Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Notes on Intersubjectivity

Barbaras carries forward Merleau-Ponty's critique of Sartrean intersubjectivity, a critique which easily applies more broadly. The first point to make almost goes without saying. Barbaras writes that the reality of the other is inescapably missed "as soon as the other is understood as a unity of sense constituted in me, as an analogon of the ego" Being, p. 131). It's my feeling that the ego, rather than presenting a model or a vehicle for approaching the other, in fact distances the self from the other, conceptually at first, but with actual consequences for the relation to the other. This distance is not the distance of the detour so much as that of the wrong path. This is not to say that the goal of meeting the other is the obliteration of all distances. Nonetheless, the possibility of approach structures any encounter, and the encounter with others is no less primeval than the experience of self. The journey through the ego abridges the encounter.

Merleau-Ponty's concept of laterality corrects a theoretical misapprehension of how the encounter with the other actually plays out. As Barbaras says:

The other is given to me only laterally; it envelops me rather than looks at me. And the face-to-face from which a victor must emerge represents only the most radical modality, which is never completely realized, of this primary "laterality."

(p. 136)

Perhaps the critique goes to far, stretching the meaning of laterality to the point where it can mean just about any worldy contact. We should question the sense in which contact with other people is always mediated by the world. In any event, laterality remains a powerful conceptual corrective.

"The experience of the other is that of an encounter," Barbaras declares. "It is not to be asked then, how knowledge of the other is possible, as one need only clarify the meaning of this encounter" (p. 128). Are we allowed to ask then how it is possible to clarify meanings? Anyway, Barbaras continues his riff, asking us to "discover, in the heart of consciousness as it is lived, a dimension which throws it back out toward the exteriority of the other. Because the relation of consciousness to the other is a relation of being rather than of knowledge, its lived immanence does not entail a the negation of all transcendence" (ibid.). How do we know this? How does the body of knowledge that attests to the beingness of the relation to the other support the distinction drawn here between being and knowledge? As for the main clause, why should transcendence be affirmed or denied at the point where the actuality of the relation to the other becomes evident? Do we know that transcendence isn't an irredeemably egological concept, illsuited for a discussion of coexistential laterality?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:06 AM.


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