Phenomenology was one of the core methods of inquiry in nineteenth- and twentieth-century continental thought. It emerged as a response to the crisis of European modernity, particularly the positivistic tendencies of modern rationality. Phenomenology views such rationality – from industrialization and capitalism to the modern polis be it individualistic or fascist – as essentially alienating. “Man […] does not dwell in the world,” wroteVilém Flusser. “He is an intruder.” (On Being Subject to Objects, n.d., n.p.).
Disclosing an underlying Hellenism, phenomenology professes to see things as they really are by way of revealing the truth of the world. The “phenomena” are the things that show themselves, and hence phenomenology indicates the self-revelation of things to a solicitous subject. Influenced by the “radical phenomenology” of Edmund Husserl and fascinated (and repelled) by Martin Heidegger, Flusser proposes that philosophical inquiry can and should begin with a subject’s own experience. Objectivity, to the extent that it exists, is a byproduct of the immediate reality of experience. The goal is to rediscover the subjective realm, recasting it in rigorously philosophical and newly scientific terms. Hence phenomenology focuses attention on both questions of presence or being in the world and the subjective nature of such presence.
The relation between subject and world is paramount, with the subject extending itself into a world by way of innumerable objects and devices. Flusser recounts a phenomenology for buttons and bottles, images and text, gestures and interfaces. The existence of such devices and techniques results in a moral distinction between authentic and inauthentic experience. Phenomenology thus prizes authenticity and sincerity above all, as the subject takes care to avoid falling into inauthenticity by engaging in an authentic life project.
Original article by Alexander Galloway