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Towards a History of Presence: Husserl’s Intersubjectivity and Rouch’s Montage *

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Abstract This paper proposes a new phenomenological approach to social history by clarifying, critiquing and developing key insights from Husserl’s late work. First, it clarifies how Husserl began to refute phenomenology’s so-called solipsism and ahistoricality by advancing a concept of history that integrates subjective, intersubjective and communal organizations of experience. This concept, his “history of presence”, can be called a “temporal mode of oriented constitution”. Its value is to show how a single recursive series of determinations organizes a diverse set of epistemic norms, personal memories, and intersubjective apperceptions. As we analyze each moment of this series, the history of presence emerges as highly relevant to social inquiry, inasmuch as it highlights the roles of intersubjective awareness and shared “world-time”. Second, however, the paper shows that Husserl grounded his history, not in this self-other-world triad, but in metaphysical foundations. By falling back on an atemporal principle of identity, Husserl’s thirst for Cartesian certainty obscured some of his insights. To develop these, the paper concludes with a new look at Les maîtres fous, a famous and controversial ethnographic film by Jean Rouch. Much of Rouch’s film echoes Husserl’s own problems, but Rouch’s use of montage replaces metaphysics with rhythm, identity with alterity, hegemony with mimicry, harmonious perception with dissonant yet generative apperception. Thus, Rouch dramatizes Husserl’s relevance to the phenomenology of social history. This paper’s internal critique and cross-cultural juxtaposition of Husserl’s late work portrays such relevance more accurately than Derrida’s uncharitable “metaphysics of presence” critique.

Affiliations: 1: Stanford University


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