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.