A Few Don'ts (And Dos) By A Cultural Phenomenologist

Steven Connor

Cultural Phenomenology Is Surprised

The mystery for the kind of phenomenology I like is how we should always already have come into existence in the world, have accommodated ourselves to the conditions of temporality, corporeality, language and death that seem otherwise so unpropitious to our existence. Maurice Merleau-Ponty suggests that `phenomenological or existential philosophy is largely an expression of surprise at the inherence of the self in the world'. Indeed, the more certain phenomenologists inquire into the manner of our inherence in the world the more puzzlingly out of this world we may come to appear. This accounts for why phenomenologists are so ready, so routinely ready, even, to reap astonishment from ordinariness, with a cracked, Carrollian taking of pains that I find it exceedingly hard to dislike: `Because we have the sort of bodies that get tired and that bend backwards at the knees, chairs can show up to us - but not flamingos, say - as affording sitting.' I'm not sure what Herbert Dreyfus has just told me there; but something has unmistakably been said. Sartre is said to have turned pale at the sudden discovery that one might do philosophy by describing objects as mundane as an apricot cocktail (though he seemed incapable himself of actually doing it for other than brief, glorious stretches). I am not sure whether or not the cultivation of this Martian amazement about furniture is a viable way of doing philosophy, but it's certainly a way of doing something, and promises a way of doing something more, with the writing of culture, something more systematically unmethodical, something I like the sound of.

| Steve Connor | English and Humanities | Birkbeck College |