Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Drawing: The words draw us in.


In some sense the phenomenologist is like an artist and an author. Just as a painter draws the world so the phenomenologist tries to use words to evoke some aspect of human existence in a linguistic image. Perhaps it is for this reason that Merleau-Ponty compared the task of the phenomenologist to the work of authors and artists such as Balzak, Proust, Valry or C zanne. All are animated by the same kind of attentiveness and wonder, the same demand for awareness, the same will and desire to seize the meaning of the world.


But how do words seize the meaning of the world? When I mention someone+s name-this friend-then the word magically makes this person disappear and then reappear in words. Just as artistic images, words become the replacements for the things they name. A word is not a thing. But it lets nothing (experience/meaning) appear as something. Thereby, even the word becomes a thing. More precisely, the word makes present the absence that it names, and thus it denies the concreteness and singularity of existence. But at the same time the word restores this absence through the constitution of meaning. Thus the immediacy of lived experience is first lost but then fleetingly restored by the indirectness of meaning that is made possible by language. The experience of writing shows us reflexively that the immediacy of the lived world can never be recaptured in its original form.


Furthermore, written words differ from ordinary discursive words in that these words lose their transparancy and their ordinary currency. Almost every word we write may place a question mark over the meaning of the thing it expresses. In the experience of writing, words tend to become more dense and ambiguous. Rather than facilitating the conversational nature of human life, they acquire a quality of transparancy in a different sense. They open a different realm, a different vista on human existence. The words draw us in. And as words draw us, they seem to open up a space: a temporal dwelling space. We step out of one world, the ordinary world of daylight, and enter another, the world of the text. In writing one develops a special relation to language which disturbs its taken-for-grantedness. Perhaps one finds it impossible to write. And yet one must write. One writes. One has become “one” who writes.