Maurice Natanson

(1924-1996), Professor of Philosophy, Yale University

Table of Contents:

Foreword, by Judith Butler
One: Phenomenology in Literature I
Two: Phenomenology in Literature II
Three: Phenomenology in Literature III
Four: Waiting for Godot
Five: The Magic Mountain
Six: The Metamorphosis
Seven: Action
Notes / Bibliography / Index

“I would like to nominate The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature, by Maurice Natanson, for the Edward G. Ballard Book Prize in Phenomenology. Ballard’s interests were interdisciplinary and covered, among other things, the territory of literature, interpretation, and the arts. Natanson’s book lies squarely in that territory. Beyond that, it is the culminating work of a master phenomenologist who had, before his death, been writing and teaching on this subject for forty years.

The book is a statement of rare power and insight and, as with all of Natanson’s writings, an original contribution to phenomenology. In this work, he pursues not a phenomenology of literature (in the manner, say, of Roman Ingarden’s work), but a reflection on phenomenology in literature itself (specifically, in works by Beckett, Kafka, and Mann).

Further, he develops his own original understanding of the problems and approaches of ‘existential phenomenology’: a critical negotioation of impulses stemming from Husserl, Sartre, and Schutz. In three chapters dealing with clarifying the project in general, Natanson supplies interpretations of central phenomenological notions — such as Evidenz, the reduction, intentionality, temporality, the lifeworld, and the like — in such a way that the contours of a ‘phenomenology’ emerge that is concerned with the return to ‘origins,’ to the deep structures of pre-predicative and pre-reflective experience that constitute and support the taken-for-granted familiarity of the world of everyday life.

What distinguishes Natanson’s existential phenomenology is his conviction that these origins are illuminated not only by arcane phenomenological procedures, but can ‘break through’ in everyday life itself. That which supports and constitutes the familiar proves to be precisely the strange; that is, what emerges in turn as the uncanny, the pathological, the fugitive, or the borderline. These phenomena break through the ‘current of existence’ and call for thought. But they are also the stuff of (some) literature.

Following Husserl’s clue in the idea that ‘fiction is the medium of phenomenological reflection,’ Natanson develops an approach to what he calls ‘fictive possibility.’ This approach does not turn to specific works by Kafka and others in order to offer new interpretations of them, but to uncover through them new interpretations of us, that is, phenomenological insights into the root uncanniness of human existence. This is original phenomenological work of the highest order.”

Other books nominated for the 1998 prize:

Fred Kersten, Galileo and the ‘Invention’ of Opera: A Study in the Phenomenology of Consciousness. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1997.

François Raffoul, Heidegger and the Subject, trs. David Pettigrew and Gregory Recco. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1998.

Dan Zahavi, Husserl und die transzendentale Intersubjektivitaet: Eine Antwort auf die sprachpragmatische Kritik Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1996.