Phenomenology 現象学

Phenomenology 現象学 [げんしょうがく] – Short Review – Professor Stefano Micali

Studying at the Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven University is a great experience for many reasons. But one of the main positives is its role and position within the intellectual traditions of the European continent. Specifically this institute at this university is presently a member of the big umbrella of “research universities” of Europe but before being granted such stature it has been since its founding a Thomasian institution modelled on the thoughts of Christian thinker St. Thomas Aquinas the author of the mighty Summa Theologia. During the period of Nazi terror and over world war 2 a phd student smuggled Edmund Husserl’s Nachlass out of Germany and to Leuven. Leuven became the permanent home for the archives of Husserl and in 1962, a young Jacques Derrida came to KU Leuven from Paris precisely to read this great German masters thoughts; resulting in the publication of the popular and deeply inviting books such as Origins Of Geometry, and Speech and Phenomena.

One should take the time just to observe these facts and how Husserl’s philosophy Phenomenology is special because unlike other aspects of philosophy it remains not only a relevant methodological apparatus but an unfinished and inviting intellectual tradition. This year I am taught Phenomenology by Professor Stefano Micali who has provided a syllabus that not only includes Husserl but Marcel Proust, Henri Bergson, Walter Benjamin, and Sigmund Freud. The following blog post is designed to review, expand, and build upon the course content we have covered so far – to prepare for the exams and to participate in the joyful sharing of information with the wider community. 😉 –

  • What is Phenomenology?

Phenomenology is a philosophy that seeks to understand the essence of consciousness through a unique methodology and vocabulary. It first acknowledges that humans have what is referred to as the natural attitude’, that we should understand as an everyday assumption that there exists an external world independent of I that is the thinking subject. Husserl perhaps was not fully persuaded by Descartes use of God as objective validity for the external world, but was influenced by his scientific method of reduction. So, following one of the main historical currents of philosophy from its Greek founders Husserl wished for his philosophy to carry certainty as a first philosophy (of its kind) as a basis for future sciences. He set about doing this via his method of reduction which is two fold: 1) “The phenomenological reduction”, including the suspension of the natural attitude, the unwavering belief that our senses depict reality as it really is – an attempt to do research without a metaphysical presupposition of a world independent of us. 2) “The Eidetic Reduction”, following the phenomenological reduction, this reduction is ‘Eidetic’ because it allows access to the essence of consciousness – in the sense of different stratum of time (streams of consciousness/involuntary memory), and the structure of experiences – all experiences are based on consciousness as absolute field of experiences. Husserl wanted to be linguistically clear from the outset – Eidetic, Eidos, a “terminologically unspoiled name”, and the German wesen [essence] were preferably chosen.

The sheer richness of Husserl’s text pose a problem for the novice reader such as I because of the sheer amount to read (we are still translating – Husserl was a graphomaniac – there is an official word equivalent to logophile or bibliophile but I have forgotten it). Anyway, a short quote from Husserl’s Ideas should clarify the above.    

‘The relevant reduction which leads over from the psychological phenomena to the pure “essence” or, in the case of judgemental thinking, from matter of fact (empirical) universality to “eidetic” universality is the eidetic reduction. The phenomena of transcendental phenomenology will become characterized as (irreal).’

[The following are bullet points which expand upon the content of the lectures on Husserl and my clumsy reading of the great thinker… you will see that they often start with a linguistic weight, as one believes we should always follow language contra someone like the great Alain Badiou who has called language an obstacle. Plus I desire to begin to learn German one day soon.]

  1. Idee [idea], ideal [ideal]

“Desires to avoid apriori, aposteriori, … In addition, the need to keep the supremely important Kantian ‘concept of the idea’ separate from the universal concept of either formal or material essence.”

Kant: Apriori transcendental structure of sensibility

Husserl: Empircal (experience) starts from the experience.

Erlebnisse [a transcendentally purified mental process], Eriegnis [an event]

Vergegenwärtigung [apperception/presentification – to make it present, meaning forming], gegenwärtigung [an act related to the present], Wirklichkeit [reality],Lebenswelt [lifeworld]


Bewuβtseinerlebnis /Bewuβtseinerlebnissen [a lived experience/experiences of consciousness],


Epoché [ἐποχή epokhē, “suspension”] is an ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the state where all judgments about non-evident matters are suspended in order to induce a state of ataraxia [freedom from worry and anxiety]. This concept was developed by the Pyrrhonist school of philosophy.

In German Einklammerung [Bracketing].


  • Marcel Proust, Time Regained, &Swan’s Way In Search Of Lost Time

Professor Micali chose Proust because his writings contain a good route into the phenomena of DéJa Vu, how memory is often involuntary, and how we experience the past? In Proust’s on words, ‘Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has travelled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being?’ In our discussions what has been made very clear both in the lecture and the seminar is the strangeness of consciousness in the phenomena of déja vu – a situation involving a consciousness that is split into two streams of time consciousness were a past experience is re-lived in the present as if it were the same experience. This makes one ponder the power of time, how it remains so central to the philosophy and science of the West. It is remarkable this situation when we are subdued by the seeming certainty of linear time, and we become so torn between the past and the future we loose the present in but a tick of a clock hand.

‘The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect,in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) of which we have no inkling.’

When Proust searches for lost time we may read a fantastically vivid account of an experience of déja vu. Proust’s event takes place as he accepts a cup of tea from his mother and a complimentary ‘petites madeleines’ cake. After taking a bite this cake triggers an exquisite pleasure and his body shivers. Proust likens this feeling to that of love and articulates that the essence of his experiences was not in me, but was me – a joyful becoming? The language Proust uses to describe the process of the second consumption, the need to experience this experience again is awesome. He writes of an ‘echo of great spaces traversed’, and references visual memory as an image linked to that specific taste having an autonomy surfacing into his conscious mind. Yet, it remains elusive this experience of Combray and Proust has to recollect involuntarily then the memories triggered by the tea become vivid once more…

Here we should attempt to put into practice some phenomenological terminology that we mentioned above. In Proust’s case the gegenwärtigung is the sipping of the tea with the cake, then the Vergegenwärtigung would be the awareness of the initial memory the cake and tea being given to him by his aunt. It is difficult to suggest where Husserl would have suggested bracketing or using an ? Is it likely he would locate the natural attitude in the difference between the present tea and cake or the tea and cake in the memory? In the extra-temporal delight? The co-presence of separate times transforms into a spectacle of life as the ultimate form of joy… In Time Regained, Proust writes about Art also in a mind blowing way which makes it necessary to write about this in the very near future.     

‘And I began to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I want to try to make it reappear.’

  • Henri Bergson Mind-Energy


This French philosopher is not only infamous for being one of the most important writers on time but is also known to have been accused of denying Einstein a noble prize because he was critical of his theory of relativity. We have read the text Mind-Energy, constructed from a set of lectures Bergson gave titled the Spiritual Energy. The exact purpose of reading Bergson was that not only is the book a good example of how research is done and that the book comments nicely on ‘false recognition’, and ‘memory of the present’. Being extremely teleological Bergson focuses a reader in on the phenomena of déja vu by offering insight into a way one can interpret it as being both a memory and a perception. This is puzzling because we should experience this condition of déja vu all the time but we don’t we are anchored to a present pragmatical perspective and agency in the (real) world. It is said that you experience a déja vu once or three times a year… yet, we are confronted with it in many different ways. If we take one of ancient Plato’s questions: what does multiplicity look like? Then we are faced with the dilemma of accepting déja vu as an exclusion of explicit memory – are we not then faced with a tension between transcendental and metaphysical (epistemological) presuppositions of an ordering science… can not accept déja vu as a phenomenon > Numerical identity of experience leads to a different experience. Again, in another approach déja vu and similar phenomena could be problematized as an oscillation between either categories and a world or between possibility and necessity. Or, more linguistically everything depends on relational experiences, the problem appears lodged in the encounter of relational reality with a rationalistic manner.

Bergson, begins negatively by describing an inner tension of inevitability and its suffering. Involving a lack of a lack of freedom – inserting oneself into a prior or pre- established plot (involuntary memory and déja vu, also a nice inversion of the theatre as an innately positive thing – I believe it is, but this is still nice considering Freudian echos of the inner theatre, Rousseau etc). This French thinker’s description of déja vu begins by discussing the mark of the past and a duplication within our consciousness of time. A Memory of the Present, is the description he settles on after describing how memory precedes perception, he mentions ‘the entirety of the present which must appear to us at once as a perception and as memory.’, and in a more detailed section of text in the following page.

‘We feel that we are confronted with a recollection; a recollection it must be, because it bears the characteristic mark of states we usually call by this name and which only appear when their object has disappeared. And, yet it does not present to us something which has been, but something which is; it advances pari passu with the perception which it reproduces. It is a recollection of the present moment in that actual moment itself. It is of the past in its form and in the present in its matter.’  


Bergson uses the Latin pari passu [synchronised at the same time] to enforce this definition of déja vu. But professor Micali is encouraging us always to read the text carefully whilst at the same time directing our attention to elements of the text which are fruitful and rich for potential new modes of understanding and enquiry. Staying with Bergson’s account of déja vu we can understand Phenomenology’s legitimate claims. Take a complex phenomena such as this we are already faced with deeply inter-subjective issues – how experiences of déja vu differ in the accounts of different people. The above quote adds the complexity of the phenomena itself as a necessary aspect of one’s considerations has to be further understood.

Bergson has a popular concept in his thinking that is the elain vital or ‘vital life’ and it portrays a capacity a vitality for the overcoming of hurdles by life in itself. But this energy is arrested in the experience of déja vu where the simultaneity between memory and a future resulting in what can be called the pragmatical systematic overlooking of a future necessity (which we should associate with Husserl’s ‘natural attitude’), and in the current modality of déja vu we can understand the anomaly itself as the cause of the reality, in that it makes visible the co-founding of memory and perception. It is perception that is the criterion for selection (I.e pragmatism) and this is why reading Bergson in a phenomenological way is very productive because he is critical of similarity and familiarity; allowing both an opportunity to make use of the reductions in Husserl’s philosophy, and also to continue to ask fantastic questions such as: why does a concrete idea emerge? (manifest) in an infinity of experiences? Hence the continued value of Phenomenology both as a rigorous form of scientific enquiry and an opening towards new interpretations for there seem to be no explicit reasons why a person would become aware of the structure of consciousness.

[more points regarding Bergson…]

  • Power of co-existent empathy – linguistically dependent?
  • 1/ memory of the present. 2/ déja vu: experience of the present as if it were the past. 3/ Feelings of inevitability and split from the ego > a feeling of premonition that is unjustful.
  • This includes a two stage step for Bergson: 1) The lowering of attention > Suspension of vital life. 2) Repetition > the retention of memory.
  • Bergson: Virtuality / Knowledge?
  • Bloch, Freud, and Walter Benjamin

[The following are more experiences of déja vu and if you need the exact references get in touch and I will contact the professor.]

The first quote is from Ernst Bloch – I believe, unless there is another Bloch? Ernst Bloch was a utopian German political philosopher who like many Jewish thinkers fled their persecution by the Nazi’s only to return to their homeland and establish lasting philosophical legacies. Bloch and Walter Benjamin were exemplary practitioners of what is called Das Plumpe Denken [The crude thinking] something which I wish to also practice. The account of déja vu shows clearly a strong sense of presentification Vergegenwärtigung in that Bloch sees this bridge before it appears in his present perception. 

‘While on expedition through an unexplored region of Peru, he felt not only that he

had witnessed the entire scene before, but knew in the same moment that a bridge

was about to come into view around the bend in the road’

The second quote from Dr. Sigmund Freud is also quite strongly descriptive of the importance of thinking phenomenologically. But, where Husserl may have insisted on the necessity of the eidetic universality (pure consciousness has as its contents all experiences united in a single adumbration.), yet with Freud we see déja vu described within his science of psychoanalysis – visible with the affirmation of both unconscious and conscious states or conditions. Also one should just note that I should read about Husserl’s ‘ego split’ in regards to Freud’s split between ego and super ego… I want to understand this a little better…It’s also interesting to see the criticality inherent to the modernist pathos of science.

‘It is in my view wrong to call the feeling of having experienced something before an illusion. It is rather that at such moments something is really touched on which we have already experienced once before, only we cannot consciously remember it because it has never been conscious. To put it briefly, the feeling of déja vu corresponds to the recollection of an unconscious phantasy. Their exist unconscious phantasies (or day-dreams) just as there exist conscious creations of the same kind which everybody knows from his own experience.’

Finally we have the greatest urban explorer the delightful Walter Benjamin the tragic loss of Benjamin and his exclusion from the philosophical school he associated with, the Frankfurt school haunted Theodore Adorno as it haunts us today. Benjamin was absurdly creative 🙂 and wrote in a way which embraced new styles of writing that made his thinking less prim and proper but in no way less philosophically potent. So, when we overhear, or are confronted with a philosopher of science suggesting Karl Popper was correct to label Marxism as a pseudo-science it might be tempting to reply by saying ‘so what!’ it does not use apodictic certainty but then again is not obliged to do so… Benjamin’s contributions are egalitarian, deep, and I am only just reading them for the first time. But to quickly offer some examples of why he was very special one could start with the poetic character of his thought. He took what fellow Marxist Althusser called the ‘superstructure’ and turned it into a metaphor, and for Benjamin this transformation centred around the sensual perception or that which is sensually perceivable offering an immediate material connection. To explain this a little more practically: ‘linguistic transference (metapherein – to transfer) enables us to give material form to the invisible, the superstructure is then directly related to the material substructure meaning the totality of sensually experienced data.’ Benjamin also had a very important philosophy of time a unique adaptation of historical materialism beginning in his Über den Begriff der Geschichte [Theses of the Philosophy Of History], and being more strongly articulated in other texts. Benjamin’s understanding of time centres around his critique of a naturalism within historicity, and a distrust of the concept of progress in social democracy. This stance on history is close to mine and so many peoples hearts because it makes room for a literary montage to then create dialectical images, and as revolution as an arrest or interruption of history – within his historical materialism: progress is destroyed in favour of actualisation. Let us see the spirit of Benjamin’s creativity in this final account of déja vu where his relationship to the true materiality of time is present.      

‘It is a word, a tapping, or a rustling that is endowed with the magic power to transport us into the cool tomb of long ago, from the vault of which the present seems to return only as an echo. But has the counterpart of this entranced removal ever been investigated-the shock with which we come across a gesture or a word the way we suddenly find in our house a forgotten glove or reticule?’

  • Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining To A Pure Phenomenology And To A Phenomenological Philosophy 1,


[The following are a small selection of essential quotations taken from Husserl’s text above. I think they help clarify and enhance one’s initial understanding of one of the big H’s of philosophy the other being Hegel.]

  1. Essence and Eidetic Cognition

 “The presentive intuition, gebende Anschauung, belonging to the first, the natural sphere of cognition and to all sciences of that sphere in experience that is presentive of something originally in perception. … the world is the sum total of objects of possible experience and experiential cognition.” {pg.6}


“Science in the natural attitude, the sciences of material nature, but also those of animate beings with their psychological nature, consequently also ‘natural sciences’ and ‘Geisteswissenschaften.’”


“Eidetic universality (any matter of fact in respect of its own essence)”




“Eidetic seeing [Wesenserschauung] an intuition of something individual [Individuelle Anschauung] … Essence is the being of an individuum. The ‘what’ which ‘can be put into an idea’. Experiencing an intuition of something individual can become transmitted into eidetic seeing (ideation) a necessity.

[Oswald Kiilpe’s Polemic against Husserl, Die Realisierung Grundleging der Realwissenschaften, Liepzig Hirzeb, 1912, Vol. 1, p.127]


“Any possible object – logically speaking ‘any subject of possible true predictions – becoming the object of an objectively personal selfhood, seizes upon it – seeing an essence is therefore an intuition.” {pg.10}


[There is a lot more to add, and I will do so in later posts on phenomenology, but this is a small overview of what we have covered since February]

“Judgement (mode, any [Uberhaupt] about the individual though purely as a singular particular essences [Einzelheit der wesen] – pure geometry we do not judge (subsumption of individual under an essence (genus) – subordination of an essence to its higher species (Geometry has Eidetic universality).”{pg.12)

“Pure Eidetic Sciences (logic, mathematics) pure of all positing of all positing of matters of fact > in them no experience, as experience ( a consciousness seizing actual factual existence ‘can assume the function of a grounding – experience functions in them it does not function as experience. Geometer/Artist – drawing figures on a white board, factually existing lines. Experiencing of the product qua experiencing, no more grounds his geometrical seeing of essences and eidetic thinking than does his physical producing

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