Thursday, November 29, 2012

Phenomenology of Geist

Friends: I have just returned to my bed and breakfast after a remarkable visit to a café-net. The owner of this café has discovered a remarkable use for Geist. Tables in this café have been arranged with approximately four to six phenom-graphs sitting around the table, or standing in the corner as a cluster. Participants can sit at any phenom-graph in any café, and transmit their voices to any phenom-graph elsewhere. 

I sat down at a table alone, near a table with three active graphs. The proprietor kindly allowed me to experiment with a phenom-graph transcription device. I had the opportunity to overhear the following conversation, which I transcribed feverishly. Since I do not know the names of those speaking, I have given them monikers.


The Professor: I guess I do not see what is at stake in saying "this phenom-graph is not instrumental" -- when I see people using it as a tool all the time.

The cleric: For me what is at stake is that it doesn't HAVE to be instrumentalized, whereas almost all of the conversation around this assumes it is mostly or even exclusively an instrument. And when it is understood in new non-instrumentalist ways, it furthers mission. That's my stake.

The Professor: To be clear I posed the question: given the positive and mutual beneficient experience you have in mind -- is that experience using Geist media as an instrument or to open up a world/environment? Some have said it is a false dichotomy and waved their hands at habitus, ala Bourdieu. I do not know if this works.

The cleric: I've never linked habitus in my mind with Bourdieu, but then I've probably just not read enough of him. I see opportunities for social media to open up a world/environment. That's why I defend it against implicit or explicit instrumentalization.

The Professor: habitus is supposed to get us over the idea that there's a self and then there's the stuff the self does and that the self is always first. Habitus is to say that the self is in acting. It's in his essay on practice

s, he basically said there's no difference than instrument and environment making. I think that skirts a ton of issues because it is basically an attempt to self-hood is fluid and is in practice, which still maintains the priority of the agent

. Selfhood is never like that and it is not proper to theological anthropology

, selfhood is always ecstatic -- I am who I am in Christ-Geist and in the neighbor--

I am given by another, promised even.

The Adjunct: The phenomenological evidence: When I returned from our conference this afternoon I was greeted by my son's play date he organized on phenom-media...all on their individual devices, proximate or expansive empathy/intimacy? It seems they're cultivating experiences in a shared environment.

The Professor: What is this giving them? that's the other way to think it. 

Or to put it in terms of hydrogen weapons. 

It is a tool. But a tool that could utterly change the world.

 The Eucharist may seem like a tool. But it changes the entire world and selves with it.

The Cleric: There's no difference between an instrumental and environmental use of tech.

Mostly people simply aren't even aware of media effects, and this causes all kinds of confusion.

[here there is a mumbled conversation about graphic art I missed while my barrista came to the table offering another espresso]            

The Cleric: Hmmmm... I still have no idea what phenomenology is, so I'm probably one without knowing it.

 And it's not for lack of trying. I've read some of the works by Earl van Huss.

 Here, take this for example [at which point he read from a book... but one problem with this medium is unless people verbally name their bibliographic reference, there is no way to know]:

 Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.

The Cleric: To me, that's just life. I don't get how it is a philosophical orientation.

The Professor: You would be the first to claim that phenomenology is common sense. I think you're missing the epoche -- the bracketing out of other considerations. To open up the phenomenon.

The Adjunct: 

For what its worth, my colleague wrote briefly on this topic, asking the question: How does one render public and explicit a supposedly authoritative text in a culture of pluralism in such a way that it functions normatively for real persons?

 This I believe is a fundamentally phenomenological question.

The Cleric: Okay, you both are helping. This becomes SO frustrating for me. I don't get it. I've tried multiple times to understand how the phenomenology of Geist is a philosophical discipline, and I fail. My only theory right now is that I'm a "natural" phenomenologist and so I don't get the theory around it because it's how I function naturally all the time anyway. 
What I especially don't get is what you emphasize above, Professor, the "bracketing out of other considerations." What other considerations? This isn't clear to me at all.
 Here's a quote from the essay you reference, Adjunct, that is an example of why this whole thing remains opaque to me, I guess opaque precisely in its transparency:

"In a quiet and powerful way, it came to me that phenomenology precisely offered the practices that assisted my faithful dwelling in God’s Word and world. Phenomenology gave me the practices of attentiveness, wakefulness, critical but generous attending to the given that all the prejudices, both fruitful and unfruitful, framed, shaped, ordered, and dominated my reading of Word and world. Phenomenology was the helpful discipline that made possible a liberation from drowsy acceptance and acquiescence to Word and world. My use of phenomenology became more intentional. The practices of bracketing, folding, critical distance, and seeking a critical participation in the fusing horizons of Word and world became increasingly powerful, fruitful for seeking truth regarding my persistent question."

The Cleric: Here's another quote... isn't this obviously how everyone should read the bible? "Ricoeur’s three fold hermeneutics of (1) good will, (2) critical suspicion, and (3) doubt of self remains my working meta-hermeneutics."

The Professor:  

Here's probably why you are having trouble:

 1) phenomenology and hermeneutics dovetail into each other with Gadamer -- you've probably drunk so deeply here that some of the habits of thought that constittue how you look at things or read texts is phenomenological. This includes:

 1) the idea of horizons and its fusion

 2) the language of the "other" and distanciation


Theology of the cross does not say things are what they seem to be. Phenomenology asks us (in its Earl van Hussian mode) to bracket what something is according to our natural attitude, how things appear to our senses in order to allow us to consider the object in its full giveness. Things are, according to van Huss, what they are according to how they give themselves. For Heidegger, things disclose being -- this is why for Heidegger technology is so important becuase tech changes the way we are, our very being, our very world. Things are, according to Marion, their giveness. Phenomenology is not just to attend to our senses but to consider how things are while our natural attitude is left aside. This allows us to consider what truth is disclosed in fiction in the phenomenological sense.

Theology of the cross is a quasi-phenomenological exercise since it asks us to bracket out our desire to write God large and see how suffering discloses God.

 you are not considering the problems that Kant introduced to which phenomenology is in large part the answer. Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena. Our knowing can never get to what things are in themselves, according to Kant, to drastically simplify.

Being Given by Marion is your ticket. Or Husserl's Cartesian Meditations. I don't know any other way here. Read it and tell me what doesn't work. If you don't get the Kant problems on knowing and how one can't have an experience of God in his critique of what he calls the transcendental ideas (God, human self/soul, and human freedom) that's part of what Earl van Huss is getting after.

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is the "first" phenomenological text. Aristotle's De Anima is the ancient inspiration followed by all the early Greek stuff Heidegger did.

The Adjunct: And so in my own messy and clunky explanations, here's a shot. I too understand myself as a phenomenologist of Geist, and this is how I engaged in ministry. But I quickly came to see that there were and are competing ways of doing theology, and that the doing of theology is not merely an intellectualizing of it, but a lived, first order experience. But all experience has fruitful prejudice that often goes uncritically considered. I would agree that phenomenology is helpfully understood as over against what other option. What is phenomenology responding to or arising from?

The best faith in God can ever hope to achieve and arrive at is a value that each of us holds and that is the determine factor for cultivating the moral life. God collapses into the moral category. Thus, the reason we have people who come to our churches, drop off their kids at confirmation is not to cultivate an imagination for God in the world, although this may (hopefully in the Spirit's lead) happen, it is so that their children can learn morality from the church. Is this a bad thing? Of course, not. But they don't need to be in churches to learn morality. ---Of course, now I'm off the phenomenological track it would seem, but I'm trying to capture the influences that keep people's imagination from a theological phenomena, the givenness of the phenomena where God can be expected, and real.

An example of phenomenology as revealing structure is Ricoeur's sense of the text as explanation-understanding. He identifies a phenomenological "structure" that a reader encounters in textual form. This, of course, has massive implications in terms of how texts are read, but most importantly for doing theology is Scripture in particular. The phenomenological philosophical frame is working to render Kant's categories as impotent and non-reflexive. This sense of the text is massively important for how, then, people engage Scripture, for whom many presume to think that they are to extract principles from the text to apply to their own life. It is rare, in my experience, that the first encounter or consideration of Scripture is the very way God is cultivating a promising relationship with the world. This movement is structurally what Ricouer helpfully "uncovers", is the key word, and that invites a theological interpretive move for what we already confessionally state is the case.

Why phenomenology for theology? It is for the sake of maintaining the category of Truth. Christianity too frequently gives up on Truth, both as a way for framing its own identity, but as well then giving up the market share of Truth to others who offer alternative options. Truth is a significant piece here that most have given up on and collapse into the bi-furcated facts/values split. Now this is Kant, because anything theological has been included as a value, placed within the noumenal field, outside of the observable phenomena.


Phenomenology, the way I am coming to understand it, offers up observable frameworks or structures that appear to be case from the lived experiences, interactions of people and things. These structures, however, are never identified without an interpretive bias that makes claims about what they are; This is where I hear the Professors's piece that phenomenology and hermeneutics are closely aligned.

Also, clearly there are different ways of approaching the subject, as you are seeing on your other phenom-graph networks. one can approach it in terms of practical instances whereby one's posture becomes like a curious child or by attending to its deeper meta-theoretical reasoning, what this philosophical construct assumes as what counts as rationality, truthfulness, and validity over against other options. I'm guessing your more interested in the latter than the former, even as the former comes more naturally, and you like to generate "conversation" with others. Framing the lived four layers of complexity: This has helped me to understand the multiple layers simultaneously operating and how they relate. I'm guessing this isn't new to you, but at least I'm getting it on the table as my working assumption with respect to the possible place of phenomenology.
1. Practical Instances: A situation that arises from lived experience 
2. Common Sense: available, "common sense", choices within the situation
 3. Theoretical: explanatory frameworks for the lived experience
4 . Meta-theoretical: the underlying assumptions supporting the various explanatory frameworks.

The Cleric: 
 I almost feel like I have some kind of mental "block" on this. I consider myself a pretty smart person, but the whole thing isn't working for me somehow, other than the Professors's first point about fusion of horizons and distantiation. After that I got lost.

 The Professor: I'm not sure where the block is -- unless you just have trouble in general with epistemology and hermeneutics.

I just read the whole Oxford Encyclopedia entry on phenomenology. While I have quibbles with it, it's a solid and hefty summary. What are the problems you experience in getting this article?

The Cleric: 

The block is in what I was signaling from the very beginning. Phenomenology appears to me to be a distinction without a distinction. And I don't mean by this common sense.

Phenomenology asks us (in its Husserlian mode) to bracket what something is according to our natural attitude, how things appear to our senses in order to allow us to consider the object in its full giveness." So, not to add an even fancier word into the mix, but are you and is Husserl saying that the phenomenon is ontological through and through, it discloses being itself?

Because if that is what you are saying, then I agree with it, but I think that's common sense. Most people don't make a distinction between what something is and how they experience it. What it is in its givenness is what it is.

The Professor: Kant's Corpernican turn to the subject means that we are not passive in our knowing things. We don't know things as they are since we actively assimilate the to our categories of understanding. The mind is active in changing forming our experiences.

This challenges the basic assumption that many assume that wysiwyg.

 Or perception is reality.

Ph enomenology of Geist is about this basic problem. 

As far as theology goes, God cannot be an object of our perception in any sense, which is why either Kant's corpernican turn or a basic form of empricisim shows how theological claims are nonsense.

 The Adjunct: Very helpful Professor, thanks.


Last week a woman in my class told me she's struggling with her faith because she is a psychic. She explained she's had the gift for as long as she can remember, that she communicates with the dead and can relay messages to their living counterparts. At a meal, she said she saw the husband who had died of cancer standing over her widow who was eating dinner right next to her. So she was looking for conversation around how to reconcile it with her faith. We talked for a while about the enchanted ancient world, and then I had her read out loud I Cor. 12 and asked her if anything connected with her. She said she confesses Jesus Lord, and we affirmed this as a gift of the Spirit. Then she read further and identified with the "utterance of knowledge" saying that she has knowledge about people, but doesn't know where it comes from. Very fascinating, so this week she comes back. I'm not nearly as freaked by this as I may have been in the past, particularly around the notion of spirits. This week she was wondering about whether dead people remain on earth for a while or go to heaven, immediately. But that, for another time.

The Cleric: So phenomenology is about this basic problem, that's clear to me. What I don't get is its proposed solution to this problem.

The Professor: The Husserl-Heidegger-Michel Henry-Marion line of phenomenology is about the basic possibility of phenomena -- what makes something a phenomenon, appear. The Merleau-Ponty-Sartre-Levinas-Derrida line is also about that but focuses more on the ethical dimensions of phenomena.

 Gadamer-Ricoeur is more about phenomenology = hermeneutics

. And, there's the kids. I must go. My basic intuition (ha!) here is that you're not going to get this stuff unless you work through Cartesian Meditations or the Idea of Phenomenology. Or even better, I suppose, Marion's how phenomenology saves theology.

The Adjunct: 

So what the basic problem reconsiders as the conditions for the possibility of knowing is an enchanted world, where the subject is not privileged as the constituting, determinative "ground" of all things? And that this re-introduction of enchantment offers and opens up the possibility once again of God/theology, God's agency/patiency, whatever you choose.

The Professor: Husserl's solution:
1) the principle of all principles: everything that gives itself in intuition must be received as it gives it self i.e. appears. 
Comment: this is the charge for how phenomenology of Geist works, the imperative that guides it. Ph. has to find a way to make this work, for one to understand/perceive the phenomena as it gives itself. Kant and others step in the way here (even Freud, claiming our knowing is a disaster; even Marx, claiming ideology gives us a false consciousness... depends upon the phenomenologist -- Ricoeur is probably the only one who has taken up all of these obstacles along with Derrida) 
This is what ties together ph. as a discipline even though there is waay more to even this principle. It is fully articulated in Husserl's complex Ideas, vol. 1.
2) Now we arrive at the debate on how to get at this. Every ph. agrees that the epoche or bracketing is the way to arrive at an understanding of the phenomenon. This is required since natural perception (our unreflective approach to the world) does not allow us to see things as they are. Bracketing is necessary since the stuff that gets in the way (here I am doing violence to Husserl and Heidegger and where a slower read of their work would help) distorts phenomena and therefore our understanding. Bracketing is an act of the subject to eliminate or close out what is and what appears. Thus, Husserl reduces all phenomena to object-hood --- he follows Kant very closely here. This means God cannot be a phenomenon. Heidegger argues with this choice of how to reduce phenomena in Being and Time and prefers possibility -- things that might be, opening up what can count as phenomena to a much wider field. Ricoeur and others follow Heidegger's basic insight. Merleau-Ponty tries to stick to Husserl even though he pushes it to the limits in his posthumous notes.

What do you think of that drastic and horrific summary, Adjunct?

 The Adjunct: You are a god. This is an honorable essay, your precision for the details of the argument is massively helpful, clear, and comprehensible. What this tells me is how much ph is a sophisticated argument against Kant's privileging of the subject. This probably why it is good to begin a ph seminar by reading Kant, some of which students may understand, or not, at the first reading. I would also say that Gadamer's Truth & Method is a critique of Kant in the opposite direction, beginning w aesthetics/judgments, then to historically effected consciousness, finally to language itself. While G is hermeneutical emphasis for sure, it's re-worked challenging Kant. It relates to ph in that all ph is fusing of horizons w/in a constantly belonging (given perhaps is what Marion says) structure. Thank you for your words here.

The Cleric: You guys have been very helpful. I now know that my major "block" is with this first and most important point of Husserl's: 
"the principle of all principles: everything that gives itself in intuition must be received as it gives it self i.e. appears."
 My problem is I think that might be impossible, in the way it is impossible to "just read the bible."


At this point my time allotment for the phenom-graph transcription device had ended, and a line had formed for other users, other purposes. I'm still puzzling over this clearly esoteric yet fascinating discussion. Clearly there are others out there hard at work deciphering aspects of the phenomenology of Geist. []

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