(Or, The Problem of Why I am Still a "Talking Head," Making Still Another Monological Presentation at Still Another Phenomenology Conference Intended to Overcome Disembodied Monologue.)
Steven M. Rosen © 2000
City University of New York/College of Staten Island
Presented at the conference of the Society of Phenomenology and Human Sciences in State College, PA, October 7, 2000
Let me start with a prefatory note. The sub-title of this talk has been amended and no longer corresponds to what is printed in your program. The alternative version was inspired by discussions with colleagues such as Ernie Sherman, Lloyd Gilden, Betsy Behnke and Waltraud Ireland, and it reads as follows: "The Problem of Why I am Still a ‘Talking Head,’ Making Still Another Monological Presentation, at Still Another Phenomenology Conference Intended to Overcome Disembodied Monologue."
Phenomenology is intent on grounding the subject, putting flesh back on her bones, making her live. The old Cartesian subject is anything but grounded. He is a high-flying deus ex machina, a detached agent intervening in worldly affairs from above. Like his Aristotelian predecessor, he is an unmoved mover, seeking to control nature, to shape her to his ends, without himself being shaped or controlled. So, while she is completely open to scrutiny, exposed to his view, he remains cloaked in anonymity. His posture is characterized by its irreversibility. He sets himself to function in but one direction: from his own subjective center to the objects that are cast before him (Erwin Strauss, Drew Leder and others have discussed this basic from-to disposition). In this orientation, where awareness is geared to move exclusively "forward," whatever the Cartesian subject attends to, he makes into an object. Given this irreversible gearing, the subject can never himself be known, since he must only be that from which the knowing of the object occurs.
Even now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Cartesian posture of irreversibility continues to be taken for granted by mainstream philosophy, and in society-at-large. But maybe we can hope that the phenomenological challenge to the mainstream begun in the nineteenth century is starting to have more of an impact. To the phenomenologist, the activities of the detached Cartesian subject are idealizing objectifications of the world that conceal the concrete reality of the lifeworld. Obscured by the lofty abstractions of European science, this earthly realm of lived experience is inhabited by subjects that are not anonymous, that do not fly above the world, exerting their influence from afar. In the lifeworld, the subject is a fully situated, fully-fledged participant engaging in transactions so intimately entangling that it can no longer rightly be taken as separated either from its objects, or from the worldly context itself. This is what Heidegger meant when he characterized the concretely lived subject as a being-in-the-world.
Perhaps more than any other phenomenologist, it was Merleau-Ponty who made it clear that, in the lifeworld, there can be no categorial division of object and subject. The lifeworld subject—far from being the disengaged, high-flying deus ex machina of Descartes—finds itself down among the objects, is "one of the visibles" (Merleau-Ponty, 1968, p. 135), is itself always an object to some other subject, so that the simple distinction between subject and object is confounded and "we no longer know which sees and which is seen" (1968, p. 139). Merleau-Ponty's placement of the subject among the objects was of course no materialistic reduction of the subject to the status of mere object (an inert lump of matter). Rather, his grounding of the subject is indicative of the ambiguous dialectical interplay of subject and object that is found in the lifeworld. Or, with Merleau-Ponty, we may say that when the subject is re-embodied, brought down into the lifeworld, Cartesian irreversibility gives way to a reversibility of subject and object.
In his most well-known example, Merleau-Ponty portrays the interchange of subject and object as a "veritable touching of the touch, when my right hand touches my left hand while it is palpating the things, where the 'touching subject' passes over to the rank of the touched, descends into the things" (1968, pp. 133-34). What we have here is a free reversibility of subject and object where, in one moment, my left hand plays the role of subject, fingering an object, say, this page of text; while, in the next moment, my left hand itself becomes object to the "subjectivity" of my right hand. And this reciprocal relation is not limited to the senses, to touching or seeing. According to Merleau-Ponty, "As there is a reversibility of the seeing and the visible ... so also there is a reversibility of speech and what it signifies" (1968, p. 154). This means that the speaking and thinking subject—no less than the sensing subject—is an embodied participant in the earthly transactions of the lifeworld, not just a detached cogito. (Do I feel like an "embodied participant" in speaking to you now? Do you feel that way in listening to my monologue, or in your interactions with others at this conference? Is this phenomenology conference that is largely concerned with "embodied participation" being carried out in an embodied way? More about that later.)
Despite Merleau-Ponty‘s emphasis on the interrelatedness of subject and object, he imposes a significant limitation on it:
We spoke summarily of a reversibility of the seeing and the visible, of the touching and the touched. It is time to emphasize that it is a reversibility always imminent and never realized in fact. My left hand is always on the verge of touching my right hand touching the things, but I never reach coincidence; the coincidence eclipses at the moment of realization, and one of two things always occurs: either my right hand really passes over to the rank of the touched [i.e., becomes an object], but then its hold on the world is interrupted [it is no longer a subject]; or it retains its hold on the world [remains a subject], but then I do not really touch it -- my right hand touching; I palpate with my left hand only its outer covering. (1968, pp. 147-148.)
In other words, while what was subject can be known as object a moment later, I cannot know subjectivity as such. The subject is still the one who does the knowing, while the object remains that which is known.
Apparently then, the intimate reciprocity of subject and object, their thoroughgoing entwinement, does not add up to a literal fusion, at least not in terms of what humans can experience. To be sure, with little difficulty subject can become object and vice versa, and this reversibility attests to the fact that they participate fully in the same order of being. Yet, according to Merleau-Ponty, "the hinge between them, solid, unshakeable, [...remains] irremediably hidden from me." So the boundary dividing subject and object holds firm in my experience of them; in passing from one to the other, necessarily, there is a break in my awareness, and this gap attests to their mutual exclusion from each other. Merleau-Ponty does go on to say that "this hiatus between my right hand touched and my right hand touching [...] is not an ontological void, a non-being: it is spanned by the total being of my body, and by that of the world" (1968, p. 148). Nevertheless, while there may not be an ontological void, the presumably "irremediable" epistemological void he posits would be quite enough to forever prevent the realization of full-fledged subject-object intertwinement.
So Merleau-Ponty's self-imposed limitation blocks the way back to lived subjectivity. Although the intimate relatedness of subject and object that would give access to the subject is inferred from their reversibility, any particular cognitive act is itself actually irreversible, is a uni-directional movement from subject to object. To repeat the example adapted from Merleau-Ponty, on one occasion my left hand serves as subject as I pass from it, to this page of text, which is its object. Then there is the "irremediable hiatus," after which it is now my right hand that plays the role of subject, that from which my left is known as object. Though the identity of subject and object is thus reversed from the first occasion to the second, what does not change is the irreversibility of the action within the given occasion that puts the subject out of reach. To be sure, in passing to the second occasion, I do come to know what had been the subject, i.e., my left hand; but I do not know it as subject, since I am presently taking it as my object. So, while Pontean reversibility changes what is being objectified, it does nothing to challenge the act of objectification itself, the act by which we pass from subject to object, thereby occluding lived subjectivity per se. I am suggesting then that Pontean reversibility connects subject and object in an abstract way, but, in concrete terms, it merely juxtaposes two instances of the disconnectedness of subject and object. As a consequence, we remain unable effectively to re-embody the subject, return it to the lifeworld. I would now like to propose that—beyond the Pontean reversal of subject and object from one occasion to the next—we require a self-reversal of the subject within the given occasion (see Rosen, 1999). It is precisely here that the work of Gendlin enters the picture.
A major theme in Merleau-Ponty’s earlier work is the "primacy of perception." Gendlin (1994) calls this into question in his paper titled, "The Primacy of Perception, An Ancient and Modern Mistake." According to Gendlin,
The error is to begin with perception in our attempts to understand things. Perception inherently involves the division between what appears, and someone to whom it appears…When reality is based on perception, reality becomes what appears. Reality is made of percepts. The perceiver drops out of reality. But why this dropping out, since everyone means to include the perceiver? It is because within the world of perceptswe the perceiver appears only as something perceived. (1994, p. 3)
In other words, under the primacy of perception, if the subject does not remain entirely anonymous, it is turned into a mere object.
For the primacy of perception, Gendlin would substitute the "primacy of the body" (1994, p. 6). "[T]he perceiver is a living body," he says, and, given that this is so, we notice that perception inserts a kind of screen between the body and its environment. It is as if the body can relate to its environment only through five little holes in the screen—the five senses …. But it is obvious that bodies relate concretely with their environments, in fact, bodies are environmental interaction processes such as breathing, feeding, growing, and so on." (1994, pp. 3-4.)
Gendlin goes on to observe that,
Like perception, language is made to be a screen—a second screen. According to the current assumptions [influenced particularly by the thinking of Heidegger], we cannot live organically, bodily, directly in our situational environment. Currently one assumes that our bodies have … only always already languaged meanings. Language "makes us." (1994, p. 4.)
In this way, "language and culture are made to be a screen that functions something like the perceptual screen" (1994, p. 5). Of course, this "primacy of language" is no more acceptable to Gendlin than the primacy of perception. Instead he emphasizes that "the human body … lives immediately in its environment, both physically and socially" (p. 5), as well as linguistically.
Does Merleau-Ponty’s notion of ‘reversibility,’ formulated later in his career, correct the subject-object dualism implicit in his earlier thesis of the "primacy of perception"? What I’ve tried to show, in looking more closely at ‘reversibility,’ is that the intended correction falls short of the mark. The limitation Merleau-Ponty places on ‘reversibility’ betrays the lingering influence of assuming that perception comes first. Gendlin, for his part, stresses that "concepts that use our own body sense of situations, can provide an earlier beginning; we need not begin with perception" (1994, p. 6). In appealing to "our own body sense," in gaining an "internal body-sense" (p. 6) of the concepts we use, the concepts organize themselves spontaneously. Thus Gendlin speaks of body-based conceptual activity as "self-organizing" (p. 6). For my purposes, the term "self-reversing" should work better, since it brings out more directly the contrast with Pontean ‘reversibility,’ and, at the same time, it may convey a more visceral sense of how the body works in such a process: In self-reversal, the body draws back in upon itself, moves backward into the ground of its own activity as that activity occurs. This movement back into the self does not merely nullify what is other. We do not have "pure subjectivity" here, a "subject without an object" (as in certain idealist views of consciousness). With self-reversal, object-making surely continues, except that now the subject gains a bodily awareness of its objectifying actions in the very process of carrying them out. We can say that self-reversal entails a kind of proprioception.
Etymologically, to perceive is to "take hold of" or "take through" (from the Latin, per, through, and capere, to take), and to conceive is to "gather or take in." These activities correspond to the ordinary from-to, "forward gearing" of Cartesian subjectivity. The term "proprioceive" is from the Latin, proprius, meaning "one's own." Literally, then, proprioception means "taking one's own," which can be read as a taking of self or "self-taking." The term finds its most common usage in physiology where it signifies an organism's sensitivity to activity in its own muscles, joints and tendons. In fingering this printed page with my left hand, I can indeed obtain a proprioceptive sense of the action of these muscles. The sheet of paper is the object and my left hand, playing the role of subject, palpates the object, engages in operations upon it that I can come to know via proprioception. This act in which the subject "takes itself" certainly seems different from Merleau-Ponty's example of the left hand being taken by the right hand as its object. In Gendlin’s discussion of the body’s self-organizing activity, he also seems to be getting at a kind of proprioception, particularly when he characterizes the "internal body-sense" gotten when walking as involving "an amazing sense for lots of muscles all at once" (1994, p. 6). But I now want to raise the question of whether this kind of self-reversal really does surpass the subject-object split, or whether it is actually a more subtle form of objectification, one in which the subject remains detached and anonymous.
Recall Merleau-Ponty's distinction between the reversibility of "the seeing and the visible," on the one hand, and of "speech and what it signifies," on the other. The former concerns the activities of the sensing subject (seeing, hearing, tactility, etc.), whereas the latter involves the thinking subject, the subject as it operates in the realm of language and conceptuality. Merleau-Ponty pointed to the superordinate role of the latter by characterizing it as "that central vision that joins the scattered visions, that unique touch that governs the whole tactile life of my body as a unit, that I think that must be able to accompany all our experiences" (1968, p. 145). If Merleau-Ponty was correct, if the "whole tactile life of my body" is governed by that "unique touch," that I think, then—to bring the subject down to earth, to gain an "internal body-sense" of it— it would indeed not be enough for me to proprioceive the muscular activity in my hand as it grasps the printed page. Were I limited to that, then, while the sensing subject would be functioning proprioceptively, the superordinate thinking subject would not be. As a consequence, the peripheral proprioception of the activity in my hand would be "centrally processed" in a non-proprioceptive fashion, experienced as itself but an object cast before my consciousness. This consciousness, this "pure ideality," as Merleau-Ponty called it, would be operating in the familiar direction here, moving "forward," passing from subject, to its object. In that case, there would be no "internal body-sense" of it. Therefore, to (re)embody the subject in a thoroughgoing way, to make it live, I cannot limit myself to the "periphery" but must work with that "central vision" of human subjectivity. The thinking subject is what I must proprioceive.
Drawing a similar distinction, David Bohm (1994) spoke of the need for "proprioceptive thought" (p. 229), which he viewed as a kind of meditative action wherein "consciousness ... [becomes] aware of its own implicate activity, in which its content originates" (p. 232). Of course, there is more than one type of meditation. Whereas classical meditation generally aims at transcending the body, the self-reversal I am talking about would seek to move back into it. Again, the goal would be re-embodiment, reconnection with the lifeworld. But would this not require a disengagement from thought and a return to the bodily senses? I don't believe so. Although we are speaking here of a self-reversal of the thinking subject, not just of the subject that senses, Merleau-Ponty's I think is no detached Cartesian ego but possesses its own bodily grounding. For Merleau-Ponty, the dimension of language and thought operates as a "second flesh," a second order of embodiment: "It is as though the visibility that animates the sensible world were to emigrate, not outside of every body, but into another less heavy, more transparent body, as though it were to change flesh, abandoning the flesh of the body for that of language" (1968, p. 153). It is this bodily character of language and thinking that is denied when thinking is geared to move irreversibly "forward," from the Cartesian subject, to its object. And the proprioceptive self-reversal of thinking would amount to a withdrawal of the projections of the Cartesian cogito, a "retrojection" that would disclose the actual grounding of Cartesian consciousness in the "second flesh."
What about Gendlin’s approach? Does his practice of bodily self-reversal engage the thinking body? Does it surpass objectification by encompassing the body of the cogito as such, that of the "second flesh"?
Gendlin’s philosophical work is an outgrowth of his work as a psychologist and psychotherapist. His call for the "primacy of the body" in our academic and conceptual affairs is unmistakably linked to the practice of focusing that he innovated as an aid to personal growth. Let’s say then that—in an effort to stop being a "talking head," to stop this abstract exercise I’m engaged in of merely talking about re-entering the body—I actually attempt to go ahead and do it right here and now by doing some focusing.
[BRIEF FOCUSING EXERCISE]
Presumably, you could enter your bodies, get a felt sense of what you are experiencing here this morning. The monologue could then end; I couldstop holding forth, and we could open a focusing-based dialogue among us, the kind of thing Gendlin describes in the "Listening Manual" of his book, Focusing. All well and good. But would this proprioceptive activity—this self-taking—take the self of the cogito? Would the felt, "internal body-sense" be of the Cartesian thinking subject per se? Or would that subject remain detached and anonymous? I wish I could say that classical focusing would do the trick, but I’m not so sure it would.
When I focus on my feelings as I sit here before you, the body I enter for the felt sense might well be that of the "second flesh," of the cogito per se. But it doesn’t come across that way. Rather, there is a compelling sense of it being "Steve Rosen’s" body alone. Listen to what Merleau-Ponty says about the flesh, which, for him, is the flesh of the world:
The flesh is not matter, in the sense of corpuscles of being [...] is not mind, is not substance. To designate it, we should need the old term "element," in the sense it was used to speak of water, air, earth, and fire, that is, 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. The flesh is in this sense an "element" of Being. (1968, p. 139.)
Defining the flesh in this way, Merleau-Ponty invokes the ontological difference. The flesh of the world is not merely a "spatio-temporal individual," not merely a being (small "b"); it is "an ‘element’ of Being" (capital "B"). And "Steve Rosen"? The way he is normally experienced (by himself and others), he is clearly just an individual; an ontically constituted entity; a finite particular being who is defined by his personal needs and personal history. I venture to say that "Steve’s" particular subjectivity is an objectification of "second flesh" that permits the generic thinking subject to remain aloof, to stay entirely out of sight. But let me try to put it in more experiential terms.
When "I" enter "my" body to gain a proprioceptive awareness of "my" feelings ("my" edginess, sense of displacement, need for validation, etc.), there is one thing of which "I" normally am not aware, do not bracket or focus upon, namely, this "I" itself. Rather, "Steve Rosen’s" personal identity is unquestioningly presupposed. What is the effect of this? A certain kind of closed container is tacitly created for the feelings, since it is taken for granted that they are confined within a particular body, that of the "spatio-temporal individual," "Steve Rosen." When lived subjectivity is narrowed into "Steve Rosen’s" personal subjectivity, the subject, along with all of its feelings and emotions, is made into an object. Entering the body in this ontical way, by no means is the cogito’s own inwardly lived body proprioceived, felt from within. On the contrary, the cogito remains anonymous; it maintains the disembodied from-to stance it has held at least since the time of Descartes.
It is like what I said about the limitations of mere muscular proprioception. I can indeed obtain a proprioceptive sense of the activity in my left hand as it palpates the printed page. But the "internal" activity being carried out "peripherally" by my hand actually appears as external to the "centrally located" thinking subject, who has not been proprioceived. Similarly, "I," "Steve Rosen," may feel "my" way into "my" body through the common practice of focusing, but the "inner flesh" thereby engaged will not be experienced as the flesh of the world. To encounter the generic flesh, only a proprioception of the cogito itself will suffice. You might want to say that Steve Rosen’s particular flesh is the flesh of the world, but, in the objectification carried out by recognizing only the former, the latter will continue in obscurity.
So ending this monologue, entering into a genuine dialogue that surpasses the objectifications of us "talking heads," is not as simple as it might seem. Before turning to the question of just what sort of practice would be required for generic focusing, let me further consider Gendlin’s more recent philosophical work.
When Gene takes off his psychotherapist’s hat and puts on his philosopher’s hat, when he calls for "concepts that use our own body sense of situations" (1994, p. 6) so that we are employing focusing not just as a tool for personal growth, but as an aid to scholarship and philosophical research, then, to be sure, he is calling for a generalization of the focusing process. But just what sort of generalization is this?
Let’s consider the unique kind of conceptualizing that Gendlin carries out in his own work. In recent years, he has been especially concerned with building a general theory of process. Exactly how does he proceed with this? Here’s what I think he does: He enters his body—not so much to address a personal issue, but to ask it how it itself is functioning in its own creative activity. He experiences the body’s way of changing, feels how it shifts as blockages are broken and new openings are created that allow it to move forward. Then Gene asks for a "handle" (a word or phrase that matches his experience). Let’s say the answer he gets is "carrying forward." Unlike the handles obtained in psychotherapeutic focusing, "carrying forward" is not to be taken as referring to Gene Gendlin’s body alone. Rather, the term is to have broader significance; it is to serve as a concept that signifies bodily process in general.
Gendlin professes to be an empiricist and we have a clear-cut example of it here. In developing his process theory, he proceeds inductively, moving from the concrete particularity of his personal body to the abstract generality of the conceptual world. I submit that, with this kind of "generic focusing," there is never any contact with the flesh of the world. What Merleau-Ponty was intimating in characterizing the ‘flesh’ as a "general thing" was neither a concrete particularity nor a merely abstract generality. His attempt to voice the ontological brought him to the notion of a concrete generality, his "’element’ of Being." Merleau-Ponty understood that the subject-object split could be surpassed, the cogito brought down from lofty anonymity and enfleshed, only by engaging the ontological—something Gendlin apparently does not do. Nevertheless, it is evident from the limitation of Ponty’s concept of ‘reversibility’ that he could not fully engage the ontological either, since he could not manage to carry out the generic self-reversal necessary to gain a felt-sense of the cogito per se. In failing to question his own personal identity, to bracket his "I" in a way that would lead to the generic "I," he remained a "talking head," a purveyor of abstract generality. As philosophers, Merleau-Ponty and Gendlin have this common. It is an "occupational hazard" from which I myself surely cannot claim an exemption, given the way I continue to function here.
This brings me to the question of exactly how my functioning would have to change in order to enact generic focusing concretely. Yes, I must bracket my "I," but how, specifically, am I to do it? I’ve already mentioned David Bohm’s "proprioception of thought," adding that such a self-reversal of the thinking subject would have to be grounded in the generic body, in Merleau-Ponty’s "second flesh." Can anything more be said about just how I need to enter this body? In Gendlin’s approach to focusing, we are advised to enter the body through the middle: "Let your attention refer inside, directly, physically, to the comfort or discomfort in the middle of your body " (1995, p. ), say, in your "chest [or] stomach" (1996, p. 1). The alternative I suggest so as to facilitate generic focusing is that we enter the body through the head. My proposal is based on the work of the American social psychiatrist, Trigant Burrow.
Years before Bohm, Burrow had spoken similarly of the need for human beings to gain proprioceptive awareness of the organismic basis of thinking and language, these being the activities Burrow deemed responsible for the fragmentation of human society. Burrow’s term for the thinking subject or generic "I" anonymously engaged in ceaseless objectification is the "I" persona. Importantly, the functioning of the "I" persona has a distinct anatomical locus. It is centered in what Burrow called the "cerebro-ocular" region (Burrow, 1953, p. 526), that is, in the cerebral cortex of the brain and in the organ of vision associated with it. Burrow pointed out that it was through the phylogenetic development of the cerebral cortex that language and symbolic activity first arose. Therefore, to gain an immediate felt sense of this activity, it seems one would have to "enter the body" through the cerebrum. But this conclusion was informed by more than a simple logical deduction. Burrow claimed to have had a spontaneous experience of the "I"-persona’s bodily base, one that profoundly influenced all his subsequent research. After a prolonged period of inter-personal strife with the members of the group that he had established to investigate such conflict, he began to notice a distinctive pattern of tension around his eyes and forehead. Burrow recognized in this the concrete expression of the "I"-persona.
I have proposed that, for generic focusing, one must engage the "central vision" of which Merleau-Ponty spoke, the "I think." In Burrow’s terms, this means bringing attention—not so much to the sensations in my chest or stomach, or in my hands—but to the ocular-facial or "cephalic segment" (1953, pp. 249-54), that is, to the area of the body around the forehead and eyes. Burrow would caution us not to confuse the "I" persona that resides therein with the ego of the allegedly isolated individual. We might say that this persona is the species-wide subject that lies behind the appearance of individual subjectivity—the subjectivity of "Steve Rosen," for example. But while it is through the "I"-persona that we, as a species, create the impression of ourselves as merely isolated, disembodied subjects, the generic "I" itself is no disembodied subject. Rather, it is a bodily process, an integral aspect of human functioning as a whole. Therefore, when Burrow became attentive to the "I"-persona (rather than continuing to be unwittingly governed by it), he experienced this palpable pattern of tension around the eyes and forehead against the tensional background of the organism as a whole. He was therefore presumably able to apprehend in an immediate way what he called the "solidarity of the species" (Burrow, 1953, p. 71)—what Merleau-Ponty would call the "flesh of the world."
Following his first spontaneous proprioception of the organism, Burrow sought to cultivate the experience in a systematic practice he named "cotention" (Burrow, 1932). Burrow described his procedure as one of setting aside daily experimental periods in which he "adhered consistently to relaxing the eyes and to getting the kinesthetic 'feel' of the tensions in and about the eyes and in the cephalic area generally" (1953, p. 95). Burrow would say that—behind "Steve Rosen’s" feeling of performance anxiety, his sense of displacement, need for validation and so forth—the "I"-persona operates, and that this generic "I" manifests itself concretely in the muscular activity of "Steve’s" eyes. It well may be a lot easier to proprioceive the activity in the hands than in the eyes; the latter is subtler and may take a great deal more practice. Nevertheless, if Burrow is right, it is proprioception of the activity in and around the eyes that would be required for generic focusing. So it seems that, to cease and desist from functioning merely as a "talking head," my practice evidently would have to include obtaining a felt sense of this very "head" that is talking.
As often happens with a monologue of this sort, I have gone on at such length that I don’t have the time to properly conclude. In actuality, I believe there are two additional requirements that would have to be met for full-fledged generic focusing. Given the fact that this "head" must shortly stop talking, I can only briefly allude to them.
In an earlier paper on Burrow (Rosen, 1994), I suggested that his approach to cotention was limited by adopting a procedure in which he attempted to remove himself from social interaction and linguistic exchange. Apparently, by taking this stance, he was seeking to regain the original sense of the organism, that which existed prior to the conflictual divisions introduced by language and thinking. The point I made in my article was that, in Burrow’s effort to render language "null and void" (1953, p. 93) and to return to the muteness of the organism, he actually was aborting the full awareness of symbolic functioning that is necessary in order to bring the cotentive practice to fruition. The alternative I suggested is a more extroverted, group form of cotention in which—rather than retreating from language and dialogical exchange—they are included in the exercise. What this means is that proprioception would not be limited to the "centralized" activity of the "I"-persona occurring inside the eyes and forehead but would extend to the peripheral organs of speech and communication. The zone of generic focusing would thereby be expanded to include the audio-vocal apparatus (the mouth and ears) that comes into play in our interpersonal exchanges. Beyond private proprioceptive thinking, we would speak and listen to each other proprioceptively, gaining full bodily cognizance of our communicative acts (of the sensations in our throats when we speak, for example, of the physical characteristics of our words, not just their abstract content, and so forth). In this way, the monologue presumably would be superseded by a genuine dialogue.
And yet, evidently, this procedure would still not suffice for a full realization of generic focusing. Though I can indeed direct my attention to the physical characteristics of these words I am speaking, and to the tensions in my eyes behind the "master word," the "I," a small but decisive gap remains between the abstract meanings of these words and their physical embodiment. To bridge this gap, to close the proprioceptive circle and wholly merge the spirit of these words with their material base, I suggest that more work must be done on the "spiritual" side. That is, in addition to the concrete experiential work I have outlined, conceptual ballast must be added to language to bring it down to earth. Elsewhere I have developed this point in depth (Rosen, 1997). What it amounts to is transforming these signifiers—these phoneme sequences, or, in the case of writing, the strings of letters—by expressing them topologically. Etymologically, ‘top-ology’ can be defined as the application of logos to topos—to place, to the concrete situation or context. Using self-referential topological structures such as the Moebius strip and the Klein bottle—which I take as conceptual counterparts of proprioceptive experience—I have sought to concretize language in such a way that—like opposing sides of the Moebius—concept and experience flow into one another without a break. Though I began my work on topology almost 30 years ago, it was only recently that I learned from Ernie Sherman that, in fact, Merleau-Ponty himself made reference to topology. For Ponty, the dimension of the "second flesh" serving as the context of all our texts is a topological dimension (1968, pp. 210-11).
But I can say no more about any of this for now, since I must end my monologue. In closing, I hope that I have at least shed some light on the problem mentioned in the alternative sub-title to this talk: The Problem of Why I am Still a "Talking Head," Making Still Another Monological Presentation at Still Another Phenomenology Conference That is Intended to Overcome Disembodied Monologue.
Bohm, D. Bohm-Rosen correspondence [transcripts of personal letters]. In S. M. Rosen (Ed.), Science, Paradox, and the Moebius Principle (pp. 223-258). Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Burrow, T. The Structure of Insanity. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1932.
Burrow, T. Science and Man's Behavior. New York: Philosophical Library, 1953.
Gendlin, E.T. The primacy of perception: An ancient and modern mistake. Unpublished manuscript, 1994.
Gendlin, E.T. Crossing and Dipping: Some terms for approaching the interface between natural understanding and logical formulation. Mind and Machines, 5, 1995, 547-560.
Gendlin, E.T. Making concepts from experience. International Focusing Conference, Gloucester, MA., 1996.
Merleau-Ponty, M. The Visible and the Invisible. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1968.
Rosen, S. M. A proposal for an expanded cotentive exercise in social self-inquiry. Lifwynn Correspondence, 3, 1994, 8-12.
Rosen, S. M. Wholeness as the body of paradox. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 18, 1997, 391-423.
Rosen, S. M. Irreversibility, reversibility, and self-reversal: A Phenomenological approach to the 'hard problem' of consciousness. Ninety-First Annual Meeting of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Louisville, Kentucky, April 2, 1999.
to the Main Page | Return to LIFWYNN CORRESPONDENCE
Send Us Your Comments or Questions