Tag Archives: aesthetics

The Visible and the Invisible, by Maurice Merleau-Ponty

 The Visible and the Invisible (1964) contains the unfinished manuscript and working notes of the book Merleau-Ponty was writing when he died. The text is devoted to a critical examination of Kantian, Husserlian, Bergsonian, and Sartrean method, followed by the extraordinary “The Intertwining–The Chiasm,” that reveals the central pattern of Merleau-Ponty’s own thought. The working notes for the book provide the reader with a truly exciting insight into the mind of the philosopher at work as he refines and develops new pivotal concepts.

 read the entire book: HERE

[m]: Ontology has been dominated since Descartes by the subject-object dichotomy (res cogitans and res extensa) and despite many valiant attempts has been completely incapable of twisting free of this schema. This gives rise to a whole host of philosophical and infrastructural problems. Here M-P generates significant insights and philosophical advances for the praxis of ontography – not the least of which is his insistence of “the priority of being over thought.” These working notes are invaluable to the student of phenomenology and philosophies of life/death.


A description by Taylor Carman (Columbia University):

Merleau-Ponty spent the years just prior to his death in 1961 extending, rethinking, and in some cases revising ideas that had been at the center of his philosophical work since the 1930s. Early and late, he always tried to break down traditional dualisms, above all those of sensibility and understanding, activity and passivity, inner and outer, mind and body.

Merleau-Ponty’s final, unfinished work, The Visible and the Invisible, carries that reconciling project to new depths, and indeed new extremes, to include the past and the present, and the body and its surrounding environment. In a famously self-critical note from 1959, he confesses, “The problems posed in Ph.P. [Phenomenology of Perception] are insoluble because I start there from the ‘consciousness’-‘object’ distinction.” In the last phase of his thinking he therefore strives ever more resolutely to free himself from the received view of intentionality as subjectivity standing over against and external to objects radically heterogeneous with it, and as occupying a specious present sharply distinct from past and future moments in a linear temporality. Body and world, like past and present, he now insists, are “interwoven” in such a way that seemingly neat conceptual distinctions between them are bound to distort and misrepresent the phenomena as we actually live and understand them in preconceptual, prereflective, prearticulate ways.

Grasping the essential ambiguity of the phenomena moreover demands that we forsake the rigorous aspirations of traditional metaphysics and epistemology in favor of what Merleau-Ponty calls the “nonphilosophy” of post-Hegelian thinkers like Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. The grand aspirations of systematic philosophers such as Kant and Hegel, that is, must give way to a new kind of concrete, descriptive, perhaps merely evocative inquiry situated essentially if uneasily between the empirical and the transcendental, or in Heideggerian terms, the ontic and the ontological. Such a conception of philosophy and its object runs a considerable risk of obscurity, not to say obscurantism, and indeed Merleau-Ponty’s late notes often seem to tread a fine line between depth and emptiness. Recurring images of “chiasm” and the “intertwining” of body and world, and of past and present, work powerfully as metaphors, but they also cry out for some lucid, demystifying philosophical interpretation.



  •  “For us the essential is to know precisely what the being of the world means. To correlative idea of a being of representation, of a being for the consciousness, of a being for man: these, along with the being of the world, are all notions that we have to rethink with regard to our experience of the world. We have to reformulate the skeptical arguments outside of every ontological preconception and reformulate them precisely so as to know what world-being, thing-being, imaginary being, and conscious being are.” (Pg. 6-7)\
  • “No doubt, it is not entirely my body that perceives. I know only that it can prevent me from perceiving, that I cannot perceive without its permission; the moment perception comes my body effaces itself before it and never does the perception grasp the body in the act of perceiving.” (Pg. 9)
  • “Our purpose is not to oppose to the facts objective science coordinates a group of facts that ‘escapes’ it—whether one calls them ‘psychism’ or ‘subjective facts’ or ‘interior facts’—but to show that the being-object and the being-subject conceived by opposition to it and relative to it do not form the alternative, that the perceived world is beneath or beyond their antinomy, that the failure of ‘objective’ psychology is… to be understood not as a victory of the ‘interior’ over the ‘exterior’ and of the ‘mental’ over the ‘material,’ but as a call for the revision of our ontology, for the re-examinations of the notions of ‘subject’ and object.’” (Pg. 22-23)
  • “Because perception gives us faith in a world, in a system of natural facts rigorously bound together and continuous, we have believed that this system could incorporate all things into itself, even the perception that has initiated us into it. Today we no longer believe nature to be a continuous system of this kind; a fortiori we are far removed from thinking that the islets of ‘psychism’ that here and there float over it are secretly connected to one another through the continuous ground of nature. We have then imposed upon us the task of understanding whether, and in what sense, what is not nature forms a ‘world,’ and first what a ‘world’ is, and finally, if world there is, what can be the relations between the visible world and the invisible world.” (Pg. 26-27)
  • “Philosophy believed that it could overcome the contradictions of the perceptual faith by suspending it in order to disclose the motives that support it… The procedure of reflection, as an appeal to ‘the interior,’ retreats back from the world, consigns the faith in the world to rank of things says, or ‘statements.’ But then we have the feeling that this ‘explication’ is a transformation without reconversion, that it rests upon itself, on the perceptual faith whose tenor it claims to give us and whose measure it claims to be: it is because first I believe in the world and in the things that I believe in the order and the connection of my thoughts. We are therefore led to seek, beneath the reflection itself, and as it were in front of the philosopher who reflects, the reasons for belief which he seeks within himself, in his thoughts, on the hither side of the world.” (Pg. 50-51)
  • “The famous ontological problem, the ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ disappears along with the alternative: there is not something RATHER THAN NOTHING, the nothing could not TAKE THE PLACE of something or of being: nothingness inexists…and being is, and the exact adjusting of the one upon the other no longer leaves room for a question. Everything is obscure when one has not thought out the negative. For then what is called negation and what is called position appear as accomplices and even in a sort of equivalence… But one also understands that, seen from high enough, the amplitude of being will never exceed that to nothingness, nor the noise of the world in silence.” (Pg. 64)
  • “we have come not only to rehabilitate negative thought as an original way of thinking, but also to formulate negatively… the principle of causality, and finally to conceive as negativity thought, which for Spinoza was the positive itself. Should it now be necessary to complete or rather to go beyond this reversal by saying that I am not capable of being for myself unless, at the center of myself, I am nothing at all, but that this central void must be borne by being, by a situation, a world, is never knowable except as the focus their perspectives indicate, and that is in this sense there is a priority of being over thought.” (Pg. 98)
  • “The philosopher’s manner of questioning is therefore not that of cognition: being and the world are not for the philosopher unknowns such as are to be determined through their relation with known terms, where both known and unknown terms belong in advance to the same order of variables which an active thought seems to approximate as closely as possible. Nor is philosophy an awakening of conscience… It is that universe that philosophy aims at, that is, as we say, the object of philosophy—but here never will the lacuna be filled in, the unknown transformed into the known; the ‘object’ of philosophy will never come to fill in the philosophical question, since this obturation would take from it the depth and the distance that are essential to it. The effective, present, ultimate and primary being, the thing itself, are in principle apprehended in transparency through their perspectives…” (Pg. 101)
  • “Philosophy is the perceptual faith questioning itself about itself. One can say of it, as of every faith, that it is a faith BECAUSE it is the possibility of doubt, and this indefatigable ranging over the things, which is our life, is also a continuous interrogation. It is not only philosophy, it is first the look that questions the things.” (Pg. 103)
  • “It is this Visibility, this generality of the Sensible in itself, this anonymity innate to Myself that we have previously called flesh, and one knows there is no name in traditional philosophy to designate it. The flesh is not matter, in the sense of corpuscles of being which would add up to or continue on one another to form beings. Nor is the visible … some ‘psychic’ material that would be… brought into being by the things factually existing and acting on my factual body. In general, it is not a fact of a sum of facts ‘material’ or ‘spiritual.’” (Pg. 139)
  • “Philosophy is itself only if it refuses for itself the facilities of a world with one sole entry as well as the facilities of a world with multiple entries, all accessible to the philosopher. Like the natural man, it abides at the point where the passage from the self into the world and into the other is effected, at the crossing of the avenues.” (Pg. 160)

A: Proletkult

Can we be infrapunks, builders of tiny bits of a structure of another life?[1]

I. Living in Shadows

Last month I made the trip from Louisville to Frankfort, Kentucky’s state capitol, to attend an annual rally protesting the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. A coal industry favorite, this process of extraction involves the rapid deforestation of the landscape, followed by the blasting apart of the surface layer rocks, defined as “overburden,” which is then most commonly moved into an adjacent valley. The coal removal can now take place, with excavator digging deep pits into the truncated mountain; when this particular mine is fully emptied out, it becomes the dumping site for the next overburden removal. It continues like this, large paths of ruined forest snaking through the Appalachian mountain country.


The environmental and social impact is immense and negative. The process of blasting dumps pulverized rock, dirt, and chemicals into the air, blanketing any towns or property that happen to be near the mining site. The processes of deforestation and the dumping of overburden in the valleys, where streams and rivers make their way through the landscape, obstructs the functioning of the regional ecosystems. The streams that aren’t cut off fill with minerals and chemical run-offs; aquatic biodiversity collapses and the toxins find their ways into the water table. The rates of pulmonary disease, physical deformities and birth defects, cancer, and heart disease are skyrocketing amongst the local populations. The purpose of this entire process, coal, is shipped across the country and burned for energy; as the third most common energy source – and perhaps the dirtiest – it accounts for the majority of America’s c02 emissions. The machine eating away at the Appalachian Mountains, and the eco and social systems that inhabit these spaces, is plugged directly into what we call the Anthropocene.

Shivering the winter weather, the rally moved through downtown Frankfort, ending on the steps of the Capitol building where speakers, many from the devastated regions, analyzed the multilayered crisis this paradigm has ushered in. Their talks were militant: one speaker spoke in the plain, familiar language of the everyday about dismantling the state’s current power structure, embodied by a senator with a thirty year tenure in office and enough dark money paths to keep investigative journalists spinning in circles for ages.[2] She linked the reality of this dysfunctional representation to the environmental degradation triggered by strip mining, and connected this further to her own experiences and those of others in Kentucky’s Harlan Country, where the coal industry sucks up not only natural resources but regional job markets. Like so many other places across America, Harlan County – once the site of the legendary 1973 “Brookside Strike”[3] – is an experimental neoliberal laboratory for living suspended between a dying ecosystem and a collapsing economy. Another speaker followed a similar route, emphasizing the need in movement building to connect the disparate strands between a varieties of struggles: no isolation between the fights for racial justice and economic equality, between environmentalism and the crisis of governance. This is the truth of being on the left in age of the Anthropocene: there can be no radical struggle that doesn’t hold the ecological as the foundation of its horizon.

As the Situationists once said, “Our ideas are in everybody’s minds.”

How could such a required transformation take place? The career politicians have posed vague solutions such as carbon capture storage; attempts to legislate plans such of these, perversely, have produced incentives and tax breaks for coal extraction to continue.[4] Going wide view, the efforts of cap-and-trade, originally the brainchild of conservative bureaucrat C. Boyden Gray, have done little to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; other environmental regulations have amounted to little more than reshuffling the deck of cards without any long-term impact. For all intents and purposes there is no compatibility between the current global economic paradigm and living conscious of the Anthropocene.

Mike Davis, best known for his outstanding work on global poverty in The Planet of the Slums,[5] attempts to unify the questions of labor and ecology in a vision of the urban environment as the place to prototype sustainable futures. He draws our attention to the development of the postmodern metropolis through the anti-democratic regimes and investment luring, resulting not only in our ecologically unsustainable infrastructure, but also a rampant “growth of peripheral slums and informal employment, the privatization of public space, low-intensity warfare between police and subsistence criminals, and bunkering of the wealthy in sterilized historical centers or walled suburbs.”[6] The point he is stressing is that today, more than ever, the spatial is the political (or, as Metahaven would have it, the ‘personal is geopolitical’). In my home state this is illustrated by the fact that the parceling out of public infrastructure is part of the same machine as the crisis of representation in the capital, along with the corporations that profit, the coal they extract, they carbon they dump into the atmosphere, the think-tanks that whitewash the effects, the money spent lobbying to carve up more public space…

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Discognition: A lecture by Steven Shaviro
Friday, 24 May 2013, 2-4 pm, Ardmore House, Belfield, UCD

Cognitivist and representationalist theories of mind continually find themselves confronted with elements that they can neither subsume nor exclude, but can only regard as supplemental. I argue that these supplemental elements are in fact the primordial forms of sentience, and that they are preconditions for — without being thereby reducible to — any sort of cognition or representation whatsoever. Organisms are affective before they are cognitive, because they are systems for accumulating and dissipating energy, before they are systems for processing information. Where cognitive science and philosophy of mind have tended to assume that affect serves cognition, we

should rather see cognition as a belated and occasional consequence of a more basic affectivity. There are important philosophical precedents for this line of argument. For Kant, aesthetic judgments arise from singular intuitions for which there is no adequate concept. For Whitehead, primordial “feeling” takes the form of “a ‘valuation up’ or a ‘valuation down’” that precedes, and determines, any sort of cognition or conceptualization. For Wittgenstein, while inner sensation “is not a something,” it is also “not a nothing either.” All these approaches point to a primordial form of sentience that is nonintentional, noncorrelational, and anoetic; and that is best described, in a positive sense, as autistic, affective, and aesthetic.



Steven Shaviro is the DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University. He is the author of The Cinematic Body (1993), Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction About Postmodernism (1997), Connected, Or, What It Means To Live in the Network Society (2003), Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (2009), and Post-Cinematic Affect (2010). His work in progress involves studies of speculative realism, of post-continuity styles in contemporary cinema, of music videos, and of recent science fiction and horror fiction. He blogs at The Pinocchio Theory

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