It's a strange but established fact that a number of strains in continental philosophy are most readily found in university departments other than philosophy: post-modernism, critical theory, semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, etc. I'd not previously thought, though, that this extended to phenomenology. Here is at least one example of this happening:
It's a podcast (not sure why it isn't under iTunes U instead of podcasts) by the "School of English, Communications and and Performance Studies, Monash University," that features (in this episode) Ed Creeley presenting a paper on using phenomenology to analyze theater performance. The lecture is the "April 6" entry here, under "The trials and tribulations of phenomenological analysis in performance studies."
In the first part of the lecture, Creeley gives a few of the variations in phenomenological method, and name drops some entries that we've not yet brought up. Interestingly, he describes A. N. Whitehead as a "process phenomenologist," as if regular phenomenology (like, say, Being and Time) doesn't take into account change over time (with all the talk of essences in Husserl, this illusion is understandable). This all seems a helpful enough introduction, but by the middle of the lecture, he gets down to the business of how this can be applied to theater performance, and here's where it seems to go wrong insofar as I understand the scholarship he's invoking. He describes Husserl's phenomenological reduction as, in this case, boiling down the usual complexity by which a performance is analyzed (in terms of the text involved, though I was unclear on exactly what he had in mind here) to the emotional experience of the actors doing the scene. As useful (I suppose) as this might be for Creeley's project, it has next to nothing to do with what Husserl meant by reduction, which was the suspension of ontological attribution to the contents of experience (i.e. during reduction, you're not a realist or idealist; you just describe the phenomena and don't care whether they have any correlate beyond experience). The only analogy for applying this to theater that I can think of is something like judging a performance seen on TV without regard to whether there were real actors or just CGI creations doing it, or whether it's a dream in my head for that matter.
From that point things get worse, a questioner at the end rightly brings Creeley to task re. some of his terminology and his needless invoking of Derrida to say that the reduction is not possible in full, which for Creeley means that getting ahold of the whole phenomenon in your description is impossible. Problems with this notion of reduction were apparent pretty much from the moment Husserl put it out there, and it's no longer the key methodological tool for his successors (even Husserl makes much more limited use of the term by the Cartesian Meditations late in his career).
This all gives rise to a general concern I've had re. doing philosophy outside of philosophy departments, or academia altogether (i.e. what you and I are doing right now). It's all fine and good to take what's most useful to you out of readings, whether it's really good scholarship or not. I'm also all for inclusion: I honestly want to understand what these funny post-modernist types that lurk in literature departments and the like are talking about, and want to do more episodes on non-Western philosophy and feminism, etc. If someone's spending time on something, there's usually something to it, and I'm not dismissing Creeley's efforts or his scholarship. At the same time, there's a reason why folks in philosophy departments often can't stand whole areas of intellectual culture, and I think this talk gives us one example why that might be the case. When you leave academia completely, the danger is even more stark, and don't think I'm not aware of the risk of imparting a load of bullshit to you myself. I will count on you readers/commenters to call me out; this is the closest to peer review that we can ask for in a forum like this.
for a more interesting look at Whitehead vs Heidegger, esp. given your engagement with M-Ponyy, see Shaviro’s Without Criteria:
Daniel Horne says
Can someone please do a phenomenological reduction of Two and a Half Men for me?
Daniel Horne says
On a less flip note, I think I agree with what I take to be your point…properly understanding a serious philosophical argument requires immersion into a centuries-long discourse. One can’t just pick up a copy of “Being & Time” outside of that context, and expect to thoroughly understand it.
But I take issue with the statement “There’s a reason why folks in philosophy departments often can’t stand whole areas of intellectual culture….” Talk about pot and kettle! I reject the notion that Philosophy PhDs teaching at academic philosophy departments are in significantly less danger of producing spurious nonsense than the public at large.*
Most of the canonical phenomenologists themselves have been accused of poor scholarship, within and without the academy, and no less so than have those who have attempted to interdisciplinize them.
As an outsider to it all, I don’t see university philosophy departments as possessing any more intellectual “street cred” than those academic departments which occasionally co-opt the philosophical canon.
I dunno, being skeptical of such interdisciplinary use smacks a little of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: “Back off man, I’m a scientist….”
It’s not at all clear to me that the emergence of a professional philosophical priesthood has necessarily redounded to the benefit of the intellectual discipline. I don’t know that other departments shouldn’t lay equal claim to the scholarship.
But picking on non-philosophy departments (or non-academics) for misinterpreting philosophy texts seems ironic when philosophy departments are themselves ridiculed in much the same way, internally and externally. I think the arguments should stand or fall on their own accord.
*Just to re-frame the question in a silly way that I don’t mean: Are you in any position to declare Creeley’s arguments re: phenomenology incorrect, when you yourself lack a PhD of any sort?
Mark Linsenmayer says
My point was not that people with a philosophy PhD have a special insight, but that, at least at the universities I have experience with, there is a logic behind the snobbery towards, e.g. post-modernism, which is just a demand for rigor and clarity. I’m not sure how I can better describe it. It’s something that an undergrad can likely get a strong sense of with just a couple of upper-level courses, and I should stress that it’s not necessary to meet that standard even most of the time in order to recognize it. I consider a lot of what I do on this blog by necessity hand-waving and approximate, but I know (to some degree) what I would need to do to hammer an idea into shape to make a presentable academic paper.
However, you’re right: having no awesome professors breathing down my neck at present and telling me what sucks about what I’m saying leaves me pretty unmoored, and definitely prone to the same kind of thing I’m criticizing in Creeley here. But the standard should be different: I’m just a blogger at present trying to understand and impart these things, while he is (was) a guy working on his dissertation, and I think it likely that, while the peer review re. philosophy one might receive in a non-philosophy department is surely better than nothing, and certainly even in a philosophy department there will be great differences of opinion re. what meets the standard (i.e. what the standard really is) such that one could still end up doing crappy work even with thorough peer review, it certainly would behoove a guy like this to get an actual philosopher on his dissertation committee and not just a bunch of his actual peers (i.e. theater studies people).
“there is a logic behind the snobbery towards, e.g. post-modernism, which is just a demand for rigor and clarity”
Possibly there’s a hidden premise here, related to analytic vs. continental. From within the analytic tradition, pretty much everything else looks like it lacks rigour & clarity. But from outside that tradition, it maybe looks like rigour & clarity, by themselves at least, are not all that they’re cracked up to be.
IMHO, that gives two reasons why ideas from recent continental thought may (in English-speaking countries at least) have been taken up most enthusiastically by non-philosophers. First: philosophy departments with analytic histories prefer more rigour & clarity. Second: it’s the continental tradition which generated a steady stream of creative & re-usable ideas that appeals to academics in other disciplines.
Also a third reason: dropping obscure-but-impressive names => instant kudos.
Daniel Horne says
Of course you’re right, though I believe you gain as much as you lose from being “unmoored” (I would say “unshackled”), insofar as you have the unique freedom to point out when the emperor wears no argument.
I think the crux of my (petty) dispute with your original post was whether philosophy depts, writ large, are better positioned to declare rigor+clarity more lacking in other departments/disciplines. But maybe that reflects my law school experience, where rigor+clarity was pretty much demanded at all times, and not just from the professors.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate goofy po-mo-isms wherever I find them, and I’ll grant that many humanities departments are on average worse offenders than Philosophy departments. (Though what does that really say?) I wonder if the beef is not so much:
([rigorous philosophy departments] vs. [non-rigorous humanities departments])
([anyone inculcated into post-structuralism] vs. [everyone else]).
But the pathology I tend to find in any academic department is the demand that students (or even associate professors) adhere to orthodoxies. That helps weed out cranks, sure, but it can also stifle any meaningful criticism or original thought.
Anyway, it’s not clear that the supposedly greater rigor+clarity to be found in philosophy departments forces their faculties to make more meaningful (or correct) pronouncements about our world. Rigor and clarity provide certain benefits, certainly, but at the cost of different pathologies (i.e., never getting much further than the cat on the mat). I suspect the benefits of this greater rigor are of little use once one strives beyond p‘s relation to q.
To pick a recent example (and, of course, to make it all about me), I’ve been reading Michael Dummett’s On Immigration & Refugees,” based on his name getting dropped (I think) in the Frege episode. (I figured I had sufficient academic and professional background in immigration to more readily grasp his arguments.) While it’s a good book, Dummett’s clear style only made more transparent the errors in his premises and conclusions. I almost wonder if such an approach more easily ensnares one into the illusion of marshalling superior arguments. And who called out the failings in Dummett’s book? No one that I can find. Dummett’s dubious policy prescriptions seem to be just as inoculated from skepticism as Zizek or Derrida, due, I suspect, to his academic reputation.
Actually, a good contrast to Dummett’s book was Derrida’s On Cosmopolitanism,” which examined the French refugee issue with similar sentiments, though of course from a different approach. It’s a surprising lucid piece of prose, actually. But importantly, and unlike the more articulate Dummett, Derrida was commendably reluctant to come right out and say “..and therefore we must do _this_.”
Anyway, I’m off point now, so I take it all back.
Mark Linsenmayer says
I reduce them to 1 half-man.
John Townsend says
Aside from the phenomenological reduction and what you mention (the epoche, which is just the first step of the phenom. reduction) there is also eidetic reduction and the transcendental reduction. The eidetic reduction seems like if might be the operative concept in play….I mean, that is, if we’re going to be charitable. I say, why not? Something to consider.
David Buchanan says
Yea, Mark, I just graduated from a Master’s program and I saw the sort of thing you’re talking about. It was a broad-based, interdisciplinary degree in the Humanities. The idea is that some issues can’t be handled very well from within a single discipline and instead demand that we come at them from several different directions at once. (in my case, for example, I studied some psychology and religion on top of the philosophy.) When it comes time to bring it all together into a thesis, each student has to think carefully about which “methods” are most suited to their subject matter.
In effect, this is where the non-philosophers have to get philosophical about their own topic. This is just a Master’s degree but, like the Ph.D., anyone with an advanced degree has to go beyond the known facts and history of their field and get into the question of how facts are produced, what counts as true or valid or right. Each discipline should have its own set of epistemological standards, parameters that are appropriate to the object of study. These rules have been worked out in the sciences because science is itself the classic method of inquiry. But what do you do when your field is in the humanities, like theater or english?
They turn to philosophy when it comes time to write their thesis. They’ll take a crash course in philosophy when they’re looking for a “method” to handle their actual subject. It often ends up looking superficial to philosophers because it usually is superficial. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that philosophers study nothing but these standards and methods.
I think this is part of the reason that “phenomenology” has come to have a very broad and loose meaning. It has come to mean any kind of careful, first-person inspection of experience. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if there were papers written on the phenomenology of watching sit-coms, if not Charlie Sheen’s show in particular. There was a gal in my class who was bringing some method to bear on social media like facebook. One guy was bringing critical theory to John Locke’s work. Marx, Freud and Nietzsche are the “masters of suspicion” and were very popular as the authors of “methods” that could expose hidden truths. Post-colonial perspectives and feminist critiques were also standard options. Those who study literary criticism seem like the worst offenders to me, but that’s probably just a matter of taste.
Grad students should get philosophical about their discipline but we don’t want this element to be a thin veneer of half-understood notions, pasted on after the fact. That’s just bad schooling.
I am no Whitehead scholar, so I followed dmf’s link to Shaviro and read the conclusions about Whitehead philosophy and its art applications – very fascinating.
Mark — from what Shaviro writes, I think you owe Mr Creely a VERY big apology, as he seems to have a very strong understanding of a philosopher’s ideas and how they can be applied to his field of theater.
Can you apply Whitehead and other philosophers to your profession as well as Creely seems to have done.
I tried to searche PEL to find your posts on Whitehead’s philosophy. Can you post a link?
Mark Linsenmayer says
My point is not that Whitehead has nothing to add to the discussion, only that to say that the rest of the phenomenological tradition is stuck on essences, i.e. static being, is silly given Heidegger and Mereleau-Ponty’s lengthy deliberations on time.
It’s also not necessary if one is going to make critical observation on anything that one be better than the target at that thing. (“That last Led Zeppelin album sucked!” “Yeah, well, let’s see YOU try to make an album that good!”)