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.

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