The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature

The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature

The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature

The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature


How does literature illuminate the way we live? Maurice Natanson, a prominent champion of phenomenology, draws upon this method's unique power to show how fiction can highlight aspects of experience that are normally left unexamined. By exploring the structure of the everyday world, Natanson reveals the "uncanny" that lies at the core of the ordinary. Phenomenology--which involves the questioning of that which we usually take for granted--is for Natanson the essence of philosophy.

Drawing upon his philosophical predecessors Edmund Husserl, Alfred Schutz, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Natanson paves his own way with stories and examples that themselves bear witness to how phenomenology occurs in literature. In considering such works as Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot, Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain, and Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis, Natanson shows how literature opens us to the domain of possibility and how metaphor offers philosophical power when we think about freedom and change.

This book, written by one of the twentieth century's leading phenomenologists, will interest students in philosophy and in literature. They will valu


The usual task of a foreword is to give a context for the work that follows, to tie that work to what is familiar, and to provide a set of illustrative examples as points of entry into the work at hand. But I am struck by the impossibility of fulfilling such a task in relation to Maurice Natanson's The Erotic Bird: Phenomenology in Literature. Natanson's text does not presume that the reader has been engaged in the exegesis of phenomenology for several decades, but begins with examples, anecdotes, passages, and other fragments from the everyday. in that way, it would make no sense to add anecdote to anecdote in the effort to make this theory familiar. But more important, the familiar is precisely what is put into question by this text. Natanson's text refuses to offer the context for its own reading precisely because The Erotic Bird asks its reader to suspend belief in ordinary contexts. in order to understand what is written here the reader may well have to suspend beliefs about what literature is, what phenomenology is, and where the encounter between philosophy and literature takes place.

Phenomenology has been dismissed by some as a philosophy of “consciousness,” where the presumption reigns that “consciousness” is a speculative and psychologistic notion, unnecessary or a diversion in relation to literary reading. Such arguments, however, presume that they know what they mean by consciousness: that it is an interior and ideal “stream” of perceptions, the property of a subjectivity cut off ontologically from a relationship to the world. Such notions, however, have little to do with the notion of consciousness offered here.

Following Husserl's theory of intentionality, Natanson argues that consciousness consists rather in a series of acts, repeated through time and temporalized in their very structure. Such acts posit objects within the horizons of the life-world, which is not to say that those objects or the life-world are produced by the mind as its sole effects. the world is irreversibly there, populated with objects for consciousness, but it is only “there” in the manner of being meant or intended. To be “intended” within phenomenological terms is not to be the object of a conscious wish: it is to be constituted, built up, through a series of acts. the thereness of objectness is made plain to a consciousness that intends or constitutes those objects, but it would be wrong to assume that consciousness manufactures those objects. It performs a paradoxical exercise, building up what is already there, at once layering what is disclosed . . .

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