Phenomenology and Literature

The Romanian Society for Phenomenology and Humanities has recently published Studia Phaenomenologica vol. VIII/2008, “Phenomenology and Literature.” From Delia Popa’s introduction:

Is there a relationship between phenomenology and literature? The question is a legitimate and problematic one, if we take into account both that which properly pertains to the literary sphere and that which pertains to phenomenology, as well as the complexity of attempts to define the practices associated to either. Without engaging into the intricacies of literary theory and meta-phenomenological research, one needs merely to mention Husserlian phenomenology’s claims to scientific rigour and the importance of poetic inspiration within literature to grasp the distance that separates them. Because of this, their dialogue is condemned to remain a frail bridge, joining two mountains which conceal from each other the volcanic spark of their vitality.
Popa continues:

An impossible, precarious dialogue? What we have tried to argue for in this new issue of Studia Phaenomenologica is, on the contrary, that the dialogue between phenomenology and literature is different than the one usually taking place between two disciplines as imposing as they are distant. This premise allowed us to hope that the one engaging in the field of either of the two is not necessarily condemned to ignore events taking place within the field of the other. The reflection upon their relationship was not initiated, therefore, starting from that which sets apart the phenomenological and the literary endeavours, but from observing what they had in common before being founded as separate disciplines. However, we didn’t allow ourselves to be guided either by the intention to draw up an unprecedented profile of a literary phenomenology or a type of phenomenological literature. This is why, deliberately, we didn’t choose to ignore that which distinguishes phenomenology from literature. An inquiry into what these two spaces of the mind offer each other encouraged us to think, rather, that their kinship could shed light on the specificity of their respective endeavours.

The attempts to grasp different types of phenomenological reduction and of neutralising experience, sensitive and intellectual intuition, imagination and the imaginary, as well as the major themes and motifs that emerge throughout phenomenological and literary creation, guided us in our quest for the place where the two disciplines meet, by means of the concrete practice they presuppose, before being defined in theory. Thus, we found out that, even if their “visible” bodies are discrete, their roots are intertwined in the same soil, that in which the accuracy and verticality of thought shoot forth sprouts into the misty horizon of reverie. There is a dream state peculiar to both literature and phenomenology, which inspires them to bravely cross into an universe which is parallel to actual reality, in which the latter’s core truth may shine forth. This dimension is, as Husserl clearly pointed out in the third Cartesian Meditation, that of latent possibility, which accompanies and supports any empiric process. However, it can be grasped only under certain conditions, which we strove to understand in light of the double initiation that phenomenology and literature jointly afford.

We thus came to realize that the crux of their relationship lies in the contribution of the imaginary to phenomenological description and the status that the former holds herein. It is hardly sufficient to separate the pure imaginary from the empiric imaginary, so as to associate the former to phenomenological analysis and the latter to literary creation. For it is just as obvious, on the one hand, that literature doesn’t engage into a mere empiric description, which sets forth only facts, oblivious to their meaning and essence, and, on the other, that there is an empiric realm of description – be it purely psychological or “natural” – which alters the purity of phenomenological description with an obstinacy that resembles necessity. Opposing superficial distinctions, which attribute a predetermined position to each discipline, we dared to argue that literature is just as concerned as phenomenology with grasping essences and meaning and that it displays the same desire to seize them in their very phenomenality. This thematic and stylistic kinship implies a methodological kinship, insofar as literature is, just as phenomenology, bound with more or less self-conscious means of neutralising experience. However, the latter’s hidden meaning is not revealed in literature under the terms of a rigorous endeavour, but flowing, more often than not, from the spontaneity of the story or the emotion stirred by the poem.

Here lies the anticipated paradox, that of realizing that the process of neutralisation may prove most successful when the articulation of its finality is, itself, bracketed, when, rather than rushing to reach a realm of apodictic certainty, we lose our way in the meandering possibilities which unfurl around empiric reality. Aren’t we confronted, perhaps, within the field of literature, with a purer version of epoche, insofar as it is not defined as an abstract assay of essence from fact, but as a glimpse of its dimension as event, lived as such, unavoidably, in experience? If this hypothesis is verified, the phenomenological hermeneutics of literary works will be of interest not only to literature, but also to phenomenology. The risk attending such an endeavour is that of denying the peculiarity of literature as opposed to phenomenology and that of fusing their practices within the selfsame realm of descriptive “sciences”, which narrows the scope of both literature and phenomenology. And this risk would have been taken if there hadn’t existed the possibility to discover a specificity of literature in respect to phenomenology, which, therefore, brings them closer together rather than separating them: literature can describe appearance (Erscheinung), which can be grasped by the senses prior to any idealization. Thanks to this peculiarly phenomenological quality, literature cultivates the openness to remain in the life-world (Lebenswelt), a world which Husserl was seeking for beyond the superimposed layers of idealizations so as to find the unique sparkle of actual reality and to cling to it. If we take into account the critical distance that genetic phenomenology takes from the process of founding abstraction, insofar as this process “conceals” the formation of meaning (Sinnbildung), we may argue that literature could play a crucial part in this line of research. As one of the authors of this volume boldly argues, literature could be considered, in this respect, more phenomenological than phenomenology itself, as it accepts to descend to the deeper levels of the imaginary. Thus, it allows itself the possibility to encounter the real in its most illicit and compelling becoming, rather than settling in a supposedly intangible space of fiction.

Here’s the table of contents (with the full introduction):

Delia Popa, Introduction: Phenomenology and literature


Claude Romano, La consistance de l’imaginaire
Ákos Krassóy, Proximity and Distance: On Some Interconnections between Phenomenology and Literature
Samuel Dubosson, L’ontologie des objets culturelsselon Husserl l’exemplarité de l’objet littéraire
Denisa Butnaru, The Literary Textand the System of Relevances
Marc Crépon, Mourir pour ? La critique sartrienne del’être pour la mort
Rajiv Kaushik, Architectonic and Myth TimeMerleau-Ponty’s Proust in The Visible and the Invisible


Ilya Inishev, Von der phänomenologischenVerstehenstheorie zur Phänomenologie der Lesepraxis
Pol Vandevelde, Le modèle de la traductibilité chez Husserl et Ricoeur: l’exemple de la littérature


Marc Richir, Phénoménologie de l’élément poétique
Jad Hatem, Phénoménologie de l’image poétique
Roland Breeur, Lazare au royaume de l’HadèsRéflexions autour d’un poème de Luis Cernuda
Kevin Hart, “it / is true”


Jean-Baptiste Dussert, Le primat de la description dans la phénoménologie et le Nouveau Roman

[+]Ariane Mildenberg, Seeing Fine Substances Strangely: Phenomenology in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons

[+]Vincent Giraud, L’invisible et la proie: Une lecture de Pascal Quignard

Tobias Henschen, Furcht, Angst und hüzün: Die Entformalisierung zweier ontologischer Begriffe Heideggers durch Pamuks Begriff kollektiver Wehmut
Olivier Lahbib, L’oubli du monde: Une lecture finkienne de bret easton Ellis
Martina Stemberger, Théophile Gautiers Voyage en Russie als „phänomenologisches“ Experiment avant la lett re

[+]Hervé Vautrelle, La montagne de Mann, le désert de Buzzati, le rivage de Gracq: Phénoménologie de trois espaces-temps littéraires


Jeffrey Andrew Barash, Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Memory
Eric Sean Nelson, Heidegger and the Questionabilityof the Ethical
Tracy Colony, Attunement and Transition: Hölderlin and Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning)
Alon Segev, The Absolute and the Failure to Think of the Ontological Difference: Heidegger’s Critique of Hegel

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