Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Vocatio

The aim of the vocatio is to let things “speak” or be “heard” by bringing them into nearness through the vocative power of language.

 

The vocatio has to do with the recognition that a text can “speak” to us, that we may know ourselves addressed by it. There exists a relation between the semantic and other characteristics of a text and the voking effects that it may have on the reader and the writer. The more vocative a text, the more strongly the meaning is embedded within it, hence the more difficult to paraphrase or summarize the text and the phenomenological understandings embedded within it.

 

Heidegger used the notion of Befindlichkeit to refer to the felt sense that we have of ourselves in situations. Literally, Befindlichkeit means “the way one finds oneself” in the world. We have an implicit, felt or “pathic” understanding of ourselves in situations even though it is difficult sometimes to put that understanding into words. The therapist Eugene Gendlin suggests that this kind of understanding is not cognitive in the usual sense. “It is sensed or felt, rather than thought–and it may not even be sensed or felt directly with attention”. Our sense of the pathic in our own or in other people’s existence can become a topic for our phenomenological reflection. The methodological difficulty that this presents, however, is how to articulate or address this implicit “felt sense” in explicit, reflective and cognitive terms. Thus we may need to use both noncognitive and cognitive means in order to address pathic experience.

 

What is it about a text that enables it to express “ideas” (felt or noncognitive meaning) that cannot be communicated in the narrative prose of ordinary reports, scientific studies, etc.? Why is it that poetic meaning is difficult if not impossible to paraphrase? How is meaning captured by or embedded in poetic language? These concerns are methodologically relevant since they help us become attentive to what can ovten be important in phenomenological inquiry and phenomenological writing.

 

There are a number of vocative methods through which meaning can be cemented more firmly in text than it would be in ordinary expository prose: the methods of concreteness, intensification, tone, epiphany, and normativity. It hardly needs stating, however, that these methods are dimensions of writing and not techniques in an instrumental sense.

 

We can only see the effects of these methods by examing the same text from different perspectives. Any paragraph, any sentence may show the effects of these phenomenological writing methods.

 

Foucault says, “we have to listen to that what can teach us: the logos.” The voking act provides the possibility to “know one’s self”, not in the narrow sense of narcissistic self-examination but in the sense of discovering existential possibilities, what it is to be human, what lies at the heart of our being and personal identity. The “call” signifies that we need other selves, others, the Other, through whom and with whom we seek understanding.