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Phenomena â" Critique â" Logos
The Project of Critical Phenomenology
By Michael Marder
Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Michael Marder
All rights reserved.
Back to Husserl Himself!
THE PULSE OF PHENOMENOLOGY
Over a century after Husserl's breakthrough work, Logical Investigations, it is still far from obvious what comes to pass under the name "phenomenology", what is implied in the quasi-dialectical conjunction of the many phenomena and the one logos, what secret commerce flows between them, how their combination becomes possible, where phenomena end and logos begins. Perhaps this indeterminacy, too, is an integral part of phenomenology that, like everything finite, must lose itself in order to maintain itself alive, sacrificing its future as a complete doctrine to an orientation, a trajectory, a tendency back to the things themselves. Should we, in line with modern philosophy, categorise this innermost tendency of phenomenological thought as "self-critical", we would need to refrain from taking for granted either the critical drive, pulsating at the heart of the thinking it animates, or the "self" of phenomenology, divided between phenomena and logos. Self-criticism entails much more than deformalising the results drawn from philosophical investigations, however rigorous these might be; it means the disquietude of the self divided against itself, the undying unrest, if not the heat of polemos, felt in the infrastructure of phenomenology, in the place where logos encounters phenomena and phenomena show themselves to logos without establishing a final and monolithic identity. Although it largely revolves around the problem of givenness, phenomenology itself is not fully given; its path to givenness must be unremittingly withdrawn, criticised, won over and withdrawn again.
The minimal determination of phenomenology as a critique and, in particular, a self-critique, respects its sheer (nonformal) indeterminacy, its definition as a tendency of existence oriented towards the possible, not a fully actualised and perfected system of thought. More than a conceptual or epistemological label, critique is the promise of phenomenology's perpetual self-rejuvenation, for which it is ready to ransom all the prestige attached to a mature, tried-and-tested doctrine. There is — despite the persistent philosophical dream of a seamless integration of judgement and experience, signification and perception, language and things — a cut in the fabric of phenomenology in which phenomena are kept apart from logos, even as they are intrinsically articulated with it. The name of the cut, signalling this basic division, is, precisely, "critique" (derived, as the reader will recall, from the Greek krinein: to separate, to distinguish, to discern), which thwarts the closure of phenomenology in a self-validating circle of ratiocination and sends the first cracks through the façade built around a way of thinking that was never meant to achieve doctrinal stability. What if phenomenology organised itself around this rift, at the same time desiring to bridge it and feeling itself compelled to maintain it agape? What if, in other words, phenomenology were synonymous with critique?
Assuming that critique is not superadded onto but rather is endemic to phenomenology, which it literally cuts in half, it comes to mean something other than a theoretical attitude we can resort to or discard at will. Even when not explicitly invoked, critique is operative behind the scenes of every phenomenological procedure or meditation. It further follows that one way of interrelating phenomena and logos is entirely out of the question — namely, tautology. The case in point here is what, in the influential paragraph 7 of Being and Time, Heidegger defines as the "preliminary concept" (Vorbegriff) of phenomenology, which is, in fact, its ultimate conception (indeed, the after-conception) in which a normative, postcritical ideal has been already surreptitiously enunciated. The absolute unity of phenomena and logos announces itself in the interpretation of apophainesthai ta phainomena, or "letting that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself". A peaceful, idyllic, utopian, teleologically vouchsafed coexistence of a nondominating, radically passive reason and everything that appears to and through it, apophainesthai ta phainomena may easily slide into the dogmatic slumber of thinking, self-assured about the ontological method of accessing phenomena. The obsessive multiplication of identities and identifications, of phenomena with themselves and with logos, in the dead respite of tautology covers up and suffocates the most vibrant aspects of the concept of phenomenology: the double, redoubled and interminable critique of logos with recourse to phenomena and of phenomena — through a certain kind of logos. Such identities bring to naught the tension, if not the Heraclitean "strife", that sets the cadence and controls the pulse of phenomenology. The same catastrophic fate befalls philosophy when the untraversable distance between philia and sophia is lost, resulting in the sophistic impression that one possesses and controls wisdom. At minimum, then, critique is a safety valve, meant to prevent phenomenology's deterioration into sophistry.
The "pulse" and the "heart": these are not idly rhetorical turns of phrase but watchwords for that which animates phenomenology by granting it a certain rhythm, making it vibrate outside its confines and temporalising it. The preface to Hegel's Philosophy of Right exposes the "heart of rationality", surrounded by "a motley covering" of forms, "which the concept has first to penetrate before it can find the inward pulse and feel it still beating in the outward appearances". In a recent excellent study, Au Coeur de la Raison, la Phénoménologie, Claude Romano has also used the trope of the heart in connection to phenomenology. "No longer seeking to oppose reason and sensibility, language and experience, all the while keeping them distinct", writes Romano in the epilogue to his book, "phenomenology is a quest for the reason of infra-rationality; it promises a reason 'sensible at heart' because it opens the heart of reason to sensibility".
But is reason — ratio, one of the many, and already considerably impoverished at that, significations of logos — capacious enough to contain phenomenology, even where the latter has opened itself to the sensible? Doesn't Romano conflate, thanks to an erroneous but productive synecdoche, the heart with one of its chambers? Isn't phenomenology greater than reason itself, which, along with phenomena, sojourns in its broken heart? Don't these asymmetrical divisions, within logos as much as between logos and phenomena, enliven the thinking that endeavours to articulate them? Doesn't phenomenological logos, which in its classical sense has denoted a gathering or an assembling of the many (from the Greek legein), become viable solely on the condition that it reproduces, within itself, the fissuring and the scatter inherent to the world of phenomena? And, besides, what kind of a heart is it that, instead of being lodged in the hidden recesses of a body of thought, is beating right on the surface of phenomena that obscure nothing, least of all a hidden, more profound layer of "true being"? If phenomenology has a heart, it wears this heart on its sleeve, as it were, in the essential superficiality, towards which its disparate methodological vectors tend.
Whatever the surface we approach phenomenologically, the evidence bespeaking its deep fractures is glaring. (That is, perhaps, the only exception to the axiom of "no depth": the deep fracturing of surfaces.) Let us consider a well-known example. An immense separation between thinking, logic and the sciences, on the one hand, and the elemental structures and experiences of the lifeworld, on the other, is, for Husserl, the chief culprit in the crisis of Western logos. So entrenched is this uncritical divide that, within the realm of thinking, confusion reigns as to the status of that which is thought. The analytical separation between noetic acts and their noematic targets is eclipsed by the naïve realist focus on the difference between reason and reality, which, presumably, exists "in itself", as though this "in itself" has managed to elide the Midas touch of human intentionality. It is conceivable, however, that after tirelessly insisting on the need to overcome the divide between thinking and the lifeworld at any price, to the point of turning it into a "productive tautology", and thereby responding to the crisis and the excessive separations eventuated by the crisis, phenomenologists have grown allergic to splits, fissures and caesurae of all sorts. Such is their déformation professionnelle. In dialectical terms, they have repressed the bad consciousness (equivalent to the critical stage, not to the sceptical attitude) of their discipline, instead of trying to work through it. Overwhelmed by the excessive plentitude of givenness, they have left unconsidered the positive potential of rupture and negativity, such that this blind spot has come to signal the crisis of phenomenology itself, largely unaware that only a divided, fissured logos is capable of faithfully shadowing the ineluctable scatter of phenomena.
Husserl's own metaphysical extravagances, including his alleged adherence to the primacy of pure perceptual present and his foundationalism (which Derrida has extensively discussed since his earliest deconstructive forays), are, for their part, the toxic byproducts of an extreme and adverse reaction to crisis. It hardly needs mentioning that the Husserlian program for overcoming the impasse of contemporary intellectual practices hinges on a successful bridging of empty intentions and fulfilled intuitions, or — which amounts to the same thing — on reawakening a rationality which, divorced from the things themselves, has been spinning out of control in a spiral of self-generated abstractions. But are the effects of the crisis so totally detrimental? As an alternative to a negative knee-jerk response that covers over all onto-epistemological ruptures, the cutting of critique (and of judgement) still permits one to discern the distant rumblings of the crisis that similarly derives from the Greek verb krinein.
Another way of contending with the common predicament of the sciences and of phenomenology requires distilling their scissions down to the constitutive distance, at once critical and ontological, between logos and phenomena. To acknowledge this distance is not to reaffirm the quintessentially modern segregation of knowledge from reality but to locate a series of ruptures within the necessarily unfinished edifice of phenomenology, freeing up space for a plurality of interpretations and for representations that do not invariably culminate, nor are extinguished in, pure presence. Despite the overabundance of references to critique in Husserl's writings, this task is still to be undertaken. We are, more specifically, to ask, in keeping with a certain spirit of phenomenology itself: What or who accomplishes the work of criticising and what or who is criticised here? And how?
In anticipation of the argument that will wind its way through this book, allow me to hint at the shape of a response: the critiques of logos by phenomena and of phenomena by logos jointly amount to the critique of phenomenology by itself, in the absence of its final self-identity and ultimate "truth". Critique is the missing articulation of these two poles, the two that were meant to merge into one. Phenomenology becomes what it is (namely, a mode of thinking, interpreting and being in the process of becoming) largely as a result of this "negative" self-relation. Redoubled, critique singularly determines, without deciding upon, that which it has articulated. And it does so by means of a division, la brissure, or the hinge — so prominent in Derrida's Of Grammatology — now transplanted into the heart of phenomenology.
Allowing phenomena to disclose themselves and logos to voice itself, the two critiques dictate, in their succession, alternations and modifications, the rhythm of phenomenology, the expansion and contraction of its heart's chambers. Critique of logos with recourse to phenomena represents the stage of expansion, whereby vacuous constructs of formal logic are confronted with their normative presuppositions and ontological foundations, while abstract reason emerges out of purely conceptual constraints to the light of the lifeworld. In its amplifying capacity, it acquires a meaning diametrically opposed to that of the Kantian restriction of reason within the limits proper to reason alone. The phenomenological critique of logic and, more broadly, of sedimented rationality belonging to the philosophical tradition (and detached from what it reasons about) is positive and creative to the extent that it destroys empty schematisms through a call to go "back to the things themselves", which is simultaneously a recall of logos to itself, in the broadest range of its meanings, and to the phenomena that exhibit themselves before "the originally presentive consciousness of something" (H III, 42). To wit, the temporal modality of this operation is the past, retrievable through a certain genealogical, if not genetic, going-back to everything Western rationality has discarded or rendered unconscious, which did not prevent it from relying on the repressed material for the production of meaning. The expansion of logos as a consequence of its having undergone a critique by phenomena is nothing other than the becoming-ontological of logos rescued from the jailhouse of pure reason. Much of Heidegger's appropriation of phenomenology presupposes the initial thrust of this critical ontologisation, already palpable in the thought of Husserl as well.
The second critique (of phenomena by logos) follows on the heels of reason's amplification and attains the exact opposite effect — that of contraction, evident in the reduction of the positings of the natural attitude. The rise of eidetic phenomenology is, in the last instance, indebted to this critical narrowing down, which should not be mistaken for reduction tout court and which permits the field of pure consciousness to take shape in the restriction of admissible "evidence" and "self-evidence" to whatever is immanent to this consciousness. More recognisably Kantian, in that it connotes a series of delimitations and circumscriptions of a transcendental domain (first of pure consciousness, then of the eidetic realm as a whole), the critique of phenomena by logos is, also like its Kantian counterpart, productive, positive, enabling and creative. This is not to say that it engenders new phenomena; rather, it discloses the transcendental sphere in which the meanings of phenomena are constituted in accord with their modes of givenness. Ontologically robust, it brings to light, by delimiting them, eidetic regions of being, or what in Ideas I Husserl calls "material ontologies", as well as the very idea of the eidetic. But its temporal orientation is futural, in that it both predelineates the field of transcendental consciousness and anticipates the predication of human knowledge on the freshly minted eidetic foundation, itself subject to critique and endless modification.
It is not sufficient to pass through a brief series comprising two moments only once, in the hopes of discovering the living pulse of phenomenology. A rhythm entails the repetition of different elements in a regularised succession, and the same applies to the rhythmic alternation of phenomenological critiques. Critique of logos by phenomena is an infinite task of a nontotalising expansion of reason, which comes to fruition not in its decisive accomplishment but in becoming our requisite habitus of thinking. Its orientation to the history and the prehistory of reason is, as a result of this habituation, projected into the future and entrusted with guarding against the excesses of abstraction and formalism, idealism and realism, psychologism and anthropologism.
Excerpted from Phenomena â" Critique â" Logos by Michael Marder. Copyright © 2014 Michael Marder. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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