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Leib and death: a study on the life of the transcendental Ego in Husserl's late phenomenology (Workshop internacional Husserl hermenéutico/Heidegger trascendental, Universidad Diego Portales, Junio 2017)

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Leib and death: a study on the life of the transcendental Ego in Husserl's late phenomenology (Workshop internacional Husserl hermenéutico/Heidegger trascendental, Universidad Diego Portales, Junio 2017)
  Leib   and death: a study on the life of the transcendental Ego in Husserl’s late phenomenology María Celeste Vecino Universidad Diego Portales (Santiago de Chile) CONICYT-PCHA/Doctorado nacional/2016-21161722 Introduction  When it comes to reflecting on the notion of life, a first difficulty arises in regards to its polysemy. Whether it is a question of defining the object of study of the natural sciences, asking about the animality of the human subject or the life of consciousness, the approach can shift in such a way that we lose track of what we are trying to explain. More often than not, however, life is linked with nature, and it seems there are some good reasons for it. But to bring light to this connection would be to explain precisely the meaning that we are seeking. In the following presentation, I will attempt to reflect on these issues as they appear in Husserl’s late phenomenology, through the analysis of the phenomenon of death, since, as Heidegger would put it, “it is precisely death that illuminates the essence of life”. Nevertheless, death is by no means an easier   phenomenon to deal with, and it seems it poses some specific problems to the phenomenological inquiry. In effect, if phenomenology attempts to go to the things themselves, the first question regarding death would be about the kind of experience or donation it involves. The answer is apparently simple: we have an experience of death exclusively as the death of others, while our own escapes us by principle. In other words, death would be an event that certainly happens but I can only experience when it affects another person whose demise as a psychophysical being I witness, while the experience of my own death is impossible. This seems to be enough to close down the possibility of a properly phenomenological analysis of these questions, and this due to the methodological need to draw back to first person experience that characterizes phenomenology. We will call this the transcendental principle or strand of phenomenology. It leads back to what Husserl called the apriori of correlation (Hua VI, 161) between the world and the subjective ways of givenness of the world, that states that, without subjectivity being the creator of reality, it is because of her that there is  a world insofar as this world cannot be given to anything but a consciousness. This entails that the meaning with which things are revealed to us ultimately draw back to subjective meaning-  giving operations, or to use H usserl’s vocabulary, to a subjective constitution. Asking about the way in which such constitution is performed is, according to Husserl, philosophy’s main task, and makes its role foundational regarding any other empirical discipline dedicated to the study of facts of the world. Following this line of thought, all philosophical reflection will have to inquire into the ways in which things are given to subjectivity, and this subjectivity cannot be other than that of the person that lead the inquiry since any other would be already mediated by a constituting act. Now, according to all this it would seem that insofar as death cannot be given in the first person, its study must stick to what empirical sciences (that proceed through observation in the third person) can say about it. This might be Husserl’s first approach to the matter, but he will come to realize later on that excluding death from all transcendental consideration would significantly impoverish our understanding of the way consciousness constitutes the world. His interest in integrating these considerations into the transcendental field, along with others concerning the temporal genesis of consciousness and the instinctual basis of intentionality, is what we will call the naturalistic strand of his phenomenology, and it will soon conflict with the transcendental strand and lead to some major methodological issues. Being a phenomenon that can only be given in the third person, while at the same time concerning us intimately, death will bring this tension to the fore. With this in mind, I will describe the different approaches to death in Husserl’s late writings: first, a genetic individual approach and then a generative approach that works in collaboration with a reconstructive methodology. While the first approach stresses the impossibility of carrying out a phenomenology of death, the second one, I will argue, aims at including certain features of a naturalistic account of subjectivity in the transcendental field, being a proof of Husserl’s growing intere st in explaining the life of subjectivity and the natural sources of intentionality. Death in Husserl’s work Birth and death show up as topics in Husserl’s phenomenology in the last  stages of his work, as he explores different perspectives of analyses that were absent in his first developments. It is first of all the transition from a static to a genetic methodology around the year 1917 that represents a first step in the direction of the study of limit-phenomena. Unlike the static approach, that charact erizes Husserl’s early works, genetic phenomenology as a  “phenomenology of monadic individuality” (Hua XIV, 34) inquires about the development of transcendental subjectivity and undertakes a reflection on time that takes into consideration its content and not just its abstract form. While static phenomenology analyzes structures and essences considering a pure Ego facing an objective pole in the present, genetic phenomenology asks precisely about the temporal genesis of that Ego and its lived experiences. Thanks to its ability to stretch through time, genetic analyses enables the phenomenologist to consider certain disruptive events of present consciousness like sleep, fainting, certain bodily inhibitions, etc., which Husserl will take as analogous cases to speak of birth and death as the transition of consciousness from latency to patency and vice versa. This will in turn be possible thanks to the implementation of a reconstructive method, in opposition to the regressive method that goes from the constituted objects to the constituting subjectivity. Generativity will allow to take a step beyond egology towards the understanding of transcendental subjectivity as already being intersubjectively implicated, and with that, towards an understanding of death as transcendentally relevant, although rising some difficult challenges for the phenomenological method. The genetic approach The first approach to death in Husserl’s work can be defined in terms of an inquiry into the structure of temporality, and leads to a paradoxical constitution of death as an inconstitutible limit of consciousness. This way of thinking about death, as we will see, will ultimately prevail over the other approaches in terms of a methodological primacy. The idea is that every intentional act necessarily has a retention and a protension horizon, and cannot therefore be thought of as lacking a past that precedes it or a future that follows after it. This would be what birth as the starting point of consciousness or death as its ending point would entail. Since this is impossible and, as Husserl will say in the Analyses concerning passive syntheses, “the structure of the progressive consciousness of time and the structure of the constitution of new presents is certainly a fix necessity”, he conc ludes that “the process of living on and the ego that lives on are immortal” (Analyses concerning passive and active syntheses 467 trad eng). Even if it were possible to imagine an undifferentiated void before birth or after death, the very idea of priority or posterity shows that it is impossible to escape the temporal structure in which the Ego is always involved. A similar argument can be found in appendix XX of Husserliana XIV, where Husserl stresses that every present moment is born out of a disappointment or a fulfillment of a prior anticipation. As far as content goes, there can be changes in the experience in relation to what came before, but every change needs the  perpetuity of the flow to exist. In the same way, I can conceive myself as not being something particular, but I cannot conceive myself as not being at all. Ultimately, the study of temporality will lead Husserl to the notion of living present, topic on which he works on in the manuscripts of the C group. The living present is the last level of consciousness and the srcinal source of te mporality, “the primary level, the primary sol on top of which all higher levels are founded” (Hua Mat VIII, 4). Being itself supratemporal and in a way ‘outside’ of time, the living present cannot be an obj ect of experience or description for natural language, or a proper object of study. It also cannot have a beginning or an end, it is eternal, since it is permanently happening, not as a concrete present but as the source of every concrete present; standing and flowing at the same time. Husserl also refers to the proto-ego (Ur-Ich) or the proto-structure of subjectivity as the Ego that operates in the living present. The notion of living present translates the idea of that fix temporal structure that Husserl had already thematized, so to use these terms we can say that it is because the transcendental subject is rooted in the living present that he is immortal. we will come back to this in the following sections. The generative approach If during the 1920’s Husserl develops mainly a genetic individual perspective, in the 1930’s he starts dedicating a lot of effort to working on generativity and generative phenomena. This has to do with intersubjective, historical, social and normative phenomena that deal with the establishment and transmission of senses through generations, in the shape of traditions and cultural legacies. As it was for the individual subject and the sedimentation of his past experiences, in the level of the community the historical sedimentations produce a particular style that shapes experience and marks the differences between one community and the other. That style is transmitted hereditarily to the members of a social group and it becomes effective as a criteria for discerning what is normal from what is abnormal. It is those inherited senses that contribute to my own constitution of the world that indicate the presence of other subjects not merely as human beings but as transcendental subjectivities. Through what Husserl calls a double reduction or an intersubjective reduction (Hua XV, 69) he reaches a transcendental intersubjetivity that would be the true srcinary source of constitution. This means the individual cannot be understood in isolation but always in relation to a community of subjects; specifically, it translates into the understanding of every Ego as a son, brother, congener, and more generally, as a mortal being belonging to a determinate historical time and a part of the constant mouvement of renovation of generations. In this framework, birth  and death, given up until now only as events in the world, stop being limit-phenomena and become a possible object of transcendental investigation, insofar as, for the intersubjective community they are in fact given, Husserl says, not as an absolute beginning or ending but as the entry and exit of a member in a community: To me the birth of another is his new emergence [ Neuauftreten ] in the transcendental community, in a temporal space of the historical-transcendental time, and death his separation, his elimination from the omni-temporal community (Hua Mat VIII, 442) According to Anthony Steinbock, one of the scholars that has worked the most on these issues, “this doesn’t mean that birth and death lose their meaning, but they are seen as abstract limits” (Steinbock 2003, 309) . Althought this might be so, it remains unclear whether this type of analyses stays within the legitimate realm of a transcendental reflection. Steinbock even seems to go beyond what Husserl says and states that the generative perspective must be thought of as an autonomous method that surpasses genetics, and replaces the individual subject as the last fundament of donation with a new absolute represented by the dyad homeworld/alienworld. The subject would no longer be self-founding but depend on the more fundamental ground that is Generativity, from which it is given to itself. It has been pointed out that these type of considerations can be seen as a kind of historicism (Hopkins 2001) insofar as the relation between homeworld and alienworld, defined as historically and geologically situated worlds, would be the last source of constitution. Ultimately, the possib ility of a generative approach that doesn’t fall outside the margins of a transcendental phenomenological inquiry depends on how far we want to go with these descriptions. It doesn’t seem wrong to say that the individual subject finds himself already in a plexus of relations with others, intrinsically social and implicated in others. But to speak of the constitution of one’s own birth and death implies being able to stand above or outside our own individuality. Still, as Husserl will put it, these are necessary features of our experience of the world. In a brief text from 1930, he writes: “ It must be shown that birth and death have to count as constituting events that allow for the constitution of the world, as essential elements (  Wesensstück  ) of a constituted world  ” and “ to what extent [generativity] is not a fact, to what extent a world and men without birth and death are unthinkable ” (Hua XV, 171). It will become explicit in a text from 1936 called “the anthropological world” that  what Husserl is thinking about entails including in a transcendental description certain features that belong to a naturalistic account of the world. He speaks there of a need to fulfill certain empirical conditions in order to experience a world, specifically, the need of a body in which the subject
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