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).

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.

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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.

Anti-Enlightenment nature of Jazz

Last Fall in my “What is Enlightenment?” course we read The Dialectic of Enlightenment by Horkheimer and Adorno. As a whole, I found the book quite interesting, though a difficult read. Some of the intriguing aspects include the following: a Foucaultian knowledge and power as synonymous thesis, criticism of the totalizing tendencies of the Enlightenment, and the thesis that rationality of the Enlightenment becomes purely functional–a functionalized reason with no content etc. However, the one thing that bothered me about the book was H & A’s negative view of jazz. (This in no way detracts from their overall critique, it just personally bothered me). In several places, H & A criticize jazz, yet their critique seems odd and somewhat misinformed. For example, they list Guy Lombardo as jazz figure and do not mention any African American figures. The strange thing about this is that the history of jazz, which of course involves the great suffering of African Americans, in some ways parallels H & A’s own sufferings as Jews. Given H & A’s negative presentation of jazz, I’ll try to paint a different picture for those of you who are not so familar with jazz, but who are open to giving it a try.

Two central elements of jazz are improvisation and syncopation. Improvisation might be defined as “instantaneous composition.” In other words, when a jazz player improvises, he or she is not playing written music, but is instead spontaneously composing, utilizing various scales, patterns, melodic lines etc. that he or she has practiced to the point that they are second nature. What many people do not realize is that improvisation did not originate with jazz. In fact, as R. Beirach notes, “prior to the beginning of the 19th century, the roles of composition, execution and improvisation were much less clearly separated, and accomplished musicians were expected to be adept at all three” (in the CD jacket of “Sunday Songs”–an excellent CD where Beirach does the “unthinkable”–he improvises over traditional classical works). For example, the great composers Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin were known for their skill in improvisation.

Turning to the second element, syncopation, we might explain this as an emphasis on the “off” or “weak” beats. That is, in 4/4 time, the strong beats are 1 and 3. Most traditional classical music and even rock music emphasizes the strong beats. However, jazz accents the weak beats (2 and 4), and this produces a completely different rhythmic feel. The combination of these two elements–improvisation and syncopation–is the heartbeat of jazz, and it is perhaps not accidental that the fusing of this spontaneous composition with accenting the “weak” beats arose primarily from a people who were themselves oppressed by those who would want to stress the static, and in H & A’s language–reduce all particularity to universality. By definition, jazz resists both.