Thursday, January 17, 2008

Every Movement Unmasks Us

Merleau-Ponty describes Descartes' Cogito ergo sum as the "Open Sesame!" of fundamental thought. Fundamental, Merleau-Ponty says, "because it is not borne by anything, but not fundamental as if with it one reached a foundation upon which one ought to base oneself and stay. As a matter of principle, fundamental thought is bottomless. It is, if you wish, an abyss" (Signs, "Introduction," p. 21). The never stand still of the self corresponds to a never stand still of being. Merleau-Ponty asserts that "the world and Being hold together only in movement; it is only in this way that all things can be together" (p. 22). Should we want all things to be together? Is there an incestuous impulse beneath Merleau-Ponty's chiasma of the flesh, or beneath the discussion of Being in general? What role do boundaries play in Thinking? The role of dramaturge? Does the never stand still have its Open Sesame in stillness, its point zero, as Kojima might suggest it must have; is there a chiasmus of the never stand still?

Let's spend a moment with the idea of the abyss. The abyss, Merleau-Ponty assures us, is not nothing. Here is some context:

Now as before, philosophy begins with a "What is thinking?" and is absorbed in the question to begin with. No instruments or organs here. It is a pure "It seems to me that." He whom all things appear before cannot be hidden from himself. He appears to himself first of all. He is this appearance of self to self. He springs forth from nothing; no thing and no one can stop him from being himself, or help him. He always was, he is everywhere, he is king on his desert island.

But the first truth can only be a half-truth. It opens upon something different. There would be nothing if there were not that abyss of self. But an abyss is not nothing; it has environs and edges. One always thinks of something; about, according to, in the light of something; with regard to, in contact with something. Even the action of thinking is caught up in the push and shove of being. I cannot think of identically the same thing for more than an instant. The opening is in principle immediately filled, as if lived only in a nascent state.

(p. 14)

Thinking takes place in contact–is this a half-truth? What sort of contact? Merleau-Ponty, in an almost Jamesian masculine voice, speaks of the push and shove of being. The masculine persona can only ever be half the story–and not even that. Who will speak for the caress of being? Who will speak for the soft contours of the abyss?

It seems to me that thinking is not an abyss, but is urgently in contact with the abyss. Yet what does thinking know of contact? Who taught it to touch? Has thinking always known contact and only been taught to forget, only learned to remember? Con-tact, the dictionary assures us, is mutual. It is the state or condition of touching, of two bodies touching each other. Can there be contact without boundaries? If I recognize the paper of my copy of Signs as flesh, what boundary is there between this flesh and my flesh? The book is the flesh of whose world?

The urgency of thinking is this: not to be borne but to be in contact with the abyss. I dream I walk on air and every step is a wonder. It is a recurring dream, as I may have mentioned before, yet still every step is a wonder. Merleau-Ponty struggles with repetition as anybody who thinks urgently must, although perhaps he imagines his struggle is with the identical. Can he for an instant think of identically the same thing? For an instant? For an instant? The instant is always at the back of thinking, the opening of the never stand still–Look, you're gliding over the abyss! The instant is not the vertical, though it has its leanings. It will not be repeated.

I receive these words as prophecy:

To make of language a means or a code for thought is to break it. When we do so we prohibit ourselves from understanding the depth to which words sound within us–from understanding that we have a need, a passion, for speaking and must (as soon as we think) speak to ourselves; that words have power to arouse thoughts and implant henceforth inalienable dimensions of thought; and that they put responses on our lips we did not know we were capable of, teaching us, Sartre says, our own thought.

(p. 17)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:29 AM.


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