“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, October 25, 2010

In Defense of Phenomenology

Phenomenology gets a bad rap these days what with the legacy of deconstruction, the predominance of Lacan, and the new kids on the block, the speculative realists. Until I read Graham Harman's work I'd written off Husserl altogether. Heidegger I could manage, highly modified.

But as we'll soon see Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology out there I thought I'd pitch in with something like a defense of phenomenology.

The clue is in Ian's title. If you take the human ego out, what's not to like? Of course some people think this is strictly impossible. But lest we reinvent the wheel, I think we should make a slight return to phenomenology. It's already a way beyond what we think it is.

My critique of lifeworld can easily be staged within an expanded phenomenological view, not outside of it. This has to do with what Ortega y Gasset calls ingenuousness and with what Levinas calls sincerity, which means that intentional objects are themselves all the way through, or, in OOO terms, sensual objects just are what they are. Or in the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

If we throw out the baby of phenomenology with the bathwater of correlationism, I'm afraid all we're left with is the latest science. Philosophy becomes an adjunct to that, and in a sense collapses back into the correlationism it was trying to escape, by providing some kind of experiential take on science, a take that isn't even phenomenological.

Any literary analyst worth her salt is going to do something like phenomenology whenever she reads a poem. My first questions have to do with things like “What are the experiential laws in this text? What's up, what's down? What does it feel like to walk through it?”

The age of global warming brings about the end of irony qua absolute distance towards reality. Reality becomes viscous (see my previous post). Hyperobjects stick to us the more we try to exit their gravitational field. We find ourselves unable to be disingenuous. Sincerity eats irony. Pheomenology is back.

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