On the Radical and Erotic Reductions
Roberto J. Walton
Transcendental phenomenology has considered bodilihood as a constitutive dimension of transcendental subjectivity (L. Landgrebe). This has lead on to the assertion, from an epistemological standpoint, of the priority of consciousness as the mode of access to the world, and, from an ontological standpoint, of a twofold relationship of reciprocal nonderivability (or irreducibility) and relevance (or conditioning) between the body and consciousness (E. Ströker). In a further step, recent trends in phenomenology have drawn a boundary between the body, which is the deep dimension of subjectivity correlated with the world, and the flesh, which withdraws from the world. On the one hand, Michel Henry has given priority to an original flesh, which, at work in the radical immanence of an “I can,” takes hold of the manifold functions of the organic body that is intertwined with the world. Here self-affection is cut off from hetero-affection, and this is essential to Henry’s “radical reduction” to pure immanence. On the other hand, Jean-Luc Marion has also developed the notion of flesh, but, following Emmanuel Levinas, stresses its intersubjective side insofar as my body attains a “face” and becomes flesh when it receives from the Other what I do not possess by myself and at the same time the Other receives from myself the flesh and the “face” that it does not possess by itself. Here hetero-affection is separated from self-affection, and this is central to Marion’s “erotic reduction” to what comes from elsewhere. My argument in this paper is that the so-called radical and the erotic reductions should be considered, in terms of the transcendental reduction, as an attempt to deal with modes of surplus within the intentional correlation with the world disclosed by the latter.
What seems particularly objectionable is the neglect of the stratification that underlies the contrast between the body and the flesh. For the surplus entailed by the flesh does not amount to the vanishing of the body, as both Henry and Marion put it, but rather to the emergence of a new level that can be understood, in terms of reciprocal relevance and nonderivability, in the light of the laws of stratification and categorial dependence advanced by Nicolai Hartmann. Applied to our subject, the law of stratification leads to the following formulations: something of the body returns in the flesh; the body does not come back as such in the flesh because it undergoes a variation, the flesh entails a novelty with regard to the body, and there is a leap leading from the body to the flesh. One could argue that the disappearance of the body in the radical and erotic reductions is due to the overlooking of return and variation as well as to the overstressing of novelty and leap. Furthermore, the following statements issue from the law of categorial dependence: the body is stronger than the flesh; the body is indifferent to the flesh; the body functions as an existential foundation for the flesh; and the flesh is free with regard to the body. In this respect, the disappearance of the body is the outcome of forgetting force and indifference and overemphasizing existential foundation and freedom. Again, misunderstandings arise when the four contentions are not taken together.
According to Hartmann, the upper stratum can emerge as an overformation (Überformung), in which the lower stratum comes back entirely as a matter that receives a new form, or as an overconstruction (Überbauung), in which it operates only as an existential foundation without influence on the contents of the upper stratum. To acknowledge this dependence in the line of existence instead of content both makes clear the ontological relevancy of the lower stratum and preserves the nonderivability or novelty of the upper stratum, and, therefore, renders possible the claim of an epistemological primacy in the case of consciousness and the assertion of a new mode of phenomenalization in the case of flesh. If we focus on the strata involved, flesh and “face” are a novelty with regard to body and visible countenance. They are phenomena of excess that appear as something new on the basis of a ground of being that must be overconstructed. Accordingly, when their function is restricted to that of an existential foundation, body and visible countenance withdraw in the overconstruction of flesh and “face,” but remain, as concerns their existence, indifferent to the upper stratum and do not break down. Were it otherwise, the body would be indeed undermined by the flesh.
In an ontological analysis, then, a mediation encompassing return and novelty is necessary between what belongs to a given statum of the world and what transcends it. Correlatively, from the viewpoint of access, a mediation is also necessary between the givenness of the visible and the modes of phenomenalization of the invisible. Husserl’s view is that the visible body is the expression of an inwardness that can be explicated in a variety of levels that correspond to various strata in self-experience and the experience of the Other. Hence, the disjunction between visibility and invisibility, with an exclusive emphasis on the latter in the radical and erotic reductions, not only disregards stratification, but also ignores the phenomenon of expression in which my visible movements and the visible countenance differentiate themselves both from a corporeal surface, because they signify an inwardness, and from flesh and “face,” because they are visible. In order to show how visibility and invisibility are compatible, because there is a necessary link between them within an overconstruction, one must regard flesh and “face” within the larger framework of the notion of horizonality, to which overconstruction provides a specification. For the body as a given level of being is a theme that points beyond itself, and the flesh is experienced through these references that irradiate from it. Flesh and “face” are horizons that cannot come forth to visibility, but this “beyond” must be grasped in such a way that it cannot be detached from the visibility that intends to it. Their invisibility can be understood as a nonintuitable residuum, i.e., as an irreducible surplus, both in the horizon of self-affection opened out by the experience of the movement of my own body, and in the horizon of the Other revealed by the perception of the alien body. It can be recalled here that Marion examines a paradox of givenness because the given withholds the manifestation of givenness itself. Thus, every datum must be referred to its givenness by unfolding its fold. This does not seem to add much to the explication of an apperceptive horizon that, being intertwined with the perception of one’s own or the Other’s body, cannot be wholly laid open.
The convergence of invisible self-affection with visible hetero-affection does not rule out a further contraction of self-affection intermingled with hetero-affection into a pure self-affection as that described by Henry, or a further expansion of hetero-affection blended with self-affection into a pure hetero-affection as that outlined by Marion. Only in a second stage can self-affection become unraveled from outwardness, and hetero-affection become separated from inwardness. Both processes can be construed as an unfolding of horizonality in which we are directed towards an ideal pole. In addition, this analysis does not exclude speaking of an infinite self-affection or an infinite interpellation of the Other, which would enable our living in the world to surpass its narrow limits. Nevertheless, it avoids separating them from our worldly condition, so that, even if they are not manifest within the world, they are at least constructed over it. They can be referred back to a dimension of horizonality that is inexplicable or invisible, but announces itself in intentional modes of self-affection, and expresses itself through the visible countenance of the Other. Since this dimension entails a maximum of contraction and intensification of transcendental life in its relationship with itself, as well as a maximum of expansion and estrangement in its relationship with the Other, it accounts for the possibility of an acknowledgment of, and an answer to, infinite self-affection and infinite interpellation.
In contrast to the transcendental reduction, which attempts to show the true significance of the natural attitude as the self-concealment of the transcendental dimension, the radical and the erotic reductions establish a realm distinct to that of the natural attitude. The pregivenness of the world is not considered from a new angle by showing what is implied in it, but rather an attempt is made to disclose a different type of phenomenalization. This leads to set originary flesh against one’s own body and alien flesh against the body of the Other. On the contrary, an inquiry into the true significance of what is pregiven in the natural attitude shows one’s own body as the indication of an originary flesh tied to a transcendental “I can,” which cannot be separated from its body as an organ of actualization in the world, and exposes the body of the Other as the indication of a transcendental Other, which cannot be detached from its body as an organ of expression in the world. Only through contraction and expansion as modes of overconstruction in the horizon of these two phenomena can we have access to a dimension of invisibility. The upshot of this argument is that the attempt to think beyond worldly Being “the correlation between world and world-consciousness” amounts, on closer inspection, to the extrapolation of an infinite pole for the unfolding of the horizons of inwardness and elsewhere sustained by the correlation.