Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Inquiry is a Continuous Beginning

I quote a paragraph from Merleau-Ponty's "The Philosopher and his Shadow" (in Signs) on the topic of epoché as the essence of inquiry. I'll return to the essay in a later post. The idea I want to play with here is how inquiry, any inquiry, draws the person of the inquirer into question in a movement like a return to self. What does inquiry look like once we continue to interrogate this reentry into the self?

Take for example the theme of phenomenological reduction, which we know never ceased to be an enigmatic possibility for Husserl, and one he always came back to. To say that he never succeeded in ensuring the bases of phenomenology would be to be mistaken about what he was looking for. The problems of reduction are not for him a prior step or preface to phenomenology; they are the beginning of inquiry. In a sense, they are inquiry, since inquiry is, as he said, a continuous beginning. We must not imagine Husserl hamstrung here by vexatious obstacles; locating obstacles is the very meaning of his inquiry. One of its "results" is the realization that the movement of return to ourselves–of "re-entering ourselves," St. Augustine said–is as if rent by an inverse movement which it elicits. Husserl rediscovers that identity of "re-entering self" and "going-outside self" which, for Hegel, defined the absolute. To reflect (Husserl said in Ideen I) is to unveil an unreflected dimension which is at a distance because we are no longer it in a naive way, yet which we cannot doubt that reflection attains, since it is through reflection itself that we have an idea of it. So it is not the unreflected which challenges reflection; it is reflection which challenges itself. For by definition its attempt to revive, possess, internalize, or make immanent has meaning only with respect to an already given terminus which withdraws into its transcendence beneath the very gaze which has set out in search of it in this attempt.

("Shadow," p. 161, Merleau-Ponty's emphases)

Let's suppose reentry into the self elicits an ecstasy, a coming outside the self. Do we reenter the same self we remember being inside–for surely we do remember something like being inside the self or it would make no sense to speak of "reentry" in place of entry. Can we see that from an ecstatic perspective? Let's question the continuity of reentrances. Could we sense a memory of estrangement called up by reentry? Or is estrangement a feeling we have about ecstasies, memories of ecstasies. A mood is set by reentry and far more. In saying "reentry" we have imagined a whole person, a person with a depth of history, memories, forgetfulness, an eventful world, feelings, imagination, style. Such repleteness may tell us something critical about inquiry itself. Nevertheless, have we not also created an obstacle to inquiry? Can the reentered self be questioned on the same grounds as the self that would have existed prior to any reentry, a personalistic self, perhaps; or does reentry call for a new logos, a newly entered conversation, one that recognizes the singularity of the person quite apart from any totalizing scheme? Do we find a malleated self at the horizon of reentry, its malleations possibly effected by reentry, or are we faced with the malleations of an image of self, the work of an imagination that might be mistaken for continuous were it not for its slips into ecstasy? I don't propose here that the imagination slips into ecstacy alone, although one can of course imagine a reduction to solitude and its vexations; I only mean to say that a philosophy of the imagination is not necessarily a philosophy of mind, in the sense that Merleau-Ponty gives that term in his reading of Husserl.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:05 AM.


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