Faculté des lettres

Edmund Husserl's theory of image consciousness, aesthetic consciousness, and art

Kurg, Regina-Nino ; Soldati, Gianfranco (Dir.)

Thèse de doctorat : Université de Fribourg, 2014.

The central theme of my dissertation is Husserl’s phenomenological analysis of how we experience images. The aim of my dissertation is twofold: 1) to offer a contribution to the understanding of Husserl’s theory of image consciousness, aesthetic consciousness and art, and 2) to find out whether Husserl’s theory of the experience of images is applicable to modern and contemporary art,... Plus

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    Summary
    The central theme of my dissertation is Husserl’s phenomenological analysis of how we experience images. The aim of my dissertation is twofold: 1) to offer a contribution to the understanding of Husserl’s theory of image consciousness, aesthetic consciousness and art, and 2) to find out whether Husserl’s theory of the experience of images is applicable to modern and contemporary art, particularly to strongly site-specific art, unaided ready-mades, and contemporary films and theatre plays in which actors play themselves. Husserl’s commentators and followers interested in his theory of the experience of images have mostly focused on the concept of “phantasy” [Phantasie] or “imagination.” Accordingly, the main interest is in the notion of the “image object” [Bildobjekt] and in the question of how something absent can appear in an image. In my dissertation, the central concept is “image consciousness” [Bildbewusstsein] which is a unique kind of experience: it involves both perception and imaging. I want to show that Husserl’s early theory of depictive image consciousness (or pictorial consciousness) and his later theory of the experience of images (called immanent imagination or perceptual phantasy) can both be subsumed under the term “image consciousness”. I want to point out that Husserl’s revision of his earlier theory of image consciousness results in the distinction between depictive and non-depictive image consciousness, and that revision did not amount to an abandoning of the theory of “image consciousness.” In addition, Husserl divides depictive consciousness into positing and non-positing depictive consciousness. In my dissertation, I take the theory of image consciousness as the basis for explaining the experience of images, including the experience of visual works of art. In Husserl’s definition of art: “Without an image, there is no fine art” (Phantasy, 44; Hua XXIII, 41). The theory of image consciousness also plays an important role in explaining aesthetic consciousness since the focus is on “the How of the image object’s depicting” (Phantasy, 39; Hua XXIII, 36). My aim is to accentuate the subject in image consciousness, rather than the image object. I want to show that whether the subject is involved in image consciousness or not makes the difference if we have a two-fold or three-fold experience of seeing-in. In this way, I can also compare Husserl and Wollheim’s theories of seeing-in: a comparison that has received minimal attention in the literature of pictorial experience until now. In addition, I aim to show that according to Husserl’s theory, the image subject is involved only in depictive (and not in non-depictive) image consciousness. Moreover, I try to show that it is more difficult to define the image subject than the image object for the subject cannot be equated with the referent. Lastly, I will point out that Husserl mentions the possibility that it is the appearance of the subject rather than the image object appearance that we are focused on in aesthetic consciousness. Another topic that has received minimal attention until now is Husserl’s idea that depiction is involved in the experience of theatrical performance. The latter is primarily used by Husserl as an example of non-depictive image consciousness. I will examine how depiction can be involved in the experience of a theatre play in the case of actors playing themselves onstage. I will show that, in light of this example, either Husserl’s theory of depiction need to be revised or we cannot say that depiction is involved when an actor plays a real life person. Again, the key issue is how the subject (and not how the image object) appears. Thus, I will try to apply Husserl’s theory of depiction in explaining our experience of theatrical performances (and films). I will also try to use his theory of aesthetic consciousness in describing the experience of strongly site-specific art and point out what the difficulties are of using the idea of the limited synthetic unity of the aesthetic object in the case of strongly site-specific art which seems to have no prescribed margins that could correspond to the limitedness. In addition, I will show how Husserl’s phenomenology, especially the notion of horizon, can be used to define visual art. I will defend the view that an object of art can be defined as art through an external co-determining horizon – the artworld. My dissertation is divided into four parts. In the first part, I give an overview of the development of Husserl’s philosophy from the period 1989 – 1920s with a special focus on the development of the theory of image consciousness. In that part, I introduce the notions of depictive and non-depictive image consciousness. In the second part, special focus is on the depictive image consciousness or the theory of depiction. I will first explain the phenomenological approach to the experience of images and what the difference and similarities are between Husserl and Wollheim’s theory of seeing-in. Then I give more detailed description of the three objects or objectivities in image consciousness with the emphases on the image subject. Also, how the objects are related to each other: the necessary conflicts and a resemblance in image consciousness. Lastly, I will analyse Husserl’s claim that depiction might be involved in the experience of theatrical performances and I will show what the difficulties are of applying this idea in the case of a theatre play in which actors play themselves. In the third part, I examine Husserl’s theory of aesthetic consciousness. I will first point out how the notion of “aesthetic object” is equated with that of “work of art” by Husserl. Then I will show the similarities between the aesthetic attitude and phenomenological attitude in general, and how aesthetic consciousness differs from image consciousness according to Husserl. In this vein, I will point out the difficulty of defining whether, following Husserl’s texts, we are directed to image object appearance or the appearance of the image subject in aesthetic consciousness. Lastly, I will analyse Husserl’s idea of the limited synthetic unity of the aesthetic object and whether this theory holds in the case of the experience of strongly site-specific art. In the fourth part, I will give an overview of Husserl’s notes on art and his attempt to define art. The question whether every visual work of art must be an image is also addressed. The fourth part is divided into two sections. Firstly, I will show how some of Husserl’s commentators analyse artworks as analogues to or illustrations for Husserl’s phenomenology: how some works of art are doing phenomenology. Secondly, how Husserl’s phenomenology can be used to analyse our experience of artworks. In this section, I will examine Husserl’s claim that all works of visual art are images. Also, I will show how Husserl’s notion of the external co-determining horizon can be used to define art. Some material used in my dissertation has been published in the following journals: Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics (Vol. 5, 2013), South African Journal of Philosophy (Vol. 34(4), 2013), Kunstiteaduslikke Uurimusi (Studies on Art and Architecture) (Vol. 23(1/2), 2014), Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics (Vol. 11(1) Spring 2014).