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Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology
ISSN: 0007-1773 (Print) 2332-0486 (Online) Journal homepage:
The Philosophy and Poetics of Gaston Bachelard,
ed., Mary McAllester
John Llewelyn
To cite this article: John Llewelyn (1991) The Philosophy and Poetics of Gaston Bachelard,
ed., Mary McAllester, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 22:1, 91-93, DOI:
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cault's mode of genealogical criticism and Derrida's method of deconstruction. Tomlinson's article though it focuses primarily on Deleuze's attempt to restore Nietzsche to 'the
temple of philosophy', addresses a good deal more. He defdy identifies the consequence
of adopting different hermeneutic approaches to Nietzsche's thought. He lays bare the
assumptions of those who seek a deep order beneath the inconsistencies of Nietzsche's
texts and those who aim to show that whatever truths and fragments for a system Nietzsche
appears to advance, he always takes them away elsewhere. The merit of Schrift's and
Tomlinson's papers and to a lesser extent Peter Dews's contribution on 'Nietzsche and
the Critique of Ursprungsphilosophie' is not so much their value as means to introducing
students to the place ofNietzsche in recent philosophical debate but more for their erudite
identification of the precise conceptual issues that have led to the French deployment of
As the spirit of Derrida and of hence his principle of undecidability governs this
collection, it is not out of place to mention what is arguably a shortcoming. David Wood's
careful essay 'Nietzsche's Transvaluation of Time' sets the tone for most of the volume's
papers insofar as it involves Derrida's critical stratagems to expose weaknesses in
Nietzsche's metaphysics. On the other hand, Krell's essay 'Consultations with the
Paternal Shadow' seems to parody Derrida's style far too closely for comfort. Yet
nowhere in this collection is there an editorial attempt to speak for and defend the
particular mode of reading Nietzsche that this collection represents. In the context of his
own paper, Wood correctly points out that any consideration ofNietzsche' s thought must
be considered in the context of the problems he was trying to confront even if indirectly.
By the same criterion, this volume would have added a great deal to its cause had it placed
the type of Nietzsche interpretation it wishes to defend in its context. The issue is not just
that there are other opposing ways of reading Nietzsche some of which delve for 'doctrines below the surface' but also whether the Derridean reading of Nietzsche is an
appropriate one. On a logical and metaphysical level, Nietzsche would no doubt have
endorsed the principle of undecidability but there is good reason to argue that given his
existential commitments, he would have regarded such a thesis in the sphere of values not
just as an obnoxious form of agnosticism but one of the most dangerous and sickest forms
of nihilism. To what extent can a Derridean reading ofNietzscherefute the possibility that
within the whole 'playful' dynamic of Nietzsche's thinking, there is an attempt to give
voice in almost Platonic fashion to an unwritten and unwritable doctrine concerning the
imminence and immediacy of existence within the undecidable play of alternating
perspectives and interpretations? The worth of this volume is certainly assured by the
papers mentioned above but its worth would have been all the greater had there been a
strong editorial essay which sought to 'place' the aspects of Nietzsche interpretation that
the collection represents. With such a proliferation of recent essay material on Nietzsche,
it is perhaps now necessary that such collections must have a stronger reflexive character.
Nicholas Davey
Cardiff Institute
McAllester, Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of
America, Washington, D.C., 1989, pp. xi+179. £26.50.
This book is the fruit of a symposium held at the French Institute in London to
celebrate the centenary ofBachelard's birth. One reason why he should be remembered
at this hour is given when in her Introduction Mary McAllester cites this erstwhile science
teacher's statement "school is an end"; "the chief end" is active learning, not earning.
Bringing out the implications of that message, in an essay composed especially for this
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volume, Colin Smith combines learning with lucidity to put Bachelard's fallibilist
pluralism in the context of the recent history of the philosophy of science, noting the
affmities it has with the doctrines of Popper, Feyerabend and Kuhn. Alfons Grieder
focuses sharply on the sense in which Bachelard could be called a phenomenologist of
modem science and on the problems arising from his failure to spell out the differences
between what he considers good dialectic and what bad. With precision often missing in
the texts on which he comments Grieder shows how these problems follow from
Bachelard's rule that reason must obey scientific practice. In following that rule however
"He opened a few windows in an ivory tower which had, and still has, its stuffy comers."
Grieder mentions in passing the connection between the dialectics ofB achelard and
Gonseth. This is the topic of Henri Lauener's piece. In the course of it both authors are
criticized for their terminological imprecision, in particular with regard to the term
"dialectic". The relevance of this complaint becomes apparent when it is recalled that they
were co-founders of a review they entitled Dialectica. So too does the question whether
the imprecision which so many of the contributors to this collection lament is a corollary
of the "idoneism" advocated in this review. That it is is hinted in the remark Lauener
makes while explaining the meaning of this word that the requirement for scientific
theories to be pertinent to pragmatic needs is "especially important with regard to
precision". It is as though Aristotle's warning against demanding the wrong sort of
exactness in the sphere of ethics is here being made for the sphere of science. We are here
in the sphere of the ethics of science. Clearly, one of the questions with which this ethics
of science faces us is how the "pragmatism" attributed to Bachelard several times
throughout this book is to be interpreted so as not to be ip.consistent with his view of
science as a cultural end in itself.
Noel Parker's essay makes the transition from papers chiefly concerned with Bachelard 's philosophy of science to ones primarily about his poetics. It makes plain why, notwithstanding his exasperating looseness of expression (which, as just suggested, may be
not merely manner but method), Bachelard has continued to attract discerning readersand why this book about his work deserves to be read. Parker describes how Bachelard
argues against the continuity of Bergsonian duration for a discontinuity of instants
deriving from the fact that the horizontal dimension of time is supplemented by a vertical
stratification which is a construction rather than a donnie immediate. Reminding us of
what members of the Annales school say about the different frequency levels of historical research, Bachelard maintains that superordinate rhythms confer freedom to reverse
the direction of causality of those below. This freedom is exercised above all by the poetic
imagination and the invention of concepts in science. How are these two related? Parker
cites Bachelard's assertions that the former is "the subject tonalized'' whereas the latter
abstracts from the personal subject. However, since he also cites Bachelard's assertions
that a concept is the history of its critical rectifications and that science may start but must
not stay with images, it remains unclear how the super-concepts of science can sever
themselves altogether from their imagist origins: how there can be an epistemological
clean break. Perhaps the thought that there can is fostered, as Parker implies, by stressing
too much the negative side of Bachelard's theory of science presented in LA Formation
de l' esprit scienti,{U[ue.
The question just touched on is also the question of"the refusal of metaphor" referred
to in the title of the essay by Jean-Claude Margolin. He produces abundant evidence that
Bachelard's alleged refusal is a refusal not of metaphor but of metaphor that is dead or
dying. The metaphors Bachelard refuses are images that have been fixed by language.
One wonders whether Bachelard would also have refused Margolin's image of metaphor
as something of which "From Aristotle to Ricoeur ... neither the meaning nor the function
... have changed". Would he not have considered this too leaden a picture of the meaning
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of metaphor, one crying out for a place for the metaphor of meaning, the place of alchemy
treated in the contribution to this book by the late John Clark? There can be no doubt that
Bachelard would have been delighted by this celebratory piece. Clark's coruscating oreladen prose is just what Bachelard would have considered called for when he asked for
"greater value to be given to mud". His essay is rich in allusions to the literature, ranging
from Jacob Boehme to Mary Webb, by which Bachelard' s oneiric criticism was or might
have been inspired. They can hardly fail to inspire readers of this book to read it pen in
hand, the way Bachelard wanted to be read, as Mary McAllester tells us in its concluding
essay on "unfixing the subject". Indeed the entire book, emerging from a bilingual
birthday, as she explains at its start, promises to remain bilingual in Bachelard's sense,
the sense she explains at its end: it can hardly fail to lead its readers in their tum to write.
She and her collaborators could not have paid him a more fitting - "idoneic"- tribute.
John Llewelyn
ALFRED SCHUTZ ON NORTH AMERICAN HUMAN SCIENCE, ed., Lester Embree. Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America.
1988, pp. xvii+316.
As a contributor to the field of Schiltzian studies, Lester Embree would have distinguished himself sufficiently nearly 20 years ago by publishing Schiltz's very important
essay on "Choice and the Social Sciences" (in Life World and Consciousness. Northwestern University Press. 1972). But, of course, Embree has done much more and this
latest collection updates that contribution significantly.
In part the volume works as a survey of Schiltz's impact upon various fields ofhuman
science. This is especially true of the essays by von Eckartsberg, Wagner, and , most
notably, Schneck. As a whole, however, the book falls somewhat short in reviewing
Schiltz's wide-ranging impact. This is due partly, no doubt, to some of the disappointments Embree encountered in commissioning various essays. He mentions this in
particular in noting the absence of contributions in geography and economics. But one
could certainly wonder as well about such broad fields as anthropology and legal studies
or such well-known specialization areas as ethnomethodology or conversational analysis
(although the essay by Lanigan on "communicology" does at least deserve mention in this
latter connection).
The book was not intended, in any case, just to review the impact of Schiltz. On the
one hand, it provides valuable expository and historical examinations. There is a very
interesting essay, for instance, by David Rehorick and William Buxton on the relevance
of Eric Vogelin to the exchange between Parsons and Schiltz. There is also a very clear
and persuasive assembling, by Embree himself, of the key Schiltzian passages about the
nature of science and social science and how they contrast with common-sense knowledge in everyday life. On the other hand, the book provides an impressive set of articles
for which Schiltz's work is simply the occasion for undertakings which could really stand
by themselves.
The lead essay by Roger Jehenson belongs in this latter category. It proposes a very
original and very basic account of domination which, in effect, defends Schiltz against the
charge of conservative bias. According to JehenSon the most elemental asymmetries of
power lie within face-to-face contexts in which" ... one person serves as means to another
person's end." Even though Jehenson accepts a bit too readily Schiltz's overly "projected"
version of social action and even more so his very questionable "in-order to/because of'
motive distinction, he nonetheless offers a valuable kind of Kantian twist to Schiltz's
analysis of interaction.
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