Volume 16, 2014
Between Yesterday and Tomorrow
Instituer le chiasme : à partir du cours sur Hegel de Maurice Merleau-Ponty
In the 1958-1959 Collège de France course, Merleau-Ponty expounds a detailed commentary on the last paragraphs of the Einleitung from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. We examine in what sense this course has developed the notions that he was in the process of defining, notions such as “chiasm,” “reversibility,” “depth,” and “flesh.”
What seems crucial in this course is to clearly define good ambiguity as opposed to bad ambiguity, that is, to the simple mixture of finitude and universality, of interiority and exteriority. It is a question then of revealing, even within Hegelian thought, the operation, although unstable, of good ambiguity and of instituting it beyond the distinction between anthropology and logic without a return to naturalism.
It should first be noted that consciousness is for Hegel violence against itself, it gives itself its measure, such that the distinction between measuring and measured is internal to it. By insisting on this “reversibility” of the measuring and the measured, Merleau-Ponty comes to emphasize that the self-relation of consciousness is simultaneously its opening onto a transcendent – an opening whereby it learns something. This leads him to define “the new ontological milieu” which is the depth of the life of consciousness. It is within this depth that the interrogative experience winds on itself.
Secondly, if there truly must be a moment where the Hegelian Zweideutigkeit becomes good ambiguity, it will not suffice to explore preobjective depth; it would still be necessary to discern “the hinge” which is “solid, unwavering” and which “remains irremediably hidden.” It is this unwavering hinge that supports phenomena and that, in simultaneously decentering and recentering the fields of appearances, opens a place where one can follow the genesis of sense.
Finally, we note that this discovery of the new ontological milieu can be considered as the recovery of the notion of institution that Merleau-Ponty had proposed in 1954-1955: on the one hand, the notion of chiasm invites us to reveal the hinge which at once decenters and recenters the fields of appearances. This hinge is free from the alternative of nature and culture, of subjective and objective spirit; it is the rootedness of our interrogative experience in brute being, which is not object but starts an indefinite search of self. But, on the other hand, the notion of institution, which is essentially descriptive and factual, makes us better feel the weight of the instituted that is also irremediably hidden. It makes us feel the inertia of the instituting event, as well as its fecundity and its cumulativity.