Beyond Subjectivity towards Inter-Subjectivity:
Grounding of Subaltern Life-world Consciousness

S. Lourdunathan
Arul Anandar College, Madurai 

Authentic intelligibility and accessibility to the sense of being (Dasein/there-being) in-scripted as fundamental ontology is the central concern of phenomenological tradition. The transcendental phenomenology of Husserl asserts that the meaning is essentially linked with (human) experience and it is authentically revealed in a mode of appearance that is devoid of any presuppositions. The making of sense (understanding/versant) devoid of any presuppositions, by way of consciously and continuously bracketing the ‘methods of both ontologism and positivism and historicism is then the mode by which ‘being-there’ reveals itself. The task then is a double reflective attempt (double positioning) by separation of the logos from –for is the arrival of foundational sense of being, in its own authentic subjectivity. This revelatory sensibility or the thinking/reflective activity is then characterised as a sense of from and towards simultaneously.

In practical terms, it is the sense of going beyond any pre-suppositional legacies as to capture the sense of being in its nakedness. It is a way of exposing the logo-constructs and accomplishment of the human subjectivity in its life relations. This is the way of leading away from the forms of mis-leadings to come to grip to originality. In the Heideggerian sense it is way of letting the consciousness to the original togetherness of thinking and questioning,’1 The phenomenological way namely ‘thinking itself enters afresh territories.2 This means phenomenological engagement on the question of life-world consciousness [of there-being or the sense of being (Sinn)] is not thinking differently or even alternately but thinking new, the thinking phenomenologically.

To be conscious of the subaltern life-world and to respond to it proactively, I belief, is the way of doing phenomenological engagement most relevantly. The term relevance here is meant the combination of both of philosophical and social. My immediate questions include: Has phenomenological inquiry anything to do with the life-world of the subaltern and if it has anything to do with the life-world of the subaltern, how or in what manner such phenomenological-doing is possible and if it is possible, what is the purpose of its possibility? 

The very naming ‘subaltern’ preconditions a positions that there is something ‘altern’, something eidetic or something of an essence towards or against which the ‘subaltern’ has to be conceived. Should not phenomenology if it is meant to be the way(s) reflecting/becoming conscious of/restoring the origin of the origin, the true nature, then the ‘description’ subaltern itself needs to be bracketed and this simultaneously implies the bracketing of what has been preconditioned as pure essence in favour of restoring the subaltern for its own sake. The term life-world has its roots in phenomenological traditions. It is not the sense of individual consciousness but collective consciousness. The subaltern consciousness is hence collective enhanced by collective memory and seeking empowerment towards a freedom of the boundaries of consciousness. It is a freedom consciousness, or a free-from consciousness. It is not the way letting oneself to think through the pre-established noematic consciousness rather it seeks its own collective selves’ consciousness both in terms of subjectivity and Intersubjctivity.

Carving so, projects the possibilities of the following considerations in this paper as follows: To think the very thinking, in the spirit of phenomenology, if it means to render the question of the subjectivity existence in terms of authenticity, then - how or in what manner such a phenomenological thinking engagement can be done with reference to the understanding of the subjectivity of the subaltern? How the double positioning of the Phenomenology of the Spirit of the subaltern systematically grounded? To what extent can we establish this phenomenological grounding on basis it provides with reference to the subaltern life-world consciousness? Is the ‘science’of phenomenology potential of the revelation of the subaltern consciousness towards the accomplishment of the subjectivity of the subaltern? What is the scope of such phenomenological engagement? How can we understand the sensibilities of the Subaltern existence?  What is the authenticity of the subaltern existence and how the subaltern reveals itself to re-affirm its existence? In other words how or in what manner can we have an intelligible accessibility to be conscious of the subaltern life world consciousness? 

Instantiation of the Subaltern Life-world Consciousness: Chennai Floods remains a tragedy. Contesting positions/responses were staged through mass media whether the cause of it is natural or non-natural or both. Including this there has been a report in the mass media by intersecting both natural and non-natural reasons (logos) such as natural disaster, non-natural, extreme modernism, politics of the political parties, Casteism etc. A survey reveals that around 90 % of the houses, livestock and crops destroyed in Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu belong to the Dalits. One of the reasons for the acute damage is that the schedule castes are mostly living either on the edge or close to the river on the low-lying areas. The survey also reveals that people from the dominant caste blocked clean water access for the poor and Dalits. If Chennai Floods traded as signification of the multiples voices of the subaltern, the question of subaltern gains momentum for a phenomenological rendering. Nature and by extension, the affected people as subaltern there arises the layers of logos (historicism and cultrualism) that construe/conceal the truth of authentic or inauthentic of existence from whose stand point the consciousness of the subaltern and their life world be perceived. The hierarchical cum value-binaries is the philosophical presumptions on whose axis the phenomenological exploration be exercised to accomplish the sense of subjectivity of the subaltern. The bench mark of phenomenological analysis is then the foregrounding of dominant4 perceptions of life-world in terms of that of pre-modem or modern as to enable of the consciousness of the subaltern life world. But then phenomenological rendering if it has to be double positioned analysis, has to move beyond the exercise exploring the levels of consciousness towards the consciousness of the pure subjectivity. If so, - what are the layers of consciousness by which this restoration or revelations of the subjectivity of the subaltern, - calls for philosophical analysis.

When talking about subaltern, perhaps we are ‘always’ bear in mind that we are talking of/for others. The fundamental question is then who is that ‘we’ taking of/for others and who are those ‘others’ to whom we claim to talk of/for? We seem to be talking about the other, and the otherness of the other. This means already a pre-closure of our own subjectivity is presupposed and ‘we’ pretend to speak about otherness. This is problematic. Retaining one’s construed subjectivity or self/social imposed subjectivity, and to speak of/for otherness of the other remains to be philosophically problematic in the sense of not knowing the other minds or knowing the other mind in the way I know my mind.  How can we do the phenomenological engagement here?

The Kantian view that we have access to phenomena or appearance but not to things in themselves, and the Husserl’s idea that objects must be constituted by some layers of consciousness, though can be contested they project the possibility of ‘disembodied consciousness’ that somehow constructs the world it perceives. Within the subaltern life world, can this position be treated epistemological sound? Departing from Husserl, The paper argues that these ‘sensibilities of what is construed as disembodied consciousness might play vital role in the mystification of the subaltern consciousness towards its authenticity. “In Search of Subaltern Consciousness” starts from the undeniable truth that the representation of self and the Other-selves (often now referred to as “subaltern”) is always a mediated, partial, and imaginative, dominant and mystifying constructions. 

From Phenomenology towards an epistemology of Liberation

When phenomenology is concerned with what appears and how through the layers of consciousness it appears from the backdrop of the ‘world’ and the system-being, the subaltern engagement begins from there but does not end up with that. It seeks for a sense of system-being to intersubjective being. If phenomenology can provide this nativity, capturing its sensibility is important to begin with. The subaltern as the other is not an appearance or mere phenomenon or an object but always held to be in metaphysical and cultural exteriority. This sensibility calls for continuous thinking and questioning. This is a moment away from non-proximity towards proximity. This sense of proximity of the subaltern, a sense of nearness of the other is at once a threat but challenging. The other is ‘the things and beings that constitute their [referring to man] environment are mediations, possibilities. When man acts, he does for a  project . This project determines the possibilities, mediations for its realization. That is, the man is as embattled by decisions to make, roads that open and close. Thus, the things and beings, nature, the world, are an environment in which man makes sense, it is here where makes his freedom. Subaltern consciousness is a freedom-consciousness; a freedom that is situated for human is always a ‘situated being in the world’. In the practical senses liberation consciousness of the subaltern is both a freedom from and a freedom to; freedom of the subordinated nature and the subjugated people. This liberative epistemological act calls for specific mediation on the part of the philosophical community from an ethical basis. "Liberation is not a phenomenal, intrasystemic action; liberation is the praxis that subverts the phenomenological and pierces into a metaphysical significance is the critical  total provisions, fixed, standardized, crystallized, and dead. Beyond phenomenology way will have the revelation of the other down her face. The release subverts the very phenomenological metaphysical transcendence toward criticizing everything set, being able to speak of an epistemology of liberation ethic, an ability towards voice/pain of the subalterns, rises from the layers of excluded periphery and accept their questing and thinking devoid of any absolutized/culturally standardised discretions. The subaltern other is the other in/for justice. For this what is required of is a sense of atheism of the system-being. Perhaps it is the death of the being of the centre and insurrectionary proximity-praxis of the Intersubjctivity of beings in simultaneous presence.

  1. Martin Heidegger, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Indiana University Press, 1994, p.x. 
  2. Ibid.xii.
  3. Phenomenology as a philosophical engagement is treated ‘science’ in the sense of providing foundations to all science by letting the science free from its presumptions. op.cit., p.10. 
  4. Domination is fore ground and the bench mark to ground the subaltern. Domination can be Philosophical and Practical. If it can be established both philosophically and practically then need for afresh sensibilities of the sense of being emerges. To this, the central task is that the philosophical (metaphysical) assumptions or layers needs to bracketed in order that the life world/consciousness of the subaltern may be intelligibly grasped.