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Gendlin, E.T. (1979). [Review of the book Phenomenology of feeling]. Human Studies, 2(1), 86-91. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2124.html

[Page 86]

A review of

STEPHAN STRASSER, Phenomenology of Feeling.

Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1977.

E. T. GENDLIN University of Chicago

Subtitled "An Essay on the phenomena of the Heart," this book is a translation of Strasser's 1956 Das Gemüt.

Robert E. Wood has made a very readable translation, almost deceptively easy to read. We know that translators must choose, and pay one price or another. Here there are too few parentheses with the original terms, and too little respect for technical terms. Stimmung, for example, is sometimes translated "disposition," sometimes "mood," and sometimes "state of mind." One must constantly remind oneself that in the original they were the same word. Otherwise the good literary flow with English words makes for spurious meanings. One feels one understands, then realizes that, with the English words switched, it comes out differently. There is no way of guarding against this in the case of translator's choices one is not warned about. There is no glossary of German words, and one cannot know what words like "comportment," for example, stand for. But a glossary can be added in later editions and it would be hard to fault the translation for this lack alone.

Strasser has much to say which does not depend on the terms, and that also helps this aspect of the translation.

Krueger, Lersch, and Pradines are critically discussed, as well as Dugas, Stern, and Vander Kerken. Authors not well known to the American reader are introduced, and at length. This is very welcome. The well-known authors, on the other hand, are very poorly dealt with. Even points quoted from them are often dismissed without discussion. Scheler, Jaspers, and Hartmann are discussed. Husserl is cited as is Sartre, only to be dismissed quite abruptly.

Strasser builds a system of "levels, " from nonintentional "disposition" (Stimmung), through preintentional and intentional, to the spiritual level.

He seems to make disposition basic and prior to perception, but in fact he does the opposite. First he says "Disposition, and not perception . . . constitutes the elementary foundation of experience" (p. 182). But then it turns out that disposition is not about anything. It has no role in constituting our world.

Similarly on the other levels, Strasser speaks of the "governance of feeling," and the "influences" of feeling, giving his topic great importance in general. But at every point, when it comes to specifics, feeling has only an "accompanying" role. It is only "mingled with" what is always founded on perception. In constituting objects and situations the feeling dimension is either distortive or it has no role.

[Page 87]

Strasser views disposition and feeling as segregated from what we perceive and act on. He is interested in understanding feeling entirely in terms of various aspects of the structure of an act, and our attainment or failure to attain its object. Feelings are internal to this structure and do not participate in constituting the objects or situations at all. This is disturbing and not well discussed.

Why is disposition nonintentional? Strasser cites Krueger: "the experiential qualities of (a) gathered whole are matters of feeling" (p. 181). Krueger presents a holistic apprehension of the environment as one mode of apprehension. Strasser denies it. Intentionality must have specific objects for him. He simply asserts:

Perception is the most basic form of self-direction-toward-another; it is necessarily . . . of something, whereas disposition points to no intentional pole. (182)

Strasser gives examples: liveliness, depression, irritation, anger, a happy state. (He does not notice that these are distinct emotional qualities very different from Krueger's holistic feelings.) Without discussion he assumes (how can he?) that such states are not about anything! He says they can be caused by something, but one can never find that from the disposition itself. The causation would be observable only externally. The disposition, he insists, is equally about everything. "If I have an elevated disposition, all appears to me in a rosy light" (p. 188). Strasser uses the image of a fountain for disposition:

The water in the basin forms . . . an undifferentiated mass. The fluid is then divided into jets and ejected in different directions . . . finely atomized drops . . . sink back into the basin. (pp. 186-187)

Thus disposition is only a fluid that accompanies perception and is "mingled" with it without helping to constitute (or even be about) the world we live in. Although disposition is the medium between "Bios, Pathos, and Logos" (p. 187) it is always the same water, and the world is entirely governed by perception.

Strasser assumes that one is totally closed to all the complexity (we all know we can find) in a mood. Phenomenological observation does not, for him, extend so far. He does not mention depth psychology, but it seems he views it as totally external and causal. He does not seem to know what Heidegger understands so deeply—that Stimmung always already has its understanding of the situations into which we are thrown. With Heidegger, if we choose to be the thrownness we already are, we can articulate this implicit understanding of our world. For Strasser there is no intentionality that is not [Page 88] clearly related to clearly distinct "objects," and he assumes those are just plain there.

He quotes Sartre saying "the life of feeling . . . is a form of living-on-in-the-world" and that "the object . . . is in a certain sense also the product of . . . emotional intention" (p. 84). Strasser asks whether feeling creates the object or not. Sartre is said to be unclear about this, but Strasser is so brief here, one cannot be sure what he means.

Surprisingly, Husserl receives similar treatment. He is quoted as saying that "the felt whole . . . (is the) horizon (of the) rationally apprehended individual feature" (p. 143) and that we are "dwelling in the pre-given world" (p. 191).

Strasser's discussion comes down to this: He distinguishes between "global" and "specific," or "concrete individual." He assumes that there cannot be a global apprehension of specifics. Therefore the global (in all his brief discussions) can be no more than "a certain openness for Being, but not a grasp . . ." (p. 194). The horizon is "not factual knowledge, but only the condition for the possibility of factual knowledge" (p. 144). Again the split between these is absolute, so that "condition" is general and not constitutive of anything individual. He speaks of "Our . . . clear rejection of the . . . position . . . that . . . feeling would be a principle of . . . receptivity" (p. 193).

This reviewer is far from demanding orthodoxy. A reexamination of the role of the prethematic would have been very welcome. But this seems to me more like Meno's position: Either you know it already, then why study it? Or you don't know it at all, then how can you know what to ask? There is a flat assumption that the world is apprehended only as sharp individuals, or not at all.

Strasser obviously decided to take this position after much more thinking than is given here. I feel dissatisfied with the fact that he does not give us his reasons. He evidently thought it was enough to claim roundly that we have moods the object of which doesn't appear. He decided to avoid the whole issue, and thought he could. I think he cannot. He ought therefore to tell us his reasons. It isn't enough to say:

. . . we will content ourselves with casting doubt upon the correctness of the presuppositions at the base of a philosophy of intentionality and consciousness. Phenomenological analysis shows that there is consciousness which is not consciousness of an object . . . at the level of disposition. (p. 192).

Of course this reviewer's own bias should be recognized. In my work the "steps of explication" from what is at first vague and only felt to what emerges as clear and object-related are basic. A phenomenology that can only report what is there, without anything thereby lifted out that was not obvious before, [Page 89] is not very interesting. For me the discoveries of depth psychology, as well as Husserl's discoveries, are not merely causal or unfounded "presuppositions." One can question how someone formulates this movement from implicit to explicit, but for me it is at the heart of phenomenology. I agree that Freud and Jung formulate inferrable entities and view them causally and inferentially. But I consider that as theoretical guessing to be superseded by what one actually finds in phenomenological explicating. To close off the steps of explicating is to make phenomenology helpless and trivial.

With a bias like that in my own work, naturally I would like to see an interesting and trenchant discussion of the opposite viewpoint, rather than a simple dismissal of this basic issue. And especially one wants to ask for this discussion, since evidently Strasser has thought long about it. The issue affects his entire system.

The next level, the preintentional, is vegetative only, and wholly determined by the intentional level. On that crucial intentional level,

We begin with the phenomenon of a concrete good which is contained in the environment. It is clear that the object . . . is not a pure value. It is "bad" in so far as I must seek it, capture it, etc. (p. 221)

Basic for Strasser is the act structure, with its "object" as goal, and a seeking for the means to attain it. We bring the act structure. The object is just there. Assuming we resign ourselves to the segregation of disposition and feeling from any constitutive role, it is interesting how Strasser derives feelings as accompanying this act-structure—attainment. He can certainly do engagingly much with it.

Feelings result from our attaining or not attaining the object, or the difficulty or ease of attaining it. "Situation" is discussed as the context in which the object is embedded so this situation determines what means are needed to get to it. We feel "disheartenment" when the object eludes us, "hope" when there is a "possibility of success." We feel "timidity" when an object is dangerous. These feelings all relate to attaining the object, and are not related to what the object itself is. Similarly, "failure . . . provokes . . . unrest and new tensions . . . and heightened activity." (pp. 225-228)

Feelings also arise from the relation between what was expected and what happened:

Let us assume . . . the beginning . . . has developed in a completely different way than was foreseen; then . . . surprise sets in . . . If worse than expected, disillusionment. (If there is) no contrast . . . monotony. (pp. 241-242)

Strasser distinguishes between "sensation" ("the situation is dissected into objects and objective aspects") and "attraction" ("merely a total impression") [Page 90] (pp. 234-235). "Attraction . . . is completely one sided . . . (and) distorted. (For example) "Rousseau 'everywhere' . . . suspected a plot." (The) "theories . . . of a 'logic of feeling' do violence to the very nature of logic" (p. 263).

I liked the book much better as it moved to the spiritual "level," Strasser's highest, and to subsequent chapters. The spiritual is not related to earlier levels in an understandable way. "Between organic and spiritual being there is indeed an opposition but man is the person who reconciles this opposition" (p. 244). This section contains many statements like that, useless from the systematic point of view, using old categories, but interesting. "The threat of death is not as fearful as a lived futility of one's existence" (p. 292). "Without passion nothing great occurs, neither good nor evil" (p. 302).

Passion has organizing power . . . [it makes for] consistency, perserverence, composure and awareness of goal . . . [it makes one] disciplined in many respects in order to dedicate himself all the more unreservedly to a single thing. (p. 295)

We see again a way feeling relates to attaining the object (not the constituting of the object itself). Similarly, "emotion is . . . an intermediate form between being overpowered and giving oneself as having-been-won over" (p. 271). In emotion one is neither going along with what happens, nor able to control it, neither "sovereign" nor just passive. Emotions are moved by the spiritual, they do not themselves intend the spiritual.

In the last chapters Strasser asks himself some of the questions one had wished to ask him. While he doesn't answer them, his discussions there are subtile.

. . . the elegance of a mathematical demonstration, the cleverness of a dialogue, or the facility of a technical performance . . . in [these] cases enjoyment is founded in perception; yet . . . it transcends the sphere of mere perceiving. . . . What we enjoy is the way in which this mathematician solves this problem now, before our spiritual eyes. (p. 333)

Here some enjoyed totality of an articulated complexity is possible after all, and isn't only "perception," though again the "spiritual eyes" move the feelings, the feelings don't apprehend anything themselves.

The act-intention structure and its end, the attainment of the object, lead to one more interesting step from the phenomenology of end attainment:

Man is a metaphysically needy being. (p. 392) [We seek totality.] [The] human style of experience . . . aims primarily at intentional object-poles, but . . . through the medium of finite objects, is directed in a meta-intentional manner, to transcendence. (p. 370)

Using this, Strasser distinguishes between "happiness," and "analogous modes such as the feeling of result, pleasure, enjoyment . . ." Although fleeting and imperfect, the satisfaction of the act-goal structure implies a greater [Page 91] totality of fulfillment. It lies in our sense of an end. The satisfaction of a mundane acts bears

. . . some reference to a genuine fulfillment (which) lies hidden within it. [Without that] we could not even know that there is a terminus to our act. (p. 369)

Strasser can do impressively much with the intentional act object structure. Nevertheless, this conceptual structure isn't sufficiently modified by his good phenomenological distinctions. He returns to Aquinas and Aristotle in welcome ways, but he stays within these concepts where phenomenological distinctions could change how they work. Somehow he is committed to remain within his categories, as far as the system goes. But in many places Strasser is much better than his system.

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