Friday, June 29, 2007

Language as Organon

Merleau-Ponty says:

Language [langage] has a function analogous to the language [langue] of a new writer who, at first, is not understood but who little by little becomes understandable by teaching people to understand him. His gestures seem to point in nonexistent directions; then, little by little, some notions begin to find for themselves a potential [virtuel] home in these gestures. In the same way, language ends up coming alive for the child. At a certain moment, the whole set of indications, which draw toward an undetermined goal, call up in the child a concentration and a reassimilation of meaning. The internal structure of the language carries with its signification. Language is a system of a limited number of unities serving to express an unlimited number of things. There is therefore a going beyond the signifier toward the signified. The totality of meaning is never fully rendered: there is an immense mass of implications, even in the most explicit of languages; or rather, nothing is ever completely expressed, nothing exempts the subject who is listening from taking the initiative of giving an interpretation.

(Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, p. 29, my emphasis)

In this passage Merleau-Ponty shows his indebtedness to Karl Bühler, whose organon model of language (summarized here in English) he adopts. Does Bühler's model fit the data Merleau-Ponty has assembled?

The problem Merleau-Ponty addresses in particular is the acquisition of phonemes. (I had previously wondered whether it was proper to speak of infant vocalizations as phonemes; the answer is no.) One of the interesting facts of this stage of language acquisition is that the child appears to lose the ability to pronounce certain sounds, sounds that it was fully capable of making in the form of infantile babble. Merleua-Ponty, following Roman Jakobson, calls this phenomenon a deflation. The gradual acquisition of phonemic contrasts, starting with consonants, dentals before palatals is also of interest, but the main point is the phenomenon of deflation. Merleua-Ponty concludes from this that "[l]anguage is attained not as an articulatory phenomenon, but as an element of a linguistic game" (p. 25).

The contrast with Adriana Cavarero's position is clear. Whereas Cavarero sees a continuity between infant babble and what, following Bühler, can be called language's function as an appeal to others, with a de-emphasis on the role of consciousness, Merleau-Ponty sees a discontinuity between babble and the attainment of language, with an emphasis on the role of consciousness. Merleau-Ponty's position seems to be well attested. However, it still leaves open the question of infant babble and its relation to language acquisition. Intuitively, it would seem that babble is a vital stage in the journey towards language. Yet it can't quite be fit into a model such as Bühler's because whatever babble means, it does not mean in the same way that the phonemic system leads the child beyond the signifier towards the signified. But, then, where exactly is the appeal to others in the phonemic system? Here is Merleau-Ponty's strongest pitch:

The child's movement toward speech is a constant appeal to others. The child recognizes in the other another one of himself. Language is the means of effecting reciprocity with the other. This is a question of a vital operation and not only an intellectual act. The representatitve function is an aspect of the total act by which we enter into communication with others.

One could sum up in the notion of style what is newest in the phonological analysis. The phonemic system is a style of language. The style is defined neither by words nor by ideas; it possesses not a direct signification but an oblique one. It permits one to charaterize the phonemic system of language just as it permits one to characterize a writer.

(p. 31)

Again, I'm not seeing a comfortable fit between Merleau-Ponty's appropriation of Bühler and his appropriation of Jakobson. If language is the means of effecting reciprocity with the other, then the really interesting stuff with language begins happening in infancy, before the acquisition of phonemes. Or does it? What does the acquisition of phonemes add to the effecting of reciprocity? An order of style? Of beauty? Perhaps the acquistion of phonemic meaning is linked to a psychological development, a certain awareness of self that may or may not be destined for reciprocity. I couldn't tell you. I'm just saying.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:59 AM. 0 comments

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Can the World be Thought?

Common sense tells us that of course the world can be thought. In the phenomenology of Renaud Barbaras, however, the question of whether the world can be thought is not so simply settled. To begin with, let's take a look at the conclusions Barbaras draws from his chapter on "living movement," which includes an incisive consideration of Bergson's Matter and Memory:

One cannot reintroduce in the subject a specific dimension by which it would relate to the totality as such, an ability to dominate the world and to determine it adequately–in short, something like a thought; on the contrary, it is with regard to such an approach (which is still Husserl's) that Bergson's analysis demonstrates its value. Insofar as it all-encompassing, the world is essentially what can neither be dominated nor adequately given, which is why it disappears from everything that manifests it. The negative character of manifestation is the correlative of the unpresentability of the world. It is therefore through living movement that we must grasp in a unitary way the possibility of the manifestation and that of the comanifestation of the world it negates; we can account for perception that is based on movement only on the condition of elucidating a sense of being proper to the motor subject in which are constituted conjointly the manifestation and the totality of which the manifestation is the negation. Moreover, to the degree that, as motor, the subject can circumscribe its object only within the phenomenal field and to the degree that the manifestation of the phenomenal totality as such cannot rely on a nonvital (extraworldly) dimension, we must conclude from this that the movement from which perception proceeds constitutes totality in the act by which it negates it and therefore that there is a positing of totality only as its own negation. We are not asserting here the view that totality is given only in forms in which it is negated, but rather that it is in its negation that the totality as such is posited, as if the part were to give rise to the whole of which it is a part. The perceiving subject is defined by the fact that the movement it unfolds opens onto the totality in the very act by which it negates it by determining it in the form of a concrete manifestation. We find ourselves here midway between Husserl's and Bergson's positions: if perception is indeed a condition of the world, this condition cannot be based on an autonomous psychic order, and it must therefore proceed from vital activity itself, so that it is indeed in movement itself that the world must be constituted, a world that movement considers as the field against the background of which its negating power unfolds.

(Desire and Distance, pp. 105-106)

Thus while the world can be thought, it does not originally appear because it is thought; the world is originally posited as such as the negative pole of a movement toward manifestation, toward something that is percieved. In this view, negation, (perhaps) metonomy, and intentionality are not psychic operations but rather qualities of living movement, actions of the body. Barbaras says that perception is intentional because of its motility, i.e., not because of the intervention of a consciousness that is itself necessarily intentional (p. 101). In no uncertain terms he claims that "perceptual manifestation ultimately arises from the strict relation between a movement and a phenomenal field, and it is by no means necesssary to introduce any psychic reality whatsoever; the properly active moment of perception in which the autonomy of a subjectivity is confirmed resides in motility, which is why perception as such is indifferent to the division between the psychic and the corporeal" (p. 97).

Barbaras makes the case that movement forms part of the essence of perception (p. 89). That's not so difficult to grasp. However, to make his case against the introduction of a psychic reality, his argument depends on the reverse holding true, the idea that perception forms part of the essence of movement. (We've already looked at the problem of linking worldhood directly to motility; Barbaras and Jonas are on similar ground here, both dealing with the philosophy of the living organism and, ultimately, the relationship between movement and desire; and both seem to have a view of living movement that doesn't adequately explain the existence of the amoeba– it could be accounted for by a theory of semovience, but there is this problem of determining what is and what isn't psychic.) Barbaras' characterizes (living) movement thusly:

[M]ovement itself refers to the object on the basis of a mode that is irreducible to an objective and mechanical displacement; it is familiar with the object–there is perception within movement. It does not involve a perception distinct from it that would guide it or subsist in it in an implicit or unconcsious way. Such an interpretation is rooted in an inability to conceive of experience other than on the basis of psychic contents, foreign to the order of exteriority (in other words, in an inability to recognize the autonomy of appearance.) In truth, it is movement itself that perceives in the sense that the object exists for it, in which movement has its meaning, as its oriented nature attests, inspired and clairvoyant with regard to the living movement that often demonstrates an intimacy with its objective, an intimacy that runs deeper than that which knowledge exhibits. In an by movement the object appears, though without its manifestation being separated from its brute presence, according to the indistinctness between its essence and its existence. Here the grasp of the object is not distinguished from the gesture made toward it; perception takes place in the world and not in me, and the object is therefore perceived where it is. We are confronted with a strictly motor perception that unfolds exclusively in exteriority and rejoins rather than represents the object.

(pp. 91-92, Barbaras' emphases)

"Paradoxically," Barbaras says, following Bergson, "to say that image is for me is to say that it is itself, that it is distinguished from the totality" (p. 101). Are we therefore being asked to conceive of the world on the basis of a paradox? These two questions are not unrelated: Is the world as it originally appears the product of a thought, and can the world be thought at all? But if common sense continues to insist that the world can be thought, even on the basis of a paradox, are we not still left with the question of whether or not the world itself is thought? That is, of course, if Barbaras is simply wrong.

Barbaras points to the inexhaustability of perception (an idea we have briefly encountered before), and he links this to movement, to an "excess beyond the self" and to the "infinite excess of ability beyond action" (p. 95). I still maintain a healthy skepticism of the concept of excess (Dyadic Excess), and in this case I am much more inclined to regard movement as prone to exhaustion than thought, if those are indeed the alternatives. I have had experiences of being totally exhausted by thought, and of my thinking being exhausted. Along with the nightmarish prospect that thinking never rests (The Rhythm of Thinking), I must now consider the possibility that the living subject never sleeps nor rests, that it is constantly in movement. Can this really be the meaning of semovience? Well, if it is, then it just may follow that the world is unthinkable in its original form, because it is always at every conceivable moment of experience present before it can be thought. Hmm.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:12 PM. 9 comments

Friday, June 22, 2007

Life by its Own Name

Barbaras quotes from the following passage in Jacques Derrida's Speech and Phenomena:

Later, in his "Nachwort zu meinen 'Ideen,'" and in the Cartesian Meditations (§§ 14 and 57), Husserl will again briefly invoke this "precise parallel" between the "pure psychology of consciousness" and the "transcenendental phenomenology of consciousness." And in order to deny that transcendental psychologism which "makes a genuine philosophy impossible" (Cartesian Meditations, § 14), he will then say that at all costs we shall have to practice the Nuancierung ("Nachwort," p. 557) which distinguishes the parallels, one of which is in the world and other outside the world without being in another world, that is, without ceasing to be, like every parallel, alongside, right next to the other. We must stringently assemble and protect in our discourse these frivolous, subtle (geringfügigen), "seemingly trivial nuances" which "make a decisive difference right and wrong paths (Wege und Abwege) of philosophy" (Cartesian Meditations, § 14). Our discussion ought to incorporate and protect these protected nuances and thereby at the same time consolidate in them its own possibility and rigor. But the strange unity of these two parallels, that which refers the one to the other, does not allow itself to be sundered by them and, by dividing itself, finally joins the transcendental to its other; this unity is life. One finds out quickly enough that the sole nucleus of the concept of psychē is life as self-relationship, whether or not it takes place in the form of consciousness. "Living" is thus the name of that which precedes the reduction and finally escapes all the divisions which the latter gives rise to. But this is precisely because it is its own division and its own opposition to its other. In determining "living" in this way, we come to designate the origin of the insecurity of discourse, precisely the point where it can no longer assure its possibility and rigor within the nuance. This concept of life is then grasped in an instance which is no longer that of pretranscendental naïveté, the language of day-to-day life or biological science. But if this ultratranscendental concept of life enables us to concieve life (in the ordinary or the biological sense), and if it has never been inscribed in language, it requires another name.

(Speech and Phenomena, pp. 14-15, emphasis Derrida's)

I'm not sure that Derrida is right that the phenomenological idea of life requires another name. (I'll explore Barbaras' thinking on the topic in a later post.) We already have bios and zoë, a distinction that doesn't necessarily index a rigorous grappling with reality. No, it's quite possible that phenomenologists and biologists simply disagree about the meaning of "life." I'm not sure that all biologists even share the same understanding of what life is. Is a virus alive? I'm aware of the argument, put forward forcefully by Hans Jonas (see this post), among others, that the ultratranscendent concept of life enables us to conceive of life at all, but I have yet to be convinced that this argument must be true. In weighing in against clutter, I may also be tipping my hand against nuance. Ultimately I believe that phenomenology should engage and directly compete with the natural sciences, even if it means that phenomenology is shown to be inadequate. There's only so much that nuance can accomplish in such a situation, before it risks becoming a means of obfuscation and avoidance.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:39 AM. 5 comments

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Possibility of Monologue

Merleau-Ponty considers the ratio of monologue to dialogue in early childhood language:

Perhaps, as Piaget has suggested, one could introduce a new level of development after the age of five. Up to that point the child does not seek to communicate with others (dialogue) as much as to talk by himself (monologue). Speech, as a mode of social communication, does not gain importance until the child is seven or eight years old.

(Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, p. 20)

After reviewing a couple of sources, including David and Rosa Katz's Conversations with Children, Merleau-Ponty weighs in against this view of distinct monological and dialogical stages of development. All of the possibilities of language, for dialogue as well as monologue, are, from the very beginning, "inscribed in the expressive manifestations of the child. There is never anything absolutely new, but there are anticpations, regressions, and retentions of older elements in new form" (p. 21). He concludes that "the child appropriates linguistic Gestalten, general structures, neither by an intellectual effort nor by an immediate imitiation" (p. 21).

A new wrinkle has been added to a question that arose from my reading of Cavarero: how is monologue possible? Does monologue have its own Gestalt, or is it more freely a variation of the possibility of speech? Assume for a moment that there is a Gestalt for monologue. If the self is foregrounded in monologue, what is the shape of its horizon? Is the other foregrounded in dialogue, or does the foreground shift in dialogue between self and other? How exactly can we begin to describe the difference between the two Gestalten?

Finally, what does it mean to say that no intellectual effort is required for the acquisition of these Gestalten? Merleau-Ponty seems to be suggesting that human consciousness comes pre-equipped for language, and yet again he claims that these structures are appropriated. From where? And how, if not by intellectual effort? Not by assuefaction? Is monologue (or dialogue) something that we learn at all? Is there no interface between the noetic faculty and the acquisition of language, or is the exercise of the noetic faculty limited to certain functions like the grasping of the sign relation?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:27 AM. 0 comments

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. 0 comments

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Riffing on Antoine Grégoire's L'apprentissage du langage, Merleau-Ponty suggests that "perhaps certain aspects of the adult's interior language, which is often not formulated, are no more than a continuation of the babbling" (Consciousness and the Acquisition of Languagep. 16). Babbling, Merleau-Ponty tells us, involves a rich mixture of phonemes that are not found in the language spoken around the child, and is "therefore a polymorphic language, which is spontaneous with respect to its environment" (p. 11). Is it proper to speak of phonemes in the context of infantile babbling, where the connection between sound and meaning is obscure if it exists at all? Is it proper to speak of language at all? I think so. I think the polymorphic play of vocalizations is an aspect of language. Is it especially evident in the phenomenon of inner speech? On this point, I am reminded of Cavarero's animosity towards the idea of inner speech as a model for language, and I reckon there is a danger here of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In my mind there does seem to be an aspect of inner speech that resembles infantile babbling.

(Lámatyávë, by the way, is an Elvish word for "individual pleasure in the sounds and forms of words." Tolkien sees this as a rather mature sensibility about language.)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:09 AM. 0 comments

Monday, June 11, 2007

Desire and Nothingness

How can we experience nothingness? Or, better, perhaps, in what way is nothingness available to experience? Marion says that profound boredom is a way to experience nothingness. Trigg points to silence as a way nothingness can be experienced. Both Marion and Trigg, each in their own way, are reacting to Heidegger. Barbaras' discussion of nothingness confronts Husserl directly, drawing on Merleau-Ponty, Patoĉka, Granel, and Bergson (informed by Deleuze). Now, Barbaras says that "to desire is to focus on reality as absent, and it is therefore to refer to nonbeing as such" (Desire and Distance, p. 55); yet it is not altogether clear to me that Barbaras is saying that desire is a way to experience nothingness. He may be saying that nothingness can be felt and thought in ordinary perception, but not directly experienced. Or he may be saying something altogether different. Before I unpack this, I want to look at Barbaras' critique of Husserl.

Barbaras argues that Husserl's idea of the époché is undermined by a principle of sufficient reason, which, following Bergson, he views as a false problem. Asking why something exists rather than nothing, Barbaras says, presupposes "that nothingness can precede something, that being can emerge on the basis of nothingness, which is tantamount . . . to reversing purely and simply the respective ontological status of being and nothingness" (p. 48). This, according to Barbaras, is the root of essentialist thinking, which he regards as non-phenomenological.

The natural attitude is situated on a deeper level that Husserl himself understood it to be; it consists not in the thesis of "unique spatio-temporal reality" so much as in the implicit positing of a positive nothingness that leads one inevitably to conceive of this unique reality as an ensemble of objects. Therefore the époché, whose function is to clarify the status of the thesis of existence characteristic of the natural attitude, to elucidate the true meaning of the being of this unique reality, can consist only in a suspension of this naïve idea, which is to say, the positive thesis of nothingness. Otherwise stated, what makes the thesis of existence problematic is not the thesis of the existence of a world so much as the determination of this world as an object. The naïveté does not reside in one thinking that there is a world there, but rather in admitting that it is governed by a principle of absolute determinability and that it can therefore be attained as it is in itself. It is in the objectivist characterization of the world that the naïve opposition between the in-itself and for-itself, between being and appearance, is rooted. Furthermore, the purpose of the époché is to rejoin the thesis of the world in its purity, precisely as a thesis of existence; it is meant to grasp spontaneously the event of appearance before it is concealed by the appearing, to capture the the pure burst of "there is." This is why it must suspend what gives rise tot he degradation of this "there is" in in-self (or in object), namely the thesis of positive nothingness; it does not consist in suspension of thesis of existence but in suspension of what compromises the access to the meaning of this thesis of existence

(pp. 56-57, emphases Barbaras')

The nothingness of sufficient reason, Barbaras argues, "can in no way proceed from an experience" (p. 51). Again, he says that the idea of nothingness "can in no way be based on an experience, because there is always something, the flux of things, because fullness always follows upon fullness" (p. 52). And furthermore, "all experiences are experiences of something; the essence of experience implies the meeting with something real, however simple or indeterminate it may be, so that an experience that could refer to something other than what there is (to nonbeing) would not be an experience (it would unquestionably be something like a thought)" (p. 52). This isn't altogether unqeustionable in my mind. It's possible that thought is a subset of experience, rather than being something completely distinct. (And I note in passing that intentionality is indeed an aspect of Barbaras' phenomenology, though he is talking about experience instead of consciousness).

Citing Bergson, Barbaras breaks the idea of nothingness into two parts: an idea of substitution, and a feeling of desire or regret (p. 52). But, he says, "[n]othingness is in reality a mirage, in triparite sense that it assumes the horizon of perception, represents a reverse image of the real, and is the expression of a desire at the heart of reality that does not lend itself to it. It vanishes therefore when consciousness seeks to approach and thematize it" (p. 53). So far, he seems to be saying that desire refers to nonbeing as such, but that nonbeing cannot be thematized, and cannot be directly experienced. Does this make sense? Barbaras says, further, that "[i]f desire can indeed be reduced immediately to the confrontation between a positive feeling and a full reality, then taking into consideration desire's meaning reveals precisely a mode of negativity within things that does not provide an alternative to their presence" (p. 56). This brings us back to the idea of perception being given in adumbrations.

In Husserl's phenomenology, "givenness by adumbrations is like the arrested image of the very emergence of being against the backdrop of nothingness, the threat to being by nothingness. Adumbrations are located in an extremely rigorous way between being and nothingness" (p. 58, emphasis Barbaras'). Barabaras, however, gives a different reading to givenness by adumbrations. "In reality, the fact the adumbrations are situated between being and nothingness can be interpreted in an entirely different way: the adumbrations would reveal an original mode of being, one more profound than the crude distinction between positive being and negative nothingness, a being-at-a-distance" (p. 58).

So then, I'm unclear. Does desire point to nonbeing as such, an idea that comes from Barbaras' reading of Bergson, of does desire point to being-at-a-distance?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:42 AM. 1 comments

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Linguistic Anthropomorphism

If we hold the view that consciousness is unique, what does that entail about the phenomenon of language? Does it mean that language that is no mere thing? This is one of the questions that arises from Merleau-Ponty's introduction to Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language. Merleau-Ponty says that language "cannot be observed or grasped directly; it can only be exercised" (p. 6). Possibly he is completely wrong about this. Does rejecting this idea imply that we are bound to an idea of universal thought, to a sense of thinking that is not unique?

I was surprised to see Merleau-Ponty cite the work of Wolfgang Köhler (whose The Mentality of Apes I've just requested from the library.) Merleau-Ponty describes the anthropomorphism of Köhler's approach as "indispensable," because it ensures that "the life of the animal will not be reduced to the behavior that is under observation" (p. 9). Merleau-Ponty's brief defense of anthropomorphism reminded me of Hans Jonas, but I'd like to focus for a moment on what anthropomorphism means for the problem Merleau-Ponty has asked us to consider. If we can acquire a knowledge of language that may be described as intersubjective, must we resort to anthropomorphism? If we hold that language cannot be observed directly, it would appear that there is no other option. But is there another reason to favor an anthropomorphic method? Does the problem of the infant compel us to think anthropomorphically? (Now I am wondering to what extent Daniel Stern's work relies on anthropomorphism; does the problem of infancy necessarily lead one to imagine the subjectivity of the infant, and raise all the issues associated with such an imagination?)

Is language essentially mysterious, as Merleau-Ponty suggests? If language is a mere thing, does this mean that there is concievably a limit on the things that can insightfully be said about it? The ambiguousness of language is hardly deniable, but is it more or less swept under the rug by certain assumptions about what language is? If language is mysterious, then can we expect that judicious anthropomorphism may be in some instances demystifying, or would that merely compound the mysteries rather than solve them?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:53 AM. 0 comments

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lived Experience as Given in the Epoché

I must be pretty jaded because it doesn't startle me at all that Barbaras would accuse Husserl of getting phenomenology all wrong. His critique of transcendental phenomenology, though, has the distinction of being quite enjoyable. Barbaras' main thrust is against the idea of a thing in itself, but by the same token he calls into question the meaning of lived experience. (I wonder if the idea of experience won't be a problem for him as the work unfolds. He won't, I think, argue that perception is given prior to experience.) Anyway, to join Barbaras' argument midstream, he says of Husserl:

[I]n supporting the appearance itself over an originary appearing (the lived experience) Husserl betrays the radicality of the phenomenological reduction. The fact that this appearing is not given by profiles but is instead characterized by the identity of its being and its manifestation does not change the fact that the autonomy of the phenomenal is entirely compromised. Appearance as appearance of things is completely dependent on a specific manifestation and therefore on the positing of an appearing being, the lived experience. In determining the appearance on the basis of the lived experience, Husserl abides by the phenomenological requirement that prescribes regressing from the appearing, whatever it might be, to its appearance; he remains therefore, in regard to the lived experience, on the level of the natural attitude. Indeed, as Patočka writes, "There is a phenomenal field, a being of the phenomenon as such, that cannot be reduced to any being which appears at its center and which it is therefore impossible to explain from being, whether the latter be a naturally objective species or egologically subjective."

In this context, there is a lack of unitarian concept of the phenomenal that would include the natural reality and the lived experience and that would thus allow one to bridge the eidetic abyss that Husserl regards as separating consciousness and reality. But such a concept assumes a more radical époché, one that permits devitalization of the positing of the lived experience as self-evident and therefore finished with the pseudoevidence of consciousness.

(Desire and Distance, pp.33-34, emphasis Barbaras')

Barbaras rejects the notion that there are two types of lived experience: the sensuous hylé which is the "pure experiencing of what is grasped without distance" and the noematic moment, the kind of lived experience that "animates the hyletic data by apprehending them in accordance with a sense that confers upon them an ostensive function–that constitutes them as manifestations of something" (p. 22). Barbaras is certain that appearance is given by adumbrations but he is suspicious of noesis, "a mysterious concept whose specific function is to allow the hyletic datum to rejoin the objectivity from which was originally severed, accounting for the movement of adumbrating; this is a concept that bears the burden of intentionality" (p. 30). (My sense is that Barbaras considers the idea of the intentionality of consciousness to be a distorting bias that Husserl brought to his phenomenology.) The essential problem here, though, is that Husserl defines lived experience as what can be given in reflection, as what can become the object of internal perception (pp. 30-31).

Barbaras says that unquestionably the world is experienced in that appears to someone, and that this is a "subjective" reality. But, he says, "the recognition of this fact in no way prejudices what we must understand exactly by lived experience and the sense of being of the subjective. It could very well be that the subjective being of the world does not contradict its transcendence; indeed, that the appearance of the subjective–the cogito–is originally dependent on the manifestation of the world" (p.31). According to Barbaras, perception reveals an absolutely original mode of givenness, one that is partial (given in adumbrations), "that calls into question the rationalist requirement of exhaustive givenness" (p. 41). It is by clinging to this experience of the event of appearance that we can extricate ourselves from the quandry of Husserlian transcendental phenomenology (p.43).

So, finally, if Barbaras is justified in seeing Husserlian lived experience as colored by the natural attitude, what then characterizes lived experience as seen from within the époché? What can or cannot be said about it? Barbaras says that "the partiality of givenness is its very condition" (p.36).. Is this the way we really encounter things, or is this a presupposition?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:03 AM. 0 comments