Blesok no. 35, March-April, 2004

Embodying the Word and Enspeaking the Body
– on the term of the political at Maurice Merleau-Ponty –

Klemen Fele

Body, Word, Intersubjectivity

    There have been a 100 years since the first edition of the Logishe Untersuchungen and with the question of the consciousness we open the phenomenology story, which can be such a big reductionism that we can encircle and cover the greatest part of the contemporary philosophy. The greatest metaphysicist of the XX century – Derrida – says that’s the same: the phenomenology and the metaphysics. The philosophy can be divided into two main kinds: the hermeneutic phenomenology, which interests are in the reading and comprehending the text’s and author’s ‘traces & clues’, and the post-modernistic phenomenology, which is in danger of significant ‘sociologization’ that in its peak gains only (more or less) accurate description. And, it isn’t aware of the question of the being (Wesen) as a question from the thread of the beat lead (Sein) and it doesn’t even deny the fact of that unawareness. The post-modernistic phenomenology wants to be the philosophy of the reduced, or of the destroyed, deranged meaning. Sometimes it claims that the consciousness doesn’t even exist, so in that way it enters the waters of the non-reason; it goes on the way of the impassable path of the non-being and it places itself beyond the responsibility whatsoever. List der Vernunft turns into the Verlust der Vernunft (or the cunningness of the mind turns into the losing of the mind) – writes Hans Ebeling in his book Das Subjekt in der Moderne. If the mind isn’t totalitarian, we can’t deny his totality. With that, we deny ourselves from our basic tool on the possible passage from the particular towards the general.
    By Huserl, the consciousness is always awareness of/for something. The action, known even at Hegel, is differently developed and it stays on the horizon of the problem in the living present. The intentionality, as an orientation toward something, as a junction of certain intentional act and certain intentional object, can be fulfilled in whole, or not. There is also a negation, unfulfilled intentionality. So, it is of great significance for us to become – through the term of the intentionality – aware of the differences between the thoughts and the thinking, between the noeme and noesis. Upon this difference, we should – however difficult it is – to insist with a strong determination. Why? If we forget and if we don’t have a firm view over the cognitive flow of our consciousness when we come to some opinion, thoughts, or prejudices in positive or negative meaning of the word, then we swiftly fall and regress back to our natural attitude/behavior. The question that remains upon every phenomenologist is how to insist on the phenomenological persistence and whether it is possible only as an ecstasy, as an ecstatic moment of a full wholeness. I can’t develop the methodology of the phenomenology as a gnoseology in details, but I will mention two prejudices that concerns Huserl: namely, those prejudices can be found at his own and the most known disciple Heidegger. The first one is the solipsism of the transcendental subjectives, and the other that comes out from the first one: the negation of the consciousness. On the place of the consciousness and of the life of the world – there steps the here-being as a being in the world. The central place of the phenomenological method is consisted of the reduction and the epoche, namely the putting the brackets (sustaining from a judgment), and with that – gaining the being-like things in the conscience, gaining the being as/for a consciousness. With the procedure of the transcendental reduction we reach the transcendental subjectivity, upon which the solipsism is being argued. That problem was fully transparent to Huserl and that’s why is ridiculous to accuse him of that – especially because he did write about it and he did solve it! The known Baudrillard paradox happened: if you speak of the disappearance of reality, then it means that you are virtual yourself. Everyone speaks/writes, namely, only what he really IS. That IS, and at the same time ISN’T – true.
    The epoche can be understood as suspense, as a way with which we can change our natural attitude/behavior (hexis) into the phenomenological one. As first we suspend what is given to us in description, with which we reach the being of things; then we reduce it again and we reach the transcendental ego. There is possibility, developed by Achim Hecker, and that possibility is for another epoche. Epoche two – means a suspension of the transcendental ego, also. Usually it opposes the idea where the transcendental ego is absolute and impassable for further suspensions. The Huserl himself claimed that the transcendental ego is the last instance, as God at Descartes, or as the absolute knowledge at Hegel. If Hecker is right, then beyond epoche we get two transcendental egos as an object. Exactly here the question of the intersubjectivity opens. The transcendental subjective is the intersubjectivity. The intersubjectivity doesn’t represent only a certain situation in which two subjects meet – but every person/personality represents an intersubjective zone for itself. Accordingly to this, here the mundialised world is being constituted. The constitution of the living world as a phenomenological project is mapped with the question of/for the Body, of/for the Other, and of/for the Intersubjectivity. We cane name those three categories as the forms of the living world (Lebensweltformen). By the intersubjectivity – the language, people and the world are being created as phenomena of the consciousness itself.
    So, if I make a short summary, we have: a consciousness, whose main specific is the intentionality. Through that intentionality we insist on the differences between noeme and noesis. We make the epoche and the reduction, with which we reach the transcendental subjectivity, which is (always) intersubjectivity.
    Such an opinion was known to Merleau-Ponty, the one who, after the Huserl’s death in January 1939, went to Lowen to study Huserl’s legacy. He read the writings that later derive as ideas 2 and 3 and further more – some texts from HUA 13,14,15. Upon these basics, he made his deed The Phenomenon of the Perception. The main quest in that large work of the 20th century’s philosophy was to create something that was called: genetic phenomenology, which later asks itself how the child gains its language anyway, and how the phenomena of the consciousness appear in general. With that, of course, the question of the body opens again – in the same form as Huserl put it. The Heidegger’s phenomenology is a phenomenology without the body.
    When Merleau-Ponty speaks of the meaning, that meaning is always an incarnated meaning. The language itself is incarnated, as it is in the flesh. The flesh is, by the way, an ontological category later at Merleau-Ponty, and we’ll develop the comprehension of the intersubjectivity upon the basic primaries of the perception and we’ll silently cross over the problem of the chiasm and the reversibility. The consciousness is always a consciousness of/for something, but that something is always funded by ways of perception. Here we don’t speak of some kind of sensualism nor of empirism, but of the possibility of mediation (Vermittlung) between the consciousness and perception. Every perception s – at the same time – already a consciousness of that perception, it is already a thought of that perception. It can be best demonstrated when we ask someone what he sees at the present moment. The intersubjectivity at Merleau-Ponty can be comprehended upon the bases of the following permutations: ‘percepting-percepting’, ‘percepting-percepted’, ‘percepted-percepting’, ‘percepted-percepted’.
    The relation ‘percepting-percepting’ is interhuman relation, which we comprehend upon the already mentioned premises of intersubjectivity. With this relation, the question about the constitution of the Other is being opened. The relation ‘percepting-percepted’ is a relation that understands the relation of the natural scientific attitude: subject-object. As we speak of a subject, we should know that every subject is already a subjective zone, and the object isn’t something sole for itself, but it is always an ideal object of the consciousness, the object that belongs to that same world. The relation ‘percepted-percepting’ is a relation that seems like animism. It seems to us as the things see us itself: it means, not that we input some abilities of some active sight or some kind of a soul to the things, but our way of keeping the things in our thoughts – to see at things like they look back at us (put with Lakan’s words here). The intersubjectivity is within the relation ‘percepted-percepting’, which is an inscription of the invisible into the visible, and that is as Merleau-Ponty claims, the place of the first appearance of the truth. So, as last but not the least, is the relation ‘percepted-percepted’, which understands the intersubjectivity as a relation of the subject in ‘hypokeimenona’ (a term from the Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”) – namely the relation subject/base.
    From this swift view over the phenomenology, what kind of a link can it have with the terms of the political? Merleau-Ponty wrote two political books, two supreme Marxistic deeds that represent the foundations of the perception at Huserl, Hegel; Koyev, Marx, Trotsky and Lenin of the French Marxism and the experience from the October Revolution in Soviet Union. In his first deed, Terror and Humanism, published in 1947, he makes the criticism on Kоestler, and in the second one, The Adventure of the Dialectics from 1956, he makes the critic on Sartre. Merleau-Ponty and Sartre cooperated with the Résistance against the ‘Vichy government’, by the leadership of De Gol. After the Second World War they started with publishing the magazine Le Tempes Modernes and they slowly started to diverge in their theoretical and their every day’s life. It’s of great importance for both of them that they were sympathizers of French Communist Party, but they never entered the politics directly. The book Terror and Humanism was written after The Phenomenology of the Perception. This deed provoked critics from the left-winged and right-winged critic both. European left-wing thought refused to accept the truth for the situation in USSR in spite of the testimonies of the political emigration from there. So, Merleau-Ponty was permanently accused because of that – because of his open criticism of the Stalinist’s prejudices and the Moscow processes. With that – allegedly – he de-legitimized the Communist Party – his left-wing opponents claimed.
    Who are the proletariat today and what’s its beat? A verse from the Internacionala, translated to Slovenian, says/sounds like this: “Bili smo nic, bodimo vse!” (“We were nothing, let’s be everything!”). The Proletariat, the working class is the class of he future, a class in front of which the opportunity raises – the opportunity to change the world truly, to make the things right, especially the basic class’ antagonisms and to install and maintain non-class society. As a class, the proletariat isn’t something fixed, in the moment when it steps into the history; at that moment, the proletariat changes the history and it disappears itself. It seems that today – the Proletariat is no more. And if sometimes there was the dilemma communism or barbarism, it’s sure that we failed in the communism. Anyway, Derrida in his book Spectres du Marx wrote that the contemporary times are the times of the greatest injustice, the times with more poor, humiliated and offended people than ever in history before. The relation of abuse and exploitation, the vampirism of the capital are with more strength than ever before. In the wish to detect the phenomenon of the proletariat we’ll use with the Agamben’s division of the life into two principles – zoe and bios, the difference upon which the biopolitics has its bases. Homo Sacer – at the Romans meant human that can be killed without sanctions upon the killer, because they’re out of the reach of the legal system. Those people (like slaves, for instance, or some other non-Romans or the ‘barbarians’, etc.) don’t exist in the legal sense and in the legal system, so they can be killed without punishment upon their killer. For those people rules the maxima of the naked life (zoe), which – as a point/spot out of the Universe determines the political life (bios) – as a central question of the biopolitics, and that is a production of life within the system of the late capitalism that bases onto the legal and police system. Today, that department involves all the bodies-corpses, erased people, illegal immigrants, the convicts in Guantanamo, etc. Those people are a class in potential that can change the world, a class “that is nothing and can become everything”. As a non-existing class, not only the threat of annihilation is upon them, but also the greater threat of becoming a tool for someone else’s political struggle. Same as with the proletariat before, there is an option when some political party installs onto power, this new (at he moment non-existing) class can be only an excuse for the political abuse of power by the (as called before) political bureaucracy. And if the Proletariat unites, for the right wing it would be an excuse for a mass crime: they are here, those who take from us. And where is the old Proletariat?
    It’s perfectly clear that they are integrated in the consumer’s society which became general social phenomenon. We’re all consumers and we all save, in order to buy from the discount sales – as Mladen Dolar clearly said in his latest book O skoposti (About the Avarice). That brilliant analysis of the consumer’s phenomenon as a reversed saving is based upon the following domain: the one who buys on discount sale – saves with that discount; and, the one who doesn’t buys in that way, can afford things the others can’t have, and with that he gains a prestigious status. The Proletariat turned into the consumer mass, lose its prestigious status, in favor, of course of the capitals owners, as before. Those capital owners, on the other hand, went that far, so they use the word ‘capital’, forgetting that, in Marxistic sense – the capital, beyond the question of the profit, it neglects the interhuman relations. The economic base is still consisted of the production resources and the production relations, and above it is the enhancement that changes the world with its ideology apparatus of the state. The people in today’s turbo-liberalism became human resources.
    After this digression, from this description, we’ll put the three main significant contents for the understanding of the term of political at Merleau-Ponty. Those zones/areas are the dialectics and the hyper-dialectics, the commissar and the yogi and the future of some changes.
    In the adventures of the dialectics, the dialectic itself is determined by negations: the dialectics isn’t an idea of the action reciprocity, nor the solidarity of the opposites and reconciliation, nor the progress that puts itself in motion again, nor the passing over from quantity to quality. All those are only the consequences of the dialectics. Merleau-Ponty enlights and highlights the good but weak dialectics – and proves that the good dialectics is only the hyper-dialectics. The hyper-dialectics is a thought that enables the truth and makes it possible, a thought that criticize itself, and without limitations respects the multiplicity of relations, what Merleau-Ponty names as ambiguity. The result of the divergences isn’t necessarily a new position. In the hyper-dialectics excludes the idea of the same negation, and that only reaffirms the being as at Sartre. The problem at Sartre is in his acknowledgement of subjectivity, but he doesn’t recognize the intersubjectivity.
    The ambiguity based in the limitations, on the empirism and on the intellectualism, in the term of the political is being revealed through the stories of the commissar and the yogi. The yogi is determined towards its own-self, and because of his orientation inwards doesn’t see the world around him, so he’s incapable for action and he never even desires it. The commissar isn’t interested in his own attitudes and beliefs, and his action is the pure and same action that represents the attitudes and beliefs of his Party that makes changes, and at the same time it forces him to change, as well. The human is funded exclusively as a product of the society. A commissar, like (for instance) Bucharin was, accepts upon himself the critics sent towards the Party and he sacrifices himself for the sake of the Party and Revolution goals and ideals. So, how can the phenomenological knowledge of the intersubjectivity contribute something of importance for the term of the political? The phenomenology gives us the answer to the question who is the man/human and how his perception and consciousness acts. Also, it gives the answer to the question what is: intersubjectivity, reduction, epoche, evidence constitution, horizon and the world of life itself. In the Adventures of the Dialectics we can read that a political man is the man who speaks for the death of the other as a statistical element. So we can make a conclusion that is indecent for anyone to be interested in the term of the political. Although, none lives outside the society. The politics remains the area of the possible, probable – even since Aristotle until now. It’s effective as a destiny of our common future, and that’s why we mustn’t and can’t live it to some others, smarter or mightier.
    With the hyper-dialectics, we can put under the question-mark the politics as a praxis and to remain aware of the danger, even to use the Other and the others – the proletariat, the abandoned, the exiled, the poor, the maltreated, etc. The politics as a praxis must be criticized always. Only in that way we can open the doors of the civil society. And, every attitude outwards anyone’s self is, of course, a political attitude.


Jacques Derrida: Izbrani spisi, SOU, Krt, Ljubljana, 1994
M. C. Dilon: Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois 1996 (1997).
Boro Gojković: Dvosmisleni Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Polis, Veselin Masleša, Sarajevo, 1979
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Phenomenologie de la perception, Gallimard, Paris, 1945 (1998)
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Les avantures de la dialectique, Gallimard, Paris, 1955
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Humanizam i teror, Mala edicija ideja, NIRO “Mladost”, Beograd, 1986
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Oko in duh, Perspektive 32, DZS, Ljubljana, 1963
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Vidno in nevidno, Nova revija, Ljubljana, 2000
Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt: Imperij, Studentska zalozba, Ljubljana, 2003

Translated by: Petar Volnarovski

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