Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Word “Phenomenology”

True story: it was the first word that really excited me as I was studying for my first year at Oxford. I was reading Terry Eagleton's book Literary Theory: An Introduction. Amidst the rather English sneering at everything, I caught something about phenomenology that I found very exciting.

This was confirmed, somehow, by a trip to Paris later that year—it was my year between school and university—in which I found an incredible photography exhibition and a movie by Alain Robbe-Grillet. And the Centre Georges Pompidou. And the Orangerie where Monet's Water Lilies are.

Somehow all these things connected for me, in that late adolescent improvisatory way. So upon my arrival at university one of the first big words out of my lips was “phenomenology”—so much so that this one guy started to call me Phenom. I wrote very phenomenological essays about Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Samuel Beckett. I was Serious.

Something about phenomenology was refreshing and weird. Having revisited that lost world for almost a year now, I can safely say how happy I am to be back. I drank some kind of Kool Aid. Phenomenology was doubly dissed, by Oxford snootiness and Derridean deconstruction. I stopped using the word and thinking of myself that way.

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