Review: Presence and Absence by Robert Sokolowski

Serge Valdinoci, trans. Sylvia

from: Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 85e Année, No. 4 (Octobre-Décembre 1980), pp. 550-1

Presence and Absence. A Philosophical Investigation of Language and Being by Robert Sokolowski, Bloomington (Indiana), Indiana University Press, 1978, 188 p.

            R. Sokolowski’s work represents a vast attempt to found and develop the emergence of thought, of philosophy next, starting from grammatically common procedures of language. This problematic is strongly interesting inasmuch as it aims to restructure the notion of a philosophical consensus, without these too complex propositions that confine thought in the closed network of an idiosyncrasy. A form of problematic quasi-destitution invites the reader to follow a linear trajectory which progressively enriches from the materials encountered, without nevertheless derogating the norming line of the theme of presence-absence. Two points of departure originate the journey, however: on the one hand, the reference of thought to things themselves, thought being governed by their fundamental incursion; on the other hand, the rectifying methodology of presence-absence that truncates a Husserlian problematic relating void intentionality to replenished intentionality. Sokolowski separates gap (void) and presence (replenishment) from their subjective resilience for converting them to the necessity of placing being in the foreground, or the object-face. This theoretic amendment concurs with Sokolowski’s remark according to which the works of Husserl would not have kept their promises (p. xvi). It is true that Husserl blocks the thematic of presence-absence in a signitive universe governed by the immediation of intuition or deception. On the contrary, the author mediately elaborates more and more complex aspects; that is why he engages in a veritable integrant conceptual genesis.

            We rapidly follow the rise of complexity which exceeds the simplicity of the first exercise of nomination to culminate in an ontotheology. While the verb, and notably the gerundive form, adheres to the context and reveals continued presence, the noun introduces new contexts and plays thus on rapports of absence. In itself the noun is indifferent to presence-absence (p. 25); the noun is the instrument of the possibility that has the object of “presenting” (p. 28). Such is the fundamental function of nomination that otherwise exceeds the structural notion of name (p. 31). Constructing thus the lineaments of the symbolic order, symbolic more than signitive (semiotics) since presence-absence imposes a problematic of sends from the noun back to the object. Nomination operates the first conjunction of presence and absence; the author strives next to articulate nominations in a syntax (chap. 5). Here the Husserlian antepredicative is imposed; the problem consists in passing from the manipulatory order of “taking as” to the enunciative function of “saying is”. Now, “as” is congruent with “is” (p. 45). In replacing the Husserlian visual presentation of the object under aspects by a manipulative activity, Sokolowski equally gets through to the basic notion of “logical combination” (p. 47) uniting subject and predicate. The author elaborates next the syntax in a series of linguistic accomplishments which lead to the notion of proposition. The accomplishment of the statement at first, insists on the structural and Jakobsonian conditions of speech. Selection and combination constitute the field of liberty in which the speaker works. It is a static (structural) level of analysis whereas the reader awaits a genetic one (cf. Chomsky). The proposition finally, institutes the Aristotelian rapport to truth; after nomination, proposition is the second conjunction of presence and absence. A liaison more elaborated, necessarily expressed within the statement (p. 95). The proposition is not therefore itself an ideal object, a Fregeian Bedeutung exceeding the sense (Sinn) of enunciative articulation. In effect, the term of analysis remains the subordination of discourse to ontological orders. The exposited follows thus a didactic, signaling, and not just ontological traced [tracé]. Finally, the author attaches to “essential” propositions (chap. 12) which indicate the pertinence of the notion (to be constructed) of philosophy. The latter is interested in “presence as presence” (p. 149) which is imposed along all second considerations on the object. The differences in the order of presentation of things (p. 152), such is the domain of philosophy: all the preceding analyses are many facets expressing the orders of manifestation of the object (spatialized, remembered, as fact, expressed, proposed, etc.). Beyond all, first philosophy studies presence in itself, stability in itself, and identifiability in itself (chap. 14). Presence and absence are viewed as such (p. 162) under the species of three quasi-Platonic couples: same and other, movement and rest, presence and absence (p. 160). Being qua being is the mélange of presence and absence, without it being reducible to one or the other. The problematics of the old Sophist, from behind. The ultimate chapter exceeds philosophy and the question of being qua being: the One and the dyad are the last resorts that definitively support presence and absence. They are introduced to God.

            In sum the book is founded on the explicit complementarity of thought and being following the thematic of presence-absence. The goal is to rapport thought to being as best as possible by investigating first from the side of the conditions of emergence of thought. In return, it is the notion of being which is refined (named object → being within presence → being as → being Being and One-dyad). It is being which is incited to think. Nonetheless to evade the Parmenidean position (being = thought) which arouses the spiny question of absence and of nothingness, the author works with absence to affirm presence (refined being). Such that there exists a return [renvoi], a game of alternating crutches, issues from the simplified delimitation of the point of departure. The same balancing characterizes the passage from founding geneticism, where progression insists, to structural statism in which genesis is obliterated (cf. Jakobson). Thus, geneticism is the development of a simple structure which does not reinforce to the study of networks of linguistic transformations (cf. Chomsky). A linear geneticism which is only valid therefore by its immanent philosophical teleology. The ensemble reflects the dangers and the fulgurant vertigos of an empiricist thought from the simple, the immediate. The difficulty becomes then of being able to recompose, without reduction. Rather than proceeding from a simple empirical lineage of common sense, it would have been without doubt more considerable to work a primordial philosophical field and to multiply the conceptualization by the intervention of a functor of sense. This is what Ricœur had done in La Métaphore vive; bolstered on Aristotle whom he relativizes, he follows the semantic work of the metaphor and brews at first the complex to finally get through to a simple thematization of the emergence of the theoretic.