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Reviewed by:
  • Phenomenology, Modernism and Beyond
  • Denise Ginfray
Carole Bourne-Taylor and Ariane Mildenberg, eds. Phenomenology, Modernism and Beyond. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010. xiii + 390 pp.

Phenomenology, Modernism and Beyond is a stimulating contribution to the understanding of the links between phenomenology and modern aesthetics. The thirteen essays in this dense volume offer penetrating insights into the theoretical works by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Gaston Bachelard, Paul Ricoeur, and others. The authors of the essays work in a wide range of fields that include literature, philosophy, architecture, theology, and musicology. Their aim is to relate artistic experimentation to the innovative systems of perception, mass (re)production, and consumption that transformed all political, social, and cultural landscapes in the twentieth century. A common denominator is the investigation of the complex relation between phenomenology and art throughout the twentieth century. The essays are grouped in five parts that explore the tenets of phenomenology regarding issues like subjectivity, space, time, perception, and artistic creation observed through the prism of Modernism, Postmodernism, and Transmodernism.

In the preface, Kevin Hart contends that a phenomenological approach to modernist artworks provides better access to the artist's experience of the world. He also claims that it has broadened our critical scope, making us aware of the true nature of the rich artwork: it proceeds from a sense of being-in-the-world combined with imagination, perceptual knowledge, and intuition, independent of time and place. This argument is further developed in Carole Bourne-Taylor and Ariane Mildenberg's illuminating introduction that is both a tour-d'horizon and a thorough examination of a phenomenological rationale. There, the editors show how the crisis of modernity crystallized the preoccupations corn from the quick expansion of industry and capital in the western world. Bourne-Taylor and Mildenberg [End Page 167] place the roots of phenomenology in the rift between the modern self and the age of commodity when art, deprived of its aura, was desublimated, and conventional values dissolved. The analysis of key notions like epoché, horizon, intentionality, and reduction, all central to phenomenological theory, is both instructive and justified, for it foregrounds the dialectic between the modern consciousness and the world, between the subject and the object of perception, and representation not as a mimetic enterprise but as a constructive apprehension of selfhood as an enigma shaped by the space and time continuum of physical phenomena.

Part 1 explores the paradoxes of "The Reduction," a concept that signals the will to probe the world differently, to adopt a new posture, which is a prerequisite for creativity. Mildenberg shows how Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, and Wallace Stevens's poetic diction relies intuitively on this bracketing of experience which is not synonymous with self-renunciation but with the acknowledgement of unknown territories of the self immersed in the world. H. W. Fawkner slants the definition toward a perspective embracing theology, phenomenology, and modernist art, which does not equate with a radical withdrawal to the inner self, but with a sound revaluation of the essence of the self and of its ethos and acts of consciousness.

Part 2, "The Invisible and the Unsayable," explains how modernist commitments shattered barriers between art, metaphysics, and life. Raymond Monelle contends that, because it articulates temporality to memory, the body to the world, signifier to signified, the musical phrase central to Proust's work gives access to a polymorphous experience that exceeds the here and now of phenomenological "reality" encapsulated in language. Hanna Meretoja argues that Robbe-Grillet was not a chosiste (objectivist), but rather a novelist whose work is marked by the fragmentary, discontinuous, chaotic flux that surrounded the modernist self; she makes connections between the loose texture of his fictional works and the meaninglessness of the referential world.

Part 3, "Paths of Appearance in Early and Late Modernist Poetry," is devoted to the poetic object. In his bold reassessment of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry based on Husserl's concept of "Thisness," Eoghan Walls argues that both the poet and the philosopher's enterprise combined scientific observation with a longing for transcendence, for a metaphysics apt to distil the essence of Truth vital to subjectivity and creation. Matt Ffytche discusses the resonances...


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pp. 167-170
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