Captain Kierkegaard (leafofgrass) wrote in the_book_nook,
Captain Kierkegaard
leafofgrass
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A call to order

And so begins our first discussion of Merleau-Ponty's The Visible and the Invisible, yea!

This first section of reading included the Editor's (Claude Lefort's) Foreword and the Translator's (Alphonso Lingis's) Preface. Each is a philosopher in their own regard and provide us with insights into possible methods for understanding and critiquing Merleau-Ponty's final philosophical thoughts. For me, these two readings were somewhat enlightening for a few reasons: they provide for a general overview of how the ideas in this tome tie into M-P's earlier works (which I am more familiar with), they attempt at understanding what M-P's ontology actually means for us as subjects, they provide inroads for further speculation concerning where M-P was taking his investigations, etc.

Let's begin with Lefort:
The beginning of the Foreword is an interesting, but not entirely useful in terms of our task ahead, discussion of authorship and when a work begins and ends. Lefort plays with the notion that a philosopher's (or indeed anyone's) thought is constantly evolving and so the written work, at the point of its ending becomes a new beginning for further study and evolution. It is only in the death of the author that the work becomes concrete and the line of thought completed. Of course now that Merleau-Ponty is dead, we can look at his works as one thing among others, but the very incompleteness of his thought (as exemplified by this book) epitomizes his feelings concerning the nature of philosophy: as a constant questioning we must presuppose nothing in regards to what M-P was going to do with the ontological foundation he is attempting to lay down.

Lefort hints to us what M-P was perhaps intending to do with this book: investigate the nature of things and the body in order to break the subject's habitual thought patterns out of the tracks constructed by the majority of modern philosophy. This break was to be accomplished, of course, by a reference to common human experience. This leads into the most interesting discussion in Lefort's commentary:human situatedness in time. He tells us that M-P had given up on a search for origins as such. What M-P was more interested in was understanding the human position within a horizon of time; a span that extends indefinitely into the past, beyond human comprehension, and also indefinitely into the future. We exist and understand the world through a specific point of time, a specific horizon.

Lefort then circles the discussion back to language where he reopens the earlier discussion on authorship and the metaphysical status of the work. Ultimately, he asserts that M-P's final work in philosophy was meant to keep questioning itself open.

Lingis provides us with less of an opinion on M-P's work and more of a summary:
The question Lingis is trying to (pardon the expression) "flesh out" in his preface is the ontological structure of things in the world. He is addressing M-P's attitudes towards the matter-mind debate in an indirect and subtle way. What we find is that M-P does not fall into any of the three traditional camps of materialism (here positivism), idealism, or dualism because he has constructs out of the material and idealistic essence to the thing. He seems to conflate the material with the ideal in a sort of substantial monism that is neither physical or spiritual. interesting indeed, but how does he get there?

visibility
The visible, or the sensible is not merely our experienced physical sensations, but an amalgam of sensation alongside the perception of a horizon to the object. By "horizon" Lingis/M-P seem to be referring to its situatedness within a context. The unity of the "object" is nothing more than Being expressing itself in a certain style. The meaning of this is enigmatic at this point and is perhaps a point to begin discussion, but for now let us move on to complete this discussion.

invisibility
Invisibility is the structure of the context that supports and sustains the visible thing. The invisible is the ideal unity that allows for our perceptions of the thing. Going back to his earlier works, this seems to point towards a certain habitual relationship with the world that causes us, not unlike Kantian categories, to perceive the world in certain ways. If it were not for these invisible structures that cohere into the thing itself, the things would be indistinguishable. This is opposed to Sartre's ideas in that it is not Nothingness within the subject that allows for distinction of things, but rather it is the being of the subject to be exposed to things and distinguish them as unique particulars.

Flesh
Flesh is the name given to the relationship between the embodied subject and the visible/invisible world. The difference between Kant and M-P becomes clear at this point. While Kant seemed to exclude the human subject from being categorically interpreted, M-P finds the essence of being human within the intertwining of the human imposition of invisible structure upon wild being and at the same time being the subject of the imposition of one's own structures. This is possible because the structures do not emanate forth from the subject, but rather originate from the world itself and thus act upon the human subject. I am going to close by quoting the penultimate paragraph in Lingis's summation:
The things can solicit the flesh without leaving their places because they are transcendencies, rays of the world, each promoting a singular style of being across time and space; and the flesh can capture in itself the allusive, schematic presence of the things because it is itself elemental being, self-positing posture, self-moving motion adjusting itself to the routes and levels and axes of the visible.


Very interesting, eh? I hereby inaugurate this discussion!
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  • 4 comments
I have to admit that I've been reading ahead, but from my background I've been thinking of this book as a precursor to postmodernism, particularly with the emphasis on context, the understanding of an object by its other, and the breakdown of the Cartesian subject; the line that caught my attention the most was towards the very end -- "The visible is one continuous fabric," which would make as a good philosophical soundbyte. Your summary basically sums up my thoughts on the preface, although if I wanted to quibble I would look at your comment that the structures "originate from the world itself and thus act upon the human subject," only because even that phrase seems to suggest that the human subject is something other than the world itself, in that the world is acting on it. MP seems to be going for a complete breakdown of the S-O barrier in order to more clearly think of the subject is both part of the world and acting in it. I thought it was particularly interesting to see how that comes up in his critique of Hegel, which I might mention once we get to the second chapter.
Yes, I do agree with your observations, my diction (which is so important to M-P) was indeed poor. To admit the subject/object schism is to deny the very essential (structure) of flesh. I think what I was trying to say more broadly was that Kant felt that the categories--invisible structures?--through which one is a part of the world emmanate forth from the mind-substance while M-P, since he does not accept the notion mind-substance, finds these invisible structures emmanating from the world, of which the human subject is a participating part.

This is, of course, a somewhat sticky topic. Do the structures exist independent of the subject? It would certainly seems so, but this also points us towards some sort of independently existing "objective" substance, no? If the structures do not exist independent of the subject, then how can he claim they are different from Kant's categories grounded in the body-substance rather then the mind?

Frankly I think this is where the topic of implacement and the philosophy of geography become important because if we are relying on the body for our transcendental metaphysics, wouldn't the positioning of bodies be the determining factor in a thing's metaphysical status?

Thanks byzantinespy for the breadcrumb trail -- will get MP tonight [hopefully]. . .
Due to a few circumstances, I'm behind everyone else. But I do have a few comments on the notion of visible and invisible. As someone who has studied quite a bit of science and very little philosophy, my perspective will be a bit different. But, the notion of the invisible (to me) is equivalent to the internal structure we need to assign to the discontinuous nature of thoughts. Namely, we collect pieces of fuzzy information from the outside world and we need some way to tie these things together. Or rather, whether we need to tie them together or not, we tend to do this because it is natural to assign patterns. These patterns then become the fabric of the invisible. Now, whether we share these patterns with others based on the same fuzzy observations is an entirely different thing. We are humans that are not only part of the measurement device, but we are also the entity that processes this information. This means that we are all victim to "self-distortion" (a truly wonderful thing in my book and the only logical reason why my thoughts might differ so radically from everyone else).