Thursday, April 28, 2011

For a subject outside of dichotomy Part 1

Parodi: "I would be tempted to say that the body is much more essential for sensation than it is for perception."
Merleau-Ponty: "Can they be distinguished?"

In this beautiful answer lies the whole essence of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy. The philosophical assumption that leads to separate understandings of sensation and perception is that there is a subject and an object. It is commonly assumed that in perception, subject is the one who acts towards the passive object. There is an act of subject and it happens outside. In sensation, there is an internal state of affairs of the one who has been stimulated by something. These two conceptualizations complete each other in the same plane of dichotomy of subject and object. What Merleau-Ponty says brilliantly, is that perception happens both outside and inside. More correctly, the distinction of outside and inside, which refers to two different orders of being, happens to be a false distinction that originates from the doubt of senses. For what is seen is simply not true just because it does not cover all the perspectives that it can be seen and it does not correspond to the thing itself properly. For example, I only see the front of a house if I am standing in front of it and another pair of eyes which are situated at the backyard of the house would see the back of the house. So what enables me to think that what we both see is the same house? It sure looks different. For Merleau-Ponty, the assurance in me that me and my friend are seeing the same house and if I move to the backyard I would see what he is seeing now, is the assurance of perception being of this world. The house would assure the perception of itself by simply being there. In other words, different perceptions of things could not be a reason to doubt perception's adequateness in regard to reality, if we do not will for a reality that is absolute, timeless and unchangeable. On the contrary it would be an evidence to trust the perceptions, because they are the possibilities of things themselves. The possibilities of the world we live in. The character of reality which is in time. The subject-object dichotomy of which the distinction between perception and sensation originates, is based on the will of something fixed, eternal, unchangeable. So it creates these two different orders: one of which is in action reaching out of its cage called body. The other is the one which is being acted on, the body that the acting figure eludes in order to know, to organize, to classify the bodies just like it. How these two orders relate to each other in the first place, is an enigma. And what is it like to have such a view of reality which is so different from perceived world that does not have anything to do with one's own experience?

This will of two different orders of subject and object, is doing injustice to the inexhaustible character of reality as well as inexhaustible possibilities of experience. And more importantly it seems to me that maintaining subject-object distinction in such a way, is working at cross purposes with the salvation of subject herself. For placed on this insufficiently objective as well as insufficiently subjective plane, subject could only be a shadow of what she could become. If we want to save the subject and not a dummy of her, we must first give her the freedom to live in the world and the means to trust her perceptions as if they are the perceptions of the world perceiving itself. Only a moving together with the world could open up the possibility for the subject to create her own style, thus her subjectivity.

Final words from the man himself:

"By these words, the “primacy of perception,” we mean that the experience of perception is our presence at the moment when things, truths, values are constituted for us; that perception is a nascent Logos; that it teaches us, outside all dogmatism, the true conditions of objectivity itself; that it summons us to the tasks of knowledge and action. It is not a question of reducing human knowledge to sensation, but of being present at the birth of this knowledge, to make it as sensible as the sensible, to recover the consciousness of rationality. This experience of rationality is lost when we take it for granted as self-evident, but is, on the contrary, rediscovered when it is made to appear against the background of nonhuman nature." (Maurice Merleau-Ponty)

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