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"She called in her soul to come and see":

The Identity of Zora Neale Hurston's Janie

as Interpreted through Paul Ricoeur

 

 

 

A THESIS

The Honors Program

College of St. Benedict/St. John's University

 

 

 

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Distinction "All College Honors"

and the Degree Bachelor of Arts

In the Department of Philosophy

 

 

 

by

Jeanette Gruenes

May, 1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            PROJECT TITLE:   "She called in her soul to come and see": The Identity of Zora Neale Hurston's Janie as interpreted through Paul Ricoeur

 

Approved by:

 

 

                        ____________________________________________________________

                                    Associate Professor of Philosophy

 

 

                        ____________________________________________________________

                                    Associate Professor of Philosophy

 

 

                        ____________________________________________________________

                                    Associate Professor of Philosophy

 

 

                        ____________________________________________________________

                                    Chair, Department of Philosophy

 

 

                        ____________________________________________________________

                                    Director, Honors Thesis Program

 

 

                        ____________________________________________________________

                                    Director, Honors Program

 

 

Table of Contents

I. The Narrative..................................................... .......................................4

                    Introduction...............................................................................6

II. The Subject...............................................................................................8

III. The Foundation of Ricoeur's Human Subject.............................................9

IV. The Complete Subject Found within the Narrative..................................15

V. Resolution: Who is the Human Subject?...................................................19

          A. Configuration of the Narrative........................................................20

           B. Responsibility of the Subject..........................................................21

           C. Janie's Self....................................................................................29

Appendix to the Method...............................................................................31

         A. The Problem with the Method.........................................................34

          B. The Resolution of the Problem........................................................37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. The Narrative:

            Zora Neale Hurston's novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is concerned with the struggle to live a happy life within a world of uncertainty and unrest.  Uncertainty enters from the unknown perspective of God within her life.  The unrest follows from a life that is on guard against "that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West"–death, that snatcher who dispels the story too soon.  When will God act upon us?  When will God save us or doom us?  Does God have any regard for human happiness?  Despite the uncertain role that Fate will play in the main character's life, Janie Crawford acts against the criticisms of the people in her life and attempts to actualize her dream of a good life.

            Janie Crawford enters a world where the basic pattern has women being abused by men.  Janie's mother and grandmother were raped.  And, as a result, her mother began drinking and eventually ran off–leaving Janie in her grandmother's care.  Janie's shaky foundation encourages her grandmother to establish the most secure footing she can imagine–the marriage to Brother Logan Killicks.

            Janie's first husband, Logan, relates to her as though she is his hired-hand and tool ­used like a mule for his purposes.  Logan destroys Janie's first dream of finding love within marriage, and he then accuses her of her grandmother's and mother's past.  At this point, with or without the new man in her life, Joe Starks, Janie plans to leave Logan.  Janie marries Joe because he told her that he would take care of her.  There is some romance and courting before they are married, but Janie is prepared to leave Logan regardless of Joe's presence in her life.  They make their home in Eatonville where Joe opens a store and becomes mayor of the town.  In the store, day after day, the men harass another man, Matt, about his skinny mule.  Mat responds to their laughter with talk of the mule's "evil disposition" (50).  And as always, Matt stomps off in anger.  Janie wants to engage in the mule talk too, but Joe forbids it.  Joe doesn't allow Janie to enter the conversation because he thinks it is too base for her attention.  Janie is resentful of the place of untouchable honor where Joe places her. 

            But one day, when the men are standing around talking about the violence that they would inflict on a woman who would dare to disrespect a man, Janie enters the conversation, informing the men that:

 

            Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business.  He told me how surprised He was 'bout y'all turning out so smart after Him makin' yuh different; and how surprised y'all is goin' tuh be if you ever find out you don't know half as much 'bout us as you think you do.  It's so easy to make yo'self out God Almighty when you ain't got nothin to strain against but         women and chickens (70-71).

Joe tells Janie that she has said too much, and the men begin a game of checkers as though she hadn't said a word. 

            The honor that Joe had once showed Janie turns sour.  In the face of Joe's own insecurities concerning the shape that his body has come to, Joe desecrates Janie's body image with an audience present.  When Janie was working in the store, she cut a piece of chewing tobacco uneven.  In response, Joe yelled at Janie saying, "I god amighty!  A woman stay round uh store till she get old as Methusalem and still can't cut a little thing like a plug of tobacco!  Don't stand dere rollin' yo' pop eyes at me wid yo' rump hangin' nearly to yo' knees" (74).  It is at this point that Janie stands-up for herself for the first time, bringing Joe down to the same level of humiliation that he has placed her at in the past.  Joe responds by striking Janie.  He isn't able to live with this defilement of character, and as a result, becomes deathly ill.

            Joe needs a doctor, but he won't listen to Janie even on his death bed.  He thinks Janie was the one poisoning his body to the end, when he literally dies of humiliation.  Joe's death is followed by an elaborate funeral, but Janie's grief doesn't last long; she relishes her freedom and abandons the robe of mourning.

            The beautiful Janie, with a house and store in her possession, attracts men within the community who are eager to help her handle her finances as well as her life.  At the age of forty, Janie meets Tea Cake, a twenty-five year old man who lives with her the way that she has always wanted to live; they are spontaneous together and act as children do, and for the first time, she loves the man whom she is with.  Because of Tea Cake's age, the town suspects that he is only after Janie's money.  When Janie marries Tea Cake and moves away from Eatonville, the community is convinced that Janie will return in shambles with no money left in her pockets.  Only Janie's friend, Phoeby, sees in Janie what the other people in the community can't see; "Still and all, she's her own woman" (106).

            Janie and Tea Cake move to the Everglades where they live a happy, playful life together.  Tea Cake doesn't steal Janie's money.  They work together, and they provide for each other.  And other than a few phases of doubt and mistrust in each other's fidelity and intention, the two live a beautiful life.  But then the hand of God steps in . . .

            A hurricane blows through the Everglades and sends the lives of the once peaceful inhabitants into disarray.  Lake Okechobee is blown free and sets its victims swimming.  It is in this scene that Tea Cake is bit by a rabid dog.  Tea Cake is trying to save Janie's life but dooms his own.  Tea Cake becomes insane and attempts to kill Janie.  In self-defense she kills him. She is put on trial by both the white man's court and all of Tea Cakes friends who are bitter with Janie for killing him.  Janie doesn't fear the punishment of death but rather the verdict that a group of twelve white men, who are living a life of wealth and ease, could issue.  She doesn't want to be misunderstood; she needs to be heard.  Janie is freed of guilt by the court, and Tea Cake's friends also eventually forgive Janie after she spoils Tea Cake with an elaborate funeral. 

            After living this short, yet complete life with Tea Cake, she returns to her friend, Phoeby, in Eatonville to tell her story. 

 

Introduction:

            My intention from the beginning is to use Zora Neale Hurston's novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and apply it to Paul Ricoeur's work, Oneself as Another.  The narrative is a useful tool, for Ricoeur, since it is within the narrative that a life can be viewed as a complete unity.  There we find a subject wrapped up and finished.  There is a beginning and an end to life within the narrative, and we are able to see the complete range without the actual birth or death of the characters but rather with the first page and the last page being turned.  It is within this complete narrative life that concordance and discordance is shown, within the unity of a subject.  Amid drastic transformations in Janie's character, we begin to question who she is.  A permanence in time  is sought after, if we are to see her as the same subject, the same self. 

            In the intertwining of the narrative and Ricoeur's work on identity, the human subject is more than just some narrative unity.  She is also one who is responsible.  And that responsibility is the ethical aspect of her subject, of herself as maintaining some unity in all this discordance.  Ethically her subject is established as aiming toward the good life with and for others in just institutions.  The human subject is aiming  toward the good life because life is both discordant and concordant as we are introduced to both passive and active roles with others.  Solicitude  is the element in Janie's ethical life that she is most concerned with; still, she is confronted with institutions of other people.  She must find the balance between solicitude and the norms and customs of institutions which along with solicitude allows for just institutions.

            As the constant witness of a life that has been aiming toward the good life with and for others in just institutions, one is called to take responsibility for her life–to claim her actions.  Attestation  is Ricoeur's term to describe bearing witness for one's actions, to admit where one has diverted from institutional norms (morality and custom) and where one has placed solicitude in a larger context to follow the norm.  In attestation we claim our actions and give reason for where we stand in our ethico-moral pursuit.  And so we question who Janie is as the subject in Zora Neale Hurston's novel; we observe carefully her discordant and concordant actions and inter-actions with others; we listen to the reasons for her dissension from institutional morality.  And in the end, we find she and we have pieced her life together as a unified narrative in which she attests to her ethical and narrative unity. 

 

II. The Subject:

            What does it mean for Janie to be a subject in Zora Neale Hurston's novel?  Why do we call her Janie from page one to the end of the book?  Why does Janie come forth as the main subject?  Janie is the woman with the struggle; her life hasn't been easy, and yet for some reason we (as the readers) still want to go through all of those challenges with her; we want to make sure that her life turns out for the better, as though if we are there with her, she will in some way be guarded from misfortune.  Why do we identify with Janie?  How do we remain intimate with a character whose identity appears disconnected at so many points in her life?

            She starts out in life with no mother to model herself after; she plays with white children who offer her nothing with which to identify.  Confused, she enters two marriages that both fail and destroy her dream of finding love within marriage.  And still for some reason, she trusts yet another man and chooses to marry him.  She leaves her community and her best friend Phoeby and begins a new life with Tea-Cake.  There is no reason for her to believe that Tea-Cake will treat her with respect in their future together.  Given her grandmother's history, mother's history, and her own history with men, one would think that Janie would abandon her dream of love and that indeed she would be justified in doing so.  But she doesn't. 

            Janie's character is strengthened as she transforms from a girl into a woman.  She begins the story as a girl who obeys her grandmother.  She disobeys Nanny once, and this changes her life, but only in altering the direction of Janie's obedience.  Her obedience is now directed toward a husband.  The husband simply replaces Nanny in Janie's life structure of dominance and submission.  Janie appears the same obedient self throughout her relationship with Nanny and her first two husbands.  Then, her second husband dies and Janie enters a third marriage with Tea Cake, and she is free.   Tea Cake's goodness shines through as Janie expresses the happiness that Tea Cake brings her:

 

            Ah couldn't stand it if he wuz tuh quit me.  Don't know whut Ah'd do.  He kin take         most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull.  Then we lives   offa dat happiness he made till some mo' happiness come along (135). 

Janie's life structure of dominance and submission tumbles (for the most part).  And she lives the life that she, as well as others, dream of.

             But then the hand of Death puts a plunder the works and dreams of all people underneath–Janie's dreams included.  A hurricane blows through Eatonville and destroys the calm.  Tea Cake develops a sickness that controls his mind and in a fit of rage attempts to kill Janie.  In self-defense Janie kills Tea Cake.  She tells her story to a jury of twelve men and is vindicated of the killing.  When Janie was with Joe, she generally wouldn't say what was on her mind; she wouldn't voice her opinion or thoughts.  Joe may have been intimidating, but so is a jury of twelve white men.  How is this strong woman able to do what Janie wasn't able to do in the past?

            Upon the death of Joe, Janie wore black and put on her mourning face.  Everything looked just right for a grieving wife.  But at Tea Cake's funeral Janie, "was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief" (180).  And she wears her overalls to his funeral.  Is this the same Janie that we listened to when Joe died, or when she left Logan, or when her grandmother died?   Are they the same person?

            From a literary perspective, as well as a philosophical perspective, the problem that remains unresolved is developing the identity of the subject amid an ever changing character.  Ricoeur is struggling with a similar problem of establishing identity within a human subject who exhibits both sameness and discordance within the self.  

 

III. The Foundation of Ricoeur's Human Subject:

            In the work, Oneself As Another, Paul Ricoeur is aiming toward a unified yet comprehensive understanding of the human subject.  Ricoeur is aware of the problems that have confronted the search for identity in the past, scil., the emphasis on a unified sameness in complete disregard for differences that are found within a comprehensive study of the human subject.  His problem comes to the forefront in any narrative–in fiction or in life–with the apparent conflict between one's sameness and one's difference.  The main subject, Janie, in the narrative, Their Eyes Were Watching God, has a constancy about her, but at the same time she shows unpredictability.  What do we do with this conflict in our search for identity?  Should we–as Locke, Hume, and Parfit have done–limit the possibility of subject to a comprehension of sameness?  Or should we acknowledge the transformations in character that humans undertake?  This question is the most pressing for Ricoeur.  He outlines the problem with his work on ipse and idem- identity. 

            Ricoeur certainly does admit to the transformations that humans undertake or that are passively forced on them.  The problem is that when Ricoeur admits to changes within a given character, he must deal with the entry of discordance and thus the seeming loss of subject identity and the consequent loss of imputability.  Within a coherent framework of action we ordinarily ascribe action to an agent.  When actions are discordant, is attestation possible?  Are we able to designate Janie as responsible for actions that seem to divert from our expectations of her character?  Or will Janie bear witness and attest to her actions even amid discordance?  But first, an expansion on Ricoeur's use of narrative in his search for identity is necessary.

            The narrative is a mimesis [an imitation] of life, and at the same time, life is mimetic  of the narrative.  For this reason, Ricoeur focuses primarily on the narrative as a tool toward reaching the noema [1]of identity.  In the "narrative" life of any human, Ricoeur discovers the characteristics of discordance and concordance, as well as passivity and activity and yet, overall, a self, a subject.  As Janie's story is told, the reader notices the cohesiveness that her character may possess, the part of the character which reminds the reader that the character is who she is; this is concordance.  But a talented writer also develops a character who acts in ways that the reader may not have predicted.  This is the brilliance that intrigues us and excites our curiosity to the height of finishing a long story or reading a good story repeatedly, and this is the discordant element to a character's identity.  The problem is that with the entry of discord the reader inevitably wonders if the character is still the same person whom she was at the beginning of the story.  And indeed, with the major transformations that Janie undertakes, it is questionable that her identity is the same at the end of the book as it is at the beginning.  

            Narrative identity is even further confused by the entrance of both active and passive actions.  Activity and passivity emerge with the character's actions and the action's of others that are inflicted upon the character.  The character experiences the passivity of actions done to her, becoming the patient of action.  Actions performed through activity are performed by the agent of the action.  Janie appears to be the patient through much of her life.  She is born into a history of woman abused by men, and she follows this same path as though her destiny were planned on the date of her birth.  Janie is treated as a hired-hand by her first husband, Logan, and she is taught inactivity in the form of silence from her second husband, Joe.  She continues this cycle until the age of forty.  Within this passivity, Ricoeur's title begins to make sense.  The self, the subject is not just this acting person, but it is the passive person who is, in part, a witness to what is done to her.  The question is: Does Janie have accountability and responsibility for mistakes made during this time in her life?  Is she responsible for her passive role during her first two marriages?  Is Janie responsible for the abuse done to her?  Can this oneself, whom Ricoeur is attempting to locate, have responsibility and accountability in the absence of activity and the presence of passivity?  If responsibility and accountability cannot be assigned to Janie, we risk the loss of her character.   

            The notion of character within the narrative is what keeps idem [sameness] and ipse [selfhood] bound together.  Although they are bound together, they are still in conflict with one another, since the subject of identity is torn between reference to sameness or reference to selfhood.  And furthermore the reference to selfhood will seemingly uproot the reference to sameness, since by definition sameness over time does not occur.  Narrative concordance and discordance assimilate well with idem  and ipse -identity.  In terms of concordance and discordance, Janie's character appears to continue in the same direction over the first forty years of her life.  But then discordance enters Janie's life, and one could question, just as she appears to, if she is the same person that she was when she looked into the mirror as a child.  

 

            Years ago, she had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking glass. It had been         a long time since she had remembered.  Perhaps she'd better look.  She went over           to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and her features.  The young girl was        gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place.  She tore off the kerchief from         her head and let down her plentiful hair.  The weight, the length, the glory was      there.  She took careful stock of herself, then combed her hair and tied it back up       again  (83).

Janie expected a permanence in time  when she returned to the mirror after the many years had passed.  But the young girl was no longer there; a woman had taken her place.  And this woman was not the same as the Janie who appeared before the mirror years ago.  But the glory of the young girl's hair remained there.  And Janie tucked it back into her kerchief as though she were preserving it.  Within this example of discordance and concordance, ipse and idem-identity are shown.  Ipse-identity is the identity–the self–faced with the discordance with which Janie was confronted when she looked into the mirror and found herself as an older woman.  The Idem -identity is shown when Janie's hair is revealed, and she still has the same hair with the same weight and the same length.  Logically it seems that Janie cannot be both the same person that she has been in the past and still different; we feel compelled to choose.   

            Initially, it is through the body that we are allowed entry to the idem  and ipse .  This is the case for Janie when she looks into the mirror and notices how she has been transformed and yet remained the same.  Since the body is accessible to description, it is a reasonable starting point for our discussion.  The body of another is open to description through direct observation while my body is felt directly by myself (38).  The body, for Ricoeur, makes-up the boundaries for the interplay between the dialectic of idem and that of ipse.  In this way, the body is the fundamental core within which all variations take place.  "Furthermore, in virtue of the mediating function of the body as one's own in the structure of being in the world, the feature of selfhood belonging to corporeality is extended to that of the world as it is inhabited corporeally" (150).  So far as our selfhood belongs to corporeality and is "inhabited corporeally," selfhood is extended into the world—the world as body (150, cf 30).  

            It is within the character that the idem and the ipse  are extended beyond the body.  The idem and the ipse overlap within the character forming a foundation for a claim of a different kind of permanence in time.  But since the ipse is not sameness, is it possible for ipse-identity to claim permanence in time?  One's character has a re identification aspect that obviously includes sameness, but is selfhood a distinct part of one's character?  Since The Voluntary and the Involuntary and Fallible Man, Ricoeur has placed less emphasis on the immutability of character.  Ricoeur has progressed to think of character as a "lasting disposition" (121).  Referring to character as a disposition allows us to consider habit as part of one's character.  Since habits are in the process of being formed the ipse is allowed its transformational impact.  The ipse  is also granted permanence in time with the consideration of promises.  It is when promises are made that "selfhood frees itself from sameness" (119).  It is through self-maintenance that one is able to say, "Even if I change my mind, I will keep my word."

            Janie's character is in the process of formation, and still her character has a permanence in time.  However, Janie is not compelled to keep her verbal promises.  But perhaps there is a deeper thread that runs through her life and witnesses to the role of her future sketching out of her life.  She disobeys Nanny with the kiss of Johnny Taylor and abandons her wedding vows to Logan.  Janie does not make and keep promises.  And in fact, if she had always kept promises in the past, such as in her marriage to Logan, it is doubtful that she would have married Tea Cake, and her relationship with Tea Cake seems essential to the final formation of Janie's character.  Janie speaks of marriage:

 

            No mo' than Ah took befo' and no mo' than anybody else takes when dey gits   married.  It always changes folks, and sometimes it brings out dirt and meanness   dat even de person didn't know they had in 'em theyselves.  You know dat.              Maybe Tea Cake might turn out lak dat.  Maybe not.  Anyhow Ah'm ready and            willin' tuh try 'im (108).

Janie's description of marriage and her eagerness to attempt a marriage with Tea Cake even amid the fairly good chance (given her past marriages) that the marriage will change Tea Cake into a difficult person with whom to live indicates that Janie does not take the promise of marriage as necessarily long lasting. 

            The idem represents the sameness of one's character over time.  Permanence in time is not an issue for idem-identity.  The idem can be thought of in several different respects.  Ricoeur notes a distinction between a numerical and a qualitative sameness (116).  Numerical sameness is represented when, day after day, the men engage in mule talk, teasing Matt about his skinny mule.  They tease Matt about his mule in slightly different ways each day, but each day he must be teased about his mule.  Qualitative sameness is best thought of with the example of identical twins.  It refers to instances and entities that can be substituted (one for the other) without damage to or loss of identity; they are the same–qualitatively identical.  Qualitative sameness considered in a much looser sense could be assigned to Janie's first two experiences with marriage. Although her first two husbands both suppressed her in different ways, they were both abusive to her.  And in a qualitative sense, the one was not better for Janie than the other.

            Permanence in time must be posited in order to preserve similitude and resemblance of one's character.  But the permanence in time equals the permanence of the witness, the self.  A threat to permanence in time is indeed a threat to identity (116).  Permanence in time appears obviously to belong to idem-identy; however, ipse­-identity must be observed more closely in order to establish permanence in time within its identity.  Ricoeur discovers two models of permanence in time that are found within the ipse.  Both character and "keeping one's word"  in the form of promises offer the ipse  a stabilizing feature of identity (118).  It is precisely these stabilizing features that allow me to count on others.  This permanence in time for both the idem  and the ipse demonstrate the overlapping of the ipse by the idem.  Ricoeur describes the overlapping of the ipse  by the idem,  " . . .my character is me, myself, ipse; but this ipse announces itself as idem" (121).

            The conflict between idem and ipse-identity is resolved, for the most part, with Ricoeur's work on their mutual feature, permanence in time as fundamentally characteristic of the ipse and only secondarily characteristic of the idem.  Still Ricoeur's search for identity within the narrative has just begun.  With our foundation in permanence in time, Ricoeur sets us in the direction of "aiming at the 'good life' with and for others, in just institutions"  (172). 

 

IV. The Complete Subject Found within the Narrative:       

            Janie emerges from the very first page of Hurston's novel as a strong woman.  Her name isn't mentioned, but we meet her as a woman who believes that, "The dream is the truth."  She is shown to us on those first pages in overalls, and still, the men can't help but turn their heads to grab a glimpse of her.  Even in overalls, Janie appears confident and in control of her life.  The overalls will offer itself as a perfect weapon for the women who wish to debase Janie to their level.  But Janie's kissin' -friend, Phoeby, listens to Janie's story with a supportive ear.

            This is also the Janie that we encounter at the end of the book.  In fact, it is the very same Janie that we encounter at the end of the book.  It is as though Hurston suspected that we might not recognize Janie at the end of the book unless we were introduced to who she would become early in the narrative.  Janie goes through a transformation that seems to belong to someone else's life.  Many of the turns she takes don't show predictability, and with each of these turns we are in danger of losing the unity of her character.  But unity is found in the way that Janie retrospectively looks at her life and in the way she puts herself "there" in all the transformations.  "Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone.  Dawn and doom was in the branches" (8).  Janie sees her life with this unity only fully coherent at the end of her life when all of her experiences could be looked back upon with coherence.  She sees the totality of her life within the single vision of the tree as though her life is a unified horizon with all experiences merging together.   

            Janie begins telling her story from the very beginning of her life.  Janie recalls playing with white children.  Because all of the other children were white, she didn't know that she was black until she was six years old.  She was called Alphabet by the white children and their white parents because everyone had a different name for Janie; they finally settled on Alphabet.  From the very beginning of her life she really didn't know who she was; she didn't have an identity to claim.  How a strong woman evolves from this starting point is unforeseen.  

            Adulthood began with the kiss of Johnny Taylor.  As a character in Hurston's novel, Johnny Taylor is not strongly developed.  The spot light is certainly on Janie and the impact that one disobedient kiss could have on her life.  Janie thought to herself, "Oh to be a pear tree–any tree in bloom" (11)!  She was sixteen and it was spring time, and just as importantly, Nanny was sleeping.  So she made her way through the pollinated air away from her grandmother.  But Nanny caught her, and this was the end of Janie's childhood.  Nanny's eyes "diffused and melted Janie, the room and the world into one comprehension" (12).  Nanny began to see her plan.  Janie would soon become a married woman.  It all made perfect sense to Nanny; this was the plan, and it all fit into the horizon that she saw when her eyes "diffused and melted Janie."  But marriage wasn't exactly in Janie's plan; moreover, she had no intention of marrying anyone whom she didn't love. 

            But Janie thought that if she married Logan, her grandmother's choice, she might eventually love him.  Hurston teaches us that "There are years that ask questions and years that answer" (20).  This was a year of questioning.  And the answers that Janie thought might be right were wrong.  She married Logan and she didn't love him.  She discovered that marriage didn't make love.  It was at this point that Janie lost her dream of finding love within marriage, and she thought that she had finally become a woman.  The discordance remains discordance, even though Janie is there through it all.  The unity at the end is Janie, but it is discordant unity.

            Her years of asking questions had not yet ended.  Janie repeated the mistakes of last year, altering them only slightly.  Janie began a new life with Joe when marrying Joe.  This time, she thought, maybe marriage will treat me better.  And her life did seem better, but it still wasn't her life.  Joe offered Janie everything she needed in physical possession, but he was unable to give Janie her personal freedom–what she needed in order to start answering questions rather than forever asking them.  Joe controlled Janie's life as both Nanny and Logan had in the past.  The obedience that Janie learned from Nanny carried over to her relationships with men, and she was not allowed to be "her own woman" (106).

            But slowly Janie does become "her own woman."  There were times when she backed down and wasn't able to say what was on her mind.  Janie was showing this struggle when men within the community finished their mule talk and attacked the mule, leaving the mule "panting and heaving" (53).  Janie had compassion for the mule; it too had been mistreated by its master.  She was fighting within herself, in defense of the helpless mule, but she couldn't speak because she wasn't able to handle disagreement and conflict from the men.  Joe freed the helpless mule by buying it for five dollars.  Janie who had no money and no power with the men, wouldn't have been able to do this.  She witnessed firsthand that one must have power to free things. 

            She made attempts to free herself even when she was within the confines of Joe.  When she told the men that God speaks to women and comforts them by telling them how little men really know about women and how small men are in comparison to the strength of God.  Joe quickly quieted Janie, but this was still a movement forward toward the Janie that we will see in the last pages of this novel.  Janie's strength is furthered when she stands-up for herself when Joe humiliated her in front of their customers at the store.  Janie spoke her mind and retaliated with words that forced Joe into the background, suffering in humiliation.  Janie hasn't spontaneously emerged to this point.  She has been developing from that girl who showed disobedience to Nanny with the kiss of Johnny Taylor to this point of disloyalty to Joe.  In both cases Janie did what she wanted to do.

            And she continued to live the life that she wanted to live when she married Tea Cake and moved to the Everglades.  This move, however, was not without conflict with her community at Eatonville.  Although she had the support of Phoeby, the people of Eatonville were waiting for Janie, hoping that she would return to them in shambles–with no money and no dignity.  Janie had this force acting against her and this force was her community.  She knew that a life in Eatonville wouldn't make her happy, and it was this conflict that forced Janie to claim her life and dissent from public opinion.  This is the turning point where Janie, with full-force, begins to chose for herself and to assert her decision, to claim her space and say, "This is where I stand; this is the way that I want my life to be."  And she was not standing with the community; she was standing with Tea Cake.

            When Tea Cake and Janie moved to the Everglades they were a part of a community of cohesiveness.  The community in the Everglades, for the most part, was a community of support, friendship, and belonging.  Without Janie's dissent from her community in Eatonville she would not have been able to enter the community in the Everglades.  Her departure was necessary for her to develop into "her own woman."  At the same time, although her inter-personal relationships with Tea Cake and Phoeby are the most important to her, Janie does experience great joy from a common life lived with other people.  It was life in the fields working side-by-side with Tea Cake and the others where Janie found life as well as in the late night dances filled with laughter that would make one want to wake-up in the morning and start the day over again. 

            But  just when the reader thought that there was time for a happy ending chaos entered.  Tea Cake was swallowed up by Death, and Janie was once again found in a role of submission to a higher power.  Janie appeared a stronger person than she was in the beginning of her young adult years, but she was still held within the whims of "that strange being with huge square toes who lived way in the West."

            The Janie that we are introduced to in her first two marriages of discontent is evolving at a speed that allows us to see the continuance of her character.  Her life changes from living a role of submission in constant confrontation with dominance to living a life of equality with Tea Cake.  In Janie's marriage with Joe she told us that she resented Joe for placing her at a height  of untouchable honor; it was at this height that she was unable to live a common life with the people in her community.  With Tea Cake, it was a life in the meshes that she lived.  Janie found, "Here was peace.  She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net.  Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes!  She called in her soul to come and see" (184).  There was a change in her character and her life, but it seemed to fit together given the gradual speed, intermediary lessons, and history of key struggles that Janie had endured with herself and the other people in her life.  And this is the same Janie. 

 

V.  Resolution: Who is the Human Subject?

            Up to this point, we have established a description of Janie at various stages of her life.  During part one of Janie's life she was primarily the patient of actions done to her.  She entered life into a pattern of women abused by men.  She then proceeded to engage in two marriages with men who would continue the cycle of abuse.  Part two of her life introduced a drastically different Janie.  She enjoyed an intimate and playful relationship with Tea Cake which allowed her to be an active player in her own life.  And part three, was the resolution time for Janie, a time when she could look back and tell her story as well as claim her actions. 

 

          A. Configuration of the Narrative:

            The narrative self is able to give coherence to one's own life even amid transformations in character that introduce discordance as well as concordance.  Janie configures all the disparate elements into her story: she creates a narrative that coheres out of all these discordant elements.  "It [identity] can be described in dynamic terms by the competition between a demand for concordance and the admission of discordances which, up to the close of the story, threaten this identity" (141).  Diversity is thus reconciled with identity within the configuration of emplotment.[2]  Poiesis, is the term that Ricoeur uses to describe this configuration of discordance into a concordant unity.  The narrative character attests to this configuration, bringing one's life into a realm of connectedness in order to claim identity.  The life subject is assumed to be able to do the same. 

            The configuration of narrative concordance and discordance may not take place in actual human subjects to the same degree and in the same way.  Ricoeur, contrary to MacIntyre, envisions several problems with reconnecting narrative identity with life identity.  First, says Ricoeur, we must question who is the author, narrator, and character in both the narrative and in life.  In the narrative, the author is Zora Neale Hurston, the narrator is either Hurston or Janie, and the character is Janie.  In life, I am the author of my life, though I am also acted upon by others, but only I can make a coherence out of this story.  I may tell my own story or someone else might tell my story, and I am the character.  The author of the narrative has more active control over the encounters of her character, but the author of my life [myself] has a more passive involvement with the encounters in my life.  As the author of my life, I have very little control over many of the events that take place in my life–birth precedes me, death follows me–but Hurston has almost complete control over the events that take place in Janie's life.  The narrative also has a beginning and an end with a clear story line traveling throughout the narrative.  Our lives have beginnings that we can't remember, that we depend on someone else's memory to recount, and we live endings that we exit too soon to say anything about.  And within this beginning and end, our story line is often so crowded with irrelevant detail and forgotten segments that it is impossible to piece together a story line for our lives.  The reliability of our account of life versus the reliability of the narrative account brings Ricoeur to the conclusion that the narrative is a worthwhile metaphor to describe our search for identity. 

 

            It is precisely because of the elusive character of real life that we need the help of           fiction to organize life retrospectively, after the fact, prepared to take as provisional     and open to revision any figure of emplotment borrowed from fiction or from       history (162). 

The distinctions that Ricoeur makes between the narrative life and the human life are important to consider, but Ricoeur will conclude that "literary narratives and life histories, far from being mutually exclusive, are complementary, despite, or even because of, their contrast" (163).

           Selfhood, for both the narrative subject and the life subject, is able to be in the midst of contradiction and yet bring one's life together through the process of configuration.  Selfhood mediates between discordance and concordance and recognizes the unified life-thread.  This life-thread remains even within discordance and claims a permanence in time .   It is through attestation that selfhood creates idem and thus allows for permanence.  One's self attests, as a martyr bears witness, that this is where I stand and I will remain here over time.  There is no certitude that I am right, indeed at this level right and wrong do not enter; there is no substantial self that remains ever unchanged and unchanging;  but this is still where I stand, even among discordance that challenges my identity, this is where I find myself to be and remain.  

 

            B. Responsibility of the Subject:

            Responsibility enters with the act of attestation and it is further applied to the subject with Ricoeur's work on ethics, morality, and just institutions.  It is when we stand by our actions that we are considered as responsible agents for our actions.  It is when we say: This is where I stand, that we are held accountable for our actions and considered worthy of praise or blame, even when we are overwhelmed by coercion or passion.  This is a movement from description to prescription.[3]  We are compelled to go beyond a description of what Janie's life was, namely, a combination of discordant and concordant events and actions and attest to whether or not she led a good life.  We question: Should Janie be assigned accountability for the parts of her life that appeared discordant?  Should she be held answerable for her life even amid the years that she was inactive, living as the patient of actions done to her?  And if Janie's life-story ended after the death of her second husband, Joe, would we consider her life to be unified and complete?  It seems that we are struggling against both the loss of responsibility and the accusing extra finger  that Lucille Clifton describes in it was a dream:

                        it was a dream

 

                        in which my greater self

                        rose up before me

                        accusing me of my life

                        with her extra finger

                        whirling in a gyre of rage

                        at what my days had come to. 

                        what,

                        i pleaded with her, could i do,

                        oh what could i have done?

                        and she twisted her wild hair

                        and sparked her wild eyes

                        and screamed as long as

                        i could hear her

                        This.  This.  This.

                                    — Lucille Clifton

The reflection found within Clifton's poem fills us with the greatest anguish after one has lived a complete life.  Ricoeur sees the subject as caught up in time in which she aims toward a good life over time.  Such subjectivity can avoid despair precisely because over time the attesting subject is creating unity.  It is through the configuration of a complete life, envisioned as a lived unity that one is released from the reproach of the extra finger and still attests to having acted as one's narrative life recalls.  Everyone enters life decisions from a certain perspective and past history.  With this in mind, each person's ethical life is considered as a life of unity.  The life of unity may contain some falling graces, but along with the fall is the challenge and the overcoming of the challenge.  It is within this narrative unity that one is able to bear witness for one's life and attest at the end of one's life: This is where I stand, and I stand by my actions.  But even before the end, even in the midst of passivity, one still finds oneself.

            In choosing where one stands, should ethics or morality take priority?  For Ricoeur, ethics with its Aristotelian heritage is a teleological pursuit after the good which is the aim of ethical action, which creates the possibility of a future.  The ethical intention is aiming at the good life with and for others in just institutions (cf 172).  Morality, in the Kantian sense, is the  "obligation [and duty] to respect the norm" (170).[4]  This obligation requires that we remain strictly obedient to the norm even amid conflicts between the moral norm and one's ethical aim.  It is through selfhood that we choose what is the good life, and it is through our sameness with the world-community we share that one is obligated to look for some universal norms in order to live with others. 

            Based on Ricoeur's interpretation of Kant's morality, it appears that Kant provides an answer to moral dilemmas that the idem-identity may confront; however, Kant fails to speak to the ethico-moral struggles within the ipse-identity.  In failing to speak to our ipse-identity, Kant has produced a humanity which is merely a "multiplicity of persons"–void of identity (223).  Ricoeur, however, considers the aim of ethics to precede normative morality.  Kant's fixed duty view of morality is reducible to a list of "does" and "don'ts."[5]  This normative list is removed from life as a lived experience.  The ethical person for Ricoeur is not someone who has in each instance "done the right thing," but instead the ethical character is the one who is capable of aiming at the good life  even while deviating from moral norms of universality and consistency.  Although morality, for Ricoeur, is limited, it is still necessary for actualizing the ethical aim.  It is in this sense that morality is contained within ethics (170). 

            Ricoeur's aim at the good life  may appear relativistic to many people; however, it is important to remember that the human subject  as noesis  is aiming at some content, noema, the content of which is born along in the flux of consciousness; there is a noema, i.e. the aim of any intentional act, for each noesis, intentional act.  One's ethical life could be lived only one way, and that way is, simply, with the intentional act of noesis  aiming toward the noema.  Ricoeur's aim at the good life is also flexible to a diversity of life beginnings.  Ethics, for Ricoeur, doesn't seem to necessitate that each of us enter life with the same experiences or the same potentials.  Instead, we are simply asked to struggle with our lives, to be driven toward the noema,  as toward the good and to live with others within just institutions using morality as a check and norm for our actions.

            Ricoeur also addresses a concern that is typical of the hermeneutical circle when he questions what kind of verification we can expect from an ethical view that is interested in the ethical unity of a person rather than in the strict duty criterion suggested by Kant.  The opinion that other people may have of one's ethical choice will be at best reduced to the conclusion that the ethical agent is possibly right in her action since we are dealing with experiential evidence.  I chose to act well in the estimation of living well; I stand there down the road of the future, thus attestation is involved (180).  Attestation is a witnessing that is performed by the ethical person who necessarily seeks the good life and who therefore stands by the secondary choices which "nest" in her primary choice and is capable of estimating what ought to be done.  The final choice is not free but allows for freedom.  And the intermediate choices cannot be proven correct; however, based on the phronimos [person of practical wisdom] and her ability to engage in phronesis [practical wisdom] one decision may be more credible than another.  When the person of practical wisdom makes a promise that reaches into the future, she takes hold of her past, and she embraces the uncomfortable realization that "all is not clear"–that in fact, "I could be wrong."  But yet, "Here I stand."

          In his embracing of the idea of aiming at the good life, Ricoeur agrees with Aristotle in that the end of an action is not what validates the action since the end of an action may be out of our control while the means by which we act are within our control (174).  Thus none of us can avoid seeking the good or the good life.  However, on a more practical plane Ricoeur holds that we ought to make present an end that is in the future by standing by it, by directing our life towards it.  At this point Ricoeur is referring to what we do in practice.  Ricoeur is suggesting that we apply a "nesting of finalities" to ends that are found within the choices of practice  (178).  Janie, for example, decides to abandon Eatonville and venture after her  dreams, leaving her community rootless; since it was her husband Joe, as Mayor, who formed the foundation of the town.  If one only looks at the command that one ought to have commitment to one's community, this appears to be the wrong decision.  But what do we do when our community doesn't deserve respect and we have no reason to form a commitment to it?  Should Janie abandon her dreams and remain in Eatonville for the sake of commitment to her community–a community who will not help her further her ethical pursuit?  Normative morality seems to prescribe such an action.  Ricoeur's "nesting of finalities" considers Janie's ethical decision as intertwining what she holds as her ethical aim , with a configuration of who she is and who her community is.  If she considers this example from a clear duty perspective, she will consider it to be her duty to remain in Eatonville for the rest of her life and remain a part of the community.  However, the end that will result will be disastrous if she remains in Eatonville.  Janie's departure from Eatonville frees her and allows her to pursue her ethical aim toward a life of love.  Her ethical unity is able to remain intact with this decision.  However with the decision that was purely interested in the means, without any consideration of the end, Janie would have had a limited life within a community which would indefinitely restrain her from the secondary choices involved in her fundamental ethical pursuit after the good life. 

           Still, if Janie is to pursue her ethical aim, she must engage in a life with other people.  The good life is inevitably, descriptively, with others.  In order to bring the good life  down from abstraction a life with others must be present.  This life is present for Janie as her ethical aim is principally directed toward a healthy inter-personal relationship with Tea Cake.  Through Ricoeur's use of the term solicitude, one is able to see how Janie is able to aim toward the good life with and for others.  As Janie understands, we need others in order to live a good life and descriptively we are  those others who are with us  in the world.  It is in needing others that we are taught their irreplaceability, hence the title Oneself As Another.  And it is in their needing us that we understand the call for mutuality involved in our relationships with others. 

          According to Levinas the other is placed at a height beyond and above oneself.  In fact, Levinas reverses the statement, "no other-than-self without a self" to read, "no self without another who summons it to responsibility" (187).  Ricoeur corrects what he sees as a weakness in Levinas' thought; he claims that Levinas does not take account of the other as passive, as a person from whom I must receive.  The passive person is present when deterioration sets in and the other-than-self is no longer capable of caring for himself or when I am beset by the same passivity.  When Tea Cake is suffering from the condition in which the rabid dog had left him, he entered a passive state that called for help.  On the surface help could only enter as an unequal act of kindness–an apparent lack of mutuality.  If Levinas has indeed dismissed the necessity of my passivity in accepting help from the other, then there can be no account for service of the other to me.  Service done to others, which Levinas emphasizes, allows us to reach mutuality from another angle.  Mutuality enters into the passive-active friendship through the benefits that one offering service receives from the one accepting service and, in the same act, the reverse.  Although Janie wasn't able to save Tea Cake from his sickness, she was there with him.  She offered him care during a time when he offered her no support, and in fact, he endangered her life.  Still Janie remained with Tea Cake even through the most difficult time in his life. 

            For Ricoeur, solicitude must surpass Kant's obligation to duty and become benevolent spontaneity.  For Levinas it is when the other breaks into my thoughts (spontaneously) that I am called to benevolence.  The other is located, for Levinas, at a height above oneself.  It is at the height of the other that the realm of ethics is located for Levinas.  In spite of this height and sometimes because the other seems so far above me and so demanding, at times, I am able to resist the call of the other or when the other enters into the realm of love.  Ricoeur agrees with Levinas to this point, but adds that there are times when we act without the call of the other.  Levinas considers the primary ethical call to come from the height of the other, in contrast to interpersonal relationships based on mutuality.  Interpersonal relationships, although they do contain within them ethical dilemmas, have their foundation in love, sexual attractions, past histories, and many other forms of partial affection.  For Ricoeur, partial affections are part of who we are and are also included in ethics.  Ricoeur accepts that there is an ethical dimension to relating to someone whom you have never met before and being compelled to help him live a better life.  But there is also an ethical dimension, for Ricoeur, in being affected by the people who make-up our inter-personal relationships, the people whom we experience face-to-face for mutuality is itself a demand.  The problem with solicitude  is that it can vary with feelings, such as compassion or remorse or empathy.  What then is the ethical demand?  Where does the agent stand over time?  Although the feeling may or may not be present, the ethical demand will always be present.        

            For Ricoeur although there is an ethical demand within solicitude especially in the promise, the demand extends beyond our face-to-face experiences with others, beyond oneself as the other I see before me.  The ethical demand reaches-out to those nameless faces that I don't see but still hear.  It is within just institutions  that I hear those voices and respond to their call.  I hear their voices out of the past and present of the customary morality.  I look to their future by trying to insure that the others will be safe long beyond my death. 

            Within just institutions there is a mediation between solicitude and institutional decisions which encrust my ethical aim at the good life with and for all the others, those who are faceless and those who are not.  Institutional decisions call for norms, customs, and rules of command that resemble Kant's morality.  Within just institutions rules of command prescribed by the multitude of other people in the world are balanced with the call to solicitude  for another.  Just institutions call us to form a balance between rules of command such as: Thou shall not kill (in any circumstance) and a world view that takes into account a diversity of situations and people.  This diversity allows for discordance and the formation of ethics which will take account of a diversity of situations and people.

            In  just institutions, the subject both finds that she sees the aim of ethics taking on permanence but also finds the universal norms.  Like the surgeon, the subject finds a ready-made series of demands built into the profession, but the way she or he takes on these obligations attests to the presence of the other.  In just institutions we must claim our actions and attest to having done them. It is within this act of attestation that responsibility for one's choice and action is accounted for.  Attestation recaptures the permanence in time within just institutions that is founded in customs, norms, and rules of command.  This permanence in time is lost when discordance enters with the diversity of people and situations that might alter one's ethical choice.  Through attestation, the human subject recaptures the lost permanence in time when she assigns responsibility to herself and claims her actions.  This is done when she tells her story and explains her actions, or at least says, "I was there and I am still there." 

            After Janie killed Tea Cake she did not evade the repercussions of her action and claim that she really  didn't kill him.  Hurston describes how Janie stood firm in the role of attestation and explained her choice to kill Tea Cake in front of twelve white men:

 

            He had to die to get rid of the dog.  But she hadn't wanted to kill him.  A man is up        against a hard game when he must die to beat it.  She made them see how she       couldn't ever want to be rid of him.  She didn't plead to anybody.  She just sat       there and told and when she was through she hushed (178).

She was aware of what she had done and there was no reason to deny that she had killed Tea Cake, but the story wouldn't be complete if we didn't know why she killed Tea Cake, how much she loved him, and what a struggle it was for her to kill him.  And at the end, when she had finished saying how and why Tea Cake was killed, she hushed and was prepared to take any punishment that the twelve men would assign to her.  The only thing that she feared was being misunderstood.  The jury found that Janie was not guilty of committing a "cold blooded murder" and she was free. 

            In Aiming toward the good life with and for others in just institutions we engage in an ethics that is always an approximation of aiming toward a good.  This good is brought down from abstraction through living with others in solicitous  inter-personal relationships.  The inter-personal relationships are expanded to just institutions where we are called to mediate between the norms and customs of a society of nameless faces and solicitous inter-personal relationships.  Upon the formation of aiming toward a good life with and for others in just institutions the human subject is called to bear witness for his actions and to stand firm in saying, "This is where I stand within this just institution." 

 

            C. Janie's Self:

            The self of Janie is a configuration of concordant and discordant events and actions.   She enters life taught nothing but obedience and submission to men, but transforms into a person who is "her own woman."  There are times when she regresses to her original state of submission, but overall, she is aiming toward a life that she can call her own.  She wants to share this life with another person and makes her third attempt at marriage (which is finally successful).

            Janie is primarily aiming toward a close inter-personal relationship with another.  She isn't concerned with the problems of the nameless faces, but she focuses on those whom she encounters face-to-face.  But when Tea Cake, the one whom Janie is most devoted to, becomes insane and attempts to kill her, she enters the realm of just institutions.  She is forced to consider the moral dimension of her possible action; she is forced to consider the command that has been upheld through-out time by the faceless masses: Thou shall not kill, aiming as they all are at the good life. 

            Should Janie choose to uphold her ethical pursuit and preserve herself?  If Tea Cake was himself and realized what he was doing, Janie is certain that he would prefer that she kill him rather than allow him to take her life.  She is torn between the moral command prohibiting her from killing anyone and her solicitous relationship with Tea Cake which demands that she stop him before his actions hurt her. 

            Janie's narrative unity remains intact with this act.  She remained devoted to her ethical aim: finding love within marriage.  And in this case, the greatest love that she could have shown Tea Cake is to take his life before he took hers. And she remains the strong woman that Phoeby saw even before Janie left Eatonville.  Her choice places her outside the boundaries of the moral norm, but she claims her actions and attests to her position within this just institution.

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix to the Method:

            It is not imperative that the reader understands each point in this appendix.  In fact, the thesis is complete without it.  This appendix is meant to serve as background material to Ricoeur's work on hermeneutics and phenomenology.  Since hermeneutics and phenomenology in combination form the method that Ricoeur uses in his work, they are relevant to Ricoeur's work on identity.  Still, my thesis is not focused on the method, but rather on the practice of the method.

            The method that Ricoeur uses to reach the supremely ethical act employs the structure of intentionality, scil., the noesis reaching toward a noema is accomplished through the combination of phenomenology and hermeneutics.  The noesis is the actual process of reaching-out toward a noema.  There exists an intuition where intentionality as noesis reaches the fullness of content; it reaches the noema.  This intentionality is the noesis  aiming toward some object as having meaning.

            Hermeneutics and phenomenology are interconnected and interdependent.  While the mission of hermeneutics is to obtain meaning, the role of phenomenology is to describe the phenomena that are present in the world.  Hermeneutics is constructed from the base of phenomenology and in this sense "phenomenology remains the unsurpassable presupposition of hermeneutics."  Conversely, phenomenology is equally dependent on hermeneutics; for phenomenology cannot establish itself without a "hermeneutical presupposition" (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 101).  Without phenomenology [description] there can be no practice of hermeneutics, and at the same time, without hermeneutics [meaning] phenomenology has no point.  As phenomenology attempts to complete its project, the role of Auslegung [explanation] is linked to hermeneutical responsibility (101).  The two have a common goal: "founding" meaning.

            The precise project of Phenomenology, for Merleau-Ponty, is to define the essence of things (vii).  This process of defining the essence of something is not through explanation or analysis, but rather, it is accomplished through honest description.  This description is completed through an individual's "particular point of view" (viii).  However, the subject matter is "not constructed or formed;" it is, strictly speaking, described (x).  In looking for the world's essence we are looking at "what it is as a fact for us" (xv).  It is important to note that this description, although it does include the individual's point of view, is not constructing the world ex nihil – the world is already there.

            The major themes of phenomenology for Husserl as well as for Merleau-Ponty are in the Lebenswelt [life world].[6]  The world itself has a bracketed existence (Merleau-Ponty vii), meaning that all discussions on the actual existence of things described are inappropriate at this particular time and would only lead us away from the assigned task.  According to Merleau-Ponty's understanding of Husserl, we must pass through "the fact of our existence to its nature, from the Dasein to the Wesen" (xiv).

            Merleau-Ponty's world under the influence of phenomenology's bracketed existence avoids all questions of existence.  For Merleau-Ponty, "the world is not what I think, but what I live through" (xvii).  The eidetic method is a form of phenomenological positivism; it "bases the possible on the real" (Merleau-Ponty xvii).  The world is not simply what I think it is, but rather the world is what it is.  It is impossible to completely release ourselves from our relationship to, and dependence on, the world.  In this sense, we can never have a complete reduction (xiv), because the world remains present when we put it in brackets.  Merleau-Ponty's following claim clarifies the dependence that we have on the world, as our source of truth: "We are in the realm of truth and it is 'the experience of truth' which is self-evident" (xvi).  Truth is found within the experience of our 'world as lived through'.  From this point of view not only is reduction impossible, but it is also unwanted.  In fact, if the reduction would be complete, truth would not be made self-evident through the experiences of the world. 

            Coherence is the test for Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology.  Coherence refers to the phenomena: when a story hangs together.  The story may be absurd, but if it exhibits unity then it is an example of coherence.  We all live in coherent worlds.  There are times when an individual's 'world as lived through' is crazy, but it is real to the individual who is experiencing it, and while the individual is experiencing his 'world as lived through' his world has coherence.  We all live in a Lebenswelt of coherence.  Rationality, on the other hand, is not always present in our Lebenswelt; in fact, it rarely is.  Rationality demands that certain actions must logically achieve certain ends.  A counter-example of rationality is found in McCarthyism.  Notice that in the McCarthyism example, although it is not rational, it does cohere though the example seems inane.  Imagine the normal daily routine: I turn off the alarm, toast a piece of bread, and role up the newspaper on my way off to work, only to be stopped by government officials declaring a warrant for my arrest.  I have just been accused of being a communist.  I have been living in this land of the free all of my life, but today I am summoned to appear before public officials, who will accuse me of being something that our nation hates.  All of this because I named my dog Sputnik.[7]   During the McCarthy era people were taught through propaganda to hate communism, so that the American people could hate the Russians.  Men and women were pulled from their homes, places of employment and accused of communism.  These accusations generally had no evidence to substantiate them—nothing that necessarily joined the individual's lifestyle to a lifestyle of communism. 

            Another counter-example to rationality and example of coherence is the life of a Japanese-American living in America during World War II.  Imagine being a Japanese-American; one day they were Americans living free in America; the next, they were Japanese sympathizers, behind wire fences, held [hostage] in concentration camps. 

            In both of the above examples, people's lives were turned upside down, for no predictable reason.  What they knew of reality in the past wouldn't have prescribed the experiences that they were encountering in the present.  What they experienced didn't make logical sense, and the experience was not rational.  But both of the experiences showed coherence.  Coherence for both Merleau-Ponty and Husserl emerges out of a horizon where perceptions fit together.  In order for coherence to take place perceptions must confirm one another.  Coherence of perceptions is measured through the disclosure of experience.  Finally, when different perspectives blend together meaning emerges from the horizon (Merleau-Ponty xix). 

            Phenomenology and hermeneutics, in combination are an attempt to describe the phenomena within the world and to give meaning to that phenomena.  This is accomplished through the reaching out [noesis] toward the phenomena [noema].  This intentionality is never completely accomplished since we enter the phenomenological and hermeneutical task with limits.  The essence of the thing described is always from the individual's point of view, yet description and meaning is not constructed from the individual's imagination; the actual description and meaning are found within the thing itself, which is already there within the world which is already there.  Through description of experiences found within the Lebenswelt  coherence is located within the unity of that experience.  Rationality, conversely, has more stringent requirements for "making sense."

 

            A.  The Problem with the Method:

            Husserl's presentation of phenomenology, in light of the Ideen, introduces a serious problem for hermeneutics.  Since phenomenology is interconnected with hermeneutics, for Ricoeur, the problem for hermeneutics is also a problem for phenomenology.  Ricoeur describes the problem by reference to five idealistic premises found in Husserl's Nachwort to the Ideen. 

            For Husserl, justification within phenomenology is Selbst-Begrundung [self-grounding]; there are paths toward the beginning which are without presuppositions (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 103).  This form of justification requires a foundation that is proved correct in itself and by itself, in order that it be self-grounding.  The "ideal of scientificity," that Husserl is suggesting, presents a problem for hermeneutics since phenomenology under the constraint of science is unable to complete the "ontological condition of understanding" (105).  The ontological understanding is lost because the independence of the subject and object creates a relationship of distance rather than a relationship of "belonging" which the noesis-noema relationship necessitates[8] (cf. 105).

            The second idealistic premise states that intuition is the foundation of phenomenology.  The Erfahrungsfeld [field of experience] is the image that intuition is thought to engage in.  For Husserl, "the principle is a 'field' and the first truth an 'experience'."  Intuition acts as the seer of 'experience' and is thus able to answer all questions within the 'field' (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 103).  The problem enters when hermeneutics admits that the individual does not see the complete Erfahrungsfeld.  We enter the world of experience with limits; we are always missing part of the conversation or image.  We are limited by the fact that the field of experience is temporally horizontal, and we are always excluded from viewing the past field that we just missed and the future field which we have passed by.

            The primary idealistic thesis, according to Ricoeur, is that "all transcendence is doubtful[9]; immanence is indubitable" (Hermeneutics 103).  Being outside of subjectivity is uncertain; while, staying within consciousness and subjectivity is certain.  Since "transcendence" operates through Abschattungen [profiles], the combination of profiles within the world can produce discordance of parts.  Thus, the "destruction of the world" is possible.  Immanence does not produce profiles; but rather, immanence produces reflection based on what was experienced (103).  The primary problem as Ricoeur states is that "the ruses of self-consciousness are more subtle than those of the thing."  This precise problem is addressed in Heidegger's work when he asks the question: "Who is Dasein?"  According to Heidegger, "Perhaps when Dasein addresses itself in the way which is closest to itself, it always says 'I am this entity', and in the long run says this loudest when it is 'not' this entity" (109).  The point being, it is conceivable that we are the deceivers, that entities themselves have no reason to deceive, but we gain domination and power over others by the deceptions of our communication (cf. 110).

            For the purpose of coming to the pure noema through noesis, the fourth idealistic premise requires that phenomenology place all questions of existence and attachment of attributes in brackets.  The questions within the brackets are considered inappropriate questions for phenomenology.  The fourth idealistic premise is trying to let go of the world through a reduction of it.  Only through the loss of the world is the world "revealed as 'pre-given'."  The problem is that we never really can let go of the world.  When we put the world in brackets, it still remains.  Phenomenological reduction is aiming at eliminating all other meaning in a text in order that the "pure" intent of the author is made evident.  This requires that the author herself is introduced.  Ricoeur concludes, "thus the phenomenological radicality, which severs the transcendental subjectivity from the empirical self, is the same as the radicality which transforms the Seinsglaube [belief in being] into the noematic correlate of the noesis."[10]  Phenomenology, under the constraints of Idealism, is reduced to the psychological (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 104).  Thus the current question is: What did the author intend to say, rather than, what is the text describing?

            The final idealistic premise, for Husserl, considers reflection as the "immediately self-responsible act" and is thus the supremely ethical act (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 104).  Husserl places the content of the "natural attitude" in brackets.  Letting go of that "natural attitude" is essential to the ethical act of reflection.  Ultimate responsibility of the self is gained with the abandonment of the "natural attitude."  No outside force can justify the foundational act, since only the self is responsible for actions.  Reflection is "self-positing" and so it is "self-responsible."  When the reflecting subject breaks away from the "natural attitude," action is both epistemological and ethical.  This "self-positing," "self-responsible," "self-assertive" subject is the "philosophizing subject" (105).  This presents a problem for hermeneutics in that the subject is now considered a new master of the text rather than a "disciple of the text" (113).

 

            B.  The Resolution of the Problem:

            Through Ricoeur's critique of the idealistic account of phenomenology, a greater understanding of both hermeneutics and phenomenology is realized.  The point of this critique is to preserve the place of hermeneutics in a phenomenology that requires its presence. 

            Hermeneutics responds to the idealistic account of justification by promoting the concept of "belonging."  The unity of meaning found in the noesis-noema relationship poses a problem for the idealistic account of knowledge which will promote the "ideal of scientificity" found in the subject-object relationship.  The relationship between the subject and the object includes both the "allegedly autonomous subject and the allegedly adverse object."  But inclusion, on the contrary, is what Ricoeur refers to as "belonging."  "Belonging" is actualized through the connectedness of the noesis-noema relationship, but it is void in the subject-object relationship.  The "ontological priority of belonging" demands that the necessity of the presuppositionless foundation no longer constitute ultimate justification (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 105).

            For Ricoeur, all understanding is mediated by interpretation; thus, even intuition is mediated by interpretation (Hermeneutics 106).  Complete foundation is impossible in hermeneutics because of the hermeneutical circle.  The interpreter is always caught in the middle of conversation.  The interpreter already has a "pre-understanding" before the text is introduced.  Since we are never present at the foundation of the Erfahrungsfeld we are not able to use our intuition as the founding principle to a phenomenological pursuit.  There is a complete history that is impossible for us to understand within a glance—within the single vision of intuition.  Explication, however, extends beyond a given field of vision, "coinciding with the broadest historical connection" (108).  For Ricoeur, "the key hypothesis of hermeneutic philosophy is that interpretation is an open process which no single vision can conclude" (109).

            Ricoeur critiques Husserl's third idealistic premise, emphasizing the importance of distanciation and belonging.  The connection between distanciation and belonging is that "distanciation is a moment of belonging" (Hermeneutics 111).  Although the noesis and noema are always conjoined, distanciation is such that it can never overcome separation.  Ricoeur refers to distanciation as the "dialectical counterpart of the notion of belonging" (110).  "We belong to an historical tradition through a relation of distance" that ranges from what is near to what is far.  "To interpret is to render near what is far (temporally, geographically, culturally, spiritually)" (110-111).  Through "textual exegesis" and this "critique of ideology" understanding progresses to interpretation (111). 

            Clearly, the purpose of hermeneutics is to "discern the 'matter' of the text (Gadamer) and not the psychology of the author."  The meaning of the text stands alone, without the ambiguous intention of the author to change it.  Once the text is released from the author, hermeneutics is free to see the world as the text reveals it (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 111).  Thus the task of hermeneutics is not directed toward the "psychological intentions which are hidden beneath the text, but rather as the explication of the being-in-the-world" shown in the text.  The purpose is not to reveal the subjectivity behind the text; but rather, the purpose is to see the world as the text reveals it.  The world is revealed through the process of reaching out toward the noema, through the process of intentionality as noesis (112).

            Subjectivity is not the founding character of understanding; it is the final character of understanding.  Subjectivity does not initiate consciousness or understanding; however, it does complete it (Ricoeur Hermeneutics 112).  Ricoeur requires that the reader be held subject to the text prior to allowing subjectivity to enter the process of understanding.  "To understand oneself is to understand oneself in front of the text" (113).  Clearly the text must be understood prior to subjective interpretation.  Appropriation is to "make what was alien become one's own."  With the introduction of appropriation, we must also consider disappropriation, so that we might "let the matter of the text be."  In addition to appropriation and disappropriation, the "distanciation of self from itself" allows for the critical point in understanding where the "ruin of the ego's  pretension" allows me to become a "disciple  of the text" rather than a master of the text (113). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Hurston, Zora Neale.  Their Eyes Were Watching God.  New York: Harper and Row, 1990.

Merleau-Ponty, M.  Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  New York: The          Humanities Press, 1962.

Ricoeur, Paul.  Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences.  Thompson, John, ed. and trans.            New York: Cambridge University, 1981.

---.  Oneself As Another.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.



[1]The noema is the aim toward which the noesis as intentionality is directed.  It indicates what I am focusing on in my awareness.  A further explanation of the relationship between noema and noesis can be found on page 31 in the appendix. 

[2]Emplotment is used by Ricoeur to designate the way that the plot line of any story incorporates expected and surprising elements into one story that overall makes sense.

[3]Ricoeur rejects the dichotomy between description and prescription which was thought to exist since Hume.  For Ricoeur, within description there is always a prescription (169).  I can describe the following scene in Their Eyes Where Watching God: upon the grand opening of the new store in Eatonville, Janie was requested to make a speech after her husband, Joe, was chosen as mayor of the town.  Before Janie could say a word, Joe told the crowd that Janie wasn't an impressive speaker (40).  Within this incomplete description of action there is already an implication of an ethical choice.  There is already a prescription for what ought to have been said, what ought to have been done, even though the reader is unaware of what preceded this particular description of action.  However, Ricoeur does not take into account that if I were to describe an event that I have no control over, such as the weather, or a thing, such as the book in front of me, then description does not imply prescription.  The connection between description and prescription is only necessary when we describe human actions in which Ricoeur is most interested.

[4]Morality, for Ricoeur, likewise will operate within the borrowed framework of the good life, solicitude, and the just institution.  But morality uses these three as basic characteristics for deriving universal norms.

[5]To use Heidegger's terminology, the duty that Kant describes is not possibility.  Morality has no freedom and is thus reducible to a list of commandments that must be actualized in order to offer everyone a basic level of self-respect.

[6]The "life world" is complete with all cultural aspects and human creations as well as human interactions and human emotions.

[7]This is a true story of a woman who is currently living in Athens, Greece.  The story actually took place in Greece, but could have just as well taken place in America, specifically during the McCarthy era. 

[8]  The relationship between belonging and the noesis-noema  relationship is my emphasis.  Ricoeur's point at this point is strictly concerned with establishing the loss of belonging with the introduction of the independent subject and object.

[9] At this point it is important to note that Husserl doesn't see transcendence as doubtful or not doubtful.  Husserl simply doesn't consider transcendence to be important in a discussion of meaning.  Transcendence as doubtful is Ricoeur's interpretation of Husserl. 

[10]Ricoeur is interpreting Husserl as separating the transcendental self from the empirical self.  It is debatable whether or not Husserl actually does this.