BSP Podcast: Ondra Kvapil on ‘Thought-provoking Death’

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Ondra Kvapil presenting a paper from our 2020 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

Season 5 episode 130: 20 November 2021

This episode of Season 5 of the BSP Podcast features Ondra Kvapil, École Normale Supérieure de Paris / Charles University in Prague. The presentation is taken from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

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Ondra Kvapil
‘Thought-provoking Death’

ABSTRACT: My paper will focus on Sartre’s meditations on death. Sartre formulates them as a critique of Heidegger – and the majority of commentators adopt his approach. I will however claim it more fruitful to read Sartre’s conclusions in the light of Husserl’s analyses of death. These were indeed unknown to Sartre, nonetheless the two share key presuppositions: Because our death cannot be grasped in reflection on our subjectivity, it cannot belong to the ontological structure of subjectivity itself; death is then classified as a mundane event, as well as a limit-problem of phenomenological description. I will demonstrate how Sartre radicalizes this notion. Death is not a limit-problem only for transcendental reflection, but already in pre-theoretical and pre-phenomenological attitude. Not only can we never live to seeit coming, we cannot even anticipate it, as the instant of death is principally indeterminate. The only meaning we can attribute to our death is that of the end of our –meaningful, or meaningless – existence. Our death is thus categorically different from all that is intended in the world. There is also a tacit consequence to the exclusion of death from subjectivity: mortality is reduced to bodily vulnerability. Death is the final strike, which may come in various disguises – perhaps that of a virus. Coming from the world, where we nevertheless cannot intend it, death remains essentially exterior to us. In sum, I will unravel the missing link between Husserl’s unpublished reflections on death and Levinas’ grasp of death as radically Other. Moreover, it will emerge that death, which as a mundane fact becomes a subject to a variety of disciplines, at the same time exceeds all empirical facts and thus engages philosophy. Far from being limited to academia, death engages thinking of each and every one of us – no matter where we come from.

BIO: I am a postgraduate researcher at École Normale Supérieure de Paris and Charles University in Prague, currently working on my dissertation The Philosophical Significance of Death. Previously, I have also studied at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. I have taught several courses in phenomenological philosophy, mainly on Heidegger, at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Charles University. My research concerns phenomenology, existentialism and hermeneutics, as well as 19th-century continental philosophy, with particular research interests that include death and mortality, relation between being and nothingness, and the problem of time.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?