LX:9 | Silent Relationship with the Other
Let us pursue dialogue a little further - and first of all, in the silent relationship with the other - if we wish to understand the most essential power of speech.
It is not sufficiently noted that the other is never present face to face. Even when, in the heat of discussion, I directly confront my adversary, it is not in that violent face with its grimace, or even in that voice traveling toward me, that the intention which reaches me is to be found. The adversary is never quite localized; his voice, his gesticulations, his twitches, are only affects, a sort of stage effect, a ceremony. Their producer is so well masked that I am quite surprised when my own responses carryover. This marvelous megaphone becomes embarrassed, gives a few sighs, a few tremors, some signs of intelligence. One must believe that there was someone over there. But where? Not in that overstrained voice, not in that face lined like any well-worn object. Certainly not behind that setup: I know quite well that back there there is only “darkness crammed with organs.” The other’s body is in front of me - but as far as it is concerned, it leads a singular existence, between I who think and that body, or rather near me, by my side. The other’s body is a kind of replica of myself, a wandering double which haunts my surroundings more than it appears in them. The other’s body is the unexpected response I get from elsewhere, as if by a miracle things begin to tell my thoughts, or as though they would be thinking and speaking always for me, since they are things and I am myself. The other, in my eyes, is thus always on the margin of what I see and hear, he is this side of me, he is beside or behind me, but he is not in that place which my look flattens and empties of any “interior.” Every other is a self like myself. He is like that double which the sick man feels always at his side, who resembles him like a brother, upon whom he could never fix without making him disappear, and who is visibly only the outside prolongation of himself, says a little attention suffices to extinguish him. Myself and the other are like two nearly concentric circles which can be distinguished only by a slight and mysterious slippage. This alliance is perhaps what will enable us to understand the relation to the other that is inconceivable if I try to approach him directly, like a sheer cliff. (133-4)
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Prose of the World. Trans. John O'Neill. Northwestern University Press 1973.
Works and Days
Tags: Maurice Merleau-Ponty