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Merleau-Ponty Levinas Reversibility

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  • 8/12/2019 Merleau-Ponty Levinas Reversibility


  • 8/12/2019 Merleau-Ponty Levinas Reversibility


    Symposiumregard to the question of whether Merleau-Ponty's later shift from phenomenology to ontology brings him under Levinas' critique of ontology as atotalizing philosophy of power that ultimately either denies or negates theradical alterity of the other. Both thinkers are engaged in reconceiving theintersubjective relation, and focus much of their analyses on the problem oflanguage as the means by which this relation is expressed. However, thoughsimilar in scope, they arrive at fundamentally di fferent positions regarding theself-other relationship, while jointly affirming the role paradox plays in theconstitution of intersubjectivity. This essay considers not only theirdifferences but their confluences in contributing to this existential question.

    Following the publication of he Phenomenology ofPerception,1 MerleauPonty turns toward the question of language, which assume5 an increasinglydominant role in his philosophy. Merleau-Ponty' s development of a languagetheory based on a gestural meaning, which is immanent in speech 2 focuseson the relation between speaking and the perceptual constitution ofthe livedworld Lebenswelt). This is prompted by his encounter with Saussure'sstructural account of linguistics;3 but Merleau-Ponty soon expands hisanalysis beyond the primary role afforded to speaking by Saussure. Retainingthe Saussurian emphasis on the sign, he breaks with the then prevailinglinguistic concern of locating or constructing a universal grammatical andsyntactical structure, and emphasizes instead the phonemic processes oflanguage. Here he not only distances himself from logical positivism, e.g.,Camap, but from Husserlian transcendental phenomenology as well. MerleauPonty's emphasis on phonemes, on natural signs, underscores his positionthat, while able to constitute referential meaning through variouscombinations, words, or signs, are never completely swallowed up in a purelyconceptual framework.

    Merleau-Ponty 's later work on language can be traced back to his 1949-50lecture course at the Sorbonne titled Consciousness and the Acquisition ofLanguage. 4 He opens the course by stating his preference for aphenomenological approach to the study of language. He rejects both thereflexive approach characteristic of Cartesianism, which views language asarising from the order of things and not from the order of the subject, Sthereby bringing it into proximity with positivistic science, and the inductiveapproach, which is merely the simple process of recording naturalcorrelations. 6 Again, it is Saussure's great contribution to contemporarylinguistic theory, namely, that language is essentially diacritical, that providesthe foundation for Merleau-Ponty's own analysis.

    For Saussure, the individual is neither the subject nor theobjectof history but both simultaneously. Thus language isnot a transcendent reality with respect to all speaking

    Reversibility and Irreversibility 67subjects; nor is it a phantasm formed by the individual. tis a manifestation of human intersubjectivity. Saussureelucidates the enigmatic relationship linking the individualto history by his analysis oflanguage ..7

    On Merleau-Ponty's assessment, it is phenomenology alone which grasps theintersubjective constitution oflanguage, and thus gives an internal meaningun sens interieur) to the facts themselves. 8 In his still later writing, the

    connection between speech and the affective, perceptual, nonverbal groundof the body results in an enigmatic paradox that is irreducible to a totalizingtheory of signification, although Merleau-Ponty is aware that of utmostimportance will be the rigor with which one embraces the totality as well asthe details of certain facts. 9

    However, by the time that he is writing his posthumously published TheVisible nd the Invisible,lo Merleau-Ponty's thoughts on language and beingare undergoing a radical fundamental shift, beyond the purelyphenomenological analyses of intentionality and eidetic intuition present inHusserl. Heidegger's influence is clearly pronounced now, and MerleauPonty's philosophy takes an ontological turn whereby Being is thought interms of a universal dimensionali ty. The totality, or Being, Merleau-Pontynow terms the flesh, which is the formative medium of he object and thesubject, 2 an elementalfield ofan intercorporeity, 13 a new reversibility. 14The concept of chiasm or intertwining, and the reversibility implied in sucha concept, is the ontological clue to understanding the relation betweensubjectivity and alterity; moreover, [t]here is here no problem of the alterego because it is not I sees, not he who sees, because an anonymous visibilityinhabits both ofus .. ls The problem ofperception that characterizes his earlywriting is now both radicalized - and problematized - in the flesh of thevisible coiling over 6 upon itself, in a hyperdialectical 17 reversibility ofsubject and object, vision and visibility, producing in the silent labor ofdesire .. the paradox of expression. 8 Being as totality is reconceived here,unifying the visible flesh and the invisible vision of visibility itself.

    t is at this point that the philosophies of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas arein proximity to each other. There is a strong correspondence between themregarding the relation between intersubjectivity and language, particularlywith regard to the notion ofparadox. Levinas' conception of intersubjectivityis contingent on the claim that there is a fundamental irreversibility in theethical (metaphysical) relationship.19 But what does this mean? Is thisirreversibility merely the privative, or denial, of Merleau-Ponty's conceptof reversibi lity, leading to a significantly different interpretation ofintersubjectivity? And if not, then are the two concepts mutually informative,

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    68 Symposiumand will a dialogue between Merleau-Ponty and Levinas yield new evidencesfor grasping intersubjectivity? .Early in Totality and Infinity Levinas proffers what might well beconstrued as a preemptive response to Merleau-Ponty's unfmished TheVisible and the Invisible. He introduces the concept of rreversibility but thenleaves it unengaged as a theme, though it clearly conditions the rest of thework:

    The reversibility of a relation where the terms areindifferently read from left to right and right to left wouldcouple them one to the other; they would complete oneanother in a system visible from the outside [emphasismine]. The intended transcendence would thus bereabsorbed into the unity of the system, destroying theradical alterity of the other. Irreversibility does not onlymean that the same goes unto the other differently than theother unto the same. That eventuality does not enter intoaccount: the separation between the same and the othermeans precisely that it is impossible to place oneselfoutside the correlation between the same and the other soas to record the correspondence or non-correspondenceofthis going with this return. Otherwise the same and theother would be reunited under one gaze, and the absolutedistance that separates them filled in.20

    Clearly, the irreversibility invoked by Levinas precludes the possibility ofcomprehending the whole, the unity of the system, conceptually; but doesit adequately address the fundamentally perceptual apprehension ofuniversality that Merleau-Ponty desires of ontology? Is reversibility, in thesense employed by Merleau-Ponty, synonymous in meaning With. e i t ~ e rreciprocity or symmetry, or both? It would seem t ~ t e ~ m a s l a nirreversibility implies an essential disjunctionof he terms subject-object, sel:other and that Merleau-Pontean reversibility denotes a conjoining of he Saidterm;. There is certainly the element ofmovement in bo th their considerationsof he subject-object and self-other relations. In Levinas, it is a movement ofthe one towards the other, in response to the other, and the nonreciprocalobligation ofth one to respond is what constitutes the meaning of ethics. Butfor Merleau-Ponty, the movement between the terms seems to imply a certainreciprocity, though not necessarily a symmetry.Both Merleau-Ponty and Levinas are attempting to move away from thepositivity of dealism and transcendental forms of phenomenology. MerleauPonty seeks to accomplish this through his theory of the incarnational

    Reversibility and Irreversibility 69constitution of language, whereby the totality, or universal dimension ofBeing, is grasped and expressed by the invisibility ofvision laying hold of hevisible flesh of the world. For Levinas, the difference between the visible(same) and the invisible (other) signifies the very distance or separation thatallows language to occur. This is expressed repeatedly by Levinas inOtherwise than Being or Beyond Essence as the difference between theethical saying Ie dire) and the ontological said Ie dit). The asymmetry of hemetaphysical (ethical) relation is further denoted in the temporal distinctionbetween diachrony and synchrony, an irretrievable anarchic past whichsignals a lapse of time that does not return, a diachrony refractory to allsynchronization, a transcending dichotomy. 22

    Levinas agrees with Merleau-Ponty, whom he says shows among others,but better than others, that disincarnate thought constituting the world ofspeech is a myth, 23 that the principal modality of existence in the world isthat of embodiment; but they differ on several crucial points: WhereasMerleau-Ponty maintains that the other is never present face to face, 24Levinas holds that meaning is the face of he Other, and all recourse to wordstakes place already within the primordial face to face of language. 25 Inaddition, Levinas is insistent that meaning or signification arises within theirreversible relation between the same and the other anterior to the concretelived experience. The presentation of meaning in the face constitutes theprimordial essence of language, not the corporeal relation that discloses itintersubjectively and encapsulates it within a thought. Only the unique ideaof infmity can express this primordial ethical signification to consciousness,not the totality or relationship expressed in the notion of the chiasm.However, despite their differences, both are in agreement that being cannotbe approached directly (intentione recta) but only laterally, throughimmersion in the world, even though, Merleau-Ponty states, this is to havenot yet really posited other people. I must go beyond, truly penetrate theirfield, if I want to fully affirm the existence of others. 26 Both philosophersunderstand the phenomenon of intersubjectivity in paradoxical terms. Whatis at stake is not the determination of the meaning of the paradox (bydefmition a perhaps impossible task), but the way or ways in which theparadox is laid out concretely, that is, expressed in language.

    According to Merleau-Ponty, to be in the world is to already be imbuedwith meaning, with an incarnate logic, and in this sense he appears to bevery close to Hegel; but this is a logic in contingency, 27 a language ofwhichthere are two types: institutional language and creative language, that is,language that creates itself in its expressive acts. The language (Ie langageparle') of institutions (e.g., cultural, political, economic, ecclesiastical) is thesedimented language of the prejudiced reader. Truth is but another name

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    70 Symposiumfor sedimentation. 28 Speech (fa parole) takes sedimented language andthrough a trans formative oper ation creates new significations: .The paradox oflanguage is that it exists only through p ~ m g mdividuaisor subjects and yet is not something produced by t h ~ m . LIke l:mguage, thespeech-act is that paradoxical operation through whIch, by. ~ m g w o ~ d s ofa given sense, and already available m e ~ n i n g s , try Jom up wIthintention which necessa rily outstrips, modIfies, an d Itself, m the last analysIs,determines the meanings of the words which translate it. 29 Language i scompletely accidental and completely rational, 30 says ~ e ~ l e ~ u ~ o n t y : Itleads us to the things themselves to the precise extent that It S SIgnIficatIOn

    before having a signification. 31Moving away from an algorithmic conception of universal signs, theprojectof much positivist analytic phi losophy, a lan.guage that . ' m a n i p ~ l a t e s ,Merleau-Ponty seeks to ground language neither m a reflectIve COglto, t ~ econstituting consciousness of Geist, nor in a r a n s c e n ~ e ? t a l ego, .but a t h e ~ , mthe perceptual contact with the world. The key to thIS IS f o ~ n d m the notIonof chiasm which is not only a co-functioning 32 intersubjectlVe exchange butan exchange between the self and the world unified in the commonality of aprimordial flesh.The emphasis on the corporeal, perceptual O n S t I t u t I O ~ o ~ s U b J ~ c t i v I t y . a n dintersubjectivity moves Merleau-Ponty into close p r o x l I D I ~ WIth Levmasinsofar as the linguistic phenomenon is rooted or grounded m the concretebodily relation, as interfaciality. The speaking subject ~ l e s ~ j e t parlant)embodies language, enters into language, through the hIstOrIcal event ofspeech. Language is more than mere mental or verbal signs. t is ~ o v ~ n tor expression which, simultaneously, is never absolutely expreSSIOn [smce]what is expressed is never complet ely expressed. 33 Were language othen:ise,it would tum itself into that which can be fully comprehended, that IS, aconcept, a sedimented truth. Expressi on is e c e ~ s a r i l y tied to body, ~ t h e ras speech or as physical gesture; it presents Itself to perceptIOn. L e v I ~ a sunderstands the infinity produced in the relationship with alterity, the pomtof ethical signification, as first revealed or expressed in the ~ a c e ; but a.s well,part of the question is to determine what is not expressed m expreSSIO?, asMerleau-Ponty attempts to do in The Visible nd the Invisible. For Levmas,this would be correlative with the absolutely heteronomous past ofthe other(/ autre).For one who strives for originality, who is not content merely to repeatwhat has already been done, new significations must be created. In a passagethat resonates deeply with Nietzsche,34 Merleau-Ponty says that such anindividual wants to fulfill language and destroy it at the same time, to fulfillit by destroying it or to destroy it fulfilling it. 35. A?ain, ~ e . p a r a ~ ? x oflanguage. Meaning is not inherent m the verbal cham Itself; It IS the total

    Reversibility nd Irreversibility 71movement of speech. 36 Meaning is dynamic. Levinas forcefully expressesthis as well: Langu age is a battering-ram fperce-muraille]. m Meaning isalways hyperstatic and never able to be fully grasped.

    Language does not conform to a prereflective objective text; it isunderstood only through the interaction of signs which, if taken singly,signify nothing. Meaning, says Merleau-Ponty, is to be found within thewhole, not in parts of he whole.38 Language only becomes meaningful in theimmanence of he gesture, in speech.

    Now the reason language presents itself so well, according to MerleauPonty, is that it is much more like a sort of being and, as such, does notexist sole ly for itself.39 Language th us has an ontological bearing. The poweroflanguage exists totally in the present, though in the milieu of he exteriorholy.,,40 Withou t the Other (/ autrui) that one confronts in the world, therewould be no communicative aspect to language; one would be as God, indialogue, actually monologue, with oneself n the silence of memory Perhapsthe interrelation between a subjectivity and the world it inhabits is betterunderstood as an inextricable tangle. 41 Language is something that islearned; it is not innate. One is born into language. Contrary to the reflexiveapproach, language, for both Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, is not a natural buta social phenomenon. Synchronically viewed, language is the fundamentalaspect of the intersubjective phenomenon; it is the essence of intersubjectivity; it belongs to everyone and to no one.

    Language is not something transcendent; it is the very act oftranscendence that expresses itself incarnately bringing, maintains MerleauPonty, rationality down to earth, to the perceived world.42 But thisoriginal incarnation ofthought, says Levinas, which cannot be expressed

    in terms of objectificat ion is prior, in Merle au-Po nty's view, to the takingup of any theoretical or practical position. An Urdoxa: a synthesis prior to allsyntheses. 43 Language is not a one-way operation, a matter of the pure Iknow which never leaves the realm of cognition. Neither is languageidentical with the mere I can of he motor subject. Levinas cautions that

    to take incarnation as a primary fact of language, withoutindicating the ontological structure it accomplishes, wouldbe to assimilate language to activity, to that prolongation ofthought in corporeality, the I think in the I can, which hasindeed served as a prototype for the lived body (corpspropre or incarnate thought, which dominates one part ofcontemporary philosophy. 4

    One exists not only as a biological organism but as a speaking subject, andonly as such is capable of an active transcendence of the world. The

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    7 Symposiumtranscendence that language is capable of through the speech-act is the w a ~that the speaking subject mediates the lived e x p e r i ~ n c ~ . L a n g u ~ g e IStranscendence precisely because it alone is capable of f l ~ g 1 O g t h ~ d,stancethat exists between the self and the Other (f'autrui) that IS p e r c e I v ~ d . BothMerleau-Ponty and Levinas are in agreement here. Where they part IS on theissues of whether the "bridge" between the sel f and the Other .(I autrui)reciprocally traversable, and whether the gap or separation that IS spanned ISthereby closed or maintained. .In the philosophy ofLevinas , the absolute separatIon ben:een s e l ~ andOther (autrui) is ethically maintained in the face to face relatIOn, W h I C ~ IS theessence of speech, of discourse. The self does not invent langua?e; It findsitself already situated within language, taking language as its own 10 responseto the Other (l 'autrui). Language involves interlocutors; m ~ r e . thought(dianoia) does not constitute the essence f l a n g ~ a g ~ . U ~ n g u a g e 10stItutesintersubjective relationship, though such a relatIon IS P f l O ~ to any f f i r m . a t I v eor negative proposition that can be said about it. The ethIcal self IS deSIrousof the Other (l'autrui), not for the sake of possession or dominance, ~ ~ t toformulate' a relation, i.e., discourse. If negative or affirmative. r ~ p o ~ I t i o n sabout the absolutely other (autre) were situated before the m s t i t u t I o ~ oflanguage, the Other I 'autrui) would already be reduced to a p r e c o n c . e I v ~ dcategory, that is, brought down to the level of the same, thereby constItut1Oga violent mode of relating to alterity.Levinas repeatedly acknowledges the importance of. M ~ r l e a u - P o n t y ' s"fundamental historicity," which he likens to "the work of ustIce, an entry ofthe diachrony ofproximity, ofthe signifyingness of saying into the y n ~ h r o n yf the said 45 and situates much of his own thinking in relation to It. But

    ~ e s P i t e t h i ~ seeming congruence, Levinas locates the phenomenon of t h i ~ lsubstitution as the precise point where they differ: I am reduced to myself10responsibility, outside of the fundamental historicity M e r l e ~ u - P o n t y speaksof. Reason is the one-for-the-other "46 Levinas' interpretatIon rests on theradical separation of subjectivity and alterity, and with it ~ o u g h t andsensibility, and linguistic expression and bodily a c t ~ o n ~ e l a t I O n betweenthe invisible trace of meaning and the corporeahty 10WhICh It fundamentallyresides and reveals itself s "the irreducible paradox of ntelligibility: the otherin the same, the trope of this for-the-other in its antecedent e ~ e x i ~ n . " 4 7 .The paradox of language is pronounced in the enigmatIC dIachronIcdifference between the saying and the said, the terms Levinas employs toindicate how the ethical signifies within the ontological order of language.Saying refers to subjectivity's "exposure" to the Other (l'autrui) where t ~ edemand of responsibility and obligation is impressed upon the ~ e l f h ~ s"preoriginal saying,,48 is expressed as the anarchic trace f t h ~ InfmIte ~ t h ~the face, whereas the said is the thematized result of the saymg. The saId IS

    Reversibility nd Irreversibility 7language which makes propositional statements or declarations about the truthand falsity of an event or thing. To exist is to necessarily enter into thedomain of he said via a reduction of he said to the saying outside the logos.But because the logos. is ambiguous, the verb "to be" fixes itselfsynchronically and thereby assumes historical identification, that is, situatesitself as a noun. Synchrony is the artificial synthetic sense of ime that allowsmemory to recuperate the past and predict, or at least project into the future.Diachrony, on the other hand, bears close resemblance to Bergson's notionofduration (fa duree); it is nonsimultaneous temporality that refuses the effortof consciousness to totalize the succession of instants. The absolutelyheteronomous past of the ethical saying, anarchy, is the insertion of theprimordial diachrony into the synchronic order of the ontological said. Thisresults in an interruption of essence or being preventing the closure of thesaid. 9

    Levinas refers to the verb to be as a "synchronizable diachrony."5o Herehe is both close to and far way from Merleau-Ponty's "fundamentalhistoricity" which represents an "impossible synchronization of theunassemblable, which the diachronyof proximity has already s c a p e d . ~ 1 Thisis the paradox and the enigma of he ethical relationship that testifies to theradical exteriority associated with the absolutely other prior to theincamational constitution of the world of meaning for SUbjectivity. Theethical saying, though antecedent to ontology, is diachronically present in thecorporeal proximity of the face to face relationship. This is precisely whereMerleau-Ponty's phenomenological analysis ofthe synchronicity oflanguageyields fruit for Levinas.

    The presence of the saying in the said, the other in the same - theparadox of intelligibility - is none other than a radical recasting of thetraditional metaphysical problem of the infinite in the finite. Levinasrepudiates the notion that there is a knowable ground to adjudicate the truthof his dilemma: "The ethical is the field outlined by the paradox of an Inf10itein relationship with the finite without being belied in this relationship."52 ForLevinas, the ethical signifyingness of he saying only takes on meaning in itsentering into the ontological order of the said. 5 A betrayal (trahison) of heInf10ite is thus necessary for the revelation of he ethical imperative expressedin the face. Saying is this incessant commandofobligation conveyed ( raduit)as the betrayal of the said.5 This is the enigmatic paradox. But the crucialdifference here is that conceptuality, the order of he said, cannot function asthe ground for grasping the ethical responsibility that is justice. The ethicalsignification of the saying is expressed in the alternation or "spirallingmovement [un movement en vrille]" between the saying and the said. 55 Thesaying cannot stand apart from the said absolutely; its ground is the veryontological order that Levinas caIls into question as a "play of the same."

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    74 SymposiumNevertheless, antecedent to speech, to words in the order of the said, thesaying signifies in the distinct relationship of proximity.

    The problem facing the philosopher is the maintenance of he integrity ofthe saying and the otherwise than being that it signifies after its invariable andnecessary collapse into the said. How is the saying, in its primordial enigma,said? s6 This is not a mere matter of hermeneutics: saying is not a game [Iedire n 'est pas unjeu]. S7 Levinas' answer, which governs the entirety of hiswork, is responsibility. And if t is true that all speaking is an enigma,':8 thenso is the force or power of ethics which is, paradoxically, the veryrenunciation of power, of my ability for power [mon pouvoir de pouvoir]. s9It is the passivity ofthe exposure that discloses the uniqueness of subjectivityas one-in-responsibility.,,60 Speech, the saying in the said, is the passivityin passivity .. to which the ego is reduced in proximity. 61

    At this point one might be prone to construe Levinas' notion of passivityas a refusal to participate in an active way with the world and the Other(l'autrui), but this is not the case: passivity does not denote withdrawal orcomplacency on the part of subjectivity; it is not the retreat into liturgy or asequestered life as a means of reconnecting with the Absolute. Passivity isexposure to the point of being commanded by the Other I 'autruz) to take upnot only self-responsibility for one's own freedom, but sacrifice to the pointof substitution of one-for-the-other. The paradox of he saying in the said isthat even though it appears to be activity, i.e., responsibility, saying is actuallya prolongation ofthis radical passivity. 6 Saying is not a Sollen imposed ona subject. The responsibility impressed by the saying is areversal of he interest ofthe same 63 the dis-inter-est converted by philosophy through an abuseof language into the pretensions of a new said. 64

    Both Merleau-Ponty and Levinas seek to decenter the cogito andovercome or transcend the epistemological dualism of subject-object and theinternal-external bifurcation, and with a new epistemology, one ever awareof its paradoxical ground. Though his early efforts are essentially concernedwith the role of he subject, Merleau-Ponty 's later writing moves towards anotion of the chiasmatic or intertwining relationship between the self andother. Branching offHeidegger, he teaches that to be in the world implies aprimordial chiasm of he world and self. Levinas notes Merleau-Ponty's notsurprising later evolution towards Heidegger' s thought as well; both sharethe contemporary inclination towards the dismantling of traditional subjectobject structures. Still, Levinas harbors a profound suspicion that perhaps atthe source of all these philosophies, we find the Hegelian vision of asubjectivity that comprehends itself as an inevitable moment of he becomingby which being leaves its darkness the vision of a subject aroused by the logicof being. 6s Nevertheless, Merleau-Ponty's incorporation of Heidegger'snotion of being-in-the-world is developed to explicate the intertwining, not

    Reversibility nd Irreversibility 75so much of the ontological difference, but rather, of the intimate relation

    ~ e t w e e n p ~ r c e p t i o n and the world, through the locus of he body. The chiasmIS an ambIguous concept; and this initial paradox cannot but produceothers. 66

    In. order for there to be a genuine encounter with the Other I autrui),c o n s c ~ o u s n e s s or language, has to be primarily conceived as perceptual:onsclOusness, not as the constituting consciousness ofa pure being-for-itself.Language does not take place in front o f a correlation from which the I

    would derive its identity and the Other his alterity Speech is not instituteda o m o g e ? e o ~ : 7 or abstract e d i u m but in a world where it is necessary to

    ald. and to gIVe. The other IS not present as pure mind; the other person,claIms Merleau-Ponty, is present as a phenomenal body with a sort ofl o c ~ l i t y . : P e r ~ e p t u a l consciousness pushes the traditional epistemologicalantmomles asIde and opens up the space for the lived face to face relation.

    The ~ t h e r person is a subjectivity, a haunting, wandering near double ofthe self msofar as both the other and the self inhabit bodies, says MerleauPonty: Myselfand the other are like two nearlyconcentric circles

    which can be distinguished only by a slight and mysteriousslippage. This alliance is perhaps what will enable us tounderstand the relation to the other that is inconceivable ifI try to approach him directly, like a sheer cliff.68

    It is important to note that for Merleau-Ponty the self and the other are notidentical but similar. This seems to indicate that reversibility is not anotherterm for ontological unity in the sense that Levinas criticizes. Being is indeedsynonymous with its thought and therefore self-identical; but it is alsodifferential flux. Thus is it possible to speak of he logos of he world and ofthe a n o ~ y m o u s one that speaks. There is neither an epistemological nor anontologIcal center; the subject is an object and the object a subject, but theyare not the same. Only thereby are understanding and meaning possible. Theselfand the other are inextricably intertwined in a chiasmatic relationship andshare a common generality. Inspired by the words and work of he artist PaulKlee, Merleau-Ponty's reflections on language may best be summed up asfollows: To the extent that what I say has meaning, I am a different 'oth er'for myself when I am speaking; and to the extent that I understand, I nolonger know who is speaking and who is listening. 69

    ForLevinas, however, the Other I autrui) is not just another self, an aIterego, though the self and the Other (I'autrui) are both entities in the world,

    ~ o u n d together through the mutually shared linguistic experience. LanguageIS the bridge between them and in this sense language serves as a mediator

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    76 Symposiumo sorts, though not in the absolute manner in which Hegel construesmediation.The intersubjective reciprocity requisite for the working o social andpolitical relations is not synonymous with m e t a p h y s i c ~ l s y m m e ~ . Theasymmetry o intersubjectivity, according to Levmas, IS bound wIth theirreversibility o that relation. But the chiasmatic subject-object, self-otherrelation is a reciprocal and reversible event for Merleau-Ponty. 7 "Themystery o the other is nothing but the mystery o myself."7 Levinas, too,refers to the relationship with alterity as a "relationship with a Mystery:>72 butthe essence o the mystery is that it is a relationship, a discourse, betweenunequals _ even with divinity: "Discourse is discourse with God and notwith equals, according to the distinction established by Plato in the Phaedrus.Metaphysics is the essence o his language with God; it leads above being. 73This is the point where Levinas moves decidedly away from Merleau-Ponty.On Levinas' interpretation, the "mystery" o intersubjectivity is not foundwithin subjectivity, but within the Other (I autrui). The irreversibility o theintersubjective relation grounds ethics and transcends the chiasm betweensubjectivity and the world. Language is founded. upon ~ e i t h e r a ~ e d i ~ e ddialectic nor a chiasmatic reversibility, but on the IrreversIble transhlstoncalgoing forth o he one to the Other (/ autrui), responding to the hyperpassivecall o the other (/ autre): "here I am [me voici]. 74

    Reversibility and Irreversibility 77Notes

    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. C. Smith(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962).

    2 Ibid., p. 179.3 See Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de Iinguistique generale, 3rd. ed (Paris:Payot, 1969); trans. W. Basken, Course in General Linguistics (New

    York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).4 Maurice e r l e a u - P o n t y Consciousness and he Acquisition o/Language,

    t r ~ s . H. Silverman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973).5 IbId., p. 4.6 Ibid., p. 7.7 Ibid., p. 97.8 Ibid., p. 10.9 Ibid.10 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis

    (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973).11 Ibid., p. 265.12 Ibid., p. 147.13 Ibid., pp. 141f.14 Ibid., p. 144.15 Ibid., p. 142.16 Ibid., p. 136.17 Ibid., p. 94.18 Ibid., p. 144.19 Emmanuel Levinas, Totalite et infini: essai sur exteriorite . Le livre de

    p o c h ~ (La Haye: ~ r t i n u s Nijhoff, 1971), pp. 24f; trans. A. Lingis,Totality and Infimty: n Essay on Exteriority (Pittsburgh: DuquesneUniversity Press, 1969), pp. 36f.20 Ibid., p. 24; pp. 35-36.

    21 Emmanuel Levinas, Autrement qu etre ou au-dela de essence. Le livrede p o c ~ e (La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), p. 63; trans. A. Lingis,OtherwIse Than Being or Beyo nd Essence(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.1981), p. 36. '

    22 Ibid., p. 23; p. 9.23 Levinas, Totalite et infini, p. 224; Totality and Infinity, p. 205.24 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Prose 0/ the World, trans. J. O'Neill

    (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 133.25 Levinas, Totalite et infini, p. 227; Totality and Infinity, p. 206.26 Merleau-Ponty comments on the distinction between "lateral" and

    "l.acunary". pe:ception as it pertains to Husserl's question posed in theFIfth MeditatIOn (Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, trans. D.

  • 8/12/2019 Merleau-Ponty Levinas Reversibility


    78 SymposiumCairns [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960]) regarding the constitutionofthe other in Consciousness and the Acquisition ofLanguage, p. 42. Cf.Emmanuel L c ~ v i n a s Humanisme de autre homme (Montpellier: FataMorgana, 1972), p. 36; trans. A. Lingis, "Meaning and Sense," in:Collected Philosophical Papers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), p.88.27 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs, trans. R. Cleary (Evanston: NorthwesternUniversity Press, 1964), p. 88.

    28 Ibid., p. 96.29 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology ofPerception, p. 389.30 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose of he World, p. 35.31 Ibid., p. 14.32 Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, p. 215.33 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose o f he World, p. 37.34 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York:

    Vintage Books, 1974), p. 122: We can destroy only as creators - Butlet us not forget this either: it is enough to create new names andestimations and probabilities in order to create in the long run new'things.'"35 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose o/the World, p. 99.

    36 Merleau-Ponty, Signs, pp. 42-43.37 Emmanuel Levinas, En decouvrant [ existence avec Husserl et Heidegger(Paris: J Vrin, 1949; 1988), p. 236; trans. A. Lingis, "Language andProximity," in: Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 125.

    38 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose o/the World, p. 28.39 Merleau-Ponty, Signs, p. 43.40 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose o/the World, p. 38.41 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology ofPerception, p. 454. .42 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy o/Perception, trans. and ed. J. Edle

    (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 13.43 Emmanuel Levinas, Hors Sujet (Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1987), p.147; trans. M. B. Smith, Outside the Subject (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 1994), p. 97. Also,Autrement qu etre, p. 63; OtherwiseThan Being, p. 36.

    44 Levinas, Totalite et infini, p. 224; Totality and Infinity, p. 205.45 See Levinas, Autrement qu etre, p. 250; Otherwise Than Being, p. 160.

    Also see pp. 76, 113; 45, 70; and Humanisme de [ autre homme, p. 32;Collected Philosophical Papers, pp. 84-85.

    46 Ibid., p. 167; p. 259.47 Levinas, Autrement qu etre, p. 113; Otherwise Than Being, p. 70.48 Ibid., pp. 17ff; pp. 5ff.49 Ibid., pp. 262-66; pp. 169-71.

    50 Ibid., p. 73; p. 42.51 Ibid., p. 76; p. 45.52 Ibid., p. 232; p. 148.53 Ibid. , p. 76; p. 44.

    Reversibility and Irreversibility 79

    54 Ibid., pp. 17-18; p. 6. Also see Emmanuel Levinas, Ethique et injini(Paris: Librairie Artheme Fayard et Radio-France, 1982), pp. 92-93; trans.R. Cohen, Ethics and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press,1985), p. 88.

    55 Ibid.56 Ibid., p. 23; p. 10.57 Ibid., p. 17; p. 5.58 Levinas, En decouvrant [ existence avec Husserl et Heidegger, p. 212;

    "Phenomenon and Enigma," in: Collected Philosophical Papers, p. 69.59 Levinas, Totalite et injini, p. 215; Totality and Injinity, p. 198.60 Levinas, Autrement qu etre, p. 94; Otherwise Than Being, p. 56.61 Ibid., p. 148; p. 92.62 Ibid., p. 239; p. 148.63 Ibid., p. 26; p. 12.64 Ibid., p. 200; p. 126.65 Levinas, Humanisme de [ autre homme, p. 29; Collected Philosophical

    Papers, p. 82.66 Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy o/Percepti on, p. 163.67 Levinas, Totalite et injini, 238; Totality and Infinity, p. 216.68 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose o/the World, p. 134.69 Merleau-Ponty, Signs, p. 94.70 See Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and he Invisible, pp. 142-45, pp. 263-64.71 Merleau-Ponty, The Prose o/the World, p. 135.72 Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et [ autre (Paris: Presses Universitaires de

    France, 1979), p. 63; trans. R. Cohen, Time and the Other (Pittsburgh:Duquesne University Press, 1987), p. 75.73 Levinas, Totalite et infini, pp. 330-31; Totality and Injinity, p. 297.74 Levinas, Autrement qu etre, pp. 180,222,226-28; Otherwise Than Being,

    pp. 114, 142, 145-46. Also see Genesis 22:1 and Isaiah 6:8.