Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Marion, Kant, Keller, Cusanus, Phenomenality and Certainty

Marion carefully lays out the distinctions among phenomena, noumena, objects and the event. He painstakingly concludes that while Kant's phenomenon is what he is calling the 'object,' noumena cannot translate into the event, or other saturated phenomena. Though he holds with Kant that the status of 'things' vary according to the hermeneutical gaze, it is only through Heidegger's analysis of the tool that the manner of the gaze can be differentiated between Kant's analysis and phenomenology, in particular, the appearance of objects and richer phenomena (CN, 194-99). Hence, Marion can speak of the discoverability of saturated phenomena (204-5), and beyond this discovery and its hermeneutic, a critique of the privileging of certainty, which is a broadening of phenomenality to include the domain of 'negative certainty,' which is work yet to be done (206). He concludes that all such broadenings illuminate an "infinite finitude" (207).

For readers of Marion, the question must be asked: has our philosopher given us enough analysis to make affirmative statements about the relationships among phenomenality and certainty? I think he has, and no critique of Marion can continue to assert that, after his In the Self's Place, his body of work suffers from a poverty of hermeneutic adventure; yet here in Negative Certainties, Marion has closed at least the epistemological circle with his decisive conclusion, now axiomatic with regard to  his body of work: The gift cannot at the same time be possessed and manifest itself (153; italics Marion's; emphasis mine). The certitude of the axiom, whether it finally turns out to be either a negative certainty or a positive uncertainty, traces itself to his concept of the impossibility of impossibility of saturated phenomena, and the eventiveness of such phenomena and of the gift itself.

Indeed, Marion has found the antecedent of such impossibility in Nicholas of Cusa. Had Marion recourse to the work of Catherine Keller, especially her tour de force appropriation of Cusanus, Cloud of the Impossible, he would not find such an antecedent 'strange' (69). Marion has avoided Keller to his great detriment and peril (Keller's mind is a saturated phenomenon if there ever was one). Regardless, the Cusanian folds in Keller's work certainly have far-reaching consequences for the folds Marion has enfolded in NC; in fact, Marion might very well have introduced another fold in the fabric of the impossible, the replication of the gift in his discourse on forgiveness (the re-gifting of the gift).

It is the very impossibility of the event of the gift that cuts to the certainty that unfolds the 'uncertainty' of simultaneity of Marion's axiomatic possession and manifestation of the gift. I cannot but read this kind of uncertainty apart from the uncertainty of the physicist who confidently states that a photon or electron cannot be a wave and a particle at the same time. The simultaneity is governed by the gaze of an observer---the probe of the intentionality/concept. Marion is quite decisive in problematizing the gaze/probe. "What then is happening with the modification of my gaze so that it modifies the status of the thing?[...]The variation proper to my gaze must have an ontological status...the 'as-structure' is inscribed within the rank of the existentialia of Dasein. [The] variation of the modes of appearing and of being thus is played out in the one and only instance of the existential hermeneutic that the unique Dasein puts into operation...[the] distinction between the modes of phenomenality (for us, between object and event) can be joined to the hermeneutical variations that, as existentialia of Dasein, have (ontological) authority over the phenomenality of entities" (198-99).

What holds for the gift, especially in the happening of the "process of its givenness" (153), also holds for other events, such as the saturated phenomena of the flesh, idol and icon. The gaze, the very probe of the intention and the concept, determines the variations in phenomenalities such that they can appear as simple objects under one gaze, or as saturated phenomena under another gaze, the variations of which always have an ontological status preventing objects and richer phenomena from appearing at the same time. The great value of 'negative certainty' is its contiguity with scientific 'positive uncertainty,' if not its very identity. In this manner, Marion gets to close not only the epistemological circle, but the hermeneutic circle as well, dissolving the privilege of certainty, and collapsing all knowledge into knowledge itself. Docta ignorantia.

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