Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague

Conference | Paper

Between Radical Ambiguity and Dramatic Finitude: Subject and Subjectivity in Jan Patočka's Thought

Lorenzo Toro

Thursday 23 May 2024

09:00 - 09:45


The purpose of this contribution is to define the limits of a reconstructive interpretation – moving from its external boundaries, so negatively – of Jan Patočka's concept of subjectivity. In order to bring clarity to the diverse content associated with this theme, it is necessary to identify the edges of Patočka's concept of the subject through a dual movement of identification. The initial step will involve abandoning a static, manualistic, and stereotyped approach in favour of recovering a hermeneutic perspective that capable of identifying the intersections between the major themes of the Bohemian thinker's reflection: the project for a reform of phenomenology, his philosophy of history and Platonism. If every thematic approach to Patočka's work has necessarily to account for the fundamental convergence of these regions of his thought, it is clear that a reasoned reflection on the question of subjectivity must recognise its location at the intersection of these three trajectories: the Patočkian subject will thus be at once the 'dethroned' subject of asubjective phenomenology, the historical man facing and struggling with decline and the soul in need of cure. The second step, in order to mark the outer boundary of this still vague figure, will be to identify the thread that binds together, intersects and divides internally, the three crucial spheres. This unifying element should be identified, in my opinion, in ambiguity, which is the constitutive and inescapable suspension of the subject-soul between actuality and alterity. The incapacity of the Patočkian subject to peacefully maintain himself in the obliged balance between the phenomenal world and appearing as such, between the view into the domain of what appears and radical epoché, is based on the image of the Platonic soul's intermediate position between the world of beings and the realm of ideas – as presented in the Phaedo – and it is progressively translated into the radical dramaticity of human historical existence, which is poised between biological life and the domain of the spirit as well as between quotidianity and the struggle against decline. Therefore, the resulting scheme, the complexity of which alone is capable of rendering the depth and obscurity of the subjective dimension as conceived by Patočka, is a tripartite structure intersected and negatively delimited by the most radical condition of ambiguity, which gives to the subject thus conceived a paradoxical form.