Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Merleau-Ponty's "The Visible and the Invisible".

At the end of the weighty interpretation of Derrida on Husserl, I thought it would be a good idea to tackle a text that was slightly less weighty, but still phenomenological is a 'strong' sense. I also thought it would be good to exit out of problems of genesis in general that Derrida took up with Husserl's Origin's of Geometry. While problems of genesis and the circularity of the problems involved always seem like the philosophical issues with the greatest importance, they can be cumbersome after awhile. I certainly felt the effects of it. Regardless, Husserl's jump from static to genetic phenomenology is something we will come back to in later posts and in other texts. For now though I thought it was a good idea to go into something more tangible than problems of consciousness and the transcendental ego. This tangibility is found in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. While taking on his Phenomenology of Perception would certainly be too large of a task for this site, I thought his The Visible and the Invisible would be a good work to extract.

As far as a little background, was born in 1908 and died in 1961. He was a thorough disciple of Husserl and Heidegger. Specifically in regards to Husserl, he was an ardent student of Husserl's unpublished manuscripts and often refers to them more in his work than Husserl's published work. He's different from Husserl in that he's more apt to give specific examples, specifically examples in art where he found the work of Cézanne to be the most penetration into his phenomenology of perception. Beyond this though, he gives concrete examples in his Phenomenology of Perception of patients with certain cognitive disabilities after World War 2. For example, he explores Anosognosia; a disability where the patient seems to be unaware of their disability. He explores a patient who is always trying to reach out for something as if he had his amputated arm and never realizing that he didn't have him arm. In this sense, Merleau-Ponty is a philosopher of embodiment. He gives concrete examples of the body and certain art to establish the fact that perception is the grounding axiom of the phenomenological attitude. So it's obvious to say that perception for Merleau-Ponty is different from perception in Husserl. Perception in Husserl is often at the disposal of a consciousness making it's own mind up and it's own theme that create reality. Merleau-Ponty on the other hand is much less of an "idealist" than Husserl. He gives credence to the fact that one is already thrown into a world (lessons from Heidegger) and can't escape the fact that their body is "meant" to do certain things and to the extreme that the body is meant to do these things, one is never able to escape them. With this in mind, the mind and it's sense is always tied to the worldly body. It's not as if Husserl didn't encounter this in his Crises, especially with his concept of the Lebenswelt (Lifeworld), but he never went far with it because how much he was always concerned with the logic of experience in general independent of everything via his bracketing method and Cartesian epoch. Merleau-Ponty on the other hand is a thinker who finds phenomenology in the primacy of perception, specifically body's perception and it's lack of dependence on consciousness pure and simple. He finds them tied together, but most importantly, he sees the body as a subject and an object at the same time unlike Husserl who saw the body only as the intentional object of thought that was to be disregarded if one was to gain an idea of what "pure sense" was independent of it's noema (object of thought). With this in mind, one understands why this will be less weighty to understand because we will actually have access to things, body's, and perceptions when doing phenomenological analysis. A great quote to exemplify this is in his Phenomenology of Perception when he states “Insofar as I have hands, feet; a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent on my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way that I do not choose”. By way of limiting himself to the obviousness of his body he becomes a sort of anti-idealist in the phenomenological field. While Husserl would find transcendental consciousness in pure sense's logic of temporality and activity/passivity, Merleau-Ponty would find it in what the body does and is always and already doing regardless of intentionality-logic.

So the next posts will be moving from the mind independent of everything to the mind and body not being distinct from each other both with their "unconscious" states of being. The Visible and the Invisible was Merleau-Ponty's last work. It will be an invigorating work to write on since the examples he gives are always lucid and incredibly descriptive. We are allowed the luxury of our body in Merleau-Ponty. The issue at hand in this specific text though is how the invisible "lines" the visible itself and how each would not exist without the other. Other issues will also arise, regarding the fact if he's really doing phenomenology when he enters into the inter-subjective zone when he goes into the fact that communication transcends his previous work of a pre-reflective cogito where one is limited to their pre-given body and perception. During these posts we will certainly go back to Husserl's criticism of science, sociology, Heidegger's ontology, existentialism, romantic prose, and everything else that doesn't fall under the "noble task of philosophy"; to understand it's pure sense. So while Mearleau-Ponty will be a good juxtaposition to Husserl, it will also enlighten Husserl's Crises as an absolute call to arms for what philosophy should be...in Husserl's terms, which for better or worse, I find justified. That being said, we will take the rigorous thought of Merleau-Ponty and try to expatiate on it as faithfully as Derrida did with Husserl. I hope we can succeed.

Until the introduction to Merleau-Ponty's The Visible and the Invisible, I've been commissioned for some more writing at Old-Wizard.com. This week I get to have fun with lists titled "Top 10 ways to tell you're not as smart as you think you are" and "Top 10 Swedish Songs" among others. Until the introduction of the Merleau-Ponty text, have fun watching Zizek's "spontaneous attitude toward the concept of love".

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