Observation as meditative thinking: “a letting be”

August 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

From a Heideggerian perspective, the phrase, “the faculty of observing” has significant implications for meditative thinking/deconstruction. If as Cicero says, “Eloquence is wisdom spoken wisely,” then observation facilitates the rhetor to speak wisely so as to be able to persuade and stir up a disposition amidst the audience. Heidegger (1953/1996) alludes to this in his phenomenal work, Being and Time, when he writes, “Publicness as the kind of being of the they not only has its attunedness, it uses mood and ‘makes’ it for itself. The speaker speaks to it and from it. He needs the understanding of the possibility of mood in order to arouse and direct it in the right way” (138-139). Hence, to be persuasive a rhetor needs first of all to observe. It could then be said that “observation” is the condition upon which choosing the appropriate means of persuasion rests. But we may ask, “Is this not common sense?” It reminds us of the English proverb, “Look before you leap.” Yet what is to be borne in mind is that because the rational-scientific framework has permeated common sense so much, it cannot be taken for granted that observing or looking is merely a commonsensical activity. The technological and commercial Enframing of this epoch has such a powerful grip over every aspect of human life that common sense has lost its place as conventional wisdom. Besides, in trying to make human life comfortable and highly efficient, technology has succeeded in creating a desensitized human world. Looking or observing loses its passion in such a world that prioritizes distant, dispassionate and objective observation.

Hence, from a rationalistic and technological perspective, observation or looking is detached seeing. The goal of detached seeing is to arrive at certain knowledge and truth. The observer through detached seeing abstracts the essential qualities of a thing in the effort to understand and interpret it. This leads to clear and valid knowledge. But from an existential-phenomenological perspective, such an approach is impoverished. First of all, such a disengaged (detached seeing) activity robs a thing of its concreteness and its embodiment. Second, this process of abstraction/detached seeing (however convincing and certain it is) is oblivious to the context which makes the thing what it is. These two aspects make observation as detached seeing, in the rational-scientific system, a barren and passionless activity.

But observation in a radical sense is respect for the phenomena. In his essay, “The Thing,” Heidegger (1971b) points to this radical sense of observation which can be characterized as the “essence” of meditative thinking. He writes, “If we let the thing be present in this thinging from out of the worlding world, then we are thinking of the thing as thing” (p. 181). Observation as meditative thinking is radical because the rhetor lets the thing be thing in the way it shows itself — in its concreteness (“thinging”) and its situatedness (“worlding world”). But for the rhetor who affiliates with the rational-scientific tradition, an abstract, passionless and decontextualized observation has its payoffs. The persuasion that arises out of such an affiliation is commercially viable given the profit-oriented and competitive socio-cultural arena that every discipline (arts and sciences) has unwittingly bought into. Within such a structure, the skilful and persuasive speaker is one who possesses the skill to convince the listeners to concede to truth irrespective of its concreteness and situatedness. The monopoly over truth at which this approach arrives is gained through a process of elimination and exclusion such that the listeners are precluded from its multiple and genuine alternatives and possibilities. Through such exclusionary means the speaker and all those who subscribe to such a prescriptive approach to truth thereby become the sole owners of the truth by means of expropriation and exploitation. On the other hand, a rhetor (the one who observes with a passion) enables/facilitates/shows how we live and move in truth through inclusive and non-reductionistic ways. This is truly pedagogical and educative for it persuades by “bringing forth”; not because the speaker has a monopoly over truth, but because the listeners live and share in it already. The work of the rhetor is to awaken them to what they already know. It is in this context that epideictic rhetoric is important. We have no new information introduced; rather, the quality of the phenomena is amplified.

From a Heideggerian perspective, observing takes on a different meaning as it is based on a radically different assumption. As Hoy (1993) writing on the hermeneutic turn in Heidegger points out:

Heidegger’s strategy is different from the Cartesian strategy, which starts by assuming a basic ontological disconnection (e.g., between mental and physical substance) and then looks for instances of epistemological connection that cannot be doubted (e.g., the knowledge of the existence of a thinking subject). Heidegger’s strategy is to see Dasein as already in the world, which suggests that what needs to be explained is not the connection, which is the basis, but the disconnection.
The disconnection or the disruption is that which is appealing to the eye of the rhetor who observes by participating. Hence, observation as meditative thinking is to pay attention to the “disconnection” that shows itself in the activity of hovering over as long as we can endure it. To take this a step further, we could say that when the rhetor can endure or stay persistent with this unsettling experience, then the circularity of hermeneutics (through a persistent inhabitation of the phenomenon) gives way to an elliptical movement that is in “essence” elusive and indeterminate.

Derrida (1973) calls our attention to this radical difference in what can be called a “project” of deconstruction. He makes an appropriate observation in this regard when he writes:
There is then, probably no choice to be made between two lines of thought; our task is rather to reflect on the circularity, which makes the one pass into the other indefinitely. And, by strictly repeating this circle in its own historical possibility, we allow the production of some elliptical change of site, within the difference involved in repetition; this displacement is no doubt deficient, but with a deficiency that is not yet, or is already no longer, absence, negativity, nonbeing, lack, silence. Neither matter nor form, it is nothing that any philosopheme, that is, any dialectic, however determinate, can capture. It is an ellipsis of both meaning and form; it is neither plenary speech nor perfectly circular. More and less, neither more nor less — it is perhaps an entirely different question.
On the part of the rhetor who endures, the latter movement allows for a “re-cognition” of this elusive and disruptive/displacing nature of that which shows itself. In this sense, observation as meditative thinking/deconstruction is respect for the phenomena. In such a movement, we could contend with John D. Caputo (1987) that the observer-participant rhetor is never in a privileged position or the sole owner in regard to what shows itself in meditative thinking/deconstruction. He observes:

In an a-lethic view, whatever shows itself, whatever comes forth, issues from hidden depths. We know we cannot touch bottom here, that we cannot squeeze what stirs here between our conceptual hands, cannot get it within our grip, cannot seize it round about. The mystery is self-withdrawing, self-sheltering. And that is what gives rise to respect.
Hence, in Heideggerian terms, observation could be seen as akin to letting go or “letting be,” which is radical detachment or detached attachment. The genuine rhetor is one who cultivates a respectful disposition as regards the “faculty of observing” and “the available means of persuasion” vis-à-vis that which needs to be spoken about.

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Ritu Raj

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Ritu Raj is a serial entrepreneur dedicated to bringing innovative services and systems to market, which create new experience for people at the same time makes a difference in their lives. Ritu has been in Information Technology for 25 years. In the past he has founded successful companies like OrchestratorMail, WagHotels (Largest Chain of Dog Hotels in the world) and Avasta (Pioneered Cloud Computing, acquired by Navisite). Ritu was a Partner at Accenture and a Senior Executive at TMP Worldwide.

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