The paper contends that transcendental phenomenology is a form of radical immanent critique able to explicate the necessary structures of meaning-constitution as well as evaluate our present situation through the historically traditionalized layers of concrete, lived experience. In order to make this case, the paper examines the critical dimension of phenomenology through the lens of one of its core conditions for possibility: the imagination. Building on—yet also departing from—Husserl’s own analyses, the paper contends that the imagination is both self- and lifeworld-constituting. The imagination is anchored in our everyday senses of self and world as well as able to distance itself from being naively moored in normalized and deeply sedimented commitments. It is precisely this ‘anchored distance,’ rather than a sweeping doxic and ontic neutrality and negative freedom, that reveals the critical dimension of the imagination.
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For full references to the Husserliana volumes (Hua hereafter), please see the shared bibliography for the Husserl Studies special issue this paper is part of.
Husserl’s emphatic position regarding the immanent dimension of phenomenology is directly opposed to a (still) widely circulating misconception that Husserl advocated for a ‘disinterested’ and ‘detached’ spectator who, as it were, puts herself ‘outside’ matters (rather than in the midst of them).
For a discussion of how this distancing work differs from the shift in attitude at work in the reductions, see Aldea (2020).
I use ‘possibilization’ and ‘possibility constitution’ interchangeably.
It is unclear throughout Husserl’s analyses what other forms of neutral consciousness there are in the natural attitude. For more on this point, see Aldea (2019). Husserl describes the neutrality pertaining to the imagination in broad terms, which is what the ‘doxa’ refers to here. Willing, emotions, judgements, memories and all acts founded on imagining acts likewise exhibit this neutrality. Phantasiemodifikation and neutrality modification share this sweeping neutralizing feature.
Acts involving both positional and non-positional apprehensions, such as Bildbewusstsein, retain this conflict at their core (see Aldea 2013).
If we acknowledge, with Husserl, the interconnectedness of all noetic-noematic correlations in the life of consciousness as a whole, we can at most deem the imagination indirectly and passively as lifeworld-constituting.
While Husserl uses ‘Stellung,’ the term refers narrowly to various acts’ (e.g., memory) orientation (‘positioning’) toward determinate objects (the accomplishment of what, in his Fifth Logical Investigation (Hua XIX/1, LU V, §20), Husserl refers to as ‘Materie’). Often Husserl uses Stellung and Einstellung interchangeably. I opt here for Stellung rather than Einstellung in the attempt to stress the difference between ‘stance’ as I understand it and Husserl’s notion of ‘attitude.’
I use ‘imagination’ and ‘imagining stance’ interchangeably.
Cf., Hua VI, §§9, 15. Heinämaa (2019) convincingly explicates the kind of unity pertaining to the lifeworld in terms of a distinctive transformative openness as opposed to a mere infinity.
For an insightful account of our sense of ‘I cannot’ through the lens of ‘affective closure,’ see Al-Saji (2014).
In fact, these modal qualifiers are all noematic layers corresponding to ‘I can’ and ‘I cannot’ understood as noetic layers of all experiences.
See Husserl’s synthetic-genetic analyses of positional constitution (Hua XI), communalization and intersubjectivity (Hua XIII-XV), his historical and genetic Crisis discussions of lifeworld-constitution, and concordance (Übereinstimmung; cf., Hua IV, §18c-d).
The notion of naturalization I rely on here should not be confused with Husserl’s usage of the term ‘naturalistic,’ which refers to the attitude largely pertaining to the natural sciences and to their objectivistic methods (cf., Hua IV, §§ 34, 49).
Husserl captures the complexity of such processes in his analyses of modality modification, especially his analyses of doubt (Hua XI, pp. 229-30, Husserl 1973, §67).
Recall here Husserl’s own description of the ‘small sphere of freedom’ pertaining to positional consciousness (Hua XXIII, pp. 535/641–42).
For an insightful discussion of renewal and culture-constitution, see Steinbock (1994).
Take, for instance, the power of regulative and teleological fictions, esp. in socio-cultural and political contexts.
Husserl did touch on imagining conceivability—my sense of ‘I can’ in imagining consciousness (Hua IX, p. 205; Hua I, §§27, 55). However, here, too, the sense is of quasi-conceivability.
For a discussion of Ichspaltung as rift, see Cavallaro 2017. I examine this important notion of Ichspaltung in a forthcoming piece on self-variation, which further stresses the claim that all imagining is self-imagining..
This is not to say that in the case of objects such as Husserl’s ubiquitous centaur, the modification at work in the imagining experience does not involve ontic and doxic neutrality. My point is, rather, that even in the case of quasi-spatial, irreal objects, much more is at work than what Husserl’s analyses of Phantasie as Vergegenwärtigung allow.
For a discussion of the dynamic between imagination and memory see Hua XXIII, No.12 and Appx. 33; see also Bernet (2002).
Husserl recognized our ability to orient ourselves in this ‘uncertain’ manner in his discussions of valuation and renewal (Hua XXVII, p. 29).
I argue in Aldea (2021) that all transcendental-eidetic work necessarily involves transcendental self-variation.
Husserl entertains this very idea through his paradoxical concept of the historical a priori in the Crisis and related manuscripts. Unfortunately, as David Carr right points out (Carr 1970, p. xxxv), Husserl’s unpacking of this concept, which lies at the crux of his most sophisticated critical method, remains wanting.
For references to primary resources (Husserl texts and materials), see the shared bibliography for the Husserl Studies special issue this paper is part of.
Aldea, A. S. (2013). Husserl’s struggle with mental images—Imaging and imagining reconsidered. Continental Philosophy Review, 46(3), 371–394.
Aldea, A. S. (2019). Critical imagination and lived possibilities—An other kind of otherwise. New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy Imagination in Kant and Husserl, XVII, 204–224.
Aldea, A. S. (2020). Transcendental phenomenology as radical immanent critique: Subversions and matrices of intelligibility. In M. R. Acosta López & J. C. McQuillan (Eds.), Critique in German Philosophy From Kant to Critical Theory (pp. 281–300). Albany: SUNY Press.
Aldea, A.S. (2021). Self-othering, Self-transformation, and theoretical freedom: Self-variation and Husserl’s phenomenology as radical immanent critique. In D. de Santis (Ed.), Husserl, The Cartesian Meditations: Commentary and Interpretation. Berlin: De Gruyter. (forthcoming).
Al-Saji, A. (2014). A phenomenology of hesitation: Interrupting racializing habits of seeing. In E. Lee (Ed.), Living alterities: phenomenology, embodiment, and race (pp. 133–172). Albany: SUNY Press.
Bernet, R. (2002). Unconscious consciousness in Husserl and Freud. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 1, 327–351.
Carr, D. (1970). Translator’s Introduction. The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Carr, D. (1974). Phenomenology and the problem of history: A study of husserl’s transcendental philosophy. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Cavallaro, M. (2017). The phenomenon of ego-splitting in Husserl’s phenomenology of pure phantasy. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 48(2), 162–177.
De Warren, N. (2009). Husserl and the promise of time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dodd, J. (2004). Crisis and reflection. An essay on Husserl’s crisis of the European sciences, Phaenomenologica 174. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Elkin, L. (2017). Flâneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Heinämaa, S. (2003). Toward a phenomenology of sexual difference. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Heinämaa, S. (2019). Epoché as personal transformation: on the similarities between the philosophical change of attitude and religious conversions. Phänomenologische Forschungen, 2, 133–159.
Husserl, E. (1973). Erfahrung und Urteil, ed. Landgrebe, L. (Hamburg: Claassen & Goverts, 1948); English Translation: Experience and judgment, trans. Churchill, J. and Ameriks, K. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press).
Jansen, J. (2015). Transcendental philosophy and the problem of necessity in a contingent world. Metodo: International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy, 1(1), 47–80.
Lugones, M. (1987). Playfulness, “World”-Travelling, and Loving Perception. Hypatia, 2(2), 3–19.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2012). Phenomenology of perception. D. Landes (Trans.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Oksala, J. (2016). Feminist experiences: Foucaultian and phenomenological investigations. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Steinbock, A. (1994). The project of ethical renewal and critique: Edmund Husserl’s early phenomenology of culture. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 32, 449–464.
Tseng, C-f. (2006). The Flâneur, the flâneuse, and the hostess: Virginia Woolf’s (un)domesticating flânerie in Mrs. Dalloway. Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, 32(1), 219–258.
Zhok, A. (2016). Possibility and consciousness in Husserl’s thought. Husserl Studies, 32, 213–235.
I would like to especially thank Sara Heinämaa, Julia Jansen, David Carr, and Fredrik Westerlund as well as the participants of the Helsinki Phenomenology Research Seminar, of the Philosophy Seminar at University of Jyväskylä, and of the KU Leuven workshop that launched this special issue project. Many thanks also to the Fulbright Finland Foundation, the Kone Foundation, and the University Research Council at Kent State University for making this research possible.
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Aldea, A.S. Modality Matters: Imagination as Consciousness of Possibilities and Husserl’s Transcendental-Historical Eidetics. Husserl Stud 36, 303–318 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10743-020-09275-6