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Between Saying and Showing:
Reflections on Husserls Theory
of Occasional Expressions


Bernhard WALDENFELS
University of Bochum, Germany



I

At first sight the so-called occasional expressions play only a marginal
role within the framework of the First Logical Investigation.
1
The authors
main interest points in another direction. Husserl tries to clarify the status of
ideal, objective and fixed meaning which does not change from case to case
as the occasional meaning does. Nevertheless he discusses a set of indexical
expressions including personal pronouns, demonstratives, spatio-temporal
indices and every sort of self-referential speech. He has a lot to say about
this before coming to the conclusion that ideally speaking, each subjective
expression is replaceable by an objective expression (90/321). Obviously,
Husserls attempt to protect the specific character of meaning against the
danger of psychologism is based on distinctions like ideal versus factual,
permanent versus changing, solid or bounded versus fluent and objective
versus subjective. All these schemes are encumbered with metaphysical
burdens, and they need clarification themselves. Now it is well known that
Husserl does not hesitate to criticize his own tour de force, his Gewaltstreich.
As early as in the preface to the second edition of the Logical Investigations
he concedes that every empirical predication includes some occasional
meaning, and in his Crisis (Hua VI, 33) he makes it clear that even the
practice of science does not dispense with occasional statements which
belong to the equipment of practical everyday life.
It may be argued that Husserls self-criticism is not sufficient and that
more has to be done in order to deconstruct these fundamental ideas. There
are three prominent objections arising from different directions to mention.

1
See 2629. In the following text I shall quote from Niemeyer, Logische
Untersuchungen (Tbingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1980) followed by the English
translation by J. N. Findlay as Logical Investigations, Vol.II/1 (London: Routledge
and Paul, 1970); page numbers refer to this work without further specification.
K.-Y. Lau and J.J. Drummond (eds.), Husserls Logical Investigations in the New Century:
Western and Chinese Perspectives, 4351.
2007 Springer.

BERNHARD WALDENFELS

44
First, it could be claimed that Husserls theory of meaning has to be re-
embedded into the field of practice, on the lines of Heideggers Sein und
Zeit. Thus meaning (Bedeutung) would be tied up with significance
(Bedeutsamkeit) which for its part depends on our being in the world.
Secondly, one may stress that every sort of meaning is at least partly
constituted by linguistic rules and habits which cannot be reduced to the
sense-giving acts of a primary ego. Consequently, it is only within
communication that this ego would play a certain role. Such arguments bring
us directly into the whirlpool of analytical philosophy. Thirdly, one may join
Derridas attempt to deconstruct the vivid presence of the egos voice. One
could continue along these lines, or on the contrary, one might defend
Husserl by drawing upon the secret weapon of his posthumously published
writings. But I prefer another path. I shall discuss some special aspects of
Husserls early theory which, when compared with the principal thrust of
these early analyses, look like alien elements, but which are nevertheless
worth being discussed for their own sake.

II

It is interesting to see that Husserl collects different kinds of expression
under the common heading of fluctuating (schwankende) expressions. This
label covers incomplete, vague as well as occasional expressions. In addition
Husserl mentions the difference between the usual meaning of a word and its
concrete meaning, determined by application of general patterns. Certainly,
those different aspects are closely interconnected by what Karl Bhler calls
the sympractical field of the linguistic sign which allows for a sort of
empractical speech (Sprachtheorie, 10). In Bhlers view expressions are
not vague or elliptical per se, because it depends on the practical context
whether a certain utterance is clear or vague, complete or incomplete. The
Austrian author takes examples from the everyday life in Vienna. If
somebody in a coffee-house orders black, the waiter knows that this
person is asking for a coffee and not for a piece of coal. If we go further in
this direction we discover that the meaning of our words is determined by
their contexts and that the rules of language are specified by their application.
As important as this may be, we should not neglect other aspects which are
just as important. Husserl does not ignore the fact that we already live
together with others in a common world. He calls this the natural-
communicative attitude. But he refrains from taking for granted what those
who preach the linguistic or pragmatic turn simply presuppose. It seems to
me that Husserl is completely right when he refuses to identify the question
of occasionality or indexicality with the quite different question of how
exact or how concrete the meaning of a word or sentence may be. But to call
occasional expressions subjective leads us astray. What happens from case
to case may be called, following Bhler and other linguists, linguistic
BETWEEN SAYING AND SHOWING

45
events (Sprechereignisse). These events point in three directions: they refer
to things, they address the listener, they intimate the speakers own
intentions. When I speak of linguistic events, I do not mean that something
is merely the case (da etwas der Fall ist), rather I mean that something
occurs or happens (da etwas vorfllt oder geschieht).
In what follows I shall develop this idea in detail. Starting from the
relation between saying and showing, I shall try to overcome the false
alternative between remaining inside language or starting outside it.
Apart from the fact that by now caricatures of linguistically oriented
philosophy have dissipated, a real phenomenology of language should be
able to open other perspectives beyond intuitionism and lingualism. But this
presupposes that we consider the language as being at work instead of
reducing it to given rule-systems or linguistic habits.

III

The most obvious feature of occasional sentences consists in the fact
that they never mean what they say without pointing at the situation in
which the speech takes place. Let us look at some examples. If somebody
asks you: Please, give me a cup of water, the request would be completely
ineffectual as long as it leaves open who needs water and to whom it is
addressed. Or take the case of a promise. You cannot transform it into an
unbounded, context-free sentence like: It is promised that something will be
done to-morrow. Such a promise would resemble the smile without the
cat in Alice in Wonderland. We could specify the request saying, Please,
give me this glass, or simply: Give me the glass, provided that there is no
other at hand. Such sentences are only understandable for the listener if he or
she takes part in the speakers situation. The same holds true for the use of
here, now or soon. The indicator here will remain void if somebody
uses it on the telephone and the partner does not know where the call is
coming from. If I read the indicator next week in a letter it will be of no
help for me as long as the writers now remains unspecified.
All this is well-known. But the question is how what is meant and said
is connected with what is shown or shows itself. We have to ask how our
intentional acts are rooted in the origin of the deictic field (Zeigfeld) which
Karl Bhler calls the here-now-I system. The intertwinement of lexis and
deixis raises problems which I can only touch. Husserl himself explains this
connection in its own way. For him the expression orients actual meaning
to the occasion, the speaker and the situation (81/315). The listener needs
clues (Anhaltspunkte) to guide him or her to the actual meaning. In general
there is an indicative function (anzeigende Funktion) which we ascribe to
occasional words and sentences (83/316). But what does this mean? This
peculiar kind of indication must not be confused with the index or indication
presented at the beginning of the first logical investigation. The word I is
BERNHARD WALDENFELS

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not associated with the speaker like smoke with fire.
2
On the one hand, what
indicates are words, i.e. meaningful signs. The indicating function is
interwoven with the expressing function. On the other hand, the speaker is
not some empirical element; the speaker participates in the constitution of
sense by words. Consequently, our acts of meaning are not only fulfilled by
what is intuitively given or seen in the broader sense, they are supported by
it. They find their footing (Anhalt) in our experience. The transit-point
(Umschlagstelle
3
) between saying and seeing is our body. Bhler describes
the deictic process as follows: the human being senses his or her body...and
employs it to point (da er seinen Krper versprt und zeigend einsetzt,
Sprachtheorie, 129).
We can conclude that our meaningful speech is realized in terms of
corporeal speaking. Our speaking does not merely take place within space
and time; rather speech has its own space and time. The use of occasional
expressions crosses the borderline between saying and showing in both
directions. If it is justified to assume not only that there are essentially
occasional expressions but that our speaking is more or less occasional in
itself, we arrive at a sort of chiasm between speech and experience. I shall
return to this crucial point in my last section.

IV

There are other aspects of Husserls theory which attract our attention.
We have to consider the fact that, irrespective of their occasional use, words
like I or here are meaningful signs and not mere arabesques (82/315). So
we can define I as whatever speaker is designating himself, and we can
explain here as the place where the speaker is located. But somebody
who utters the sentence, I ask you to come here does not intend to tell you
the general meaning of these words; he simply uses them to get you to do
something in his situation. Husserl tries to resolve the riddle of this duplicity
by splitting the meaning into an indicating and an indicated meaning
(83/316). He makes use of this distinction in order to explain perceptual
predications such as A blackbird takes wing. Obviously the term a
blackbird remains meaningful even when it appears in a crossword puzzle
without being specified as this blackbird.
4
Nevertheless we have to ask
again what indication means in this peculiar context. Here associations
between empirical data are out of the question because the meaning which
constitutes something as something cannot be itself taken as something.
Rather, this kind of splitting must be understood as a process which
separates our meaningful thinking and speaking from itself. And because we

2
Concerning the complexity of indication (Anzeige), see Donn Welton, The
Origins of Meaning (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983), 3344.
3
See Hua IV, 286.
4
See L.I., inv. VI, 45.
BETWEEN SAYING AND SHOWING

47
have good reasons to assume that all speech whatsoever refers, at least in an
indirect way, to a time and place of speaking, we may conclude that such a
splitting affects speaking as such.
Roman Jakobson actually draws this conclusion. In his essay Shifters,
Verbal Categories, and the Russian Verb (first published in 1957), referring
explicitly to Husserl and Bhler, Jakobson distinguishes between the two
levels of the reported process (nonc) and the reporting process
(nonciation), and he assumes that both are mediated by so-called shifters.
Other linguists like Emile Benveniste or Oswald Ducrot took up this
distinction which corresponds mutatis mutandis to the distinction between
speech acts and their propositional content. I have repeatedly used these
linguistic tools myself in order to elaborate a responsive phenomenology of
language.
5

In Husserls view an essentially occasional character has to be ascribed
to every self-referential expression, i.e., to every expression by which the
speaker expresses something concerning him- or herself or something to be
understood in relation to him- or herself (85/318). I propose to make a
certain correction to his assumption. Self-referential expressions do not refer
immediately to the speaker, but rather to speaking itself. Speaking arises as a
speech event (Sprechereignis) before being ascribed to somebody as his or
her speech act (Sprechakt). Otherwise we would presuppose a person
preceding language, dominating or creating it. I do not want to discuss this
presumption here. But if it is rejected, we will have to accept the view that
saying as such refers to itself or that saying is a sort of self-saying. In
German I would say that Sagen also means Sichsagen, just as we say
that somebody sich freut (enjoys himself) or sich bewegt (moves). The
reflexivity of these verbs, which is the equivalent to the medium voice of
Greek, does not mean that speech has in itself its immediate object
(83/316) or that it speaks about itself. This kind of propositional self-
reference would lead straight on to the famous paradox of the Cretian liar,
and consequently it would be overcome by the distinction between object
language and meta-language introduced by Alfred Tarski. At this point, we
should pose the counter-question as to whether such a purely methodological
prohibition would be strong enough to prevent ones own speaking from
referring to itself. Saying is neither a pure event that we encounter within the
world like the singing of a bird or the rumbling of thunder, nor is it
something said or spoken about; rather it implies its own splitting into
saying and what is the said. In other words, saying is co-indicated by what is
said. Husserl misses this point when he distinguishes between two sorts of
meaning, an indicating and an indicated one. It is the very event of saying
which is co-indicated.

5
I refer especially to B. Waldenfels, Antwortregister (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp,
1994), Part II, chaps. 2, 3 and 10, and to Vielstimmigkeit der Rede (Frankfurt:
Suhrkamp, 1999), chap. 3. Many references to linguistics are to be found there.
BERNHARD WALDENFELS

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This co-indication is expressed by adverbs like hereby or hiermit. I
hereby declarethe adverb refers to what is done by words. Thus, our
speaking is displaced in relation to itself. This kind of inner splitting befalls
every instance of discourse.
6
It affects in particular the I of the
addressing and the thou of the addressed person as well as the here and
the now determining the place and time of speech. Let us consider some
examples: I promise you that I shall give you back the key to-morrow, or
I regret that I did not warn you earlier. There is an I who is speaking and
a you spoken to, and both are mentioned in what is being said. This more
or less implicit self-reference can be explicated by avowals and appeals.
Even these manners of speaking should not be confused with mere
information about our inner life and with effects on the others behavior.
7

The splitting of time does not mean that there are two temporal events
following each other. The promise does not occur earlier than the fulfillment;
the avowal does not occur later than what is confessed, because the promise
and avowal inaugurate a time-field within which things may be expected or
remembered. Such speech events belong to that Husserl calls the zero-point
of orientation and what Bhler calls the origo of the deictic field.
Therefore the difference between the time of speaking and the time spoken
about constitutes a genuine time lag. Similarly we have to do with a genuine
sort of dis-placement. If we refer to a geographical map the standpoint at
which we orientate ourselves does not coincide with the corresponding mark
on the map. We do not live within the calendar and we do not remain within
mapped space although everything in our life has its temporal and spatial
indices. This original duplicity, inherent in our bodily existence, precedes
any vulgarization of time and space. Cartography and chronology belong
to our cultural equipment just as speaking and writing do.
Rimbauds famous dictum I is another (Je est un autre) may be
generalized and transformed into saying is altering. This insight has far-
reaching consequences. Let me mention Jacques Lacans redefinition of
discourse as discourse of the Other and the fissure in the subject
demonstrated with explicit reference to Jakobson. Further we should think of
Emmanuel Levinass distinction between saying (dire) and what is said (dit)
which plays a central role in his ethics of the Other. Our saying does not
only address the Other, as every conception of dialogue takes for granted,
our saying is provoked by the Other, by the Others voice. In a certain sense
this saying is not ours. What I like to call responsive phenomenology implies
not only that saying is split into what is said and the saying itself but also
that saying always exceeds what has been said. If this difference is forgotten,
speaking speech is reduced to spoken speech, parole parlante to parole

6
Cf. E. Benveniste, La nature des pronoms, in Problmes de linguistique
gnrale, 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1966).
7
More about this in Antwortregister, Part III, chaps. 6 and 7.

BETWEEN SAYING AND SHOWING

49
parle, as Merleau-Ponty put it. In other words, the creativity and
responsivity of speech would yield to a pure ordinary language. But we do
not need only a philosophy of ordinary language, largely elaborated by
analytical philosophers; we also need well a philosophy of extra-ordinary
language, which may be nourished by poetry and by the wisdom of children
and foreign peoples. But this requirement also affects the practice of
phenomenological speech, the logos of the phenomena.

V

At the beginning of his Logical Investigations Husserl stresses that
the phenomenological analyses of meaning do not at all coincide with
linguistic analyses. Grammatical analysis is a heuristic for the phenomen-
ologist, but this is only the first step and must be reinforced by an analysis
oriented towards the things themselves. Hence, phenomenology can
neither be identified with a linguistic phenomenology, propagated by
Austin,
8
nor is it satisfied by a mere phenomenology of language. As
Husserl declares in his introduction to the Logical Investigations, language
only anticipates in an imperfect manner what has to be elaborated
thoroughly, and viewed as a cultural object language finds its place within a
regional phenomenology. As we know, in the course of his thinking Husserl
departed from a merely instrumental conception of language. This shift was
motivated by his increasing interest in topics like intersubjectivity, bodily
expression and scriptural tradition. But let me put aside these questions
9
and
restrict myself to the language of phenomenology itself. Usage already
becomes problematic in the introduction to the Logical Investigations where
Husserl emphasizes the necessity of proceeding on a sort of zigzag course
(17), and in the Crisis he insists that a radical form of phenomenology
which departs from the ground of the life-world needs a new language (cf.
Hua VI, 59).The Bodenlosigkeit (groundlessness) of the phenomenological
endeavor is accompanied by a certain Sprachlosigikeit (speechlessness).
This situation should be taken into account when Husserl declares in his
Cartesian Meditations (Hua I, 77): The beginning is the pure and, so to
speak, still silent experience that now has to be brought to a pure expression
(Aussprache) of its own sense. In German, when something is brought up
we say it is brought to language (etwas wird zur Sprache gebracht) or
when something comes up that it comes to language
(etwas kommt zur Sprache). Merleau-Ponty, who often quotes Husserls
programmatic statement, calls the passage from experience to language the

8
See Herbert Spiegelberg, The Context of the Phenomenological Movement
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), chap. 5.
9
The role of language in Husserls phenomenology is extensively discussed
by Tanja Eden in Lebenswelt und Sprache. Eine Studie zu Husserl, Quine und
Wittgenstein (Munich: W. Fink, 1999).
BERNHARD WALDENFELS

50
paradox of expression. He describes this paradox or miracle as follows:
speaking and writing amounts to translating an experience which becomes
a text only through the word it awakens.
10
This approach repudiates two
extremes. The so-called things themselves are neither outside language as
something which has not yet been said, nor are they inside language as
something which in a certain sense has already been said. On the contrary,
speaking and writing display their creative power by crossing the threshold
separating what is said from what is not said. If something is not pre-given,
then this is the very process of saying something as something, which may
be compared with Wittgensteins seeing as. Nevertheless, what is said or
seen as something are the things themselves and not some constructs or
representing contents. We move and stand both inside and outside language
at once because language precedes and exceeds itself.
Returning to occasional expressions and statements, we realize that
even they contain traces of a creative speaking. We must certainly
distinguish between more productive or creative and more reproductive or
repetitive speech events. But even speech act theorists who focus on the
recurrent features of linguistic and pragmatic rules are ready to concede that
the elementary reference to something does not consist in a merely static
correlation, and that the elementary predication does not consist in the mere
application of rules. Thus, John Searle writes: To predicate an expression
P of an object R is to raise the question of the truth of the predicate
expression of the object referred to.
11
Moreover, posing the question Is our
president corrupt? questions the honesty of this official without actually
denying it. Simple questions are not as simple as they look; they may wake
sleeping dogs. Socrates was condemned by his fellow citizens although he
did nothing more than to question their pretensions to knowledge and their
convictions. Let us consider some other examples. The speech act, Country
X hereby declares war on country Y, changes the world by separating
enemies from allies and neutrals. Such a speech act changes those who speak,
those in whose name they speak, and those to whom they speak. There is
something like a zero hour in politicsthe morning of September 11 may
have been oneand in our personal life we encounter similar turning-points.
From time to time we arrive at a point where the occasional here and now
turns into an initial event which Husserl and Heidegger call Stiftung
(institution).
Ultimately, the saying on which we have focused is more than a sort of
pure saying. It is first related (1) to what is seen or experienced while we
speak; (2) to itself in terms of splitting and duplication; and (3) to what is not
said or what is in a certain way unsayable, preceding and exceeding our
speech. But at this point a further question arises with which I shall finish:

10
See my essay Das Paradox des Ausdrucks, in Deutsch-Franzsische
Gedankengnge (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995), chap. 7.
11
J. Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 124.
BETWEEN SAYING AND SHOWING

51
How can we speak of the unsayable without dissipating the shadows of
silence which belong to the things themselves? Let us recall Wittgensteins
statements about the limits of language where language takes leave of itself:
What can be shown cannot be said,
12
but also [philosophy] will signify
what cannot be said by presenting clearly what can be said.
13
What we need,
and what Wittgensteins enigmatic sentences suggest, seems to be an
indirect way of speaking: to show by saying and to say while showing. Thus,
Heidegger postulates a logos which lets us see (a Sehenlassen),
14
and
Merleau-Ponty continues: philosophy makes visible by words (elle fait
voir par des mots).
15
Indirect access to the things themselves goes hand in
hand with side-glances and with an oblique mode of speech which remains
open for occasions which come and go.
Let me conclude my reflections on occasional expressions by quoting
from Goethe, who revered the occasion as the goddess Gelegenheit. We read
in his West-stlicher Divan:

Not occasion makes thieves,
it is itself the greatest thief,

and in his own words:

Nicht Gelegenheit macht Diebe,
Sie ist selbst der grte Dieb.


12
L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, 4.1212, in Werke
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1960).
13
Ibid., 4.115.
14
Cf. M. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tbingen: Niemeyer, 1953), 32.
15
Cf. M. Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et linvisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 319.