Phenomenology is a philosophy as well as a practice. Some of phenomenology seeks to know what a thing is at its core, at its essence.
Phenomenology also, in my reading of Husserl et al, demands exegetic writing align ‘content’ and ‘experience’ to be genuinely phenomenological. This piece, therefore, requires and recognises the experience of both reading and writing within a reflection on the nature of writer’s block.
Drill: Imagine peeling the skin from a Royal Gala apple
A man sets out on a journey to a place he has never been before. Another man comes back. A man comes to a place that has no name, that has no landmarks to tell him where he is.
Another man decides to come back. A man writes letters from nowhere, from the white space that has opened up in his mind. The letters are never received. The letters are never sent.
Another man sets out on a journey in search of the first man. This second man becomes more and more like the first man, until he, too, is swallowed up by the whiteness. A third man
sets out on a journey with no hope of ever getting anywhere. He wanders. He continues to wander. For as long as he remains in the realm of the naked eye, he continues to wander. (Auster 1980)
Auster, in this passage from White Spaces is talking about writer’s block. About setting out, trying to set out, coming back having been nowhere.
Drill: Feed a page into a typewriter. Type. Pull the sheet out.
What if writing is not as we think it? This is convention—the writer, adorned in accoutrements, tempts moments to ‘create’. We build. We attach symbols to a surface. We lay down black marks that create meaning. Writing is assumed an active role while the page is mere support. What if we take writing as a process, that is, not what is written but the movement of writing itself as an experience, as a phenomenon?
Drill: Speak the following paragraph while also walking
Writing then becomes a different beast to the mind-centred capture of idea, to the scribe wielding symbolic patterns. Flusser argues that the gesture of writing is carving, taking away; from the first writing in 3100BCE, we pressed pictograms into palm-cupped Mesopotamian clay tablets.
Drill: cup your palm
If writing is subtractive, carving—what is being carved?
In the experience of writing, the carved is The Page.
In one type of phenomenological reduction, to find the thing itself, we can experiment by removing primary qualities of the thing until we reach the tipping point—until we cross the line where are our object ceases to be what it is.
Can we take away red and still have an apple? Yes. Thus an apple is not essentially red.
Drill: Sit down, write on paper
Writing is movement and movement needs space. The one thing we cannot remove from the page without losing the phenomenon is space. The Page is space. White space, silence, emptiness without which we can never move, never write.
What if writing is sculpting, carving space?
What then becomes of writer’s block?
Auster, P., 1980. White Spaces. New York: Station Hill.
Flusser, V., 1991. Gestures. In: A Note on ‘The Gesture of Writing’ by Vilém Flusser and The Gesture of Writing, trans. Nancy A. Roth. pp. 25-41.
Husserl, E., 1952. Ideen zu einer reinen Phanomenologie und phanomenologischen Philosophie II. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Husserl, E., 1969. Ideas. General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. First Book.. London: George Allen and Unwin.
Husserl, E., 1989. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book. Dordrecht: Kluwer.