Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Philosophers and their Shadows

Barbaras comments on Merleau-Ponty's "The Philosopher and His Shadow," his own commentary on his reading of Husserl:

His approach to the history of philosophy is the heir of his philosophy of perception and intersubjectivity: just as the thing is not frontally and objectively possessed but rather grasped in transcendence in a lateral way, the thought of an author is not such that one can make a precise list of what belongs to it and what it has ignored. The relation of commentary is a modality of the intersubjective relation, of linguistics in particular. In dialogical experience, I do not communicate to another a thought possessed elsewhere. I think with him and make myself in his image; moreover, his thought comes to itself only be formulating itself and offering itself to me, so that there is no clear-cut distinction between what would belong strictly to an author and what the interpretation projects into the author. What defines a thought is what is was still seeking to say, its "unthought," which can be revealed only in a reflection which, on the basis of its difference, turns itself into the echo of the thought. Therefore, the rejection of the idea that one must subject a reading to objectivity in favor of the idea that one must attempt to explicate an unthought can be a higher form of fidelity.

(Being, p. 69)

I think with him and make myself in his image. Merleau-Ponty says, "I borrow myself from others; I create others from my own thoughts. This is no failure to perceive others; it is the perception of others" (159). The quotidian personalistic attitude towards the world, which we hope to be able to understand rhythmosophically, via reductions by a method of improvisatory rhythmic variation, does not in the first place imagine other people as other minds and then more or less as an addendum supply bodies and a sense of concrete material horizons to the image of the other. There is no constituting of a mind for a mind but of a person for a person. We imagine whole persons. If we were to follow Merleau-Ponty's lead, we'd find that the body, in particular, its status as "the viniculum of self and things" (p. 166), holds the key to grasping the intersubjective dimension of the personalistic imagination. On the model of touch, physical and personal at once, "[t]he physical thing becomes animate. Or, more precisely, it remains what it was (the event does not enrich it), but an exploratory power comes to rest upon or dwell in it" (ibid., my emphasis). If we grasp such an exploratory power through the grasp of the experience of our own free hands, are we thus employing a metonymic relation necessarily mediated by explicit cognitions? The question is that of imagining the whole person. Merleau-Ponty uses the example of shaking hands as a knowledge of the other, reasoning:

[W]e have here neither comparison, nor analogy, nor projection or "introjection." The reason why I have evidence of the other man's being-there when I shake his hand is that his hand is substituted for my left hand, and my body annexes the body of another person in that "sort of reflection" it is paradoxically the seat of. My two hands "coexist" and are "compresent" because they are one single body's hands. The other person appears through an extension of that compresence; he and I are like organs of one single intercorporeality. For Husserl the experience of others is first of all "esthesiological," and must be if the other person exists effectively and not as the ideal terminus or fourth term of a proportion which supposedly would come to complete my consciousness' relationships to my objective body and his. What I perceive to begin with is a different "sensibility" (Empfindbarkeit), and only subsequently a different man and a different thought.

(p. 168)

The ability to feel, the exploratory power of the other person: these are vitally of the tactile; one almost has the sense reading these words that the whole person is composited from an imagination that is primarily sensual, rather than being abstracted from ways of being a person, sensuous, embodied, but irreducible to any single faculty, ability or organ. "Other persons. . . . are not there as minds, as "psychisms," but such for example as we face them in anger or love–faces, gestures, spoken words to which our own respond without thoughts intervening, to the point that we sometimes turn their words back upon them even before they have reached us, as surely as, more surely than, if we had understood–each one of us pregnant with the others and confirmed by them in his body" (p. 181). Well, here are some words I find difficult to absorb (which means I'll get back to them in some fashion, perhaps through Barbaras once again):

"Animalia are realities which cannot be given in a fundamental and original presence to several subjects; they enclose subjectivities. They are the very special sort of objects which are fundamentally and originally given in such a way that they presuppose fundamental and original presences without being able to be given in a fundamental and original presence themselves." This is what animalia and men are: absolutely present beings who have a wake of the negative. A perceiving body that I see is also a certain absence that is hollowed out and tactfully dealt with behind that body by its behavior. But absence is itself rooted in presence; it is through his body that the other person's soul is soul in my eyes. "Negativities" also count in the sensible world, which is decidedly the universal one.

(p. 172)

Imagine that instead of simply carrying a wake of the negative as some necessary property or attribute, the person essentially puts negativity into play in the form of irrealizations which matter in the sensible world. So let's get back to this idea of making myself in the image of the other. I imagine meontically rather than mimetically, or, better said, the image of the image does not originate in mimesis, which nevertheless runs parallel with some kinds of thinking. Further, there is a methectic aspect to my irrealizations of animalia, one might even speak of an intermethexis. I can discern the interpersonal as a horizon of imagination, yet the image of the image eludes my grasp. It is not there fully for me. Not to too quickly shirk responsibility, but are these thoughts then by which I create others my own?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:07 AM.


Blogger Nicola Masciandaro said...


Thank you so much for this reflection, which furthers my fascination with commentary and helps with some recent thinking on auto-spectrality.

Regarding meontic imagination, I typically think of this in the context of language/gesture where understanding seems to happen through imagining what I would have meant had I spoken/moved that way, i.e. an imitation of what is not there. Cf. the symbolon. Commentary would then be like allowing oneself to become possessed by and extrovert this negative "I".

Cf. this about commentary and possession from the Black Metal volume cfp for Glossator: "In Black Metal, all elements from musical to vocal and visual must reflect the voice of the outsider, the indifferent or even the hostile and the incompatible. The explicit distortions and to some extent theatrical discordance of Black Metal are the outcome of the genre's embracing of possession as a conceptual and structural determinant. Referred to by Oesterreich as the “terrible spectacle” (Possession: Demoniacal and Other), possession not only suggests the usurpation of one's voice qua possession but also draws a vector of determination that moves from outside to the inside in order to dismantle the self or turn its zone of activity inside-out. It has been objected that since commentary does not necessarily ground a thesis of its own and is basically determined by an external thetic framework (someone else's possession), it is inherently deficient for hosting radical thinking. Yet this is exactly what makes commentary genre a playground for ascesis of thought, for it determines thinking in relation to that which does not belong to the thinker and is indeed exterior to it. In doing so, commentary simultaneously disturbs the hegemonic harmony between reflection and thinking-for-and-by-oneself, and aligns itself with the true contingency of thinking for which the necessity of the thinker does not have an anterior position or a privileged locus. It is in commentary genre that thinking transmits both voices and contents which are exterior to the thinker yet they do not enjoy a pre-established status either, because commentary entails the concomitant possession of the primary source by an outsider's voice and thereby, creates a speculative opportunity for thinking and writing on behalf of no one. What is usurped in possession is belonging per se—as an appurtenant bond between parties—rather than the possession of someone else on behalf of another. Both Black Metal and commentary regard possession as the true vocation of art and thinking."

All best,


May 21, 2009 5:03 AM  
Blogger Nicola Masciandaro said...

p.s. The other model I have pursued for thinking through this is spice, as aromatic intersubjectivity if you will. For example:

Spice, like like a textual aroma of the Paradise which both is and is to come, signifies for one commentator the highest sense of Scripture, the “anagoge, foretaste of heavenly things.”[1] The possibility for such loving collusion between embodied imagination and intellectual experience, for the interpretation of spice to become a kind of transcendental tautology, is captured in Bernard of Clairvaux’s generous exegetical invitation in a sermon on the Song of Songs: “Every person . . . is free to pursue the thought and experiences, however sublime and exquisite, that are his by special insight, on the meaning of the Bridegroom’s ointments.”[2] Alan of Lille, remembering the Song of Songs, defines cinnamon and its theological meaning in one breath: “Cinnamomum est species aromatica, interna contemplatio” [cinnamon is an aromatic spice, inward contemplation].[3] That species here still holds a semantic relation to appearance underscores the overlap: commentarial contemplation, like those pleasurable sensations that happen to us near certain other substances, is an aromatic phenomenon. Spice is not a figure, but a generational integrity of spirit and letter, matter and desire, a sensuous reality whose structure takes the mind that absorbs it beyond itself, a hermeneutic psychedelic. Commentary, whose etymology (via comminisci, to devise, invent) indicates the creativity of thinking with something, is the inverted, external projection or manifestation of spice as such an integrity, the materialization of thinking as a condensation and spreading over a surface, or as Deleuze & Guattari say in their chapter on geophilosophy: “thinking consists in stretching out a plane of immanence that absorbs the earth (or rather, ‘adsorbs’ it).”[4] Susan Ashbrook Harvey perceives this in commenting on Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on the Song of Songs: “Gregory’s olfactory imagery highlights the limits of noetic experience . . . In such instances he seems to rely on what the body can know through smell in order to capture what eludes the mind in understanding.”[5]

May 21, 2009 5:03 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Nicola. Enjoyed listening to the roundtable.

"Regarding meontic imagination, I typically think of this in the context of language/gesture where understanding seems to happen through imagining what I would have meant had I spoken/moved that way, i.e. an imitation of what is not there."

I can imagine imitation meontically other than through originality or spontaneity but rather also through a sojourn away from the immediately intelligible for the purpose of laying down a phase for the making of intelligibility, specifically I mean an intelligibility that does not require any interpretation of repetition/repetition of interpretation—–naturally the requirement is in the making—I do recognize it—the commitment to mediation, which reaches back to the laying down of a phase for its making; in seeking an alternative to "imitation as repetition" I have taken it upon myself to interpret repetition, phronetically, praktognostically—unrelentingly? (I'm trying not to get caught up in metaphysical possibility; I feel the imagination is grittier than all that.) Laying down a phase is to request a relentment from repetition and the unrelenting—this is how I know it, the unrelenting, by questioning it again and again. Hmm.

Well, I'm glad you gave me something to think about with regard to the meontic.

Your comments on spice are wonderful.

May 21, 2009 12:13 PM  

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