Reflecting upon the Italian Version of Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung – di Bianca Bellini

lunedì, settembre 11, 2017
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The Accuracy of a Clear and Sound Translation

Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung by Husserl is a complex and quite tangled text. Readership could easily get lost in the wide spectrum of subtle distinctions that Husserl devises and describes. Such a difficulty does not abate when the text is translated from German into another language. Readership could even fail to notice that a few key concepts might be mistaken for something else and that key terms might be lapsing into something else. This twofold kind of confusion is the major risk for a translation of the Husserlian text. Now, the translator Claudio Rozzoni [1] selected a few paragraphs from the part dealing with the essence of phantasy and imagination: the accuracy of his translation lets the key notions of Husserl’s thought clearly emerge. It is worth stressing such an accuracy especially in comparison with other translations of Husserl works that often end up clouding the subtle Husserlian distinctions between phantasy, imagination, image consciousness and phantasy consciousness. It is not easy to pierce Husserl’s stance on phantasy and imagination and inaccurate translations often end up making things even more complicated. Claudio Rozzoni provides us with an Italian translation that makes Husserlian distinctions even sharper: his work enables readership to grasp issues that are as subtle as pivotal. Following paragraphs aim at shedding light on these fundamental issues and, in so doing, showing how Rozzoni’s translation prevents them from being misunderstood. Before we begin combing through these basic issues, it is worth noticing that Rozzoni’s translation is an opportunity of highlighting and uncovering the significance of this set of Husserlian lessons within the development of his whole thought.

In Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory [2], Husserl points out two main sets of subtle distinctions. On the one hand, he distinguishes imagination [Imagination] from phantasy [Phantasie]. On the other hand, he distinguishes image consciousness [Bildbewusstsein] from phantasy consciousness [Phantasiebewusstsein]. With regard to the first divide (ImaginationPhantasie), imagination encompasses phantasy: “we attempted to understand phantasy presentations along with physical image presentations from the unitary point of view of the imagination [Imagination] – p. 30” (“abbiamo tentato di comprendere le rappresentazioni di fantasia e le rappresentazioni in immagini fisiche dal punto di vista unitario dell’imaginatio” – p. 35); “an essential distinction exists between imagination [Imagination] in the proper sense (e.g., physical imaging) and imagination [Imagination] in the sense of simple phantasy – p. 89” (“sussiste una differenza essenziale fra imaginatio in senso proprio — nel carattere di immagine fisica, per esempio — e l’imaginatio nel senso della semplice fantasia – p. 97”). Husserl clearly maintains that “there are very different grades and levels of image consciousness – p. 34” (“ci sono […] gradi e livelli molto differenti di coscienza d’immagine – p. 41”): one of these levels embraces phantasy along with phantasy consciousness. The second divide (BildbewusstseinPhantasiebewusstsein) is related to the kind of experiences that the first divide makes possible. This entails that image consciousness is grounded in imagination and phantasy consciousness is grounded in phantasy: imagination makes image consciousness possible and phantasy makes phantasy consciousness possible.

Furthermore, Husserl’s stance on phantasy and imagination is of fundamental concern since it sets the stage for his stance on aesthetics. Husserl sets his reflections upon aesthetics within the broader frame of image consciousness. According to him, there is no image consciousness without i) an image object and ii) a difference [Differenz] between image object and image subject. More importantly, Husserl maintains that without image consciousness there is no possibility for aesthetic experiences to arise. He claims: “only the consciousness belonging to immanent imaging plays a role in the aesthetic contemplation of the image. In aesthetic contemplation, we immerse ourselves in the image; our interest belongs to it, we see the subject in it – p. 39” (“Soltanto [la coscienza del carattere immanente d’immagine] gioca il proprio ruolo nella considerazione estetica d’immagine. In questo caso guardiamo nell’immagine: a essa appartiene il nostro interesse, e in essa vediamo il sujet – p. 44”). And then he specifies: “image consciousness […] is the essential foundation for the possibility of aesthetic feeling in fine art. Without an image, there is no fine art. And the image must be clearly set apart from reality – p. 44” (“[La coscienza del carattere d’immagine] [è] la base essenziale per la possibilità del sentire estetico nell’arte figurativa. Senza immagine [Bild] non c’è arte figurativa [bildende]. E l’immagine deve distinguersi in modo chiaro dalla realtà – p. 50”). And again he claims: “the accompanying conceptual judgment that what is at stake is a mere image becomes ineffective against the perceptual semblance, and the inclination to take it as real is so great that <we> might even believe for a moment that it is real […] Wax figures, imitating reality as closely as possible — covered with real clothes, fitted out with genuine hair, and so on — present perceptual appearances of human beings that coincide so perfectly with the human beings depicted that the moments of difference [die Momente der Differenz] cannot produce a clean-cut and clear consciousness of difference [ein reinliches und klares Differenzbewusstsein]; that is to say, a secure image consciousness [ein sicheres Bildlichkeitsbewusstsein] – p. 44” (“Il giudizio concettuale concomitante — ossia che si tratti di una mera immagine — diventa inefficace rispetto alla parvenza percettiva e la tendenza a prenderla per la realtà è talmente grande che <noi>, per alcuni attimi, potremmo persino credervi [...] Le figure di cera, imitando la realtà il più esattamente possibile — ornate con vestiti reali, provviste di autentici capelli, e così via —, offrono manifestazioni percettive di uomini che coincidono in modo talmente perfetto con gli uomini raffigurati che i momenti della differenza non possono produrre una netta e chiara coscienza di differenza, vale a dire una sicura coscienza del carattere d’immagine – pp. 49-50”).

Within this frame, the concept of “die Differenz” sharply stands out. According to Husserl, the difference at stake is inherently double: on the one hand, it concerns the divide between image as a physical thing [das Bild als physisches Ding] and image object [Bildobjekt], on the other hand it concerns the divide between image object and image subject [Bildsujet]. These divides are related to image consciousness only: they cannot be ascribed to phantasy consciousness too. In this case, the distinctions are quite simpler. It is enough to distinguish the image [Bild] from the subject [Sache] it represents: “if the palace in Berlin hovers before us in the phantasy image, then the palace in Berlin is precisely the subject meant, the subject presented. From the palace in Berlin, however, we distinguish the image hovering before us, which naturally is not a real thing and is not in Berlin. The image presents the subject but is not the subject itself [das Bild macht die Sache vorstellig, ist aber nicht sie selbst] – p. 20” (“Quando il castello di Berlino ci aleggia dinnanzi nell’immagine di fantasia, è precisamente il castello di Berlino la cosa intesa, rappresentata. Eppure da esso distinguiamo l’immagine che ci aleggia dinanzi, che naturalmente non è una cosa reale e non è a Berlino. L’immagine rappresenta la cosa, ma non è la cosa stessa – p. 22”). On the contrary, image consciousness calls for three categories to makes itself understandable: “here the situation is somewhat more complicated. When we distinguish between subject and image in this case, we immediately note that the concept of the image is a double concept […] What stands over against the depicted subject is twofold: 1) The image as physical thing, as this painted and framed canvas, as this imprinted paper, and so on […] 2) The image as the image object appearing in such and such a way through its determinate coloration and form. By the image object we do not mean the depicted object, the image subject, but the precise analogue of the phantasy image; namely, the appearing object that is the representant for the image subject – p. 20” So, with regard to image consciousness, “we have three objects: 1) the physical image, the physical thing made from canvas, marble, and so on; 2) the representing or depicting object; and 3) the represented or depicted object. For the latter, we prefer to say simply ‘image subject’ [Bildsujet — ‘sujet-immagine’]; for the first object, we prefer ‘physical image’ [physische Bild — ‘immagine fisica’]; for the second, ‘representing image’ or ‘image object’ [Bildobjekt — ‘oggetto-immagine’] – p. 21”.

Husserl argues that “the difference” is a trait necessary for letting image consciousness arise — and so it is related to imagination itself — whereas phantasy consciousness is void of it — and so it is not related to phantasy itself: “the differences between representing image and image subject, between the object that genuinely appears and the object meant and presented by means of it, are quite diverse and vary a great deal. But such differences are always there. If the appearing image were absolutely identical phenomenally with the object meant, or, better, if the image appearance showed no difference whatsoever from the perceptual appearance of the object itself, a depictive consciousness could scarcely come about […] A consciousness of difference must be there, albeit the subject does not appear in the proper sense. The appearing object is not just taken by itself, but as the representant of another object like it or resembling it – p. 22” (“Le differenze fra immagine che funge da rappresentante e sujet-immagine, fra l’oggetto che propriamente si manifesta e quello che attraverso esso è presentato e inteso sono, di caso in caso e, soprattutto, a seconda dei modi di raffigurazione, molto diverse e mutevoli. Ma tali differenze sono sempre presenti. Se l’immagine che si manifesta fosse, dal punto di vista fenomenico, assolutamente identica all’oggetto inteso o, meglio, se la manifestazione d’immagine non si distinguesse per nulla dalla manifestazione percettiva dell’oggetto stesso, allora difficilmente si giungerebbe a una coscienza del carattere d’immagine [...] Deve essere presente una coscienza della differenza, sebbene il sujet in senso proprio non si manifesti. L’oggetto che si manifesta, infatti, non vale per sé, bensì in quanto rappresentante per un altro oggetto, uguale o simile a esso – p. 25”).

With regard to image consciousness, a conflict follows from the difference at issue: a conflict between something that is real and something that is unreal, something that is present and something that is absent. And this conflict depends upon a feature that Husserl ascribes to image consciousness only: pointing outward, pointing beyond itself [über sich hinaus]. Image consciousness points beyond its primary image object. Since phantasy presentations lack image object, Husserl infers that they lack this pointing outward too: “imaging apprehensions and symbolic apprehensions have in common the fact that they are not simple apprehensions. In a certain sense, both point beyond themselves [beide weisen in gewisser Art über sich hinaus — ‘entrambe rimandano in un certo modo al di là di se stesse’]. But the symbolic apprehension and, in addition, the signitive apprehension point beyond to an object foreign to what appears internally. In any case, they point outward. The imaging apprehension also points to [‘rinvia’] another object, but always to a similarly formed object, to an analogous object presenting itself in the image; and above all, it points to the object through itself. In symbolic presentation, the meaning regard is pointed away from the symbol; in pictorial presentation, it is pointed toward the image – p. 37”. On the contrary, “[in phantasy] interest and meaning is directed exclusively toward the image subject – p. 40”.

Subsequently, Husserl claims that the sole imagination [Imagination] leads us towards aesthetic experiences since it makes us focus on image object, whereas phantasy [Phantasie] leads us towards non-aesthetic experiences since it lacks image object and so makes us focus on image subject. Nevertheless, Husserl specifies that sometimes phantasy experiences could turn into aesthetic experiences: “on exceptional occasions, one can also enjoy one’s phantasies aesthetically and contemplate them in an aesthetic manner. Then we do not merely look at the subject in the image consciousness [Bildbewusstsein]; rather, what interests us is how the subject presents itself there, what manner of appearing in image it displays, and perhaps how aesthetically pleasing the manner of appearing is – p. 40”.

Husserl highlights how image consciousness is inherently aesthetic since it points towards the image object by giving rise to a crucial difference between image object and image subject. In imaginative experiences, “what interests us is how the subject presents itself there, what manner of appearing in image it displays, and perhaps how aesthetically pleasing the manner of appearing is – p. 40”. On the contrary, phantasy points towards image subject only: “when we phantasy, we live in the phantasied events; the How of the internal image presentation falls outside the scope of our natural interests – p. 41” (“Fantasticando, viviamo negli eventi fantasticati, il ‘come’ della presentazione interna in immagine cade al di fuori dell’ambito dei nostri naturali interessi – p. 46”). So, we could surmise that, following Husserl, an aesthetic approach calls for image object’s prevailing over image subject, that is to say, image consciousness prevails over phantasy consciousness: aesthetic experiences demand that the “how” prevails over the “what”.

Before we draw a conclusion, it is worth specifying two issues ensuing from these last remarks. Firstly, “different acts of presentation can be constructed on the same apprehensional basis – p. 41”: this simply means that, for example, I can be in front of a picture and live in image consciousness, but then I could shift my attention to the sole image subject, overshadowing image object, and so end up living in phantasy consciousness. Secondly, “the phenomenon of normal phantasy presentation and the phenomenon of presentation directed toward phantasy objects, toward image objects of whatever sort, are obviously different – p. 42”: this means that we have to account for different degrees of phantasy experiences within the wide spectrum of phantasy experiences. In reading a travel book, for example, I can appeal to phantasy and re-present foreign lands or I can focus my attention to phantasy images themselves. In both these experiences we live in phantasy consciousness, “in the one case, however, it is the image objects that are meant and are the focus of interest; in the other case, it is the distant lands – p. 42”. So, we have to distinguish different kinds of phantasy experiences: this awareness leads Husserl to devise a further pivotal distinction, which clearly arises in Phänomenologie und Erkenntnistheorie, i.e. freie Phantasie and träumende Phantasie. The former enables us to carry out eidetic variation, the latter enables us to fantasize about centaurs. This is not the place to comb through this dichotomy too, but this remark just specify how the wide spectrum of phantasy experiences includes experiences that go from eidetic variation to fantasizing about distant lands.

I have tried just to focus on a few turning points of this text since Rozzoni’s translation clearly enables readership to grasp them. To this end, it is worth highlighting some notable and significant choices made by Rozzoni, that is, his decision to translate Bildsujet with “sujet-immagine”, to continuously specify the German words related to the general Italian term “immaginare” (for example, imaginieren and einbilden), to use two different words to translate geben (“offrire”) and ergeben (“produrre”), to translate physische Imagination with “imaginatio fisica”. The hallmark of Rozzoni’s translation is its accuracy. This trademark comes to light especially by virtue of his unceasing effort of making readership aware of the original German words: when Italian translation could give rise to misunderstandings or unclear meanings, he puts the German works into brackets.

Let us consider an example that ultimately makes us appreciate and praise Rozzoni for his accuracy. In 1916, on the 9th of February, Husserl held his Antrittsrede since he became Professor at the University of Freiburg. Before giving this official talk, he started preparing materials and a significant part of them flowed into an essay titled Phänomenologie und Erkenntnistheorie. Now, in the Italian translation of this text (BUR, 2015) two different German words (geben and ergeben) are translated with the same Italian verb (donare): “[…] lasciarsi mutare in una coscienza che dona nell’originale […] – p. 147” (“sich in ein originär gebendes Bewußtsein wenden zu lassen”); “la fantasia dona le possibilità in modo originario – p. 183” (“die Phantasie ergibt Möglichkeiten originär”). In comparison with the meaning of geben, the verb ergeben expresses something more: it is not a mere giving and offering. Indeed, ergeben is inherently related to the idea of producing and yielding. This example just sheds light on the degree of accuracy that Rozzoni typifies by translating, for example, ergeben with “produrre” and geben with “offrire”. In so doing, this Husserlian text could be greatly appreciated by those who are experts at Husserl’s thought as well as understood by those who are not experts at Husserl’s thought.



[1] Fantasia e Immagine, Rubettino Editore, 2017.

[2] Hua XXIII, transl. by John B. Brough ed. by Rudolf Bernet, Springer 2005.

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2 commenti a Reflecting upon the Italian Version of Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung – di Bianca Bellini

  1. Roberta De Monticelli
    mercoledì, settembre 13, 2017 at 00:05

    Thank you for this useful review. A preliminary question – which only asks for a clarification. The second paragraph seems at first to treat IMAGINATION as a genus of which physical imaging (pictures, paintings, etc.) and fantasy are species. But now, in which sense that between Bildbewusstsein (image consciousness, eg. looking at a picture etc.)and Phantasiebewusstssein (fantasy consciousness) are “a second divide”? Why are they not simply the intentional acts (so, of course, types of consciousness) of which image consciousness ans fantasy are the dispositions?

  2. Bianca Bellini
    mercoledì, settembre 13, 2017 at 23:34

    Thanks for this notable remark. Well, the second divide between Bildbewusstsein and Phantasiebewusstssein merely refers to a level different from the first divide between imagination and fantasy. Surely, we are talking about a dynamics between intentional acts and their dispositions: imagination makes image consciousness possible and phantasy makes phantasy consciousness possible. Distinguishing types of consciousness from dispositions just aims at clarifying Husserl’s stance on the topic of phantasy and imagination, since his complex and tangled theses could be dangerously and easily misunderstood. So, it was just an effort (perhaps superfluous) of helping readership in clearly grasping Husserlian categories. Hope this helps!

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