Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004 16:21:41 EDT
A Parody of Philosophy
One of the most vexing questions raised by Husserl's yet unpublished Seventh
Cartesian Meditation is that of the relation between the familiar (and -- in
spite of some recent positivistic carping about trivialities like
consistency and meaningfulness -- obvious) principle of the noematico-epochosynthetic
correleticity and the Seventh Meditation's new and radical (1) [see endnote]
principle of analysis-by-systematic-destruction-of-all-meaning (destitutive
analysis). As is well known, Husserl scholarship in this area is sharply
divided between the followers of Husserl's last and most faithful assistant, Johann
Lebenswelter, and those of Husserl's most acute French critic, Marcel
Gaston-Gaston. Until recently it was thought that this polar opposition stemmed
from the different interpretive principles employed by the two scholars:
Lebenswelter faithfully taking as fundamental the principle that "Husserl always
means what he says, even when he says he doesn't," (2) and Gaston-Gaston, on the
other hand, asserting that "Husserl never means what he says, especially
when Lebenswelter thinks he does." (3) However, recently (4) the two men both
agreed with Husserl's own assertion (5) that the two principles are equivalent
for texts written after 1859. (Husserl regards his works prior to that year
as mere "juvenile exercises.")
However, the disagreement remains and, to get to the heart of the conflict,
let us at once examine a passage in the Seventh Meditation that has been the
focal point of the dispute. (6)
"By referring to destitutive analysis, we must not be understood as
intending (in the sense of radical directedness-to-a-preliminary-perceived
objectivity) to imply that, speaking -- as always -- strictly within the
finite-infinite limits of transcendental apodicticity, the object 'part-whole synthesis' is
even partially reducible to the noematic correlate of affective suspension
(in the sense of ideally intended noesis subsumed and founded by the epoche).
(7) For, although this is, of course, the case, our concern is this realm of
a fully concrete living of the a priori, is, as we have repeatedly said,
solely to lay bare the horizontal quasi-content of this analysis' teleology. Here
we may invoke Descartes' realization (fundamentally uninformed and absurd as
it was, being formulated in a reasonable and intelligible way for the first
time in our Logische Untersuchungen and even there still lacking the
proto-foundation of a full scale synthetic analysis on the level of transcendent
egologicism) that some things (res) are hard to understand." (8)
According to Lebenswelter, we can understand this pregnant (9) passage only
by applying a destitutive analysis to its own thought (what Lebenswelter
acutely calls a "constitution-by-springing-back-upon-oneself"). This leads to a
formation of a destitutional noema expressing, as Lebenswelter says, the
essential destitution of the passage. As those familiar with the unwritten Ideen
IV (perhaps Husserl's clearest work) will immediately realize, this destitution
implies the eidetic mutual transcendence of all principles, including that
of noematico-epochosynthetic correlaticity relative to that of destitutional
analysis. The implications of this are as radical as they are obvious.
Lebenswelter further supports his interpretation by appealing to certain passages
as yet untranscribed (10) in the MSS in the Husserl Archives at Louvain and to
Husserl's last words (allegedly directed to Lebenswelter): "You're always
right, Johann." (11)
Gaston-Gaston accepts, as he says in a daring adaptation of terminology,
"the hyle but not the morphe of this analysis;" that is, "What it says is
correct, but what it does not say is not corrrect." (12) According to him, we can
remedy this deficiency only by trying to not-say, not what Husserl said or did
not say, but what he did not not-say. However, this is not as easy as it
seems. The proposed analysis cannot be carried out until Husserl's texts are
expressed in maximally clear form; hence, according to Gaston-Gaston, we must
begin by translating the entire Husserlian corpus into French. After this has
been done (13) it will be necessary to make a detailed application of
Gaston-Gaston's technique of analyse aneant (a more radical version of Lebenswelter's
destitutive analysis which is designed to destroy destitution). This
application will, according to Gaston-Gaston, result in an apocalyptic vision of
phenomenology in which Husserl's true meaning will be revealed. (14) (However,
he does not agree with the view of the Dutch theologian, Fr. van Vlumpt, that
this will effect the conversion of the Jews.)
The dispute between Lebenswelter and Gaston-Gaston will very likely come to
a head this July in Vienna when, at the annual convention of the
Phenomenologists International, the two men will meet in the finals of the world-wide
Eidetic Intuition Competition. (15) Whatever the outcome, we may confidently
expect a revindication of Husserl's classic dictum: "It is bad to be wrong, but
it is worse to be understood."
1. For a discussion of the highly interesting and important question of
whether this principle is radically radical and -- if it is -- if this is so in a
radical sense, cf Brunhilde Jackson, "The Roots of the Radical," Harvard,
1959, unpublishable doctoral dissertation.
2. First stated in his early and perhaps over-enthusiastic Jarbuch article
"Phenomenologie uber alles." p. 15.
3. Asserted in this form in his recent "Phenomenologie et les Evenement du
Mai," p. 85.
4. At the Louvain "Conference on World Population Control by the use of the
5. The remark is contained in a ms. discovered belatedly by Van Breda in the
pocket of an old pair of pants. Husserl recently told me that the ms. is
genuine (August 3,
1968, private communication).
6. Both Lebenswelter and Gaston-Gaston agree that the fact that the
secretary who transcribed the only copy of this text from Husserl's oral presentation
did not know German is of historical but not philosophical interest.
7. (Husserl's note) "I would have hardly thought that the elementary caution
expressed in this sentence would have to be stated. But I now find it
necessary because of numerous and repeated misinterpretations by critics who seem
incapable of understanding the simple and direct statements of my Logische
Untersuchungen (not to mention the almost popular form given my thought in Ideen
8. (Husserl's note) "In this regard, I am happy to refer to the preliminary
sketch of an approach to this analysis which was developed in part by my
student, the late Herr Strenge Wissenschaft, in the 27 volumes of his unfinished
9. Cf. above, footnote 4.
10 The transcription has been unaccountably delayed. Perhaps there is
something to the rumors (current in Gaston-Gaston's camp) that the messages in
question are Frau Husserl's grocery lists?
11. Cf. Lebenswelter's very moving "I Remember Husserl," Bonn, 1969.
12. Here, of course, Gaston-Gaston is referring to his own
(Sartrean-inspired) definitions of hyle as "that which a thing itself is not insofar as it is
not itself," and morphe as "that which a thing (as no thing) is insofar as it
is not itself itself." Unfortunately, our translation cannot fully reproduce
the poetic quality of the French original.
13. The project is underway but has been slowed by diputes over
Gaston-Gaston's demand that, once the translation is completed (if not before), all
German versions of Husserl's work be destroyed.
14. Two American television networks plan to provide live coverage of the
vision as it occurs.
15. Each philosopher will be shown three essences (chosen by an impartial
panel of experts from the Husserl Archives); the first to correctly identify and
completely constitute all three will be the winner. Such a competition is,
to my mind, the best possible demonstration of the objective, scientific
character of phenomenology.
Ring any bells?
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