The Philosopher's Stone
Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.
I’m just back this morning from a day of sessions at the Husserl Circle Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The conference goes through Sunday, but I could stand only so much academic posturing and winsomely erudite papers on topics ranging from “an aporetic approach to Husserl’s reflections on time,” “protention as more than inverse retention,” “retention and the Schema,” to “prolegomena to the perceptual study of Umwelt.” Heady stuff on a hot summer day in a town more famous for its malt and barley drinks (Old Milwaukee beer) and motorcycles (home of the Harley) than its philosophical noodlings.
To be fair, some of the papers that I heard yesterday, and some of the conversations that followed, did show some great promise. Two papers on Husserl and photography offered some useful insights into a reconsideration of the aesthetics of photography and ways that Husserl’s philosophy might engage such aesthetics. As the readers admitted, though, Husserl never wrote about photography, so the readers were involved in one of the oldest scholarly tricks in the book—reading anachronistically to show forth a profound insight. Imagine Morris Zapp (from David Lodge’s hilarious Changing Places) performing one of his stellar lectures—designed to coax pert coeds into his sartorial lair—on Husserl and Madonna’s labial videos. Of course, it would be wrong of me to compare any of these presenters with Zapp, but the attempt to read a contemporary phenomenon through an early twentieth-century philosopher’s ideas is no less anachronistic. At least once someone remarked that one philosopher or another from the late twentieth century would have gotten it right if only he had read Husserl, or paid closer attention to Husserl. I couldn’t laugh out loud, of course; this was a crowd that didn’t even laugh at the presenter’s own jokes.
Ah, well, this is how I earn my bread and butter, acquiring books in philosophy and literary criticism, among other topics. So, since Milwaukee is only a one-hour drive from where I live, and since I knew I would see some of my authors at the conference and likely talk to a few other potential authors—and sell a few books—I drove up yesterday morning for the day. I’ve never been much of an Husserlian, having read only here and there in one of his most important books, Ideen I und II (Ideas I and II), and never having been much taken with his Logical Investigations or his work on time-consciousness. Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) is widely considered the “father of phenomenology,” a kind of philosophy that, in Husserl’s version of it, at least, strives to reach the essence of the noumena of experience. In order to reach this essence, all phenomenal structures must be bracketed away to reveal this noumenal structure. Put crudely, Husserlian phenomenology is a bit like peeling an onion to get to its core. In our lives—if we think about life phenomenologically—we must bracket our ordinary experiences, including our sensual experiences, to reach our essential selves in order to understand ourselves. This method of phenomenology influenced existentialism, especially Jean-Paul Sartre, who developed Husserl’s ideas into his own notions of freedom and the individual’s ability freely to choose his or her own existence.
Yesterday’s conference certainly didn’t convert me to Husserlian phenomenology, but it did give me the chance to talk to some potential authors, and it did put a few more articles and portions of books to put on my reading list. This summer, though, I won’t be reading much Husserl (if I can help it), but I will be reading some philosophy in addition to the “beach” books I wrote about a few weeks ago and the novels that are simply part of any summer reading. Last week, my assistant acquisitions editor told me that she’d like to learn more about philosophy and to read some important works in order to learn more about the philosophical works that we publish here. So, I suggested that I provide a reading list for her and that we read and discuss together the books on the list. We’ll begin our conversations in about two weeks, and while Edmund Husserl is on the list, there are many other philosophers whose work is vital and interesting and important. The list is not complete by any means, but it does provide a broad overview of continental philosophy. Perhaps you’ll find a book or two from this list to add to you stack of summer reading. Happy reading!
Philosophy Reading List:
Early Greek Philosophy: Selections from the Presocratics
Plato, The Republic
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics
Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy
Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Machiavelli, The Prince
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Immanuel Kant, Selections
G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
William James, Pragmatism
John Dewey, Experience and Nature
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (selections)
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (selections)
Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought
Edward Husserl, Ideas (selections)
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (selections)
Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference
Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge
Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, to the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Alain Badiou, Being and Event
Emmanuel Levinas, Finite and Infinite
Giorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content
Walter Benajmin, Illuminations
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil
Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Contact Henry.