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Saturday, August 29, 2015

UNDEAD! Phenomenology as the Zombie Science

Phenomenology has lost any real meaning!

It has largely become a way to unite people who have misgivings about their given field - philosophy, say, or psychology and psychiatry - and is a large and handy umbrella because it can mean anything you want it to mean, just as Lewis Caroll's Humpty-Dumpty declares.

Unlike Groucho Marx's concern about what kind of club he was joining, self-declared phenomenologists don't much care about the company they keep and whether any coherent theory or principles link them.

There is an important book called, "The End of Phenomenology" (Edinburgh University Press, 2014) by Tom Sparrow that says this eloquently and devastatingly.

After dedicating a year-long seminar at the Université de Montrèal to phenomenological philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, I concluded ever more clearly and somewhat bitterly that phenomenology is indeed dead. 

Or worse: undead! Phenomenology is that idea which, having no life and no power, refuses to lie still! This is phenomenology as a zombie science!

As I said in my essay, "States of exception, states of dissociation: Cyranoids, zombies and liminal people--An essay on the threshold between the human and the inhuman" (Di Nicola, 2011), zombies have become a contemporary trope for what is lifeless, dead but not buried, stagnant but obstinately clinging to a kind of life, like someone in a vegetative state neurologically but on artificial life support.

As an example of this meme or cultural trope in the larger culture (not just philosophy or psychiatry), a recent story in the New York Times describes China's "zombie factories" and a similar practice in Japan: 

"To protect jobs and plants, the government and its state-owned banks sometimes keep money-losing businesses on life-support by rolling over or restructuring loans, providing fresh credit or offering other aid." 

"In Japan, such businesses, known as 'zombie companies,' are blamed for contributing to that country's two decades of economic stagnation." 

Zombies are everywhere in contemporary culture - from video games to television and films on the big screen to descriptions of lifeless, unproductive companies "stalking" Asian economies and certainly as empty signifiers in philosophy and psychiatry. As a contemporary cultural trope, zombies signify the evacuation of the human.

Phenomenology, which prides itself so much on understanding and dignifying what is human about our experience, has become an empty exercise at best and a signifier of the very opposite of its vaunted ambitions at worst. By its imprecision and incoherence, phenomenology today has come to mean the evacuation of the human.


Di Nicola, Vincenzo. "States of exception, states of dissociation: Cyranoids, zombies and liminal people--An essay on the threshold between the human and the inhuman." In: Letters to a Young Therapist: Relational Practices and the Coming Community. New York & Dresden: Atropos Press, 2011, pp. 149-162.

Schuman, Michael. Zombie factories stalk the sputtering Chinese economy. International New York Times, August 28, 2015. Accessed: 29.08.2015

Sparrow, Tom. The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. 


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