Phenomenology of Givenness: Part I
Because I am doing some work on Kant, I wanted to go through some of my old reading and lecture notes from a course that I took at UD last year (“Christianity and Postmodernism” taught by Dr. Philipp W. Rosemann) and focus on some of the highlights from Jean-Luc Marion’s Being Given. I should emphasize that I am deeply indebted to Dr. Philipp W. Rosemann of the University of Dallas for his lectures and explication of Jean-Luc Marion’s work. My notes are by and large summaries of his lectures on the subject.
This was the first book of Marion’s that I have ever read in toto, so I’m certainly no expert on Marion–consider the parts that seem “right” attributable to Rosemann’s analysis and the parts questionable to my attempts. I do, however, find his writings fascinating and would love to interact with those who are more knowledgeable of his works than I.
Being Given (BG) is devoted to a phenomenology of givenness. Marion is well-versed in both modern and postmodern thought and attempts to harmonize the best of both worlds. The fundamental assumption of modern thought comes from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In modern thought we can no longer think the thing-in-itself but only the objects of possible experience—that which is given and which is made by the human mind into that which we experience. In other words, we can no longer step beyond the sphere of the subject. For Kant experience requires both “raw material” and an a priori provided by the mind (i.e., the forms of sensibility and the categories of understanding). These two elements must work together, and the result is that one can no longer get outside of the realm of the subject, the “I”. Consequently, for Kant to talk about the thing-in-itself is out of the question. So what does the phenomenological reduction attempt to do? The reductions try to arrive at a point where givenness is ultimate. That is, Marion wants to get to the ultimate presupposition of human experience (phenomenologically speaking)—in other words, something must be given. This is what the phenomenology of givenness is about—it is an attempt to think about the presuppositions of modern thought. Marion asks, what does it mean when something is given?
Backtracking a bit, we should mention that in Marion’s book, God Without Being (GWB), his theological views come to the fore. The question that Marion asks in GWB is how is it possible to think God in a way that is not idolatrous. Here idolatry means that we want to avoid reducing God to human conceptuality. So we have to ask, “How is it possible to have access to any kind of reality that is not permeated by human realities?” The answer—givenness. In GWB, Marion gives a overt theological answer and says that the Eucharist makes certain a connection between human beings and God. Thus, the guarantee of the presence of the Word is through the Eucharist. This was Marion’s strictly “theological” answer, whereas in BG he attempts to do something very much in harmony with his views in GWB, while staying in more strict phenomenological bounds so to speak.