Waldenfels’ Egocentric Reading of Rimbaud

Bernhard Waldenfels wrote Phenomenology of the Alien (Grundmotive einer Phänomenologie des Fremden) in 2006 and a translation into English was quickly made available by 2011. As the original title suggests, this work is a groundwork that lays out the basic motifs of a phenomenology that focuses specifically on the “alien” (Fremd). While the translators have rendered Fremd as “alien” according to the standards of Husserlian scholarship, it must be kept in mind that it could also mean stranger, foreign, or, at times, Other (although the translation of Fremd as Other will soon be complicated).

This work contains constant references to Waldenfels’ previous books. In the introduction, he correlates each chapter with some previous book that he has written (only one of which is available in English). The text is thus not only an outline of the basic motifs of a phenomenology of the alien, but also a survey of Waldenfels’ corpus. Given that Waldenfels is a scholar of Edmund Husserl, it is no surprise that Husserl’s name appears more frequently than any other in the book. What is surprising is that one of the other most mentioned names is that of the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Specifically, Waldenfels repeated refers to a line from a letter that Rimbaud wrote when he was 16. What does the gossip of a teenager have to do with transcendental phenomenological science? Waldenfels believes there is an important link and, while he may be right, he is right for the wrong reasons.

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