Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Literature, poetry, and art are sources of phenomenological insights


The human scientist likes to make use of the works of poets, authors, artists, cinematographers–because it is in this material that the human being can be found as situated person, and it is in this work that the variety and possibility of human experience may be found in condensed and transcended form. Phenomenology appeals to our immediate common experience in order to conduct a structural analysis of what is most common, most familiar, most self-evident to us. The aim is to construct an animating, evocative description (text) of human actions, behaviors, intentions, and experiences as we meet them in the lifeworld.


The Dutch phenomenological psychologist Buytendijk remarks that one can perhaps gain greater psychological insights from a great novelist such as Dostoevski than from the typical scholarly theories reported in psychological social science books and journals. The author, the poet, the artist transforms (fictionalizes, poetizes, re-shapes) ordinary human experience in infinite variety. But this does not mean that human science is to be confused with poetry, story, or art; or that poetry, story, or art could be seen as forms of human science.


Although literary narrative and human science narrative both find their fascination in situated life, in the situated human being, they locate their narratives in different starting points; they aspire to different epistemological ends. One difference is that phenomenology aims at making explicit and seeking universal meaning where poetry and literature remain implicit and particular. This may be the reason why many poets, authors, or artists do not want to have anything to do with those commentators who try to draw universal lessons from a certain poem, book, or painting. at any rate, the difference is partly that phenomenology operates with a different sense of directness. Linschoten pinpoints the geographical location of phenomenological human science when he says, “human science starts there where poetry has reached its end point.”