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Journal of the History of Philosophy 39.4 (2001) 600-602
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James Richard Mensch. Postfoundational Phenomenology. Husserlian Reflections on Presence and Embodiment. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. Pp. ix + 275. Cloth, $45.00.
Edmund Husserl's philosophy has often been conceived and commented on as a theory that represents the scientific and cognitive branch of thinking within the tradition of continental philosophy. His Logical Investigations thematizes the connection between language and logic and his Ideas I thematizes an alternative way of analyzing consciousness and mind. Even his later works such as the Crisis, in which he develops a highly demanding concept of lifeworld and history, seem to have their roots in considerations about problems of science and cognition.
Especially in America it is hardly known that Husserl's thinking between 1908 and 1914, as well as during the 1920s not only shifted its focus to a more ethical view of subjectivity and human reality but also to an attempt at applying phenomenological analysis to the "microlevel" of experience, most notably sensation, affection, and instinct.
One of the first extensive commentaries on these topics has now been offered by James R. Mensch's study Postfoundational Phenomenology. With the term "postfoundational" the author announces a project that attempts to reveal the metaphysical relation of the ground and the grounded as immanence. In this way, it is supposed to overcome the tradition of foundationalism in general (12).
Mensch not only refers to a number of important unpublished manuscripts but also to untranslated works of Husserl that have already been published in German within the Collected Works of Husserl (Husserliana). In its main part Mensch's study offers a highly contemporary reading of the connections between sensation, striving, desiring, values, and temporality. According to Mensch, the central concept has to be identified with the lived body [Leib]. Husserl himself deals not only in his Ideas II with the central [End Page 600] role of the lived body within the process of perceiving but extensively also in his later works. Mensch draws a connection between this non-objectified but experienced body and the thematic of desiring. He claims that even on the level of sensations, instincts, desires, and values are already in play, and he shows that Husserl never supported an ontology of "mere things."
The book comprises eight articles that have already appeared in journals. They thematize "Presence and Postmodernism," "Instincts," "Freedom," "The Sense of the Future," "Qualia," "Language," "Presence and Ethics," as well as "Presence and Others." In the last three chapters Mensch broadens the concepts he developed in the first part of the book and confronts them with ethical considerations in regard to Heidegger and Levinas. Mensch discusses the topic of presence and absence within a Derridarian interpretation of Husserl's philosophy of language, and he illustrates the topic of sensation by referring to the work of some philosophers of mind such as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel.
Mensch is one of the first authors who discovers the close relation of the lived body and ethical topics as it is given in Husserl's theory itself. According to Husserl we are able to be aware of sensations because of a presupposed context of feelings, which are perceived as "value or desirability" (70). Affections appear within a general horizon of desiring. From this it follows that not only "nothing can be given to the Ego that does not move the feelings" (86) but also that Husserl analyzes affectivity as a dynamical feature of our experience. We are never able to develop a "neutral" consciousness of them. Thus the author claims: "Insofar as original givenness is correlated to our instinctive strivings, value must be regarded as present from the start" (87).
Mensch's work is highly recommendable for readers who desire an overview of unexplored topics in Husserlian phenomenology and current tendencies in its research. However, since the manuscripts from which the author quotes have not yet been published, it would have been better to quote the German origins of the central manuscripts as well. The reader has not...