Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Phenomenological Gathering in 1929. A Social Episode from the History of Phenomenology and Its Lessons for Contemporary Phenomenologists

Peter Andras Varga

Thursday 2 December 2021

09:40 - 10:20

Zoom 1-3

There exists a special type of sociality peculiar to phenomenology, namely, that which is exemplified by intersubjective connections between the historical figures of the phenomenological movement itself, or, respectively, by their reflections on the social dimension of the history of phenomenology. In the first part of my paper, I intend to develop a case study, namely the public commemoration of Edmund Husserl’s seventieth birthday in 1929. I draw on a wide range of historical sources—including not only the minutiae of celebrations recorded in letters and recollections, but, first and foremost, the occasional sources (e.g., newspaper articles) that document the perception of the nascent phenomenological movement by its contemporaries—, in order to reconstruct intricate intersubjective situations, their perceptions, as well as various metaphilosophical standpoints inextricably interwoven both in the interpersonal relations as well as the various public and semi-public images of phenomenology.

In the second, theoretical part of my paper, I argue for philosophical conclusions on the basis of my historical case study. It seems that the history of phenomenology is capable of providing a rich and complex field of phenomena that has not yet been capitalized on by phenomenological research itself. In this regard, one might say that phenomenology—especially, the classical Husserlian phenomenology—is better suited as a source of non-trivial sense structures of simultaneously historical and theoretical, (meta)philosophical nature, rather than as a source of explicit phenomenological reflections (given that Husserl’s phenomenological reflections in this regard are rudimentary at best; especially, if one distinguishes the specific phenomenology of the history of philosophy from the phenomenology of the history in general). According to this interpretation, the relevant phenomenological analyses of Husserl are to be found in his phenomenology of (philosophical) vocation, including his meditations about its possible ruptures (which, in fact, took place due to his philosophical alienation by Martin Heidegger and other fellow phenomenologists), as well as in some of the sophisticated facets of the phenomenology of the transcendental-phenomenological reduction (i.e., the so-called mundanization or psychologization of the transcendental reduction).

What these observations imply, is, for our way of writing the history of phenomenology, the use of sophisticated historiographic methodology (e.g., microhistory, Konstellationsforschung, non-standard types of historical sources, etc.). Similar methodologies have been successfully applied to other streams of thought in the history of philosophy (e.g., Dieter Heinrich’s work on German Idealism, Martin Mulsow’s work on early modern philosophy); it is now time to bring these methodologies to the history of phenomenology as well. Far from being a subordinated issue for the historians of phenomenology, this recognition calls for a fundamental shift in phenomenology’s own understanding of history that was, for far too long, conceived of along simplistic teleological categories (e.g., “overcoming”). Ultimately, this sophisticated understanding of its past could help phenomenology become a full participant in contemporary debates about society and history in its own right, relying on its specific contribution regarding these phenomena.