petitesoeur aka the mad rambler (petitesoeur) wrote in the_book_nook,
petitesoeur aka the mad rambler

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a meditation on an interrupted conversation...

Maurice Merleau- Ponty died on May 3, 1961. Le Visible et l’invisible was originally published in 1964 by Editions Gallimard in French; the English translation was published in 1968.

Lefort’s forward to The Visible and the Invisible reads well as a eulogy, DE PROFUNDIS, to his dead friend, colleague & mentor -- Maurice Merleau-Ponty. It rings true, expressing in philosophical language his profound sense of loss. Lefort discovers he has harbored an expectation: that which is -- will always be. He finds this expectation to be but a veil swiftly torn asunder by the sword of mortality. Here is the abyss opened by death now that the “living” voice has been silenced -- the conversation terminated; the possibility of dialogue nullified. Although the questions raised & the answers given in the editor’s forward are intriguing in their own right, I felt a strange discordance in Lefort’s proposition that upon the “death’ of the author the “work” changes drastically becoming something that “lives on the outside. Like things of nature, like facts of history...”[xiii] as a forward to the last & uncompleted work of Merleau-Ponty, the auteur of “phenomenological positivism.” [“These words define a position and launch a program in philosophy which Merleau-Ponty described in many different ways but which he has at least twice forthrightly called...” from the "Introduction" to The Primacy of Perception p.xvi]

The editor’s forward raises the question of how do we read [comprehend & respond] to a work once the author is no longer alive. Lefort seems to contend that with the author’s passing the work passes into “history,” and our relationship to it is drastically altered. With the author’s passing, the work becomes a finite entity unto itself, so that it is only “what it says and nothing more...”[xi]

In this view, death is the ultimate magic trick, whereupon the writer [author] disappears, leaving us only the work. Does death create an object without a subject?

Lefort provides an answer of sorts,” It is therefore not saying much to say that the work survives the writer, that when incompletion will be forgotten, we will know only the plenitude of its meaning.”[xiv] Actually, what it says to me is that Lefort’s forward was written not only as a eulogy but also as a pre-parry to the anticipated thrusts of the philosophical community towards the publishing of an unfinished work. And sure enough, in the subsequent paragraphs he goes on [and on... and on... and on... OK I ‘fess up: I found the “forward” interminable; reading it often made me feel like I was trapped in an endless bog that was so poorly written as to be on the verge of phenomenological parody.] to support the publication of the manuscript. Lefort concludes the eulogistic portion of his “forward” by making a case for the presentation of an unfinished work on the grounds that it is only differs from a “finished" work in the degree of its incompleteness. “Whether the writer’s labor seems to have come to its term or not is, therefore, of little importance: as soon as we are confronted with the work, we are faced with the same indetermination; and the more we penetrate into its domain, the more our knowledge increases and the less we are capable of putting a limit to our questions. In the end we have to admit that we communicate with it only by reason of its indetermination.” [xvi]

By reminding us that all texts are indeterminate and, more importantly, that it is by virtue of this indeterminacy that the Reader can embrace a text, Lefort seeks to quell any reluctance on our part towards engaging with this text as we would with any other text. [and what a relief I felt to finally arrive at a thought I could hang my hat on.] Although certainly we will need to keep this “unfinished” quale in mind as we read The Visible and the Invisible, just as when we read ancient texts we hold them within the context that they are but fragments.

It is at this point, about halfway through the “forward,” that Lefort delivers his gut-punch: that the work is an enigma “for it evokes an attention to itself only to render an impossibility of being. The work gives a singular figure to this impossibility but does not overcome it...... Thus again we discover death [emphasis mine] in the work, because its power is bound to its final impotency... In vain we try to brush aside the menace of this death...”[xvii] It is held in the grasp of this terrifying thought, Lefort suggests, that Merleau-Ponty embarked on all of his philosophical investigations -- not only those that we consider “unfinished” but also those that we think of as complete. Furthermore, he suggests that for us to behold this death in the work is the legacy Merleau-Ponty’s left to us.

Death is the UnKnowable. By throwing us up against it’s indecipherability, Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible reminds us of the paradoxical nature of a philosophical investigation that rejects the safe harbor of the acquired and, therefore, always sails on the sea of ambiguity. It is at this juncture, Lefort claims that the Reader may grasp that the philosopher’s works are not objects to be studied but rather a conversation to be entertained. Just as Merleau-Ponty “judges that he has work before him, not behind him...his acquisitions have value only because they give the capacity to continue,...”[xxi] so to the work beckons the Reader to embark on a journey of discovery.

The unfinished work serves to reminds us that philosophy, like most human endeavors, is always unfinished business. How easy it is to mistake the object-quality of the text for the quale of the text. The paper, the print, the binding -- all entices us to think: “Here are the answers,” rather than to say: “here are the questions.” It’s a familiar trap, one that readily awaits to seduce us on a daily basis. Do we remember to face our experience when we pick-up a newspaper or a magazine -- turn on the television or the radio -- go to a class or lecture? Or are we held in the grip of a habitual acquisition of knowledge from “outside” sources -- be it our parents, teachers, politicians, peers. How often is it that we are asked to build rather than to buy, to cultivate rather than to consume?

One of the most unpleasant sights to my eyes is the spectacle of museum visitors, their ears shrouded in a headset, dutifully watching a painting whilst the curator’s voice prescribes the meaning of the artwork. It’s all I can do to keep myself from tearing the contraptions off their heads and giving them a good shake -- after which [given that I was still intact & in the museum instead of on my way to lock-up for drunk & disorderly behavior] I would do my utmost to persuade them that the first order of business is to look at the work as if it is PRIMA FACIE evidence and therefore, to directly experience it. A fool’s errand, I know. For most of them have been led to believe that to understand a painting requires an “expert’s” exegesis of it - and that one such explication will suffice because a painting is singular, fixed object.

Now you are most probably wondering why I have wandered off on such a tangential subject. It is because I want to suggest that to read Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible in the spirit that Lefort suggests [and for that matter, by implication, to read any philosophical text] is to enter into an aesthetic stance similar to the active apperception of an artwork. Active apperception requires one to not be fooled into seeing only the “thingness” of [for example] a painting -- not only in the sense that is more than an amalgamation of paints & canvas but also in the sense that it is neither “finished” nor “fixed.”

One of my favorite paintings hanging in New York’s Metropolitan Museum is “The Forest In Winter At Sunset” by Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau. It is what is known as a “diary” painting. Diary paintings are the diametrical opposite of the abstract expressionist’s action paintings that encapsulate a specific, and relatively brief [in terms of painting] timespan. A diary painting is one in which the artist continues to paint on for years and years and years. Rousseau kept working on “The Forest” for over twenty years. He steadfastly refused to sell it. It was never “finished,” as he was still painting on it when he died.

Now this is not quite the same situation in respect to the “unfinished” nature of Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible. Except that I think it is safe to propose that, if Merleau-Ponty had lived long enough to complete and publish that work, he would have continued on with his philosophical investigations. “Thus the ‘ultimate truth’ upon which The Visible and the Invisible comes to an end is also that from which the work draws its origin: this truth does not constitute a stopping point; it does not give rest to thought; it rather designates the point of passage which is for the work that of its continued foundation.”[xxx]

In his introduction to The Primacy of Perception, James M. Eide chides us to remember that Merleau-Ponty “is presenting a thesis, a program for phenomenological research, which would have to be developed, criticized, and tested over a considerable period of time and which should not be taken as prematurely established.”[xiv-xv] Perhaps, the unfinished character of The Visible and the Invisible is best conceived of as if we have personally received Merleau-Ponty’s COUP DE MAIN -- a challenge to continue the interrogation:

"By these words, the 'primacy of perception,' we mean that the experience of perception is our presence at the moment when things, truths, values are constituted for us; that perception is a nascent LOGOS; that it teaches us, outside all dogmatism, the true conditions of objectivity itself; that it summons us to the tasks of knowledge and action.” [p.25, The Primacy of Perception]

So it becomes our task not just to read The Visible and the Invisible but also to write it. To respond, with analysis and criticism, but also to endeavor to develop and create, with thoughtfulness as well as ingenuity, a philosophy that allows us to see both the opacity of the world & its transparency simultaneously. Let us question that which “apparently” there is no need to question.
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Although I haven't posted a comment, I've been thinking about your post quite a bit. It's funny you use abstract expression as part of your discussion. Just last week, I sat in front of a Jackson Pollack painting at the Art Institute and really admired the eternal feeling that he captures through the use of colors and shapes. I hope to make it to the Met again some time very soon and you can be sure that the painting you mentioned will be my first destination.

Just a note: My Merleau-Ponty has not arrived from Amazon yet. I did something unthinkable and ordered two other books with it. I'm sure one of the other two is holding up the order. I'd hate to comment without reading the Forward myself. But I can't help that part of the discussion has to do with problem of duality. By the way, if there ever was a grass-roots person, it's me. The one quote from a college professor that I'll never forget is "school teaches you how to think". There is no doubt that this has been a guiding principle for me. Although I've read a number of philosophical works, this book by Merleau-Ponty will have me digging through quite a bit to understand the basic ideas.
LIBRARY [if you want to get started in the meantime while you're waiting for your copy of V&InV to arrive at your doorstep] there are libraries in LaLaland, don't they ;-p [sorry that was unnecessary rude on my part but i am in the foulest mood tonite from my awful day -- found out this AM that i've waited too long to go get my passport renewed & it'll cost me double to get it done in time if i want to take my vacation as i've been planning to in mid-august and then when i got to work an important part of our computer system exploded in my face -- i've spent the entire day doing tirage & haven’t gotten to a single thing i was actually suppose to accomplish & i'm still @ work d*mmit! ::aargh::

re: "learning to think" -- that's what all my college professors told us was the primary purpose of school [& no way we went to the same college since mine was only for those of the female persuasion when i was there]and i also think it is the primary purpose of philosophy -- to learn to think and more importantly question all the "givens" we gotten. IMO, phenomenology is one of the best philosophical tools for this task as it requires you to examine & reflect on your own sense-data & their contextual situations.

as for the problem of dualism -- this seems to me to be the central task that phenomenologists grapple with. and it's a formidable task because dualism is so deeply embedded in our language that even the greatest philosophers [like M-P] struggle to find words that can escape the confines of binary, and usually oppositional, thought. we're such binary creatures in so many ways including the physical, what with all of our two's of things: eyes, ears, arms, hands, legs, feet -- i guess it's only to “natural” that we glommed onto dualism which such fervor.

Hmmmmm… you’re remark: “Although I've read a number of philosophical works, this book by Merleau-Ponty will have me digging through quite a bit to understand the basic ideas…” lead me to wonder about the choice we made when we settled on M-P’s I&InV as our summer read without having given consideration to how many of us were familiar with his other & early works, especially The Phenomenology of Perception. Reading the V&InV prefaces had already made me feel that grappling with I&InV would necessitate digging back into PhofPer.

TOT: glad to hear that you nuzzled up to some Pollack while you were in Chicago. and, if you’d be so inclined, i’d be pleased to provide a tour of all my fave rave paintings hanging in the Met the next time you’re in NY.
The library is always my first stop when it comes to finding books. I'm determined NOT to add to my wall of books if I can possibly avoid it. Luckily, I received the notice today from Amazon that my order is happily on its way and assuming I don't consume my weekend with other things, I will be happily started on the book.

I'm sure the choice of M-P will be an excellent one. My formal education was a very technical one so courses in philosophy were a luxory I could only afford to do after I finished school. Although I will admit that I snuck in two years of Latin. I'm usually pretty good with concepts and ideas but terrible remembering terms. Your post also resurrected some thinking I have done in the past on the role of philosopher in today's society. History has proven that philosophy has provided the backbone of not only our modern thinking but also has provided for the basis of government. The role of the modern day philosopher is almost lost among the fast-paced world that we find ourselves in today. To really change things for the better, we must really reflect on the basic elements of human thought and human nature. But you are certainly right that each one of us must task ourselves with creating the building blocks of our own existence. I may be putting words into your mouth, but I really believe that people are afraid to think for themselves.

I'm very sorry about your work day. My own day was spent in a marathon meeting that I finally just got up and left. Fortunately, there were two older guys who are past retirement that were willing to say anything that popped into their heads (without fear of retribution). This always adds just a bit more entertainment.

As far as the offer for the Met ... I make it to New York periodically to visit my family (they live in Norther NJ). The last time I was there was just a few weeks before 9/11. Although most people in California felt the shock, somehow I felt the impact much more than anyone else here.
I have thought nearly the same thing in regards to "The Chiasm." The Phenomenology of Perception and The Primacy of Perception definitely lay out a groundwork for further analysis, but where are we to find the answers??? Lefort (obviously) seems to think that there are none, that philosophy furnishes us with nithing more than an ever evolving set of questions. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this. Many times I feel like Socrates, not knowing what exactly the answers to my questions will be but seeing the proper roads of inquiry that will lead to at least a tentative response. Is this an illision? Is there no such thing as truth? I think that Merleau-Ponty was at least pursuing the vague spectre of such.

Where does the Chiasm lead us? More importantly, where does it leave us? It seems to me that we are left at the point in Merleau-Ponty's work where he was starting to turn the corner. He was departing from the questioning of methodology (which from what the outlines says consists of what we have written before us) and was moving towards a new way of looking at traditional problems. For example, what is this thing called l'entremonde? Before I had read this tome (I first opened it this past May for the first time), I wrote a paper on Sartre callewd "Towards a Phenomenology of the Interworld." Phenomenology brings us there, to an "Interworld;" something between the objective/subjective divide. Merleau-Ponty tasted it, he wanted to show us this interworld (just look at the outline of the second and third parts of this unfinished work!), he just died to soon. The question for me is what does it mean to live in this interworld, and can we found it solely on the body? If we are moving beyond objects ans subjets, do we not also need to move beyond the mental and physical divide? If so, then how are we to consider so-called mental (noetic) act (like emotions which are undeniably a part of human experience and are not derived from an awareness of physical sensations of the lived body)?

I'm reading, I'm questioning. FOrgive my scattered thoughts, and thank you for posting. :-)

BTW: I hate those little freaking boxes too! especially when they turn them up so loud that you are forced to listen unwillingly while observing the painting for yourself.
my answer: EXHAUSTED

so much i want to say but i've got to call it quits for tonite -- tommorrow is a BIG DAY for me [i'm attending my very first "Meetup" -- i've meet online friends facetoface in the RW before but only in ones, or two, or threes -- there are FIFTY-THREE PEOPLE confirmed to attend tommorrow's NYC Fotologgers Meetup so that's alot of strangers to take-in all @ once -- but i am so psyched -- oh and then there's this 'little" opening were having in the gallery tommorrow for the 2wice mag's PICNIC exhibit -- which is BTW/IMHO the coolest thing we've ever had in the gallery ever and then of course there's my passport business to take care of & a trip to the salon for some vitally needed hand/foot care and the work to do that i didn't get done today which is now yesterday.. and all of that is TOT so back to PHILOSOPHY]

i am way to tired to go anywhere near the question of what comprises "truth" [boy you really like to pose the hard ones don'tcha capt. K] except to say that i don't think there are "answers" to be found -- at least not in the sense that any particular concept or idea can be a "final" answer to a philosophical inquiry.

ahha -- it seems you've already read this book if you're talking about THE CHIASM already -- no fair! I'll have to get back to you on this on when I get there. ah -- one suggestion springs to mind to suggest to you, my geographically minded friend -- what if you were to imagine THE CHIASM as if it is a real place like let's ay: Rhode Island. Rhode Island doesn't lead or leave you to some other place -- you are in its place-ness & its place-ness is in relationship to the place-ness of other places [like say New York where I am ]

speaking of imagining: [and again I can't really say because I haven't read beyong the first few pages of the 1st chapter] but I'll hazard a guess that Merleau-ponty's l'entremonde is a very Wincottian notion [& M-P knew & admired both D.W.W. & his work] and that threfore l'entremonde might very well be the Wincottian "middle" or "third" space that each of us constantly creates in the daily interactive experience of our outer & inner worlds -- so that would make it the spacious place of our imagination, rich in paradoxical conumdrums of relationships

and no i can't fathom how one can ever live or find anything solely in the body unless you are using "body" as a shorthand for embodied mind or incarnate consciousness [all very awkward language constructs for the concepts they {re}present but there's that nasty dualistic binary pairing that so saturates are language structures]

and if you have emotions without sensation while still living in this world -- do tell -- not even the Vulcans seem to really be able to pull that one off

aha! i hate those audioguide things because of the noise they make too -- it's like being in a museum surrounded by buzzing flies.

and if you have unearthed a way
Are there any questions that are hard ones, ma petite? :-)

I also am unsure of the presence of a "final" answer, a great ultimate truth, because it always seems to point back to a god figure... a concept I find very frightening. Direct realism and its off-shoot are just so orthodox in their respective beliefs; thank goodness they have kind of bled away over the last few years (of course from what I understand there are still quite a few realists out there...).

For the record, I haven't read this book before, only the Chiasm chapter for another project I was working on. Although it probably isn't fair to be discussing it now, Lefort almost begged it because the termination of our text is, for me, the beginning of M-P's new life as a metaphysician with the lid off (not a philosopher of language as Derrida, Lingis, et al. would have). I will say this, however, about the subject: I didn't really mean "where" in terms of geographical/physical locale, I was referring more to where we stand thoughtfully in regard to the world. In other words, M-P's thought is wholly grounded in our experience of the world, so what can we begin to say our experience of flesh feels like?, what is our metaphysical status in regards to flesh?, what is the qualitative difference between being in the flesh and Husserl's disembodied transcendental ego that holds together all other egos?

I will have to look into this Wincott fellow. "Thirdspace" is a very interesting concept for me. Edward Soja has developed his own theory of it in the context of geography/urban planning, but Wincott's sounds better. Any reading suggestions?

Yes, I was speaking of embodied consciousness since M-P's original claims center around the consciousness's grounding within habitual bodily motions. Yes though, these are awkward language constructs... it's tough to see what they mean rather than what they say.

In my mind, emotions are not sensationless, but the sensations are not wholly the emotion. To go to another philosopher (C.f. Peter Goldie's The Emotions: a philosophical inquiry) there is a broad distinction between our feelings in terms of physical sensation and feelings in terms of our intentional regard for an object (a concept he calls feelings toward). I find that feelings toward is at least one component of emotional experience beyond the sensational (or "awareness of bodily schemata" as some would have it!); that's all I was trying to say... :-)

And that's all I'm going to say! Take care!