Monday, 15 October 2012

Alien Origins


“Life,” so Gaston Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Space, “begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house” (Bachelard 1994, 7). Bachelard’s remarks are directed critically against “certain hasty metaphysicians,” not least Heidegger, for whom, as is well known, life did not begin so well. In fact, it begins by being thrown into the world and thereafter confronted with the anxiety that one exists in the first place. Indeed, that one exists in the first place is a point of omission for Bachelard. He leaps from nothingness to life without any disruption in-between.

The grounds for disputing Bachelard’s claims are manifold, both theoretically and practically. This is not the place to address them. Nevertheless: Life begins. Of this, we have some (vague) certainty. But instead of propelling forward to the bosom of the house, phenomenology benefits from hovering in a space of origins. Why the elevation of the origin in phenomenology? Two reasons. One, epistemologically, the origin is the event where things are rediscovered in their original strangeness long before they’ve been tied down to the habitual and archival domain of human experience. Two, because of this edifying strangeness, the origin reveals the pre-reflective constitution of the subjective as being shaped by irreducible alterity and alienage. 

The alien origin, strange, impersonal, and anonymous—a point of pre-existence resistant to representation and yet nevertheless manifest in the phenomenal realm as what Merleau-Ponty will term “hostile and alien, no longer an interlocutor, but a resolutely silent Other” (376). Does this account already presuppose a thematic significance to the role of the origin? Put another way: how can phenomenology in its search for origins—emblematically framed by Husserl as the “perpetual beginner”—approach this pre-world without already defacing it with the world of habit?

The methodological problem is one of access. In its most extreme form, phenomenology ties us to an inseparable relation to the world, which is not only structurally suffocating but existentially claustrophobic insofar as it colours this relation with a pre-established harmony. Being-in-the-world. However it is phrased, the symbiotic relation of body and world retains a dialogical role, in which both body and world co-constitute one another. They remain intertwined, two sides of the same face, unable to tear themselves away. 

The world of plenitude, the realm of intercorporeality and its adjoining union with a misappropriation of nature as a conduit for the self to discover itself. All of this must be discarded if we are to attend to the origin as a site of alienation. Inhuman phenomenology—an origin of phenomenology that turns against itself, against its history, employing the body and the world as foreign matter with no ethical substance attached to it—would be one way to approach the origin. Germs and seeds have already been planted. Already in the extant works of phenomenology, the brood of a future phenomenology dormantly awaits cultivation.