Friday, June 20, 2008

Existence Says

Although we share vocabulary and interests, what I should want to say about language should not be confused with what Michel Henry says in "Material Phenomenology and Language (or, Pathos and Language)" (trans. Leonard Lawlor, Continental Philosophy Review 32:343-365, 1999).

There are no languages that we know of which are not languages of the world. This statement remains true under several different hypotheses about the world or different definitions of "world." The phenomenological epoché does not deny the existence of what is known in everyday speech as "the real world" or in some jargons as "the material world." The epoché merely suspends belief in "the real world," which is to say it delays answering a question of such a world's existence, a question of whether such a world might be the world, the world itself, or whether the things of and in this everyday world might possibly be the things themselves. This delay of the question about "the real world" does not mean that the epoché occurs in the absence of a world. The world that is given with phenomenality which appears through the epoché may be designated as the lifeworld–be warned: I am not reciting phenomenological doctrine here but rather offering an opinion. I have raised all kinds of questions about this phenomenal world and how it is given (for instance, might it be given as chaosmos), but, whatever its attributes or character, I am inclined to regard the world that is given with phenomenality as apodictic. Here today I might say "lifeworld" in contradistinction to Henry who radically opposes Life and world if only, perhaps, to radically unite them again. There should be no need for such gestures, and in fact if we agree to suspend the question of the existence/nonexistence of "the real world" then we can just say "world." Do we posit that this phenomenally given world is not given as dead? Apodicitity is in actuality tough to come by. Things (life, death) may be given meontically. There may or may not be such at thing as ontological difference, which may or may not matter phenomenologically. The agent of the epoché may be given as radically different from his or her phenomenal world, or the things given within this world, if or insofar as "things" are given as things. Notwithstanding these proliferating doubts, we can still talk about the worldliness of languages, and at the very least distinguish a meaningful sense of language from either Henry's dead language of the world or his autorevelatory language of Life.

Nominalization (or reference) hardly begins to describe what language does or is. Reference is petty. Unconcealing is petty. This judgment is the basis of my profound disagreement with Henry. The language of the world is not indifferent: not to the things it names, nor to the world, nor to speakers nor listeners, nor to itself, nor to the operations, feelings, entities, assemblages nor intertwinements it brushes up against. This is of course a crude way of phrasing things. There are languages and there are worlds, and before we can ever come to a question of whether a language is its own world, which may not be to say that it is enclosed or isolated, we stumble across the question of what a language is (or does). We should probably say "does" at this point to give speaking precedence over Speech or Language (*language) though it may raise a question of whether the epoché says anything, whether it is speaking or speech, the saying or the said or an altogether different sort of operation.

"Language does many things" is the ordinary way of saying that *language is an assemblage of a multitude of operations. However, the latter phrasing is far from adequate. Language does not assemble by any additive process, but rather it operates algebraically and reflexively, that is, it enables its algebra to be turned on itself, which is never merely a question of an ability to refer. Language multiplies differences. I won't say that's all it does because I don't want the discussion to devolve into pettiness. The key argument here is that language does many things.

Pace Henry the mode of appearance of the language of the world is pathetic, or passionate. Pathos is not self-centered. Although passions involve the self, we cannot arbitrarily discount the other-orientations of passions. Passions are indeed, among other things, other-oriented. They are, to use a word that must be used, interipseitious. When I say the language of the world is passionate, I mean the logos, and I can be taken to mean that philosophy is felt. The interipseity of philosophy means this: that one delights in sharing the love of knowledge. (NB: I imagine myself as optimistic, not stupid.)

Taste an epiphany: I hear your birth as saying, saying something to me if you must have objects. Therefore I wouldn't speak of the "noise of birth" nor would I separate the cry from the real language of the world. It is not for nothing that I hear your existence. In following Adrianna Cavarero's recovery of the logos as phone semantike through to a conclusion that "[h]earing consigns us to the world and its contingency" (For More than One Voice, p. 37), and going one step further, I am consigned to our contingency, yours and mine together, which is given with the world. This is of course a crude way of phrasing things. There are many contingencies, many of us, many wes. The modalities of consignment are surely multitudinous and multifarious as well. For all of the multiplicities I am no less passionately consigned to our world, contingent as it is, and to our contingencies.

I have delayed the question of whether our contingent world corresponds to "the real world." It ceases to press upon me. I don't doubt that you exist, though I might be curious to know how you exist.

Does existence speak through us or do we speak through existence? In any case we speak to each other. If I wanted to speak of the materiality of language I would be speaking of voices and the interipseitious world in which they are heard, of the passionate consignment to our world and to our contingency. But no doubt I would be talking to you. Feel me?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:05 PM.


Anonymous Shahar Ozeri said...

I've been enjoying your recent musings on Michel Henry. One of the things that's been bothering me about Henry throughout is what to make of the relation/role of the inter-subjective with regards to self manifestation, and (minimally) it seems Henry has little to say about this. Or, I'm just not seeing it. You wrote:

"When I say the language of the world is passionate, I mean the logos, and I can be taken to mean that philosophy is felt. The interipseity of philosophy means this: that one delights in sharing the love of knowledge"

This is a nice couple of sentences, indeed. And it seems rather close to Levinas' definition of philosophy as the wisdom of love in the service of love, no?

June 22, 2008 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Shahar Ozeri said...

by the way, if you happen to have an "e-copy" (pdf) of this article would you mind passing it my way on email to

No matter if you don't I'll just have to overcome my increasing laziness, find the journal and operate the photocopy machine at the library etc.

June 22, 2008 8:01 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks, Shahar.

Nick's comment and now yours has me thinking about the subject in Henry's phenomenology. Based on this handful of essays, Henry really does seem limited to something like a subject, or as he says, a Self. The absence of any word about the intersubjective is conspicuous. I'm having a hard time this morning wrapping my head around the idea of a transcendental intersubjectivity, and I can't rule out that Husserl may have known very well what he was talking about in the Meditations when he said something to the effect that originary intersubjectivity can only be phenomenologically accessed through transcendental subjectivity (if I understand correctly). You know, when I question the anteriority/posteriority of sidedness I'm trying to get at the problem Henry talks about as "Self," and I must have it in my mind that something like intersubjectivity (interipseity, co-existence) is both primordial and available at the outset of the reduction. (Note to self: elaborate on a theme of co-evality (vis-a-vis throughness).)

I was not familiar with that definition of Levinas'. I have five of his books in my personal library, because he has intrigued me, but I haven't had the time or discipline to read them all yet. (I started Totality a few times, but it exhausted me.) When it comes to philosophy I'm a complete autodidact, or rather I'm in the process of teaching myself. Seriously reading Levinas is one of the gaps I need to fill. Anyway, looking at this section in Otherwise, yes, we are close in our critique of indifference, and I wouldn't then disagree with his thinking about philosophy being at the service of love. I'm uncertain about transcendence at the moment and uncertain about Illeity.

"Philosophy is called upon to conceive ambivalence, to conceive it in several times." I probably have way too much to say about this.

June 23, 2008 6:40 AM  

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