Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Touching: The researcher-as-author is challenged to construct a phenomenological text that brings us in touch with the phenomenological gaze.

 

The phenomenologist is a researcher, a seeker of meaning, someone who learns to “really” write in order to gain the experience of being in touch with something. One does research and writes to make contact, to achieve phenomenological intimacy with an object of interest. But at the moment when the writer senses that contact, when close in-touchness has been achieved, something strange may happen: it appears that this contact came from the outside. Rather than touching something with words, the writer feels as if being touched, an invitation as it were.

 

The power of phenomenological texts lies in a certain resonance that words can effect in our understanding, including those reaches of understanding that are somehow prediscursive and precognitive and thus less accessible to conceptual and intellectual thought. The creative contingent positioning of words may give rise to evoked images that can move us: inform us by forming us and thus leave an effect on us. When this happens, says Gadamer (1996), then language touches us in the soul. Or as Bachelard puts it, the reverberations bring about a change of being, of our personhood (1964, p. xviii). He says,

 

the image has touched the depths before it stirs the surface [of our being or self]. And this is also true of a simple experience of reading. The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes roots in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being. (1964, p. xix)

 

A phenomenologist does not present the reader with a conclusive argument or with a determinate set of ideas, essences, or insights. Instead, the he or she aims to be allusive by orienting the reader reflectively to that region of lived experience where the phenomenon dwells in recognizable form. More strongly put, the reader must become possessed by the allusive power of text-taken, touched, overcome by the epiphanic effect of its reflective engagement with lived experience. In this sense, we must become a reader of our own texts too. As writers, we know that we have achieved epiphany when we have managed to stir our own self. Of course, there is always the danger that we are merely enchanted by the superficial haunt of shallow sentimentality or catchy formulations; that is why it is good practice to check again the effect of the text several days after writing it. George Steiner puts it well when he says that “the genuine writer is a self-reader” (1989, p. 126). To write is to stir the self as reader.

 

A text which is thoughtful reflects on life while reflecting life. In thoughtful phenomenological texts, the distinction between poetic and narrative is hard to draw. Therefore, the human science researcher is not just a writer, someone who writes up the research report. Rather, the researcher is an author who writes from the midst of life experience where meanings resonate and reverberate with reflective being. The researcher-as-author is challenged to construct a phenomenological text that brings us in touch with the phenomenological gaze.