A Dialogue with Jean Luc Marion
Kearney, Richard, Philosophy Today
Boston College, 2 October 2001
Kearney: They are many similarities be-tween your work, Jean-Luc, and mine: we both owe a great deal of our philosophical formation to the phenomenologies of Husserl and Heidegger; we have both en-gaged ourselves in close dialogue with Levinas, Ricoeur, and Derrida. Given these evident similarities, it would be more fruitful and interesting, it seems to me, if we take a look here into some of the differences in our respective positions in regards to the phe-nomenology of God. One question that I would like to put to you, Jean Luc, and which, in fact, I have put in a more elaborate form on page 33 of The God Who May be is the question of the hermeneutical status of the saturated phenomenon. It seems to me that if there is a difference between us, given all our common readings and assumptions, it is this: I would pass from phenomenology to hermeneutics more rapidly than you would. It strikes me that your approach is more strictly phenomenological since for you the "saturated phenomenon" is fundamentally irregardable, a pure event without horizon or context, without "I" or agent. As such it appears to defy interpretation. You do of course make some concessions to herme-neutics, as when you say-on the very last page of your essay "The Saturated Phenom-enon"-that this phenomenon is communal and communicable and historic. Here you do seem to acknowledge the possibility of a her-meneutic response, but my suspicion, and please correct me if I'm mistaken, is that the example you privilege-Revelation-re-quires a pure phenomenology of the pure event. Whereas I would argue that there is no pure phenomenon as such, that appearing-not matter how iconic or saturated it may be-always already involves an interpreta-tion of some kind. Phenomenological description and intuition, in my account, al-ways implies some degree of hermeneutic reading, albeit that of a pre-reflective pre-understanding or pre-conscious affection for the most part. My question, then, would be: how do we interpret-and by extension, how do we judge-the saturated phenomenon without betraying it?
Marion: This is an old question. The first version of The Saturated Phenomenon was written as a paper just after Reduction and Givenness; then a more elaborate version followed as it is now found in Etant Donne. The first to raise this question was Jean Grondin, a Gadamer specialist at the Univer-sity of Montreal; after him Jean Greisch asked me the same question and although I am stubborn and narrow-minded, I am not completely closed to critical remarks! Let us put aside for a moment the question of Chris-tian revelation which is not directly related to the saturated phenomenon. The saturated phenomenon is a kind of phenomenon that is characterized by a deficit in concept vis-a-vis intuition: such phenomena in-cluded the event, the idol, the flesh, and the other. In all these cases, there is a surplus of intuition over intention. It is precisely be-cause of this surplus of intuition, I have ar-gued, that we need hermeneutics. Why? Be-cause hermeneutics is always an inquiry for further concepts: hermeneutics is generated when we witness an excess rather than a lack of information rather than lack. In Etant Donne where I discuss the four types of satu-rated phenomena I say that the icon is "the icon of endless hermeneutics." Why an end-less hermeneutics? Precisely because there is there a conceptual deficit. I have learned my hermeneutics with Ricoeur and Ricoeur is very clear on this: if we are to have herme-neutics it has to be an endless hermeneutics. There, where the need of hermeneutics arises, it is completely impossible to imagine that we may get at any moment an adequate, final concept. Subjectivity, history, and the question of God-the question of history is very important for our discussion here, for the historical event is the most simple kind of saturated phenomenon-in all these cases, the question of hermeneutics is totally un-avoidable. …