Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Maurice Merleau-Ponty = ballin out of control.

RWK says: Phenomenology late at night might not make much sense (you need some lamps) but it still tickles the brain. I read an essay by Maurice Merleau-Ponty over the weekend called "The Intertwining -- The Chiasm" and it rocked me silly. I decided I would make myself a little crazy and type in a foundational paragraph. It's long, as you will see. And, as you will see, the words are images as much as any jpg would be in here so sit up close and read closer still. But I won't blame you for tuning out and scrolling (or clicking) away real quick: it's not easy. But it sure is beautiful.

If we turn now to the seer, we will find that this is no analogy or vague comparison and must be taken literally. The look, we said, envelops, palates, espouses the visible things. As though it were in a relation of pre-established harmony with them, as thought it knew them before knowing them, it moves in its own way with its abrupt and imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory—I do not look at a chaos, but at things—so that finally one cannot say if it is the look or if it is the things that command. What is this prepossession of the visible, this art of interrogating it according to its own wishes, this inspired exegesis? We would perhaps find the answer in the tactile palpation where the questioner and the questioned are closer, and of which, after all, the palpation of the eye is a remarkable variant. How does it happen that I give to my hands, in particular, that degree, that rate, and that direction of movement that are capable of making me feel the textures of the sleek and the rough? Between the exploration and what it will teach me, between my movements and what I touch, there must exist some relationship by principle, some kinship, according to which they are not only, like the pseudopods of the amoeba, vague and ephemeral deformations of the corporeal space, but the initiation to and the opening upon a tactile world. This can happen only if my hand, while it is felt from within, is also accessible from without, itself tangible, for my other hand, for example, if it takes its place among the things it touches, is in a sense one of them, opens finally upon a tangible being of which it is also a part. Through this crisscrossing within it of the touching and the tangible, its own movements incorporate themselves into the universe they interrogate, are recorded on the same map as it; the two systems are applied upon one another, as the two halves of an orange. It is no different for the vision—except, it is said, that here the exploration and the information it gathers do not belong “to the same sense.” But this delimitation of the senses is crude. Already in the “touch” we have just found three distinct experiences which subtend one another, three dimensions which overlap but are distinct: a touching of the sleek and of the rough, a touching of the things—a passive sentiment of the body and its space—and finally a veritable touching of the touch, when my right hand touches my left hand while it is palpating the things, where the “touching subject” passes over to the rank of the touched, descends into the things, such that the touch is formed in the midst of the world and as it were in the things. Between the massive sentiment I have of the sack in which I am enclosed, and the control from without that my hand exercises over my hand, there is as much difference as between the movements of my eyes and the changes they produce in the visible. And as, conversely, every experience of the visible has always been given to me within the context of the movements of the look, the visible spectacle belongs to the touch neither more nor less than do the “tactile qualities.” We must habituate ourselves to thinking that every visible is cut out in the tangible, every tactile being in some manner promised to visibility, and that there is encroachment, infringement, not only between the touched and the touching but also between the tangible and the visible, which is encrusted in it, as, conversely, the tangible itself is not a nothingness of visibility, is not without visual existence. Since the same body sees and touches, visible and tangible belong to the same world. It is a marvel too little noticed that every movement of my eyes—even more, every displacement of my body—has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore with them, as, conversely, every vision takes place somewhere in the tactile space. There is double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable.


  1. I am by no means an expert on MP, but he fascinated me. His ideas are brilliant, but they're such a struggle to engage because of his rather intimidating prose. Phenomenology is itself a fascinating body of ideas; unified, yet still inaccesible, really. Epistemology tends to more my forte, but even still, I'm not an expert on the subject. Fascinating quote, though. I'll have to pick up that MP book I got a long time ago when I took a French Existentialism class.

  2. My problem with epistemology is it is after a goal, as if always already governed by a telos. I'm much more into a mode of inquiry that simply goes -- and not just forward but left and right, up and down, perhaps backwards as much or more than forwards -- rather than one that goes towards a goal.

    The reason I like MMP is cuz he's plain wacky. How in the hell did he think this?, first of all, and How did he think to write it like this?, second of all. It's one of those things that you will continue to puzzle over but, I think, will only yield riches (if only in your brain -- but then this essay is all about how your brain is everything -- so you'll have riches everywhere!). Okay, off to granola. Yup, yup.