Thursday, December 17, 2015

Of Principles and Phenomena II: The Drama of Phenomenology and Violations of the 4th Wall

Art seems generically and ambiguously involved with sacred and is always inauthentic vis-a -is the purity of the ritual and vis-a-vis a thorough-going realism. This generic impurity is the best clue to its nature.
    A Kafka parable may help us to define more closely art's mixed essence:

Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry; this occurs repeatedly, again and again: finally it can be reckoned on beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony.

Profanation enters the inner sanctum, and become part of the holy. From a purist or ritual point of view there is contamination. The sense that the holy is contaminated is one of the views that emerges from Kafka's work as a whole. Not the death of God, but his impurity...Does not every system have its necessary and permitted profanations?

Geoffrey Hartman, "Struturalism: The Anglo-American Adventure," in Structuralism, ed. Jacques Ehrmann, (NY: Anchor, 1970), p. 157.

"Does not every system have its necessary and permitted profanations?" Hartman's prescient and startling remarks on the invasion of the profane into the sacred, nearly 50 years old, cut both ways with a decisive double edge in this discussion of the emergence of the new phenomenology. Hartman could hardly have known what was just beyond the horizon of structuralism when his piece first appeared in Yale French Studies in 1966. The Derridean storm, just forming off the coast of the Anatomy of Criticism, had only whispered a breeze in its advent; Being Given slumbered in the deep structure of the first reduction.

As I have suggested in my previous piece, the phenomenological method,  this new phenomenology, plays out on the stage of a consciousness of a self, whose finitude rests in immanence. If I may continue with the metaphor of an enacted drama, I would characterize Janicaud's (and many other's) critique of the new phenomenology as a description of violations of the '4th wall.' The Husserlian phenomenological inner sanctum is a closed space, not without a certain plasticity of course, but closed off in an inviolable integrity so robust that any infraction, any 'profanation,' would constitute an insurmountable transgression that results in not a renewal, but pure novelty.

4th wall violations in modern drama, either on an actual stage or in film, are common techniques and enhance dramatic effect, even when they shock and disorient with their hyperreal or surreal effects on both the drama and the audience. In my sense of them, such violations are not particularly modern, and one might argue that they have their antecedents in the Greek chorus and the soliloquy. Are such violations then always extraneous disruptions, or do they enter the drama and open it up to whatever is beyond the wall? And what of the violations that leap from the stage or screen into another 'real' space, such as "3-D" effects, or a character walking of the stage or screen into a surprised audience, such as Tom Baxter's escape from black-and-white into Cecelia's colorful world in The Purple Rose of Cairo?

The new phenomenology authentically addresses the phenomenality of any and all things that present in and of themselves. The effect of this address authenticates the method's account of such unusual phenomena while leaving the authentication of the thing 'open.' This openness itself addresses all kinds of openings, in the method and in the thing. The possibilities are endless on either side of the phenomenological moment, the given and the recipient.

This very respect for porosity and excess characterizes the deconstructive gesture in general. In-breakings and out-breakings move with Kafka's leopards. The new phenomenology of givenness can formulate a description of such feline motions in a way the offerings in the un-transgressed Husserlian chalice cannot. Classical phenomenology remains reluctant to chase after in-breakings, such as the in-breaking of the divine into history in the Incarnation, or of the in-breaking of the event in Scripture, the release of the event in the Word of God or the name of God. Is the right of such phenomena to appear suppressed, or do such rights not exist at all? What is forbidden?

Whether or not Hartman's observations of art and criticism apply to the phenomenological method in any illuminating way remains an open question, and only time will tell if phenomenology, properly understood, can accommodate Kafka's cats as the deconstructive gesture has accommodated Derrida's cat. Phenomenology's 4th walls of Husserlian givenness and immanence either evolve into the new phenomenology or they do not, but a phenomenology of givenness is not woven de novo from some novel fiber; it traces itself to a method and a principle. And while the phenomenal moment may already prefigure a hermeneutic according to the given, the utility of phenomenology as a critical approach is plastic enough to explore the possibility of the saturated phenomenon through a productive porosity of method and the thing that gives itself.

Method and its object enjoy a perennial and perhaps even an incestuous relationship, criticism and art a reverberating intertextuality where horizons interface in vague chiasmus. I therefore begin and end with Hartman, who has won the last word: "literature and myth are not mere accretions to a central mystery but involved in its very nature. They penetrate and become part of the structure of the sacred event...[a]lways flanked by its dark sisters, blasphemy and pornography" (op. cit., 158).

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