The Question of Expression: Toward a Phenomenological Rhetoric

Dissertation, Duquesne University (1999)

David Koukal
University of Detroit Mercy
The project of phenomenology is the direct investigation of phenomena as consciously experienced, without recourse to theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions. The purpose of this investigation is intuit the "things themselves," or the essential structures of experience. Husserl tells us that this is to be achieved through a purely descriptive method, which in turn implies a means of communicating this pre-theoretical experience to others in such a way that others can "see" this experience for themselves. However, phenomenology's goal of a direct and pre-theoretical approach to experience begs the question of what it would mean to describe experience without reference to theory and other conceptual constructs. Using a formal symbolic system in this endeavor would take the phenomenologist too far away from the lived world s/he seeks to describe. The use of an ordinary language suffused with unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions presents its own problems. I show that these difficulties were of great concern to Hussed, since he considered the communication of phenomenological insights as essential to the practice of phenomenology. I argue that an adequate phenomenological expression communicates its insights by eliciting these insights in others. On these grounds, an appropriately phenomenological mode of expression would have to be evocative rather than descriptive in nature, and akin to a rhetoric. I support this contention by showing that there is a "rhetorical impulse" secreted within Husserl's theory of meaning and phenomenology of language, which in turn informed the phenomenologies of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. I further contend that phenomenologists must re-discover and embrace this "rhetorical impulse" in order to revive the practice of phenomenology, conceived of as speaking from and expressing a common lifeworld. I conclude by summarizing the essential elements of a phenomenological rhetoric.
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