Dr. Maarten Coolen
(University of Amsterdam)

A short phenomenological account of the experience of place

My talk is about embodiment and humans taking a position. According to Helmuth Plessner man is his living body [Leib], in so far as it serves him as a centre of his incarnated intentionality; and he has his body [Körper], in so far as it is a thing that places him amidst of other things, or a thing he can use in action. Neither does he coincide with being his body, nor does he just have his body at his disposal. He must accept two orders, one related to his centre, and another one placing him outside of himself. Human life is constituted by continuously having to find a settlement with respect to this relation between being one's body and having one's body, such that, be it only for a short period of time, both are reconciled with each other. Plessner's expression eccentric positionality catches very adequately this fundamental trait of the human condition.

The question I will be focusing on is the following one: are we only able to know about our positionality by explicitly - or even rationally - reflecting, in retrospect, upon the manner in which we have been choosing a position in response to the situation we were in, or is this positionality also given to us in and as an experience in the actual process of achieving temporary settlements between our being a body and having it?

My considerations are divided into three points. First I will make some remarks about the relationship between Plessner and Heidegger with respect to the concept of life. I think it is important to show that there is a level on which Plessner's philosophical anthropology is not in conflict with Heidegger's ontology of the Dasein, and above that, has the advantage of introducing the positionality of human existence in addition to its temporality. Secondly, I will touch very briefly upon Plessner's account of how our embodiment gets disorganized in those special situations in which we, for some reason or another, burst into laughter or break into tears. Although in such circumstances our taking a position is at stake, we still do not fully experience what it is to be an eccentrically positioned being. Thirdly, I wish to show that installation art offers us the chance of actually taking part in a very peculiar spacial situation: one in which we can sense that we are not able to find a satisfactory response to the question where we should leave our bodies, while we are moving around in the space defined by the installation. Then we sense that indeed our place as such is at stake. What makes installation art interesting for modern humans, is that it lets us experience that our reflexive relation to ourselves has indeed an origin in human corporeality.

Dr. Maarten Coolen teaches philosophy at the Department of Philosophy of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He does research in the field of philosophy of culture and philosophical anthropology. The choice of the topics of his research is partly governed by his interest in how modern humans cope with the effect of an ever increasing loss of a given world order, as they search to find for themselves a framework that can provide them with meaningful orientations, when dealing with their relation to nature, shaping their social and political institutions and defining their individual identities. All these areas of modern life, it appears, require more and more a reflexive attitude. In this context he also tries to demonstrate in which manner this reflexivity is, in the end, grounded in the corporeal nature of human existence.