Notes on ‘Phenomonology, Hermeneutics, Reception Theory’ from Eagleton’s ‘Literary Theory’

Edmund Husserl:

Phenomenology ‘back to the things themselves’ seeks to explore ‘human consciousness’ believing that through this we can study universal aspects of ‘phenomena’. Phenomena only exist as parts of consciousness, but phenomenology attempts to study their universal essence. Borne of the post WW1 crisis it attempts to revive the human mind as the ‘centre and origin of all meaning’ (Seldon 1985).

Eagleton claims this is not far from the contemporary attempts of Leavis to return to the concrete.

Phenomenological lit crit influenced the Geneva school Poulet, Starokinski, Rousset). The text is a ‘pure embodiemnt of the author’s consciousness’, has deep structures found in recurrent themes etc. and these reveal how the writer “‘lived’ his world”.

Criticism: non-evaluative, complete objectivity. The point is to ‘enter’ the world of the literary work and this to experience the author’s consciousness. For phenomenologists, language is an expression of the text’s inner meanings. Meaning is centred on a ‘transcendental subject’ – the author.

Martin Heidegger breaks with Husserl, reflects on the ‘irreducible Dasein (givenness) of human existence’.

consciousness is constituted by ‘being-in-the-world’ as much as consciousness contitutes the world.

Language pre-exists the individual subject (cf. Structualism)

Central to Heidegger then is not any individual subject but Being. Man is subservient to Being.

Thinking is always situated in an historical. However, for Heidegger history is not social, external, but inward and personal.

Heidegger – ‘hermeneutic of Being’. His philosophy is referred to as ‘hermeneutic phenomenology’, concentrating on an historical interpretation.

Hans-Georg Gadamer applied this to lit crit. Meaning depends on the historical situation of the interpreter. Interpretation of a literary work is a dialogue between past and present.

Understanding is productive. The present is only understandable through the past. linking together in a continuum called ‘tradition’ (cf Eliot)

Understanding is a ‘fusion of past and present’. We make a journey into the past, but only understand it by taking the present with us.