My body sits nestled in the tall grass, my feet dangling precariously close to the rough-hewn edge of the cliff. The wind off the sea blows salt mist into the tangles of my hair, while the waves crash below, their sound drowning all others except that of the wind and the pulse of blood in my skull. “Matter is ‘pregnant’ with its form,” the phenomenologist writes, “which is to say that in the final analysis every perception takes place within a certain horizon and ultimately in the ‘world.’” In this moment I try to understand, through my intellect, what his words mean. I realize I cannot grasp it. So I attempt the process again, not based upon my intellectual experience, but rather from the beginning, from the primordial seat of awareness, from a place of perception. There… can you feel it? The cliff, the waves, the sea wind—each pregnant with its own form, impressing itself on my beingingness in this moment. I cannot explain this. But sit beside me on this cliff and perhaps your body will know.
Still at the cliff’s edge, I close my eyes. The sounds of salt and wave, crumbling rock and rushing air currents remain, but much else is now gone. Color collapses to the dark behind my eyelids. Yet something else emerges. Even the sounds begin to fade as I descend deeper into this realm. Although my body remains still nestled in the tall grasses that I twist between my fingers, as I attempt to hold a tight physical grip upon this material present, nearly all my awareness begins to lift away from the Earth’s surface. Darkness surrounds me, broken only by the crystalline lamps of distant stars. I wheel past familiar planets, although some part of me realizes they have never been familiar to me at so close a range. Suddenly I am upon the edge of our solar system. How did I get here? How do I know what this looks like?
Perception is thus paradoxical. The perceived thing itself is paradoxical; it exists only in so far as someone can perceive it. I cannot even for an instant imagine an object in itself. As Berkeley said, if I attempt to imagine some place in the world which has never been seen, the very fact that I can imagine it makes me present at that place.
I am present at the edge of our solar system. I am present at the edge of our solar system? Within less than an instant I am present at the edge of the cosmos. My imagination knows this can exist even if physical reality cannot confirm it from our Earth-bound perspective. What then is the phenomenological stance of imagination, if it can so quickly leap beyond the bounds of the situated horizon?
When I open my eyes I see the gray rain curtain that veils the white line of the Pacific Ocean’s horizon. I close my eyes, and I leap beyond all horizons.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Primacy of Perception. Edited by James M. Edie. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964.