Teaching Lessons

Being and Doing

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By Charles Johnson

November 7, 2016


 

 

Philosopher Karl Jaspers once wrote this about Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology: “In 1913, when I told him I still failed to understand what phenomenology really was and asked about its philosophical implications, he replied, ‘You are using the method perfectly. Just keep it up. You don’t need to know what it is; that’s indeed a difficult matter.’”

In 1974, in one of his graduate seminars at Stony Brook University, the distinguished American philosopher Don Ihde infused his course with Husserl’s advice. He led his doctoral students in the doing of phenomenology, helping us grasp and apply the method creatively even before we knew the major texts of the tradition. That would take me five years of study, which culminated in my dissertation, Being and Race: Black Writing Since 1970, directed by Dr. Don Ihde.

Dr. Ihde is America’s leading, internationally renowned phenomenologist. This year he published Husserl’s Missing Technologies. His works on human-technology interrelationships and his book-length studies, such as Listening and Voice: A Phenomenology of Sound and Experimental Phenomenology, are seminal in the field. He has written about technology and science—technoscience—for 40 years.

What I learned from Dr. Ihde, who is also a talented painter, is that the rigor of the scientist and the creativity of the artist complement each other, and that philosophy is not a moribund discipline, but a challenging and inspiring practice that, in the hands of someone like Dr. Ihde, delivers profound insights and deepens our knowledge about what we think we already know.


Charles Johnson is the S. Wilson and Grace M. Pollock Professor for Excellence in English at the University of Washington (Seattle). A MacArthur fellow, he is author of the National Book Award-winning novel Middle Passage and many other works.


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