Thursday, April 29, 2010

How the Invisible can be understood; Conclusion to "The Visible and the Invisible"

In the last post we saw Merleau-Ponty making the inevitable philosophical move in summing-up the phenomenological experiences he elaborated on with everything before it. He summed it up as "the intertwining", and to understand it more simply, it can be understood as "the combining" (Almost sounds like a bad movie). The tone of the last post was somewhat caustic because of it. The idea of staying faithful to Phenomenology is something that doesn't bode well for a formal systematic appropriation of past phenomena being described ostensibly under the guise of teleological absence. For better or worse, for my eyes, it's why the only "pure" phenomenologist was Husserl, and why, for better or worse, the discipline was truly extinguished by him. Who can call themselves a phenomenologist? Who can stay away from coming to conclusions ahead of time? In a philosophical sense, Derrida for me is the one who finishes the thought of Husserl, and in a very definite sense, all of philosophy. If Husserl is the end of Philosophy, then Derrida is at once the explanation of the end, and then afterwords, the what-happens-after philosophy. These sentiments were echoed by Husserl himself in one of his last publications in regards to the dream of philosophy being over. I want to spend a couple posts on that one text after this one in order to return to the faithfulness of Husserl's thought, not just to philosophy, but in his actual writing, which was a faithful style, which was an unbending style. After the theory of phenomenology though, it seems to me that theory in general ends, as constituting anything for man, which Husserl goes into in the text I want to elaborate on after this. Without going into the idea of the end of theory and what Husserl's words on it, I want to finish this Merleau-Ponty text by what he sees as a possible afterthought to philosophy, more specifically, to the invisible. He somewhat saves himself at the end of the Chiasm chapter by attempting to reestablish sense via metaphor, basically language, but a poetic language and he turns specifically to Proust here which I think was the saving grace with the end of this text, to essentially turn back to the sense-happening independent of the sense-happening getting anywhere. Let us visit one of Merleau-Ponty's final phrases. "We touch here the most difficult point, that is, the bond between the flesh and the idea, between the visible and the invisible. No one has gone further than Proust in fixing the relations between the visible and the invisible, in describing an idea that is not the contrary of the sensible, that is its lining and its depth. For what he says of the musical idea he says of all cultural beings, such as The Princess of Cleves and Rene, and also of the essence of love which "the little phrase" not only makes present to Swann, but communicable to all who hear it..." Merleau-Ponty defers the understanding's attempt at grasping pure sense, wild sense, to Proust (This does make me want to re-read parts of In Search of Lost Time, maybe even from the beginning with Swan's Way with a mindset that is after phenomenology). What is Merleau-Ponty deferring here? He's deferring the essences of life to the poets and to the writers instead of the philosophers, to the philosopher of post-Hegelianism, to Husserl. For the first time we find Merleau-Ponty stating that ideas need not be contrary to what is sensible. He finds this "intertwining effect" in Proust who he sees as someone who's able to embody his ideas with sense, a sense though that is certainly a romantic sense. For Merleau-Ponty, when Proust uses the word "Love", it's not simply a Husserlian logical variable within many others, but loaded with meaning that is communicable to all. I agree with Merleau-Ponty here, essentially that the idea of love is a loaded concept. I think it's why any phenomenologist first enters into the field; to essentially deconstruct loaded concepts without even thinking this is what they will be doing. This is where sense happens for Merleau-Ponty and it's important to distinguish Husserl from Proust now. What is the difference? What happens when Merleau-Ponty starts at Husserl and ends at Proust? Let's give some concrete examples. Husserl will specifically speak of sedimented concepts that last for ages, that have one meaning one age, and a different meaning in another age, but still retain the same variable (or signifier if you will). The phenomenological gesture of Husserl here is to watch the logic of sedimentation, essentially to see how a concept is first established, morphs into a difference from it's inception, continually morphs from the first differences, to eventually come to something that is very different from the incipient concept, yet retains the same name or signifier. The idea of Love is a perfect example here. What was love for Greek antiquity compared to now? This rhetorical question doesn't need to be answered, without at least writing a book about it, and if not, retains it's rhetorical gesture. Husserl then sees traces of what happened to a logical concept during the process of sedimentation. While things are added onto the variable, other things are lost from it's incipient stage. You have the idea of Love that signified one to many different things in one "place" and then gaining more signification through time, to eventually lose it's apparent sense (it's incipient sense), to the point where no one even knows what they're talking about when they use the word "Love". In comes Proust. This is exactly the sense of Love. It's something that has certainly lost it's apparent sense, it's phenomenological sense. If I say the word, nothing appears in front of me. When I speak of a less loaded concept though like the more contemporary value of "sedimentation" I have an idea for example of a rock by the ocean being washed over by the waves and slowly changing size, shape, and color because of the influence of salt and force. The idea of Love though for Proust never is in need of being elaborated. It's always communicable to all who hear it. This is true. But just because something is communicable to everyone who hears it, does this mean it means the same thing for everyone? This certainly is not the case. With any loaded concept in general, any heavy handed concept, it's easy to be lead into misinterpretation. Much like any transcendental signifier (E.G. "God") it means something different to everyone. Yet the variable still remains. This "little phrase" retains it's power by not signifying anything specific except for the fact that it has been unconsciously maintained without effort nor without any philosophical testament to it's meaning. It's not fair to Proust though to say that Proust ever had a philosophical stance of the concept of Love. As a non-philosophical writer, he wasn't guided by a sense of opening up meaning. Proust is able to elaborate on something at will and the reader is able to have a sense for that elaboration without then having to think about what the sense of what that elaboration is". When Proust elaborates on being sick as a child, and how he becomes even more dejected when he comes to the realization that his mother comes to his aid against his fathers wishes (his father who wanted to "toughen up" the child by not having a parental figure at his bedside whenever he was crying) we get a sense of love without going into the process of how the concept came to be, or how any concept can possibly happen. With Proust eavesdropping as a child on a conversation between his mother and father, hearing how his father "gives in" to the fact of not attending to his child's cries, and how he states to his mother "Well, we can't punish the kid", we gain a sense of dejection on Proust's part and love on the Father and Mothers part. No where did we have to first understand how it's possible to be "dejected" nor understand what it is to "Love". We "feel" for the child and see the love of the parental figures without a description of those concepts. "This little phrase" is where Merleau-Ponty sees the invisible. Within language, anything that gives an immediate sense to oneself when being conveyed is adorned, especially those loaded concepts that could never be conveyed just in one book, one fine day, for example. These concepts can mean so much to someone without them really meaning anything upon examination, and this is why Merleau-Ponty favors the poets and writers over the philosophers in some sort of age that would be after-phenomenology, after-philosophy. Heidegger would see the same thing in his later thought with Holderlin. Husserl though would simple call it a day and say the dream is over. It's why I think it's fair to say that Husserl was the only "pure" phenomenologist, because he never saw it becoming something other than a scientific process, albeit an ideal scientific project contrary to a technological one. Sticking with Merleau-Ponty though he states via Proust "the notions of light, of sound, of relief, of physical voluptuousness, which are the rich possessions with which our inward domains is diversified and adorned" are the notions that aren't contrary to sense, but line them and their depth. Notionality need not be elaborated on for them for to become rich. The difference between this richness though and a theoretical philosophers richness is between auto-affectation, on the one hand, and logic on the other. What does this mean? It means that when Proust speaks of a musical motif, you have a sense for the music without going into the reason why you have a sense for it. When Husserl goes into the musical motif you are given the fact for example that the entire phase of a piece of music has to happen over a period of time or one will just hypothetically hear a cacophony of noises in 1 non-time, 1 second. You have a memory for something that just passed that leads to something else. To speak specifically within music, when you are hearing the chorus, you have the bridge somewhere in the back of your mind as a past-present that leads up to and establishes the present chorus. To speak more simply, one is always unconscious of the acts that are happening to oneself at every moment. This just isn't the issue for Proust as a writer and is of benefit for what is called the invisible by Mearleau-Ponty because something happens to oneself where a thinking after doesn't have to happen after for the understanding to occur. Here is the difference though. Somewhere along the line, a philosopher comes in and says "Well, something actually does happen" when sense is happening to oneself without thought. Thought is being added on to a sense in order to understand the thought of the sense. But what makes sense a thought? And does sense include thought? Does sense have it's own internal logic or is it something that just passes over us affecting us because it's in us without us thinking about it. Already though for Mearleau-Ponty we are imposing a logic of sense by saying that it's "affecting us" and that "we don't need to think about it". One person is conveying a story, and the other is concerned with how a story can happen at all. One person can only tell the story they know, and the other can faithfully say that the story can't happen without these preconditions. Merleau-Ponty wants to move the preconditions for sense into the immediate grasp of the present without elaboration which he finds at it's furthest limits in Proust. By being able to stir the imagination with words that don't need to be "read closely", one is in the invisible. An expression has just passed over them and their sense is stimulated and imagination stirring. This simple stimulation of sense regardless of the meaning of the signifier that manifests the sense is the invisible for Merleau-Ponty. It's a presence that is not able to be signified because of the sense of thought that is never present, but always after a sense that hypothetically happened in one moment. Any elaboration of what happened in the present for anything to be able to happen in the first place is ideal, a range of hypothetical's created by the imagination in order for an understanding. The invisible then is not the ideal for Mearleau-Ponty but the real that encloses everything, mind and body included, and unseparated in an eternal "intertwining" or "chiasm". It's an affection, not a thought. It's a presence that is never able to be established in a systematic order, and when a word is used in non-philosophical terms, it is able to convey a meaning which is the biggest paradox here. It was philosophy as science that was given to man through enlightenment that was supposed to give sense to it's existence, but now affection gives sense to existence. It's the sense of a presence that is always changing. To be fair to Merleau-Ponty it's his Hegelian gestures of the final chapter of The Visible and the Invisible where he combines the idea/notion with the invisible/nothingness, but what happens is a switching of what's privileged over the other. While Husserl privileges the fact that one must first be thinking in the world (Cartesian Meditations), even passively, unconsciously, and phenomenologically, Merleau-Ponty privileges the fact that both thinking being and and a pure affective logic "line" each other, and the affective logic is invisible, unable to be elaborated on, only to be spoken, if by language, through a romantically descriptive prose that automatically leads to an affection in the reader. There's no doubt Husserl was addressing some of this with the concept of the Life-World in the Crises, but that he would ever get to Proust as an expressible sign of the invisible, the a priori, the nothingness, I don't think would be the case. If there was ever a more stronger "call to arms" within phenomenology other than the ubiquitous criticism of romanticism, existentialism, and contemporary science by Husserl in the Crises, I don't know where it is, which leads to my final thoughts on The Visible and the Invisible. The question of this text is not simply a question of phenomenology, and philosophy. It's a question of Being and how Being comes to itself. Does Being come to itself automatically without a logic? Does it spontaneously and randomly act affectively on participants, participants who may or may not have been to come? Or was Being disclosed to itself in order to find out for itself that there was always a logic to itself that wasn't randomly affective but sedimented with sense itself? Or, are both the case? Is now, where one no longer asks about itself but is simply affected without a requirement for thought because all the thought about itself has already been established, and essentially thrown back into pure "wild" affectation? Unfortunately (or fortunately), with all philosophical puzzles like these, they always lead back to Hegel; the dialectical stream of coming into Being in order to establish Being, to eventually be thrown out of Being...again and again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where Mind and World meet; Part 6 of "The Visible and the Invisible"

In what's considered the most important part of "The Visible and the Invisible" by the Northwestern University Press and many Merleau-Ponty readers is the final chapter entitled "The Intertwining-The Chiasm". By title of the chapter alone, you can infer this is where Merleau-Ponty "ties things together" between his solipsistic self that he had been elaborating on throughout the text and the Life-World. The Subject-Object divide will no longer be divided. There was a sense in the middle of the text that this is where Merleau-Ponty was always and already going; essentially where he wanted to get to, his ontology of being that would dispense with the fact of idealism and realism in one chapter by combining and dividing these categories at the same time. To intertwine, to lace together. Chiasm, A crossing or intersection of two tracts. In the last post Merleau-Ponty was running up against the problems of language, the problem that Phenomenology could never solve, and was always trying to run around by catching an independent sense happening within experience. Merleau-Ponty following the lesson of Kant's rule of placing concepts to an ostensible a priori reality confronts language as that very thing that establishes objectivity in this chapter, to the point where it's part of the flesh. Different from Husserl, language is not a mere mode of sense but part of an intertwined dialectic that gives flesh to the dialectic as a whole. Merleau-Ponty stays faithful to Phenomenology regardless by not just coming to conclusions right from the start of a chapter but strikes him in his writing in the middle of the chapter as it does the reader. He allows himself to start from a hypothetical "living reference point" which is not yet spoken. "If we could rediscover within the exercise of seeing and speaking some of the living references that assign then such a destiny in language, perhaps they would teach us how to form our new instruments, and first of all to understand our research, our interrogation, themselves". Here we find a reference to the Husserlian constant of the "themselves", a living reference independent of the spoken word that we can find by some kind of exercise that would nonetheless have to borrow from the supplement of being in order to elaborate on this invisibility. But almost immediately after he states the fact that the genesis of invisibility, of the "things themselves", is always enveloped by the spoken word. "What there is then are not things first identical with themselves, which would then offer themselves to the seer, nor is there a seer who is first and empty and who, afterward, would open himself to them-but something to which we could not be closer than by palpating it with our look, things we could not dream of seeing 'all naked' because the gaze itself envelops them, clothes them with its own flesh". So almost immediately, in about 3 sentences after the statement of trying to find the index of the "living reference" (Metaphysics of presence) he concedes the living reference over the flesh that has to include this reference point always being clothed. Independent of us, there is literally and figuratively, nothing (nothing in a context at least). Independent of nothingness, there not an empty subject who would open itself up to the nothingness. Essentially, there isn't something that opens itself up to nothing. It's already the case that the something (the us) is so close to the nothing that it envelops it. Nothing is always and already seen by a gaze. There is no vision of something that is not a gaze of it. There is no original reference point which exists in itself and can somehow see itself "for what it really is". What it really is, is the eternal fact of always being so close to nothing that it's never nothing, but something that's added onto the nothing. Being thrown into the gaze, I always see. Physiologically, by being thrown into a senses (for Merleau-Ponty most importantly, vision) the world is already painted from nothingness into something. The canvas so to speak doesn't just stay there. It's painted on. The canvas isn't thrown into a world without painters, or seers, or visionary's...subjects. He deems it a "dream" to see things "in themselves". I think it's important to recognize his privileging of the presence to understand that Merleau-Ponty is working on a problem of genesis here. It's a place where so many phenomenologists end up coming to on their last works, essentially abandoning the discipline with an interest in origins, without recognizing that it's not necessary that "originality" be the case for a description of phenomena. When you read Husserl's work on internal time consciousness, specifically the example of the music motif VS. his work analyzed by Derrida in the Crises, the difference is obvious. In the prior text he works meticulously within himself, and in the other he paints with a broad brush. I don't know, maybe it's something that happens when philosophers get older, they have to systematize everything into wholes. Merleau-Ponty following suit asks further about the origins when he asks "Whence does it happen that in so doing it leaves them in their place, that the vision we acquire of them seems to us to come from them, and that to be seen is for them but a degradation of their eminent being?" He asks "When"? There has to be a time where vision acquires things into its own being, not only that, but seeing these "things" is a degradation of their "eminent being". So far, Merleau-Ponty is privileging "originality" and "essence", essence meaning the fact that there is something taken away from the "essence" when it's spoken. There is a degradation of the superlative being that at once was not spoken of. Merleau-Ponty does practice some actual phenomenology here when he elaborates on this hypothetical "when", when he states "It requires a focusing, however brief; it emerges from a less precise, more general redness, in which my gaze was caught, into which it sank, before-as we put it so aptly-fixing it." Here he is speaking in reference to the color "red" which isn't "red" at first, when my vision is first on it, but simply something that catches my attention. Husserl makes this distinction in his early works, continually in the Logical Investigations. The property (quale) and the invisibility; the logic of the invisibility, or phenomenology. I don't think things are so simple, and I think in a different time of age for Merleau-Ponty, they weren't so simple as "being caught in a gaze at something". I think Husserlian phenomenology adds so much to the hypothetical landscape of pure experience by going into certain hypotheticals, for example, the idea of there being passive variables in existence that one has to come across a certain amount of times before these variable become idealitys, and the elaboration of the fact that until these "perfectings" happen, one can come across non-ideality that never gets sedimented by numerous sedimentations that eventually manifests into ideality. Going through this by allowing the technique of variable imagination. The kind of thought experiments that were both part of the mental space of Einstein and Husserl. It's important to realize that Phenomenology doesn't really work when it's attempted to being summed up as "gazes catching things". Certainly is easy to describe and almost every Neo-Kantian does exactly that, but this is where phenomenology is separate from technical German Idealism. Phenomenology doesn't work in pre-made categories of (E.G. Kant's Transcendental Aesthetic) but operates without any sense of itself, or at least tries too while always failing. The difference may seem narrow but when reading the text of Husserl's Internal Time Consciousness and Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, the difference I think is strongly apparent.

I think it's safe to assume at this point that I'm imposing on Merleau-Ponty a teleological presupposition, and that I probably don't like it in the context of what Phenomenology is to do. So much for remaining faithful to the reading of the text. With that being said, let's try to be faithful again to Merleau-Ponty's thought and prose. In his more general Phenomenology of the of the intertwining, he states "I do not look at chaos...but things with an abrupt and imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory". So for Merleau-Ponty I'm not seeing things ever as chaos. But what is chaos for Merleau-Ponty? Is he referring a de facto situation of ideality? What about when I'm not thinking though. Even if I attribute passivity to this experience, is this not some sort of passive chaos because nothing is being "fleshed out" even though at some point flesh will be made of the chaos? For Merleau-Ponty this is not so and he's honest enough to state his view that vision is "abrupt" and most importantly "imperious", meaning that vision never allows itself not to see. In the world of Merleau-Ponty, we can't close our eyes, and even if my eyes are open I can't just stare out into space without being caught by something because of the imperious logic of my gaze. "The Look is not desultory". If it's not already evident by now that Merleau-Ponty is operating within something like a "Teleology of the Look", than it should be apparent by this statement. Everything is always and already getting to a future definite plan even though things are happening regardless of "progressively getting there" while experience is happening. I think it's important to note here the distinction between Phenomenology and Teleology. The prior operates and elaborates without getting anywhere and the later already knows ahead of time that it's going to get somewhere (ideality) and the logic of invisibility becomes enclosed by teleology, rather than the logic of phenomenology that is enclosed by nothing but experience always and already possibly not getting towards ideality. Further down in the text, Merleau-Ponty stops elaborating on his teleology of the look and begins is elaborating of what the intertwining is by a descriptions of how Mind and World meet. He asks us "We must habituate ourselves to think that every visible is cut out in the tangible, every tactile being in some manner promised to visibility, and that there is encroachment, infringement, not only between the touched and the touching, but also between the tangible and the visible, which is encrusted in it, as, conversely, the tangible itself is not a nothingness of visibility, is not without visual existence. Since the same body sees and touches, visible, and tangible belong to the same world". Here is a precise statement of the Chiasm. Everything that can be touched is because of the fact that there is something that can touch it. There is a touchingness that allows for something to be touched. In the same token, for anyone to be able to touch anything (with any physiological sense) there has to be the possibility a "being tactile". This the resolution between internality and externality for Merleau-Ponty. Each encroach each other to the point of a closeness that was spoken of above that is of the same world. Tangibility and tactile being make up the world. Merleau-Ponty stresses not to see these two things as 2 parts of a dialectic reacting off each other into something new called "World", but things that are happening at the same time that makes up something called "World". The point for him though is not to come to the fact that one then is trying to solve something in order to call something a world, but one is already in a world where things are able to be seen by a seerer (seer, some pun intended) at the same time, just as things are able to be touched by something that is touching. He states a little later "The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable". This is a nice move. This is an old move. The mind and the world, the visible and the invisible, are total parts of each other, but yet can't be placed over each other. Invisibility alone can't manifest visibility and vice versa. They accommodate each other. They need each other to be each other. The binary opposition of traditional idealist terms finds a strong Eastern philosophy in "The Visible and the Invisible". While Husserl would limit himself to the experience of the Life-World and what were hypothetical possibilities, Merleau-Ponty states concretely on the unity of Mind and World. No longer the experience, but the intertwining, being seen by a Seer, Mearleau-Ponty himself, from up above. Certainly, a synthesis model, that could only be a synthesis model by thinking ahead of time for a purpose to get somewhere (teleology). Merleau-Ponty continually expresses different ways of saying the same thing throughout the chapter by stating that the distance between the subject and object is not contrary of their proximity, but consonant with it; "The thickness of flesh between the seer and the thing". This flesh is their means of communication. By flesh, he means space, the space that nonetheless provides consonance between Mind and World, Visibility and Invisibility. Finally, Merleau-Ponty states "The Thickness of the body, far from rivaling that of the world, is on the contrary the sole means I have to go unto the heart of things, by making myself a world and by making them flesh". Here the body is sensible for itself because of it's consistent nature with the World. It's not as if I have a body and am therefore NOT able to experience something outside of it. It's always the case that there is something outside of myself precisely because I am a body (a self-body). And as he will state again and again in the final chapter after a statement like this, it's not just the body that is sensible for itself, but it's the world that's allowing itself to be sensed (tangible/tactile being distinction he makes), hence what the reader almost automatically knows without having to read further beyond the title of this final chapter to The Visible and the Invisible.

Again, there is an obvious lack of faithfulness in this interpretation of Merleau-Ponty because the interpretation obviously isn't satisfied with what's going on. Summing things up as "The Intertwining" between mind and body seems inappropriate to the task of phenomenology elaborated by Husserl so meticulously and as we saw in prior posts, analyzed so meticulously by Derrida's analysis of Husserl's thought. It seems to be another metaphor for the theoretical Hegel which tends to preoccupy so many philosophers. It's what Nietzsche and Kierkegaard thought so important to get out of. It's probably why the only book Husserl read of Hegel's was his Logic and not his Phenomenology of Mind. The ease in man's thinking in being able to synthesize binary concepts (what Derrida deconstructs powerfully; this need to see and synthesize opposing categories) is tempting. It's why Nietzsche championed tragedy, and why Husserl created the discipline of Phenomenology rigorously displaced from all philosophy before it. Neither liked the ease of systematic thinking. Of course, it would be absolutely unfair to see Hegel as a culprit here; as the problem of philosophical thinking being too systematic, as anyone who reads his Phenomenology of Mind will see it doesn't operate under an easily satisfied model of bringing things together, and precisely states in the preface that anyone who reads anything this way is not only not reading, but not thinking. The curious part of all this is the fact that in the early to the middle part of this text, Merleau-Ponty absolutely is a rigorous thinker not allowing himself beyond himself as we saw in the post of the "Myth of Empathy". Beyond this, we saw in the post on what bad philosophy was, which was essentially being a bad dialectician which is nothing other than finding some settled point in the dialectic. Merleau-Ponty's instincts in his final text were phenomenological, until the end. He was operating as someone not outside of himself always moving in negations that he himself repudiated, most importantly his insight into the "stepping back and seeing things as they are". That he was able to negate this idea back into normativity, into formality, showed the rigor in his thought. That he then made the last chapter entitled "The Intertwining" combining the dialectic into an "awe inspiring" combination of the duality of Subjectivity and the Life-World is strange. Without investigating any further here, one wonders what happened between the writing of the earlier part of the text from the final part. The difference is too immense. To essentially become a card carrying idealist from a faithful phenomenologist in one text is certainly something I have never experienced before. If my tone is obviously tendentious towards the pheneomenologist, this of course goes without saying, and in this sense I admit to failing in being faithful to Merleau-Ponty because of an instinct of being faithful to phenomenology, but more specifically, Husserl who operated in the imaginative variation techniques of necessary hypotheticals that establish experience itself, and create a theory for experience before it becomes idealized (in passivity, a passivity that "at times" is active). On a personal note, when one is working with such heavy-handed concepts that philosophy since Kant has dealt with, there's a sense that being able to use heavy-handed concepts is something that requires an entitlement, an entitlement earned by the rigor of never getting beyond a theory of experience, or one is then just writing and thinking ahead of oneself in order to get to a place they already know ahead of time. My gut feeling here mimics Rudolph Carnap who comments on the "Continental" philosophy of the early 20th century; that "Metaphysicians are musicians without musical ability". I empathize with this sentiment in terms of the philosophy that comes after Kant and Hegel. If it's an unrecognized elaboration of Hegel's dialectical system, it's simply bad philosophy, which ironically, Merleau-Ponty stated so well early in The Visible and the Invisible.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Weakness of Language; Part 5 of "The Visible and the Invisible"

Coming towards the end of The Visible and the Invisible, we find Merleau-Ponty coming to his most penetrating ideas on Phenomenology, and philosophy as the dialectic. We saw in the last post the unextinguishable fire of Merleau-Ponty confronting himself as someone who want's to understand the invisible sense of himself; never allowing himself to be settled in one notion of an infinite dialectic that keeps moving. Even as if he tells a story by saying that one comes to full acceptance by "stepping back and just looking", he nevertheless doesn't allow himself into this "positive" notion of the dialectic in hopes of gaining the "gaping quality" of the dialectic, in other words, the movement and not the settled notions of negativity and positivity. Much like the work on Derrida's interpretation of Husserl though, Merleau-Ponty comes up against the challenge brought to all phenomenologists by language, that all pervading manifestation of sense that doesn't seem to "merely" be one manifestation of a transcendental logic that Husserl wanted to prove in his Experience and Judgment. That both Derrida and Merleau-Ponty would confront language as the source and problem of phenomenology was always going to happen. As was stated in Derrida's interpretation of Husserl, one always applies ones concept to their version or story of a genesis. Even if a story of a genesis becomes abstract by the thinking of philosophy, it still relies on this one and only manifestation of what constitutes signified thought. Merleau-Ponty addresses language as rigorously as he does the dialectic. As The Visible and the Invisible wears on, you can almost sense Merleau-Ponty racing towards something he doesn't even intend to get to. There is certainly a sense of urgency that is pervading his style, a sense not found in his Phenomenology of Perception. How then does Merleau-Ponty confront the problem of language for the phenomenologist and the philosopher? "It is by considering language that we would best see how we are to and how we are not to return to the things themselves. If we dream of finding again the natural world or time through coincidence, of being identical to the 0-point which we see yonder, or to the pure memory which from the depths of ourselves governs our acts of recall, then language is a power for error, since it cuts the continuous tissue that joins us vitally to the things and to the past and is installed between ourselves and that tissue like a screen". Certainly a simile that belongs solely to Merleau-Ponty's prose (tissue like a screen). Language is how we first start to see what it means to "return to the things themselves", but language is a screen that cuts off the connection one would want to have with Being, that one is trying to seek through language. He refers to a zero-point which is the idea of a "pure" presence and somewhat surprisingly refers to pure memory as part of the work of phenomenology, not simply the intentional object of the act in pure memory, but the sense of pure memory itself which allows us to recall something "again and again". This is only surprising because Merleau-Ponty could have chosen any theme within Phenomenology to express the inescapable link between language and what Phenomenology is trying to describe. That he states the operation of "Pure Memory" described so solipistically and mechanically by Husserl in Experience and Judgment and his work on internal time consciousness is a pleasant surprise. I for one find that Phenomenology is most insightful when speculating on the actions of memory and the operations of sedimentation. For our purposes now though, it is to absolute zero-point of the presence, if it is at all "possible" in whatever ways we attempt to come to it. For Merleau-Ponty, this absolute presence is a tissue where everything is connected and a screen comes up in the manifestation of language that invades the tissue and makes us see this presence through a screen, obviously meaning with some distortions, and a degree of difference to a presence trying to be attained. This issues are obvious. Merleau-Ponty though expands his thought further to an almost-psychoanalytical description of the Dasein (being-there) who uses language. "The philosopher speaks, but this is a weakness in him, and an inexplicable weakness: he should keep silent, coincide in silence, and rejoin in Being a philosophy that is there ready-made. But yet everything comes to pass as though he wished to put into words a certain silence he hearkens to within himself". First off, Merleau-Ponty condemns (in the abstract) the spoken word as weakness of the thinker. Adding "Inexplicable weakness" is strange because of what follows in the next part of the sentence. Whether this is a translation problem or Merleau-Ponty's in his solipsistic moments, I don't know. Regardless, he asks us to coincide in silence, and rejoin in Being a philosophy that is there read-made. By the way, if those who are reading these posts are finding tons of analogies between Phenomenology and Eastern Philosophy, they wouldn't be mistaken. It's not strange that the Japanese have produced some incredible work in Phenomenology in the 20th century which this writing space will possibly take up for it's next text, the analysis of some of these Japanese phenomenologists. What can we possibly conceive as coinciding with silence and rejoining a ready-made Being. It's simply the idea of not talking and seeing what is already there. Phenomenology always tends to be bereft of any concrete examples so lets try to use one here to describe this idea. If I wander out into the wilderness by myself, I am most likely not talking unless I'm having a monologue with myself (which isn't unusual for "philosophers") or coming to past memories that are shaping my experience in the wilderness. But when I confront the fact that I need to pass over this stream and I don't have the jumping-power to jump over the steam I am left to what is already there. I can try to find a way around it walking above or below the stream to try to find a smaller gap so I can make the jump to the other side, but what often happens during these "wilderness expeditions" is that there is something "ready-made" for Being. In this case, it's usually a log that I can use to cross to the other side, albeit a log that might be slippery because if it's being permeated by the water below it. Try crossing it in an ice storm and you will really see how slippery a log can be, but personally, this is when "wilderness trips" are more fun. So here is an example of coinciding in silence with Being and the ready-made of Being. I'm not talking to myself when trying to find my way past the steam. I'm in Being using tools already "ready-to-hand" in order to accomplish certain things, in this case, crossing a river. The analogies here are absolute to part 1 of Heidegger's Being and Time where he establishes the concept of "ready-to-handness" so lucidly, and if I allow myself the luxury of throwing in my opinion on the matter of Phenomenology as a whole, no where will you find a better explanation of these ontological concepts of Dasein Being than in part 1 of Being and Time. Thus far the true philosopher is exactly the example I just gave (hey, aren't I great! I'm a true philosopher!). I'm not speaking and in a world with things that I happen to use without knowing that they are unusable. They are already (unconsciously) there and I am (unconsciously) already coming to the sense of using the log to cross over to the other part of the the mountain. I don't need to say to myself out-loud "I think this log will do for crossing over to the other side of the river. Of course, if I was with a bunch of wafflers who thought too much on the possibility of being able to cross the stream by the log, then it would be discussed. This is why "true" philosophers and phenomeologists tend to go on wilderness expeditions on their own :). One never tends to question oneself when not around others. Merleau-Ponty faithfully continues on in his well-practiced-dialectic-method by giving the thinker the possibility of being able to hear this silence and from this "hearkening" (Merleau-Ponty found it somewhat necessary for Phenomenology to be poetical, unlike Husserl) of this silence manifests a wish to put into words. This goes back to the last post where we found Merleau-Ponty "stepping back" from the negation of language (via doubt/skepticism) to "see the world as it is". I interpolated the idea that this can bring with it a tacky holistic fast-food religious experience of the presence. Essentially, the poetical, when done from an over-exuberant feeling of awe in the fact of what is just seen can make the Dasein (the Being-There, The Human Being) somewhat inappropriate and really just hokey. We've met these people before. The people who like to sum up the world in vast over-aggrandized statements, self-satisfied beyond belief (belonging nowhere to the dialectic of Mearleau-Ponty, Hegel, or Sartre.) are operating off that double negation of a "pure affirmation" without following through to the negation of the "pure affirmation". So for Merleau-Ponty, when one comes into the fact that they should be silent and "open to the world" if one were to really be good philosophers and phenomenologists (essentially nomads) then they shouldn't speak, but there is something coming from the belly of the thinker to expatiate this silence. Merleau-Ponty talks about the "Tyranny of Vision" of the world that is endowed to man. You could also say that there is a tyranny of language to Being, essentially the fact that there is no getting around the fact that one is always expressing by language these hidden secret structure of inner-silence, that nonetheless can't be described.
"His entire 'work' is this absurd effort. He wrote in order to state his contact with Being; he did not state it, and could not state it, since it is silence. Then he recommences...One has to believe, then, that language is not simply the contrary of the truth, of coincidence, that there is or could be a language of coincidence, a manner of making the things themselves speak-and this is what he seeks. It would be a language of which he would not be the organizer, words he would not assemble, that would combine through him by virtue of a natural intertwining of their meaning, through the occult trading of the metaphor-where what counts is no longer the manifest meaning of each word and each image, but the lateral relations, the kinships that are implicated in their transfers and their exchanges". If this sounds like what we called today "steam-of-conscious" thinking, you wouldn't be mistaken. This is basic solipsism in the flesh here. A language where the subject would not be the organizer? This in attempts to achieve the things themselves? It's no wonder why Merleau-Ponty found certain poetical prose as signifying phenomenology best. I personally think that Derrida's recognition of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake as an option for phenomenology from the mechanics of Husserl is better suited for the idea of phenomenology. It's not that difficult for a poet to hide intentional ambiguity's within their prose. I personally don't see this with the later Joyce, of course, there a couple thousand ideas of what the later Joyce is, but barring this infinite interpretation of an author, Joyce strikes me as absolutely operating in a context, albeit a context that is so specific and so indigenous that you never really solve the mannerisms and colloquialisms in the texts. It's as if if I were to be playing a basketball game at a friends house and his basketball hoop is slightly tilted to the right giving him an advantage on how to shoot the ball from that corner, and then writing about it. I could write about the fact that my friend said " 'Yep, I got the home court advantage' as I sat there disparaged over the fact that basketball hoops are supposed to be universally aligned". This to me signifys no ambiguity in the text, at least no intentional ambiguity. Will many people not understand it? Of course. But there is the tendency in many poets (of course I'm overgeneralizing here, and I wouldn't for a fact, as far as I read them, attribute a compulsion of ambiguity to Holderlin or Neruda) to throw in some ambiguous prose that is completely without context. I find this often with Poetry in general. There will be a line or two that are superfluous within the many. Maybe I'm not understanding it, but with Joyce, I can fully admit that I don't understand something but say "there is a way of understanding this if I just could grasp the context of the situation and the people involved". Merleau-Ponty somewhat clears up this steam-of-consciousness and meaningless language that is to get at the heart of the things themselves by speaking of "lateral relations" and "kinships" implicated in the statements. This understanding, this sense of a statement that is unorganized would be made sense of not be the meanings of an entire statement or proposition, or even the words themselves, but the likeness's between two words in a sentence, not necessarily the semantic likeness of words, but the likeness of the fact that two words can be combined together and not signify anything specific to ones mind, but yet, have a connection with each other to the point where the statement can be made. This is sort of a "pure grammar" where the relations between words matter rather than the words themselves. This Meta-Language would dispense with the structural admissions of the Signifier/Signified context of our patterns of recognition, and instead recognize how it's possible that two seemingly meaningless words can still be stated within a proposition. What is their relations that allow for this?
Merleau-Ponty nonetheless so far takes a negative dialectic in terms of language being able to describe a zero-point or pure presence. Being faithful to the infinite dialectic though, language is always recommencing or "putting into words a certain silence that he hearkens". While understanding that language can't establish the grounds for what it wants to establish, Merleau-Ponty also understands that it's inevitable for the Thinker to not feel the compulsion of his silence, his silence that just won't stay still as silence, but flies out of him at light-speed in order to become something other, something different, but something representative of this silence. Even if there was a Meta-Language to establish "lateral-relations" between meaningless words, the language being used to express these relations would still be the expressions of language, albeit so technical that it's certainly abstract, and in being abstract, gains more ground in authority for being able to speak about what's not a matter of being spoken about. The question really is, where is it that speaking comes from, where does the Logos appear, and how has it interminably established the infinite dialectic as exactly that, infinite. Why speak? This question isn't appropriate because of it's teleological motivation. More appropriately, one should ask, "How speak?" The manifestation of language is more appropriate in this sense of appearing rather than a sense of genesis in the former question.
Silence becoming spoken, always and already the case, silence can never be alone, but among others, among what's speakers.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When one is not being Philosophical; Part 4 of "The Visible and the Invisible"

In the last post the rigor in which Merleau-Ponty and us addressed the coming-to-the-scene of the other was done from a Phenomenological instinct of faithfulness to the present; specifically to the present that is always ahead of itself and certainly always inside of myself. The idea of "the myth of empathy" was not a conclusion drawn from some "existential crisis" or a negation of a teleological presupposition, but working phenomenology which can almost be seen as a hyper-empiricism, or if you would like, idealist realism. Empirical solipsism is an interesting phrase we could use to describe this but Phenomenology would be the discipline that envelopes what we and Merleau-Ponty were after in distinguishing ourselves absolutely from the other. That the "structural" consequences of such a thinking are important goes without saying, but as was stated in the last post, we are always limiting ourselves to phenomenologists; beings on the brink of just making sense. The rigor of phenomenology is all pervading. As Merleau-Ponty continues on in the text he comes up against the dialectic as first addressed by Hegel, but seen as being more appropriate in it's faithfulness to Sartre's negative dialectic. Just as Sartre speaks of a someone being in "bad faith", Merleau-Ponty speaks of someone practicing a "bad dialectic". This is a topic I want to address most closely in a later post after the reading of the whole text is finished. For now though, when one is left to oneself and one understands how rigorously they are applied to themselves, there isn't really room for an intersubjectivity that would like to operate under "common ground". This synthesis model though is something that is always practiced by everyone, philosophical or not, when on the scene with the other. And just as obvious as this synthesis model is, there is an antithesis model that is just as obvious, meaning the antithesis of a synthesis in a dialectical model. If one stays in this negation of positivity, essentially, doubt, this for Merleau-Ponty is bad philosophy. It's one not being philosophical when finding a home in a negation, existentially speaking, in being negative. One is essentially not being philosophical when the dialectic could ever come to an end in one negation. There is a style to coming to an end in one negation, existentially speaking, there is a style in doubt. Merleau-Ponty addresses this "bad faith" of the dialectician, or Phenomenologist, or Philosopher when addressing the practice of the dialectic, which for sum or difference, is philosophy (Philosophy is an infinite negation never possible of being a style because of never having the chance to settle anywhere for too prolonged a period of time). Merleau-Ponty states "If, in it's name, we make speculative doubt the equivalent of a condemnation, it is because, as passive beings, we feel ourselves caught up in a mass of Being that escapes us, and we oppose to this adversity the desire for an absolute evidence, delivered from all facticity. Thus the methodic doubt, that which is carried out within the voluntary zone of ourselves, refers to Being, since is resists a factual evidence, represses an involuntary truth which it acknowledges to be already there and which inspires the very project of seeking an evidence that would be absolute". So far, the negative dialetic is in "good faith". So far, we are doubting in order to grasp being because we are overwhelmed by what being could be, and so seek out an absolute evidence that could possibly confirm this absolute by not referencing factual evidence, but by negating factual evidence, and when in the process of this negation, they are then in being; a place where something is not this or that, our basic fundamental state of nothingness that eventually comes into being. When I positively affirm something I have a grasp of it. When I negate the existence of something I have nothing left afterwords. This nothing left afterwords is a "spot of being", "where" being is when it's not making predicative statements, where being is before it's being. It's in "nothing-spots". It's still in something for sure, but this something is passive. A passive something and nothingness are analogical here. But, one can be thrown back into existence and end in this one negation of something, where one is being a bad dialectician, and bad philosopher. "If it remains a doubt, it can do so only by reviving the equivocations of skepticism, by omitting to mention the borrowings it makes from Being, or by evoking a falsity of Being itself, a Great Deceiver, a Being that actively conceals itself and pushes before itself the screen of our thought and of its evidences, as if this elusive being were nothing". The reason why one would want to revive skepticism (not knowing the equivocations of it) is a because of a settled style. If one doesn't admit that one is borrowing all the basic evidence of Being when making their statements of skepticism, one could say that they are home in their style, or simply being bad philosophers, or bad thinkers. Essentially, being home in a style is being a bad thinker. As we should know, when I say "this doesn't exist", I am borrowing the basic facts of being to postulate a "skeptical" statement. I am borrowing being to state nothingness and we see how being and nothingness permeate each other here. What am I borrowing? I am borrowing a "This" from being, I am borrowing an "existence" from being, and I'm borrowing an action from being in the negative verb "doesn't". Nothingness truly is Being. Merleau-Ponty takes this bad faith a step further when one could possibly evoke a Great Deceiver, or a "devil" that somewhere exists to consciously try to fool me that everything in front of me doesn't exist. Even of this were the case, this Great Deceiver is still a being, and everything that he would postulate as ostensibly "nothing" or fake is still a being. I still have a view, a tyrannical view of vision if you will, over something outside. It's thrown, it's "postulated", it's a being. If one sees this as an over-elaboration or a simple redundancy of Cartesianism, one wouldn't be mistaken.
If one stops at this skepticism posing as a stable negation, "The philosophical interrogations therefore would not go all the way through with itself if it limited itself to generalizing the doubt, the common question to extending them to the world or to Being, and would define itself as doubt, non-knowing or non-belief. Things are not so simple". Philosophy doing philosophy (incessant interrogation) can't stop at a stable negativity. The Negation of the dialectic is essentially being generalized as doubt. When one is badly practicing philosophy or the dialectic, they are generalizing the process overarchingly as "doubt". This manifests itself in language when the sense of doubt becomes defined as doubt itself, or non-knowing, or non-belief. Essentially if you were to ask me "What is the Dialectic?", you would be asking a question as a bad philosopher and if I answered the questions with something like "It is doubt", I would be a bad philosopher. By you thinking that the dialectic could ever come to a simple summarization or a synthesis, and by myself thinking that I can provide you with an abstract direct object to signify this synthesis, we are being bad philosophers. Nothing is continuing on and moving, but stopping and settling down. There is a being for this, the human being. But unfortunately (or fortunately for the phenomenologist), if we are to follow the phenomena of consciousness through faithfully, then the answer is not so simple.
"In being extended to everything, the common question changes its meaning. Philosophy elects certain beings-'sensations,' 'representations,' 'thought,' 'consciousness,' or even a deceiving being- in order to separate itself from all being. Precisely in order to accomplish its will for radicalism, it would have to take as its theme the umbilical bond that binds it always to being, the inalienable horizon with which it is already and henceforth circumvented, the primary initiation which it tries in vain to go back on. It would have to no longer deny, no longer even doubt; it would have to step back only in order to see the world and Being, or simply put them between quotations marks as one does with the remarks of another, to let them speak, to listen in...". Beings aren't just Dasein being. They are not just others and/or myself. They are anything outside of itself. These beings such as "thought" or "sensation" which try to elicit an impression of the invisible, or nothingness are always binded to being. When I describe passive activity, in the Husserlian sense, I'm relying on a world, or something, already thrown to me. I certainly entertain myself by describing what nothing is by describing it. To think what's it's like to not recognize oneself in the process of grasping something for one time only (before it became Ideal by repetitive "perfectings") is to be in being. To think is to be in being, even if the thinking is an attempt at non-being. I can't evade the fact that I have to borrow being to try to get to nothingness. By realizing that this attempt at the a priori/nothingness/invisible description is "in vain", one would have to no longer deny or doubt being. This is where the equivocations of skepticism comes in. If I take myself seriously as a philosopher, I can't doubt my doubt (doubt then is a being). Again, this is a reference to what Descartes already discovered. By being faithful to myself and not doubting my doubt, I in turn negate my negation. I am no longer skeptical of what is outside of me, but step back and listen to what's in front of me; the being that came from the nothingness, the nothingness that I could not faithfully stay put in from the perennial movement of the dialectic. But, the perennial movement of the dialectic always moves;
"At the same time that the doubt is renounced, one renounces the affirmation of an absolute exterior, of a world or a Being that would be a massive individual; one turns toward that Being that doubles our thoughts along their whole extension, since they are thoughts of something and since they themselves are not nothing-a Being therefore that is meaning, and meaning of meaning. Not only that meaning that is attached to words and belongs to the order of statements and of things said, to a circumscribed region of the world, to a certain type of Being- but universal meaning, which would be capable of sustaining logical operations and language and the unfolding of the world as well. " The perennial movement of the dialectic sees it's "growth" (We are almost reaching a metaphysical Aristotelian concept of "growth" here) in constant negations, not just one negation, but ad infinitum negations. Once the negation of the world is renounced and we "step back and see the world" as what is exactly in front of us, thoughts come to the Dasein, and in a gesture that is faithful to Husserl and the original project of Phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty states that this not only means "words and statements", as if words and statements are tantamount to the sense of thought (This topic was addressed with Derrida's encounter with Husserl), but to Being that is meaning, a sense of being. But even this sense, this thinking, that would be manifested in words and statements for the Dasein, that would be renounced after the negation of this same exact sense, this sense as a "Transcendental Logic" (or "universal meaning" if you will, what Merleau-Ponty names it) would be negated, essentially the stepping back and "seeing the world for what it is" that tends to spawn a certain amount of fast-food holistic and spiritual "experiences". The positing of these experiences with a style and attitude is bad philosophy just as skepticism pivoting off the first negation is bad philosophy. In existential terms, both the believer and non-believer are bad philosophers. Always settled in a style, never moving in the infinite dialectic. That thought always comes to oneself (the Dasein) is the case, that one can always doubt the thought that comes to oneself is also the case, that both can possibly happen is also the case. That one then negates the negation of thought into a "stepping back and listening to the world" is the case. That thought comes thrusting in with a sense of "enlightenment" over this awe of the world is the case (thereby describing it). That this sense-of-enlightenment is negated by the fact that what's it's trying to describe "in awe" is not the case of what's happening when one is in this mode of "stepping back", is the case, ad infinitum. The end of that last sentence is the case, the final Latin phrase of ad infinitum, is the case. The final words of that sentence and this post is the case, and the semblance of ad infinitum as the "settled notion" of philosophy and the dialectic, is bad philosophy.