Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Phenomenology

For Edmund Husserl, phenomenology is an approach to philosophy that takes the intuitive experience of phenomena (what presents itself to us in phenomenological reflexion) as its starting point and tries to extract from it the essential features of experiences and the essence of what we experience. This has been called a "transcendental phenomenology". Husserl's view stems from the School of Brentano and was developed further by philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Max Scheler, Hannah Arendt, Dietrich von Hildebrand and Emmanuel Levinas ...

Phenomenology is a word I come up against time and time again, the latest in the book "the Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams" described thus in the blurb as how to "reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment".
So this sets the stage for some thinking on my part, having as it were explored my thinking on narrating the landscape, what actually happens when a mind starts to relate to its surrounding.
Phenomenology has three slightly different interpretations, Hegel and Heidegger give other dimensions their interpretations can be found on Wikipedia here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology

Edmund Husserl's philosophical discipline was "the things themselves" experiencing the world as it is happening in the immediate now. The very subjectivity of experience that can be found in the senses as we see, hear, smell touch, etc and the way language was formed to express our sense of the natural environment. It would argue that science plays a secondary role in all this because science draws together only parts of a disassembled truth. Science, like any other discipline, is constructed on a subjective understanding of the world it has not been "grounded" though on the basic experience of the world.
"to return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign language" Maurice Merleau-Ponty

the above probably states it very clearly more then I do, and this theory has been explored by such people as architect Christopher Alexander in his four books on the Nature of
Order. Here Alexander has used through the medium of architecture and paintings an exploration of the inner centrality that the things around us are imbued with, and that art expressives itself through not only the thinking mind but is shaped by what it percieves - interaction works from both directions - and by comparing and contrasting different art forms and materials used, he shows his thinking, and of course his belief.
The other discipline phenomenology can be found in is archaeology, here the exponents are Christopher Tilley, Richard Bradley and others. They use this philosophical tool to explain the religious beliefs of prehistory. Whether it works in this context I am not sure, the unknown is just that, unknown, to explain it from your own subjective experience is to step lightly on unbroken waters, but every ripple from an alternative viewpoint will muddy those selfsame waters and one is in danger of falling through and drowning.
Richard Bradley has two front cover pieces on his books of Mark Johnston's photo-montage of the circular in nature, some of stone circles, Johnston describes our approach to circularity as somewhat flawed in a photograph because we only image the horizon as a straight line, in reality our human vision encompasses a circular vision (stand and turn round and watch the sky meet the land and note how we really do live on a globe) - the circle of the world is reflected in the circle of our inner perception.
http://www.kilmorackgallery.co.uk/artists/johnston.html

Perhaps what he means by the circle of our inner perception is our closed mind, which bumps against the phenomena of the outside world and tries to rationalise everything in its path. Religion is not rational, neither is belief, but people employ their minds to believe anything, because they wish to give sense to the world around them.
So going back to Christopher's Alexander belief in an 'essence' in all living forms, which should manifest itself in organic design and use of natural materials are we to believe him? does a rounded, cob built house with a thatch have artistic merit or does it hark back to a romanticised historical past. Does a hand thrown pot painted with natural clay dyes have any more resonance with our souls than a beautiful highly decorated glazed pot. One is of course the result of technical excellence, the other a more homely reminder of our roots.

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