Category Archives: Phenomenology

Badiou and Phenomenology — a few words

I am currently working on the second installment of “Ontology — Badiou and Merleau-Ponty — Part II.” It’s proving to be an extremely fruitful endeavor. I hope it will also be fruitful for you, my dear reader. And though Part II is not quite finished (I apologize for the delay),  I wanted to share a few quotations with you by Alain Badiou in hopes that it my elucidate this project between the Logician of Worlds and the Phenomenologist of this world.

“The poem is not the guardian of being, as Heidegger thought, but the exposure to language of the resources of appearing. Further, this exposure itself is not yet the thinking of appearing, which, as we will see, takes the form of logic [a formal theory of relations] alone.” Second Manifesto for Philosophy (29).

“The difference between being and appearing is much rather that which distinguishes mathematics (as ontology) from logic (as phenomenology) — each of these two disciplines being just as formalized and rigorous as the other.” Second Manifesto for Philosophy (36).

“When I recognize that  multiple which belongs to the situation (which is counted as one there) is connected — or not — to the name of the event I perform the minimal gesture of fidelity: the observation of a connection (or non-connection). The actual meaning of this gesture — which provides the foundation of being for the entire process constituted by a fidelity — naturally depends on the name of the event (which is itself a multiple), on the operator of faithful connection, on the multiple therein encountered, and finally on the situation and the position of its evental-site, etc. There are infinite nuances in the phenomenology of the procedure of fidelity. But my goal is not a phenomenology, it is a Greater Logic (to remain wihtin Hegelian terminology). I will thus place myself in the following abstract connection and non-connection. This abstraction is legitimate since ultimately — as phenomenology  shows (and such is the sense of the words ‘conversion’, ‘rallying’, ‘grace’, ‘conviction’, ‘enthusiasm’, ‘persuasion’, ‘admiration’ … according to the type of event) a multiple either is or is not within the field of effects entailed by the introduction into circulation of a supernumerary name.” Being and Event (329).

The quotations above point towards a project concerned with the workings, structure, and organization of terms. The intimate relationship that these terms have with a subject, or subjects, is not what is of primary importance. What is of primary importance is whether or not a term is eventually rejected or incorporated into a situation. In other words, the (sometimes long) process of discerning whether or not a term is necessary to complete a goal is not Badiou’s objective. Badiou’s objective is to name the fact that this judgement, this exclusion and inclusion of terms, must occur in order to realize one’s commitment to a grander idea.

Yoder on faithful living and Marion on faithful seeing

Similarities between the theology of John Howard Yoder and Jean-Luc Marion may not be immediately evident. At the same time, I suspect that Marion’s work will become more helpful to my own theological work if I can tease out some of these similarities and put them into conversation with each other. One such similarity I think I’ve found is their shared conviction to act as if the world is God’s and is loved by God. Yoder often voices this conviction in terms of faithful living and Marion in the terms of faithful seeing. However, for both true sight and living well are so closely joined that they are almost the same thing. This is what I am trying to point towards with my quotations from Marion and Yoder below.

Before getting to those passages, I’d like to clarify one aspect of ‘true sight.’ Often true sight is a euphemism “for a beautiful vision to impose from above by authority,” to use Yoder’s words in just one of the many passages where he critiques such methodology. For both Yoder and Marion, an emphasis on seeing does not start with a large vision, but with the particular and with letting particular people, places and things speak with their own truth and beauty. Marion’s term “saturated phenomena,” speaks to this and to the excessive profundity of the world when we see that it participates in love before being. If it isn’t explicit I hope that this aspect of sight is at least implicit in the following passages.

“We are not called to love our enemies in order to make them our friends. We are called to act out love for them because at the cross it has been effectively proclaimed that from all eternity they were our brothers and sisters. We are not called to make the bread of the world available to the hungry; we are called to restore the true awareness that it was always theirs. We are not called to topple the tyrants, so that it might become true  that the proud fall and the haughty are destroyed. It is already true; we are called only to let that truth govern our own choice of whether to be, in our turn, tyrants claiming to be benefactors.” – Yoder, For the Nations

“The same distance designates the same world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other: from the world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other from the world, on the fringe that opens it to the excess of a distance, the totality appears to be struck by vanity; from the inaccessible point of view of God, at the extremes of distance, the same world can receive the blessing that characterizes it in its just dignity….

For another gaze – the gaze of God – boredom no longer arises; the gaze that can love strikes no longer with vanity, but prompts ‘goodness.’… [V]anity arises from a gaze that exceeds Being/being without yet acceding to charity, a gaze that discovers the world as being beyond Being/being without seeing it loved – by God…. Vanity comes from the boredom of man, not from the boredom of God; for God loves, and from the gaze of charity comes the ‘goodness’ of the gazed at….

That which is, if it does not receive love, is as if it were not, while that which is not, if love polarizes it, is as if it were: the indifference to determination according to ontological difference reappears as the responsibility of love…. To give the world which is, empty of love, for that which is not but belongs to the domain of love – there is nothing more reasonable and even advantageous.” – Marion, God Without Being

Proust and Merleau-Ponty on memory, naming, and perception

Memory, naming, and perception: three daily aspects of human life. One cannot collapse them to each other, but they are closely linked. Our memories – who we are, what we know, how we have experienced things previously – shape our perception, give us the ability to name old things, and anticipate our future expression. Naming draws things, people, and categories out of an undefined generality and thereby gives birth to and sustains much of our perception and memory; the moment of naming often coincides with the moment of seeing or of memory. At the same time, we seek for our naming to coincide with what we perceive, and a good memory must bear a close relationship to what we have perceived in the past. Memory, naming, and perception are inseparable and persistently separate.

How we remember, name, and perceive matters quite a bit. It is often rightly observed that how we see the world bears a close relationship to our ability to act well in the world. Only if we can see and name violence, goodness, where God is working in the world, the potential for human flourishing, and so on, can we act ethically. And because the world is made up of stories, our ability for such sight and naming will come largely from the stories we receive and encounter, and whether we receive them with the grace to remember them well. Continue reading Proust and Merleau-Ponty on memory, naming, and perception

The World Beyond The Barrier

“At the close of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche expressed his scorn for his contemporaries’ stupid insistence on trying to “see through everything” (263). He protested the lack of reverence and discretion which fueled their tactless attempt to “touch, lick, and finger everything” (213). The phenomenon Nietzsche decried is the frenzied desire we still see all around us, the desire to cast aside every veil, penetrate every surface, transgress every barrier in order to get our hands on the real thing lying behind it. We seem to have installed in the modern world a new “beyondness,” a new untouchable, or a new secularized sacred, one that inspires a new desire for transgression. This secularized sacred originates not in a belief in the existence of another world, but from the belief that what we want in this world always lies behind a barrier which prevents our access to it.” 175

This is taken from Joan Copjec’s The Object-Gaze: Shame, Hejab, Cinema. I found this last sentence to be just as profound as it is provocative. But is it true?

There is a similar belief that says: anything worth doing requires hard work.

There is a great satisfaction that one gets from learning something new or completing a project, especially when they are difficult. We all know this kind of satisfaction. But I’d like to examine it in more detail. So for me, this often means learning a difficult piece of music.

In order to let the music speak, I must be sensitive to every detail and challenge that it presents to me and let the details of the music unfold according to their role within the piece. This kind of engagement takes time. The more advanced the piece is, the more time I must spend with it. When one spends time with something, a relationship is formed. In this case, it is a demanding relationship with very specific expectations. I expect to make the music my own. I expect that my previous work has enabled me to meet every challenge and that I will grow because of it.

Difficult challenges install in me frustration, anxiety, fear of failure, and even despair. So I must take each challenge in manageable portions, lest I become discouraged and quit. When they are conquered, I have confirmation that my previous work is valid, enriched, and I am given confidence and excitement to keep going. Equally as important: it gives me reprieve from anxiety, frustration, fear of failure, and despair. I know that these small success are important without having to think about it because they are signs that the work is nearing completion. In isolation, the importance of each of these scattered challenges and the success that might await me are thrown into question. Only within the context of the complete work do they gain their unified importance.

The importance of the entire work is deemed as such if it is consistent with a more general, believed idea. An idea, or a truth, that orients one’s life. For instance, anything worth doing requires hard work.

This relationship between the work and the idea that propels it is fundamental to our experience of the world. The completed work means nothing without the idea and vice versa. The point is not to complete your work, but to continue to complete challenging work consistent with the idea. This also means that one should not attempt to derive ultimate satisfaction from the finishing of the work.  Rather, the completing of the work ensures that the believed idea continues to function. Without the work and the idea contributing to each other, both will die. Feed the idea with your work. Feed the work with your idea.

Let’s turn back to the original quote. Is it true that what I want always lies behind a barrier? I think that, on the contrary, the joyful experience that I have of overcoming barriers and obstacles is so powerful that it extends to so many spheres of my life — So far, in fact, that obstacles come to be looked at as life giving opportunities.

(According to Merleau-Ponty) Engagement with the things is the way to truly let them be

“The effective, present, ultimate and primary being, the thing itself, are in principle apprehended in transparency through their perspectives, offer themselves therefore only to someone who wishes not to have them but to see them, not to hold them as with forceps, or to immobilize them as under the objective of a microscope, but to let them be and to witness their continued being – to someone who therefore limits himself to giving them the hollow, the free space they ask for in return, the resonance they require, who follows their own movement, who is therefore not a nothingness the full being would come to stop up, but a question consonant with the porous being which it questions and from which it obtains not an answer, but a confirmation of its own astonishment. It is necessary to comprehend perception as this interrogative thought which lets the perceived world be rather than posits it, before which the things form and undo themselves in a sort of gliding, beneath the yes and the no.” – The Visible and The Invisible, 101-102

Robert Pogue Harrison on Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Christianity

In a recent conversation I referenced a passage from Robert Pogue Harrison’s Dominion of the Dead, one of the most insightful books I have ever read. The passage contrasts Stoic and Christian ethics, claiming that Stoic ethics roots itself in a dispassionate alignment with the impassive logic of the earth, while Christian ethics roots itself in a celebration of the promises and delights that that the earth offers to us. Continue reading Robert Pogue Harrison on Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Christianity

The Selfie Moment

It’s an odd feeling I get when I see people taking selfies, especially outside. It’s like they are logging into another reality. One that is truer, more permanent, and full of potential. Truer because I can quantify my popularity, through likes, or tweets. Permanent because a photo is much like a frozen moment in time. Potential because this photo may reach millions and become viral. The combination of these three things results in an intensification of the selfie moment in reality. An event may have just taken place that others may also participate in.

It’s strange. It’s as if people are living their lives and making decisions based on how the internet will receive their performance.