(I was to do some research on Berkeley. But, as usual, I ended up procrastinating. This time I found some old writing for UChicago Uncommon App that I’ve abandoned—because I was rambling too much and for too long. But I do really like it. I’ve added the last half from jouissance onwards. Hope you find it interesting. For I really do find it interesting how differently I think things 3-4 months ago—when I was still in the thralls of Heidegger&listening to some Marleau-Ponty lectures [for better or worse]!)
We are, for better or worse, creatures of appearance. We appear amongst others in our shared world of appearances.
In some sense, we are made to appear. This is true evolutionarily speaking, for without appearance there is no reproduction. Our inner organs, too, testify to this in their grotesque ness, in contrast with the skin that wraps around our skeleton. This is the reason, why, perhaps, we are so concerned with our appearance—looking into the mirror and adjusting our hair meticulously to perfection (which always seems to lose its splendor just right when we look away from if, like a reverse Eurydice)— for all other’s in our shared world have access to is this appearance.
In some sense, the western philosophical tradition has ignored the importance of movement—the sort of effortless combination of grace and power, an unconscious but perfect command of each muscle that is praised so much in Homer. Anyone who has tried to act will understand what importance movement bears (facial expressions, hand gestures, the way one walk, and the clarity of one’s speech)—for how we move can influence how we think (and vice versa).
Moving is something that is seen as an end-in-itself in Aristotle, in his distinction between poesis and praxis. The productive arts vs. the performing arts. There is almost a joy of its own to be able to move gracefully that is outside of its utility. This is perhaps why sports stars mesmerized us so much. (David Foster Wallace’s essay: Federer, Both Flesh and Not, concerns itself with this kind of transcendence in movement.) We move in this world. Movement is the origin of our jouissance, our enjoyment (enjoyment in the endless repetition of something, in the performing of some useless ritual, in contrast with pleasure), from the tics of touching ones nose, to the tapping of the finger on the table, and the shaking of one’s legs on the floor (and, my peculiar, most revolting, fault, squeezing pimples and picking off scabs from my face!).
We are creatures of movement. Creatures who has to move. Who has to go somewhere, to some place. In deliberate movement, the destination is determined by love, and movement is created as love consummate with will. But there is also another dimension to movement where will recedes (though it is by no means that one ceases to will, but one ceases to self-consciously feel the will), with every movement propelling oneself to reveal the phenomenon of being.
To learn to move is to learn to dwell in-the-world, on this earth. Movement is metaphysical. As Marleau-Ponty knew, to put one’s hand on the door handle is not so simple an act. We have to, in some sense, be already in the abyss on the other side to be able to reach out our arm. To learn to move is no easy business.
Perhaps we need to return to a new materialism, to a metaphysics of the body, a materialism that tries to make sense of the mystery of the flesh instead of reducing it into atoms. A mystical but not mystifying materialism. That is my dream.