Academic journal article Criticism

All Is True-Unless You Decide in Advance What Is Not

Academic journal article Criticism

All Is True-Unless You Decide in Advance What Is Not

Article excerpt

Phenomenology and God

Bruce Smith locates his wonderfully lucid and engaging book on Shakespeare and phenomenology (Phenomenal Shakespeare, 2010) within the current "affective turn" of critical thought, a turn that is, he suggests, a "counterturn" responding to the "linguistic turn" of the 1960s and 1970s.1 One hesitates to add yet another twist to this dizzying array of turns, but if one is trying to sketch in full the relationship between Shakespeare and phenomenology, it is necessary to point out that somewhere in between the so-called linguistic turn and the affective turn early modern literature/Shakespeare studies experienced a "religious turn" that was determined in large part by the "theological turn" in phenomenology.2 That is, if we are to determine a relationship between Shakespeare studies and phenomenology, we should not ignore that both have tried - unsuccessfully - to rid themselves of God and religion. We should also say, frankly, that without phenomenology 's engagement with religion no one would be particularly interested in talking about phenomenology these days.

Or, to put this another way, whatever one's engagement with religion or theology, it is risky to leap too quickly over these "in between" turns, because they so strikingly illuminate the other two (linguistic and affective) turns cited by Smith. Briefly, the theological turn in phenomenology rather strikingly revealed that the so-called linguistic turn's primary interests were in gesturing toward what eludes philosophy as "other" - rather than language as such; and, correspondingly, the affective turn can be understood only in the broader context of materialist thought that has sought to purge any hint of an investment in otherness (including, especially, that associated with religion and theology). That is, the affective turn is not, as Smith would have it, so much a pragmatic "counterturn" in response to the lofty "high theory" of the linguistic turn, but a powerfully persuasive part of a long-standing (since Parmenides) struggle between those who are moved by a sense of an other than or beyond Being and those determined to squash such non-sense because of the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction (A cannot be ? and not B; or Being cannot be Being and non-Being/Other). We should be clear and succinct, if not academically polite: What motivates the affective turn is a desire for a univocal ontology that eliminates even modest flirtations with alterity or otherness because such flirtations hint at transcendence and idealist philosophy - the targets of (historical) materialism, the still dominant mode of academic discourse.

Can phenomenology, once jettisoned by Sartre and others because of its supposed political quietism, be yoked so easily to this affective or materialist (re)turn? It is prudent, I think, to vigorously question a "turn" that historically has primarily one aim: to close off possibilities.

In answering that question, we should consider, again, that phenomenology and Shakespeare - despite the best efforts of many - still allow for rather continuous turns around God and religion. Phenomenology 's struggle with religion and theology illuminates Shakespeare and, alternately, Shakespeare's vexed religious gestures illuminate phenomenology. This brief essay concentrates on the arguments of Jean-Luc Marion and, in particular, his discussion of the "saturated phenomenon."3 The Shakespearean (and Fletcherean) text, I will argue, that corresponds to, and potentially illuminates, Marion's argument is Henry VIII or All Is True.

Marion begins almost all his phenomenological explorations by reminding readers or listeners of the Husserlian "principle of principles": everything that offers itself to us in "intuition" should be taken quite simply as "it" gives itself out to be. Every phenomenon is justified in as much as it simply appears to us. The "us" is critical as well when reframed in its singular form. The "I" remains the judge and tribunal of every appearance. …

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