Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Phenomenology of Reading. Communication in the Text Space

Evgenia Shestova

Thursday 2 December 2021

15:00 - 15:40

Zoom 1-2

In my talk, I propose a phenomenological analysis of reading conceived of as communication in the text space. It is based on H.-G. Gadamer’s and M. Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions of the functioning of language pertaining to reading.

E. Husserl comes to the conception of language as being formed and functioning within the intersubjective dimension. The problem, however, arises: how is it possible to analyze language in a situation of missing communication, such as reading?

I propose to consider reading as a quasi-dialogue. Such a concept of reading allows to avoid the problem of reality of “the dialogue partner.” Instead, I intend to investigate, what produces the effect of request to the reader and of communication through the text.

I start with the examination of Gadamer’s “logic of question and answer.” Gadamer namely writes: “it [the text] puts a question to the interpreter.” This does not mean a real dialogue with the text or author. But there exists an aspect, which provokes such a description. The question put forth by the text is a request as a structural part of an expression. This request is experienced as “to be addressed” (Betroffensein) by the text. I propose to interpret “question” and “answer” as two aspects of sense, which are contained interwoven in every expression: the negative and the positive.

Following Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of language as gesticulation in Phenomenology of Perception, I trace the function of question, or the negative aspect of sense, in the communication. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty denotes by “geste” the expressive emotional gesture. A facial expression is not only intersubjectively formed, but also addressed to the other. The theory of emotions named “the behavioral ecology view of facial displays” proposes to conceive of facial displays as communicative requests and tools for influence: smiling means not happiness, but “influence interactant to play or affiliate,” and so on. In general, a “question” outlines the open possibilities of sense. Speaking marks the gap between the spoken word and something that is to speak—it marks a lack of sense.

In his late works, Merleau-Ponty expands the meaning of language gesture to the “practical” gesture. He re-interprets Husserl’s concept of the “significative intention” and accentuates the meaning of a tendency, of a void that is to be fulfilled by the reader. The text conveys neither sense nor signification, but a significative intention. It is a request addressed to the reader from the “other” who is regarded as the “owner” of the intention. The latter is described by philosophers as the “author” or the “text”—who becomes a “dialogue partner.” I propose to consider it as a “quasi-author” that formulates an unavoidable part of every act of reading. It denotes that the significative intention does not belong to the reader, but comes from an “other,” and requests of the reader to adequately transform his/her sense medium.