Wednesday, June 3, 2009

For Lovers Young And Old Of A Certain Nothingness

René Magritte (1898-1967) - The Treason of Images, 1928-9

'In order to understand Sartre's thought regarding the imagination, it is necessary to examine first an aspect of Husserl's phenomenology, the noetic/noematic structure of awareness. According to Husserl, it is a fact that we can be aware of the same object in different ways, of different objects in the same way, and also of different objects in different ways. For example, with respect to the object, I can perceive a table, a pen, and a framed picture; with respect to the mode of awareness, I can perceive a table, I can imagine a table, and I can remember a table - in each case, the same table. Husserl termed the object of awareness the noema and the mode of awareness of the object, the noesis. To understand Husserl's phenomenology on the problem of the imagination it is important to keep in mind that when I perceive this table or when I imagine this same table, I am aware of the same noema in two different modes. Of course, the image of he table is not the table, but by means of my apprehending the image of the table I have a secondary apprehension of the table itself. Sartre concerns himself with studying the essential difference between perception and imagination with respect to the modes in which each of these presents its object, rather than distinguishing as Husserl does between a primary and secondary apprehension. The object of perception is posited as real; that is, the object perceived is, in virtue of its being perceived, taken to be a real object. But in the case of the imagination either the object is posited as non-existent, as absent, as exiting elsewhere, or, in the neutral case, the object simply may not be posited as existing at all. Thus the characteristic possessed by an image that distinguishes the image from the object of perception is that, according to Sartre, the image ". . . involves a certain nothingness":
Alive, appealing and strong as an image is, it presents its object as not being. This does not prevent us from reacting to the image as if it were before us . . .
Regarding this distinction between perception and imagination, Sartre makes two observations. The first is that, in the case of perception, the object perceived is given against a background of total reality; the object is, as it were, the figure, and reality is the ground. The top of the desk now visible is part of the desk, itself part of what is in the room, and so on. In contrast to this mode of givenness of the perceived object is that of the imagined object. Instead of being given against the ground of the totality of the real, the imagined object is given (to take only one of the four possible modes listed above) precisely as absent, which is to say, the imagined object is given as something which is nothing in relation to the background of real things.

In virtue of this nothingness of the imagined object, it is necessary to take up the question: How is the nature of consciousness to be construed so that it will be possible to understand how consciousness can posit an image; that is, how consciousness can bring before itself an object that is nothing in relation to the contents of reality? It is Sartre's contention that, if consciousness were but one event among others in the world, and if it were also in thoroughgoing casual interaction with these other events, that there could be no awareness of images as images, as representations:
If we assume a consciousness placed at the very bosom of the world as one existence among others, we must conceive it hypothetically as completely subjected to the action of a variety of realities - without its being able to avoid the detail of these realities by an intuition which would embrace their totality. This consciousness could therefore contain only real modifications aroused by real actions and all imagination would be prohibited to it, exactly in the degree to which it would be engulfed by the real.
Sartre's thesis is that, in order for an image to be entertained as an image, consciousness must set the image over against the totality of the real, since the image is not one real item among others but merely a representation. But, in order for the imagination to posit the image as over against reality, it is necessary that consciousness not be "engulfed in the real" and determined in all its aspects by the causal efficacy of reality upon it. Consciousness has to disentangle itself from reality in order to posit the image as nothing in relation to the real, since, if such a disentanglement were not effected, the image could only be one other real item among others. As such, it would not be an image, but merely another item presented to consciousness because of the activity on consciousness of the other events that constitute reality. And it is just this ability to set itself over against the totality of the real that constitutes the freedom of consciousness:
For a consciousness to be able to imagine it must be able to escape from the world by its very nature, it must be able to by its own efforts to withdraw from the world. In a word it must be free.
This freedom from reality, this escaping from the world, is conceived by Sartre as definable correlatively to a (Heideggerian) being-in-the-world. In other words, consciousness can withdraw from the world on the ground of a logically prior being in the world. Consciousness, which has now been shown to be in essence imaginative, posits the image as a nothing in relation to the real in which consciousness is basically engaged but which, in virtue of its imaginativeness, it can transcend . . .

[The] concept of meaning for Sartre rests on his theory of imagination and therefore on the nature of freedom. Although consciousness is a being-in-the-world, there is yet a sense in which the concept of the world is not fundamental but rather derivative from the fact of the imaginativeness of consciousness. Simply stated, Sartre's point is that
The imaginary thus represents at each moment the implicit meaning of the real.
The real is what is simply there for awareness. Therefore, to apprehend the real as world, as a meaningful articulation of data, it is necessary that the real, the simply there, be surpassed toward the imaginary. The sense of this notion of surpassing toward the imaginary is that the situation directly confronted perceptually receives definition by having placed (metaphorically) alongside it an imaginative consciousness which is in an essential respect a reverse of the perceived situation. For example, I note the absence of my dictionary not simply because the dictionary is not perceptually encountered in the bookcase, but also because the imaginativeness of my consciousness places beside what I do perceive in the bookcase the image of the dictionary, an image which presents the dictionary as being absent. The real is what I immediately confront; the world is that same situation, meaningfully articulated by the imagination and set over against the consciousness that is there engaged:
. . . imagination, far from appearing as an actual characteristic of consciousness turns out to be an essential and transcendental condition of consciousness.
As well as of freedom in the world . . . '

F. Molina

Obituary: How Do You Say Goodbye To A Grasshopper?

Fig. 1. David Carradine (December 8, 1936 - June 3, 2009) - Kung Fu, 1972-1975