Paul Cézanne's Homme à la pipe
The phenomenology of Cézanne's painting of a man smoking a pipe
This is one of my favorite Cézannes, for a couple of reasons. The first is the man himself. Contemplate the man. Is he a simpleton or a profound thinker? Is he a thoughtless "pleb" (Kierkegaard), a dumb "herd" (Nietzsche), an inauthentic "Das Man" (Heidegger)? Or is he a philosopher? It is an unresolvable interpretive problem. He could be either, or he could be both. But even if he is both, what mode is he in at the moment? We see him, but *who he is remains irreducibly hidden.* He is seen but unseeable, a paradox that defines life. He is a "phenomenon."
The second is the geometry. Look at the symmetry. The forearms are parallel. There is a linearity from the left arm to top of his hat. You could draw a triangle from the top of his hat to his elbow on the table to his left elbow. In sum there is an unseen geometry constituting the man. The man came into being through an invisible, a-priori set of geometric principles and laws. Can you see the principles of geometry? *With the phenomenon of the man in front of you, you can, but without the phenomenon, you cannot.* The manifestation of the man (phenomenon) reveals more than the man himself. It reveals something else hidden but which is very real. Merleau-Ponty referred to this as "the appearance of that which is appearing." Through the phenomenon of the man, the a-priori universal principles of geometry "appear as appearing." The use of only a few dominant colors brings this forward to our consciousness. An impressionist use of many colors (like Monet) would conceal this. Cézanne brings this out by limiting the color scheme.
This is one of the aspects of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology that impressed me most. It is why he spoke so often of Cézanne in his lectures. It also is why his nemesis was Descartes. In Descartes' dualistic "I think; therefore, I am," this very powerful understanding of reality is not possible.