Passive Voices (On the Subject of Phenomenology and Other Figures of Speech)

By Kristina Mendicino

Subjects: Phenomenology, Literary Theory, Continental Philosophy, Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Hardcover : 9781438491974, 305 pages, February 2023
Paperback : 9781438491967, 305 pages, August 2023

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Table of contents

Introduction: Principally Unprincipled; or, Speaking of “Beginnings”

1. “Self” -Citations in Husserl and Augustine

2. Provocations: “I,” Husserl, and the Passive Voices of Phenomenology

3. Parsing Pairing: George Bataille and the Scripts of Subjectivity

4. Writing Out of Sight: On the Papers and Traces of Kafka

5. Passive Voices: Echoes, Blanchot

Works Cited

Addresses the question of how language affects the subject of speech through readings of confessional, philosophical, and fictional writings.


At least since Aristotle's Peri hermeneias, there has been talk of the pathos of language, of language as "symbols of the affections in the soul." The way these affections are registered, however, suggests that they are themselves structured like language. For Aristotle and others, language is suffered before any sense can be voiced. The pathos of language thus becomes a question of how language affects the subject of speech and, in the last analysis, of how language could respond to these questions of language. Passive Voices (On the Subject of Phenomenology and Other Figures of Speech) approaches these questions, first, through readings of Augustine's investigations into language and mind and Edmund Husserl's descriptions of passive synthesis. It then traces the further resonance of Augustine's and Husserl's interventions in selected literary experiments by Georges Bataille, Franz Kafka, and Maurice Blanchot that recall Husserl and Augustine while exceeding the restrictive fictions of phenomenological "science." In drawing out the echoes that emerge across confessional, philosophical, and fictional writings, this book exposes the ways in which speech occurs in the passive voice and affects any claim to experience.

Kristina Mendico is Associate Professor of German Studies at Brown University. She is the author of Announcements: On Novelty, also published by SUNY Press, and Prophecies of Language: The Confusion of Tongues in German Romanticism.


"Well-researched and meticulously argued, Mendicino's book explores how even the most minimal, seemingly immediate experience of the self is marked, traversed by language, putting that very immediacy and everything that follows from it (not least the very notion of identity) into question." — Jan Plug, author of They Have All Been Healed: Reading Robert Walser

"Passive Voices is a beautiful, if not magisterial, study of the pathos of language in Edmund Husserl's phenomenology and several works of modern literature inspired by his philosophy. In exacting readings, Mendicino attends to the words and methods of phenomenology to call into question the concepts of subjectivity and givenness at the heart of this form of inquiry. The book is exhilarating to read in its precision, maturity, chiseled phrasing, and always incisive analysis." — Rochelle Tobias, author of Pseudo-Memoirs: Life and Its Imitation in Modern Fiction