Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Autant d’Apparaître, Autant d’Être

How does the philodendron on the shelf behind me exist? What's its phenomenality, if we can think about it that way? We've touched up against the idea that being and appearance coincide once or twice or more, but it's never been settled in my mind how this idea should be thought, much less how it might be critiqued. One flight path leads us to lived experience, well conceived, leaving us within the borders of a phenomenology though perhaps poised for a second departure into cosmobiology, or it leads us to the experience of living, which may take us beyond any phenomenology without fuss or pomp. May. Now let's look at how Michel Henry goes at the coincidence of being and appearance in his lapidary essay "Phenomenology of Life" (trans. Nick Hanlon, Angelaki, vol. 8, No. 2, August 2003, pp. 97-110). He says:

Another primary intuition of phenomenology is that appearing is more essential than being; it is only because it appears that a thing is able to be. To express this with Husserl, using a formula borrowed from the Marburg School (which I modify slightly): "Something is inasmuch as it appears [Autant d’apparaître, autant d’être]." I carry this precedence of phenomenology over ontology one step further by saying that it is only if the appearing appears in itself and as such that something, whatever it may be, can in turn appear, can show itself to us.

(p. 100)

I don't know French so I couldn't tell you the difference between the formulas "autant d’apparence autant d’être" and "autant d’apparaître, autant d’être," nor could I speak to differences between apparaître and comparaître, nor to similarities between disparaître and transparaître, nor to what any of this would have to do with reparaître, which may well be a final destination, though I won't cease to question it. Since Henry mentions the Marburg School I'll take this opportunity to reiterate that in my exploration of the experience of living the transcendental remains on hold, at least until I can figure out what it might mean, much in the same way the ontological difference remains on hold, though to be perfectly honest I've leaned against affirming any such thing. As I interpret this position, Henry is in fact giving precedence to phenomenality over phenomena and beings (phenomena-and-beings). So what meaning would be left for a coincidence of being and phenomenon?

When phenomenologists talk about consciousness—phenomenality is indeed about consciousness, about a grasping of Etwas als Etwas—we may be asked to set aside ordinary, psychologistic notions of subjectivity, interiority and such in light of this phenomenological understanding of the intentionality of consciousness. Well, is there anything about phenomenality that would compel us to hitch our wagons to transcendentalism? I'll tell you where Henry is going with this thinking about a phenomenology of life. He says, "no life can appear in the appearing of the world" (p. 101). Quite a claim. We'll look at his special definition of "life" in a moment, but I'd like to back up just a jot to see what pushes this idea forward. Henry says, "The very possibility of phenomenality becomes problematic if the principle of phenomenality escapes its grasp" (ibidem). Ah hah! Phenomenality has a grasp! On this much I can agree with Henry. But what is this notion of needing to grasp a principle (ἀρχή)? What could be prior to grasping and still remain with the realm of the phenomenal, or within phenomenality? Would the lifeworld be exactly a principle? In any case, Henry alerts us to a pitfall we should wish to avoid: reflexivity of consciousness leading to an infinite and ultimately pointless regression of consciousness about consciousness and so on. I should quote Henry more fully:

[H]ow does the intentionality which shows or makes visible every thing reveal itself to itself? Could it be by directing a new intentionality upon itself? If so, can phenomenology avoid the bitter destiny of that classical philosophy of consciousness which finds itself bound in an endless regression, obliged to place a second consciousness behind the knowing consciousness (in our case a second intentionality behind the one that we are attempting to wrest from obscurity)? Or else does a mode of revelation exist other than the showing of intentionality, in which phenomenality would no longer be that of the outside? Phenomenology has no answer to this question.

(ibidem, my bold)

Let's think about new intentionalities. Is (re)birthing a happy alternative to regression? (The idea of a rebirth is so fraught with connotations I'll briefly reaffirm my agnosticism, whether or not it matters much.) Is birthing an arche? Would it be transcendental birth and only transcendental birth that requires a grasp of its arche? Oh, the betrayals that follow from first principles. Would anarchic rebirthing really be any more or less of a betrayal of birth than transcendental birth is? Who gave birth to beyond? Would it be a betrayal of grasp to have no beyond, or, alternatively, to remove beyond from reach? Is the "I can" capable of comprehending all of the new intentionalities who are born? Does birth exhaust life?

This is what Henry says:

For we too are born of absolute Life. To be born does not mean to come into the world. Things appear for an instant in the light of the world before disappearing into it. Things are not "born." Birth concerns only living beings. And for these living beings, to be born means to come to be as one of these transcendental living Selves that each of us is. It is solely because we have first come into life that we are then able to come into the world.

(pp. 104-105)

Henry's thinking about life leads us to a familiar conundrum: in his view either my philodendron has feelings or it is not living. Indeed, he says "all modalities of life. . . are affective at their root" (p. 105). The thought seduces the existentialist side of the psyche, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Henry takes from biology's difficulty in pinning down what exactly life means an opportunity to put forward a radical alternative:

[T]he appeal to sensation which can alone give access to reality hides within it an appeal to life, that is, to a radically different mode of appearing. Life is phenomenological through and through. It is neither a being [étant] nor a mode of being [être] of a being. This is not the life about which biology speaks. To tell the truth, modern biology no longer speaks about life. Since the Galilean revolution its object has narrowed to material processes compatible with those studied by physics. As François Jacob expresses it: "In today’s laboratories one no longer enquires about life."

(pp. 102-103)

Henry moves quickly from life as phenomenological to life as transcendental and absolute, from an idea of autorevelation to one of autodonation: "Absolute life is life which has the power to bring itself into life. Life "is" not, it happens and does not cease happening" (p. 104). However much we might want to run with an idea of ceaseless happening, we should be careful that we aren't betraying something or somebody we'd rather remain true to. Ourselves perhaps. Perhaps not. Isn't autodonation a poor substitute for birth—Hi, mom!—or indeed for donation?

Now I'm going to turn my thoughts to the philodendron on the shelf behind me, to its phenomenality, and to its appearance or lack thereof in my theatre of the phenomenal. I reckon there may be some slippage in the coincidence of the being and the appearance of the philodendron, because I don't maintain doubts about its existence when my eyes are turned away from it. I expect it to be there when I turn around. A wee bit of appearance seems to count for plenty of being—but what is a plenitude of being? Is appearance pregnant with being? Phenomenality? Timing. We have to have something like a synkairotic to allow the philodendron to have its say in our habits of phenomenality. Not that it says much. Maybe a wee bit. I don't know. Now I am suspicious of a perfectly synchronous coincidence of being and appearance.

To begin to answer my original question, how does philodendron on the shelf behind me exist? Not all at once. If becoming by birth is a how of its existence, the coincidence of this how with the how of its appearing would be synkairotic.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:57 PM.


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