Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Intentionality of Gestures and Their Role in Monologic Thinking

Alexandru Bejinariu

Thursday 2 December 2021

12:10 - 12:50

Zoom 1-1

We usually think of gestures as pertaining to our day-to-day social situations of communication, playing a vital role for the clarity and precision of our speech. However, gestures are also abundantly present in our uncommunicative, solitary behavior, for instance, when, although alone, we try to dismiss a worrying thought with a wave of the hand, or when we smile seeing a photo of someone dear to us. Moreover, imagined gestures or facial expressions of others are also present in our thought processes of moral reasoning or decision-making. Given the pervasiveness of different types of gestures and their complex roles in our solitary life, as well as the recent advances in gesture studies concerning their uncommunicative aspects (Kendon), the phenomenological approach can both shed light upon their monologic uses, as well as benefit by gaining new insights valuable for its theory of meaning and its main challenges.

In view of this, my general goal is to lay out the foundations for an analysis of what can be called the monologic or solitary use of gestures. For this, I resort to Husserl’s account of expressions in the First Logical Investigation and to his observations in some of the later texts for the reworking of the Sixth Logical Investigation. Of special interest here is Husserl’s theory of the double function of expressions, namely their communicative or intimating function (Kundgebung)—as indications of inner experiences or mental acts of the speaker—and their expressive function—conveying their respective meaning or sense. Gestures can also be considered in light of this distinction, as I try to show by interpreting Husserl’s discussion of mimetic signs (mimische Zeichen) in his text from 1914. There, Husserl analyses especially a class of depictive gestures, namely the ones that mimic or imitate (nachahmen) inner experiences, as well as outer processes. Their intentional structure is also double, as they function both as depictions, e.g., of a certain mental act, like anger, as well as signs, referring to the real presence in the inner life of the other of that mental act of anger. Thus, like expressions, gestures can also be seen as being communicative and expressive. However, it is well known that, for Husserl, expressions, in the case of which expressive and communicative functions do not overlap (as they do in the case of orders, wishes, etc.), can function in our solitary inner life in a purely monological way, i.e., lacking their communicative function—since there is no reason for them to indicate our own inner experiences as if they belonged to someone else—while fully preserving their expressive character.

Does this exclusion of the communicative side also hold true in the case of our solitary use of gestures? Can we conceive of the gestures that accompany our soliloquies as lacking all communicative feats or rather as functioning in a modified way (as expressions function in imagined speech)? In this context, I explore the hypothesis that by determining and considering the role gestures play in our monologic thinking, we can gain a better understanding of the way, in which communicative functions are still at work, deeply engrained in our individual processes of reasoning. The elaboration of this questions offers a new perspective for the Husserlian theory of meaning by identifying a way to open the solitary inner mental life to the social, bodily constitution of meaning through the gestural medium.