Thursday, March 18, 2010

Impossible Reflections: Merleau-Ponty's "The Visible and the Invisible" Pt.1

As we will see in the first posts regarding this text by Merleau-Ponty, many of his concerns at the beginning of The Visible and the Invisible were concerns broached by Derrida in his interpretations of Husserl. Merleau-Ponty from the start asks about Reflection and Interrogation as modes of being able to do phenomenological work, if phenomenological work is possible in the first place, which is always the concern of phrenologists. This is synonymous with Heidegger's claim that "one is always a beginner". Merleau-Ponty addresses these problems thoroughly in the beginning of this text and elaborates the Kantian insight that one can't escape one's own concept when confronting the a-priori, which Merleau-Ponty refers to as the flesh. Merleau-Ponty states "For the movement of recovery, of recuperation, of return to self, the progression toward internal adequation, the very effort to coincide with a naturans which is already ourselves and which is supposed to unfold the things and the world before itself-precisely inasmuch as they are a return or a reconquest, these operations of reconstitution's or of re-establishment which come second cannot by principle be the mirror image of its internal constitution or establishment".
Merleau-Ponty uses the term naturans here to signify the transcendence of flesh that is all-pervading throughout his work. Their synonymous meanings simply to refer to the Kantian and Husserlian a priori; the before-hand of the idea or concept.

But Merleau-Ponty seeing the problems of applying ones concept a posteriori to an experience prior to expression investigates this problem with sharp insight. He refers to Kant in each step of his Analytic where he always states "if a world is to be possible" before justifying a category for human subjectivity. Of course this guideline of "World" is an "unreflected image of the world". Kant gives himself a philosophical axiom for his subjective categories in the name of "World". He also realizes though that fact that he's using the "World" as a thought in the axiom and this doesn't serve as a foundational ground but a secondary variable; specifically, the thought of the world , not the fact that something that can't be called a world (but we call it this anyways) serves as the foundation for his subjective categorization of human experience. So again, we're thrown to axioms we can't use as foundations for what we would like to explain. Merleau-Ponty wants to solve this but feels the need the address the fact that thought, the notion, and the idea, or however you would like to signify the essence of the coming-into-being of representation, is in need of being decomposed for a flesh-phenomenology. Whatever this is, will be show in later posts as we move on further in the text.

After all this has just been said though, Merleau-Ponty isn't out to disparage reflection and interrogation as modes of gaining the sense of a flesh-phenomenology. He states "The remarks we made concerning reflection were nowise intended to disqualify it for the profit of the unreflected or the immediate. It is a question not of putting perceptual faith in place of reflection, but on the contrary of taking into account the total situation, which involves reference from the one to the other. What is given is not a massive and opaque world, or a universe of adequate thought it is a reflection which turns back over the density of the world in order to clarify it, but which, coming second, reflects back to it only in its own light". Here, Merleau-Ponty is speaking Hegelian here. The reference to a "total situation", the reference to the fact that reflection comes second in order to expatiate in order to clarify it sounds nothing else than the Hegel's Dialectic of Spirit. A couple aspects of Merleau-Ponty's thought needs to be clarified though. When he speaks of the "unreflected or the immediate" he's speaking of the flesh-phenomenology which could be seen analogously to the Kantian a priori, but as we will see Merleau-Ponty isn't just talking about the unreflected or the immediate as a logical concept or a prerequisite for ideality, he's looking to explain it as a "total situation" that includes the the movement of the unreflected getting to notionality. There is a situation where reflection is given to clarify what was prior to reflection by an idea of reflections own light. Sound similar to Derrida's encounter with Husserl?

Merleau-Ponty clues us into what he wants out of phenomenology after he addresses the fact that applying ones concept to the unreflected is onerous. "I see, I feel, and it is certain that for me to account for what seeing and feeling are I must cease accompanying the seeing and the feeling into the visible and sensible into which they throw themselves, and I must contrive, on the side of them, a sphere they do not occupy and whence they would become comprehensive according to their sense and their essence. To understand them is to suspend them, since the naive vision occupies me completely, and since the attention to vision that is added on subtracts something from the total gift, and especially since to understand is to translate into disposable significations a meaning first held captive in the thing and in the world itself". The Invisible is first addressed for us in Merleau-Ponty here. It is "seeing" and "feeling" in distinction from the visible which is the "visible" and "sensible". Also for Merleau-Ponty, they "throw themselves". This Heideggerian concept of throwness is a paramount concept, but it does have it's limits and I personally wish that Merleau-Ponty had a new way of thinking this "transition" than this more abstract concept for causality called "throwness". Further on in Merleau-Ponty's statement, he refers to this invisibility becoming comprehensive according to their sense and essence? Comprehensive? Sense? Essence? These must be transcendental themes for Merleau-Ponty. These are the centered ideas that the post-structrualism of Derrida would eventually try to slip away from. "Sense" and "Essence" though are Husserlian gestures of transcendence that want to be in an unoccupied "sphere". Does it seem that these phenomenological texts are really a matter of coming up with the most creative and abstract adjectives to be able to describe whatever it is that's called "experience"? And constantly changing them in order to give them a sense of vagueness in order throw the reader into space of not fully understanding what a word signifies? Is this the true trick of phenomenology? Essentially, negation by ever-changing abstract adjectives?
Vision is added to seeing and feeling which is a subtraction from the later two, which is a "total gift". Merleau-Ponty privileges the invisible as the wholly other to what the understanding is. He previously addresses the totality as a "total situation" but finds the negations of seeing and feeling as a negation of a gift, the gift to see and feel without thinking. Negotiating the term "gift" with his acceptance on the Hegelian dialectic of notionality and invisibility in reference to each other is something he hopefully addresses later on in the text, and if he doesn't, he wouldn't err on the side of a Hegelian systematic description of Spirit, but have a philosophers subtly in privileging the wholly other over and against his thinking being...which I personally find not only boring, but unphilosophical...but lets wait and see. At the very least, if Merleau-Ponty insists on invisibility as a "gift that has been negated", we as readers would expect him to give insightful analysis on this invisibility that he himself said is negated by the concept (or notionality). How he could do this we will have to wait and see. He would have to "throw" himself into a presence that is borderline solipsistic, but yet we would still have to be able to understand him as he leads us in this presence, operating equally solipsistically. This would be amazing. This would be phenomenology, in the flesh.

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