oa Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology - Cloaked in the light : language, consciousness, and the problem of description

Volume 9, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1445-7377



This paper deals with the implications of the limitations of language for phenomenological description. For corroboration, it relies on a section in Nietzsche's The Gay Science in which he gives his most prolonged explanation of what he calls "the essence" of his understanding of ''phenomenalism and perspectivism" (Nietzsche, 1882/1974, p. 299). The author contends that Nietzsche saw better into this problem than any other major theorist before or since, and that his understanding goes to the heart of things phenomenological. In support of this claim, examples are offered from two philosophers the author regards as most representative of phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, of what seems to be evidence that neither saw into the problem as well as Nietzsche - Merleau-Ponty, in fact, seeming to have missed it almost altogether, and Heidegger seeing in it a spectre he was anxious to put to rest!

Given that language provides us with a special kind of sightedness, and given that this seeing through language is fundamentally different from perception, how can one avoid the conclusion that, in language, phenomena are transformed? This is the central question confronted in this paper. It is argued that description is an act of creation and that, as such, its products should never be mistaken for that from out of which they are created. The mind's eye and the eye itself are separate organs, and to imagine that we see the same way in language as we do in sensory perception is to repeat the errors of rationalism. The world spoken is a projection, a facade obscuring the true reality of the phenomena projected. Thus, even though directing the light of description on things is undeniably a way of revealing them, it also has a way of concealing them.

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