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.

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