Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sense without Signs

As we've seen, László Tengelyi favors Sinnbildung over Sinngebung, and Erfahrung over Erlebnis. His discussion of an experiential sense in The Wild Region of Life-History touches on a few more ideas I'd like to consider. The first of these is a broadened concept of sense.

Tengelyi draws a distinction between linguistic meaning and extralinguistic sense, and he claims that "all lived experience is related to the spontaneous emergence of a dispossessed sense, whereas the conceptual and linguistic expression of this sense is necessarily based on a retroactive fixation of sense" (p. 3). This is a little confusing, because Erlebnis is often rendered into English as "lived experience," yet Tegnelyi seems to want to talk about Erfahrung. He regards Erlebnis as the product of a static analysis, whereas Erfahrung refers to "the emergence of a new insight" (pp. 18-19). The conclusion I draw is that Tengelyi also means to investigate Erfahrung as it is lived. He departs from Husserl by intending to provide a phenomenology of experience that includes what takes place "behind the back of consciousness," which Tengelyi equates with the interintentional and the spontaneous.

Tengelyi makes a keen observation about intentionality. He says that it has the structure of "the consciousness of something as something" (p. 13, Tengelyi's emphasis). He notes that the German Etwas als Etwas ("something as something") is often translated into French, for instance by Levinas, as ceci en tant que cela ("this as that"), pointing to the concept of difference that is inherent in the idea (p. 5). One could easily become entangled in conceptual paradoxes of the indentical and the different, of sameness and alterity. Tengelyi sees this as a deceptive shortcut to grasping experiential sense. The task for phenomenology, which he regards as true for Hegel as well as for Husserl, is not to conceive experience dialectically, but to conceive dialectics in terms of experience (p. 6).

Taking a cue from Gadamer, Tengelyi imagines experience in its poignancy.

[E]xperience always touches a sore point; it cuts to the quick, it strikes home; it has, in other words, its characteristic poignancy. That is why experience, in its original form–as the experience one gains–is one's own lived experience, which belongs to one's own life-history and is properly expressed in the first-person singular.

(p. 7, Tengelyi's emphases)

I want to clarify a distinction Tengelyi makes between primary and secondary notions of experience before offering a criticism. According to Tengelyi, shared experience is a secondary notion of experience, a dispositional and sedimented kind of experience, whereas experience in its primary sense of an event of poignancy is always singular. I'm unhappy with this distinction. There are examples of shared experience that are not in the third-person, but the first-person plural. Erotic experiences would be the example par excellence (though of course there are phenomena of autoeroticism). If you've read this far, I assume we are sharing some kind of experience, an experience that goes beyond my solitary act of writing and enters into conversation. There is a possibility of discovering poignancies together, of furthering a discussion into poignancies that are not mine alone. My commentary may surprise you, and it may surprise me as well; I expect the same is true of your commentary, should you choose to offer any. If the event of poignancy is a sense without signs, it by no means follows that we can't experience a poignancy together. Even silences, heavy with poignancy, may be shared. The move from Sinngebung to Sinnbildung suggests this possibility, yet in emphasizing the spontanteous generation of sense, Tengelyi seems to foreclose on the reality of the plural interior of experience. We are exposed to the bite of the world, capable of sharing events of poignancy, a fact I am sure of because of the way I experience my body. Is empathy spontaneously generated? Is that the word?

Now I have to clarify what Tengelyi means by "interintentional," because his meaning is not the same as Kojima's interintentionality. For Kojima, interintentionality points to an orginal plurality of the transcendental consciousness. For Tengelyi, on the other hand, interintentionality refers to "shreds of sense on a path running from one intentional experience to another. We may describe these shreds as interintentional moments of a spontaneous sense formation, adding that the phenomenon of 'interintentionality' gives its precise meaning to the expression 'behind the back of consciousness'" (p. 19, Tengelyi's emphasis). Now, there is a sense in which Kojima's interintentionality also occurs, so to speak, behind the back of consciousness. Which of these approaches offers more insight into the everyday experience of empathy? We'll see how Tengelyi deals with these problems when he turns his attention to the experience and ethics of alterity.

Labels: , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 10:55 AM.


Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page