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The Phenomenology of Sex, Love, and IntimacyReview - The Phenomenology of Sex, Love, and Intimacy
by Susi Ferrarello
Routledge, 2019
Review by Khashayar Boroomandjazi
Jul 23rd 2019 (Volume 23, Issue 30)

The concept of love has always been of interest to philosophers since the ancient times to the extent that philosophy itself in its beginning for Greeks has been conceived as a form of love. However, there is still a lot to do in this field, especially with respect to the relevant contemporary challenges like those related to gender problems and the so-called abnormal sexual behaviors. The Phenomenology of Sex, Love, and Intimacy is the recent book that Susi Ferrarello, professor of philosophy, has published, with concern with such issues, in order to "help the reader to reflect on love as an academic subject matter in its declensions of sex, intimacy and social love" (p. 4). It begins with an introduction which refers to what has brought the author to this topic, the complexity of the nature of love, the power of Husserlian phenomenology which helps us relate more appropriate to what other scientific inquiries have provided in this regard, and the pre-exhibition of the sections and the themes under consideration. The author, in approaching the topic and the arrangement of the book, takes into account the Greek classification of erotic, philic, and agapic types of love, though to me the presence of such distinction could be more prominent and detailed through the discussions in different chapters.

Chapter one discusses the theoretical foundations for the study of the phenomenon of love.  It revolves around the variations of the notion of intentionality in Husserl, in different periods of his thought, and brings to attention the Husserlian distinction between active and passive dimensions of consciousness, and the place of the so-called practical intentionality in this realm, which refers to the transitional moment that lets us "decide to validate or not our next move toward a new specific direction" (p. 11). Through the course of the book, the author makes use of this idea and its related themes repeatedly in order to carry out her investigation. Chapter two is directed to the analysis of human sexual life which is constituted, according to the author, through distinguishing natural and spiritual layers that give us the possibility of moving from the egoless instinctual realm of experience to the active level of the awakened stance-holding ego in our sexual relationships. Chapter three considers paraphilic sexual experiences, as what, though problematic, can give the person in a positive manner a more profound understanding of his human condition, if acknowledged properly in the movement from the passive to the active sphere. Chapter four demonstrates that the genuine love, in the active layer, as an enlightening developmental issue can be insightful about human nature, our personality and our connections with others, through the meaning-giving participation of the subject in the opened up spheres of intimacy. In the chapter five, the author develops the ideas explained previously with emphasis on the issue that intimacy is to be considered in different layers. While it is automatically "disclosed by spontaneous synthesis of egoless matter" (p. 76), out of our control, the possibility of the constructive reflective interpretation of the passive layer remains available for us. However, in the negative forms of the opened intimacy, for example in the cases of sexual violence, the procedure would not be trouble-free at all because of the inappropriate responses of the victims such as the defensive denial in such situations. Then she explores the issue of our sexual identity which is not to be regarded as rigid, but instead can become flexible through the active engagement with the passive-receptive dimensions of it. So it comes to the point that "our sexual identity will be an existential one: the fruit of a choice" (p. 83). The next chapter focuses on the phenomenon of jealousy. According to the author, though jealousy is primarily present on the instinctual layer, and so does not require an actual interpersonal connection in order to come into being, what affects one in this connection would demand the person to take up an interpretative position towards it at the higher level, whose acceptance is itself a matter of sociocultural patterns. Chapter five is mainly a reference to the intersubjective aspect of human life in its egoic and non-egoic layers, and the relationship between individuality and sociality with respect to the issue in question. In this context love plays the role of the cohesive cement for the social life that brings the subjects together while each individual can still keep its autonomy and even challenge the prevailing normal patterns in a community. The discussion is continued in the last chapter with focus on the gender issues. Here the author points to the unreliability of the distinction between normal and abnormal gender identity and the problems related to the moral differentiations in this regard such as the separation of the individuals from each other and from themselves. Calling attention to the source of normality in an "intersubjective and intercorporeal agreement" (p.150) in which our sense-giving activities is determinative, the book ends with the illumination of the personal role and responsibility of each of us in opening more freedom for human beings in this connection.

This book in general is interesting, helpful, and of use to a variety of groups from philosophy scholars to clinical professionals who are familiar in advance with the phenomenological language. What seems to me the most significant feature of the text is that it critically provokes the readers to find their place in questioning and reshaping responsibly the social sphere in which they live with respect to the issue of human sexuality. To make a suggestion at the end, the book can be further improved with the provision of an overall concluding chapter to round off the presented ideas, and with the inclusion of the topics such as asexual relationships, philautia, and the love of God and relevant mystical experiences like self-annihilation that is of remarkable importance in the discussions related to love in certain traditions.

 

© 2019 Khashayar Boroomandjazi

 

 Khashayar Boroomandjazi, Philosophy PhD


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