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“Tentative Speech Acts – Close Talking”

Focusing, Thinking at the Edge (TAE) and Micro-Phenomenology

“(…) We can feel a question apart from its verbal expression, and the difficulty is to pose it without turning it into something superficial, or inviting answers that may seem adequate to its verbal form but that don’t really meet the problem beneath the surface.” Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere, 1986, p. 56


“It is more or less a commonplace that it is possible to carry on observations that amass facts tirelessly and yet the observed facts lead nowhere. On the other hand, it is possible to have the work of observation so controlled by conceptual framework fixed in advance that the very things which are genuinely decisive in the problem in hand and its solution, are completely overlooked. Everything is forced into the predetermined conceptual and theoretical theme. The way, and the only way, to escape these two evils, is sensitivity to the quality of a situation as a whole. In ordinary language, a problem must be felt before it can be stated. If the unique quality of the situation is had immediately, then there is something that regulates the selection and the weighing of observed facts and their conceptual ordering.” John Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938, pp. 70 f.


Focusing and TAE are methods developed by the Philosopher and Psychologist Eugene Gendlin (University of Chicago), to engage and explore subtle and complex background-feelings in the process of thinking.


Micro-phenomenology has been initiated by Francisco Varela and was further developed by Prof. Pierre Vermersch and Prof. Claire Petitmengin to research “lived experience”.


These practices sensitize practitioners for the intricacy of experiential backgrounds functioning in perceptions, ideas, intentions, emotions etc. In order to become aware of tacit dimensions of experience, attention can be trained, supported by open questions that turn the focus from the “what,” the content of our experience, to “how” we experience “that.” These methodologies enhance perceptivity for subtle and precise dimensions of experience that react responsively to how they are described and perceived.


Practices engaging implicit functions of experience and knowledge require the skill of deep listening to oneself and others in order to unfold experiential backgrounds that contain more than we think we “know.” Also, the practicioner learns how to attend to intra-actional dimensions in the emerging of new ideas. Clarifying processes play out responsively and retro-actively in the relationship of experiencing and conceptualizing / symbolizing.


Focusing, TAE or the micro-phenomenological methods are powerful tools for research, being used in Architecture, Geography, Environmental Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, Neuro-phenomenology, Art and also in social work. Besides that, these first and second person practices support the capacity of researchers and artists to find differentiated forms of expression for what feels most relevant in their work. The power of explication and differentiation, which these practices support, opens a surprising field for interdisciplinary collaboration. New ideas ideas emerge during the process of finding a language for tacit or paradoxical aspects of an issue which seem very relevant. At the same time, the creative space of each individual is protected. During the process, an integrative style of thinking can be cultivated that expands the usual “language games” of one’s disciplinary field by cultivating, what I call “a freedom to make sense.”

I have studied Focusing since 2004 in Switzerland, Germany and in different places in the US, with different international teachers, including Prof. Eugene Gendlin.


I have studied TAE since 2006, my main teacher being Prof. Eugene Gendlin. Since then I have practiced the method with colleagues in the natural sciences and humanities. I have taught TAE at the University of Zurich, at the ETH Zurich, at the University of Chicago, at DePaul University (Chicago), at the University of Iceland, at the University of Haifa as well as at the European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute.


I have studied Micro-phenomenological Methods with Prof. Claire Petitmengin in Paris since 2013, with ongoing workshops until today.


My publications on these methods and their philosophical implications are:

  • Close Talking: Erleben zur Sprache bringen. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. [Humanprojekt]

  • Vera Saller and Donata Schoeller: Situation and Feeling: Re-affirming a Classical Pragmatistic Understanding of Conceptuality, about to appear the European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy.

  • “Tentative Sprechakte: zur erstaunlichen Entfaltbarkeit von Hintergründen beim Formulieren.” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 66, no. 2 (2018): 183–201.

  • Schoeller, Donata, and Neil Dunaetz. “Thinking Emergence as Interaffecting: Approaching and Contextualizing Eugene Gendlin’s Process Model.” Continental Philosophy Review 51, no. 1 (2018): 123–140. To be reprinted in Mind and Matter 16, no. 1 (2018).

  • “Introduction.” In Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order; Selected Works by Eugene Gendlin, edited by Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller, ix–xix. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2017. [Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy]

  • “Transformative Creativity: Meister Eckhart and Classical Pragmatism.” In Commitments to Medieval Mysticism within Contemporary Contexts, edited by Patrick Cooper and Satoshi Kikuchi, 57–75. Leuven: Peeters, 2017. [Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium; 290]

  • “Somatic Semantic Shifting: Articulating Embodied Cultures.” In Thinking Thinking: Practicing Radical Reflection; Phenomenology, Pragmatism, Psychotherapy, edited by Donata Schoeller and Vera Saller, 112–135. Freiburg/Br.: Alber, 2016. [Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Phänomenologische Anthropologie, Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie (DGAP); 5]

  • “Einleitung.” In: Eugene Gendlin. Ein Prozess-Modell: Körper · Sprache · Erleben. Translated and edited by Donata Schoeller and Christiane Geiser, 11–47. Freiburg/Br.: Alber, 2015. (3rd edition coming up 2018)

  • “Anfang: ein hermeneutisch-pragmatistischer Annäherungsversuch.” In Kehrseiten: Eine andere Einführung in die Philosophie, edited by Natalie Pieper and Benno Wirz, 15–35. Freiburg/Br.: Alber, 2014.

  • “Der Blick von hier: die Bedeutung der Erste-Person-Perspektive bei Hermann Schmitz und Eugene Gendlin.” In Gefühle als Atmosphären: Neue Phänomenologie und philosophische Emotionstheorie, edited by Kerstin Andermann and Undine Eberlein, 233–244. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011. [Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie; Sonderbd. 29]

  • “Die Relevanz gespürter Bedeutung in Eugene Gendlins Philosophie.” In Gespür – Empfindung – kleine Wahrnehmungen: Klanganthropologische Studien, edited by Holger Schulze, 51–68. Bielefeld: Transkript, 2011. [Sound Studies; 3]

  • “Nahrung statt Zeichen: fünf Punkte unterstrichen.” In Punkt, Punkt, Komma, Strich: Geste, Gestalt und Bedeutung Zeichensetzung, edited by Christine Abbt und Tim Kammasch, 201–214. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009.

  • “Nahes Denken: die empfindliche Ordnung bei Eugene Gendlin; eine Einführung in seine Philosophie.” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 56, no. 3 (2008): 385–397.

  • “Thinking Changes: Stanley Cavell and Eugene Gendlin.” Existential Analysis: Journal of the Society of Existential Analysis 19, no. 2 (2008): 299–315.

  • “Worüber man nicht sprechen kann, darüber kann man sprechen lernen: ein Vergleich zwischen Jacob Böhme und Gene Gendlin.” In Mystik und Schriftkommentierung, edited by Günther Bonheim und Petra Kattner, 71–97. Berlin: Weißensee, 2007. [Böhme-Studien; 1]



(English into German)

  • Eugene Gendlin. Ein Prozess-Modell: Körper · Sprache · Erleben. Translated by Donata Schoeller und Christiane Geiser with a first time introduction to Gendlin’s main work by D. Schoeller. Freiburg/Br.: Alber, 2015. (3rd edition coming up 2018)

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