Friday, September 18, 2009

Presence of Another Person: Silent Logos

Must we acknowledge the transcendence of the other person? The postulation of alterity and its attending shadow, an implicit ipseity, already prejudices the inquiry into coexistence. Is alterity perhaps then a necessary detour on the path to understanding coexistence? Is transcendence? Patočka usefully distinguishes between an abstract personal conception of the world and a concrete personal conception of the world. In the same way that we can approach the concrete personal after having discovered the abstract personal, we can approach the infrapersonal through the personal. The question arises, though, as to how the infrapersonal world connects with the world of things. Are they coextensive? Is there any continuity between them? How can we distinguish our unthinking projections of our own cherished images from our reachings towards knowledge?

"The other is not a transcendent existence, a being resting in itself," Barbaras argues from the vantage of a mature Merleau-Pontian phenomenology, "but another openness to the world" (Being, p. 243). Clearly he states that the other is not a transcendent existence; however, at other points in his exposition we are asked to acknowledge, understand and value the transcendence of the other. Are we to think of a transcendent openness in place of a transcendence existence? Or is there a troubling inconsistency in this approach to the presence of other people? Let's follow the argument through a longer passage:

The problem of the other should not be posed as the problem of the alter ego, because starting in this way from the identity of consciousnesses, one finds oneself immediately constrained to reject such consciousnesses in favor of a radical alterity. The relation to the other must be sought just short of this level, at the point where neither the other nor I are yet pure consciousnesses; that is, it must be sought on the plane of corporeity. But, on the other hand, it is nevertheless not a question of identifying the experience of the other with the revelation of this corporeity; instead of the other proceeding from the ordeal of my objectification, it is because the other first appears that I can discover for myself an objective body. Precisely insofar as it is truly the vector of the openness to the other, that is, to a determinate experience, corporeity cannot be understood as pure passivity, thrown back onto the side of the object. In short, in order that the other may remain transcendent, it is necessary that its givenness not proceed from an ego that is closed in on itself. But in order that this transcendence might be preserved, as appearing transcendence, it is necessary that the passivity to which it responds be simultaneously activity, that the movement of disappropriation, by which alone the other can advent, equally be appropriation. Incarnation is not the passage from a transparent consciousness to its other but the very modality according to which it can be in relationship with itself.

(p. 241)

Succinctly, Barbaras says that "in its carnal depth, transcendental subjectivity is truly transcendental intersubjectivity" (p. 247). My worry is that the intersubjective or the interpersonal, along with the infrapersonal, may be hastily conflated with the objective, for lack of a vocabulary for passage through various worlds. What exactly must the call to participate in the world of another person involve? What about tacit involvements, or the call to listen to a silent logos? What is our tacit relation to the other person? The obligation to question this relation is not only ethical but also internal to quest to understand the phenomenal (which may or may not constitute an ethical enterprise). We risk a deprived understanding of phenomenality if we conflate the objectivity we discover through our embodiment with any world that could possibly be discovered as coarising with coexistence, tacitly or otherwise. Infrapersonal horizons align with the depth of experience. Their extents are not measured by any euclidian geometry that would pertain to objects encountered in the natural attitude. "The other and its world are born together around a certain accent, around a certain dissonance at the heart of the spectacle. The other separates itself [s'écarter] from the world in a distance that is nevertheless not objectifiable" (p. 261).

Apparently I'm in danger of reading Barbaras, for the sake of argument, at too great a distance. True, he does say that "there is a full continuity between the thing and other, and that . . . the pertinence of a distinction between them must be called into question" (p. 264). This must be weighed against an argument for an "inner frame of intersubjectivity"(p. 253). I'll give Barbaras the last word here:

If the relation to the other has a meaning, the relation cannot be reconstituted on the basis of poles closed in on themselves, nor can it be reconceived on the basis of a neutral element within which every distinction would be abolished. The relation is this point of contact between subjectivities which is also a point of disjunction, this "surface" of separation where, finding themselves again, they are pushed back toward their difference, where the difference and the identity of consciousnesses and, consequently, the depth and the phenomenality of the world are constituted at the same time. It is necessary therefore to understand this Ineinander, this "inter" of intersubjectivity, as an ultimate, irreducible reality and finally as the fundamental Dimension of the world. There are not consciousnesses, because if the consciousnesses were truly consciousnesses, they would make one sole consciousness, and the solidity of the world would disappear in the inconsistency of a pure thought. There is no world or Being, because cut off from its phenomenalization it would not even be a world, it would disappear into nothingness. There is intersubjectivity, a hinge around which the world gains its unity, achieves a sense by dispersing itself in a plurality of experiences, thus preserving its depth and therefore also the depth of this sense. Intersubjectivity is the "field of fields" (VI 281/227) that is none other than those it articulates, the element in which the unity of carnal poles is at once both announced and differentiated.

(pp. 252-253, Barbaras' emphasis)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:40 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It calls to mind analyticish philosopher Donald Davidson's appeal to an essential Triangulation of Knowledges which grounds any episteme of the world, within which he estabishes Principles of Charity and Coherence, something he seems to anchor far below the threshold of the human.

September 18, 2009 2:38 PM  

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