time, Patočka was also not devoid of an interest towards Lebensphilosophie, another recurring thread of CEE phenomenologists in the reviewed volume. It must also be said, in defence of Patočka’s fellow CEE phenomenologists, that the Czech philosopher was fortunate in two key respects: (1) he had a privileged access to Husserl’s mature research manuscripts (see esp. p. 191, n. 6 and p. 192, n. 7), which enabled him, inter alia, to harmonize Husserl’s mature genetic phenomenology – that not infrequently speaks of »transcendental life« – with the pretensions of Lebensphilosophie; (2) his habilitation thesis late (and well-informed) enough to investigate the published fragment of Husserl’s last book torso, the Crisis (Husserl 1936), which is not only the most accessible amongst Husserl’s mature published writings (in 1937, Husserl himself deemed his previous book nearly incomprehensible, see Husserl 1994, IV:60), but also promising thematically.
The novel texts discussed by Novotný manifest “fundamental change” in Patočka’s understanding of Husserl’s genetic-transcendental phenomenology (Patočka as quoted by Novotný, p. 197); and, according to Novotný’s central and significant interpretative thesis, in is this “novel interpretation” upon which the post-war writings “that garnered Patočka the most fame as original philosopher with innovative views […] were grounded” (201). This tectonic change stems from Patočka’s quest for a “pristine” coincidence “between subject and object enclosed within itself” (Patočka as quoted by Novotný, p. 197), on the basis of which special experience (“lacking the very possibility of distance;” 199), Novotný argues, Patočka developed a non-subjective version of the transcendental-phenomenological correlation that became productive when, in the post-war period, Patočka once again resumed his intellectual investment in the philosophy of life. In this regard, it might be interesting to draw a comparison with the contemporaneous ideas of Eugen Fink (1905-1975) who, in an even closer personal proximity to Husserl, also experimented in a similar, though more overtly metaphysical form of closure of the subject-object movement in the form of his ambitious notion of the meontic absolute. Even though the declared scope of Novotný’s chapter prevents him from dwelling upon Patočka’s biography, it is worth mentioning for the sake of foreign readers that Patočka’s life, too, ended prematurely at the merciless hands of history: the septuagenarian philosopher had to become hospitalized and died after being interrogated by the secret police due to his involvement in the Charta 77 anti-communist civil rights movement.
The last chapter of the book, written by Dragan Prole on the Zagorka Mićić (1903-1982), not only casts light on a lesser-known local sub-history of phenomenology, but it is also of paramount importance because Mićić is the only woman amongst the protagonists of the reviewed volume (apart from the passim reference to Eugénie Blaustein née Ginsberg; cf. 165).
It is generally acknowledged that Early Phenomenology, especially the circle of disciples around Husserl in the late Göttingen and early Freiburg years, was at the forefront of academic emancipation of women. Several of the female early phenomenologists – most notably Edith Stein (1891-1942) and Hedwig-Conrad Martius née Martius (1888-1966) – embarked on philosophical careers on their own and the academic hindrances they encountered in doing so, e.g., the refusal of Stein’s repeated habitation attempts, were, I think, outside of the scope of control of the core Phenomenological Movement (at least, when it comes to the scope of Husserl’s direct influence). From this point of view, it might be desirable to address this aspect of CEE phenomenology in more detail, as I am convinced that CEE phenomenology was in no way inferior to its global counterpart in this regard.
Prole thankfully introduces a refreshing angle into presenting the early reception of phenomenology in the inter-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia, insofar as he discusses the broader political and cultural debates in the wide-ranging and often contradictory contexts of which the reception process took place. Not unlike the intellectual preconditions in other countries (the German heartland included), the pioneers of phenomenology in Yugoslavia were, Prole wrote, philosophers who “no longer believed in the mere appropriation of inherited forms” (206). It also belongs to the virtues of Prole’s chapters that he takes into account the explicitly theological strain of the early reception of phenomenology (curiously or not, phenomenology was fiercely opposed by Jesuits on the grounds that it “embodies the Protestant longing for the truth and the real world;” 207).
Mićić’s private studies at Husserl and Fink – in early 1935 (see Husserl 1994, IV:373, n. 219) or in 1934 (cf. 210) – dated at the less-documented period when only a seclusive tiny group of disciples remained around Husserl (in exchange, Mićić had easier access to Husserl’s Crisis that was published in an exile journal precisely in Belgrade). Mićić’s dissertation, originally defended in 1934, was published three years later, thus she was able to utilize Husserl’s book published in the meantime (Husserl 1936), not to mention her “personal communication” with Husserl, as well as the ability “to consult a wealth of Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts” (209). The threads of the chapter’s investigation join in Mićić’s claim that the exposition of transcendental phenomenology must pay a greater attention to history (cf. 211). In doing so, she self-avowedly diverged from Fink’s views – who contributed a separate preface to her book – with regard, e.g., to the possibility of motivating or criticising phenomenology from an external, non-phenomenological standpoint (while she simultaneously participated replied to a fierce external critique of Husserl by one her compatriots). Ironically, the young doctoral student whose dissertation had, until now, buried by being written in a non-Western language (not to mention its place of publication), could have been closer to Husserl’s own specific understanding of the methodology of his mature phenomenological philosophy, than Eugen Fink, Husserl’s privileged assistance and co-philosophizing partner in Freiburg. It is, thus, not only the circumstances of her life that, I think, should make translating her original doctoral dissertation into English or German into one of the top priorities of scholarly efforts dedicated to CEE phenomenology (besides expressing our gratitude to Prole for filling the gaps of our knowledge about Mićić).
III. General Remarks: The Movement without a Centre?
It is hard to overstate the merits of Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge in putting together this volume. For international readers, it is also worth highlighting that Witold Płotka not only maintains a strong scholarly profile in researching the history of phenomenology in Poland (see, e.g., Płotka 2017), but – through his enthusiasm, commitment, and professionalism – he is one of the main driving forces behind the current fortunate revival of cooperation between younger CEE phenomenologists (following in the footsteps of similar earlier revival attempts undertaken by the previous scholarly generations in this region, several meritorious representatives of them are included amongst the contributors of the reviewed volume). For a venture of this kind, it is only natural that the reviewed volume did not attain an exhaustive enumeration of the history of CEE phenomenology, either geographically or temporally or in terms of senior contemporary representatives of phenomenology in this region (as far as I am aware of it, what came closest to such an attempt was the enumeration of the local traditions of phenomenology in the entries of Lester Embree’s [1938-2017] encyclopedia: see, e.g., Mezei 1997). It also goes without saying that the selection and weighting of historical figures in such a volume do not exactly correlate with the full historical canon of CEE phenomenology (not least because the complete exploration of the latter still remains a scholarly desideratum). While many of the omitted historical figures are buried by their primary and secondary literature being available only in local languages; there is, in a welcome change, a growing body of scholarly editions and research literature on CEE phenomenology in Western languages. In their introduction, the editors mention some of these publications which might help augmenting the historical picture provided by them (e.g., Zoltán Szalai’s German monograph [Szalai 2017] on the Hungarian-born Wilhelm Szilasi [Szilasi Vilmos; 1889-1966] who was teaching at the chair of philosophy in Freiburg, once assumed by none else than Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger). Let me mention only one further piece of writing in this regard (Vydrová 2020), both for the sake of its methodological sensitivity and as a representative of the local phenomenological and interpretative traditions in the CEE region not covered by the reviewed volume.
One general aspect that the readers might find underexposed in the reviewed volume is, though, the presentation of CEE phenomenology’s deep embeddedness in its multifaceted historical, political, and social contexts (some of these possible contexts were specially emphasized above in the present review essay). Perhaps we can attribute this underexposure to phenomenology’s deep-seated aversion against a historical approach to philosophy: “the mathematician too will not turn to historical science,” Husserl once thundered in his ill-fortunate Philosophy as rigorous science, “[…h]ow, then, is it to be the historian’s task to decide as to the truth of given philosophical systems” (Husserl 1911, 325–326; quoted translation: Husserl 1965, 126)? But this heritage should not necessarily bind the historians of CEE phenomenology, especially since investigations of these rich contexts could serve as a bridge between scholars of phenomenology and other disciples in humanities and social sciences. What I find particularly fascinating in this regard is the fact that the reception of phenomenology fulfilled different, sometimes even diametrically opposed roles in this region, especially in the Eastern Bloc states. For instance, it is instructive to compare the role classical phenomenology played in the thinking of, say, Karol Wojtyła (Pope St John Paul II; 1920-2005; cf., e.g., Gubser 2014, 188 ff.) vis-à-vis some members of the Budapest School around Georg Lukács (1885-1971), see: Vajda 2016. This variety of phenomenology’s multifaceted political involvements and social contexts – in which respect CEE phenomenology might be ahead of its more fortunate Western counterpart – seems like a worthy and promising subject matter of further scholarly investigations.
CEE phenomenology has, since its inception, been haunted by its geographic and linguistic fragmentation, resulting in a strange form of compartmentalized parallel sub-histories of phenomenology in this region, with little vertical integration between its strains, except for the Western (i.e., German and French) tradition of phenomenology being their common origin and contemporary points of reference. Curiously, one of the rare counterexamples to this peculiar twist of reception history took place precisely due to the now-forgotten dialogue between phenomenology and Eastern bloc Marxism that might be worthy of further scholarly attention (see, e.g., Waldenfels et al. 1977 and the subsequent volumes), including the general institutional substructure of philosophical exchange of ideas within the Eastern bloc (e.g., the regular symposia in the island of Korčula in the then relatively permissive Yugoslavia). It also goes without saying that the unfolding of the full promise inherent in CEE phenomenology has been further impeded by the multifaceted calamities of history in this region, as well as its comparative lack of academic and general cultural and societal resources. The latter issue, arguably, still persists today, even if only to a lesser degree; and we can but hope that history will not repeat itself in the former respect.
From a scholarly point of view, there is, however, a further scientific factor that impedes the historiography of CEE phenomenology, namely yet incomplete task of writing the history of CEE philosophy in the first place. Given its similarly fragmented and compartmentalized nature, as well as its incomparably broader scope, this task present itself as an even more demanding and, more often than not, a thankless job. To cite a specific local example: The nineteenth and twentieth century Hungarian philosophers frequently questioned whether Hungarian philosophy existed at all, referring to the specifically anti-philosophical nature of their supposed national character (see Steindler 1988), which, of course, amounts to a form of performative contradiction, ultimately rooted in the tension of philosophical creativity versus reception (cf. Perecz 2003). At the same time, the “chimaera of the concept of national philosophy” is, at least from a historiographic-scholarly point of view, probably better accommodated within the framework of a comparative history of CEE philosophy and its neighboring disciples, e.g., literature (Mester 2012, 271); and exploratory research (e.g., Varga 2020) may still be needed in many areas. Yet, non-phenomenological historical figures could shed light even on the (pre-)history of global phenomenology (see, e.g., Alexander 2018; cf. Varga 2018b). In sum, even though the actual intricacies of CEE history of philosophy might vary from region to region and from language to language, it could be safely assumed that neither of them constitutes an easy historiographical prerequisite for writing the history of the corresponding local chapter of phenomenology that is to be embedded in it (not to mention the problem of their comparative investigations).
Interestingly, an analogous problem arises within the history of German philosophy: Rather than being a creatio ex nihilo, phenomenology originated from the oft-ignored historical context of late nineteenth century post-Hegelian German academic philosophy (Universitätsphilosophie). This period has, for long, been overshadowed by an alternative canon of the history of nineteenth century German philosophy after Hegel, the monumental protagonists of which were proto-existentialist and left-Hegelian thinkers (as presented emphatically by, e.g., Löwith 1941). This scholarly situation is gradually changing (cf., Köhnke 1986; Beiser 2014), even though comparatively less attention is paid to finding the place of phenomenology within this new paradigm of post-Hegelian German philosophy (cf. Varga 2016a; a case study on the role of the hitherto forgotten nineteenth century logician Christoph von Sigwart [1830-1904]: Varga 2016b). In this regard, the compartmentalized pre-histories of CEE phenomenology can serve as instructive example for the historiography of phenomenology in general. There is, however, more to it, insofar as CEE phenomenology could bring more to global phenomenology.
As I said above, I disagree with the editors’ assessment that CEE phenomenology were a “pluralistic movement which we cannot reduce to a few research centres” (5). I disagree because I think it applies not only to CEE phenomenology, but, a fortiori, to global phenomenology as well. Setting aside the historical question concerning the weight of the Phenomenological Movement in pre-war and inter-war periods of German philosophy; it is a well-known phenomenon of contemporary academic philosophy that phenomenology (especially its classical core), is to a large extent, sustained by an intense interest in it by scholars on the peripheries, rather than at the academic centers in Western world – i.e., the nominal centers of phenomenology – which are, with some honorable exceptions, dominated by Analytical Philosophy or other branches of contemporary nonphenomenological philosophy. Central and Eastern Europe, esp. the former Eastern bloc, is, of course, not the only such periphery (in this regard, one should definitely mention Far East and South America as well); but it is undoubtedly one of the regions whose historically rooted, rejuvenating enthusiasm for phenomenology contributes to keeping phenomenology at the forefront of contemporary philosophy. It is through the laudable and courageous achievement of Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge, as well as their authors that this lesson – and with it, the special legacy of CEE phenomenology, namely the heightened sensitivity towards historical and thematical ruptures – is brought to our attention once again.
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* Page numbers without further bibliographical specifications refer to the reviewed volume. If possible, I only cite literature that is not mentioned in the reviewed volume.