Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Myth of Empathy; Part 3 of "The Visible and The Invisible"

Merleau-Ponty extends his description of intersubjectivity to it's limits where "the invisible" becomes intersubjectivity, or lack there of. This task of intuitively explaining the impossibility of encountering the other in any other way than my own is something I have felt should be the a final extension of phenomenology. The limits of phenomenology for me have always instinctively been an existential question of empathy, or lack there of, never to go beyond the consequences of what would manifest from this lack (or Derrida's discussion of narcissistic reappropriation in The Ear of the Other). One of course can layout exactly what the consequences are, but then they are not within the field of phenomenology, and it's original task, it's faithful task; to explain the appearance of anything to consciousness. There's a dominant reason why Husserl wrote The Crises of the European Sciences, and it's precisely to extirpate any "existential questions", the very questions that had led science away from the task of thinking into disparate disciplines that didn't operate without a sense of needing to be grounded, but a sense of having to provide something to someone. This surplus attitude is not the attitude of the Phenomenologist, and one is struck with the sense that Husserl thought that people couldn't understand phenomenology because science's dispersion into it's multiplicity, to eventually lose it's own sense, this sense that was to be rediscovered by Phenomenology. With this said, when Phenomenology broaches an "Existential Question", in this case, being on a scene with an other, it would have to require an original faithfulness to Phenomenology so that it appeared that the writer who broached this topic had no opinion of what they were considering, and were simply, and solipsitically explaining an experience. Derrida, Levinas, and Jean-Luc Nancy would all be influenced by phenomenology eventually to form status's of the other as a focal concern of their work. After all, after Phenomenology, once is thrown back into the world where existence holds sway again. An elaboration of the other within Phenomenology would always have to come to grips with the idea of empathy, since it is what fundamentally grounds any social structure at all. But the phenomenologist never has to be faithful to a social structure because they've given themselves over to phenomenology where things happen regardless of Being, and always because of the a priori, or nothingness. Certainly when confronted afterwards as human beings, they won't take for granted the social structure that opens up for a description of a logic that is always and already happening, but when in the work itself, the phenomenologist is in complete ignorance of any social surrounding. They are in a world, but the idea of a world is in suspense, being described, always deffered, a description deffered. This faithfulness that the phenomenologist would have to remind themselves of would create some incredible work at it's limits, describing the confrontation of the other, because the other is then truly and appropriately a nominal "X", a variable, within my thinking. Merleau-Ponty exemplifies this faithfulness of seeing an other as a variable by his luminous description of himself in the encounter with an other. How then, does Merleau-Ponty encounter this something (from nothing), that is an other? "If the other also is pure vision, how would we see his vision? One would have to be him. The other can enter into the universe of the seer only by assault, as a pain and catastrophe; he will rise up not before the seer, in the spectacle, but laterally, as a radical casting into question of the seer. Since he is only pure vision, the seer cannot encounter an other, who thereby would be a thing seen; if he leaves himself, it will only be by a turning back of the vision upon himself; if he finds an other, it will only be as his own being seen". Merleau-Ponty limits himself to his being able to see (which we will see in a later post, he describes vision as being the sense that constitutes the world, and not smelling or hearing). If one could possibly have an encounter with an other, it would not be something of my personal experience, as if they experienced the same thing as I had, but something that calls me into question. Something in experience that calls me into question is not an experience of the other as other, but a lateral appearance in me. Merleau-Ponty continues "If there is an other, by definition I cannot install myself in him, coincide with him, live his very life: I live only my own. If there is an other, he is never in my eyes a For Itself, in the precise and given sense that I am, for myself. Even if our relationship leads me to admit or even to experience that "he too" thinks, that "he too" has a private landscape, I am not that thought as I am my own, I do not have that private landscape as I have my own". This is penetrating phenomenology being done by Merleau-Ponty here. At one point, he even allows a space for the other that is basically identical to himself, but at another point, states the fact that his own private landscape is absolute alterity, or otherness. What does it mean when he says that the other can never be For Itself? He states that a For Itself is always a For Myself. In other words, I can't live for the other, the way I live for myself. Literally, I wake up every day and go about my business. I don't wake up and come to immediate cognition of an other and how they are going about their business. Even if I were to make a habit out of waking up and immediately thinking about an other, phenomenologically speaking, it's never immediate, the way I am for myself, how I am always immediate for myself. I would have to negate my invisibility (negate the fact that I'm a always and already a being inside of myself without recognition of things I eventually have to do), but as Mealeau-Ponty states throughout the text with his faithfulness to Sartrean negation, the negation of my invisibility is a positivity, or a proposition. In other words, I become visible, and aware when trying to enter into the other, and so make the very other I want to empathize with something that is other than myself, something that is invisible, thereby losing the For Itself that envelops myself. I cannot postulate an other and think to myself "We are really the same", without being utterly unfaithful to myself and the invisible experience I have every moment of time. In every moment of time, "What I say of it is always derived from what I know of myself by myself: I concede that if I inhabited that body I should have another solitude, comparable to that which I have, and always divergent prospectively from it. But the 'if I inhabited' is not a hypothesis; it is a fiction or a myth". I can concede the fact of some sort of sameness with an other, but this is always a fiction, because it's a negation of my invisibility, it's a postulate of something that never needs to be postulated as something to first come to the scene. This concession then that Mearleau-Ponty makes is negated right after he makes it. The minute I try to enter the other, I'm negated back to myself, in a private landscape where I make up fictions and myths about the other possibly having the same experience as me, even though he is exactly outside of me, and even forms me as the sole function of alterity. If they form me, and are always and already outside of me, they are not me, and they are not for myself, as I am for myself. They are then, something else. Being something else, they are a difference from me, and are different from me, however much I conjecture that they constitute me, and mythologize on how I constitute them.
"The other's life, such as he lives it, is not for me who speaks an eventual experience or a possible: it is a prohibited experience, it is an impossible, and this is as it must be if the other is really the other. If the other is really the other, that is a For Itself in the strong sense that I am for myself, he must never be so before my eyes; it is necessary that this other For Itself never fall under my look, it is necessary that there be no perception of an other, it is necessary that the other be my negation or my destruction". If the other was the same as me then, there would be no other, there would be no thought of the other, there would be no idea of the other. That something outside of myself exists precisely in the fact that it is not me and can never be me. Merleau-Ponty stresses that "He must never be so before my eyes". We can theoretically fictionalize and contextualize on the other being (verb form of being) like me, because it is a For Itself, and within this context, this context of postulated and positive thought, but it can never be so before my eyes, in other words, as myself, first and foremost always invisible. I cannot live 2 invisible lives. I can have my life which is invisible, negate it by thought, and postulate the possibilities of the others life. I cannot always and already be waking up operating as 2 beings at one time. I would have to physically split myself without thinking it. That the Husserlian idea of the Transcendental Ego comes to the forefront here is a possibility, but it's always postulated as "transcendental", meaning happening for all. As we said before, any concession we make about the other being like me is always and already negated by the fact that a concession was needed in the first place to bring together something that was always and already apart. This apartness, this shearing of being, this alterity forms me. Without this alterity I am no longer For Myself, no longer a self, and in essence, no longer alive. The In Itself For Itself distinction that Sartre made is no longer available. The In Itself distinction isn't even available if I, who am For Myself, am not available to make the distinction. I, who am making the distinction between The In Itself, essentially For Myself, is doing so while encountering an other who may or may not be making these distinctions. I have no idea. This though, is what I'm certain of, that I have no idea, and that is it. When thrown into being-with-others, I negate myself by thinking of ideas that attempt to systematize and solidify my existence with everything else, like this exact post that I'm writing. The dialectic of negation runs ramped. I am invisible, I negate my invisibility by the compulsion to speak about what is other than me making the other visible, then I negate this negation by accepting the fact that speaking about the other is not being the other, I am then an operation of negations which no longer realizes any history in it's process. I am always and already not simply me and not the other, but an attempt to bring together this otherness, which always and already knows that this bringing together of the other is in the most abstract form, something to do, to finally accept my absolute private owness, my solus ipse, my solipsism, and finally make the "existential conclusion" of not simply my lack of empathy, my myth of empathy, but, that I was on my way towards an attempt at empathization, in order to find it impossible in me. This operation, this process is but being itself, specifically, being there. As a phenomenologist, the question of the other and empathy is "concluded". I am then able to enter back into the world and the social structures that I can't take for granted by exactly mythologizing everything that is other to me. How I live is founded precisely on a myth, and more logically speaking, on a context. What I accept as what I have to do, is something that I never have to do if I choose not to, but being there has a sway over me that is more powerful than my phenomenological instincts. I have to do all things that I always and already am mythologizing, because the context, the myth, is what constitutes being there. My invisibility, for a time, is always negated by my visibility, the very fact that I can see, literally and figuratively. Being and Nothingness, Seeing and Invisibility.

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