29 March 2006

Husserl Email 01

I'm in a class studying Husserl's The Crisis Of European Sciences And Transcendental Phenomenology. Our tutor wants our comments once weekly via email, and since I rarely engage in any sort of pithy, epigrammatic writing, I thought it would be nice to give my readers a look at another side of B. Michael. The reading on which I've commented below is from the first Appendix, a lecture given in Vienna by Husserl in order to rub the logical positivists' noses in their dirty, stinking little mess.

Mr. Hand:

Well. I was just this side of finished with my reading through Part I of Husserl's “Vienna Lecture”* and I was deciding which precept to transfer into. I was starting to question my commitment to studying philosophy. I hated Husserl. (I thought he was a callous boor)

Everything started off pretty well, though. It seemed like the concept of "surrounding world" (i.e., "a spiritual structure in us and in our historical life" (272)) prefigured Wittgenstein's Lebensform. I'm really quite interested in Wittgenstein's Lebensform which seems itself to prefigure certain so-called post-modern ideas about competing narratives, hegemony, carceral archipelagos &c. I used to love that stuff as an undergraduate, but I think my thinking bears more affinity w/said Lebensform-type though. Husserl's early emphasis on this concept looked good, suffice it to say.

A few pp. later Husserl starts referring to "unprejudiced reflection" which gives rise to this presentiment that European thought is THE objectively valid though-of-thoughts (so to speak) (275-6). What the fuck?

Later a few more pp., Husserl gets into saying that the praxis of human existence shall be conditioned by objective truth and this praxis-shift shall (obviously!) affect norms of morality, aesthetics--the whole shebang (287). Of course, this line of thought culminates at the end of Part I w/Husserl's saying that philosophy will be "archtonic" (289). Now I don't have a dictionary w/that term, nor a philosophy dictionary handy, but it seems like Husserl ends by saying that philosophy will be king.

Just the page before, Husserl says philosophy grew up out of "the universal critical attitude toward anything and everything pregiven in tradition," and w/that thought in mind, I was really confused by Husserl's pushing his now characteristic neo-pan-Hellenism down the audience's throat. Is philosophy critical of norms or does it establish norms? Even though there occurs that shadowy Hegelian-thing in this lecture, it seemed like Husserl was giving a pretty dynamic picture of how philosophy was running through history. (Let's not look at his disparaging the poor Papuan who is only slightly better-off than a beast). But by the end of Part I, it seemed like philosophy had ossified into some horrific, self-reifying ideology.

Chance smiled benevolently down through Santa Fe's rarified air! I read Part II (& III). I'm still a little confused about Husserl's slavishness toward the Greeks, but it seems like perhaps the end of Part I was depicting philosophy's naïveté, i.e., its push for objectivism. Part II generally makes me more amenable to Husserlian thought, esp. the passage criticizing objectivism for begging the question of obviating norms on the path to objective truth precisely because such a praxis is a norm (296). Husserl's insight that "mathematical objectification in general [receives its] meaning on the foundation of life and the intuitively given surrounding world" especially sounds to me like Wittgenstein which, of course, pleased and intrigued me (295). (All references here to Wittgenstein are to post-Tractarian Wittgenstein, 'natch, but that's another issue)

B. Michael Payne

*Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970.