Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Body, Empathy, and Joint Experiences. On Blaustein's Contribution to the Phenomenology of Sociality

Witold Płotka

Thursday 2 December 2021

12:50 - 13:30

Zoom 1-1

This paper critically analyzes and explores the discussion of the theory of empathy formulated by Leopold Blaustein (1905–1942 [or 1944]) in his phenomenological aesthetics. Blaustein studied at Lvov University roughly between 1923 and 1927. After Twardowski’s (and Ingarden’s) recommendations, he studied under Husserl in Freiburg im Breisgau in the summer semester of 1925. He received a doctoral degree in 1927 (written under Twardowski), and in 1928 he published the dissertation as the very first monograph on Husserl published in Poland. The paper defends the thesis that Blaustein comprehends the body as the key phenomenon in empathy and social actions, such as, e.g., watching a movie in a cinema together with other viewers.

Blaustein understood sensuousness in his aesthetics in the broad context of bodily movements. This general concept was elaborated by Blaustein at three intertwined levels: (1) the body as the center point of aesthetic perception, which enables the constitution of the aesthetic object by the ongoing perception of it from different perspectives; (2) the body projected into the so-called imaginative world of art; finally, (3) the body of another subject, which is the basis for the empathic perception of the other’s psychic life. Level (1) is connected with the spatiality of perceived art objects and, more generally, with the phenomenon of the perspectivity of perception. Blaustein emphasized that perception involves different perspectives, and this is possible due to the body of the viewer. He explored this problem in his Przedstawienia imaginatywne [Imaginative Presentations]. Level (1), thus described, corresponds with the most basic experience of the body. It also determines level (2), i.e., the phenomenon of projecting the body (rzutowanie ciała) into the so-called imaginative world of art. Blaustein’s idea of projecting the body describes the phenomenon of perspectivity inherent to artworks, including paintings, movies, or theater plays. Level (3) mainly concerns the phenomenon of perceiving the other’s body—in Husserl’s terminology, a physical or objective body (Körper)—, and the constitution of the other’s psychic life on the basis of perceiving a mere physical body. In a word, level (3) concerns the phenomenon of empathy (Einfühlung). In the context of art, this phenomenon concerns the problem of understanding the characters represented in a work of art. Blaustein claimed that empathy is crucial for describing the aesthetic experience. In the paper, I will also analyze Blaustein’s idea of “joint” experiences. For Blaustein, there are subjective aesthetic experiences, but there are also “joint” (wspólne) lived experiences, which can be determined in their intensity, quality, or time. For instance, in a radio broadcast, this phenomenon is possible not because of a joint aesthetic object, which is subjective through and through, but because of a joint emotional attitude, which is built in joint actions, such as the applause heard in a radio broadcast.