Ethical and Aesthetical Dimensions
Edited By António Marques and João Sàágua
The essays presented here are the outcome of research carried out by members of IFILNOVA (Institute for Philosophy of New University of Lisbon) in 2016.
The IFILNOVA Permanent Seminar seeks to show how values are relevant to humans (both socially and individually). This seminar is the ‘place’ where different research will converge towards a unified viewpoint. This includes the discussion of the following questions: What is the philosophical contribution to current affairs and decisions that depend crucially on values? Can philosophy make a difference, namely by bringing practical reason to bear on these affairs and decision? And how to do it? Which are our scientific ‘allies’ in this enterprise; psychology, communication sciences, even sociology and history?
This volume shows the connection between practical rationality and values and covers the dimensions ethics, aesthetics and politics.
Images and Values: a Husserlian perspective (Claudio Rozzoni)
1. Works of art neither exist nor do not exist
Starting with the Husserlian notion of image object which is to be found in the Husserliana XXIII, this short text aims to shed some light on a concept of image that is both perceptual without being real and iconic without being a copy. I do think – and I will try here to sketch out why – that this very notion merits all the more attention in a moment when the reflection on art has to deal with so-called ‘immaterial’ or ‘ephemeral’ works and, from many points of view, is undergoing a ‘crisis of values’. Indeed, a renewed inquiry on the Husserlian characterization of images can represent an important step to establishing the basis and a possibility of development for a phenomenological comprehension of the relationship between facts and values in aesthetics; more precisely, between those unreal – yet perceptive – ‘facts’ called artworks and values.
In order to proceed in an orderly fashion, it is very useful firstly to pay attention to the way in which the notion of image object is called into question in Husserl’s famous lecture course, entitled Phantasie und Bildbewußtsein [Phantasy and Image Consciousness] (1904/05) and edited in Hua XXIII. On this occasion, the father of Phenomenology famously tries to describe the essential characteristics of image distinguishing three moments that are supposed to constitute it. That is to say, the ‘image thing [Bildding]’, namely the image carrier, the ‘image object [Bildobjekt]’ (Husserl 2005: 20) and the ‘image subject [Bildsujet]’, which can be considered as what the image object is a ‘representant’ for (Husserl 2005: 21).
Regarding the term representant [Repräsentant], it has to be specified that by writing that the image object is a representant for an image subject, Husserl is not at all saying that it is hereby meant to be a sign ← 323 | 324 → of it. The reference lies in the image itself, and this internal reference is indeed an essential characteristic that distinguishes an image from signs and symbols, which, in turn, refer to something else externally (Husserl 2005: 31). In his text entitled Artificial Presence, Lambert Wiesing significantly had recourse to this very background pointing out that on the Husserlian basis we can distinguish between ‘the depiction that becomes visible’ (Wiesing 2010: 31), that is the image object, and ‘the material that makes the depiction visible’ (Wiesing 2009: 31), namely the ‘image carrier’ (Wiesing 2010: 30). This consideration of image regards the case of ‘physical images’ – distinguished from what Husserl in the same course calls ‘phantasy images’ (cf. Husserl 2005: 20) – then this subdivision also regards images that we find in works of arts such as paintings, photographs, films and theatrical plays as well. The reason why I am calling Wiesing’s text into question is due to the way in which he characterizes the consistence of the image object, which is that of ‘an immaterial, which means exclusively visible, object … brought into appearance [Erscheinung] by means of a material image carrier’ (Wiesing 2010: 35). According to such a description, the image object, it could also be said, is not the fact, but, at least at first sight, the appearance of the fact. We will return to this point later.
Thus, it seems that in perceiving an image, a not-seeing is implied in this process in the sense that in order for the image object to appear [erscheinen], the physical image does not have to be seen – although it is apprehended. What we properly see in addressing the image does not appear to be the image as a ‘thing’, that is to say, the very image that, for example, could possibly be broken by, say, an iconoclast. What we see in a regime of image consciousness is the image object, and the kind of perception we undergo is directed to – or, we could add, is addressed by – an ‘immaterial … object’, ‘exclusively visible’, an object that is ‘not subject to the laws of physics’. An iconoclast, as I said, might destroy the image thing but, properly speaking, cannot demolish the image object (although destroying its material condition de facto causes its disappearance). In this very sense, it can be stated that the factual canvas can be ripped into pieces but not the image object appearing on its material basis. As Wiesing puts it, the image object is ‘an artificial presence’ (Wiesing 2010: 20). Also taking into consideration Fiedler’s and Sartre’s lessons, Wiesing notes that ‘the visibility of ← 324 | 325 → a pictorially depicted thing is not attached to a substance that could also be perceived by other senses’ (Wiesing 2010: 20).
Let us now return to Husserl in order to specifically address, in his phenomenological terms, the issue concerning artistic images. If we refer to the case of a work of art, it seems that in experiencing it, we are not interested in its existence, or rather in any existing at all. According to this, it can be said that the image object appears without existing (‘it has no existence at all’ [Husserl 2005: 23]), indeed as a nothing. It surely manifests itself – we can see it, even though only see it – but as something that cannot be said to be existent.
With regard to this aspect, a document of great significance is a Husserlian manuscript dating back to 19061. It is extremely important for at least two reasons. First, here Husserl directly refers to aesthetics [Ästhetik], not only to the essence of images in general then, but also to the essence of ‘works of art’. Secondly, here Husserl introduces the question of the value of a work of art, giving us a first clue to defining his use of the term Wertnehmung in relation to these objects that seem not to be considered as existing. Nevertheless, works of art are not – nota bene – without existence. They are not ‘non-existent’, which would presuppose a negation of their existence and consequently a position taking toward their existence.
2. Being disinterested
As regards this aspect, another very important document can profitably be brought into play: a famous letter Husserl writes to Hugo von Hofmannsthal only a year after this first part of the manuscript I have just referred to. Hofmannsthal visited Husserl in December 1906. The former was in Göttingen (where the latter was teaching at the time) to give a lecture, and on that occasion offered the philosopher a literary ← 325 | 326 → gift, ‘presumably’ his Kleine Dramen [Short Dramas]2. Husserl’s letter is the response to that present, but very soon, and very clearly, becomes the occasion for him to speak about similarities between two figures, that of the phenomenologist and that of the artist. What is the position – he asks – the two of them share? The answer to this question interestingly concerns the question of attitude, to be precise, a very particular ‘attitude towards all forms of objectivity’ (Husserl 2009: 2). As far as the artist is concerned, s/he suspends ‘all attitudes relating to emotions and the will which presuppose such an existential attitude’ (Husserl 2009: 2).
Furthermore, it is worth pointing out the fact that here Husserl de facto also speaks about another precise figure, still an artistic one, representing an essential part of the aesthetic experience, that is to say, that of the spectator. For the spectator too, no interest in the existence of the object observed in contemplating the work of art is involved. If that were the case, the spectator would lose the ‘purely aesthetic’ experience (Husserl 2009: 2). He would be involved in – he would be concerned about – the existence of what he is seeing, he could feel joy at the existence of something, he could want to desire something, and so on. Here, as has already been suggested by other scholars, we can hear a Kantian echo insofar as for Husserl ‘art must exclude all influences from the intellect and the will’3 (Wallenstein 2009: 4).
Husserl develops this very issue by stating that in the aesthetic attitude we suspend judgment about the things before us. Undoubtedly, we can still have feelings before the things we see in this attitude. Nevertheless, these are feelings which do not depend on the existence of what we are perceiving. We are not interested in the existence of the work of art. Of course, what we feel in aesthetic experience can possibly depend on its materiality. However, even in this case, our feelings do not rest on the materiality conceived of as something existing, and this holds true also when viewing a monochrome artistic image: a Gerhard Richter grey monochrome painting in this sense becomes an image object, ‘the grey presenting itself in the image and as an image is not posited ← 326 | 327 → as real’ (Lotz 2010: 178). We do not perceive this object as a real colour insofar as we are able to see the image object that the work of art makes appear for us, this image object which is not ‘subject to the laws of physics’, even though it appears on the basis of something physical.
In fact, Husserl recognizes a similar attitude as peculiar also to the philosopher. The parallel he draws in the letter to Hofmannsthal lies in the fact that phenomenologist and artist – and spectator, we might add – see the world as appearance [Erscheinung]. They are not interested in the fact world, but in the sense which makes this fact possible, in its ways of appearance. Thus, what both are looking at is this very sense, which the phenomenologist tries to give back with ‘concepts’, and the artist, who must ‘have genius’ (another Kantian reminiscence), through ‘intuitions’ (Husserl 2009: 2).
In the very same manuscript of 1906, this particular suspension of existence is related to the question of the values of the work of art. This issue can also be connected to another regarding the peculiar essence of artistic images: what is it that indeed allows an image to be a work of art? Not all images are works of art of course, but what then makes an image a work of art? Here Husserl calls into question two points as simple as they are decisive. He tells us that in aesthetic experience we have 1) a ‘value perception’4 [Wertnehmen], we have intuition of an ‘aesthetic-axiologic object’, and 2) we experience particular feelings, specifically those feelings I referred to earlier, that is to say, all those feelings which do not have their reason in the existence of the object we are looking at.
Besides, Husserl makes it very clear that once the relevance of these two moments is stressed, we have to face the problem of their relationship. In this intricate question, one thing seems at least to be certain: value and feelings, in aesthetic experience, are not related to the existence of the object, not to the object-thing, to the thing in ‘flesh and blood’, as is the case in the perceptual attitude, but to the image object, to its ‘way of appearance, in and for itself [Erscheinungsweise, an und für sich]’5. In ‘the aesthetic attitude’, Husserl specifies, ‘I do not’ ← 327 | 328 → even ‘think about the appearance and do not make it into a theoretical object’ or a ‘practical’ one, ‘tak[ing] delight in it as something actual’. The existence here is ‘out of play’. Husserl himself, at this very point, significantly writes ‘see […] Kant’s theory’6.
3. Perception and belief
Once made clear that the appearance of the image object is neither characterized as existent nor as non-existent, one could ask about the existence of values and feelings experienced when viewing it: do they exist? It is a very complicated question indeed. We can start off by saying that, for Husserl, value is not something external to the object, but something of which I have intuition while looking at the work of art. Of course, Husserl, in this manuscript, recognizes more meanings of value, among which the technical value of the work of art (the example singled out here as elsewhere is the Madonna by Raffaello) and the value of the work in the art market – that, at least on a first level, can be seen as something external to works of art. However, the most critical point is that concerning the relationship between the originary aesthetic pleasure I feel in enjoying the work and my intuition of values brought about in this experience.
Husserl himself poses the question in a way that is as simple as it is inextricable: ‘Now, how are value perception [Wertnehmen], value intuition [Werterschauen], and aesthetic pleasure related? […] Are they the same thing, or do they coincide?’7. The difference seems to be qualitative: appreciating, Husserl affirms, might require ‘no grade’ and be independent from the joy: ‘The joy can become 0 (zero), and yet I appreciate’8. From this point of view, value does not seem to be an intensive notion, there does not seem to be any gradualness in evaluating. ← 328 | 329 → Nonetheless, this case regarding the ‘zero grade’ of evaluating could certainly refer to the evaluating moment regarding technical value. In other words, I could appreciate a work of art without feeling aesthetic pleasure. And yet we have to inquire about a more intimate relationship between the moment of the nature of pleasure and the intuition of value. Before moving on, however, it can prove very useful to focus on some other points that have a correlation with those we have pursued till now.
In a manuscript from 1912, about six years after the one we have just discussed, Husserl develops some decisive notions related to the issue of the peculiar ‘non-existence’ of the work of art. First of all, one point is made clear. While contemplating ‘performances in a stage play’ or a ‘painting’, I am experiencing ficta complying with perceptio, and that from the very beginning. We live from the very beginning in a consciousness that does not presuppose any statement about the existence of what we are experiencing. In this case, we are ‘living in the iconic consciousness’ and ‘take the image neither as existing nor as nonexisting’ (Husserl 2005: 457). It should be noted how here we have an interesting name for this peculiar consciousness without existence: iconic consciousness. The fact that Husserl chooses to refer also to theatre is of particular interest because, six years later, he will linger again on the art of the stage in a text that occupies a relevant role in the definition of his idea of image. If I am experiencing, as in these cases, artistic images, I am not considering the ‘nullness’ of the image object. Surely, ‘I can turn toward the image object. I can also carry out an act of disbelief, the consciousness of nullity’ (Husserl 2005: 457), but this is not the essential moment of my aesthetic experience9. The artificial dimension of the image object does not seem to concern my intuition of the subject of the image10, ‘of which I am conscious in the free iconic exhibiting from the beginning, without taking a position with respect to it’ (Husserl ← 329 | 330 → 2005: 457). Also according to what we discussed above then, the subject is not considered to be existing any more than it is considered not to be existing. Thus, echoing the terms of the 1907 letter to Hofmannsthal, one could also suggest that we are not interested in its existence. This is certainly true if we hold to the fact that ‘when we are living in an aesthetic consciousness’, Husserl says, ‘we ask no questions about the being and nonbeing of what … appears in an image’ (Husserl 2005: 459).
Before we proceed in this direction, let me spend only a few words to clarify why, in the last paragraph, I chose to translate the Husserlian expression ‘perzeptive Fikta’ with the English translation ‘ficta complying with perceptio’ instead of the more immediate ‘perceptive ficta’. The reason why I preferred the first solution is that I sought to highlight a significant distinction Husserl makes between the two German terms that could stand for perception, that is to say, Wahrnehmung and Perzeption. It is important to introduce such a distinction because it is highly relevant for the characterization of the peculiar consciousness that accompanies aesthetic experience. As early as 1912, the notion of iconic consciousness entails a vision that is merely complying with perceptio [perzeptive] without being perceptive [Wahrnehmung-]. By posing this distinction, Husserl tries to distinguish between perception as Perzeption and perception as Wahrnehmung. To put it in simpler words, we could say that Perzeption is ‘pure positionless’ perception (Husserl 2005: 556). As Husserl already pointed out in his Dingvorlesung, perceptio, unlike Wahrnehmung, ‘does not hold [nimmt] anything as true [Wahr]’11.
Furthermore, in the manuscripts from 1912, significant attention is paid to the connection between aesthetic consciousness – namely, this iconic consciousness complying with perceptio – and both the axiological and sentimental dimension. Husserl states this very clearly: ‘In the ← 330 | 331 → case of iconic acts’, ‘aesthetic valuation is essentially connected with … the object’s manner of appearing’, and through these appearances, ‘we not only have the feelings of aesthetic valuing but also the feelings (or quasi-feelings) awakened in us as “reactions” – fear and pity, and so on’ (Husserl 2005: 460–461). What is particularly worth specifying here is that ‘aesthetic feeling … does not aim through the appearance but aims at it, and aims at the object only “for the sake of the appearance”’ (Husserl 2005: 464). Hence, this aesthetic attitude does not require ‘that I posit the correlate’. I do not pose ‘what appears as such’: I am not living it as existing, rather ‘I live in the appearing’ (Husserl 2005: 521). We cannot linger too much on this question, but suffice it to say that here it becomes clear how the possible interest in the existence of the subject ‘shifts back’, as it were, to its ways of appearance, namely to artificial presences that are not touched by such an existential issue.
This point deservers particular attention because it would be interesting to ponder whether there is a possibility of finding a moment of position taking precisely in this living without position taking, in this experience which merely fits perceptio [perzeptive] without posing any existence. Such an experience, as we have seen, entails a contemplation of the ways of appearance of image objects, which are more impalpable and ungraspable ‘presences’ than they are facts. A hint for inquiring about this opportunity can be found in Husserl’s effort to attain the peculiar quality of ‘as-if’ feelings thought in relation to the notion of value. Husserl seems to point in this very direction when, in another manuscript from 1912, while reaffirming that in aesthetic experience ‘I do not … carry out any position taking with respect to what appears’, he envisages the exception of an ‘aesthetic position taking that belongs to feeling’ (Husserl 2005: 521), namely the possibility of ‘carry[ing] out’ an ‘aesthetic valuing’ (Husserl 2005: 522).
At this very point, we could easily come full circle regarding the references to the Kantian aesthetic judgment seeing that Husserl often refers to aesthetic value as a value entailing the idea of beauty12, as he writes in a text probably from 1917, a ‘beauty-value [Schönheitswert]’ ← 331 | 332 → (Husserl 2005: 649). More precisely, this is in the particular sense of a beauty felt as a value insofar as in this case ‘what appears stands before me in its value-characteristic’ (Husserl 2005: 522). Even though in aesthetic experience we do not value the existence of the objectivity concerned, it is not for this reason that we cannot ‘value its modes of appearance … or we can value it as appearing in such and such a way’ (Husserl 2005: 647). If we can experience an ‘object of the beauty-evaluation’, ‘we would then … have something beautiful that exists’ (Husserl 2005: 649; my italics). Consequently, it seems that we have a sort of existence also in the case in which we are not interested in the existence of what we are viewing. At least from this point of view, it can be said that we have an existence in the non-existence of a ‘mere figment’, of ‘an “image”’, an existence ‘which is precisely an ideal object and not a ‘real’ object’ (Husserl 2005: 649). More specifically, in these cases we are dealing with a non-psychological ideality because the value ‘does not lie’ in my enjoying it because the value can ‘exist without being enjoyed’ (Husserl 2005: 649).
4. Interested spectators
This last remark leads us directly to a fundamental point regarding the possibilities of experience opened up for us in aesthetic attitude. I am going to conclude calling upon a course Husserl repeatedly intended to publish and in which ‘the phenomenological claim of philosophy is presented and developed in all its extent’13. I am referring to the course Husserl gave in Freiburg in 1923–1924, and which is known under the title of First Philosophy. Here, many of the aspects we have dealt with up to this point find an interesting and renewed formulation in very intense pages about the nature of images. We have already noticed how, in Husserl’s letter to Hofmannsthal, the figure of the spectator implicitly arose from the parallel between the artistic ← 332 | 333 → and phenomenological attitude. In First Philosophy, this very figure explicitly becomes a theme for the Husserlian reflection on image consciousness. It is important to recall that also in the pages we are referring to, as in the 1907 Letter, Husserl draws a parallel between artistic and phenomenological experience. Once again, echoing issues already raised in the previous work, in these pages the way in which the notion of value and feeling are concerned is highlighted in order to characterize the aesthetic experience. In the letter to Hofmannsthal, Husserl concluded by stating, although very quickly, that the artist ‘follow[s], purely and solely, his daimonion … which drives him to an intuiting-blind production’ (Husserl 2009: 2). Interestingly, it could be said that in First Philosophy this very ‘intuiting-blind’ dimension is brought about by the notion of value, by a dynamis that must have the validity of value (cf. Husserl 1959: 100). The artist works value through ‘pleasure’ and ‘disgust’ (Husserl 1959: 101). And again this validity is something I must feel because the aesthetic attitude is – once again bearing in mind Kant’s Third Critique – that of sentiment. That is why the art critic cannot be told to operate in aesthetic attitude but rather in a theoretical attitude where, of course, he can deservedly speak of value, but only in this sense did the 1906 manuscript seem to refer, namely, to the sense in which a specific aesthetic pleasure can also not be implied.
Above all, it is important to stress here that the paradox regarding the relationship between interest and disinterest is finally formulated. One decisive point is reached at the moment when Husserl calls upon ‘affective interest [Gemütsinteresse]’ (Husserl 1959: 194) and when value becomes the theme of an aesthetic intention. Thus, it can be said that a work of art is not judged but valued. Here again Husserl plays, as it were, with the German word ‘wahrnehmen’, which, as we have seen, as early as in his Dingvorlesung from 1907, he characterizes as ‘holding as true’, as a perceiving that entails in itself the character of belief (in opposition, as we have seen, to the perceptio, that is to say, a pure percipere without belief). On this very occasion, he plays with words by saying that ‘the value itself, in its value-truth [Wertwahrheit], is not perceived [wahrgenommen] but, so to speak, held as value [wertgenommen]’ (Husserl 1959: 104). Hence, even though the attitude of experiencing a work of art cannot be described in terms of perception (but ← 333 | 334 → only in terms of perceptio), nonetheless it can at the same time be stated that in the aesthetic attitude we still have an act of position analogous to that of perception as Wahr-nehmung (the one in which, as we have said, we are interested in the existence of the thing experienced). In the aesthetic attitude we suspended the latter and we have no interest in the existence of the thing, but only in its ways of appearance. What kind of position are we allowed to experience then? Even if we can in reason affirm that the aesthetic spectator experiences these non-positional nothingnesses which image objects are – and that he is not at all interested in the existence of the things he contemplates – Husserl can now state that the ‘aesthetic spectator lives in the interest of evaluation’. And this is a positional moment, a Wert-nehmen. (Of course, the art critic can at a later stage direct his interest to the object theoretically, but, indeed, only subsequently.) The value, ‘as the telos of the sentiment’, has to be, ‘so to speak, already available as valued’, ‘valued in itself in the value perception’: that is what finally made possible the perception of a ‘value- object’ (Husserl 1959: 104–105).
We can then ‘not be’ interested in the existence of the image object (only in its way of appearance), but we are interested in the existence of the value-object. Hence, not only in positional perception do we experience values but also, finally, do we discover values in the nothingness of art. These nothingnesses that we have called image objects, these simulacra, reveal themselves to be endowed with a possibility of opening values to us and, according to what Husserl affirms in First Philosophy, opening a particular telos to us which we feel and which possesses the productive power of the dynamis. As Vincenzo Costa put it so well, ‘a value can appear in itself as something that attracts’ us insofar as we ‘feel it as something whose existence concerns our very existence’ (Costa 2014: 140). In this very sense, before works of art and before our ‘possibilities’ of responding to the values we perceive, we can finally be said to be interested spectators. ← 334 | 335 →
Costa, Vincenzo (2007). ‘Introduction’, in Husserl, Edmund, Filosofia prima. Teoria della riduzione fenomenologica. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino: XI–XLVIII.
____ (2014). ‘Verso una fenomenologia delle tonalità emotive’, in G. Matteucci, and M. Portera (eds.), La natura delle emozioni. Milano: Mimesis: 129–143.
Husserl, Edmund (1959). Erste Philosophie (1923/1924). Zweiter Teil: Theorie der phänomenologischen Reduktion, Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.
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____ (2005). Collected Works, Volume XI: Phantasy, Image Consciousness and Memory (1898–1925). Dordrecht: Springer.
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1 Cf. MS A VI 1 [1906–1918]. Preserved at the Husserl Archive in Leuven. I would like to thank the Husserl Archives in Leuven for permission to quote from Husserl’s Nachlass.
2 Cf. Husserl (2009: 2, translator’s note 2).
3 Regarding this aspect, ‘in many of his descriptions, Husserl appears to be retrieving the Kantian vocabulary of imagination and beauty in the third Critique, for instance when he determines phantasy as the domain of “disinterestedness” …, “purposelessness”, and “play”’ (Wallenstein 2009: 3).
4 Cf. Ms A VI 1/2a.
5 Cf. Ms A VI 1/2a. And not only regarding the work of art, seeing that Husserl, still in 1906, writes that ‘different appearances of the same object are not equivalent in this affective direction. The disposition of vases, ashtrays, and so forth, in the drawing-room. “Which arrangement is most beautiful?”’ (Ms A VI 1/12b, in Husserl 2005: 168).
6 Cf. Ms A VI 1/12b, in Husserl 2005: 168, Husserl’s note.
7 Cf. Ms A VI 1/2a.
8 Cf. Ms A VI 1/2a.
9 ‘Consciousness of nullity’ does not come about when I turn toward the image carrier, the bearer [Träger] of the image object, as Husserl also called it, but rather ‘toward the image object’ (Husserl 2005: 457).
10 ‘In both cases, further position takings can be built up: Thus, on the one hand, I describe the subject of the oil painting. I carry out explications, comparisons, and so on, actual “acts of judgment” – actual acts, though modified, since I precisely have no belief. But I can also judge about the things, human beings, and so on, belonging to iconic phantasy’ (Husserl 2005: 457).
11 Cf. Husserl (1973: 16). This decisive point came to light in all its significance in a text from around 1918, which is to be found in the Hua XXIII as well, and which we cannot linger on here. In this text, Husserl pays attention once again – and this time even more considerably – to the theatrical experience. In order to give a phenomenological account of what we see on the stage as spectators, he underlines how even if it can be said that we see actors in flesh and blood, we do not actually see them as existing people. We are not at all interested in their existence.
12 ‘The taking of a position toward what appears when it is valued as beautiful and ugly’ (Husserl 2005: 482). ‘Now what appears does indeed stand before me as beautiful “by virtue of its mode of appearance”’ (Husserl 2005: 522).
13 Cf. Costa 2007: xi.