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Lester Embree

Willem F. Dietrich Eminent Scholar in Philosophy, Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology

 

Comments on the Significance of this Conference

 

      I am honored to comment on the significance of this conference. I will do so in a personal perspective taken on a planetary sequence of events.

      The change of century in 2001 also marked the end of the first 100 years of the phenomenological tradition. There were possibly a dozen conferences and/or volumes devoted to Husserls Logische Untersuchungen (1900-1901), which started the tradition. Although I begin my own reflections from the mature Husserl, I did participate in one conference in Beijing, China and another in Husserls birth town of Olomouc, Czech Republic.

      More importantly, my perspective on our tradition was established through leading the team from the Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology, Inc. (CARP), of which I am the president and which edited the Encyclopedia of Phenomenology in 1997. In that effort I came to recognize that there has been over a score of disciplines in what is then a multidisciplinary tradition, as well as over a score of nations in which there have been phenomenological tendencies. Phenomenology in Russia, for example, was among the very first national tendencies outside of Germany and began before World War I. We should speak of a tradition rather than a movement because phenomenology does not have a manifesto but is rather is a history of theoretical and practical efforts connected in many different ways, beginning with debate over the definition of phenomenology!

      Perhaps in anticipation of what some charmingly call the beginning of our traditions second century, various interconnections soon began to form. I have been active but mostly a passive witness of the following events. The first interconnecting I witnessed was the formation of CLAFEN (Centro LAtinamericano de FENomenológica) in Puebla, Mexico in August 1999. This is a regional organization that extends all the way down to Argentina. Witnessing the founding of CLAFEN inspired me to use some resources from CARP to encourage the formation of the Nordic Society for Phenomenology in 2001.

      Then 2002 was a busy year. CARP supported the founding the CEECOP (The Central and Eastern European Conference in Phenomenology) in Cluj-Napoca, Romania in March and the All India Society for Phenomenological Studies in Chennai, India in June, and OPO (the Organization of Phenomenological Organizations) in Prague, Czech Republic, in November 2002. Having seen local organizations (there are over 125 on Earth now) coming together into regional organizations, I saw that a planetary organization of organizations was the next logical step. Fifty-six organizations agreed to found OPO.

      Meanwhile, in Spain I had asked colleagues why there was no connection with the Portuguese next door and only heard about what was traditional (I have suspicions but no knowledge about the Franco and Salazar times), but then a Portuguese colleague was soon invited and good connections now exist. Colleagues from each country appear on one anothers programs and there has just been a publication in Portuguese in the new electronic journal of the Sociedad Española de Fenomenologia. This is only one case of bridges being built and doors cut through walls.

      In another case, I had been repeatedly to China, Japan, and Korea and have many friends in East Asia now. When I asked about interaction, I was told about darker aspects of the 20th Century in East Asia (I knew about some in Europe), but at the same time I detected the feeling in the rising generation that ways needed to be found to avoid a future like the past. In May 2002 I held a conference in Florida including colleagues from those countries, took a group to dinner, told them about what I had learned, urged them to do something about it, and returned an hour later after taking a colleague to his airport connection to find that a society had been formed with the title of Phenomenology in East Asia Circle. But a problem remained with the acronym of PEAC, which is ugly to say in English. My proud contribution was then to suggest that the last letter of the last word also be capitalized in order to get PEACE. This regional organization had a splendid first meeting in Hong Kong in May 2004.

      As I said, I was fortunate to witness all this interconnecting of tendencies within our tradition across the planet and to make some small efforts to help it along. If I had been asked a year ago what national tendencies were still not well interconnected with others, I would have mentioned Brazil and Russia. At the second meeting of OPO in Lima, Peru last month, however, there was excellent participation by Brazilians.  

      And now here I am in Russia! I met Viktor Molchanov in Olomouc in November, 2000 and Alexei Chernyakov in Minsk in 2003, so I am not entirely among strangers, and I also see others on the program from France, Germany, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For me, the significance of this conference is clear. The Russian tendency is now clearly connected with others and I can stop worrying about fostering interconnections!

      My practical as well as intellectual efforts on behalf of our tradition are not, however, finished. The history just sketched is of philosophical phenomenology. What I shall now be seeking to get into better interaction are the phenomenologists in philosophy with the many phenomenologists in the other cultural disciplines of architecture, communicology, economics, ecology, ethnic studies, geography, nursing, political science, psychiatry, psychology, religious studies, sociology, womens studies, etc.

      Phenomenological philosophers should be flattered that colleagues in other disciplines have long been learning from them, but such philosophers should also recollect how Husserl learned from the psychology of his time, Gurwitsch and Merleau-Ponty learned from Gestalt psychology, Heidegger et al. learned from Greek philology, Alfred Schutz learned much from the social sciences, etc. a pattern of benefiting philosophy that seems forgotten by many phenomenological philosophers today.

      Thank you for your attention.