by Corry Shores
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All boldfaces in the quoted text are my modifications.]
We walk around our world. It stays in its place. We seem to be separate. No wonder we pollute the world so much. It seems to be outside us. But we were only able to walk around the world because we could see it or sense it in some manner. The fact that we sense the world puts us in touch with it. Now consider for example when our hands feel something hot, they themselves become hot. Or when our ears hear a certain frequency, parts of our ear mechanisms are also vibrating at that same frequency. Those points of contact where we have our sensations are sort of like places where our bodies and the world overlap. Because we feel a surface with our hands, we feel its roughness, it is as though the roughness were touching our hands, all while we touch are touching this roughness. To sense something in the world is to overlap with it. All the overlappings in the world in a way make up a fabric or a flesh. It is chiasmic in the sense of the chiasmic structure ABBA. We are the A on the left side. We sense the other A by means of the contact of our surfaces (the B's), which overlap. But both sides are A, because we are inherently interwoven, even though in another sense we are separate so to feel one another. So when we pollute our world, we are creating a world that will not feel so good to us. And we will have to overlap with it in this way; we will have to merge with the world we modify. To pollute is not just to destructively modify something outside us, it is also to destructively modify our own bodies.
Our body and the world overlap by means of sensation which bridges us and other things around us, through a reversing relation: we feel the world because it is feeling us. In this way, we and the world are intertwined, just as everything in the world is intertwined. And this is chiasmic, because of the overlapping in the mediating zone of contact.
Instead of the world being flesh, it is more like meat. The parts of the world are butchered to pieces, and these parts are forced together like a Frankenstein's monster. But this explains our hypersensitivity to the world. When we have a sensation, we undergo differential variations within our body. This happens when we are in a differential relation with something else that is affecting us and that we are affecting. Our vulnerabilities are much more pronounced than Merleau-Ponty's theory suggests. When we come into contact with something that affects us, we do not melt together into something that makes us less discernible from what we are sensing. We both retain our full differences. But the situation forces us into shocking contact, like electrical current shot through dissected muscle, causing it to spasm and twitch.
Seeing things gets us in touch with them, as if we are making intimate contact with the thing we see. We are intertwined with the things in our vision. In fact, it is only on the basis of our vision's already being intermixed with things it sees that it is able to see them. So it is not as though things are completely independent to us, and then we see them. Instead, we are already in touch with them from the beginning. We in a sense share the same flesh.
It is as though our vision were formed in the heart of the visible, or as though there were between it and us an intimacy as close as between the sea | and the strand. And yet it is not possible that we blend into it, nor that it passes into us, for then the vision would vanish at the moment of formation, by disappearance of the seer or of the visible. What there is then are not things first identical with themselves, which would then offer themselves to the seer, nor is there a seer who is first empty and who, afterward, would open himself to them - but something to which we could not be closer than by palpating it with our look, things we could not dream of seeing “all naked” because the gaze itself envelops them, clothes them with its own flesh. (130-131)This flesh is what makes up the fabric of the world around us. Consider if we look at just one quality of something, like the red of an object. But the red of this object looks red in its particular way only on account of how it relates to the reds around it. We might not explicitly perceive these other shades at the moment, but they are hovering on the horizon of our awareness. We saw with the example of the moon on the horizon that it obtains its size from its relations to the other things in view. When our vision moves from this red to another, the next red will have its look because our current one, which becomes the next one's predecessor, is now on the future one's horizon and conditions how this next red looks. Any time we look at something, it has its particular appearance on account of the other things simultaneous to it on its perceptual horizon and also successive with it, on its temporal horizon. Depending on which part of the relational network we find ourselves looking at, the red will have its particular look.
We must first understand that this red under my eyes is not, as is always said, a quale, a pellicle of being without thickness, a message at the same time indecipherable and evident, which one has or has not received, but of which, if one has received it, one knows all there is to know, and of which in the end there is nothing to say. It requires a focusing, however brief; it emerges from a less precise, more general redness, in which my gaze was caught, into which it sank, before - as we put it so aptly - fixing it. And, now that I have fixed it, if my eyes penetrate into | it, into its fixed structure, or if they start to wander round about again, the quale resumes its atmospheric existence. Its precise form is bound up with a certain woolly, metallic, or porous [?] configuration or texture, and the quale itself counts for very little compared with these participations. Claudel has a phrase saying that a certain blue of the sea is so blue that only blood would be more red. The color is yet a variant in another dimension of variation, that of its relations with the surroundings: this red is what it is only by connecting up from its place with other reds about it, with which it forms a constellation, or with other colors it dominates or that dominate it, that it attracts or that attract it, that it repels or that repel it. In short, it is a certain node in the woof of the simultaneous and the successive. It is a concretion of visibility, it is not an atom. The red dress a fortiori holds with all its fibers onto the fabric of the visible, and thereby onto a fabric of invisible being. A punctuation in the field of red things, which includes the tiles of roof tops, the flags of gatekeepers and of the Revolution, certain terrains near Aix or in Madagascar, it is also a punctuation in the field of red garments, which includes, along with the dresses of women, robes of professors, bishops, and advocate generals, and also in the field of adornments and that of uniforms. And its red literally is not the same as it appears in one constellation or in the other, as the pure essence of the Revolution of 1917 precipitates in it, or that of the eternal feminine, or that of the public prosecutor, or that of the gypsies dressed like hussars who reigned twenty-five years ago over an inn on the Champs-Elysées. A certain red is also a fossil drawn up from the depths of imaginary worlds. If we took all these participations into account, we would recognize that a naked color, and in general a visible, is not a chunk of absolutely hard, indivisible being, offered all naked to a vision which could be only total or null, but is rather a sort of straits between exterior horizons and interior horizons ever gaping open, something that comes to touch lightly and makes diverse regions of the colored or visible world resound at the distances, a certain differentiation, an ephemeral modulation of this world - less a color or a thing, therefore, than a difference between things and colors, a momentary crystallization of colored being or of visibility. Between the alleged colors and visibles, we would find anew the tissue that lines them, sustains them, nourishes them, and which | for its part is not a thing, but a possibility, a latency, and a flesh of things. (131c.133a)When we look at the world, we see that it is organized into parts, into things. Because it is not a total chaos, we know that these things give themselves to us rather than we construct them entirely from chaotic sense data. On account of its organization, when we look at some part of it, the parts we are not aware of are somehow like questions in what we do see. They are implied, suggested, because there is an integrated order to the flesh of the world. Our searching look through the world is like us interrogating it, but we do this because it is as though the world constantly is posing us questions. When our vision asks the world what else it can show, this is because the world asks our vision to look deeper into it. In a way, we are intertwined with a world that is all itself intertwined. This is because our senses must make direct contact with the things they sense, and be vulnerable and susceptible to them, in order to sense them, to be sensitive to them. We can see this better in our sense of touch. When we touch something rough, our hand itself must have feelings of roughness, as if sympathizing with the sensed thing. And it is also like a matching of systems. The system of variations on the rough thing's surface maps one-to-one with the system of sensations we feel in our hand, as if we are a sensitive recording device that cares about fidelity to what imprints it.
If we turn now to the seer, we will find that this is no analogy or vague comparison and must be taken literally. The look, we said, envelops, palpates, espouses the visible things. As though it were in a relation of pre-established harmony with them, as though it knew them before knowing them, it moves in its own way with its abrupt and imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory - I do not look at a chaos, but at things - so that finally one cannot say if it is the look or if it is the things that command. What is this prepossession of the visible, this art of interrogating it according to its own wishes, this inspired exegesis? We would perhaps find the answer in the tactile palpation where the questioner and the questioned are closer, and of which, after all, the palpation of the eye is a remarkable variant. How does it happen that I give to my hands, in particular, that degree, that rate, and that direction of movement that are capable of making me feel the textures of the sleek and the rough? Between the exploration and what it will teach me, between my movements and what I touch, there must exist some relationship by principle, some kinship, according to which they are not only, like the pseudopods of the amoeba, vague and ephemeral deformations of the corporeal space, but the initiation to and the opening upon a tactile world. This can happen only if my hand, while it is felt from within, is also accessible from without, itself tangible, for my other hand, for example, if it takes its place among the things it touches, is in a sense one of them, opens finally upon a tangible being of which it is also a part. Through this crisscrossing within it of the touching and the tangible, its own movements incorporate themselves into the universe they interrogate, are recorded on the same map as it; the two systems are applied upon one another, as the two halves of an orange. It is no different for the vision - except, it is said, that here the exploration and the information it gathers do not belong "to the same sense." (133a.d)As we noted before, touch and vision both have their own way of sensing things (distance for example), but these different ways of sensing all come together in a common unified act of sensation, where it becomes impossible to think of each sense being different entirely. Instead, they are already given interwoven with each other from the start.
Already in the "touch" we have just found three distinct experiences which subtend one another, three dimensions which overlap but are distinct: a touching of the sleek and of the rough, a touching of the things - a passive sentiment of the body and of its space - and finally 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, such that the touch is formed in the midst of the world and as it were in the things. Between the massive sentiment I have of the sack in which I am enclosed, and the control from without that my hand exercises over my hand, there is as much difference as between the movements of my eyes and the changes they produce in the visible. And as, conversely, every experience of the visible has always been given to me within the context of the movements of the look, the visible spectacle belongs to the touch neither more nor less than do the "tactile qualities." We must habituate ourselves to think that every visible is cut out in the tangible, every tactile being in some manner promised to visibility, and that there is encroachment, infringement, not only between the touched and the touching, but also between the tangible and the visible, which is encrusted in it, as, conversely, the tangible itself is not a nothingness of visibility, is not without visual existence. Since the same body sees and touches, visible and tangible belong to the same world. It is a marvel too little noticed that every movement of my eyes - even more, every displacement of my body - has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore with them, as, conversely, every vision takes place somewhere in the tactile space. There is double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable. (133-134c)So we cannot be separate from the world. We can only look at the world because we have opened ourselves to an integrative contact with the world which makes us visible as well.
we know that, since vision is a palpation with the look, it must also be inscribed in the order of being that it discloses to us; he who looks must not himself be foreign to the world that he looks at. As soon as I see, it is necessary that the vision (as is so well indicated by the double meaning of the word) be doubled with a complementary vision or with another vision: myself seen from without, such as another would see me, installed in the midst of the visible, occupied in considering it from a certain spot. [...] he who sees cannot possess the visible unless he is possessed by it, | unless he is of it, unless, by principle, according to what is required by the articulation of the look with the things, he is one of the visibles, capable, by a singular reversal, of seeing them - he who is one of them. (134-135)So it might seem that our vision lets us stand back at a distance from the world we see. But since our vision is what intertwines us with the world, it in fact is what places us within the same fabric or flesh.
We understand then why we see the things themselves, in their places, where they are, according to their being which is indeed more than their being-perceived - and why at the same time we are separated from them by all the thickness of the look and of the body; it is that this distance is not the contrary of this proximity, it is deeply consonant with it, it is synonymous with it. It is that the thickness of flesh between the seer and the thing is constitutive for the thing of its visibility as for the seer of his corporeity; it is not an obstacle between them, it is their means of communication. It is for the same reason that I am at the heart of the visible and that I am far from it: because it has thickness and is thereby naturally destined to be seen by a body. (135b)So think about our sense of touch. On the one hand, our feeling of a surface is our own. It is on our side of things. It is subjective. But our hand is being touched by the surface. It is like an object at the same time, in the same act. So on the one hand we might say that we are made of two layers, but on the other hand it is one same body that is reaching out to touch the world all while the world is reaching out to touch it, in a double-poled mutual process of sensation.
our body is a being of two leaves, from one side a thing among things and otherwise what sees them and touches them; we say, because it is evident, that it unites these two properties within itself, and its double belongingness to the order of the "object" and to the order of the "subject" reveals to us quite unexpected relations between the two orders. It cannot be by incomprehensible accident that the body has this double reference; it teaches us that each calls for the other. For if the body is a thing among things, it is so in a stronger and deeper sense than they: in the sense that, we said, it is of them, and this means that it detaches itself upon them, and, accordingly, detaches itself from them. It is not simply a thing seen in fact (I do not see my back), it is visible by right, it falls under a vision that is both ineluctable and deferred. Conversely, if it touches and sees, this is not because it would have the visibles before itself as objects: they are about it, they even enter into its enclosure, they are within it, they line its looks and its hands inside and outside. If it touches them and sees them, this is only because, being of their family, itself visible and tangible, it uses its own being as a means to participate in theirs, because each of the two beings is an archetype for the other, because the body belongs to the order of the things as the world is universal flesh. One should not even say, as we did a moment ago, that the body is made up of two leaves, of which the one, that of the "sensible," is bound up with the rest of the world. There are not in it two leaves or two layers; fundamentally it is neither thing seen only nor seer only, it is Visibility sometimes wandering and sometimes | reassembled. And as such it is not in the world, it does not detain its view of the world as within a private garden: it sees the world itself, the world of everybody, and without having to leave "itself," because it is wholly - because its hands, its eyes, are nothing else than - this reference of a visible, a tangible-standard to all those whose resemblance it bears and whose evidence it gathers, by a magic that is the vision, the touch themselves. To speak of leaves or of layers is still to flatten and to juxtapose, under the reflective gaze, what coexists in the living and upright body. If one wants metaphors, it would be better to say that the body sensed and the body sentient are as the obverse and the reverse, or again, as two segments of one sole circular course which goes above from left to right and below from right to left, but which is but one sole movement in its two phases. And everything said about the sensed body pertains to the whole of the sensible of which it is a part, and to the world. If the body is one sole body in its two phases, it incorporates into itself the whole of the sensible and with the same movement incorporates itself into a "Sensible in itself." (137b.138bc)What we should keep in mind is that we, as integrated with the things in the world, we ourselves are on their horizon. To see an object is to indeterminately have our own selves on the horizon of our awareness, because we are implied in the object we see, just as any object implies the others on its horizon. So, when we see something, that thing is being reflected in us, in our vision. But what we are seeing is already a reflection of us. So in a sense, we see ourselves. But in another sense, it is like two mirrors facing one another, creating an infinity of diminishing images. But this infinite image is different than the two parts. And yet it is made of no more than the two parts.
The flesh that we all belong to is like this. It allows us to be distinct on the one hand, all while being fully interwoven, fully interconstituted with everything else.
We have to ask ourselves what exactly we have found with | this strange adhesion of the seer and the visible. There is vision, touch, when a certain visible, a certain tangible, turns back upon the whole of the visible, the whole of the tangible, of which it is a part, or when suddenly it finds itself surrounded by them, or when between it and them, and through their commerce, is formed a Visibility, a Tangible in itself, which belong properly neither to the body qua fact nor to the world qua fact - as upon two mirrors facing one another where two indefinite series of images set in one another arise which belong really to neither of the two surfaces, since each is only the rejoinder of the other, and which therefore form a couple, a couple more real than either of them. Thus since the seer is caught up in what he sees, it is still himself he sees: there is a fundamental narcissism of all vision. And thus, for the same reason, the vision he exercises, he also undergoes from the things, such that, as many painters have said, I feel myself looked at by the things, my activity is equally passivity - which is the second and more profound sense of the narcissism: not to see in the outside, as the others see it, the contour of a body one inhabits, but especially to be seen by the outside, to exist within it, to emigrate into it, to be seduced, captivated, alienated by the phantom, so that the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen. It is this Visibility, this generality of the Sensible in itself, this anonymity innate to Myself that we have previously called flesh, and one knows there is no name in traditional philosophy to designate it. (138-139c)In a way, the flesh is like an element. Seer and seen cohere in the same element. But what about times when we see that we were mistaken by what we saw? Would that not be a moment of us incohering to what we see? Merleau-Ponty says no, because the break is really a new and better vision taking the former's place, a stronger glue between us and what we sense.
if there is flesh, that is, if the hidden face of the cube radiates forth somewhere as well as does the face I have under my eyes, and coexists with it, and if I who see the cube also belong to the visible, I am visible from elsewhere, and if I and the cube are together caught up in one same "element" (should we say of the seer, or of the visible?), this cohesion, this visibility by principle, prevails over every momentary discordance. In advance every vision or very partial visible that would here definitively come to naught is not nullified (which would leave a gap in its place), but, what is better, it is replaced by a more exact vision and a more exact visible, according to the principle of visibility, which, as though through a sort of abhorrence of a vacuum, already invokes the true vision and the true visible, not only as substitutes for their errors, but also as their explanation, their relative justification, so that they are, as Husserl says so aptly, not erased, but "crossed out."… (140a.bc)It may seem that each of our senses has its own object. Even each of our hands its own object that it senses, because it gives its own distinct data. However, all our senses are integrated in one body and hence they sense one sole world.
while each monocular vision, each touching with one sole hand has its own visible, its tactile, each is bound to every other vision, to every other touch; it is bound in such a way as to make up with them the experience of one sole body before one sole world, through a possibility for reversion, reconversion of its language into theirs, transfer, and reversal, according to which the little private world of each is not juxtaposed to the world of all the others, but surrounded by it, levied off from it, and all together are a Sentient in general before a Sensible in general. (142a)
There is a circle of the touched and the touching, the touched takes hold of the touching; there is a circle of the visible and the seeing, the seeing is not without visible existence (143a)
the flesh we are speaking of is not matter. It is the coiling over of the visible upon the seeing body, of the tangible upon the touching body, which is attested in particular when the body sees itself, touches itself seeing and touching the things, such that, simultaneously, as tangible it descends among them, as touching it dominates them all and draws this relationship and even this double relationship from itself, by dehiscence or fission of its own mass. This concentration of the visibles about one of them, or this bursting forth of the mass of the body toward the things, which makes a vibration of my skin become the sleek and the rough, makes me follow with my eyes the movements and the contours of the things themselves, this magical relation, this pact between them and me according to which I lend them my body in order that they inscribe upon it and give me their resemblance, this fold, this central cavity of the visible which is my vision, these two mirror arrangements of the seeing and the visible, the touching and the touched, form and close-bound system that I count on, define a vision in general and a constant style of visibility from which I cannot detach myself, even when a particular vision turns out to be illusory, for I remain certain in that case that in looking closer I would have had the true vision, and that in any case, whether it be this one or another, there is a true vision. The flesh (of the world or my own) is not contingency, chaos, but a texture that returns to itself and conforms to itself (146a.c, copied from Julie Heyward's Unreal Nature)
The chiasm is what allows us all to belong to the same world, to the same body, all while we maintain our opposing relations (the "for-Oneself for-the-Other antithesis"): "there is the Being as containing all that, first as sensible Being and then as Being without restriction." Thus "Chiasm, instead of the For the Other: that means that there is not only a me-other rivalry, but a co-functioning. We function as one unique body". (215a) Chiasm is also the bond linking us and the world we perceive, and it seems to include the intentional relational of our bodily or conscious awareness to the thing it senses or is aware of. "The chiasm is not only a me other exchange (the messages he receives reach me, the messages I receive reach him), it is also an exchange between me and the world, between the phenomenal body and the "objective" body, between the perceiving and the perceived: what begins as a thing ends as consciousness of the thing, what begins as a 'state of consciousness' ends as a thing." (215b)
Let's now try to understand why Merleau-Ponty calls this sort of flesh/intertwining 'chiasmic', and let's also compare it to a Deleuzean model. Here are the features of our chiasmic relation with the world, according to Merleau-Ponty
1) there is an overlapping (of both sides of the relation, of all sides of all relations, an interweaving of the parts),
2) there is an individuality of the parts (because the parts are found on different sides of the relation), but
3) there is ultimately an integration of the parts (into an interwoven fabric or 'flesh' of the world).
Often times the chiasmic structure is characterized as: ABBA
In Merleau-Ponty's case, there is an overlapping. Let's draw from the diagrams in Barry Dainton's Time In Experience: Reply to Gallagher. He gives an amazing account of different forms of continuum, and we will return to it in a forthcoming post. For now, let's consider this diagram.
In one sense, Merleau-Ponty is saying that when we sense the world, we are sharing a part of us; we are sharing that part that sympathizes with the things we are sensing. For example, we share the surface of our skin with the texture we are touching, since it replicates and recordes the tactile features of the surface. However, this contact Merleau-Ponty says is also like two mirrors facing one another. On our side of the sensation, we 'map' the topological features of the surface we are feeling. So perhaps the overlap by superposition will be slightly more helpful. [The parts here in Dainton's image have temporal meaning. So both parts B are distinct but happen at the same moment. We are not now using this diagram temporally, so it is not a superposition in our interpretation, but rather a criss-crossing].
We could instead use a representation with the two B's side-by-side, like in ABBA. But we choose the overlapping, because the parts are 'interwoven'. So they are touching intimately and reaching inside one another, in a sense, but still retaining their individuality.
But now in Merleau-Ponty's chiasm, this interweaving brings the two sides, the sensing and the sensed, together into one flesh. We are already from the beginning integrated with the world. And we see this in the two poles in the motion of the sensing event. Just as we are touching the world, the world is already touching us so to give us our sensations of it. Recall that he writes:
If one wants metaphors, it would be better to say that the body sensed and the body sentient are as the obverse and the reverse, or again, as two segments of one sole circular course which goes above from left to right and below from right to left, but which is but one sole movement in its two phases. And everything said about the sensed body pertains to the whole of the sensible of which it is a part, and to the world. If the body is one sole body in its two phases, it incorporates into itself the whole of the sensible and with the same movement incorporates itself into a "Sensible in itself." (138b, emphasis mine)So let's consider this possible rendition.
(Image my own, made with OpenOffice Draw)
One difference in our rendition is that we have 'A' on both sides. This is because the dual 'motion' of the sensation interweaves both sides into one flesh, marked with a 'C'. So the two sides are different by being on either pole of the relation. But they are not distinguished insofar as they are both already of the same flesh. It is in this way that we might keep the chiasmic structure's representation as ABBA. The A's are the sensor and the sensed, both interwoven into the same flesh. The B's then are the sympathizing places of contact where one mirrors the other. And finally, their double motion of sensing and being sensed weaves them together into one flesh, C.
Deleuze's sort of relations between parts would not be like Merleau-Ponty's. Parts are forced together, and yet they maintain their differential relation. It is nothing like a mirroring or overlapping. The two parts butt against one another despite their incompatibilities. Think of when we force together two magnets, north-to-north ends. It requires the greater force of our hands to overcome the differential force pushing apart the magnet ends. Let's examine this in phenomenological terms. What we see is an infinity of phenomenal parts, none of which are gluing to one another on their own. But then why do we see objects, like a tree? This is because in that context, all the variations making up what we regard as the tree entered into stronger relations of difference with something in the background, the sky for example. If we wanted to chop down the tree, we look at the trunk and phenomenally speaking we regard there being a crack near the bottom. The very bottom of the tree and the top part are still together. But as soon as we swing the ax, right just before the moment of impact, the tree's parts were phenomenally severed. So first consider all the differences within the tree. We push them all together, because we are looking at the sky behind it. So the difference between the tree's parts and the sky's parts forced together all the differences of the tree. But when we chop the tree, all the differences at the base of the tree come to differ strongly with those higher up the trunk. So if there is any sort of organization or constitution in Deleuze, especially in this phenomenal sense, then it is completely based on differential forces and not on compatibilities or adhesion. The parts of the world incohere, to borrow a term from Clifford Duffy. The same holds for our relation with the world. We sense something only on the basis of our differential relation with it. If our skin is perfectly sympathetic to the hot air inside, then we get used to the heat. We stop sensing it. It ceases to be a phenomenon. Then when we walk into an air conditioned building, we feel the cold. This is because we were not sympathetic to the cold air. The cold appeared to us only because our sensation was based on a break between us and the world, a differential relation between the two. But the sensation forces itself so strongly on us because we have been so strongly forced into this experience of difference. So let's consider this image for a Deleuzean sort of conglomeration.
(Image my own, made with OpenOffice Draw)
Here the parts B and A could be two parts of our phenomenal world or it could be us and the part of the world we sense. C is like the stronger force that forces us into those sensed differences, or that forces together sensed differences in our field of perception. As we see, the world is not a fabric or flesh for Deleuze. If it is anything like flesh, then it is like butchered meat, with shocks jumping from cut-to-cut.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Visible and the Invisible, Followed by Working Notes. Transl. Alphonso Lingis. Ed. Claude Lefort. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1968.
Barry Dainton. "Time In Experience: Reply to Gallagher"
Psyche 9 (12), 2003.
Some quotations taken gratefully from: