Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Merleau-Ponty's Intersubjectivity; Part 2 of "The Visible and the Invisible"

In the last post we confronted Merleau-Ponty's Hegelian instincts and his stress of a philosophy of negation for understanding The Invisible. Merleau-Ponty has taken Sartre's lessons of negation for understanding the a-priori to it's limits in this text and it brings out some strong insights. In the last post we ended off with the fact that Merleau-Ponty would have to throw himself into a solipsistic state where we happen to understand him to justify his flesh-invisible experience that he want's us to understand independent of the prior phenomenological attempts by Husserl and Kant. While he addresses himself in the negation, in essence that he is not anything that he can possibly affirm (lessons from Sartre he inherited that I wish I could elaborate more on with time) he takes a quick turn to the objects outside of him that are nonetheless his own, and along with the turn is the fact that there is an other present having a type of experience somewhat the same and somewhat different than him. His elaboration on this inter-subjectivity I think it's an expansion of Husserl's in the phenomenological sense because I think Merleau-Ponty has a style to his writing that isn't as teleological as Husserl when addressing the other. For Husserl, the other was a matter of a getting together in order to perfect, it was a world of geometers who were operating under praxis. Husserl never elaborated on the depths of logic of social experience, or rather the phenomenology of social experience. Merleau-Ponty's honest and open style leads to a very lucid understanding of how a confronting happens in the first place, all in the service of understanding the fact that a subject can't get outside of themselves when being in the world. On the other hand, because of his self-negation philosophy, he allows himself to not own the world. What must be established is something not being mine, and the de facto situation of not being able to escape myself ubiquitously. Merleau-Ponty states "What I see is not mine in the sense of being a private world. Hence-forth the table is the table; even the perspective views which I have of it and which are bound to the position of my body are part of being and not of myself...what is mine in my perception are lucunae". Lucuna are empty spaces. What Merleau-Ponty is trying to say here is that something is something regardless of my perspective of it. He's making a phenomenological/ontological division here. As a being, what is there is "in front of him". But what is his (mineness, owness) is an empty space. For being that is not mine (we gain a closer sense of what transcendental being is here), there is a boudness to a horizon. For myself, there is nothing. So me being myself, I am in nothing. For me, who is first a being, I am in a horizon, a private world where nothing has yet to be accomplished (allowing ourselves the Husserlian logic found in his Experience and Judgment). He says that finally there needs to be a "subjective face" to perception, which for our understanding is Husserlian ideality, also nominated by phenomenology as the eidetic. This movement is a doubling in which the as it is gains a such which makes a such as it is. The invisible being has no such. What "is", is being, and then being becomes mine when it is no longer (negation) as it is, but as such, meaning it's purely differentiated into many different things; representation, language, active perception, present awareness, ect. (the ect. here is inappropriate but we will move on).

It's here where Merleau-Ponty takes his sharp turn into inter-subjectivity by asking a simple question to himself and the reader. "Suppose now that there is another man before me who 'looks at' what I call 'the table'...a relationship is established". He later states "For the other's gaze on it is not a nothing for me, its exterior witness; whatever it may be in the last analysis, it is not nothing as I am nothing for myself, it does not have the power I have to push the things unto their truth or their meaning and to grasp them 'such as they are'". Nothing takes on somewhat of a contorted meaning here which an elaboration of Sartre's negativity would really help to understand. What Merleau-Ponty is stating here is the fact that whatever happens "outside of myself" is not nothing for me. It is happening to me for sure. But, the others gaze doesn't have the power of what I have in my nothingness. I, in my nothingness, can make things into meaning which we described before as the difference/doubling of the such in the such as it is. The other can't push truth into me. I can only do that because I come from a place of nothing which eventually gets doubled (a double negation...the position of the mineness; or being to mine.) So hopefully we can understand that Sartre's and Merleau-Ponty's nothingness is surely not a pure nothingness but is pushing it's way towards a doubling where an other exists for myself. The key for Sartre and Merleau-Ponty though is to incessantly describe all these events as taking place in being as nothingness. I think Derrida improves what they are both trying to get at along with Husserl's bracketing method in the same instance when his concept of sous rature, which we discussed in his interpretation of Husserl. To describe it again, it's to cross out a word that can't be used for this place of nothingness where something is trying to happen that we can't describe, and allowing ourselves to use the words we want to for nothingness, while at the same time knowing we can't use them. By allowing ourselves a perennial negotiation between nothingness and our impulse to describe nothingness (phenomenologically, the a priori), we gain a sense of the being into it's own. Hopefully with this also, Sartre's negative philosophy will come to light. Merleau-Ponty continues on with himself standing with someone else looking at something in his nothingness. he states "The perception of the world by the other cannot enter into competition with my own perception of it, for my position is not comparable to theirs; I live my perception from within, and from within, it has an incomparable of ontogenesis". This strikes at a recent lecture given by Judith Butler on Whitehead regarding forms of recognition and specifically for Butler, dominant forms of recognition. As a subtle recognition of the possibility of altering one's recognition towards the other, this is not the case for the phenomenological perspective, and here Merleau-Ponty states it precisely. It's impossible for an other to enter into my own perception of the world. For my position is not comparable to theirs. When Merleau-Ponty states that "I live my perception from within" we can take his negation philosophy and apply to that statement to mean "the other can't live in me". No one can enter me and I can't enter them, and this is a fundamental ontogenetical premise of existence that I find incredibly insightful on Merleau-Ponty's part. What this means for the socio-ethical concerns of empathy is devastating, of course, and everyone has to confront this absolute and impossible lack of empathy when approaching themselves phenomenologically. Merleau-Ponty stresses this even further when he states that Being is put to the test through the other because it summons the promises that he made to himself when he admitted he was nothing. The gaze over an object is in a relationship with an other but I remain the only witness. It's not as if I had four eyes and two brains where I can see the thing through myself and anything else, in this case, an other. "I remain the sole witness of the ontogenesis, the others can add nothing to the evidence of being for me". The most insightful analysis I find so far in Merleau-Ponty's conception of inter-subjectivity is when he states "One sole condition is laid down for their coming on the scene: that they could present themselves to me as other focuses of negativity". While the other has no place in myself, it does operate as a condition for my negativity, and that negativity is that it can not operate in me. And something is discovered here which is different from the gaze over the table, and it's the implicit logic of the statement itself that one cannot enter into me so that other is a negation for me, and that implicit logic is that Merleau-Ponty considered before the negation that there was something like himself, out there, and gazing at things. It is the case that one can't enter into the other and the other into me, but before this negative conclusion was made, I had a compulsion to realize that it was impossible for an other to enter into me and me into it. In essence, I have a compulsion to realize the other before I was able to negate it as a condition of myself. This is a wonderful analysis on inter-subjectivity, something that Husserl in his work never approached, or simply never got to. That it carries with it enormous ethical concerns is obvious. That we are operating solipsistically here is a testament to Merleau-Ponty's style and thought. He was able to lay out a condition and at the same time negate that other that conditions their existence, in essence leaving himself to himself, solus ipse. Not only that, but he was operating here solus ipse under the condition of the other which at first glance is counter-intuitive to the Phenomenological project operating independent of everything. Merleau-Ponty does operate independent of everything but because of his method of negation, conditions exist that confirm for me that I am nothing before I become the such as it is. To say we gained a sense of the a priori through a confrontation with the other is somewhat astonishing.

After this elaboration of the other in regards to "an object", Merleau-Ponty states "The other is born from my side, by a sort of propagation by cuttings or by subdivision, as the first other". Derrida, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty all take the liberties of describing things as "sort of". This can be confusing, but it must be understood that they can't absolutely define the things that they want to define so rather than just say that the other is born for difference, or the other is born out of a division, the sort of raises the question of whether the next verbs in the proposition can really do justice to the explanation. Thinking of what it is to be a "sort of subdivision" is something that needs to happen when one is reading over these passages. One can't simply read over them once. One has to take account for the fact that subdivision needs it's ambiguity brought to it by the "sort of" in order to clarify the essence of the action, the pure action in nothingness. This way of thinking will be helpful for future and past posts when phenomenologists and post-structuralist philosophers need to make their concepts more open to being a thought that isn't tied to the concept. Finally, Merleau-Ponty states "But how is it conceivable that what is nothing be doubled? How would one discern one "nothing" from another? The question only shows that we have forgotten our principle on the way, that we have come to forget that nothingness is not, that we grasp is by negintution and as the reverse of being. If there can be several beings, there will be as many nothingnesses". Merleau-Ponty stays faithful to his negative philosophy, his apophatic philosophy. He wants to ask how it's possible for doubling or difference to occur but remembers that this wanting has no space available in the negative philosophy of being. As long as one is operating in negintuition, in an intuition that never affirms anything, but says nothing can be the case, one can't ask anything of something when it's always and already nothing, and with this in mind things pop up in experience that we say that we know is not the case, but are conditions that can never envelop me. Merleau-Ponty is faithfully following a negative dialectic here; One that doesn't start from a place in order to come to something other than what it is to affirm this otherness, but descends down to the fact that what appears, can't possibly be anything other than my own nothingness, I.E. Being. Being and Nothingness certainly so far for Merleau-Ponty in The Visible and Invisible, in regards to inter-subjectivity in this case. Sartre's theoretical influence on Merleau-Ponty is unquestionable in this text.

No comments:

Post a Comment