Frames /sing


The Occlusion of Dialogics: What It Means to Converse with a Philosopher

For the Love of the Negative

I am having an interesting para-discussion with Nicola over at The Whim  on the good of talking about “the shadow” or “spectrality” or “negation” in particular when adopting an ontology of plenitude (which he himself seems to embrace), and he directed me to this wonderful post at Fido the Yak, explicating just how affective, how experiential negativity could be interpreted.

There, M. Ponty is cited, speaking to the full-spectrum of how we read (and overcome/complete) a past philosopher. Nicola seems to have in mind the richness of this engagement, the way that “sensibilities” seem to flesh-out otherwise abstract binaries of Self/Other (and the mother of all binaries Being/Non-Being).

I want to direct myself briefly to the opening thoughts on shadow, when reading a philosopher dialogically, what M. Ponty calls the “dialogical experience”:

In dialogical experience, I do not communicate to another a thought possessed elsewhere. I think with him and make myself in his image; moreover, his thought comes to itself only be formulating itself and offering itself to me, so that there is no clear-cut distinction between what would belong strictly to an author and what the interpretation projects into the author. What defines a thought is what is was still seeking to say, its “unthought,” which can be revealed only in a reflection which, on the basis of its difference, turns itself into the echo of the thought. Therefore, the rejection of the idea that one must subject a reading to objectivity in favor of the idea that one must attempt to explicate an unthought can be a higher form of fidelity.

As I expressed to Nicola, I do not see what service is paid by the importation of Hegelian inspired terms such as “shadow” or “the other” or “negative”, as if when we think along with another thinker we are conducting some kind of binary mathematics of exchange and surpass. I would claim that actually there is no such thing as the “dialogical experience” as it is here defined, where we strictly make ourselves the image of the other, (and this image-reflection accurately depicts what we are doing when we think along with someone else…there is always something more…much more). The reason for this is that, as M. Ponty says, in the dialogical experience I do not communicate to another a thought possessed elsewhere. This plainly is not only impossible, it is an illusion. We necessarily, when we inhabit the thoughts of another, bring to them thoughts that are possessed elsewhere. Not only the “elsewhere” of my entire genealogy of thoughts, but also the matrix of far-reaching points with which I have come in contact, and which have formed me. I communicate to the soma of a thinker the full contrain web of my being, and insofar as we communicate (even with a dead thinker), the nodal mutualities of our contacts. The illusion of a shadow, a specter, a mirrored reflection, is just that, the suppression of all our rich histories/possibilities, the ignoring of what consonant powers that are in operation, the very things that we are to make ourselves aware of if we are to bring our communication into more active fruition. It is NEVER the case of a Self and an Other meeting in binary form (even if this be our fantasy).

Shaking Hands with the Dead

Then M. Ponty works to subvert the priority of this binary through a richness of affective inhabitation, with a marvelous metaphor of hand-shaking…

The reason why I have evidence of the other man’s being-there when I shake his hand is that his hand is substituted for my left hand, and my body annexes the body of another person in that “sort of reflection” it is paradoxically the seat of.

We can feel this. But in shaking hands it is never the case of merely one body then another, one hand then another. The inhabitation, the annexing, is ever always the case of past hands shaken, the firmness of the grip, the communications of regard, proximity, obliquely or directly steered directionality, things that communicate themselves with a musicality of culture, intent, habit, mise-en-scene  compassry, a panoply of effects stretching out in every direction. Even in this well-chosen example there is no dialogic. In shaking hands the world explodes and connects again, and in the aperture of what philosophers call “the Other” there are so many “others” (as in, alterations, ripples, unowned, unauthored echoes and vibrations).

In this sense, even as M. Ponty tries to invigorate the pale abstractions “the Other”, the “negation” , the “shadow”, the “shadow” with a material and bodily grounding, I think this only points to the dread mistake of beginning with these philosophical binaries born of Idealist conceptions of Consciousness, the centrality of Being. What is suppressed is the polyvocality of effects, and therefore is lost the full horizon of what actually is being engaged.

This has substantial consequence for how we read past philosophers. For instance as I mutually inhabit Spinoza’s mind/frame if I allowed myself to regularly think that I am doing so under dialogical experiences of mirroring and shadow making, bringing to his thought nothing that its outside of it, I would have occluded myself of the very richness of my mental hand. For instance, the inheritance of Pragmatism and Neoplatonism I regularly bring to Spinoza, and it would be a dis-service to pretend that this is not what I am doing. But it is more than this. In studying Spinoza’s optical practices, and reconstructing much of his possible physical experiences of daily lens-grinding, I also bring to his so-called “thought” something of the mutuality of an understanding of what bodily practices are expressed in thought. I understand his thought from within its prospective source. It is not mere reflection, but also that we share a world. If I imagine him at his lathe, engaging in repetitious circular motions of pressure, fine-detail polishing, the objectivity I appeal to is not Self-Other, but that of World. I am not seeking, or constructing the un-thought of his thought, because my engagement is not an ascent from what what below me. It is much more two strains of music finding harmony across a larger melody.

It is for this reason that when M. Ponty wants to concentrate on the interior of another thinker, sinking down into the bodily real of animality (always the interior for the phenomenologist)…

This is what animalia and men are: absolutely present beings who have a wake of the negative. A perceiving body that I see is also a certain absence that is hollowed out and tactfully dealt with behind that body by its behavior. But absence is itself rooted in presence; it is through his body that the other person’s soul is soul in my eyes.

…this is only half, or a third of it. This game of binaries always must call in more in order to make sense of it. It is never the case of interiors coming into contact with interiors, merely, but rather the concreteness of world which bridges and maintains any consonance whatsoever. There is never any “hollowing out” (except as a moment of occlusion). M. Ponty wants to play the +/- , Being/Non-Being, game albeit with a beautifully, and suitably animal body ethic. The music of engagement is always richer than this. What is “behind” behavior is thus not only what is “underneath” (as if we are playing with cloaks again, as Heidegger loves to do), but also beyond and outside, in our substantial mutuality of world. There is no negative.

4 responses to “The Occlusion of Dialogics: What It Means to Converse with a Philosopher

  1. amarilla May 22, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Your post brings to mind the symbolism of petrosomatoglyphs, the creating of which requires considerable grinding away, and inversely, the sculptures of Rachel Whiteread.

    • kvond May 22, 2009 at 11:33 am

      What an incredible analogy. It has some coincidence toward what I am just writing, and article which speaks to how Spinoza likely saw philosophy as a kind of grinding down the human form under the form of truths. I don’t know Rachel Whiteread, but I will look her up.

  2. Nicola Masciandaro May 23, 2009 at 8:25 am


    Thanks for this rich account of the non-dualist “music of engagement.” Bachelard’s description of the reverberation of the poetic image also comes to mind:

    “Through this reverberation, by going immediately beyond all psychology or psychoanalysis, we feel a poetic power rising naïvely within us. After the original reverberation, we are able to experience resonances, sentimental repercussions, reminders of our past. But the image has touched the depths before it stirs the surface. And this is also true of a simple experience of reading. The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being.”

    Which I now read afresh through your opening of a way beyond/behind/before its basic terms, in “the substantial mutuality of world.” Obviously we are moving through the limits of language here to express the way we feel that things are (and into the impossibility of “we” as plural of 1st persons!). Though it is just that wrestling and tension and limitation of statement, e.g. the way the spatio-temporal logics of prepositionality does not (or to avoid negation, does something other or extra than) give us phenomena, that is pro-ductive, poetic, able to bring things into presence. Picking up on Merleau-Ponty’s echo and Bachelard reverberation, this has to do with the way every thing, moment, event is as it were always already repeated, contains its repetition within “itself,” and is never taken up from some outside. The image of hand shaking is very powerful here, all the more that it evokes haptic intelligence, the way hands already know what to do, are already there doing it etc.



  3. kvond May 23, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Nicola: “It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it.”

    Kvond: I really love this. On another register it also reminds of the inner-word of Augustine, the unbridled truth before/beneath expression which makes all charitable interpretation “true” (Gadamer). Sink this down into the material reverberations of the body, and then we have something.

    But I also, and perhaps this is a personal preference, want to move away from the subjective binaries, back toward the micro-becomings across subjectivities, where the word (or merely its sound) is not only seemingly already ours, but also incomparably outside and beyond us, like the halo of a string’s vibration, a sphere into which so many other currents make their running, so that we cannot trace the contrains of its webbed fixture…just where is the fly that is sending that signal, just to the periphery?

    The “we” is always microbial. It always has a population that hovers like a cloud of sensuous atoms that only statistically gather. Words, “our” words, bubble up, not just from the inside, or out of the insides of our Self/Other binary oscillations, but through the very connective tissue of the space and beings that connect. This is what I sense becomes most hidden when we want to oversimplify entities into +/- .

    I love your notion that hands already know what to do, and that they are already doing it. And sincerely appreciate the syntheses of your mind.

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