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Vasily Sesemann: Experience, Formalism, and the Question of Being


Author:  Thorsten Botz-Bornstein

Rodopi, 2006. ISBN 978-90-420-2092-4 / 90-420-2092-X . € 30 / US$ 38

Vasily (Wilhelm) Sesemann is the most important Lithuanian philosopher of all times. Born in Vyborg in 1884 by parents of German descent, Sesemann grew up and studied in St. Petersburg. A close friend of Viktor Zhirmunsky and Lev P. Karsavin, Sesemann taught from the early 1920 until his death in 1963 at the universities of Kaunas and Vilnius in Lithuania (interrupted by his internment in a Siberian labor camp from 1950 to 1958). 

This book delves into Baltic culture of the early twentieth century and analyzes Sesemann's idea of "experience" as a dynamic, constantly self-reflective, "ungraspable" phenomenon.


The book contains translations of two essays by Sesemann as well as a translation of an essay by Karsavin, all three of which existed so far only in Russian.

With a preface by Eero Tarasti.

Sesemann around 1909. Courtesy Svenska Litteratursallskapet i Finland.

Sesemann around 1920

"A competent and enlightening description of the complicated philosophical milieu which provided the background to Sesemann's philosophical endeavours. The milieu comprised, first, a fusion of some German philosophical schools, in particular Neo-kantianism (or the Marburg School) and to a lesser extent the early phenomenology, with the more local Russian varieties such as Formalism and Intuitivism. ... Botz-Bornstein's study of Sesemann disentangles the strands with both historical competence and sensitivity."

Lithuanian Papers, No. 22, 2008.

Thus, “Sesemann’s work culminates in a new logic of dream,” critical of “undue objectivization of the subjective”(77-78) even in Freud, yet anticipating Lacan while presenting parallels with Bergson. ... This precious study of this overlooked philosopher includes useful bibliographies, with revealing, hard-to-find Eurasian texts in appendix. The European Legacy  13: 6 2008.


Viborg in around 1930

The book's cover photo, called "A Journey to Vyborg," is by Finnish photographer and film director Eeli Aalto who shot this in 1990. Aalto offers some interesting comments on Vyborg on this website.

Another photo from Aalto's Viborg series.

Sesemann Picture1 with wife Wilma in 1937.jpg

Sesemann with wife Wilma in 1937

Sesemann Picture2 at Lake Salakas (Lithuania) in 1939.jpg
Sesemann Picture3 after his release from camp in 1957.png

After his release from camp in 1957

Sesemann at Lake Salakas in 1939

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