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glue's picture
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The lessons of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception become even more interesting when the sensible idea is considered from the side of painting.  A short-hand version of the importance is to say that Merleau-Ponty tries to do for painting what Aristotle did for writing (create a metaphysics, that is, a categorial operating practice for the apparatus).   The relevance of this work for Appiphany is not "art appreciation" or even "criticism," but as relay for the design and test of an electrate metaphysics.  M-P's primary case for painting as ontology is Cézanne, but M-P's point of departure for using Cézanne as a relay for philosophy is the individual embodied human situated in the world, with carnal self-experience as the hinge (pivot), the measure of Being.  Especially relevant is the emphasis on the body in motion, motility and proprioception.  The ontology is not of things or objects, not "being" in literate terms, in other words, but what Heidegger theorized as Ereignis, experimenting with various spellings to signal the difference (Seyn, Be-ing).  Be-ing concerns the manner in which an individual appropriates (enters relations with) Being.  This manner is singular, named with a vocabulary of Wesen, west, attending to one's style of dwelling, of inhabiting embodiment.  Flesh is the inter-experience of one's own manner as a way of being, in relation with others.  Neuroscience recently explained the physiology of what M-P (and Heidegger) were getting at with this ontology:  mirror neurons in the brain that give humans a capacity for imitation, accounting for a range of behavior from learning to fashion through a gestural mimicry and caricature.  Most significant for ubiquitous computing is not only the routes of motility open to app choragraphy, but the fact that this capacity for movement is experienced as power (virtue).

The flesh is for itself the exemplar sensible.  It is so because its manner of being is elemental: . . . "to designate it we should need the old term 'element' . . . in the sense of a general thing, midway between the spatio-temporal individual and the idea, a sort of incarnate principle that brings a style of being wherever there is a fragment of being" (p. 139).  This teaching was prepared in the Phenomenology of Perception especially in the analysis of the corporeal schema, or postural model.  The body is able to move itself because it has an awareness of itself and of its situation in the world; this awareness is the postural schema.  But the postural schema is not a particular image; it rather gives the body to itself as an "I can," as a system of powers organized according to the transposable schemes for movement.  The continual auto-production of schemes in the body's mobilizing of itself "gives our life the form of generality and prolongs our personal acts into stable dispositions." Thus "my body is to the greatest extent what every thing is: a dimensional this... a sensible that is dimensional of itself" (p. 260).  (Alphonso Lingis, "Translator's Preface," The Visible and the Invisible).

            Lingis gathers into a constellation a number of key notions:  the style of the proprioceptive body, feeling the "I can" of potentiality, composable as sensible ideas through the elements.  "Element" is a major innovation, replacing "substance" to theorize how flesh is ontological.  The historical relay for categorial elements comes from the Classical Greeks (Earth Air Fire Water), the original materialist cosmology proposed by the Presocratics.  Plato described chora as a violent vortex that sorted original chaos into these elements (the informing of matter).  M-P updates this description to characterize flesh as the overlap of two vortices, chiasmatic interior-exterior flesh, the body as tourbillon.  In practice the elements refer to the formal aesthetic features of Gestalts, transforming points, lines, planes, colors, sound, movement and all the other properties mobilized into signification in the arts.  Art is ontological because it has this choral capacity to receive and express the forces of the Real (pivots and vectors, the rays of reality). M-P quotes Paul Klee's exemplary saying, that art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.  A related authority for elemental ontology is Rimbaud, the letter of the seer (voyant): the world manifests itself through the artists's visions.  This experience of dictation or receiving visions, often noted by artists, takes an ontological turn in modernism, the invention of "pure art" in bohemian Paris (credited to Manet, Baudelaire, and Flaubert):  the autonomy of language, generalized in the answer to the metaphysical question:  what is there?  Il y a (there is). Art is conducted in a "middle voice" that is at once active-passive (the stance of potentiality rather than productivity).

            Cézanne is the representative figure of this image ontology.  M-P differentiates his new ontology of perception not only from the Cartesian cogito, but also from Renaissance perspective as the equivalent of the cogito in the visual arts.   The whole mimetic system generated around the fixed viewing position, the single immobile eye, the rationalism of Euclidean space, is contrasted with the non-Euclidean, topological principles of modern mathematics, and the expressionism of modernist style. Aristotle's topical logics assumed homogeneous empty Euclidean space as part of their functionality, while electrate articulation assume topological relationships such as envelopment, neighboring and the like.  Similarly, literate concept, idea and the like are replaced by graphic dimension, pivot, hinge, articulation and so forth.  Cézanne's style emblematizes the idiosyncratic Wesen or becoming of perception itself, specific to the egent.  Gestalts of graphic properties function as logos, supplying elementary coherence without benefit of concepts. The hawthorn flower--its pinkness, its roseness--projects a filigree or armature through potential Being, a "ray" or vector of the Real that Marcel Proust used to navigate the in/visible in his novel. Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire at least sixty times.  The sensible idea of the mountain is the invariant signification of these variations.  Here is a logos for electracy.

See Mauro Carbonne, La visibilité de l'invisible, Georg Olms Verlag 2001.

*The image:  Mont Sainte-Victore, watercolor (M-P referred to Cézanne's watercolor versions of the mountain in his final period of work).