I have been reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, once recommended by Charles Leiden, and I am, so far, very pleased with it. I may well be posting more about it in future, but today I wanted to extract a fairly lengthy passage on “the life-world” that strikes me as being particularly important. The life-world (or die Lebenswelt) is a concept introduced by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938), founder of Phenomenology, and to my mind one of the most important philosophers of all time. It is Husserl who coined the phrase “life-world” — the world of our immediate experience.
“The life-world is the world of our immediately lived experience, as we live it, prior to all our thoughts about it. It is that which is present to us in our everyday tasks and enjoyments — reality as it engages us before being analyzed by our theories and our science. The life-world is the world that we count on without necessarily paying it much attention, the world of the clouds overhead and the ground underfoot, of getting out of bed and preparing food and turning on the tap for water. Easily overlooked, this primordial world is always already there when we being to reflect or philosophize. It is not private, but a collective, dimension — the common field of our lives with which our are entwined — and yet it is profoundly ambiguous and indeterminate, since our experience of this field is always relative to our situation within it. The life-world is thus the world as we organically experience it in its enigmatic multiplicity and open-endedness, prior to conceptually freezing it into a static space of ‘facts’ — prior, indeed, to conceptualising it in any complete fashion. All of our concepts and representations, scientific and otherwise, necessarily draw nourishment from this indeterminate realm, as the physicist analyzing data is still nourished by the air that she is breathing, by the feel of the chair that supports her and the light flooding in through the window, without her being particularly conscious of these participations.
The life-world is thus peripherally present in any thought or activity we undertake. Yet whenever we attempt to explain this world conceptually, we seem to forget our active participation within it. Striving to represent the world, we inevitably forfeit its direct presence. It was Husserl’s genius to realize that the assumption of objectivity had led to an almost total eclipse of the life-world in the modern era, to a nearly complete forgetting of this living dimension in which all of our endeavors are rooted. In their striving to attain a finished blueprint of the world, the sciences had become frightfully estranged from our direct human experience. Their many specialized and technical discourses had lost any obvious relevance to the sensuous world of our ordinary engagements. The consequent impoverishment of language, the loss of a common discourse tied to the qualitative nuances of living experience, was leading, Husserl felt, to a clear crisis in European civilization. Oblivious to the quality-laded life-world upon which they themselves depend for their own meaning and existence, the Western sciences, and the technologies that accompany them, were beginning to blindly overrun the experiential world — even, in their errancy, threatened to obliterate the world-of-life entirely.” (pp. 40 – 41)
As you may appreciate, this passage from The Spell of the Sensuous accounts for the existence of The Chrysalis. It’s a perfect summation of the meaning of this blog, and is very, very rich in other respects as well.
The “life-world”, so described, is also Jung’s “collective unconscious”, and important to both is the notion of “the field”. The “life-world” is also what Jill Bolte-Taylor described in her amazing TED talk on her “stroke of insight” as “The Life-Force Power of the Universe”. This “life-world” is the “oceanic” — often symbolised by the sea or ocean — and is that which is described in the comparison of the ego-consciousness, or the personal identity, as a wave on the ocean or as a cork floating upon the sea. As Gebser also observers, the soul is very often symbolised as the sea or the ocean. This “life-world” is what Iain McGilchrist’s “Master” mode of attention is always in immedate contact with and is also identical with it, and is that also from which the “Emissary” or ego-consciousness, emerges, just as what we call “Nature” is emergent from the life-world. The life-world is also identical with what, in Castaneda, is called “the nagual” as contrasted with “the tonal” which is the consciousness of the Emissary or ego-nature. It is that “field” in which we live, move, and have our being, and which ever precedes our mentating, our calculating, our explaining, our intellection, our analysing, our reflection, and so on. This life-world is both Gebser’s primordial “archaic” consciousness as well as “ever-present origin”. The “life-world” is also called “Indra’s Net” or “web of life”.
All these descriptions are simply synonyms for Husserl’s “life-world”. And it is this life-world, as matrix of our individual and collective being, that is symbolised by the Sacred Hoop and by Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. In those terms, and as Abram correctly points out, language itself does not run counter to the life-world, but is also emergent from that life-world. This “life-world” is also what Nietzsche called “Dionysos” and the Dionysian.
This life-world is described as “ambiguous” and “indeterminate”, or, in other words, “paradoxical” and “boundless” or “probablistic”. The life-world is the Heraclitean flux, or, as Castaneda percieved it, “energy as it flows in the universe”. The life-world is what is given immediately, as “truth”, rather than mediately, as “fact” or “facticity”, or as description or explanation. Facts are always derivative, not primary.
It is the “life-world”, as Indra’s Net, that is also described by Nicholas of Cusa and Hermetic Philosophy as a “circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose centre is everywhere”.
All these terms and meanings may be subsumed under the term “life-world”.
Terms like “inter-subjectivity”, or “inter-being” or “inter-connectivity” or “inter-dependency” are only attempts to point to the indivisibility of the life-world. It is estrangement and alienation from the life-world that is the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and is the meaning of that statement by Blake that graces the header of The Chrysalis: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”.
It is the final ominous sentence in Abram’s description of the life-world, and our estrangement from it, that informs Walter Benjamin’s remarks on fascism and self-alienation in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”,
Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.