against phenomenology

This summer I’ll be writing a brief book that will probably be called Against Phenomenology. The title is meant to be provocative, but it is not a wholesale rejection of phenomenology by any means. Instead, by looking at representative passages regarding phenomenological method in Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Henry, and Marion, I will argue that phenomenologists are incapable, qua phenomenologists, of defending metaphysical realism. The paper I gave recently at Villanova, which focused on the realist rhetoric scattered throughout the corpus of phenomenology, was a precis¬†of this book.

This will not simply be a rehashing of Janicaud’s complaints, as I will not be focused on the so-called theological turn. I want to take phenomenological method seriously in order to figure out what kinds of statements it permits and prohibits. It seems that a prohibition of metaphysical statements is germane of phenomenology. I will also take seriously Meillassoux’s claim that phenomenology represents the strong version of correlationism. If he’s right, this poses a problem for the theological turn. As indicated in the title of my Villanova paper, I’m especially keen to adduce the realist rhetoric, or what I’m calling the ‘rhetoric of concreteness’, at play in phenomenology. This rhetoric is best understood as a species of what Tim Morton calls ‘ambient poetics’. It is often employed by phenomenologists sympathetic to realism as a way around the enunciative prohibitions demanded by phen. method.

With any luck, the book will only be 100 pages or so. Barring any obstacles, it might be written by summer’s end.

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12 thoughts on “against phenomenology

  1. I am wondering if you will address Merleau-Ponty’s somewhat incomplete writings on ontology of nature in the lectures that were released a few years ago, seems appropriate and might fit with the whole “ambient poetics” concept

  2. Yes, perhaps I will have a look at them. A text like that, and even The Visible and the Invisible, is perhaps not a proper object for this analysis because it is arguable whether or not those texts claim to be doing phenomenology. I draw a distinction between ‘phenomenologists’ and ‘phenomenology’, which is quite important if we’re thinking about method. MP is of course a phenomenologist. But what does this mean? That he’s written texts about phenomenology? That he’s committed to the phenomenological method? For me, you must be in some sense committed to the method to be a phenomenologist. What this means is not exactly clear. So, the texts I will examine are specifically those wherein the author is pledging some kind of allegiance to the method, or identifying himself as a phenomenologist.

    Thanks for the suggestion. It certainly may be a place to find ambient poetics at play. That strategy is certainly in VI and the Nature course.

  3. ah yes, it seems that MP seems to stray quite far from phenom. methodology in the nature course! von uexkull & other scientists invoked there are quite a distance away…

  4. Yes, the method is quite different in the Nature courses than it is in Phenomenology of Perception. It is a mistake to see the results of the Nature courses as a product of phenomenological thinking. There is, however, residue of the phenomenological perspective at play in the later work. Finding this is something that I’m interested in.

  5. Pingback: Plastic Bodies Against Phenomenology « Object-Oriented Philosophy

  6. I’ve made a bit of a return to phenomenology. I started out that way when I started reading literature at university as an undergrad–it just felt right. I’m very glad I went through the hermeneutics tunnel with Derrida and also discovered Levinas. But I’m struck by the congruence between our positions at present. Maybe Graham made it alluring and safe again for me (to use one loaded term).

    I’m touched that you’re using that part of EwN. It’s a less well known part of that project and I really appreciate that you saw that.

  7. Yeah, Tim. I’m so glad to have run across that part of your book. In fact, I plan on getting a lot of miles out of it, as it’s precisely the concept that I needed to express what I need to express about phenomenology. As you say, there’s a convergence of sorts occurring now, and lots of energy being generated around some ideas that are congruent, and yet each distinct in their thinking. I’m glad to be a part of it; it helps push me along.

  8. dmf,

    Yes, I hope to move more into this realm shortly. I love Bell’s and Protevi’s work, and I’m trying to read more Dennett, Clark, Johnson, and others now. My current work resonates with them, but does not so much intensively engage them as try to appropriate them a bit here and there in order to construct an OOO/Phenomenological theory of embodiment. If I take on anyone at length, it’s actually Malabou.

  9. you know I was excited to see Malabou follow Stengers, Critchley (with his critique of Heidegger/Authenticity) and Avital Ronell (with her Test Drive) moving away from Derrida’s quasi-transcendentalism and towards a kind of Gay-science/constructivist/neo-pragmatism (I think that Rorty’s kuhnian reading of Davidson on metaphors fits in with Stengers/Bell on creating concepts/speculation) but thought that her brain book was pretty weak in its engagement with
    thanks for all of your work on behalf of Lingis’ project-ions.

  10. I’m glad you like the Lingis stuff. I may write on him again in the future. Davidson is someone I’m anxious to read more of, and I agree with you about Malabou’s brain book. It’s a nice piece of popularization, and I think she (even if proleptically) points neuro-research in interesting philosophical directions. As for neurophenomenology, I”m still not sure about that project. I cannot back this up right now, but I suspect that there are some deep problems with the project at the methodological level (just as there seem to be problems with naturalizing phenomenology). Just speaking intuitively, there is a real sense in which phenomenology is set up in direct opposition to naturalism; and the phenomenological mind, neuroscience. A lot needs to be conceded by the phenomenologist in order to marry the neurologist, although this kind of thing was already attempted in Merleau-Ponty’s Structure of Behavior. What is left of phenomenology if it has altered itself to the point of being completely compatible with naturalism? Is it then just the first-person description of experience? If so, then it must distinguish itself from empiricism and everyday language. Perhaps this is not a popular view, but I think that if phenomenology is going to mean anything, then it has to have some rules that it will not compromise, and these rules will be what distinguishes it as some unique domain of philosophical research.

  11. Let me add this: I think the naturalization of phenomenology gets you something like William James or John Dewey. I’m sympathetic to this, but it’s bad news for phenomenology. If you want to say that James is a phenomenologist, that’s fine. But then phenomenology becomes not a method, but a perspective: basically any nonreductive approach to experience. If we concede that James is a phenomenologist, which is arguably anachronistic and simply nominal, then what does that make Husserl? Husserl is just a guy who tried to solidify a method for phenomenology, but never really settled on it and wavered between realism and idealism. He ended up an idealist, in which case we need to assess what kind of advance (if any) he made beyond Kant, Hegel, and the rest of the crew.

    Ah!, but Husserl is neither and idealist nor a realist, someone will object. Phenomenology is precisely what escapes from that binary! Okay, but it seems that you need a pretty clever method to make such an escape. And if that method is basically just what James is doing, then I’m not convinced.

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