Givenness, Book I, sections 1-3.

In the section entitled, “Preliminary Answers,” Marion makes explicit the dominant theme of his book, “what shows itself first gives itself” (5). Beginning with this theme and developing creative variations, Marion culminates the work with the “saturated phenomenon,” which becomes the paradigm for givenness.

In book I, sections 1-3, Marion enters into dialogue with Husserl and Heidegger. As he engages and deconstructs various past formulations, Marion wants to leave open the possibility of a phenomenon, which is not confined within intuition alone. Before diving in to Marion’s critique, we should say a bit about the difference between phenomenology and science. Phenomenology doesn’t want to be a science so it is not metaphysics, as metaphysics proceeds according to the methodology of science. Phenomenology instead serves as a counter-method. Phenomenology abstracts from, brackets, and focuses on givenness, i.e., the given prior to any theories we might add. In science, the method is to define the parameters from the beginning—before the scientist begins. Thus, the method of science defines rigid horizons. However, phenomenology does not proceed this way. Marion wants to get rid of the rigid horizon and the modern “I”, the modern “ego.” The modern subject is the idolatrous subject that constantly “images” itself, and consequently engages in idolatry (theologically speaking). Marion instead wants us to think of a different subject—the sub-ject, not the subject of modernity. That, is the postmodern sub-ject is one who subjects himself/herself and is constituted by the situation, rather than being the creator and sole constitutor of reality. In other words, we want to find a way to get the modern subject to become a sub-ject, and so we seek a counter-method that undoes the science method. Husserl and Heidegger have already done this to a certain extent in what they call “reduction.” Reduction is a kind of method that does not constitute but allows the things themselves to appear. Heidegger’s candidate for a counter-method is “so much appearing, so much being.” That is, we let things appear and to that extent they are. Then Marion explores other possibilities from Husserl, who said that philosophy should be about the “things themselves.” In his discussion of Husserl’s “principle of principles” (12-14), Marion finds the principle insufficient. According to Husserl, intuition is a process whereby there is still an expectation on the part of the one who has it as to what can be an experience that can measure up to an expectation. In other words, there is still a framework. Marion would say that every intuition, though immanent, transcends its object. That is, “transcends” in the sense that phenomenality is not exhausted by the intuition of an intentional object. For example, a book is intuited as a book, not as a mass of pages. Intentionality is the aspect in which consciousness contributes to the object (in this case seeing it as a book). Likewise, my consciousness intends something distinct from itself. That is, I intuit the book as not being me—thus, “in immanence, transcendence is given.” There is a transcendence in the book that is intuited, because the book is not me. So Marion here speaks of “transcendence” in the sense of going beyond consciousness—i.e., the book is not me. Thus, we have the givenness of transcendence in immanence.

In his critique Marion goes on to ask, “Does fulfilling intuition applied to an objective intentionality define in general all phenomenality or merely a restricted mode of phenomenality? […] In short, does the constitution of an intentional object by an intuition fulfilling ecstasy exhaust every form of appearing? And even more, we must ask if intuition should be restricted to the limits of intentionality and the object’s transcendence, or if it can be understood within the immense possibilities of what shows itself” (13). Here we begin to see “why” Marion criticizes the principle of principles, viz., because he believes that the possibilities of phenomenality exceed intuition. There is a horizon of expectation and there is interplay between intuition and intentionality, but to define phenomenality through intuition means to say that something that gives itself beyond the boundaries of intuition cannot be thought. In other words, Marion wants to make it possible to think about givenness in all of its rich possibilities, and he wants to loosen up the way in which the subject understands himself/herself as constituting experience—viz., the subject himself/herself can be constituted as well. Hence, what we have is a challenging of the absoluteness or rigidness of the a priori horizons, yet Marion does not want to do away with all modern “findings.” For example, Marion does not reject in toto the constitution of the object by the subject, but he does ask why the object is given to the subject. Ultimately, Marion wants to explore whether there are instances in which the object “breaks in” and (re)constitutes the subject.

Summing up Marion’s lengthy discussions of both Heidegger and Husserl, we might say that he concludes that neither allowed givenness its full realization. For Husserl, the full breakthrough of givenness is halted due to an “unquestioned paradigm of objectness” (32). Consequently, by restricting givenness to the object, Husserl does not advance his initial findings. Regarding Heidegger, Marion claims that givenness is abandoned “by assigning beingness to the Ereignis” (38). For Husserl givenness is objectivity and for Heidegger it is reduced to the event, both of which are too narrow for Marion. Though it is legitimate to understand objectness and beingness as limited horizons against the background of givenness, Marion, from this point on, wants to define “givenness in itself and on its own terms” (39).