Thursday, 15 September 2011


Merleau-Ponty outlines what is at stake in the phenomenological reduction in the opening pages of The Phenomenology of Perception

“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. Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unity of consciousness as the world’s basis; it steps back to watch the forms of transcendence fly up like sparks from a fire; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical.”

However, whilst he argues that the phenomenological reduction is never fully achievable and that “the most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a complete reduction,”
he also claims that this is no reason to not incorporate it into the phenomenological method and that: “the incompleteness of the reduction …is not an obstacle to the reduction, it is the reduction itself.”

In short Merleau-Ponty argues that although a complete indifference toward the natural attitude is not possible, he seems to prefigure the claims of Speculative Realism that the attempt to do so is necessary.

At this point, perhaps its helpful to compare Dan Zahavi’s claims that philosophy in the guise of phenomenology should suspend naivety (which is what the epoché does) and Graham Harman’s claim for Speculative Realism at the very beginning of The Quadruple Object that philosophy should attempt to recapture naivety.

“Instead of beginning with radical doubt, we start from naivete. What philosophy shares with the lives of scientists, bankers, and animals is that all are concerned with objects… Once we begin from naivete rather than doubt, objects immediately take centre stage… But whereas the naïve standpoint of [The Quadruple Object] makes no initial claim as to which of these objects is real or unreal, the labor of the intellect is usually taken to be critical rather than naieve. Instead of accepting this inflated menagerie of entities, critical thinking debunks objects and denies their autonomy.”

I think that there are 2 ways in which to read these differing accounts of naivety.

First that aesthetic activities continue the work of phenomenology by implementing the epoché which is, as I am arguing here, comparable to aesthetic experience. Hence, my claim that the epoché is a form of aesthetic reflection and a means by which naivety is recaptured. My point here is that naivety is very difficult if not impossible to achieve. And can only be done so when the natural attitude is suspended.

Second that whilst continuing phenomenology Speculative Realism moves beyond what was ever possible via the phenomenological method. It does so by shifting its attention away from the correlation of mind and world to the realms that lie beyond this correlation and about which we can only speculate on, tell fictions about and creatively imagine.

So, Speculative Realism aspires to grasp the weirdness of the worlds of objects as they exist outside of the network of human meanings, and beyond their presence to human consciousness. This means to approach the world from a position of naiveté in which our own interested correlations within a system of objects is suspended.

Further, as already mentioned, this sounds very similar to the move of the epoché in Husserl who claims (in the Krisis) that through it a new way of experiencing, of thinking of theorizing is opened to the philosopher.

However the bracketing of the natural attitude required for the epoche is difficult if not impossible to achieve. And this leads to my main claim here that aesthetic experience is a route to such bracketing; hence my claim that objects and spaces of art have the potential to be philosophically meaningful.

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