Friday, June 05, 2009

Heidegger pays scant heed to the body in Being and Time

(title unknown) from enowning by enowning
Robert Vallier reviews Brett Buchanan's Onto-Ethologies, and notes the missing body in Being and Time's description of embodiment.

It becomes quite clear that Heidegger's interest in animality is less to determine its essential being, which he always seems to leave in suspense, but rather in the notion of "world," so that he might clarify the fundamental existential structure of Dasein as "being-in-the-world" through a comparative study. The very close reading of the relevant sections of the 29/30 course is clear and sober, and instead of propagating "heideggerese," clarifies it, cautiously examining and explaining every substantive claim in light of both Heidegger's overall project during these years and Uexküll's contribution (especially his notion of the Umwelt) to that project. I believe that these two chapters will (or should) become a standard secondary source for all those who want to question and understand Heidegger's analytic of animality and its relation to Dasein.

That said, Buchanan at one point contends that those (like Lowith, Sartre, Jonas, and Merleau-Ponty, to name just a few) who have rued that Heidegger pays scant heed to the body in Being and Time would gain much from close attention to what he says of animal being. I am not yet quite convinced by that claim. Certainly they would gain something, but the human body and embodiment, is qualitatively different from animality, and this difference is not simply a function of the degree and kind of world that Dasein has and is in, and in which animals are poor. Heidegger is always a bit cagey, I think, about the exact nature of that difference, and while Being and Time may be, as some claim, a wholly new and ontological description of embodiment, Heidegger does leave the originary structure of the body itself -- animal and human -- in suspense.

Reading Resides in the Voice and in the Hands from Fido the Yak by Fido the Yak

Dermot Moran, commenting on Merleau-Ponty (blogged about at However Fallible and Perverse Egalitarianism), argues that seeing is tactile, that even when our gaze moves from one thing to another, "we do not drop into the invisible." After a thing drops from visual focus there remains a background of the visible, analogous to a tactile background that remains after something has been touched. Moran then presents what appears to be an exceptional case. "Reading is a kind of seeing that has transcended the seeing of the letters and marks on the page and resides in the pure incorporeality of the meanings," he says. I, having expressed the view here that reading is coporeal, will offer a few words to elaborate my sense of reading and then, hopefully, further a critical appreciation of reading.

Instead of the transcendence of our bodily experience of written signs–there are reasons, such as the eye strain Moran cites, to believe that such a transcendence could never be perfectly accomplished–we should think of rough transpositions from one bodily mode of experience to another. Reading represents a practically silent transposition of the visual into the vocal, or, in the case of those who read sign language, a practically motionless transposition into the manual. Naturally one can read aloud or gesturally or both, and one can respond demonstrably as one reads, affirming or denying, testifying, commenting, revising, thinking, speaking. All reading passes through the faculty of speech, which resides in the body and its assuetudes. In fact it has its genesis in assuefaction, the faculty of faculties, so to speak, and this being the case it never transcends bodily experience.

Reading never transcends bodily experience. The idea can be critiqued. Obviously. I've raised the problem of the noetic faculty before, which according to some views would be a transcendent faculty, presumably, being transcendent, transcending even assuefaction itself. Quite a conundrum, given certain definitions of noesis. A version of the conundrum appears to be presented to us by Moran's idea of the pure incorporeality of meanings. Does it make sense for me to talk about a faculty for speech separate from a faculty for language, pure language, which according to many reasonable definitions allows for, indeed demands, the disembodiment of meanings? I've sometimes taken the view that the incorporeality of meanings is such a fantastic notion that those who propose it bear an onus to explain it. I've spoken of *language. Have I blinded myself to a reality of language? Of thought? How do I know what a body is? What burden do I bear?

The case of reading does not appear to a simple matter of transcendence into pure incorporeality. As in the past, I ask that you attend to your own experiences of reading as you think about the issue. As much as the eyes, reading resides in the voice and in the hands.

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