Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Uniqueness of the World

The appearance of something is always also the appearance of a world. The exploration of this thesis leads Barbaras to a radical phenomenological ontology. Let's see where he's going with this idea. He says that the world is constitutive of manifestation:

Appearance is always appearance within the world; any manifestation of something is in principle a comanifestation of a world. Indeed, the world is this open totality, this encompassing absolute, a field for all possible events. It is neither the sum of beings that emerge there nor a sort of super object, whether we conceive of it as an empty framework or a specific environment independent of what appears, but instead the vital force of any manifestation, an element that is not distinguished from it, precisely because it is not an object, an element that is therefore none other than the ensemble of manifestations and is constituted at the same time as they are. As Patoĉka writes: "The world is not sum, but preliminary totality. We cannot set ourselves outside the world, raise ourselves above it. The world is, by all its being, midst, in contrast with what it is the midst of. For this reason, it is never object. For this same reason, it is unique, indivisible. Any division, any individuation is in the world, but has no meaning for the world."

(Desire and Distance, pp. 63-64, emphases Barbaras' and Patoĉka's)

Appearance, Barbaras argues, is not originally appearance to consciousness, but appearance within a world. Instead of dealing with the problem of uniqueness as an attribute of consciousness, or of a subjective being, Barbaras' analysis puts forward the manifestation of the world as the locus of uniqueness. He again quotes Patoĉka's Papiers phénoménologiques:

There must be a unique connection at the interior of which is everything that there is. This unique connection is in the strict sense what is. . . . [I]t is the condition of all experiences. However, it is also the condition of all particular beings in their particular being. Thus the form-of-the-world (Weltform) of experience is also what makes an experience of the world possible. This all-encompassing being unique, it follows that it must always be there as the permanent backdrop to experience. This also implies that there cannot be two totalities of being and therefore, that experience as experience of being is necessarily concordant.

(quoted in Desire and Distance, p. 65, emphases Barbaras')

Barbaras says that the comanifestation of the world cannot be reduced "to the presence of a content, a being that would presuppose appearance" (p. 65). (Neither can it be reduced to a form, for "[a]s the originary unity of a given and a condition of givenness, the world is the identity of form and content, or rather their indifference" (p. 66).) And so we come to Barbaras' most radical departure from Husserl. If appearance is essentially characterized by a belonging to a world, this also holds true for the "extraordinary appearance of the human person to itself called consciousness" (p. 67, emphasis Barbaras'). I would not refer to the person as an "it," so immediately I am wondering whether Barbaras is keyed into the existential uniqueness of the world, and what he could possibly mean by emphasizing the world's uniqueness. The thrust of Barbaras' departure from Husserl is that reality is given priority over consciousness; [f]ar from the notion that the world is constituted in lived experiences, there are lived experiences only on the basis of the world" (p. 68). According to Barbaras, the lived experience, like the thing, is given in adumbrations (p. 67). So what does this mean ontologically? Barbaras argues that if all manifestations are simulataneously comanifestations of a world, then the appearing cannot be fully present in its manifestation, and manifestation is, therefore, characterized by obscurity or distance. This, he says, is the expression of appearing's being-in-the-world (p. 67). (Barbaras does not reference Heidegger; I suppose there is some question as to whether Merleau-Ponty's being-in-the-world is the same as Heidegger's.)

At this point I'm tempted to go straight for the problem of being. Barbaras' text, however, is rather sophisticated, and resists drawing easy conculsions. He hasn't done away with the notion of a conscious subject so much as displaced it.

[I]n subordinating consciousness of the self to the general structure of appearance, the subject is not reduced to insignificance; nor is any specifity in relation to other appearings denied to it. Clearly the autonomy of appearance cannot be understood as the autosubsistence of a being, nor therefore as an anonymous manifestation that would not imply constitutively someone to whom this appears. Indeed, it must be said that if the essence of appearance implies the manifestation of a world, the essence of this world implies that it cannot be distinguished from its manifestation. If it is true, as Patoĉka states, that appearance is the universe itself, it must be added that this universe is its appearance–in accordance with the unity of the esse and the percipi that Merleau-Ponty thematizes–and that this universe cannot be conceived of without reference to a "who" to whom it appears. In short, the fact that the subject (the one to whom the universe appears) is not a constituent part of the world but, on the contrary, is dependent on appearance as manifestation of a world does not rule out but rather implies that this subject is equally constitutive of this structure inasmuch as there is appearance of the world only as appearance for.

(p. 69)

Now that the who of the world has been restored (as a for whom), I wonder if there is an essential way of relating to the world. Do we essentially relate to the world personally or impersonally? Do we understand our own appearance (consciousness) as a person or a thing? Or is there a possiblity of polyvocality in all of our relations? Is appearance itself polyvocal? Barbaras says that appearance is univocal (p. 67), but I'm not sure of this. Does the structure of appearance determine how we relate to the world? Bodily? This is a strange aspect of Barbaras' argument: the subject is essentially incarnated becuase incarnation is demanded by the structure of phenomenality. "It is not because one is incarnated that one has a point of view on the world; rather, it is because the essence of phenomenality implies that the subject to whom the world appears be inscribed in it that one is incarnated. One's inscription in the world, which is realized as a body, is merely the consequence of the structure of any manifestation's constitutive belonging" (pp. 70-71). I don't know if I buy it, but let's see what happens to the question of being when embodiment is subordinated to the reality of the phenomenon.

Barbaras designates the being-in-the-world of the appearing as the horizon (p. 77). The horizon, he says, following Merleau-Ponty, is a new type of being (p. 78). It is a "mode of being that defies the principle of identity" (p. 79). Givenness by adumbrations is rooted in the horizon: "the act of adumbrating that gives meaning to the notion of adumbration is the work of the horizon. To conceive of appearance as structured according to a horizon is to think of adumbrating as being" (p. 79). Finally, Barbaras says that "the nature of originary givenness, insofar as it is the givenness of a world, is precisely that it involves a dimension of invisibility or transcendence that the concept of horizon names" (p. 80).

I'm left with a few questions about this ontology of the sensible, this notion of adumbrating as being. Is it existential? Is it empirical? It's certainly counterintuitive to make embodiment dependent upon appearance; if it has the effect of keeping the phenomenological reduction honest, there might in fact be a problem with the reduction. Lastly, does Barbaras' ontology tell us anything about uniqueness? Is uniqueness more a qaulity of our reality than it is a quality of our subjectivity?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:14 AM.


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