2 Jan 2011

Phenomenal Explosions: Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenological Attitude and Deleuze's Intensive Mood

by Corry Shores
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Captain Jack
Stephen Worth at ASIFA
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Phenomenal Explosions:
Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenological Attitude and Deleuze's Intensive Mood
auto collision impact explosion

What does becoming aware of our integral relations to the world got to do with you?

We go about our day for the most part in auto-pilot. We are not often aware that who we are involves an enormous number of relations with the world. It may be that our relations bring us into an organic and harmonically operating whole. Or perhaps these relations are purely differential, hence bringing us into a world were all the parts interact, but only insofar as they spread differences among one another. Regardless of our view, we might in any case come to be aware of these relations. If we take the view that we are harmoniously integrated, then our awareness might satisfy curiosities we have, and give us more knowledge about ourselves and the world we live in. If we take the differential view, then becoming aware of these differential relations might shock us out of our auto-pilot and cause us to feel the power of every moment, to feel the forces that make the changes in us and around us.

Brief Summary of the Passage

We are integrated with the world by means of an enormous network of relations. Normally they go unnoticed (when we are in the 'natural attitude'). We could also bring them to our awareness in a state of wonderment (in the ' phenomenological attitude').

Points Relative to Deleuze

[See discussion following the passage].

In the passage below, Merleau-Ponty discusses our entangled integration with the world and the need for a change of 'attitude' which will allow us to become aware of these relations. To do so, we need to regard them not as though we know them through and through, but as if they stand out in front of us like something remarkable, causing in us profound wonderment over them. This will allow us to move from a 'natural' attitude to a 'phenomenological' one.

It is because we are through and through compounded of relationships with the world that for us the only way to become aware of the fact is to suspend the resultant activity, to refuse it our complicity (to look at it ohne mitzumachen, a Husserl often says), or yet again, to put it 'out of play'. Not because we reject the certainties of common sense | and a natural attitude to things - they are, on the contrary, the constant theme of philosophy - but because, being the presupposed basis of any thought, they are taken for granted, and go unnoticed, and because in order to arouse them and bring them to view, we have to suspend for a moment our recognition of them. The best formulation of the reduction is probably that given by Eugen Fink, Husserl's assistant, when he spoke of 'wonder' in the face of the world. (xiv-xv; fr 13-14)

Let's try to produce a Deleuzean sort of phenomenology. For Deleuze, the relations we have with the world are differential relations. We are all like parts in one great Rube Goldberg machine.

Rube Goldberg machine without text
(Thank you too Stephen Worth at ASIFA)

It is only because the world shocks us that we notice it. Something is phenomenal if it stands out. And something stands out when it is different. That difference can be more or less of a power to send changes through our body's functioning, which is to say that the difference we notice can be more or less phenomenal. So even before we make-out what it is we are experiencing, we firstly are more-or-less surprised by what causes us to move our awareness toward it. So when we notice a difference, our attention is drawn toward it to the degree that it stands out for us. And it calls for our attention, because of the way it is tending to disrupt our inner workings. A very phenomenal experience, like witnessing a traffic accident, will throw our bodies out of order for some moments. The phenomenal shock of the event sends waves of differential variations through our body. So the other phenomenal parts of the world are things with which we have a differential relation, for otherwise they would not appear to us, they would not be phenomenal.

So in a Deleuzean phenomenology, what we would want to become aware-of are our differential relations with the phenomena appearing to us. Something is most phenomenal that moment it impacts us. It remains phenomenal as a memory so long as the memory still impacts us. But we also analyze the parts of the experience, the cars and the stages of the accident, in our example. We come to put the tiny parts of our experience together to form physical objects that extend in space, like the automobiles, and the stages of the events we consider in terms of blocks of time, that is, extents of duration. When we do so, we are constituting the objects and events in the occurrence. But under this light, the memory usually loses its phenomenal impact. The experience itself was a series of infinitely small moments, each one influencing us more-or-less, and tending to increase or decrease the impact more or less. When we string them together, we ignore the differences between the moments. But it is those very differences that made them phenomenal. It was the differences between the moments which made certain ones jump out more or less than the others.

So instead of phenomenology's natural and phenomenological attitudes, let's experimentally consider two Deleuzean attitudes, the extensive and the intensive moods. When we are in the extensive mood, we normally are very practically-minded. We care about the things in our experience, and these things we take to be full extending objects that appear to us. And under the extensive mood, events are not pure heterogeneity, with each moment disjunctive from the rest, but instead we see a common thread linking all the moments, which allows us to deal with extended periods of time. But by linking moments together by means of commonalities, we homogenize the variations that originally cracked them from one another.

When we are in the intensive mood, however, we become sensitive to the intensities of our phenomenal experiences, and this is felt as the degree to which our inner mechanical workings are being disrupted and changed. This happens from encounters with differences, which send waves of differential variations throughout our bodies.

Merleau-Ponty characterized the phenomenological attitude as wonderment with our relationships with the world. For Deleuze, the intensive attitude is maybe one of incredulous amazement. It could also be shock or horror, depending on the nature of the intensities involved.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Transl. Colin Smith. London/New York: Routledge, 1958.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1945.

Image credits:

Rube Goldberg machine
(Thanks Stephen Worth at ASIFA)

Auto collision
(Thanks Captain Jack)

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