Disiecta membra: from the proper to the improper body. The paths of knowledge.
From here the Merleau-Ponty's consideration on the path of knowledge that he has analyzed from his first work, The Structure of Behavior. Indeed, the gnoseological perspectivism of the French philosopher shows all his concentration on two different levels: the first concerning knowledge, which has its foundations in the perspective dimension of perception as the field from which every education/knowledge structure is set up; the second level is the understanding of the ambigual reality of the human experience that justifies the expression "disiecta membra", in which the educational/cognitive process, with an exclusive ontological value, is included.
In other words, it is precisely the prospective feature of perception that determines the need to overcome the alternative between the traditional "being-in-itself" and "being-for-itself" and that, as a pre-categorical dimension, it escapes the "objectification" of the thetical consciousness. Indeed, it's just the knowledge by "profiles" that denies all claims of "overlook", the "general" and "all-encompassing" look. The "synthesis" of the object we perceive is always and only presumptive and it doesn't allow grabbing the object in its fullness. Then, of course, the question that immediately arises is: which is the reason of its unity? Why do we start "recognizing" the object that we are facing? That's where the concept of horizon, of background--and it's the answer that will lay at the basis of any reflection by Merleau-Ponty, with crucial implications in terms of his educational philosophy and ontological perspective-comes into play: the perception of an object is given by the silent but existing imperception of what surrounds it. It is precisely this field, this background which ensures the identity of the object during an exploration. Indeed, if on the one hand it is true that in my perspective I only see some aspects of the thing while others remain concealed, on the other hand, however--as Brena, a valuable interpreter of Merleau-Ponty--says: "I see in the horizon the environment too and, if virtually located at several points of it, I advance the perspectives that both the others and I or might discern from other locations; it is therefore the constancy of the environment to secretly keep the identity of the desk through its various perspectives and conversely, through its aspects, it connects to all other objects originating a system in the world" (Brena, 1969, p. 59). It is clear that the intent of the philosopher is to deepen the concept of perception not only to free it from the subjective and objective overlays and descriptions, but especially to show perception as an "original" experience, a "pre-objective sensitive field", from which and to which every knowledge inevitably remains constrained, as well as any intersubjective experience, and so any educational process.
The research on perception, carried out at different levels in The Structure of Behavior, is deepened by Merleau-Ponty in his work Phenomenology of Perception in 1945, on the basis of the methodological indications by Husserl. Indeed, starting from the re-reading of the phenomenological reduction by Husserl, fundamentally interpreted as probe of the precategorical or life-world (Lebenswelt), the dimension underlying the schematization of the reflexive thinking, the French philosopher intends to return to the still open questions in The Structure of Behavior. Therefore, which are the starting questions? They are essentially three, namely: is it possible to finally exit from the post-Cartesian philosophical perspectives following the phenomenological path traced by Merleau-Ponty? Can an inductive method, such as that proposed by the French philosopher, fully support the burden of that decisive choice for which philosophy must start anew its gnoseological journey, fostered by an archaeological and teleological process without sounding so weak? Is theoretically valid the alleged overcoming of the categories of subject and object, man and world, spirit and matter? Or does the French philosopher only replace, surreptitiously, these categories with other ones, such as the notions of originality, pre-reflexive union, antepredicative experience?
We'll try to answer these questions by remaining loyal to Merleau-Ponty's intentions and works.
First of all, in the methodological Premise of the Phenomenology of Perception, the philosopher explains his idea of phenomenology:
Qu'est-ce que la phenomenologie? Il peut paraitre etrange qu'on ait encore a poser cette question un demi-siecle apres les premiers travaux de Husserl. Elle est pourtant loin d'etre resolue. La phenomenologie, c'est l'etude des essences, et tous les problemes, selon elle, reviennent a definir des essences: l'essence de la perception, l'essence de la conscience, par exemple. Mais la phenomenologie, c'est aussi une philosophie qui replace les essences dans l'existence et ne pense pas qu'on puisse comprendre l'homme et le monde autrement qu'a partir de leur "facticite". C'est une philosophie trascendentale qui met en suspens pour les comprendre les affirmations de l'attitude naturelle, mais c'est aussi une philosophie pour laquelle le monde est toujours "deja-la" avant la reflexion, comme une presence inalienable, et dont tout l'effort est de retrouver ce contact naif avec le monde pour lui donner enfin un statut philosophique. C'est l'ambition d'une philosophie qui soit une "science exacte", mais c'est aussi un compte rendu de l'espace, du temps, du monde "vecus". C'est l'essai d'une description directe de notre experience telle qu'elle est, et sans aucun egard a sa genese psychologique et aux explications causales que le savant, l'historien ou le sociologue peuvent en fournir, et cepandant Husserl, dans ses derniers travaux, mentionne une "phenomenologie genetique" et meme une "phenomenologie constructive" (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p. I).
Therefore, phenomenology represents the "study of essences". Essences that, however, far from being regarded as eide--i.e. belonging to the purely conceptual or thinking dimension--are placed in the "facticity" of existence. We can strictly talk of phenomenology only from the overcoming of logic activity and real existence. The world, and in particular the life-world to which Merleau-Ponty refers, is not, in this respect, either the product of logical categories of natural sciences or the Kantian noumenon that antagonizes the phenomenon. It is the original positive that represents the horizon from which any particular perspective receives its guarantee of objectivity and sense. Essence and existence, within the phenomenology, are not considered as two opposing categories, but as places of generativity. The classic opposition between subject and object, directly resulting from the juxtaposition between essence and existence, in this way, and from the very first pages of the philosopher's work, fits within a new perspective which is no more "logical", but "existential"--and to some extent that we will later analyze, also "ontological". The concrete existentialism of the life world, regained beyond the abstract formalization of the scientific thinking and the schematic contrasts of the past philosophies, represents the premise for a reinterpretation of the "being" in general.
If in The Structure of Behavior the main problem was to outline, against the dominant conceptions of psychology, the relationship between the perceiving body and its environment, and then here the task becomes more radical because it's about going back to the origins of all knowledge and the philosophical method that will allow us to understand it. As Merleau-Ponty writes,
Il s'agit de decrire, et non pas d'expliquer ni d'analyser. Cette premiere consigne que Husserl donnait a la phenomenologie commencante d'etre une "psychologie descriptive" ou de revenir "aux choses memes", c'est d'abord le desaveu de la science. Je ne suis pas le resultat ou l'entrecroisement des multiples causalites qui determinent mon corps ou mon "psychisme", je ne puis pas me penser comme une partie du monde, comme le simple objet de la biologie, de la psychologie et de la sociologie, ni fermer sur moi l'univers de la science. Tout ce que je sais du monde, meme par science, je le sais a partir d'une vue mienne ou d'une experience du monde sans laquelle les symboles de la science ne voudraient rien dire. Tout l'univers de la science est construit sur le monde vecu et si nous voulons penser la science elle-meme avec rigueur, en apprecier exactement le sen set la portee, il nous faut reveiller d'abord cette experience du monde dont elle est l'expression seconde. La science n'a pas et n'aura jamais le meme sens d'etre que le monde percu pour la simple raison qu'elle en est une determination ou une explication (pp. II-III).
In this sense we can speak of a method that, returning to the lived experience of the world, must be able to make the post-Cartesian antinomy between realism and idealism senseless. But, in order to overcome the impasse of an objective or subjective thinking, it's good to demonstrate the arbitrary division between consciousness and nature, poles of a same structural relationship, by a close analysis of both positions.
Then let's go back to The Structure of Behavior:
Toutes les difficultes du realisme viennent justement d'avoir voulu convertir en une action causale ce rapport originale et inserer la perception dans la nature. Des que la presence ou la presentation d'une "chose" a la conscience, au lieu de rester, comme dans l'experience naive, une relation ideale, est interpretee comme une operation reelle de la chose sur le corps et sur le sujet percevant, il devient impossibile de reconstituer a titre d'effet le contenu descriptif de la perception, le spectacle effectif du monde (Merleau-Ponty, 1942, p. 208).
In other words, the realism deprives the perception of the power to "initiate knowledge" and breaks it up in a myriad of sensations; it also turns consciousness into a mere concatenation of events, it drastically turns it into the externality of things and thus it hides us the human natural and cultural horizons, within which our lives takes place. Reducing what we have perceived to a sum of physical properties, the realism downgrades the cultural world to an illusion--"while it's the lifeblood of our experience" and we've always been part of it. At the same time "it also defaces the natural world" reducing it to a neutral set of "stimuli and qualities"; i.e. "a kind of existence that gets confused with that of the scientific object" and that makes the main ground of every experience unrecognizable, the one from which we set our original relationship with the world. In short terms, the analysis of realism take place into a pre-established world and their object always belongs to a universe of given. The idealism, in turn and conversely, in favor of the absoluteness of the spirit, leads to the absolute knowledge of a transcendental ego, an all-embracing mind.
L'analyse reflexive croit suivre en sens inverse le chemin d'une constitution prealable et rejoindre dans "l'homme interieur", comme dit saint Augustin, un pouvoir constituant qui a toujours ete lui. Ainsi la reflexion s'emporte elle-meme et se replace dans une subjectivite invulnerable, en deca de l'etre et du temps. Mais c'est la une naivete, ou, si l'on prefere, une reflexion incomplete qui perd conscience de son propre commencement (MerleauPonty, 1945, p. IV).
But here the problem is not just to overcome, so to speak, the empirical or rationalist instances, but it is mainly and primarily to refuse the "certainty" of the classical rationality which always shows itself as a natural, necessary and aprioristic structure, and pretending to lead us from a crystallized and determined world to an unbroken consciousness. The ratio shows itself as the absolute harmony of the cosmos and, at the same time, as the rule of "natural education" of the mind. The human eye does not open on the dim light of the world, but on the scene of a cosmos which is already lightened by the intellectual light.
If the traditional rationality has taken this physiognomy, it's because the strategy of the cognitive research was to "bring together" both the natural phenomena and the intellectual, moral and social behavior within a set of rules and paradigms that no more include limits or exceptions and that are therefore considered as unconditional and irrevocable. This strategy has made the human rationality a nature; on the one hand, as the nature of thinking or, more precisely, as the "natural laws of thinking" and, on the other hand, as the objective structure of the world. In these terms, a fundamental feature of the traditional rationality is the tendency to include the research within an intellectual itinerary where for each question there's already an answer.
At this point, the first step towards a non-thetical, dominant or "panopticon" (Sini, 1984, p. 15) thinking is to edge away from the truth claimed by the classical rationality. According to the French philosopher, the concept of the natural world, the cpumq, can no longer be considered in opposition to the subject:
Le monde n'est pas un objet dont je possede par devers moi la loi de constitution, il est le milieu naturel et le champ de toutes mes pensees et de toutes mes perceptions explicites. La verite n'"habite" pas seulement l'"homme interieur", ou plutot il n'y a pas d'homme interieur, l'homme est au monde, c'est dans le monde qu'il se connait. Quand je reviens a moi a partir du dogmatisme du sens commun ou du dogmatisme de la science, je trouve non pas un foyer de verite intrinseque, mais un sujet voue au monde. [...] Le monde est la avant toute analyse que je puisse en faire et il serait artificiel de le faire deriver d'une serie de syntheses qui relieraient les sensations, puis les aspects perspectifs de l'objet, alors que les unes et les autres sont justement des produits de l'analyse et ne doivent pas etre realises avant elle. [...] That's why--says Merleau-Ponty--la vraie philosophie est de rapprendre a voir le monde (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, pp. V, IV, XVI).
For this reason, Merleau-Ponty, in opposition to the intellectualism and dogmatism, affirms the irreducibility and specificity of the experience: "le monde est non pas ce que je pense, mais ce que je vis, je suis ouvert au monde, je communique indubitablement avec lui, mais je ne le possede pas, il est inepuisable" (pp. XI-XII). Learning once again how to see the world means, therefore, to overcome the classical antinomies and move away from every calculated and pre-established thought in order to reach that worldliness (made of the world and I) in which its originally attached meaning to that being of implication and latency that is no longer a man or the world, but the place of their mutual and "inextricable" connection. On this line of thought, the Merleau-Ponty's "radicalism" (Escher di Stefano, 1981), that frees the philosophical reflection from prejudices, it will prove to be vital throughout the whole philosopher's research and arising sometimes as a question, some other times as an attempt to bring more and more back the original question to the event of the sense. That's why reality cannot be reduced to an eidetic intellectual grid, the omitting thought or the empirical facts. Instead, it needs to tackle the problem of how a meaning, a sense is been attached in reality when a thought approaches to it; the way, in other words, a physiognomy of reality is produced. To understand how a specific content takes shape, beyond intellectualism and empiricism; the way how, more simply, a thought becomes incarnate and then subjected to the risk of opacity, non-sense, death.
From all this it is clear that the intent of Merleau-Ponty is not to achieve a more radical setting up of an objective knowledge, a full clarification of its assumptions by finding pre-predication shapes, but it's to make the sense of the worldly horizon emerge, not as a reflection on the ways of how it's possible, but as a sense of man's situation as he exists, of his lived and operating factuality. The idea of Phenomenology by Merleau-Ponty, therefore, has not the task to explain the world or to discover its conditions of possibility, but it must make an experience of the world, a contact with the world that precedes any thought about the world. For this reason, the return to phenomena turns out to be the key to overcoming all those classical prejudices of the rationalist and empirical theories. It needs to stop the objectivist and subjectivist assumption and "return", by following the Husserlian pattern, "to the things themselves", so to that
monde avant la connaissance dont la connaissance parle toujours, et a l'egard duquel toute determination scientifique est abstraite, signitive et dependante, comme la geographie a l'egard du paysage ou nous avons d'abord appris ce que c'est qu'une foret, une prairie ou une riviere. Ce mouvement est absolument distinct du retour idealiste a la conscience et l'exigence d'une description pure exclut aussi bien le procede de l'analyse reflexive que celui de l'explication scientifique (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p. 3).
It is along this principle that the genetic research carried out in the Phenomenology of Perception brings to a crucial turning point. Indeed the philosopher's path, arising from the need to overcome the impasse including the post-Cartesian philosophies, is no longer that of the time-constituting consciousness or the time-constituted consciousness, but it's the one of our concrete and original being-in-the-world. From this point of view, the phenomenological reflection reveals that pre-thetical anterior substrate to idealizations and the objectivations of knowledge-which is the primordial world, the brute being avoids all forms of constitution and that lays the foundations of our experience (see Carbone 1990, pp. 17-40; 136-148). The abandonment of the classical polarity of subjectivism and objectivism, of consciousness and the thing leads us to the presence of that phenomenological -existential world that is not the explication of an already existing "being", but it's the creation of the being. Subjectivity is not, as the idealism affirms, a first principle. It refers to an existential and temporal structure, which is prior to the distinction between the subjective and the objective. This is the world we are revealed, by the structure of perception, according to Merleau-Ponty and by the phenomenological description, according to Husserl: an incomplete and ambiguous world that the logical discourse perceives as accomplished, unopened to what is possible, autonomous in itself and, therefore, rationally defined. The perceptual experience phenomena, on the contrary, stands and places ourselves in that pre-objective and non-thetical land which is prior to the predicative operations and that represents their assumption, the basis of our coexistence with the things when the intellect has not made its distinctions yet (subject-object, me-other):
Il y a donc une certaine consistance de notre "monde", relativement independante des stimuli, qui interdit de traiter l'etre au monde comme une sorte de reflexes,--une certaine energie de la pulsation d'existence, relativement independante de nos pensees volontaires qui interdit de le traiter comme un acte de conscience. C'est parce qu'il est une vue preobjective que l'etre au monde peut se distinguer de tout processus en troisieme personne, de toute modalite de la res extensa, comme de toute cogitatio, de toute connaissance en premiere personne,--et qu'il pourra realiser la jonction du "psychisme" et du "physiologique" (Mer leau-Ponty, 1945, p. 95).
Thus the perception becomes that intraworldly, phenomenal field in which we give logos, respect, meaning and world, and from which therefore subsequently emerge our reflections, but it mainly reveals the original bond that joins the man and the world and that finds its privileged dimension in corporeality. In this issue of corporeality we get to the essential turning point from which, as we mentioned before, the discussion by Merleau-Ponty takes a "new" turn. Among other things, the fact that it's still at the center of philosophical debate shows how this issue was actually decisive in view of a change in the same philosophical reflection, and therefore it shows how the reflection by Merleau-Ponty was right in this regard (see Galimberti, 1994; Nancy, 1995; Derrida, 2000).
Indeed, the opening of the subject to the world by virtue of the body he lives, the pertinence of consciousness to the own body, the concordance between the perception that my body has of itself and the perceptual experience of the external object, the connection between being in a common perceived world and the presence of the subject become the essential threads that weave in the crucial question on the body and its intercorporeality which is the main core of the Merleau-Ponty's philosophy and that, by allowing him the definitive overcoming of any overflying though, it leads him to the recognition of an opaque and anonymous background that envelops and reabsorb every situation in itself. It's only thanks to the body, and more specifically to our body, that we discover that it does not and cannot exist a knowledge of the reality of survol, a panoramic and panoptical reality, but it rather exists a perspective, lateral, oblique, broken and fragmented knowledge. Then, the integration of the body in the world exceeds the subjectivist and objectivist instances and is placed in that ambiguous field that does not properly belong to the "things that are purely things" or to the "conscious subject":
L'experience du corps propre nous revele un mode d'existence ambigu. Si j'essaye de la penser comme un faisceau de processus en troisieme personne--"vision", "motricite", "sexualite"--je m'apercois que ces "fonctions" ne peuvent etre liees entre elle set au monde exterieur par des rapports de causalite, elles sont toutes confusement reprises et impliquees dans un drame unique. Le corps n'est donc pas un objet. Pour la meme raison, la con science que j'en ai n'est pas une pensee, c'est-a-dire que je ne peux le decomposer et le recomposer pour en former une idee claire. Son unite est toujours implicite et confuse. [...] Qu'il s'agisse du corps d'autrui ou de mon propre corps, je n'ai pas d'autre moyen de connaitre le corps humaine que de le vivre, c'est-a-dire de reprendre a mon compte le drame qui le traverse et de me confondre avec lui. [...] ainsi l'experience du corps propre s'oppose au mouvement reflexif qui degage l'objet du sujet et le sujet de l'objet, et qui ne nous donne que la pensee du corps ou le corps en idee et non pas l'experience du corps ou le corps en realite (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p. 231).
Thus it emerges the specific ambiguity of the body which is not the irreducible duplicity of the object-body and the subject-body, but it's the double and inseparable ambivalence inherent in the body. The own body is the phenomenal body that even when it is the object body of consciousness it is never a thing and, even when it is the consciousness of the body-object, it's never an idea. As an object-body of consciousness is not a living-thing or a living thing, or something that is objectively definable as provided by the behavior of the life, but it's a living-lived. As consciousness of the object body it is not an abstract thought, a conceptual representation which is linguistically expressible and communicable, but it's the chiaroscural expression of our life as an original affectivity. In short terms, it's a lived-thought. Then the phenomenal body is "ambiguous", we can also say it's improper because it is the inseparable solidarity of the two ambivalences (living being-lived and lived-thought), both linked by the "experienced". The game of this double ambivalence is the same movement of the understanding: the closeness to both the originality of the sense and the meaning.
In this sense, the phenomenology by Merleau-Ponty restores consciousness to life; it abandons the theory of the object-body and retrieves the one of body-phenomenon. Thus, the consciousness no longer appears as a constituent or a pure being-for-itself but as a perceptual consciousness, a subject of behavior. And, on the other hand, the body is losing those classical connotations that physiology has attached to it. The body no longer appears as a whole of molecules or a cluster of cells, an object of the world or an aggregate of juxtaposed elements in the space, but as a means of our communication with it, a latent horizon of every our experience.
It's as if my body, as it "sees" or "touches" the world, has a privileged position, in fact the "skin" is a piece of that same "skin" that constitutes the entire world. Corporeality is, therefore, the expression of our being-in-the world, as it's attached a sense to the body's pertinence to the world and the world's pertinence to the body.
As you can see, it's exactly the corporeal interrelationship between me and the world that allows Merleau-Ponty to overcome impasses of the post-Cartesian philosophies. If in fact we stopped to the objective thinking, we'd come across the antinomy of the being-in-itself-the one of the objects deployed in the space--, and that of the being-in-itself, the one of awareness. As a result, the other would stand in front of me as a being-in-itself and yet he would exist for himself. It means that the other, to be perceived, should make me be contradictory: I should distinguish him from myself, so I should place him in the world of objects and, at the same time, I should think of it as conscience. Then, in the objective thought, there is no place for the other and a plurality of all-embracing consciousnesses: in fact, everything is reabsorbed into a sort of all-embracing consciousness. Conversely, through the deepening of theme of corporeality, Merleau-Ponty comes to a conclusion: the object of knowing does not belong to the sphere of the mere contents, defined as a parte objecti, nor the subject of knowing is the pure gnoseo logical subject, defined as a parte subjecti. The one is related to the other, but not as two poles or two moments that find a connection in the cognitive relationship--because this would always belong to the dogmatic and formal vision of the objective thought--rather as two terms which, since they have no specific content, define them only according to their mutual relationship. To sum up, we need to interpret knowledge not as the appropriateness of two polarities, but as the event of a relationship, whose intersection point is the body. The moment of the correlation can be done only by the latter that, experiencing the contents, endorses them realizing himself in a real and not surreptitiously presupposed synthesis.
Therefore, the body and things are a "network of relations", avoiding that the one constitutes a primum if compared to the other (see Lisciani-Petrini, 2002, pp. 49-139): the determination in itself of the two elements is not possible as a matter of principle and knowledge, as concrete knowledge, is only recognition of their relativity and complementarity. The primum, therefore, is precisely the relationship from which only the subject and the object are constituted. We can speak of "Self and "things" only in a speculative way, where our body is part of the same structure in the world:
une femme mantient sans calcul un intervalle de securite entre la plume de son chapeau et les objets qui pourraient la briser, elle sent ou est la plume comme nous sentons ou est notre main. Si j'ai l'habitude de conduire une voiture, je l'engage dans un chemin et je vois que "je peux passer" sans comparer la largeur du chemin a celle des ailes, comme je franchis une porte sans comparer la largeur de la porte a celle de mon corps. Le chapeau et l'automibile ont cesse d'etre des objets dont la grandeur et le volume se determineraient par comparaison avec les autres objets. Ils sont devenus des puissances volumineuses, l'exigence d'un certain espace libre. [...] Le baton de l'aveugle a cesse d'etre un objet pour lui, il n'est plus percu pour lui-meme, son extremite s'est transforme en zone sensible, il augmente l'ampleur et le rayon d'action du toucher, il est devenu l'analogue d'un regard. [...] Les lieux de l'espace ne se definissent pas comme des positions objectives par rapport a la position objective de notre corps, mais ils inscrivent autour de nous la portee variable de nos visee ou de nos gestes. S'habituer a un chapeau, a une automobile ou a un baton, c'est s'installer en eux, ou inversement, les faire participer a la voluminosite du corps propre (MerleauPonty, 1945, pp. 167-168).
In this sense, the "thing", the "other" are
le correlatif de mon corps et plus generalement de mon existence
dont mon corps n'est que la structure stabilisee, elle se constitue dans la prise de mon corps sur elle, elle n'est pas d'abord une signification pour l'entendement, mais une structure accessibile a l'inspection du corps et si nous voulons decrire le reel tel qu'il nous apparait dans l'experience perceptive, nous le trouvons charge de predicats anthropologiques. Les relations entre les choses ou entre les aspects des choses etant toujours mediatisees par notre corps, la nature entiere est la mise en scene de notre propre vie ou notre interlocuteur dans une sorte de dialogue (pp. 369-370).
Subject and object, consciousness and world, body and things are now subjected to a radical reinterpretation: the synthesis of the object is made by the synthesis of the own body and it does not occur between two external elements--the subject and the object--but in every moment of the relational movement of existence. Not only that, but as we have said, we can see that the concept of "knowledge" is completely reset: we "know" not in spite of our body, but thanks to our body. In other words: our finitude is exactly the reason we "know". Finally, since it is the body that allows me to gain the prethetical, we could not understand the radicalism of Merleau-Ponty if we would not separate the body from its identification with consciousness. It's the body that handles the intentional strings that link it to the surrounding world; as we have already said, it is the latent horizon of our experience, it's continually present prior to every determined thought, and it reveals both the perceiving subject and the perceived world.
In the deepest of the body we find the perceptive life as a medium that connects the body to the pre-individual feeling, the physiological and somatic life of the others, a life that sinks into sexuality, nutrition, sleep, a hidden and functioning common feeling, in a permission and therefore in a coexistence. Every body, every "Self feels the other body, the other self, because--just like it--it lives the life of sensitivity, dreams, waking and feeding, in a common participation in a horizon of original sense. The body, therefore, is not a duplicate of consciousness, but is consciousness itself; it is one of the means that enable us to relate to the world, but is the only way to access it. The phenomenological subject would not be a consciousness if it would not belong to a body, if it would not be a body, recognized in a historical situation that it lives in first person as a starting and inalienable point.
From here we can understand the gradual change of horizon by MerleauPonty, the passage from the own body to the one of the "flesh of the world" and thus the improper body, the "disiecta membra". The results of this change of sense attached to the notion of the body will be tangible in the last unfinished work of the philosopher: The visible and the invisible. But the premises of this decisive shift were already contained in the structure of behavior. This testifies that his thoughts, from the beginning, were so clear to turn at the end into the sense of ontology.
If we read again this work, in fact, we can read:
Le sujet ne vit pas dans un monde d'etats de conscience ou de representations d'ou il croirait pouvoir par une sorte de miracle agir sur des choses exterieures ou les connaitre. Il vit dans un univers d'experience, dans un milieu neutre a l'egard des distinctions substantielles entre l'organisme, la pensee et l'etendue, dans un commerce direct avec les etres, les choses et son propre corps (Merleaui-Ponty, 1942, p. 204).
My body, the natural world, the space, the human world and the time should not be regarded in terms of the physical sciences, as determinant objects, partes extra partes, but they must be perceived as moi-autrui-les-choses at the nascent state. A system that reveals the "ancient path" concluded at the birth between the self and the world--without "me" or the "world", but not without "me" or without the "world"--where there's a system of anonymous functions. The meaning of the orientation in the space, watching it in depth, capturing the movement and greatness of things, show those changes of level or situation with which the body takes distances from the world. These experiences at the nascent state make the body both like the power through which the intrawordly relationships are set up thanks to a communication that is "older than the thought". The primordial horizon which is just the "accouplement de notre corps avec les choses" (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p. 370): inhering to something ... and the interrelationship.
As we can see, Merleau-Ponty progressively reaches an extraordinary new sense of "inherence to ..." and the "interrelationship" that disrupts the previous explanatory schema.
Thus perception means communion, coexistence, lived and ambiguous relationship of the subjective and objective elements; elements that are deliberate facts into the perceptual process. The synthesis is not made by the epistemological subject but by the phenomenal body, whose intent merges with the psycho-physiological corporeal schema. The perceptive synthesis no more holds the secret of the object than it does that of one's own body. The percept offers itself as a presence-absence, thus making impossible the fulfillment of that synthesis in that metaphysical point, which is the thinking subject. Indeed, what for the phenomenology constitutes the real unity of the object is also what takes it away from our "possession": the irrefutable presence and the perpetual absence of the object are the two inseparable aspects of his transcendence, whose counterpart in the subject is the open and indefinite unit of the corporal schema in the general movement of the being in the world.
But precisely because it's closely related to the body, the perception will always be partial, secondary, perspective; it'll be always possible to explicate and fulfill it indefinitely, but without ever carry out the synthesis of the different perspectives: nor the world will ever completely show itself, nor the subject will completely project himself in the objects. Here, for the object, ambiguity means that it is firmly understood only on one point while, for the subject, it means that within the act of consciousness it is coincidence and-together-away from reality, and which requires, given the nature of his act, to extend it to the future by exposing itself to danger, uncertainty, mistake. As a result, a total reflection will never be reached if the world shows itself only as a presumptive unity:
l'ipseite n'est, bien entendu, jamais atteinte. [...] Si la chose meme etait atteinte, elle serait desormais etalee devant nous et sans mystere. Elle cesserait d'exister comme chose au moment meme ou nous croirions la posseder. Ce qui fait la "realite" de la chose est donc justement ce qui la derobe a notre possession. L'aseite de la chose, sa presence irrecusable et l'absence perpetuelle dans laquelle elle se re tranche sont deux aspects inseparables de la transcendance (pp. 269-270).
Then it needs to seek a new status for perception and to show that it is neither a state, a quality or the conscience of a state or a quality. It needs to show that the subject of perception is neither a thinker that notices a quality or an inactive entity that would be affected or modified by it, but a power that "co-originates" in a certain context of existence. In this sense, we can understand the reason the subject of perception is--according to Merleau-Ponty --"anonymous". At this regard, he writes:
si je voulais traduire exactement l'experience perceptive, je devrais dire qu'on percoit en moi et non pas que je percois. Toute sensation comporte un germe de reve ou de depersonnalisation comme nous l'eprouvons par cette sorte de stupeur ou elle nous met quand nous vivons vraiment a son niveau. [...] Je n'ai pas plus conscience d'etre le vrai sujet de ma sensation que de ma naissance ou de ma mort. Ni ma naissance ni ma mort ne peuvent m'apparaitre comme des experiences miennes, puisque, si je les pensais ainsi, je me supposerais preexistant ou survivant a moimeme pour pouvoir les eprouver et je ne penserais donc pas ma naissance ou ma mort pour de bon. Je ne puis donc me saisir que comme "deja ne" et "encore vivant",--saisir ma naissance et ma mort que comme des horizons prepersonnels: je sais qu'on nait et qu'on meurt, mais je ne puis connaitre ma naissance et ma mort. Chaque sensation, etant a la rigoeur la premiere, la derniere et la seule de son espece, est une naissance et une mort. Le sujet qui en a l'experience commence et finit avec elle, et comme il ne peut se preceder ni se survivre, la sensation s'apparait necessairement a elle-meme dans un milieu de generalite, elle vient d'en deca de moi-meme, elle releve d'une sensibilite qui l'a precede et qui lui survivra, comme ma naissance et ma mort appartiennent a une natalite et a une mortalite anonymes. [...] Entre ma sensation et moi, il y a toujours l'epaisseur d'un acquis originaire qui empeche mon experience d'etre claire pour elle-meme. J'eprouve la sensation comme modalite d'une existence generale, deja vouee a un monde physique et qui fuse a travers moi sans que j'en suis l'auteur (pp. 249-250).
The path of perceptual knowledge is "anonymous", "operating" and "ambiguous". This introduces my inalienable presence in the world and the presence of the world in me that constitutes the etre-au-monde. Hence the ontological significance that it gains in the philosopher's reflection. Beingin-the-world means being in an inner communication with it before any reflection: this is the primitive communication between the incarnate subject and the world that prohibits dividing them into substances.
The body, the living expression of interiority and exteriority, supports and develops this kind of permutation of the respective situations of the subjective and the objective. As it is simul, both sentient and sensible; it is, therefore, its relationship with itself and a limit between the things and me. Here emerges the key point emphasized before. We reiterate that the concept of the inseparability from the own body and the world's body (i.e. from the worldly network) is not only the central point of Merleau-Ponty's speculation, but it's also and especially the passage that opens up the phenomenology to ontology: the chiasm between the own body and the world's body is definitely in the conception of the body as diffused and expanded into the flesh of the world; the improper, divided andfragmented body: the disiecta membra.
Bayer, R. (1962), "Merleau-Ponty et l'existentialisme," Revuephilosophique de la France et de l'Etrangere 87: 107-117.
Brena, G. L. (1969), La struttura della percezione. Studio su Merleau-Ponty. Milano: Vita e Pensiero.
Calabro, D. (2002), L 'infanzia della filosofia. Saggio sulla filosofia dell 'educazione di Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Torino: UTET.
Carbone, M. (1990), Ai confini dell'esprimibile. Merleau-Ponty a partire da Cezanne e da Proust. Milano: Guerini.
Derrida, J. (2000), Le toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy. Paris: Galilee.
Escher di Stefano, A. (1981), Il radicalismo filosofico come esperienza del vissuto in Merleau-Ponty. Napoli: Loffredo.
Galimberti, U. (1995), Il corpo. Milano: Feltrinelli.
Lisciani-Petrini, E. (2002), La passione del mondo. Saggio su Merleau-Ponty. Napoli: Esi.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1942), La structure du comportement. Paris: PUF.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945), Phenomenologie de la perception. Paris: Gallimard. Nancy, J.-L. (1992), Corpus. Metailie: Paris.
Sini, C. (1984), "Introduzione" a M. Merleau-Ponty, La prosa del mondo. Rome: Editori Riuniti.
Department of Human, Philosophical and Education Sciences,
University of Salerno
Daniela Calabro is an Assistant Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Salerno (Italy). She is the author of: L'infanzia della filosofia. Saggio sulla filosofia dell'educazione di Maurice Merleau-Ponty (2002). Torino: Utet; Dis-piegamenti. Soggetto, corpo e comunita in Jean-Luc Nancy (2006). Milano: Mimesis; L'ora meridiana. Il pensiero inoperoso di Jean-Luc Nancy tra ontologia, estetica e politica (2012). Milano: Mimesis; Les detours d'une pensee vivante. Transitions et changement de paradigme dans la reflexion de Roberto Esposito (2012). Paris: Mimesis. Her papers have been published also by the journals aut aut, Chiasmi International, Il Pensiero, Paideutika. Calabro's research is focused on phenomenological studies of the Husserlian philosophy in France, particularly regarding Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. In the last years she is studying the themes of "subject", "body" and "community" in Jean-Luc Nancy and the "paradigm of bios" starting from the studies of Roberto Esposito.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Special Issue|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2013|
|Next Article:||Bodily communication: a brief summary.|