Aurélien Djian’s monography with the title Husserl et l’horizon comme problème sets out to render a systematic account of the concept of the horizon in the framework of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. It seeks to both show in what sense the horizon is crucial to such a transcendental phenomenology, which according to Djian is necessarily a constitutive phenomenology, and to describe the historical development of the horizon in its interplay with the general framework of this transcendental phenomenology. In this way the unity, the particularity and the importance of this concept in constitutive phenomenology will appear.
The work, published in 2021, is built upon the author’s doctoral thesis from 2017 with the title L’Horizon comme Problème. Within his doctoral thesis Dijan also refers to the concepts of horizon in Heidegger, Gadamer and French Phenomenology (Levinas, Henry, Marion), while the focus of this monography lies exclusively on Husserl. The relevance of such a study, analyzing exclusively Husserl’s understanding of the horizon, stems, as Djian notes in the introduction, from the general lack of large-scale systematic works attempting to understand the Husserlian horizon. The only exception Djian mentions is Salius Geniušas‘ The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Djian characterizes Geniušas’ book as one that attempts to show the compatibility between the Husserlian and the hermeneutic horizon, thus distinguishing it from his own endeavor. However, there is indeed one more systematic work on Husserl’s concept of the horizon to be found – namely, Roberto Walton’s Intencionalidad y Horizonticidad („Intentionality and Horizonality“). Most probably, Djian was unaware of this study as it was published in Spanish and has not been translated yet. Nonetheless, Djian’s work constitutes a long-needed complementation to the still underresearched topic of Husserl’s concept of the horizon, even without referring to Walton’s book.
As a whole, the book is divided in two parts: While the first part is dedicated to the first appearance of the concept of the horizon in Husserl’s writings, even independent of the term `horizon´ itself, and its subsequent generalization, the second part of the book investigates different interactions between the emergence of the horizon and several phenomenological operations, such as the phenomenological reduction, the eidetic variation and the intentional analysis. The two focal points of this study, the emergence of the concept of the horizon and its consequences regarding the main operations in phenomenology, allow Djian to reasonably and systematically limit the scope of the investigation: Within the introduction to the second part Dijan himself points out the need of further analyses, concerning every specific horizon that corresponds to each of the different constitutive correlations, that remain excluded from this study.
The author presents his main thesis in the introduction: Namely, that the concept of the horizon plays a central role in Husserl’s constitutive phenomenology, as it is necessary for the constitution of a synthetical unity of sense in a manifoldness (Djian speaks of multiplicité, the original Husserlian term is Mannigfaltigkeit) of consciousness. To characterize this constitutive phenomenology that implies the need for the horizon, Dijan takes the concept of phenomenon to be key, understanding phenomenology hence as „a universal eidetic science of the correlations of the phenomenon“ (16). As he acknowledges, such a conception of phenomenology excludes Husserl’s work before the so-called transcendental turn, marked by the systematic introduction of the phenomenological reduction and first developed publicly and systematically in The Idea of Phenomenology from 1907. That is, Djian presents the concept of the horizon as central to Husserl’s constitutive phenomenology, and its hypothetical role in any prior phenomenology remains excluded from his study.
Accordingly, he depicts to what extent it is possible to speak of a distinctly constitutive phenomenology within the first chapter. To this end, he maps out the central argument of The Idea of Phenomenology, which presents such a constitutive phenomenology for the first time. By means of this, the synthesis of a manifoldness of consciousness can be described, hence constituting the unity of sense of the intentional object. This is then the crucial innovation that will require the concept of the horizon.
However, the term `horizon´ does not appear in The Idea of Phenomenology, nor does it appear in Thing and Space, i.e. the lectures that were introduced by The Idea of Phenomenology. Still, Djian argues in chapter 2 that there are two other terms that already contain the concept of the horizon within Thing and Space: Namely, the concepts of improper apparition [Uneigentliche Erscheinung] and halo [Hof]. The improper apparition refers to the empty intention by which the subject means [meinen; viser] something more than is properly perceived, hence operating the intentional unity of the thing. Such an intentional unity is at the same time a temporal unity, given that this meaning intention includes that which just passed and that which is now to come. The halo, on the other hand, refers to the empty intention that describes the possible, motivated by the empirical types of the correlation between kinesthesia and perception. In this way, both halo and improper apparition are necessary to constitute the actual and possible identity of the thing, and manifest at the same time the surplus of empty intentions that qualifies any external perception as inadequate.
The notion of the horizon itself appears only in Ideas I. This is, however, not the only important event that Dijan describes in the third chapter. Rather, while the concept of the horizon only appeared locally in Thing and Space, as its validity was limited to external perception, that is, to the constitution of the thing, Djian argues that a generalization and a systematization of the horizon can be observed in Ideas I. The generalization consists of the elevation of the horizon to become a universal structure of pure consciousness. How exactly does this elevation manifest itself? First, by means of the horizon of temporality, in which it is the horizon that enables succession and simultaneity; and second, by means of the horizon of inactual (inaktuell; inactuel) intentionality. This leads to the systematization of the horizon, as every non-accomplished intentional lived experience [Erlebnis; vécu] is now grouped under the title `horizon´. In this way, any lived experience can become the horizon of any other cogito, given that they are connected horizonally in the same flux of experience. However, Dijan distinguishes this broader sense of the concept of horizon from a narrower sense, the functional horizon, which is limited to those horizons that belong to the same synthetic unity.
In the second part of the book, stretching from chapter 4 to 6, the author studies the methodological repercussions of such a generalization of the horizon. The first of these repercussions are the diverse interactions between horizon and reduction, studied in three parts in chapter 4. The first argument characterizes the horizon as that which motivates the critique of the Cartesian path to the phenomenological reduction, a critique which results in the psychological path from First Philosophy. Concretely, the problem lies in the horizonally implied habitual validities, which in their totality can be apprehended as the horizon of the world, given that they render a reduction in various steps, as in Ideas I, impossible: for in any partial reduction, some of these natural validities remain functional. Conversely, it is precisely the horizon that makes it possible to become conscious of the totality of my flux of consciousness, and hence to reduce it in its entirety. In a similar manner, the world as horizon is that which is reduced in the path through the lifeworld as developed in the Crisis. Subsequently, turning to the eidetic variation, Djian argues that in its genetic form, as described in Experience and Judgement, it is related in various ways to the horizon: First, the style of the object can only be seized thanks to the horizons that prescribe its system of possible variations. Second, the eidetic variation is an attempt to detach the pure possibilities of the eidos from its co-determining world horizon. Third, to intuit all those possible, but amongst each other incompatible, properties of the eidos is only possible thanks to horizonality.
Chapter 5 tries to establish the relation between horizon and intentional analysis, arguing that it is precisely the horizonal constitution of objectivities that prescribes the need for the intentional analysis. Hence such an intentional analysis, while not yet named as such, would already appear in Ideas I, namely to develop a classification of the sciences. This recognition is subsequently enlarged to also include the shared objective world.
Finally, in chapter 6, Djian argues that it is the generalization of the horizon that challenges the theory of the evidence of reflection from Ideas I. This theory was founded upon the idea that the sphere of consciousness was given adequately and hence apodictically. However, as the horizon is also functional in the case of immanent lived experiences, for they are given in a manifoldness of temporal phases, strictly speaking the sphere of consciousness is inadequately given too. Following the author, this recognition leads Husserl to amend his notion of apodicticity in the Cartesian Meditations: Rather than adequate evidence, it is the impossibility of thinking its non-existence that qualifies something as apodictical. In this way, apodicticity stops being the point of departure and becomes a telos, which is to be reached in infinity after having traversed the transcendental domain and having performed a critique of transcendental knowledge.
It is certainly well-justified to attempt to undertake a study like this: The Husserlian concept of the horizon is clearly underresearched, given its important role in Husserl’s phenomenology. In this context, Djian’s approach to the problematic is indeed reasonable: As within most other investigations of Husserl’s phenomenology, he had to face the impossibility of looking through all Husserlian manuscripts, due to their enormous number. In this sense, to limit the study by focusing on the relation between horizon and constitutive phenomenology was a good choice, and the secondary effects of this constitutive role of the horizon on different key operations of phenomenology are well-suited to underscore the relevance of the horizon. Therefore, Djian’s book has the merit of being a systematic and valuable study of the horizon, even without being all-encompassing.
Furthermore, this book is well-structured and clearly written. All important methodological choices are indicated and justified. In addition, it is easily accessible even to readers that are not very familiar with Husserl, which is by no means obvious: The relevant Husserlian concepts are explained and documented through references to the original texts, a decision that has, at the same time, the disadvantage of sometimes quite lengthy excurses into topics that are scarcely related to the horizon (for example, the precise explanation of how to distinguish pure, descriptive, material essences from all other kinds of essences in chapter 4).
In the context of this close reading of Husserl, one could, however, ask why there is so little discussion of secondary literature in this investigation. How can this approach be justified? First of all, as Djian indicates it himself, there has been comparatively little work on the concept of the horizon in Husserl’s phenomenology. Additionally, the literature that is available and accessible in English is at least included in the bibliography, with the possible exception of the work of Aron Gurwitsch, who mostly develops his own account in The Field of Consciousness, but does make some comments on Husserl too. In any case, the only in-depth discussion in the study relates to Geniušas’ The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology, which without doubt provides the most relevant available commentary.
Before scrutinizing that particular discussion, it is still necessary to examine further how well justified it is to use so little secondary literature: For there is a lot of more general research on Husserl that relates to the different topics addressed by Djian, even without referring specifically to the horizon. For example, Djian does not discuss Kern’s description of the ways into the reduction even though the horizon is identified as one of the factors leading to the abandonment of the Cartesian path. A possible answer could be that, as Djian indicates, the work is meant to be an internal study of the horizon; that is, a study limited to the way the concept develops in Husserl’s own thought. This justifies the exclusion of other philosophers that have worked on their own concept of the horizon. But it remains questionable if this legitimizes Djian’s preference of a close reading of Husserl, as opposed to an examination of secondary literature dedicated to Husserl: For of course, those approaches are not exclusive to one another. A further disadvantage of this omission of most of the secondary literature is a presentation of Husserl’s thought as too unambiguous: Rather than opening the space for different possible interpretations of Husserl and the reasons that led him to change his conceptual framework, Djian imposes the impression that everything relevant has been explained and that his is the only possible understanding; even though Djian’s reading of Husserl is reasonable, and I generally support it, it would have been preferable to show what issues are more or less contested within the relevant literature.
With regards to Djian’s discussion of Geniušas, there remain several issues. Djian is correct in giving it a prominent position, since Geniušas’ study is the only other attempt of an extended and systematic understanding of Husserl’s concept of the horizon that is accessible in English: Hence he discusses Geniušas‘ approach in both the introduction and the conclusion, in addition to a small content-related discussion at the end of chapter 3.
In the introduction, Djian mostly aims to show in which way his approach differs from Geniušas‘, so as to prove the relevance of his study. Djian claims here that the aim of Geniušas is to demonstrate the compatibility of the Husserlian and the hermeneutic horizon, as developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method. He continues to argue that Geniušas‘ account is thus based on the introduction of a problem that actually remains extrinsic to Husserl’s phenomenology; in contrast, Djian’s own account would have the merit of investigating the question of the horizon intrinsically. This argumentation is continued in the conclusion of the book: There, Geniušas‘ supposed thesis, namely that hermeneutic and Husserlian horizon are compatible, is refuted. According to Djian, this is because the horizon in Husserl’s account depends on the framework of constitutive phenomenology, while Gadamer relegates the importance of any subjectivity. Djian concludes that Geniušas is only able to confirm his thesis because he assimilates the Husserlian horizon to the hermeneutical one, hence „only discovering in Husserl what one has put there“ (277).
This strong critique goes far beyond the necessity of justifying the difference of his own approach in regard to Geniušas‘ study. In addition, in my opinion, Djian’s account seems to misrepresent Geniušas argumentation. While it is true that Geniušas refers to Gadamer and the hermeneutic horizon, particularly to justify the relevance of his study, he does so in a reasonably critical manner: In Geniušas’ book, Gadamer is introduced because he is part of the general philosophical context in which the horizon appears. In addition, Geniušas attempts to put the Husserlian and the hermeneutic horizon in dialogue. This dialogue, mostly carried out in chapter 9 of The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology, confronts Husserl’s transcendental and genetic concept of the horizon with Gadamer’s, to finally not only distinguish them but to show how hermeneutics could be enriched by considering subjectivity, for in this way it would become possible to account for the origins of the horizons. In this way, instead of assimilating Husserl’s concept of the horizon to Gadamer’s, Geniušas is pointing out the specificity of the Husserlian horizon to criticize the narrowness of the hermeneutic concept. Now, it is true that following Geniušas, the specificity of Husserl’s horizon goes beyond its constitutive function for intentional objects: He argues that the horizon can only be understood properly as a genetic phenomenon and mostly aims at showing the crucial significance of the world-horizon, which he distinguishes from the horizons of objects. But such a thesis is not necessarily incompatible with Djian’s own project, and a direct discussion of these claims would have been very interesting – however, they remain unthematized, as Geniušas work is set aside too quickly. Similarly, both Geniušas and Djian put forward their own theses on the antecedents that led Husserl to the development of the concept of the horizon: As we have seen, Djian tries to show that the concept is already present in Thing and Space, while Geniušas traces its seeds back to the problem of indexicality in the Logical Investigations. This issue, too, is not addressed or discussed by Djian.
There is only one question of content which Djian does discuss in detail with Geniušas: Namely, how to interpret Husserl’s distinction between background and horizon in the case of the arithmetic world in §28 of Ideas I. Here, Djian quotes Geniušas as saying that Husserl does not provide an explanation of this distinction, in order to argue that this is why Geniušas introduces the extrinsic, “hermeneutic“ concept of the limit to establish a distinction between horizon and background. Djian then refutes Geniušas’ approach, arguing that „Husserl gives all the indications in this paragraph […] to allow the reader to propose a purely internal explanation of the distinction in question“ (122-123). Namely, he argues that it is the connection (connexion) between the objectivities of a same world – in this case, the arithmetic world – that justifies to speak of a horizon. This is how Djian justifies the distinction from the background which refers to other worlds that are only co-present to the extent that they appear to the same subject, without having any relation to each other if we abstracted from the subject. That is, according to Djian the concept of the horizon at play here is its strict, functional definition.
Now, comparing this argumentation with Geniušas‘, the actual differences between both approaches seem insignificant. When discussing §28 of Ideas I, Geniušas introduces the notion of the horizon as a limit in order to argue that the horizon is what is necessary for an objectivity to appear, while backgrounds and halos can be lost. This is true, as Geniušas argues here, because in Husserl the horizon has to be understood in its constitutive, functional, in its transcendental dimension: The horizon is the structure which co-determines the sense of the objectivity in question, in this case the arithmetic objectivities, and can hence be distinguished from background and halo. Thus, in both commentaries, the specific, functional relation between the arithmetic objectivity in question and its arithmetic world is highlighted in order to justify Husserl’s distinction between horizon and background. However, once more it remains questionable if Djian’s way of representing Geniušas‘ argumentation is reasonable; and additionally, the opportunity for a more interesting discussion of the specific similarities and differences between both approaches is missed again.
Having developed these two major points of critique, the little discussion of secondary literature, and the misleading representation and critique of Geniušas‘ The Origins of the Horizon in Husserls Phenomenology, there persist a few more, less relevant, remarks I would like to make before concluding this review. Rather than evaluating what Djian did write, these remarks point at topics which could have been addressed here in order to enrich the discussion. Therefore, they are in no way direct criticisms of Djian’s text; instead, they aim at showing the possible points of continuation of the study of the Husserlian horizon.
First of all, there is a series of analyses in Djian’s book that are very relevant, but that could have been further developed. This holds true, for example, for the claim in chapter 3 that the horizon as universal structure of pure consciousness makes reflection possible (107). This proposition is only developed very concisely in a footnote, and is not addressed further within chapter 6, which deals with the evidence of the reflection (whilst Roberto Walton dedicates a whole chapter to this question in Intencionalidad y Horizonticidad). Furthermore, it is possible to point out that within chapter 5, the specific mode of operation of the intentional analysis is not fully developed. While the role the horizon plays in the preparation of the intentional analysis becomes clear, it is not shown in detail how the intentional analysis can be understood as a clarification of the horizons. Finally, the very intriguing argument at the end of chapter 6, namely that the horizon works as one of the factors to transform the apodicticity of transcendental knowledge into a telos, could have been developed in more detail and particularly called for a discussion of secondary sources.
One more topic that could have been discussed in more depth is the relation between horizon and Husserl’s theory of intropathy [Einfühlung]. The book touches upon this relation twice: First, in the discussion of the different cases of intentional implication in chapter 4, and second, in the enlargement of the intentional analysis to the shared world at the end of chapter 5. In chapter 4, Djian presents the different cases of intentional implication as described by Husserl in First Philosophy, namely phantasia, memory, expectation, image-consciousness and intropathy, to then argue that the horizonal consciousness is a kind of intentional implication too. He distinguishes it from the other cases by arguing that the intentional implication is always actual [actuel; aktuell], with the exception of horizons and intropathy. Now, to differentiate these two cases, he states that while horizons are susceptible to be fulfilled, the acts of intropathy are not. Later, in chapter 5, the question of the constitution of the alter ego is presented: Djian repeats here that the appresentation of the alter ego is not a synthetic unity in a manifoldness of my lived experiences, and hence is not constituted by means of the horizon; for what is appresented with the other’s lived body is not susceptible to be fulfilled. It is only by implying the potentialities of perceiving the world from there rather than here, that the horizon plays some role in the associative function permitting to understand the alter ego as similar to me, thus enabling its constitution.
One can ask here if it really is that compelling that the constitution of the alter ego is not mediated by the horizon structure. To be sure, the appresented content of the other’s consciousness is indeed not susceptible to fulfilment. But while Husserl does not speak explicitly of horizons in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation (including the parts where he distinguishes the apperception of the thing from the apperception of the other), he does speak of the apperception of the alter ego: And how could the other be apperceived, if not as a unity in a manifoldness of actual and potential lived experiences – only with the particularity, that many of the potential lived experiences can never become actual if the other is to remain other? The point here is not to show that it is indeed necessary to speak of a horizonal apperception of the other; instead, it is enough to raise awareness to the fact that such an interpretation of Husserl seems possible and that Djian’s discussion of the question is not exhaustive.
Finally, there remains one last remark before concluding. The relation between the horizon as a possibly persistent secret link to the world and the two new paths into the phenomenological attitude is well developed in chapter 4 and highly relevant. However, one could have also taken a more critical perspective: For instance, Djian shows correctly how Husserl uses the horizon in the process of the psychological path in First Philosophy in order to be able to seize the totality of the ego’s stream of consciousness, and submit it to the epoché at once. But it remains unclear in Husserl, and equally in Djian, how the risk of still co-functioning hidden validities is averted: for a horizonal seizing of “the universe of all objectivities, which ever had validity for me” (Husserl 2019, 361) seems scarcely enough to discover, reflect on, and abstain from all the possible hidden validities. In a similar fashion, Husserl seems to simply claim the possibility of a universal epoché in the Crisis. Still, Dijans decision to refrain from a discussion of these critical questions is most likely justified by his methodological decision to give an internal account of Husserl’s thought, without adding his own critical perspective.
All in all, Djian’s study constitutes one more, valuable piece in the precise understanding of Husserl’s thought. Notwithstanding the lack of discussion with secondary sources, its analyses are well-justified and help to develop a more comprehensive and accurate notion of Husserl’s concept of the horizon, as well as of its influence on the development of Husserl’s thought. Furthermore, the accuracy of Dijan’s main thesis of the central role of the horizon in constitutive phenomenology can now be estimated: It has become clear, that the horizon is crucial for the constitution of objectivities and thus plays a major role in Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, hence underscoring the relevance of the concept for Husserl. However, the strong interpretation of this thesis, namely that Husserl’s concept of the horizon has to be understood as limited to the context of the constitution, excluding any other possible dimensions of the horizon, remains unproven: For such a task, it would have been necessary to discuss the different appearances of the term in different Husserlian texts in more detail to actually show how they all refer back to the constitutive role of the horizon.
Geniusas, Saulius. 2012. The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Contributions to Phenomenology 67. Dordrecht: Springer.
Gurwitsch, Aron. 2010. The Field of Consciousness: Theme, Thematic Field, and Margin. ed. Richard M. Zaner. 1st ed., Volume III. The Collected Works of Aron Gurwitsch (1901-1973). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands : Imprint Springer.
Husserl, Edmund. 2019. First Philosophy: Lectures 1923/24 and Related Texts from the Manuscripts (1920-1925). transl. Sebastian Luft and Thane M. Naberhaus. Collected Works / Husserl, Edmund, XIV. Dordrecht: Springer.
Walton, Roberto J. 2015. Intencionalidad y Horizonticidad. Bogotá: Aula de Humanidades.
Ian Angus’ Groundwork of Phenomenological Marxism: Crisis, Body, World is not a light book, both literally and figuratively, at 537 pages of dense analysis of two of the most discussed thinkers in the last few hundred years. Not many contemporary works have tried to integrate Marxism and Husserlian phenomenology. While perhaps everything in the life of the mind is ultimately connected, the project laid out by Husserl and that by Marx seem to point in quite different directions with very different methodologies. Subsequent works by famous thinkers who were influenced by both, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Herbert Marcuse, and Jan Patočka, did not seem to penetrate deeply into the scholarship of the side they are less famous for—that is, contemporary theorists of Marx do not go to Merleau-Ponty to discuss Marx, nor do phenomenologists routinely discuss Marcuse. Angus’ book truly does provide a groundwork to facilitate more work that does not neatly subsume the thoughts of one thinker under that of the other. While Angus notes his main textual supports will be Husserl’s Crisis and Marx’s Capital I, he also embraces a range of scholarship.
One generic challenge to phenomenology is that it struggles to critically engage with complex structures in our societies that exceed examination from the first-person perspective. Perhaps we are not just molded by our social, cultural, economic, and historical place in time, perhaps even what the idea of subjectivity is itself merely a momentary reverie and thus there is no ground from which to properly phenomenologize. A generic one to the Marx of Capital I-III is that the force of his understanding of capitalist logic creates a world in which things are happening with or without individual investment. We are all swept up in the force of history. Not only does the critic point out what Marx thought would come from capitalism has not transpired, but the idea of a self-enclosed system that will either end in ruin or revolution seems to ignore the manifold possibilities that have arisen, for better or worse, as capitalism spreads over the world. While both critiques can of course be argued against as misrepresntations, I bring up these challenges as a way to situate Angus’ impressive text as taking seriously both the analysis of capitalist logic as well as the importance of subjectivity. I read him as arguing that one can do a critical phenomenology in a capitalist world without reproducing bourgeois sentiment in a new form. In particular, his use of the idea of fecundity, ecological thinking, and Indigenous thought help explore places where capitalist logic fails to entirely dominate the lifeworld and places from which we might consider a robust contemporary phenomenological Marxism.
Overview of the Book
Part I: Phenomenology and the Crisis of Modern Reason & II: Objectivism and the Recovery of Subjectivity
In the first two chapters, Angus lays out the crisis of the modern sciences in order to set the ground for his later discussion of the lifeworld. The crisis of the sciences frames the entry into Husserl’s phenomenology and its relevance for the integration of Marx’s work. Husserl asserted that the crisis of the sciences is that they have become abstracted from their origin in human life, and thereby lost their meaning for humanity. The development of the modern sciences initiated the institution of the mathematization of nature. While mathematization of the modern sciences is not called into question as wrong, Angus notes that the issue becomes when the mathematization becomes “sedimented” and sciences assume “their validity has become an available tradition that further researchers use without investigating.” (43) Sciences thus use their symbolic systems, such as mathematization, as if it were full of human value even though it, by necessity, is abstract from human meaning. If we come to assume that only that which is objectively demonstrable by mathematization is “real,” then we are adrift in a world with reality devoid of meaning. The human world of intuition, tradition, sensuous nature, language, culture, and embodied experience cannot be mathematized. When objectivity found from abstract mathematization becomes “true” and subjectivity mere opinion, we find a crisis of reason. “This is the crisis: reasonproceeds without meaning for human life, while value loses its sustenance in reason.” (46) Angus says that the “healing power of phenomenology” is how phenomenology can uncover this historical sedimentation of mathematical reason and recover value.
Chapters three takes up the idea that one aspect of the crisis is the instrumentalization of the lifeworld. To begin, Angus uses Herbert Marcuse’s discussion of Husserl and deepens the manner in which the crisis of the sciences affects the lifeworld. Marcuse, like Husserl, is concerned with the manner in which instrumental reason cancels out the validity of subjective experience. What Angus draws out is how Marcuse draws attention toward the way in which the lifeworld becomes, under the reign of instrumentalism, merely a thing to be used by various techniques and technologies. It is natural to use technologies and associated technical practices to obtain ends; it is only when we have no other means to think of our lives that they become “emptied out.” “The emptying-out that treats a type as a formal ‘x’ removes the technical end from any relationship to other ends as experienced in the lifeworld and theorizes it strictly formally, that is to say, without any consideration if such an end is valid, good, or just.” (101) If human life is merely how we can as living objects use technologies and techniques to obtain certain pre-determined ends, say more money, more production, we merely become things. Moreover, we become things that cannot determine value ourselves since we are seen only as a means to a pre-determined end.
In chapter four, the discussion of technology is drawn into the 21st century. Angus considers how our contemporary digital technological culture is an extension of the instrumentalization of the lifeworld. While digital culture pervades our lives and determines the character of our self-understanding, we do not actually experience the digital itself. We receive information on our computers, tablets, and phone instantaneously (120). Here Angus develops briefly the idea about the importance of silence and delay which will be more developed in chapter nine. As digital culture transmits its information instantaneously, we have no space from which to take a pause from it given how quickly we are presented with new content. Yet, while the lack of any pause or delay can cover up the capacity for bracketing the digital, Angus states that “this absorption can never be complete” for the subject registers this information with a certain “intensity” or “valence” that is dependent upon other investments within the lifeworld (125). These other investments can produce a delay or lack of circularity of the system of digital culture and thus potentially ground a recovery of reason and value.
Chapters five develops further how value is both lost and potentially can be recovered and draws Marx into the picture to understand how abstract labor separates us from value. We do not encounter things in the lifeworld as value-free and then intellectually add value to them some x-value. Such a move would follow from the model that the instrumentalization of the lifeworld suggests. We have both social valuations that come from a determinate time and culture as well as subjectively personal valuations based on our own experience. Here Angus connects Marx and Husserl, reading both as concerned with the manner in which formal sign-systems are unable to address individual objects of value (139). In commodity fetishism, social relations are systematically concealed, similar to how in a “scientific” view of objectivity, one is unable to return to the value that grounds subjective experience. Moreover, because the system of exchange is hidden in object fetishism, self-knowledge is eluded. “This systematic absences of self-knowledge in social action is reproduced in an apologetic scientific form in political economy such that it produces a systematic lack in the social representation of value.” (143) Angus believes in the value of self-knowledge, but also importantly in the idea of a universalization that will permit escape from both a valueless scientific or economic system and from value being relative to particular cultures. In the fourth part of the book, this idea is sketched out more fully.
Part III: The Living Body and Ontology of Labor
Chapters six and seven productively develop stronger connections between the phenomenological project and the Marxist one. One the most developed discussions coming out of phenomenology’s approach to experience is developments that surround the consequences of understanding ourselves as first and foremost living bodies. We do not first consider the world consciously and then judge it, but are first born into a complex cultural, historical, and economic world and our embodied experiences with that world come to shape our judgements by sedimentation, not by conscious deliberation. Hence the lifeworld is not seen as “a” lifeworld, but simply what is, including the values and norms that our society has educated us in to see certain things as real or valuable when it might be just as conceivable that others things might be more deserving of value. The living-body is “the root-experience of the lifeworld” but we are always being with other beings; we are always part of a human, not just an individual, experience. (157) Angus separates out two features of our shared human experience: the positive “we-subjectivity,” the community in which we live, work, and commune with others, and the other and self as “objects” that either benefit or hinder any individual project (157).
Angus then turns toward Marx’s ontology of labor as the foundation of what it is to be human and what shapes human history. Certainly we need labor to live, but Marx argues that labor is also how we constitute our identity and the world in which we live (162). In Husserl’s work, the living body’s motility grounds subjectivity and Marx’s ontology of labor helps develop one way in which this subjectivity is formed. Angus agrees with Jan Patočka and Ludwig Landgrebe that early Marx’s view on labor lacked, unlike Husserl’s, a full account of subjectivity. However, as Angus will point out the Marx of Capital I presents us with a more complex view of labor. Here we see the sketch of much of the rest of the book—how an ontology of the lifeworld, in particular labor and its relationship to subjectivity, permits an understanding of the structures of that world. In order to connect the ontology of the lifeworld to a phenomenology of the living body, what Marx would call a critique, one must go beyond the “evident” nature of the lifeworld to question its current form and status.
Marx’s mature ideas of an ontology of labor as “a phenomenology of the role of human activity in nature” will shape much of the rest of the section’s discussion (180) While largely sympathetic with Marx’s focus on labor, Angus argues that Marx’s interest in technology as history determining cannot make sense without a better account of the surplus productivity of labor that allows such technology to form itself. I think it beyond the scope of this review to examine this critique—that is, is it really the case that Marx failed to understand the necessity of surplus productivity’s relation to nature?—but rather to take Angus at his word, and examine the interesting idea of fecundity that Angus will develop throughout the remainder of the text (187). The logic of capitalism of collecting commodities to be exchanged can appear to have circular and enclosed perspective. We work to produce things that can be sold to obtain money to buy or produce other things, ad infinitum. One can think here of Hannah Arendt’s dismissive view of labor as this endless need of human work to survive without the possibility of anything new coming from it, other than more survival and thus more labor. Angus writes that what actually happens, and what can be thought to perhaps undermine the capitalist project, is that labor exceeds what is needed to complete the next circuit—what is “the fecundity of nature.” (187) Here one is too reminded of Michel Foucault’s interesting ideas of how any regime of power/knowledge creates subjectivities that are not just docile, but also then have the means to creatively exceed that structure. Later Angus will develop the idea of fecundity to argue for an interesting ecological view of our current situation. Herbert Marcuse’s work helps underscore the emancipatory possibilities inherent in human activity outside its insertion merely into the logic of capitalism as labor. The event of any human activity is not subsumable entirely to the motivation that preceded it. One example is that the excess that labor can create produces not just things for survival, but culture as well. Culture then creates new forms of organization that exceed strict capitalist production.
Chapter eight is one of the densest chapters in the book. It takes up the idea of abstraction and its relevance for labor and value and concludes with how to revive value in the lifeworld. Abstraction in Marx’s theory is complex, there is the abstraction where individuals are only understood as significant insofar they play a role—say laborer or capitalist. Abstraction can also be where one analyzes the core features of capitalism and sets aside the actual concrete form. In this sense, abstraction comes close to a phenomenological reduction. Finally, there is abstraction in the sense of addition—“When we consider any only single factor, such as labor, there are a number of historical and imaginary, or logically possible, forms in which that labor could be organized: capitalist, trial, state, cooperative, etc.” (237) This groundwork lays the foundation for the most important abstraction in Marx’s text, to be later complemented by Angus’ formulation of abstract nature: abstract labor. Abstract labor is not illusory, it is real in the that is produced in the system of exchange of commodities. Workers, as individuals, are now just understood in abstraction as nothing but laborers qua commodities—things that can be bought. The commodity hides the relationship between humans, we do not encounter or know those whose products we purchase hence we tend to assume the value lies within the product—what is commodity fetishism. Laborers themselves becomes a thing as their labor-power is just another unit of exchange. Moreover, abstract labor operates as value—abstract labor has a certain value in the system of exchange and can be taken without consideration of the particular work the laborers are performing. As Husserl wrote about in the Crisis, one consequence of modern science has been the mistaking of the method of mathematization for actual truth and meaning. Marx’s understanding of the abstract labor likewise performs this move in a system of value (256). If only abstract labor is considered valuable, one has lost any footing the real world of humans, as individuals and also as communities in their culture and their history.
The lifeworld is able to recover reason as the place in which one can situate the historical nature of abstract labor and account for how its excess cannot be contained within capitalist reason. Excess productivity produces culture and also draws from the fecundity of nature which is never completely exhausted by capitalism. Nature, individuals, and communities produce excesses but given the particularities of the concrete spaces in which such productivity exists, there is no “unitary source” and thus they do not produce uniform products. Hence, “the proletariat has never acted as a unitary subject as Marxist politics has expected.” (277) Angus develops from this work on abstraction to an idea of abstract nature as critical to his phenomenological Marxism, pointing out that Marx, by not having a concept of abstract nature, is unable to explain just what abstract labor is to be performed upon. Briefly, Angus points toward ecology as a way exit the limitations of capitalist and modern scientific thinking and integrate nature and humanity. “The task of transformation would be to recover nature as the source of meaning and value, human labor as the giving of a specific form to that source.” (286) Ecology works from the connections between nature and cultures and can provide a method to get beyond our reductionistic thinking.
Technology is the theme of chapter nine which develops further the way in which the regime of capitalist value homogenizes production. While Marx and Marcuse’s views on technology are important to underline that there is no simple nature unchanged by humans nor humans apart from technical extension, it is Gilbert Simondon’s work permits us to consider our contemporary lifeworld more fully. Simondon is critical of Communist Party Marxism, arguing that the development of more technological societies with machines as central to production creates a particular kind of alienation where “both the worker and the industrial boss are alienated insofar as they are either above or below the machine.” (303) Hence, some Marxist views of technology as liberating are false. Angus draws our contemporary situation as another crisis because contemporary digital culture “approaches a pure transparency without delays or silences that could initiate emergent meaning” as discussed in chapter four (319). The speed of transmission of information and the lack of spaces in which to not be presented with such information reduces the capacity for the kind of productive excess that permits a possible exit from capitalist logic. One striking feature of our own society dominated by the capacity to share on the internet is how information is exploited much like physical labor. Cognitive capitalism is “neo-mercantilist” as a socio-economic form with the important element of “decay”—that is, the value of the digital form reduces over time (324). Thus, new digital products have a very short lifespan where they produce surplus profit and must be constantly produced by tech workers. As with his earlier discussion of technology, Angus argues that instead of transforming such digital spaces, “the struggles of the working class in such industries would not necessarily be to transform them as such, but to exist to become an independent, self-defining enterprise.” (324) Technology itself does not liberate workers if they do not have the means to define its value.
Chapter ten lays the groundwork for the recovery of the concrete grounds from which to critique the mathematization of science and the abstractions of capitalism. Husserl himself celebrated biology in its connection to the living body as a means to connect the lifeworld in experience and the sciences of life. However, Angus points out that, as Marx shows us, bodies can be abstracted in labor and creates a closed system of understanding bodies that does not permit a true phenomenological investigation. Angus’ idea of abstract nature is added to this critique in order to point out that it is not just labor, and thus humans, that are abstracted in capitalism, but nature as well. Angus writes, “abstract nature if the fundamental critical category of our phenomenological Marxism that can be counterposed to the discovery of natural fecundity as an excess that underlines all human productivity and culture.” (345) Again, Angus draws attention to ecology as a way of thinking since it considers the connections between life-forms and the worlds in which they live, something biology does not do. This is a concrete starting place instead of the abstraction required by the sciences or capitalism and can think of communities instead of only abstract systems.
Part IV: Transcendentality and the Constitution of Worlds
Chapter eleven and twelve deepen Angus’ ideas of the phenomenological project and the need for an intercultural self-responsible phenomenology. Emphasizing the intersubjective nature of any lifeworld and the plurality of them helps underline how the need for the phenomenological view to complement Marx’s work. In Marxist thought, there is the tendency to see subjectivity as rather uniform amongst classes. Angus takes up the question if Husserl’s commitment to seeing Europe as central makes phenomenology not just Eurocentric, which I would think is hard to deny, but also fundamentally invested in an implicit view of European superiority. Angus develops a fascinating perspective on America, here understood as the Americas, rather than simply the United States, as the kind of example that makes any kind of European view limited. America is not a repetition of Europe; America is shaped by the “conquest-disaster” of its origins as well as by the Indigenous traditions and thoughts that also continue to shape it. The conquest-disaster begins “an ongoing institution that remains with us to this day and points toward some sort of resolution of final goal (Endstiftung). We live within this institution and its assigns us a task.” (399) The task is to see this lifeworld as it is, not as Europe’s, but with its own shape and demands. Angus argues this broader view of the historical nature of cultures helps expose the need to respond not just to the scientific and economic crises, but also to our “planetary crisis.”
This planetary crisis refers to the reason understood as technology that is based on formal-mathematical science as the origination of crisis and phenomenological reason as the renewal of meaning and value through a recovery of relation to the lifeworld. Meaning and value must be generated, not simply from looking back to prior institutions, but from events constituted by the planetary encounter of culture-civilizations that motivate an appeal upward on step toward great universality. (403)
What is needed is intercultural-civilizational understanding that moves toward universality. This might seem a bit strange, after all typically calling for greater intercultural understanding can be seen to call for something particular and non-universal. Angus develops not a particular kind of universality, say something like “Europe,” that should be taken as the goal, but rather a certain kind of community living together. While we live in a world saturated by calls for cultural understanding, one might rightly see them as a kind of buffet model—a little of this one and a little of that. This can be seen as how scientific-technological civilization renders all traditions as local and particular to the universality of its enterprises, so culture becomes like a disposable addition upon “real” understanding which is of course that which can be reduced to either scientific models or capitalist logic. This can also be seen as expressed, in a much different fashion, in relativist philosophies where one can affirm the other, but is left in without any means of overcoming differences. Angus takes up an approach where what the phenomenological tradition can guide for intercultural understanding is by pursuing not a “truth” that then can add various cultural views, like clothing, nor a set of discrete truths which cannot communicate, but a center-periphery logic where different assumptions in culture-civilizations can be upended by each other in discourse and attention to practices. Angus looks to build:
A philosophy that would be ecological, in the sense that it would focus on the concrete relations that construct a Whole; that would be Marxist, in the sense that is would criticize a social representation of value that relies on commodity price; and that would be phenomenological, in that it would ground value in the lifeworld in action and intuition, is a possibility that would enact this hope. (441)
Chapter thirteen spells out just what intercultural-civilization phenomenology could be. By using place-based knowledge, such as Indigenous thought, we can displace the tendency of planetary technology and capitalism to homogenize by abstracting individuals and nature. Like ecological thinking, Indigenous thinking starts from relationships and from thinking from community instead of thinking of individuals first. Yet of course, any community might not be compatible with another, so in order to move from the value of community to the kind of universal investment needed to combat the crises of our age, Angus appeals in chapter fourteen to Charles Taylor’s notion that “each cultural group can find its own reasons for belonging in a higher unity, that the reasons do not have to be identical for each group.” (453). Hence, the intercultural dialogue would consider crises that face us all, but not require that each group form a new identity but rather that each group understand their share and investment in the problem. The final chapter of part IV considers how philosophy can work to restore the fecundity of nature, of human labor, and of community investment. Natural fecundity is found not “outside” human experience in the environment as a thing, but rather within a cultural heritage’s manner in which it takes up freedom. Indigenous thought and ecological thinking help show ways in which cultural heritage and cultural understanding are not limitations to “proper” science or economic systems, but important ways in which to understand relationships and value.
Part V: Self-Responsibility as Teleologically Given in Transcendental Phenomenology
The final section of the book develops the idea that philosophy in the manner outlined above cannot be first and foremost about rule-following. After all, if we are to take seriously intercultural dialogues and the heritage of communities, we cannot find a common set of ethical rules that must guide them all. Moreover, any lifeworld unexamined appears to us “how it is” and thus its “rules” are unexamined as they seem natural. The separation of meaning and value caused by the mathematization- mechanization of the world by the modern sciences and the forced abstraction of humans from their bodies and nature in capitalism requires both an analysis of its origins as well as a responsible call to action to try and guide a method for the renewal of meaning and value. Angus appeals to the idea of responsibility as a method of living by inquiring. “Self-responsibility is the ethic of philosophical inquiry and its practice in confronting the rule-following inherent in lifeworld practices.” (489) This is both a responsibility toward humanity and to the individual. Angus finds that Husserl remains too embedded in the tradition of knowledge “for its own sake” and thus remains unable to articulate a call to action. Instead, learning should be drawn into the strife of the world “with eyes wide open” and to search for justice. (499)
In the preface to the French edition of Capital I, Marx chides the “French public” who are “always impatient to come to a conclusion” that they might not wish to labor through the early chapters. However, he writes “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” While I have nothing to say about if this characterization of the French public of 1872 is deserved, I do want to qualify my comments below as that perhaps they are testimony more to my challenges with the book’s steepness than the text itself. No book can serve all possible audiences, but I did wish the book were more readable for someone who was versed in one or the other tradition and curious about the possible connections. As it is, I would find it quite challenging for someone to read who didn’t already have a good command of Husserl’s phenomenology and at least an understanding of the critique of capitalism in Marxist thought. While Angus does provide an extremely detailed discussion of the main points he wants to draw from each, and thus this could act as a kind of summary, he does not explain for the reader the general frame in which to understand these very detailed summaries. This is particularly so for the phenomenological discussions. I cannot see someone who was well-read in Marxist thought making much sense of the phenomenological project herein since the discussion assumes a certain understanding of phenomenology’s language. I could imagine a reader unfamiliar with Marxist thought, but familiar with phenomenology understanding better the discussion of abstract labor and nature, so central to the book, since capitalism so defines our current reality and even someone who has not read Marx would be familiar with the idea that there might be problems with capitalism.
I wonder if the book began not with Husserl’s thought, but instead with a shorter discussion of ecology that appears very late in the text. This would provide a kind of framework and directionality to the text in which to work through the crises of science and labor. While the ultimate longer analysis of ecology rightly should follow his analysis at the end of the book, any reader would be familiar with our current environmental crisis and could help understand that this book would help elucidate this crisis and provide some ideas for action. In addition, more framing of phenomenology’s method might aid in reaching a wider audience. I also wondered at the conclusion, so exclusively considered with phenomenology where it would have seemed to my mind obvious here to appeal to the call to action in Marxist thought. In the discussion of communities, one could also think not just of communities qua historical cultures, but also communities such as labor unions, political groups, and religious groups.
However, this is a “groundwork” not an introduction to phenomenological Marxism and as such perhaps it is a text that is rightly directed toward an audience who can follow its density and read further as need be. It is a welcome addition to our intellectual life and provides an important way in which to address the manifold contemporary crises our world faces. In particular, Angus presents a compelling model wherein we engage with Indigenous and community-based thinking not to simply affirm the “otherness” of this thought, but to see it as an important interlocutor with European phenomenology and Marxism. The crises we face are not culturally located, but planetary, and as such require a universalizing, but not totalizing, response.
 Karl Marx. 1976. Capital Volume I, 105. London: Penguin.