PHILOSOPHY 630: MERLEAU-PONTY AND DERRIDA

Protocol 3/1/04
Chad Kautzer

Relation of body and consciousness

Aristotle also did not have a concept of consciousness. In Aristotle (De anima, Book II) the functional relation—the seeing of the eye or the sharpness of the axe, for example—cannot be separated, the soul and the body are not as a captain is to a ship. With Merleau-Ponty, the functional “condition” (eikea) is analogous to the claim that “all consciousness is embodied.” If you talk about consciousness, you have to talk about embodiment. This foregrounding of embodiment is a point of interest for race and feminist theory; how are we in the world? Gender, race, etc. are unavoidably parts of consciousness.

Bukharin and ambiguity

The objectivity of history is the subject here. If you appeal to the objectivity of history for models & standard, it is as if to claim a transhistorical normative value. The ambiguity of history that Merleau-Ponty is addressing is that every situation is a lived situation, wherein universal principles are inaccessible or unavailable. If we were to set it up as a situational/contextual v. universalist account (of history), both would be right: it is ambiguous. There are no univocal accounts of historical events. This is what Merleau-Ponty is calling dialectic, and it is different from Hegel's understanding, for there is no Aufhebung. There is no escape from this situation. We are inextricably embedded.

Merleau-Ponty question concerns how we live with this ambiguity; how are we to be authentic in doing so?

 

Expressivity

 

Expressing

                                Expressivity (a double movement)

Expressed

 

 

There is certainly no subject separate from that which is expressed. “Merleau-Ponty does not have a formal theory of the between.”

 

 

Imitation

 

What is it that the child is imitating? The action or the tending toward (tendre vers). What do I do in habitual action? Am I merely repeating actions? Is something communicating? (Yes, Merleau-Ponty would say) Can meaning be communicated in repetition? Even what we call “habit” is not actually habit (H.S.) (A. disagrees) Is there more than mere repetition? “No, habit is just a habit, according to Merleau-Ponty” (HS).

 

There is no pure subjectivity and no pure objectivity – only a “circuit of existence.” See Phenomenology of Perception: “I cannot understand the function of the living body except by enacting it myself, and except in so far as I am a body which rises towards the world” (75).  It is only by enacting: I am my body. It is not that I have a body.

 

See Phenomenology of Perception: “They are delimited, in the totality of my body, regions of silence. The patient therefore realizes his disability precisely in so far as he is ignorant of it, and is ignorant of it precisely to the extent that he knows it. This paradox is that of all being in the world: when I move towards a world I bury my perceptual and practical intentions in objects which ultimately appear prior to and external to those intentions, and which nevertheless exist for me only in so far as they arouse in me thoughts or volitions. In the case under consideration, the ambiguity of knowledge amounts to this: our body comprises as it were two distinct layers, that of the customary body and that of the body at this moment” (82).

 

Ambiguity of knowledge

 

The ambiguity of knowledge has to do with these two layers: 1) the customary; and 2) the “at this moment.”  “Between-world” is perhaps a more appropriate term (rather than “intersubjectivity” [from Husserl].

 

What does he mean by knowledge here?

Russel:

                  “Knowing how” (kennen) (connaître)

                  “Knowing that” (wissen) (savoir)

 

                  Subject → action → object

“I know that there are four tables in this room.”

 

Merleau-Ponty says that anytime there is an “I know that…”, there is the actual and…

There is always something surrounding our knowledge; something of ambiguous meaning: “I know there are WMDs in Iraq!”

 

What is the ambiguity of knowledge?

-         There is a habitual component

-         There is something about the now

 

The meaning is not simply what is said. There is an embodied gesture in the claim that WMDs are in Iraq, here being “I want to attack Iraq.”

The ambiguity of expression: there is a gestural component.

Compiling the “I know thats” doesn’t result in meaning: the meaning is both habitual and actual.

 

“Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence”

 

See “On the Phenomenology of Language”: “Thus the proper function of a phenomenological philosophy seems to us to be to establish itself definitely in the order of instructive spontaneity that is inaccessible to psychologism  and historicism no less than to dogmatic metaphysics” (97).

 

Husserl was opposed to such psychologism (i.e., descriptive psychology)

 

Merleau-Ponty understands transcendental subjectivity in way directly opposed to that of Husserl. For Husserl, you abstract from experience to reach a univocal perspective. For Merleau-Ponty, it is lived experience in the world, etc. (See the last lines of the first paragraph of page 97)

 

What does it mean to be an other for yourself when you are speaking? This is what he considered and rejected.

 

Husserl’s phenomenological reduction consisted of two moves: 1) eidetic reduction; and 2) transcendental reduction

 

This move allows us to be an other to ourselves for Husserl: an I reflecting upon itself (the empirical self is reflected upon by a pure I)

 

Merleau-Ponty: there is a Spaltung when I try to think about myself. There is a duality. This results in an ambiguity: The speaking and the spoken.

 

Signs and Signification

 

A sign is a combination of signifier and signified:

 

                                    Meaning (sens)

Sign  {Sd/Sr} {Sd/Sr}{Sd/Sr} Sd = Signified

                                A                B                C                        Sr = Signifier

 

There is an ambiguity in the process of signification and meaning develops out of it.

 

See the “Translator’s Preface” in Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language: “The word sens has been translated as “meaning,” while signification appears as “signification” (xl). This leaves us with the following asymmetry:

 

       sens             signfication

/  \   /  \

      Sense         Meaning         ­­_______

 

Merleau-Ponty makes a distinction between signifié (≈ signified) and signifiant (≈ signifier), yet the latter is that which does the act of signifying and that which signifies, giving it a double meaning. Thus it is both what stands opposed to the signifié and that which links up with it. The double meaning of the signifier is essential to understanding Merleau-Ponty. Thus what is so fascinating about Saussure for Merleau-Ponty is lost in English translation.

 

For Saussure, this is both conceptual and physiological; signification involves the embodiment in articulation. Because of this embodiment, it is already sens (Sinn) in the sense of the fives senses.  Note that sens can also mean “direction,” in the sense of a tendre vers as an orientation; a tending toward: intentionality involves a directionality.

 

See Merleau-Ponty on Saussure and signs: “What we have learned from Saussure is that, taken singly, signs do not signify anything, and that each one of them does not so much express a meaning as mark a divergence of meaning between itself and other signs. Since the same can be said for all other signs, we may conclude that language is made of differences without terms; or more exactly, that the terms of language are engendered only by the differences which appear among them” (“Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence,” 39).

 

Merleau-Ponty did not take up the topic of “difference” very much in his Phenomenology of Perception, but it later becomes central to his work. There is something wonderful and extraordinary about language – there is a dynamic that is only possible with difference. “And this sort of circle, according to which language, in the presence of those who are learning it, precedes itself, teaches itself, and suggests its own deciphering, is perhaps the marvel which defines language” (ibid., 39).

 

The End