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Gschwandtner, Christina M.
Degrees of Givenness. On Saturation in Jean-Luc Marion.
Harrogate: Combined Academic Pub-lishers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press) 2014. 304 S. = Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Geb. £ 54,00. ISBN 978-0-25301419-1.
One of the merits of this study on the thought of Jean-Luc Marion is clarity. Which is due, of course, to the fact that the author is a spe-cialist, and translator of the French phenomenologist, to whom she dedicated an earlier volume in 2007 and in whose vast production she moves with ease and competence – but not only. The point is that this book is not allowed digressions, but pursues with determina-tion, almost stubbornly, one dominant reason, as expressed very clearly since the introduction and then developed into seven chapters which represent as many variations on the theme. What Christina M. Gschwandtner intends to bring to light, in this essay, is a tension which works, not entirely consciously and controlled, in Marion’s phenomenological project; a tension that, properly interpreted, opens to a fruitful development of what is only implicit in Marion.
In what can be considered his greatest work (Being given, 1997), Marion, basing on a very personal reading of Husserl, draws up a new and original version of phenomenology, centered on the idea of donation. The latter is the controversial translation / interpretation of the German Gegebenheit, of which »givenness« is, without doubt, a much less problematic cast, and is the keystone of a method that aims to introduce and describe what is given in the manner in which it is given, that is, respecting its way of manifestation, without imposing anything upon it that is alien. According to Marion, the givenness can fill intuition to different levels: there are phenomena which are »poor«, that give little to see and quickly escape our attention, and phenomena that are so rich in content to outstrip all our capacity to receive them; phenomena, therefore, that realize a real »saturation« of intuition, forcing us to deal with that which exceeds the powers of the transcendental subject.
Now, the tension detected by the author is the following: on the one hand, the emergence of a number of »degrees of givenness« establishes a substantial continuity between the two extremes represented by the poor and the saturated phenomena (which would imply a thorough analysis of the entire range of intensity levels and corresponding types of phenomena); on the other hand, Marion seems in fact to consider the distinction between the two extremes in terms of a binary opposition, which he expresses in terms of »paradox« and that leads him to prefer the saturated phenomena (as opposed to all the others), making it the paradigm of givenness and the only area really worthy of phenomenological investigation. This causes Marion to neglect the patient work of analysis of what shows itself, even in the most humble manner, giving in to the temptation of according to phenomenology the only area of the extraordinary, the exceptional and the excessive.
The author aims to work in contrast with this outcome, in her opinion in no way necessary, of the Marionian setting, indeed trying to remain more faithful to its original intent than Marion himself. Take, for example, the saturated phenomenon of the historical event, as understood by Marion as a breach into history of a radically new element, which in its novelty overflows every known paradigm and exceeds, for this reason, any single account which can be given. Without denying the saturated character, the author raises some objections: the fact that the event is irreducible to the metaphysical paradigm of the object, and that it is therefore impossible to reduce it to an efficient cause and that it is necessary to interpret it rather in terms of »given«, does not mean that it falls outside of any analysis in causal terms. The humble work of the historian, that the setting of Marion tends more or less consciously to devalue, is to be decidedly rehabilitated: »Historians seek to illuminate the ways in which a variety of conditions, none of which are not sufficient by themselves, came together and interacted with each other« (29). The fact that no event possesses an exhaustive and definitive interpretation does not mean that there aren’t better and worse interpretations; and historical analysis allows us precisely to discriminate between the one and the other: only by virtue of this hermeneutical insight it is possible to give voice to the »little stories«, the interpretations of the vanquished, the call for justice and responsibility that history always raises.
This same strategy is used for each of the saturated phenomena examined: the Marionian reconstruction analysis is complemented by a counter-analysis aimed to ›soften‹ the Marionian tendency towards strongly marked oppositions and, above all, to show the need to integrate the phenomenological approach with a hermeneutic approach. So one wonders, for example, whether it is necessary to distinguish between different degrees of love, or whether it is necessary, in order to have access to a true work of art, to gradually enrich our knowledge and consequently, our ability to contextualize the work in question. The same, mutatis mutandis, is true of nature, flesh, violence, gift, sacrifice, prayer, sainthood, eucharist, sacrament.
Faced with this proposal for the development of a Marionian paradigm, which is certainly very effective in putting in evidence some significant problem areas, it is natural to wonder whether this is only a supplement within a ground theoretical framework that would remain – as the author argues – essentially unchanged, or if instead we are moving away from Marion, far more than she would like. In particular, there is a decisive element that should be discussed more thoroughly: the author seems to think that the »saturation« of the phenomenon is certainly reflected in a particular intensity of the experience by which you receive it (»These phenomena give ›too much‹; their intuitive excess cannot be con-tained. Marion depicts them as overwhelming and bedazzling«, 6). This is certainly consistent with the claim of the importance of degrees of givenness, but it seems to push for a ›numinous‹ phenomenology, which, carried to the extreme consequences, seems far removed from the intentions of Marion. Is it just a coincidence that Marion never worries about nature, that the author adds with no trouble to the list of saturated phenomena? And is it no accident that Marion insists on the »banality« of saturated phenomena, according to a line of argument from which the author explicitly distances herself? And, could we describe in terms of »overwhelm-ing and bedazzling« experience, that encounter with the other's face, which, as pointed out by Marion, does not give to see abso-lutely nothing and is defined in terms of »counter-experience«? More radically: indeed, is the notion of saturated phenomenon as a paradox compatible with that of saturated phenomenon as the peak of an upward continuum of degrees? The answers are left to the reader.