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Edmund Husserl (18591938)

John B. Brough

The founder of the phenomenological movement is not known as an aesthetician, but he exerted decisive inuence on a number of important philosophers of art working within that tradition. Furthermore, posthumous texts reveal that Husserl himself had important and interesting things to say about art and aesthetic consciousness, which, while not amounting to a fullblown aesthetic theory, chart directions in which one might be developed. The central tenet of Husserls phenomenology is his doctrine of the intentionality of consciousness. Intentionality refers to the fact that consciousness is always the consciousness of something. Husserls own reections on art and the aesthetic are tied to his investigations of image-consciousness, the kind of intentional experience we have when we look at a painting or photograph, contemplate a sculpture, or see a lm or play. Image-consciousness is a form of re-presentation (Vergegenwrtigung), which distinguishes it from ordinary perception or presentation and places it in the same class of experiences as memory and phantasy. It is a peculiar kind of re-presentation, however, since unlike memory or phantasy, it has a foot in both the perceptual and imaginative worlds. Hence Husserl also calls it perceptual re-presentation, perceptual phantasy, or physical imagination, all terms pointing to imagings complexity. In contrast to simple perception, which has only one object, image-consciousness has three objects, each intended in a different way. A painting, for example, possesses what Husserl calls a physical image, by which he means the paintings physical support made from wood, canvas, and

J.B. Brough ( ) Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

pigment. The physical image is a material thing like any other; it can hang askew on the wall and deteriorate with age. It differs from ordinary physical things, however, in that its maker intentionally created it to awaken the consciousness of an image-object in the perceiver. The image-object, or simply image, is what one actually sees when one looks at a painting; it is the image, not the pigment and canvas, that appears and that depicts or represents. Awareness of the paintings material substrate, while necessary if one is to have an image, recedes into emptiness in the images presence. Images may represent actual persons, places, or events, or they may represent purely ctional things such as centaurs. To the extent that images have subjects, they involve a third moment, which Husserl calls the image-subject. If the subject of the image is an actual person or event, it will be absent in its reality but be intended in its absence through the present image. Unlike phantasy objects, which uctuate and are resolutely private and subject to the whim of the phantasying individual, images, thanks to their rootedness in a physical support, enjoy a stable existence and public availability to multiple observers. Furthermore, the fact that the physical support has real colors and textures means that the image grounded in them appears with the full force and intensity of perception (Husserl 1980: 57, 60). Of course, the consciousness of the image is not a normal perception, since the image and what appears in the image are not taken to be actual things. The image itself is indeed there in person and actually seen, but I do not take the imageperson I see to be real in the way in which I take the wall on which the picture hangs to be real. The image has no existence inside my consciousness or outside my consciousness; it is a nothing, a nullity, in comparison with real spatiotemporal things or

H.R. Sepp, L. Embree (eds.), Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics, Contributions to Phenomenology 59 DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-2471-8_30, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010


J.B. Brough

mental acts. Thus in gazing at the bronze sculpture of a runner, I do not take the represented gure to be a real person; I am aware, unambiguously, that it is an image-person. The capacity of the image to represent something within itselfa human being, a landscape, actions and eventsdepends on the fact that it is not something real. Merely real things simply are what they are and do not represent. The image is able to appear in its peculiar perceptual nonbeing, Husserl argues, because it oats in a play of conicts. When I look at a painting, for example, I am conscious of a conict between the image-landscape I see and the real pigment and canvas that support the image. The result is that I take what actually appearsthe landscape in the painting as something that is not real, that is, precisely as an image. Since the image is not a real object, Husserl characterizes it as ideal. The ideality of the image involves a second direction of conict with the real. The ideal world the image represents has its own space and time, which means that it conicts with the perceptual world surrounding it. The depicted landscape does not extend beyond the pictures frame; if I attempt to fulll my empty landscape intentions by looking to the left or right of the painting, I will see only wall, furniture, and windows. Again the conict with what is actual lets me experience the appearing landscape as an image and not as a real thing. Finally, the image and its subject can conict. A child in a sepia photograph appears in quite different colors from the actual child the photograph depicts. The differences between the child as s/he appears in the image and the child him/herself signal that it is an image I am experiencing. The conicts involved in image-consciousness, unlike the conicts that sometimes arise in ordinary perceiving, are never resolved by the triumph of one over the others, since it is precisely the preservation of conict that insures the preservation of image-consciousness. Essential to imaging is what Husserl calls seeingin (Hineinschauen). Seeing-in operates in two ways. First, I can see something in the physical support: a human face in lines drawn in ink on a sheet of paper, for example, or a runner cast in the bronze of a sculpture. Seeing-in carries me beyond the perception of ink and paper or bronze to the consciousness of an image-face or image-body. I can also see something in the image itself, in the sense that I take it to have a subject. Thus I see Bismarck in the image-face before me. This is a case of meaning

what is absentBismarck himselfin what is actually present and appearingthe image of Bismarck. It is seeing-in that distinguishes image-consciousness from symbolic consciousness, the kind of awareness I have when I recognize an overhead sign in an airport as indicating the direction of a restaurant. Images represent things internally. I see the restaurant in the painting of the restaurant and am not carried beyond it. The sign or symbol, on the other hand, represents its subject externally; it points me toward something else that is not contained within it. Husserl also thinks that images can in addition contain moods or affective states. One can see compassion in a depicted face, and an entire image can be enveloped in a quasi-mood, such as melancholy. Husserl intends his phenomenology of imageconsciousness to apply to all images, whether works of art or not, and hence the features of imaging do not, by themselves, distinguish art from non-art. Husserl does insist, however, that all works of art are images, and to that extent, all of them have a physical substratum, an image object, and a subject. From the Husserlian perspective, then, it is a necessary condition that something be an image if it is to be a work of art. Husserl additionally holds that if something is to be art, it must be capable of being contemplated aesthetically, although aesthetic consciousness can also be directed toward things that are not works of art, such as actual landscapes. These two conditionsbeing an image and also being a target of aesthetic experience taken jointly would constitute Husserls answer to the question about what distinguishes art from non-art. Husserl takes aesthetic consciousness to be concerned with the way in which an object appears and not with its existence. In the case of an artwork, aesthetic delight is directed toward what presents itself simply as it presents itself in the depictive image. It is not interested in the actual existence of what is represented, but only in the existence of its ideal presentation. The physical materials from which the work is made, to the degree that they appear, can also play a role in aesthetic delight, as can such features of the work as the artists brushstrokes. Husserl distinguishes different types of art according to their foci and the artists intention. There can be realistic art, which attempts to capture in images and in literary ctions the characteristics of a particular time and place. The point of realistic art is not to be beautiful, although, like all art, it is the target of aesthetic appreciation, which suggests that for

Edmund Husserl (18591938)


Husserl beauty is not a necessary condition of the artwork. In contrast to realistic art, whose motive is a kind of artistic empiricism or positivism, stands idealistic art, which does aim at beauty through embodying values and their collisions in ctional characters and situations. Husserl also claims that art can be philosophical, even metaphysical, elevating one to the deepest world ground and uniting one with it (Husserl 1980: 542), which anticipates aspects of the aesthetic theories of MARTIN HEIDEGGER and MAURICE MERLEAU - PONTY . Among aestheticians in the phenomenological tradition, ROMAN INGARDEN explicitly acknowledged a deep indebtedness to Husserl in the development of his own aesthetics. Ingarden seems to have been inuenced chiey by the central Husserlian doctrines of intentionality, eidetic insight, and ideal or irreal objectivities. His analysis, however, also coincides with and develops many of Husserls specic views about art, unpublished during the latters lifetime, but with which Ingarden may have been familiar as Husserls student and lifelong correspondent. He echoes Husserls claims about the distinction between and mutual dependence of the work of art and its physical support, for example, but also advances distinctions that were, at most, only implied in Husserls texts. He distinguishes, for example, between the work of art and the aesthetic object, and between artistic qualities and values and aesthetic qualities and values. He also sees differences between Husserls conception of ideal objects, such as mathematical entities, and works of art, although Husserl would probably agree that works of art form a unique class of ideal objects. JEAN PAUL SARTRE and Maurice Merleau-Ponty carry the analysis of art in more existential directions, but both also investigate the connections and differences between ordinary objects and the work of art. MIKEL DUFRENNE joins Ingarden in distinguishing between the aesthetic object and the artwork, but particularly exploits the possibilities opened up for aesthetics by Husserls notion of intentionality, exploring in depth the correlation between aesthetic consciousness on the one hand and the aesthetic object on the other. Husserls discussion of images and imageconsciousness also has relevance for and afnities with a number of themes in recent analytic aesthetics, particularly representation, resemblance, and depiction. Husserls discussion of seeing-in and the

relation between the art works physical support and its image is especially interesting in connection with, for example, Richard Wollheims independently developed discussions of seeing-in and twofoldness. Furthermore, Husserls late (1936) work, Die Krisis der europischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phnomenologie, although not concerned with art or the aesthetic, offers possibilities for linking phenomenology to the current discussions of the artworld and the institutional theory of art through its rich analysis of history and the complex constitution of cultural worlds and objects. Husserl wrote that art offers us an innite realm of perceptual ctions. His phenomenological legacy provides us with an equally innite realm of possibilities for aesthetic theory.

Brough, John. Art and Artworld: Some Ideas for a Husserlian Aesthetic. In Edmund Husserl and the Phenomenological Tradition. Ed. Robert Sokolowski. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1988, 7793. Brough, John. Some Husserlian Comments on Depiction and Art. In American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 66, 1992, 24159. Husserl, Edmund. Ideen zu einer reinen Phnomenologie und phnomenologischen Philosophie. Erstes Buch. Allgemeine Einfhrung in die reine Phnomenologie [1913]. Ed. Walter Biemel. Husserliana 3. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950; Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. Trans. Fred Kersten. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982. Husserl, Edmund.. Die Krisis der europischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phnomenologie. Eine Einleitung in die phnomenologische Philosophie [1936]. Ed. Walter Biemel. Husserliana 6. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954; The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy.. Trans. David Carr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970. Husserl, Edmund.. Logische Untersuchungen. Zweiter Band, Teil 1,2 [1901]. Ed. Ursula Panzer. Husserliana 191, 192. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984; Logical Investigations. Trans. J. N. Findlay. 2 vols. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. Husserl, Edmund.. Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung. Zur Phnomenologie der anschaulichen Vergegenwrtigungen. Texte aus dem Nachlass (18981925). Ed. Eduard Marbach. Husserliana 23. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980; Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (18981925). Trans. John B. Brough. Dordrecht: Springer, 2005.