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The Exasperating Gift of Singularity

Husserl, Levinas, Henry

Adina Bozga

In this book Adina Bozga attempts to make room for what she calls a phenomenology of singularity. Bozga believes that Husserl's phenomenology undermines the possibility of an adequate phenomenological account of the singular. She maintains, however, that the singular can be retrieved by radicalising the phenomenological project. She illustrates this by focusing on the manner in which phenomenology understands the phenomena of time, the self, and the world.

In the first part Bozga argues that Husserl's phenomenology does make room for ‘a phenomenology on singuarlity'. However, Husserl fails to provide for a phenomenology of singularity since, according to Husserl, phenomenology can and should only describe what is given to the synthetic structure of intentional consciousness. Since the singular refers to a unity that is absolutely original and cannot be appropriated by the reflective gaze of consciousness, it thus appears that the singular has to remain outside the realm of phenomenological description.

To avoid this conclusion, Bozga argues that if phenomenology wishes to remain true to its principle - to ‘return to the things themselves' - it should facilitate the return to such a primal ‘non-synthetic singular'. The second part of the book therefore takes up the task of exploring whether such a return is possible within the phenomenological project. She initially focuses on Emmanuel Levinas' work to show that we can account for the singular either by pointing to a radical transcendence or to a radical immanence. She believes the latter to be truer to the spirit of phenomenology and illustrates this point by turning to the work of Michel Henry.

According to Bozga, Henry provides a way toward a phenomenology of singularity. Henry believes that there is a pre-phenomenal auto-affected and incarnate life that can never be integrated into the intentional structure of consciousness without doing violence. Since this life lies outside the reflective grasp of the ego, Henry argues that we can only account for it by radicalising the reduction, that is, by suspending synthetic thought. This suspension manifests itself in the form of suffering, as it questions the spontaneity of the Ego. Bozga thus shows that the non-synthetic singular can ‘manifests' itself, not as something that is given or present to consciousness, but as a gift to which the subject is always already ‘sub-jected'. Bozga explores how we can account for such a life. The problem seems to be that if it lies outside the synthetic structure of intentional consciousness, then it lies outside philosophy as well. It is thus not surprising that Henry draws on religious themes in order to account for such a life. Yet the question arises whether there is not another mode of experience that is neither theoretical nor religious.

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  • The book is extremely timely because it touches on themes of paramount importance within the phenomenological tradition in France today. Particularly impressive is Bozga's use of Michel Henry, who is hardly known in the English speaking world. Hopefully this book will generate long overdue interest in his work.


    · ISBN: 978-973-1997-05-6 (ebook) · Online access on this site · Published 2009 ·
    · ISBN: 978-973-1997-04-9 (paperback) · Print and eBook options available from Zeta Books ·


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