Image Phantasie Phenomenology (Husserl)


The phenomenology, the form of phenomenological reason established by Husserl in Ideas is one that takes seriously the formative power of the imagination and fantasy (which the translators translate as “fancy). Fantasy is one form of consciousness identified by Husserl alongside perception and memory. The pure essence of streaming consciousness is revealed just as readily if not more readily in fantasy as in perception and memory. This point is bluntly. The essence in its primordial form can be “set out just as well from non-empirical intuitions, intuitions that do not apprehend sensory existence, intuitions “of a merely imaginative order’” (pp.50-1)

Husserl goes on to describe how in the “play of fantasy we bring spatial shapes of one sort or another to birth, melodies, social happenings, and so forth, or live through fictitious acts of everyday life, of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, of volition and the like, we can through ‘ideation’ secure form this source primordial and even on occasion adequate insight into pure essences in manifold variety.” By essence here Husserl means “spatial shape in general,” “melody as such,” social happenings as such.” It matters not a bit if any of these have ever been given in actual experience. (51)

What matters here is self-evidence, not empirical truth. “That which floats before the mind may be a mere fiction; the floating itself, the fiction-producing consciousness is not itself imagined.” And we know, of course, that no perception given to consciousness “gives us anything absolute within its domain.” (130-131). This then levels the playing field between perception versus fantasy as modes of phenomenological intuition. The one is just as good as the other, and it just might be that imagination-fantasy is even better than perception.

Are all forms of consciousness equal before the insights of streaming consciousness? What matters most would seem to be the spontaneity of the production of streaming consciousness, but Husserl early on in the text is constrained to privilege the data of perception over the data of imagination by insisting that essential phenomenological insight is more analogous to the one as opposed to the other (82-3). But later in the text, Husserl seems to reverse himself. There he insists the opposite, that free (spontaneous) fantasy is superior to perception. In fantasy, one enjoys “perfect freedom in the arbitrary recasting of the figures he has imagined, in running over continuous sreiues of possible shapes, in the production therefore of an infinte number of creations; a freedom which opens up to him for the first time an entry into the spacious realms of essential possibility with their infinite horizon of essential knowledge” (182-3). Still later in the text, Husserl simply refers to perception-memory-fantasy in the same breath (245, 270).

It all comes back to images and the imagination. The first act identified by Husserl with the natural viewpoint is imaging, followed by judging, feeling, and willing, before going on to describe sense impression (91). About this, Husserl is quite clear. “The phenomenological particular object (the eidetic singularity) is then just this imagery of the thing in the whole wealth of its concreteness, precisely as it participates in the flow of experience, with the precise determinancy or indeterminancy with which it  lets its thing appear, now in this aspect, now in that.. (192). Like any other form or consciousness, the image appears in a variety of modification, in primitive form and as reproduced in memory and free fantasy (268-9).

Or rather, for Husserl it all comes down to vision, the visible presence of individual fact” without, however the presupposition that any individual presence or recognition of its reality is actually apprehended (50). Husserl calls this “immediate ‘seeing’” or “seeing in general as primordial dator consciousness of any kind whatsoever” and takes this to be “the ultimate source of justification for all rational statements” (75-6).

It is in the free spontaneity of consciousness and the way it opens out to vision, imagination, and fantasy that I would see the greatest contribution of Husserlian phenomenology to the study of religion and to theological reflection. What interests me most are the affinities between reason and consciousness qua perception, memory, and fantasy.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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