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The Ecology of presence and intersubjectivity in the philosophy of Gabriel Marcel.

The role of technology in social relations has captivated scholars for centuries. Throughout the 20th Century, European and North American philosophers, in particular, have explored the bearing of technology on the human condition and on how people inter-relate. Among them, French philosopher, playwright, and musician Gabriel Honore Marcel (1889-1973) is concerned with the environment created by means of communication to and from each person within the human encounter. He beckons the contemporary thinker to be on watch for factors that foster fulfilling human encounters and those that imperil them. "Presence" and "Intersubjectivity" are the terms he uses to characterize optimal human encounters. The various other factors he examines in his luminous existentialist philosophical probing can be viewed in terms of how they contribute to or detract from Presence and Intersubjectivity in human encounters. Though he lauds the contributions of technology, he presents it largely as impediment to Presence and Intersubjectivity.

He presents those factors, including technology, in a meandering, seemingly unsystematic way, yet appears justified in doing so. His approach is ecological in that he concerns himself with the human encounter as an organic whole, not as an activity that can be rendered through a rational, linear exposition. His concern is for the synergy or, as he prefers, the "symphony" of attributes and dispositions that circulate in optimal human encounters:

I am not a spectator who is looking for a world of structures susceptible of being viewed clearly and distinctly, but rather [...] I listen to the voices and appeals comprising that symphony of Being--which is, for me, in the final analysis, a suprarational unity beyond images, words, and concepts. (Marcel, 1963, pp. 82-83)

In his concern with lived experience and "concrete features of human existence" as the grounds for his analysis, his approach is phenomenological (Anderson, 2006, p. 393).

In fact, the two terms Presence and Intersubjectivity, though separated here and throughout Marcel's work, seem really more twists on the kaleidoscope than stages of development. He dwells in mystery, which by its nature resists precise methods and taxonomies: "being evades every attempt to pin it down" (Marcel, 1973, p. 193). Marcel enters the mystery of being and discovers it to be achieved primarily through a complex of factors associated with Presence and Intersubjectivity. Those factors appear often as interchangeable. They are presented here for the distinct light they shed on the phenomenon that Marcel seeks to promote. They include: presence; an outlook of mystery versus problem; secondary reflection; an outlook of being versus having; availability; communion; reciprocity; and Intersubjectivity. Later in the article, I review Marcel's warnings about the impediments to Presence and Intersubjectivity and how he sees technology in particular as fostering many such profound impediments.

Marcel was not, of course, the only philosopher to speak of presence and intersubjectivity. Although a complete review of the literature on "presence and intersubjectivity" is beyond the scope of this study, a brief sketch of five others for whom these concepts were central suffices to illustrate that they are key to our understanding of human existence. It also brings into relief Marcel's unique insight on the topic, given his emphasis on intersubjectivity. Heidegger (1962) wrote about "Dasein" (being there) and "Mitsein" (being with) and even coined the term "presencing" to capture their active (as opposed to static) property. For the German philosopher, however, people exist in a sort of unconscious relationship to one another, perhaps like planets in a solar system. He writes that the "ownmost possibility is non-relational (1962, p. 308, italics his) and that "Dasein's resoluteness towards itself is what first makes it possible to let the Others who are with it 'be' in their ownmost potentiality-for-Being [...]" (p. 344). Thus, Heidegger appears to put more emphasis on subjectivity than intersubjectivity. Yet, he also treats the theme of "Being-with" the Other and "leaping in" for the Other (158), writing "So far as Dasein is [emphasis his] at all, it has Being-with-one-another as its kind of Being" (p. 163). And he cautions that when being-with devolves into "idle talk" and to a "non-committal justsurmising-with-someone-else," a heightened sense of "they" arises. In other words, he seems to warn against obstacles to intersubjectivity. Marcel, instead, pointed more directly to conditions that engender both Intersubjectivity and Presence.

In Walter Ong's work, though "presence" is not defined precisely, it is most manifest through orality. "Sound itself thus of itself suggests presence," wrote Ong in a book entitled The Presence of the Word (1964, p. 114). Ong explored the subject's awareness of another subject's presence that occurs particularly in "earshot" of the other:

When we speak of presence in its fullest sense--the presence which we experience in the case of another human being, which another person exercises on us and which no object or living being less than human can exercise--we speak of something that surrounds us, in which we are situated. (Ong, 1964, p. 130)

Ong's thesis is that "sound and hearing have a special relationship to our sense of presence" (p. 130). One may think of Ong's treatment of intersubjectivity principally as a treatment of inter-consciousness. Implying, for example, a shared awareness of grammar rules on the part of a speaker and an audience, he writes in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (2002), that talk "wells up into consciousness out of unconscious depths, though of course with the conscious as well as unconscious co-operation of society" (p. 81). He grounds his analysis in the communication between speakers and writers and their respective audiences yet conducts his analysis largely from the perspective of the rhetor or author. In comparison, Marcel is more squarely intersubjective in his discussion of co-participation and co-essences.

Perelman and Obrechts-Tyteca (1969) spoke of a kind of presence engendered through a dialectic between communicators and their audiences. The rhetor would "make present by verbal magic alone, what is actually absent" (p. 117) or would heighten awareness of what is already present through a process that amounts to a kind of figuring of "certain elements on which a speaker wishes to center attention in order that they may occupy the foreground of the hearer's consciousness" (p. 142). Presence, for them, amounts to a rhetor's creation of salience. The presence created by the rhetor or extracted from the audience exists in a liminal space between the two subjects; it is, in that sense, intersubjective. But the presence and intersubjectivity of Marcel lie not merely in between the something existing in the between-ness of subjects but in their joint envelopment within a shared space.

Finally, Lee (2004) has synthesized a plethora of social-scientific literature about various forms of telepresence, virtual presence and mediated presence. Most are concerned with presence mediated through technologies. In such literature, most definitions and treatments of presence either obscure the human agent or render the person as a secondary concern (i.e., the person is located as secondary to technology). Lee provides typologies of these forms of presence and, drawing on Goffman (1963), gives only parenthetical attention to co-presence, a topic that is of central concern to Marcel.

Marcel goes beyond these approaches to presence and intersubjectivity and presents the two concepts as first-order phenomena. In his analysis, presence is neither mediated by technology nor created by one's "thrown-ness" or physical proximity or audible voice but by a subjective quality, a disposition, that he names "availability." And the Presence and Intersubjectivity he explores are decidedly between persons, rather than between signs, symbols, or ideas. In his work, technology is assessed according to how it facilitates or hinders co-essence.


Marcel perhaps comes closest to relaying a sense of what he has in mind by "Presence" in his contrast between situations that bear Presence and those that do not:

For instance, we can have a very strong feeling that someone who is there in the room, very close to us, someone whom we see and hear and whom we can touch, is nevertheless not present. He is infinitely farther from us than such a loved one who is thousands of miles away or who even no longer belongs to our world. What then is this Presence which is here lacking? [...] [T]he essential thing is lacking. One could say that this is a communication without communion.. (Marcel, 1964, p. 237)

Elsewhere, calling Presence "being par excellence," he likens it to musical space, in which chords or melodies are not reducible to their constituent notes (Marcel, 1951b, pp. 56-57). He also speaks of it as a way of listening, even while speaking, a means of receiving another into a region of ourselves, to allow other persons to participate in it, as an act of receptivity and hospitality to others (Marcel, 1964, p. 28). He deems it something that can only be glimpsed (Marcel, 1951a, p. 209) and yet insists that the existence of Presence is recognizable: "Presence is something that reveals itself immediately and unmistakably in a look, a smile, a tone, a handshake" (Marcel, 2008, p. 192). Marcel proposes Presence as an antidote to what most ails people in a broken world. To Sartre's "hell is other people," he proffers "Presence."

Perhaps the elusiveness of the concept lies in a distinction that Marcel draws. Marcel proposes that the phenomenon of Presence be understood as "mystery," not as "problem" and he dedicates considerable time to limning the difference (Marcel, 1965, pp. 117--118). In a nutshell, for Marcel "mystery" is something in which one participates whereas a "problem" is something that lies outside of oneself and is construed as "object." The human encounter is a mystery into which one enters through the portals of Presence. In ecological terms, Presence creates an environment, the ground, in which the human encounter, the figure, is borne. Marcel explains:

I, who inquire about the meaning and the conditions of the possibility of this encounter, cannot place myself outside or opposite it; I am engaged in this encounter. I depend on it. I am in some manner interior to it, it envelops and comprehends me--even if I do not comprehend it. (Marcel, 1956, 1984, p. 22)

Another distinction that Marcel draws also sheds light on Presence. "Primary Reflection" and "Secondary Reflection" correspond closely with the "Problem vs. Mystery" contrast he established. The perspective of primary reflection is that it regards that which it encounters as an "object" and seeks to break it down into verifiable parts. It is largely the perspective of science, which divorces the subject conducting the study from that which is to be studied. When some datum is studied, the person who studies the datum, the subject, is impertinent. "Secondary" reflection, in contrast, is a mode of consciousness that takes on another as within the subject, in a sense, as a co-subject. Thomas Michaud, author of "Secondary Reflection and Marcelian Anthropology" and many other studies on Marcel, states that secondary reflection "is a reflection on an intuitive encounter with mystery" (Michaud, 1990, p. 223). Marcel writes, "Roughly, we can say that where primary reflection tends to dissolve the unity of experience which is first put before it, the function of secondary reflection is essentially recuperative; it reconquers that unity" (Marcel, 1965, p. 83). In secondary reflection, says Marcel, "we soar above every kind of mechanical operation; we are, in the strict sense of the phrase, in the realm of the spirit [....]" (Marcel, 1951a, p. 215). Marcel constructs a parallel thematic distinction between "having" and "being." As this difference in perspective pertains specifically to human encounters, Marcel explains that a perspective toward the other as something I possess (e.g., the person is "my" friend, or I love "my" idea of the person, not the person himself) can be distinguished with the preposition "with" ("avec"): "I am friends 'with'" instead of "I 'have' a friend." A sense of "having" a friend, for example, renders the friend an object, comparable to a piece of furniture:

When I put the table beside the chair I do not make any difference to the table or the chair, and I can take one or the other away without making any difference; by my relationship with you makes a difference to both of us, and so does my interruption of the relationship make a difference. (Marcel, 1951a, p. 181)

Instead, a person who is a friend "with" one remains present even when not physically there, even after the person dies. The relationship is something that endures. Unlike a "broken music box that [you] happen to stumble upon in some storeroom" in which some artifact of a person exists but no "live music" plays of the person, presence is "an order emanating from a 'we' which lives on in me" (Marcel, 1967, pp. 209-210). Marcel thus explains that optimal human encounter requires a disposition toward the other, an outlook that Marcel calls "Availability." As with most of his writing, perhaps owing to the rooting of his ontology of being in mystery, Marcel does not precisely delineate key features of availability or offer instructions on how to cultivate it in oneself or to facilitate it in someone else; instead, as with reading most of his work, discerning what he envisions to generate availability is like taking a coin to a scratch card ticket. The vision is unveiled in strokes and scratches. However, a dictum of Marcel's that expresses a central point of his ontology of being is that being "cannot be treated as a datum" (Marcel, 1951b, p. 37). What Marcel intends by this dictum is that one cannot treat "being" as an object outside of oneself to study or as a problem to solve. One must "be" in relationship with another in order to gain insight into essential being, even into one's own being. Being is understood through participation, as mystery, not as object or problem. One acquires Presence to another through an availability, a permeability, a making of space within oneself for the other. Marcel assigns "availability" as the term to refer to a state of willingness to put at the disposal of the other one's goods of whatever sort and to be disposed to receiving the goods of the other. It amounts to a love for the other. Such availability is manifest when Presence is at work and is thus an indicator of it.


Presence leads on to the related phenomenon to which Marcel dedicates considerable attention: Intersubjectivity. He refers to this quality as a transparency in which persons mutually place themselves at the disposal of others (p. 194). In Presence and Immortality he presents Intersubjectivity as a state in which people exist in "reference to" the other or in attunement with another. (Marcel, 1967, p. 197) In The Broken World, he speaks of Intersubjectivity as a quality that allows the "influx" of another person (Marcel, 2008, p. 191). It is an internal quality that paradoxically tends toward the other: it is a "being with and for others" (Marcel, 2008, p. 191). Again Marcel employs the preposition "with" to stress his point that a person existing within a state of Intersubjectivity expresses Presence:

Even when I can neither touch you nor see you, I feel it, you are with me, it would be a betrayal of you not to be assured of this.' "With" me: let us notice here the metaphysical character of this word "with", which has so rarely been acknowledged by philosophers and which corresponds neither to a relation of inherence or of immanence, nor to a relation of exteriority. It will be of the very essence--and here I must use the Latin word--of a genuine "coesse"[....](Marcel, 2008, p. 191, all italics his)

In Presence and Immortality, he says it more succinctly: "To exist is to co-exist" (Marcel, 2008, p. 205). And he makes clear that far from being a static condition, the state of Intersubjectivity is a "path discoverable only through love" (Marcel, 2008, p. 195).

If the qualities of Presence and Intersubjectivity and all the other qualities that interplay with them seem interchangeable in Marcel's philosophy, this may be due to the fact that Intersubjectivity results when two persons are present to each other. Intersubjectivity indicates shared Presences. A state of togetherness is achieved. As Gallagher, interpreting Marcel, puts it, "When, beyond the egocentric enticements of communication, I freely open myself to a thou in a truly personal encounter, I reach the stage of ontological communion" (Gallagher, 1975, p. 23). When availability is mutual, when Presence is reciprocated, full communion is achieved between persons. This is the human encounter to which Marcel calls us.

Technology as Impediment to Presence and Intersubjectivity

It should be said at the outset that Marcel's view of technology is not amoral. He sees its role in human affairs as both a blessing and a curse. In this regard, he sounds a cautionary note, not a siren like that of fellow French philosopher Jacques Ellul and others. Marcel expresses the "blessing" of technology on many occasions. He attaches the term "progress" to technology and calls technological progress "a good thing":

It would be more precise to say that technical progress in the strict sense is a good thing, both good in itself, and good because it is the incarnation of a genuine power that lies in human reason: good even because it introduces into the apparent disorder of the outer world a principle of intelligibility. (Marcel, 1952, pp. 41-42)

He even calls technological progress a "priceless gift" "if it were to be exercised on behalf of a unified mankind, or rather on behalf of mankind working together" (Marcel, 1952, p. 45). He acknowledges that technology can be applied to assure "the achievement of some definite concrete purpose" and calls the idea of condemning technology regressive, saying "it would be absurd to hope to solve the present crisis by closing down the factories." (Marcel, 1952, p. 61). As if anyone needed further convincing of his praise of technology, he specifically cites the positive achievements of communications technology: "a widespread use of this good thing that would not have been imaginable a century ago" (Marcel, 1952, p. 64). He even called his earlier position on technology absurd: "At first perhaps I took an overly hostile view of technology. Today this seems to me absurd. I would no longer condemn a single instance of technology. I believe that technology is good in itself' (Marcel, 1973, p. 246). So, Marcel is almost obsequious in acknowledging the merits of technology.

However, he draws a distinction between "technocracy"--a mentality which privileges technology and the values it promotes over the value of being--and "the proper sphere of technology" (Marcel, 1952, p. 195). Marcel's critique of technology is a condemnation of the former and not the latter. Marcel does not elaborate on the distinguishing features of the two within the paragraph in which he names these two orientations; however, one may surmise that the various "techniques of degradation" that he outlines in Man Against Society --"a whole body of methods deliberately put into operation in order to attack and destroy in human persons. their self respect." (1952, p. 30) --align with "technocracy." The "proper sphere of technology," in contrast, is that in which "outward technical progress" is "balanced in man by an effort of inner conquest, directed towards an even greater selfmastery" (p. 40) and "exists for purposes outside itself" (p. 53, italics his). Presumably, the instances in which he calls technology "a good thing" and "a priceless gift," cited above in this section, fall within the "proper sphere" that he demarcates.

Moreover, Marcel's warning about threats to Presence and Intersubjectivity are not unique to technology. McCown has identified four such impediments to availability and thus obstacles to presence, in Marcel's philosophy. Encumbrance is a primary obstacle. This impediment refers to any form of self-absorption, whether that occupation be from wealth, fortune, perfection (McCown, 1978, p. 11) or the deleterious effects of technology. Marcel compares a life of encumbrance to a hand-written manuscript: "Life in such a case is like a page of manuscript all scribbled over with erasures and alterations [...] I would be far more true to myself if I had the courage to set myself free of them" (Marcel, 1951a, p. 143). McCown names a second impediment to availability crispation. It refers to the quality that Marcel describes of forming crusts or a shell: a person's "guard is always up, because his gates are barricaded" (Miceli, 1965, p. 108). A third impediment that McCown finds is susceptibility. It refers to the role that the other holds for the individual. Marcel explains that the other person exists for the susceptible person as an "apparatus which I can, or think I can, manipulate, or of which I can dispose at will" (Marcel, 1962, p. 12). Before the other person, the individual "poses": "To be more exact, we might say that the other person is the provisional and as it were accessory medium, through which I can arrive at forming a certain image, or idol of myself" (Marcel, 1962, p. 12). Sweeney's (2013) interpretation of Marcel's depiction of the "poseur" calls to mind a "Second Life" avatar:

   The poseur presents a mask that forms an
   impermeable wall between persons, but the poseur
   does not truly encounter the other. By acting for
   the other, the poseur appears to hear the call of the
   other but in the end is only acting for the masks
   presented by others. (p. 196)

The extreme of a person holding such a perspective is one of narcissism:

When he who poses is scoffed at by his companions, he decides, more often than not, that he has to do with imbeciles and shuts himself up with jealous care in a little private sanctuary where he can be alone with his idol. (Marcel, 1962, p. 12)

Finally, moral ego-centricity presents an obstacle to availability. A person enclosed on himself or herself lives detached from reality:

I should be inclined to think that the "ego" [italics his] so long as it remains shut up within itself, that is to say the prisoner of its own feelings, of its covetous desires, and of that dull anxiety which works upon it, is really beyond the reach of evil as well as of good. It literally has not yet awakened to reality. (Marcel, 1962, pp. 16-17)

The egoist remains enclosed in his or her own darkness.

The above factors impede Presence and Intersubjectivity irrespective of technology. However, granting too much prominence to technology exacerbates these impediments. Below are five losses uniquely wrought by technology that Marcel addresses.

First, "a technologized mind" fosters an object orientation and with it a problem view of the world. The fascination with and dependence on technology lead people to view technology not as extensions of human faculties, as McLuhan averred, but as agencies employed, with increasing dependency, to attack problems to achieve efficiencies, to improve output and the like. This impoverishes the sense of mystery intrinsic to Presence and Intersubjectivity, which are necessary to human fulfillment. In other words, Marcel lays the paradigm of the other-as-object-to-be-possessed (to "have") and external-to-self at the feet of a problem-orientation to life. Such a perspective degrades one's sense of self because objects (and problems) can be viewed by anyone. Both "subject" and "intersubjectivity" suffer as a result.

And if a problem perspective on life prevails, technology becomes the indispensable means for solving the problem. As Treanor puts it, "Overcoming of a problem inevitably involves some technique [as in] changing a flat tire [...] or downloading security software to fix a virus on one's computed' (http ://plato. standford. edu/entries/marcel). Marcel laments a world in which questions of human affairs are presented as problems and approached through techniques and he decries the mode of consciousness and objective view of being that ensue from what Treanor, clarifying Marcel, calls the "deification of technology" (Treanor As Gendreau notes, "Marcel is concerned with the attitude of the 'mere technician' who is so immersed in technology that the values which promote him as an authentic person with human dignity are discredited, omitted, denied, minimized, overshadowed, or displaced" (Gendreau https://www.bu. edu/wcp/Papers/ Tech/TechGend.htm, p. 1).

A problem- or object-orientation to the world leads to a second danger of "the technologized mind": a life centered on function. The depersonalization of people, an effect of "the technologized mind," leads to a life centered on function, which, in turn, leads to despair. Marcel decries this function-orientation and offers an example of the pathetic condition in which it leaves people. He writes that "the individual tends to consider him or herself, and likewise tends to appear to others, as merely an agglomeration of functions" (Marcel, 2008, p. 173 and Marcel, 1956, 1984, p. 11). He cites the example of metropolitan transit authorities, who guard the door or inspect tickets and come to see themselves and to allot use of their time in terms of their functions as employees. The functional and time-biased orientation that accompanies it spills over into various other functions, even into sleep, leisure, and sex (Marcel, 2008, p. 173). The result is conspicuously undesirable: "There is no need to stress the atmosphere of suffocating sadness secreted by a world whose main axis is functions" (Marcel, 2008, p. 174).

A third danger of the technologized mind is that it enslaves people to the instruments they create. Marcel warns that the danger of technocracy is that it reduces people to the role of user, enslaving them to the instruments they create:

The great majority of men are merely consumers and to that extent wholly dependent. They are thereby self-condemned to a new kind of slavery the true nature of which is, moreover, concealed from itself. (Marcel, 1963, p. 160)

Aware of the media-environmental effects of technology, Marcel indicates that "those who produce television sets or refrigerators must be able to create an environment capable of absorbing them" (Marcel, 1963, p. 160) and that the dependence on such a manufactured environment leads persons to consider themselves as inferior to what they produce: "by a singular paradox, he even undervalues himself in comparison with the far more precise and effective apparatus which his technical skill has perfected" (Marcel, 1963, p. 160). Gendreau offers a litany of other collateral effects of a technical culture, all a loss of qualities necessary to a sense of Presence--losses in individuality, creativity, commitment, involvement and participation, moral responsibility, and virtue--which is a condition for the good life.

He condemns the fact that workers become a "tiny cog in and [sic] great administrative machine" and lose awareness of the purposes and the persons that their workplace serves in theory. The willingness to sacrifice and to struggle in complex structures like a state ministry, bank, or insurance company "can survive only under degraded forms." Marcel cautions readers about this evil: "One must fear that, wherever the technocratic attitude of mind gains strength, so will this evil of depersonalization [...]" (Marcel, 1952, pp. 152-153). A basic spirit of hospitality toward the vulnerable "other" wanes in proportion to a society's privileging of the values of efficiency and output that technology prizes, as Marcel indicates in Volume I of his Mystery of Being:

The more, it might be said, the ideas of efficiency and output assert their supreme authority, the more the attitude of reverence towards the guest, towards the wounded, towards the sick, will appear at first incomprehensible, and later absurd: and in fact, in the world around us, we know that this assertion of the absurdity of forbearance and generosity is taking very practical shapes. (Marcel, 1951a, p. 217)

In the words often ascribed to McLuhan (but whose actual authorship has not been authenticated), "we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us" (Lanham, 1994, p. xi).

Fourth is the toll that the technologized mind takes on fraternity, which Marcel seems to equate with a loss of availability, the ability to love. The danger of valuing technology for its own sake is a mechanized society that leads to "a severe attack of laziness, or apathy" (Marcel, 1952, p. 53). It also leads to a loss of awareness of what transcends human existence (the notion of co-existence) and toward becoming "completely disarmed" in the face of "techniques of degradation" (Marcel, 1952, p. 55). The inward turn that technology fosters undercuts the possibility of human relations:

It is precisely in the name of an inward-turned and self-centered conception of equality that people claim the right to-day to rise in rebellion against the idea of service. In that way, we turn our backs on the possibility of real fraternity, that is, on every possibility of humanizing our relations with our fellow men. (Marcel, 1952, p. 157)

A by-product of such a turn is an attitude that exalts "equality" while neglecting attention to "fraternity"--two of the three ideals of the French Revolution (liberty was the third). Marcel laments the emphasis on equality that comes at the expense of fraternity:

The notion of equality expresses a kind of spontaneous self-assertion which is that of pretension and resentment: "I am your equal, I am just as good as you". In other words, the notion of equality is centred on a human consciousness claiming its own rights. Fraternity, on the other hand, is centred on the other person: "You are my brother". It is just as if one's consciousness projected itself towards the other person, towards my neighbor. (Marcel, 1952, p. 155)

The inward turn leads to a loss of recognition of what fulfills human existence: an availability and

responsiveness to the other; engagement in reciprocity and communion with the other. Loss of these amounts to a depersonalized mentality and makes of being "the object of a systematically depreciatory analysis, involving psycho-pathological interpretations, Freudian or otherwise; or of a sociological analysis which inevitably seems to confuse the infra- and the supra-individual ..." (Marcel, 1964, p. 9). Reciprocity is lost because it is "doubtless excluded from any relation between a subject and an object or between a subject and a subject-object" (Marcel, 2008, p. 192). What is lost, ultimately, is a sense of the ontological, of being (Marcel, 1956, 1984, p. 9).

Fifth, as a natural consequence of the loss of fraternity and reciprocity, a technologized mind induces loneliness and even despair. Interpreting Marcel, Gendreau explains the danger of the perfection of technical skill:

   Technology leads to loneliness for the individual
   who possesses the ability to master and manage by
   himself the use of these instruments and be an
   independent operator often at home and at a
   distance without any need of being in contact with
   other persons (Gendreau
   Papers/Tech/TechGend.htm, p. 6).

A basic spirit of hospitality toward the "other" wanes in proportion to a society's privileging of the values of efficiency and output that technology prizes.

In short, Marcel sketches five dangers that a "technologized mind" poses: (1) it leads to an objectand problem-orientation to the world; (2) it leads to an ontology of being centered on function; (3) it enslaves people to the technologies they create; (4) it undercuts fraternity, and (5) it leads to loneliness and despair.

But if these dangers of technology seem intervallic, Marcel is unequivocal in warning that technocracy has wrought a paradigm shift. The hypertrophy of technology leads to "an anthropology" in which people view themselves in terms of their functional yield, their output (Marcel, 1963, p. 164). He sees society, in mid-Twentieth Century, at a tipping point: in a "dialectical connection between an optimism of technical progress and a philosophy of despair [...]" (Marcel, 2008, p. 187). A paradigm shift normally implies a large-scale, society-wide shift in perspective, and Marcel clearly observes such a scope of change. However, the locus of his philosophical analysis remains the human encounter. It is there that he locates the symptoms of a "broken world" (which has become one of his book titles), and there that he calls for an ecological restoration.

To translate Marcel's philosophy of Presence and Intersubjectivity into media ecological terms, we find key conceptualizations of figure-ground, environment, and balance (e.g., in the human sensorium). In his discussion of the person as subject, the ontology of being rises as figure on the grounds of Presence and Intersubjectivity. In Marcel's analysis, the true self, intersubjectively realized, "seems to emerge like an island rising from the waves" (Marcel, 1951b, p. 16). McGown says that the function of Marcel's Intersubjectivity "is that of background or horizon against which the 'I' and the 'thou' stand out" (Marcel, 1973, p. 43). And the experience of Presence, communion, and community, figured as a mystery, jettisons the problem-oriented view of self or other as object. Conditions supporting Intersubjectivity within the human encounter constitute the environment which gives rise to fulfillment of human potential. Put differently, availability and Presence create the environment that creates communion: a veritable form of homeostasis. Marcel thus presents a pathway for achieving social interality.

An ecology of human Intersubjectivity combats the deleterious effects of technology. Marcel's perspective is ecological in his concern for the interplay between technology and human Presence and Intersubjectivity. He is concerned to recover being as an organic, integrated whole which he recognizes as requiring a restoration of the human sensorium wrought through the human encounter. Gendrea characterizes the ecological thrust of Marcel's corpus cogently: "The need is to establish a balance sheet recognizing our achievements in creating a better worldly life through the process of technology and our prospects of enrichment of our being with a fuller personal life" (Gendreau Papers/Tech/TechGend.htm, p. 2). Balance is a crucial topic in Marcel's work. In reflecting on the techniques of degradation, Marcel seems to echo McLuhan's dictum, "the medium is the message": "what starts off as a collection of means put together to serve an end outside itself tends, after all, in the long run to be valued and cultivated for its own sake [...] giving rise to an actual idolatry" (Marcel, 2008, p. 53). The contemporary media ecologist is uniquely equipped to warn against that prospect.


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Dennis D. Cali, University of Texas-Tyler, USA

Correspondence to:

Dennis D. Cali

Department of Communication

University of Texas-Tyler

3900 University Blvd.

Tyler, Tx 75799

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Publication:China Media Research
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Date:Apr 1, 2015
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