Cassandra Falke presents to the reader a plea not merely to love reading but to love the text one reads, and it is not just to be fond of the text, but to erotically love the text with the same love that one bears for a friend, a lover, a child, a parent, another human. How can this be, and if it can be, how can we do that—erotically love the text? For Falke, who weaves her text with the phenomenological threads of the work of Husserl and Heidegger, into the patterns derived from the work of Derrida’s student, Jean-Luc Marion, erotic love involves the phenomenological reduction of love not as a form of possession but love as a form of intuition of the text, of persons, or of whatever can be experienced. Ordinarily love is thought to be possessive, jealous, exclusive—a drive of the ego for the ownership of the other. However, for Falke—love is a submission of the ego to the other, not in submitting to the domination by the other, but in putting aside one’s ego desires, and opening one’s self to becoming changed by the other—whether or not the other reciprocates the love. ‘The erotic phenomenon proceeds through a reader’s or a lover’s willingness to cede control without ceding attention to the text or the beloved other giving itself … Can I allow myself to be altered by an intentionality and signification that arises from elsewhere?’ (p. 57). That in short form is the challenge Falke poses to the reader of her book: allow at least the literary book, if not the theoretical and argumentative book, for the most part, to change your inner self, rather than coming to the book with a sense of a need to control, own, and dominate. Moreover, not only does Falke construct a theoretical structure for developing her thesis of reading as erotic love, as a form of allowing the book to speak to you in its own terms, from its own frame of reference, Falke also, provides a practicum for how to perform the erotic reduction of a text in terms of the patterns of thought woven by her intellectual mentor, Marion. Falke demonstrates through case studies how one can approach the text so that one allows one’s self to have empathy for the text, to give exclusive attention to the text, and to being overwhelmed by the saturated phenomenon that is the text. For her reading of Phenomenology, Falke has two introductions—one for her book and the problematique of her book in Phenomenology, and the other about the tradition of Phenomenology that Falke’s book plays. The problematique of Falke’s book appears in the first ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1–15). Her problematique is to explain how reading the text with love is a form of the erotic love that we bear towards whomever and whatever we love. How is it that erotic love informs all love, even the love in reading? The text has its own ‘intentionality and signification’, as does one whom we erotically love; however, the erotic love we bear towards the text has a limit: ‘The language and physical body of a book can never offer the uniqueness of the flesh through which the erotic reduction may be fully accomplished. Lacking the ability to deny our advance, lacking flesh, lacking the uniqueness of an embodied person, a book cannot help us complete the erotic reduction that it helped us begin’ (p. 6). The second introduction, ‘Phenomenology and Literature’ (pp. 18–41) describes both the terrain in which the problematique of the book can be found, and the intellectual navigational tools she uses to guide us through the development of how she addresses the problematique of the book. Husserl and Heidegger plowed the terrain and provided the navigational tools of the problematique. But most significant for Falke, are the tools developed by Jean-Luc Marion—especially the tool of ‘erotic reduction’ and the recognition of ‘saturated phenomena’: ‘Marion is unique among phenomenologists for being fascinated with phenomena wherein intuition, the element of the phenomenon that gives itself to perception, exceeds what we intend. These phenomena dazzle, overwhelm, amaze, and astound us’ (p. 27). In the vernacular, it can be said that one is blown away by ‘saturated phenomena’. There is much more in Falke’s survey of the phenomenological struggle with literature, and especially the struggle with literary criticism—because how can one as a critic approach the intuition afforded by the text if one comes laden with intellectual baggage? (See p. 40). It is at this point in the text of Falke’s book that a Phenomenological antinomy makes itself heard: the ‘phenomenological critic’ comes to the text with a complexity of knowledge, theory, and argument, and yet must approach the text with ‘wonder’ that allows ‘the text [to] be seen’. On one side, the phenomenological critic (reader) needs the knowledge, theory, and argumentation to defuse those approaches to criticism that require explaining the text in terms of prior categories developed in literary theory. Hence, phenomenological critics have developed alternative categories, concepts, theories for how to read while deploying one’s phenomenological categories, concepts, and theories for reading texts. On the other side, phenomenological critics have to approach the text with a certain developed naïveté or at least suspension of one’s intellectual heritage that structures one’s ego so that the text can reveal its own meaning made naked to the reader and not clothed with the reader’s intellectual wardrobe of meanings. Falke’s practicum part of the book, the three chapters after ‘The Interlude’ is subtlety indicated as Falke’s solution to the above Phenomenological antinomy. For instance, the typical philosopher when reading another philosopher, even when equipped with the concept of reading charitably, ‘… which imagines the philosopher’s argument in its most convincing form … [has] … the anticipation of counterarguments, his thesis and his evidential proofs, his questions and his answers … [where] … we want to think in opposition’ (p. 74). Can the philosopher when reading another philosopher, allow the text to speak without anticipating ‘opposition’—the search for the fatal flaw—on the one side? On the other side, if the philosopher when reading another philosopher, puts in abeyance all ‘counterarguments’, to allow the text to speak its mind and perhaps change the philosopher’s own mind, has the philosopher abandoned the outlook that defines the philosopher’s own self? Falke’s solution to the dilemma of the reader educated in phenomenological approaches to life, love, and reading goes as follows: Falke assumes that if the reader puts aside all concepts—including those such as empathy, attention, and saturated phenomena, as understood in the lexicon of phenomenological theory or as understood within the context of love as erotic reduction, according to the theory of Marion—the inherent meanings of the texts will be missed by the reader. Falke’s resolution to the dilemma is not merely finding the right concepts, but more importantly finding the right mode of interacting with the text. Falke finds that the right mode of interacting with the text is the mode of erotic love. Interacting with the text in the mode of erotic love is the means for intuiting the meaning in the text. Specifically, the attitudes of empathy, attention, and being overwhelmed by the text as a saturated phenomenon form the dynamics of how the reader works with the text within the frame and mode of erotic reduction. One might ask, is approaching the text with erotic love/erotic reduction a necessity or an option? Just as in the sphere of morality, one can wonder: do all people deserve love as the default option, as it were, or even respect? So too, in reading, do all literary books deserve erotic reduction? Falke does admit that there are limits: some texts are too full of blood, murder, and evil to permit approaching the book with erotic love as opposed to moral condemnation. But this is more of a psychological than a logical limit. As Falke admits, most readers find it psychologically difficult to empathize with absolutely evil/psychotic characters. (See Falke’s discussion of how empathy fails the reader of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, pp. 95ff.) However, the adoption of erotic reduction is a logical necessity, even when psychologically difficult, if our goal is to get inside the mind of the book, as it were. I end this discussion of Falke’s book with a question: Is love enough to intuit in the fullest the ‘intentionality and signification’ of all (literary) books? Some books, and particularly poems, are laden with layers of symbolic meanings, that one might need recourse to forms of ‘external’ cognitive understanding or verstehen of the lebenswelt of the text. For instance, can one read ‘Crime and Punishment’ without reading Nietzsche? © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Sep 13, 2017
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