Phenomenological writing can be extraordinary, sumptuous and insightful. Listen to this taste of Lingis exploring lust,
“Encrusting one’s body with stones and silver or steel, saturating one’s skin with cream and lubricants till they glisten like mucous membrane, sinking into marble baths full of champagne bubbles or into the soft mud of rice paddies, feeling the grasses of the meadow or the algae tingling one’s flesh like nerves, dissolving into perfumed air and not flickering twilight, lust seeks the transubstantiations of matter with a body in transubstantiation (p64-5).
How do we we write good phenomenological description?
Let’s think of ourselves observing a pyramid, perhaps a desk ornament that sits upon our flat open palm. We hold the pyramid looking at the plane facing our null-point of ‘here’. We can see the drawn away-ness of the sides. We co-give the rear that we cannot directly perceive. After this, can we say that we have conducted a phenomenological investigation? Or is it only here, in these scratchings, these “black marks,” that phenomenology can be said to be done? Must we make a material ‘object’ of the perception? To an extent, to act phenomenologically is a process that incorporates recording, conveying, connecting. If we only ‘investigate’ through observation and do not write thereafter, we cannot claim that phenomenology has been ‘done’. Yet, phenomenology is also not a mere ‘report back’ from observation.
Typically, the object of classical phenomenological study is a written object. While there is much authored about writing as a general pursuit, this literature does not channel into a stream of practical writing about the creation of concrete phenomenology. Max van Manen is a practitioner in this field. Van Manen lists half a dozen verbs for describing what he calls “the act of phenomenological writing”. They include drawing, entering, gazing, seeking, touching, traversing. His description of phenomenological writing is not exceptionally phenomenological; it makes sense as a description but it does not capture, precisely, the phenomena of “the act of phenomenological writing”. Of interest for our purpose, however, is van Manen’s consistent use of verbs in categorising phenomenological writing. Van Manen is not using abstracted concepts or adjectives to describe the phenomenological writing process; he uses words that refer to an active state of being.
Lingis, A., 1996. Sensation Intelligibility in Sensibility. New Jersey: Humanity Books.
van Manen, M., 2002. Writing in the Dark: Phenomenological Studies in Interpretive Inquiry. London(Ontario): University of Western Ontario.
1 thought on “Writing description as ‘doing’”
Perhaps we should try to deploy non-propositional forms to communicate phenomenological analysis. Drawing, film, interactive media, poetry.
Matt Ratto writes about the textual doppelganger. He argues that we don’t write about a painting, we write about our description of a painting.
Heidegger also raises this as a question in the beginning of Being and Time.
Your style of writing in this blog-post suggests away around the dry “just the facts” approach of the best academic writing. Is poetry is the only way to synthesize metaphysics?
Heidegger, Martin. tr Joan Tombaugh, Being and time: A translation of Sein und Zeit. SUNY press, 1996. P.17
Ratto, Matt. “16 Textual Doppelgangers: Critical Issues in the Study of Technology.” in DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media 227 (2014).