Friday, January 28, 2005

Phenomenological Inquiry

I am always looking for places to send my students for further reading and learning opportunities concerning some of the more complex concepts, ideas, or texts I refer to during class.

I consider myself a student of phenomenology. And I mean student. From what I have read, I have learned the field is a life-long project. I am comfortable reading and reflecting; I am not in the mood to tell it like it is or defend a thesis. The reading in the German tradition, Heidegger's Being and Time for example, only makes me feel like I have read nothing. And I have read that monster twice. When I finish a Heidegger essay, I need to begin again because I feel I have lost much of it. (I feel this way with Williams and Olson, too. Maximus kills me.) And now I am reading the French--Janicaud, Henry, Marion. Too much for me. So, what do I say to my students?

You might think I would have found it long ago; this web site has helped me help my students--students who are typically never going to come back to such inquiry. Phenomenology Online does a good job of categorizing approaches to inuiry and writing. There are a handful of links that no longer work; but the site is several years old and it appears it was moved. Might need a little maintenance.

Check it out. It has helped me focus my points in lectures and given me a place to send the curious student. This way, I don't say something foolish about befindlichkeit or one of the many kinds of reduction.

What I like most about the site: the maps.


Laura Carter said...

It's a very cool site, Gary---thanks! I'm not even a student, just sort of a rambling impressionist when it comes to philosophy.

I'd love to hear you talk more about your relationship with Williams....

Anonymous said...

From JSR . . .

I comprehended very little of Being and Time too. (Read it just once but carefully.) I came very close to concluding it really meant nothing--he just gives something like the act of physically approching equipment a fancy name like "desevering" and suddenly that's philosophy. I liked the discussion toward the end about what exactly we are doing when we "make time" or "lose time" since, after all, we have nothing but time, and we can really neither make it nor lose it--we are perpetually in it. Unfortunately I did not catch the conclusion of that discussion, or what he really proposes to be the case.

I think part of it was just that I had no idea what the book was about before starting it. I imagine that The Critique of Pure Reason seems equally nonsensical to a reader who has no idea what the book is about and just picks it up cold. (Before I read The Critique I was already very familiar with Kant's philosophy, so I got it pretty well when I read it.)

Thomas Basbøll said...

Phenomenology is a "life-long project" in the sense that any craft skill can always be improved. It is a descriptive art, which is to say, a way of writing. You practice and get better at it.

My dream course in phenomenology requires (1) a whole semester (or longer), (2) Being and Time as a text book, (3) a hammer, (4) repeated exercises in describing the hammer's suitabilty, or lack thereof, for particular task, i.e, its equipmental aptness.

A similar course could be arranged on the basis of Wittgenstein's Investigations, resulting in very different writing (with a comparable end).

Like you, I'm rarely in the mood to discuss Heidegger's theses. I do think he's on to something (rather than nothing) that one can usefully spend one's life trying to understand about what it means for a hammer to be "too heavy".

Gary Norris said...

I have to agree with Thomas. It's important to point out that phenomenology is a way of doing writing, thinking, dwelling (if you will allow me to use a phenom term in the definition.)

Thinking is recedes from its subject matter. That move, the distance or space created, the mood one is left in or with, the state of affairs after the move alters things, --I could go on--, provides a manner for approaching an object or project that also involves the subject. Anyway, Heidegger is only as unfathomable as we leave him to be such. What I do with him is more or less useful, I suppose, to others. I will never be a Heideggerian. But I do understand his essays in metaphysics; they have had a profound effect on my attitude. So had Thoreau, Lacan, Melville, Twain, Faulkner, H, W, & A James, and so many others.

They are all useful. We all fathom. Crawl out onto the ice and sound the bottom for ourselves. Of course, if we do not approach a matter that needs further reflection for ourselves, those who write about will inevitably appear useless or meaningless or even helpless.