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Stella de Azevedo

Paper presented at BreadMatters II - Lisboa, Portugal


"Comment l'esprit pourrait-il connaître le sens d'un signe qu'il n'a pas lui-même constitué comme signe?"

Lachièze-Rey, P., «Réflexions sur l'activité spirituelle constituante», Recherches Philosophiques 1933-1934, Paris, 134.


To speak of the concept of "bread" is, before anything else, to remember that, as a sign, bread runs throughout human life and thought in the categories it carries in its bosom, those of unity1 and temporality.

For its phenomenological essence, pure manifestation, revelation, the concept of bread I wish to approach here differs entirely from the physicochemical object - the non-phenomenological matter. The phenomenon "bread", in its multiple physical, chemical, nutritional, politico-ideological forms, amongst others, does not have its phenomenology in itself, neither does it have the capacity for experiencing itself, of breathing in an aroma, of loving or desiring, of "touching" the things that surround it, that is, it is incapable of showing (revealing) itself to us. This capacity to show itself, and thus become the object of a possible knowledge, is due to a power of manifestation that is alien to it - the truth of the world, or self-revelation of Life2. In this context, the radical opposition between phenomenological matter (corporality), which makes the world of life as self-revelation3, and on the other hand, the non-phenomenological matter of the component elements of physicochemical or biological properties (the body), poses an insurmountable question: that of the relationship between the ontological-phenomenological approach and the contemporary scientific approach, a relationship which can seem in confliction. At the hand of Galileo, modernity attributed to science the new task of knowing the real universe, constituted by extensive material objects, endowed with figures, which implies the reduction either of the sensitive qualities of the universe or of the sensitivity without which these sensitive qualities would not exist. At the end of such a methodological postulate are physicochemical processes and nothing that resembles the inner experience of his own life, the very fact of "living", that each individual goes through. The relationships of familiarity one may have with the "world of things" may give us an idea of the possible meaning of a previous given, which prompts me to a new use of things. Every transcendence man may effect will always be made with a view to building possible worlds, yet conditioned by a "factual" situation and an "already said", by a way of being and a world already produced. It is, therefore, in temporality that the truth as happening and as happening of the being in the understanding of man's being (being-there) is discovered4. In other words, our experience of reality does not just have a pragmatic or technical sense, because we also undergo experiences at other levels such as that of the non-measurable, the non-representable, the non-objectifiable.

The non-identity of the self with the body is a practical consequence of human nature as an excess in the relationship with the full potential of the organic body, an excess that the self manifests in the judgement, the will and the freedom that self-expresses itself and comes to fruition in corporality. In this context, the "bread" metaphor means Life as being simultaneously facticity and transcendence. This implies the defence that the significance of the body is not inscribed in the biological and physical dimensions of the organic body. Similarly to human corporality which self-realises itself in the communication with the other and in mutual acknowledgement, the corporality of bread refers human understanding back to spaces where difference, symbol and image reveal new intersections of the senses of finitude, temporality, pain and memory.

Forgetting this (as expressed in the scientistic reduction of the sign) manipulated and deprived the word of its characteristic of event, its revealing condition of the being: whenever the word is seen as a mere function of the sign, the essential relationship of speech and thought becomes an instrumental relationship, that is, the word becomes an instrument of subjectivity. Now the word is located in advance, it belongs to the flow of tradition: the linguistic word is not a sign we appropriate; neither is it something that exists which we can fashion and to which we can give meaning, making the sign show something else. In this concrete case, the word "bread" is therefore already significant. Ignoring the metaphoric nature of language, modern science amassed, as the essence of its methodology, a treasury of methodologically-based truths. In the metaphoric nature, the inner and indeterminate referral of the symbol and the historical, meaning or meanings-gathering experience come together. Language, as a poetic movement, is a continuous and updated transfiguration between the old and the new (inter-subjective categories of recognition). In its metaphoric dimension, the concept of bread is extended to pain and suffering since it is transferred from one thing (agglomerate, accidental, food) to another ("body and blood" of Christ, hunger, deprivation, shortage) and it originally refers us back to the truth (unveiling), hope and resurrection, but also to pain, suffering, finitude, temporality. The metaphor of "bread" acts by referring us back to the origin it derives from and is taken to another dimension of application. It establishes a subsidiary relationship between corporality and narration / temporality.

By resorting to the history of ideas and sciences we see that, after Freud, the grounding basis of the whole historical-human analysis is precisely (and at the human scale) the incompleteness of the present, of self-presence and self-awareness. History, time, memory (and oblivion) are the very limits of self-awareness which, for its incompleteness, needs the mediation of the past to understand itself. Similarly, pain and suffering also constitute themselves as limit-dimensions of human conscience (openness) and experience. Limits because splitting to sameness, language and thought, but which only in the very linguistic dimension (or capacity) (narration) the human being may overcome. Pain is a subsidiary of the original finitude of man, the contrasting experience and, ultimately, it refers back to (his) history, (his) temporality and (his) memory. The metaphor of the corporality of bread lies in what exceeds the derived objective and objectified awareness, what at the anthropological level makes man an open, not-completed being. Parallel to human corporality, the corporality of bread is also, on a phenomenological-linguistic plane, a sign and a force (energeia) which generates and creates meaning. Therefore, it cannot be the place of an objectification and, consequently, it is not the object of manipulation (fracture). The metaphor of the corporality of "bread" is subsidiary to the fact that man self-represents himself in language, as a poetic, ecumenical space, of the need for achieving meaning, always motivated and situated.

© Stella de Azevedo August 2003


1 There is no organised doctrine of Eucharist in the New Testament, but we can find there a multitude of themes, sometimes simply evoked, whose sense is only discovered in the Old Testament. We point some out here: memorial (an'amncsiς, I Cor., XI, 25), unity (eiv artov, en sÿma, I Cor., X, 17), the bread of life and the body of Christ (artov, sárx, João, VI, 51-57 ; sÿma, I Cor., X, 16).

2 «(…) le contact effectif de la chose réveille en moi une science primordiale de toutes choses et que mes perceptions finies et déterminées sont les manifestations partielles d'un pouvoir de connaissance qui est coextensif au monde et qui le déploie de part en part. (…).», MERLEAU-PONTY, M., Phénoménologie de la perception, Paris, Éd. Gallimard, 1985, 424. Or as M. Henry tells us: «La pensée ne connaît pas la vie en la pensant. Connaître la vie, c'est le fait de la vie et d'elle seule.», HENRY, M., Incarnation, Paris, Éd. Seuil, 2000, 135.

3 «Toute pensée de quelque chose est en même temps conscience de soi, faute de quoi elle ne pourrait pas avoir d'objet. À, la racine de toutes nos expériences et de toutes nos réflexions, nous trouvons donc un être qui se reconnaît lui-même immédiatement, parce qu'il est son savoir de soi et de toutes choses, et qui connaît sa propre existence non pas par constatation et comme un fait donné, ou par inférence à partir d'une idée de lui-même, mais par un contact direct avec elle.», MERLEAU-PONTY, M., Phénoménologie de la perception, 1985, 426.

4 Along the lines of the hermeneutics of facticity.


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