Friday, June 12, 2009

The Eidos of the Question

"It is a characteristic of the philosophical interrogation," Merleau-Ponty says (Visible, p. 160, in Barbaras, Being, p. 88), "that it return upon itself, that it ask itself what to question is and what to respond is." I note how Merleau-Ponty includes response in his characterization of the philosophical question. Questioning proceeds from speech, which I tentatively define as both expression and response, that is, as a modality of intersubjective life, which patterns its inner dynamic. Here's a question, then, about the definition of the question: Does the question necessarily express anything?

Is it possible that the question necessarily expresses doubt? Does doubt express anything? What does doubt have to do with the eidos of the question? Barbaras states that doubt is shown by Merleau-Ponty, in his critique of Descartes, to be "inadequate to the sense of philosophical interrogation" (Being, p. 89). He means Cartesian doubt, it must be made clear, and I reckon the meaning of "philosophical" deserves to be explored a little. We can keep the question in mind, however, redefining terms as needed.

Isn't there something deliberately weak, from a philosophical viewpoint, about inquiring into the eidos of the question? There may be some call for a defense of a postcritical eideticism, a call for some kind of philosophical statement. What do we mean, though, by philosophy? What makes a statement or a question philosophical? Philosophy is always a return from constructa to lived experience, Merleau-Ponty says ("The Philosopher and Sociology," Signsp. 112). Philosophy does not rest still with social theory but plunges into the intersubjective world–in the mode of questioning? What sort of an engagement is that? It would by the definition given above be intersubjective or coexistential. Philosophy, Merleau-Ponty continues his thought, "has a dimension of its own, the dimension of coexistence–not as a fait accompli and an object of contemplation, but as the milieu and perpetual event of the universal praxis" (p. 113). Universal praxis. Do we need to perform an eidetic reduction of the praxis of the question along the way of inquiring into eidos of the question? How do we make the return to lived experience—as if something about our reflections or our ideas hadn't been living. Curious. Did we ever leave lived experience expecting to learn something in return? Our questions inhere in ex-pectations?

Merleau-Ponty argues that Husserl's promotion of the Lebenswelt to be the central theme of phenomenology is not inconsistent with certain earlier thinking about eidetic intuition as confirmation of experience. But hasn't the eidetic shifted meaning? Should we recognize some tergiversation in phenomenology's grappling with the eidos? Would that be an adequate reason to turn our attention completely away from the eidetic?

When the recognition of the life-world, and thus too of language as we live it, becomes characteristic of phenomenology. . .this is only a more resolute way of saying that philosophy does not possess the the truth about language and the world from the start, but is rather the recuperation and first formulation of a Logos scattered out in our world and our life and bound to their concrete structures–that "Logos of the aesthetic world" already spoken of in the Formal and Transcendental Logic. Husserl will only be bringing the movement of all his previous thought to completion when he writes in a posthumous fragment that transitory inner phenomena are brought to ideal existences by becoming incarnate in language. Ideal existence, which at the beginning of Husserl's thought was to have been the foundation for the possibility of language, is now the most characteristic possibility of language.

(p. 105, my bold)

A warning from Barbaras, who argues that the phenomenon of speech calls for a phenomenological reduction, "a reduction that allows us to understand the world on the basis of this possibility, that is, to understand the world as sense. By characterizing sense in terms of positive meaning, however, the philosophy of essence testifies just as much to its misunderstanding of speech. It considers the expressive operation as something completed; it forgets operative speech in favor of constructed speech. Instead of interrogating the emergence of language in the world, it naively gives itself language in the form of the world" (p. 109).

If there is something circular in the idea of the philosophical question, there may equally be a circularity in the idea of the question. Well, the question does not ask itself. That too is its eidos, or an aspect of its eidos, which must be "held and understood within the openness it unfolds" (p. 106; NB, Barbaras is speaking of "the absolute" here).

Finally I'll say a word about doubt, which may pertain to Cartesian doubt, or other forms of doubt. It is possible to sustain, as a kind of doubt, a hypothesis of the hypothetical which is irreducible to a negation of any given existence, but rather simply an indifference to any secondary claim about existence that hasn't been tried; a doubt which parenthesizes in lieu of either affirmation or denial. I am aware of the criticisms of this position, but am not yet convinced by them. Perhaps we should learn what doubt really is before deciding whether or not the question necessarily expresses doubt, philosophical or otherwise. Must one detach oneself from doubt in order to study doubt? Must one negate the experience of doubt in order to ken its essence? (We would be speaking of "morphological," inexact essences; that much we take from our readings). And wouldn't we have to ken the essence of doubt in order to answer any question of its necessity as a precondition, perhaps, for the question, the experience and the idea of the question. "The very being of the question," Barbaras writes, "excludes the possibility that the question remain without a response, gaping toward a transcendence" (pp.89-90). As I interpret him, Barbaras is speaking specifically of the Cartesian question, such as it is as a kind of commonplace, the question of the existence of the world, and he means to be critical. Is it possible for a question, any question, to remain without a response? Is it possible that the question inheres in response whether or not it is possible for a question to go without a response? That I suspect is true, but to appreciate its truth one must interrogate the way of asking questions, always returning from the constructa to the lived experience, the experience of the question.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:12 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it be that the eidos of the question is the "Hole" at the "Center of Vision"?

Could it be that it is what the carpenter's hand lingers on, when it feels the discontinuity in the wood?

June 12, 2009 3:34 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I don't know. I suppose it could be, though I hesitate to accept definite answers. I enjoyed your post and will definitely pick up Richard Sennett's The Craftsman.

What connection do you feel between lingering and questioning?

June 12, 2009 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the link between lingering and questioning, as you put it, creating a loop, a temporal topos in which to sediment the elements perhaps. Descartes imaginary questioning I believe is often misconstrued. It was thought, I believe, as a way to focus the mind, a pedagogy, but not an assurance. But much happens when optical metaphors are too far taken. Is it not when we linger we step outside of the cadence and let other rhythms in. When the carpenter's hand lingers, this seems a space for alternate rhythm values to enter, and become more attached to the larger coherence of her/his perception.

June 13, 2009 8:16 AM  

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