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Maurice Merleau-Ponty:  1908-1961

LX:61 | The World of Perception and the World of Science

The world of perception, or in other words the world which is revealed to us by our senses and in everyday life, seems at first sight to be the one we know best of all. For we need neither to measure nor to calculate in order to gain access to this world and it would seem that we can fathom it simply by opening our eyes and getting on with our lives. Yet this is a delusion. In these lectures, I hope to show that the world of perception is, to a great extent, unknown territory as long as we remain in the practical or utilitarian attitude. I shall suggest that much time and effort, as well as culture, have been needed in order to lay this world bare and that one of the great achievements of modern art and philosophy (that is, the art and philosophy of the last fifty to seventy years) has been to allow us to rediscover the world in which we live, yet which we are always prone to forget.

This temptation is particularly strong in France. It is characteristic not just of French philosophy but also of what is rather loosely termed the French cast of mind to hold science and knowledge in such high esteem that all our lived experience of the world seems buy contrast to be of little value. If I want to know what light is, surely I should ask a physicist; is it not he who can tell me what light really is? Is light, as was once thought, a steam of burning projectiles, or, as others have argued, vibrations in the ether? Or is it, as a more recent theory maintains, a phenomenon that can be classed alongside other forms of electromagnetic radiation? What good would it do to consult our senses on this matter? Why should we linger over what our perception tells us about colours, reflections and the objects which bear such properties? For it seems that these are almost certainly no more than appearances: only the methodical investigations of a scientist – his measurements and experiments – can set us free from the delusions of our senses and allow us to gain access to things as they really are. Surely the advancement of knowledge has consisted precisely in our forgetting what our senses tell us when we consult them naïvely. Surely there is no place for such data in a picture of the world as it really is, except insofar as they indicate peculiarities of our human makeup, ones which physiology well, one day, take account of, just as it has already managed to explain the illusions of long- and short-sightedness. The real world is not this world of light in colour; it is not the fleshy spectacle which passes before my eyes. It consists, rather, of the waves and particles which science tells us lie behind these sensory illusions.

Descartes went as far as to say that simply by scrutinising sensory objects and without referring to the results of scientific investigations, I am able to discover that my senses deceive me and I learn accordingly to trust only my intellect.1 I claim to see a piece of wax. Yet what exactly is this wax? It is by no means its colour, white, nor, if it has retained this, its floral scent, nor its softness to my touch, nor indeed the dull thud which it makes when I drop it. Not one of these properties is constitutive of the wax because it can lose them all without ceasing to exist, for example if I melt it, whereupon it changes into a colourless liquid which has no discernible scent and which is no longer resistant to my touch. Yet I maintain that this is still the same wax. So how should this claim be understood? What persists through this change of state is simply a piece of matter which has no properties, or, at most, a certain capacity to occupy space and take on different shapes, without either the particular space filled or the shape adopted being in any way predetermined. This then is the real and unchanging essence of the wax. It will be clear that the true nature of the wax is not revealed to my senses alone, for they only ever present me with objects of particular sizes and shapes. So I cannot see the wax as it really is with my own eyes; the reality of the wax can only be conceived in the intellect. When I assume I am seeing the wax, all I am really doing is thinking back from the properties which appear before my senses to the wax in its naked reality, the wax which, though it lacks properties in itself, is nonetheless the source of all the properties which manifest themselves to me. Thus for Descartes - and this idea has long held sway in the French philosophical tradition - perception is no more than the confused beginnings of scientific knowledge. The relationship between perception and scientific knowledge is one of appearance to reality. It befits our human dignity to entrust ourselves to the intellect, which alone can reveal to us the reality of the world.

When I said, a moment ago, that modern art and philosophy have rehabilitated perception and the world as we perceive it, I did not, of course, mean to imply that they deny the value of science, either as a means of technological advancement, or insofar as it offers an object lesson in precision and truth. If we wish to learn how to prove something, to conduct a thorough investigation or to be critical of ourselves and our preconceptions, it remains appropriate, now as then, that we turn to science. It was a good thing that we once expected science to provide all the answers at a time when it had still to come into being. The question which modern philosophy asks in relation to science is not intended either to contest its right to exist or to close off any particular avenue to its inquiries. Rather, the question is whether science does, or ever could, present us with a picture of the world which is complete, self-sufficient and somehow closed in upon itself, such that there could no longer be any meaningful questions outside this picture. It is not a matter of denying or limiting the extent of scientific knowledge, but rather of establishing whether it is entitled to deny or rule out as illusory all forms of inquiry that do not start out from measurements and comparisons and, by connecting particular causes with particular consequences, end up with laws such as those of classical physics. This question is asked not out of hostility to science. Far from it: in fact, it is science itself - particularly in its most recent developments - which forces us to ask this question and which encourages us to answer in the negative.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, scientists have got used to the idea that their laws and theories do not provide a perfect image of Nature but must rather be considered even simpler schematic representations of natural events, destined to be honed by increasingly minute investigations; or, in other words, these laws and theories constitute knowledge by approximation. Science subjects the data of our experience to a form of analysis that we can never expect will be completed since there are no intrinsic limits to the process of observation: we could always envisage that it might be more thorough or more exact than it is at any given moment. The mission of science is to undertake an interminable elucidation of the concrete or sensible, from which it follows that the concrete or sensible can no longer be viewed, as in the classical paradigm, as a mere appearance destined to be surpassed by scientific thought. The data of perception and, more generally, the events which comprise the history of the world, cannot be deduced from a certain number of laws which supposedly make up the unchanging face of the universe. On the contrary, it is the scientific law that is an approximate expression of the physical event and which allows this event to retain its opacity. The scientist of today, unlike his predecessor working within the classical paradigm, no longer cherishes the illusion that he is penetrating to the heart of things, to the object as it is in itself. The physics of relativity confirms that absolute and final objectivity is a mere dream by showing how each particular observation is strictly linked to the location of the observer and cannot be abstracted from this particular situation; it also rejects the notion of an absolute observer. We can no longer flatter ourselves with the idea that, in science, the exercise of a pure and unsituated intellect can allow us to gain access to an object free of all human traces, just as God would see it. This does not make the need for scientific research any less pressing; in fact, the only thing under attack is the dogmatism of a science that thinks itself capable of absolute and complete knowledge. We are simply doing justice to each of the variety of elements in human experience and, in particular, to sensory perception.


While science and the philosophy of science have, as we have seen, been preparing the ground for an exploration of the world as we perceive it, painting, poetry and philosophy have forged ahead boldly by presenting us with a very new and characteristically contemporary vision of objects, space, animals and even of human beings seen from the outside, just as they appear in our perceptual field. In forthcoming lectures I shall describe some of what we have learned in the course of these investigations. (31-36)


[1]Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, in Selected Philosophical Writings, trans. by Cottingham, Stroothoff & Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), Second Meditation, p. 80.


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception.  Trans. Oliver Davis.  Routledge 2008. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Most Basic Sphere of Concern is Schooling 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:50 | The Museum

[The] Museum’s function, like the library’s, is not entirely beneficent. It certainly enables us to see works that were scattered around the world and engulfed in the cults or civilizations which they sought to ornament as united aspects of a single effort. In this sense our consciousness of painting as painting is based upon the Museum. But painting is to be found in each painter at work, and there it is in a pure state, whereas the Museum associates it with lesser qualities. One should go to the Museum the way painters go there, in the joy of dialogue, and not as we amateurs go, with our spurious reverence. The Museum gives us a false consciousness, a thief’s conscious. We occasionally sense that these works were not intended to end up between these bare walls for the pleasure of Sunday strollers, for children on their free afternoon from school, or for Monday intellectuals. We sense vaguely that something has been lost and that these gatherings of old maids, this silence of the grave, and the respect of pygmies do not constitute the true milieu of art. So much effort, so many joys and sorrows, so much anger and labor were not destined to reflect one day the sad light of the Louvre museum...

The Museum transforms efforts into works. It allows only styles to appear but also adds a false prestige to their true value by detaching them from the chance circumstances in which they arose and making us believe that some superartists or “fatalities” guided the artists’ hands from the very beginning. Whereas the style of each painter throbbed in him like his deepest heartbeat and, insofar as he is speech and style, resonated in all other artists’ speech and style, experiencing the kindred value of their efforts, the Museum converts this secret, modest, nondeliberate, and almost involuntary historicity into an official and pompous history. The unsuspected imminence of a regression gives our enjoyment of a given painter a pathetic nuance which was quite foreign to him. He himself labored happily his whole life, a man unaware that he was on a volcano, while we see his work as flowers on the edge of a precipice. The Museum makes painters as mysterious for us as octopuses or lobsters. It transforms these works, created in the heat of life, into marvels from another world. In the pensive light of the museum and under its glass panes, the breath which sustained these works becomes no more than a feeble palpitation on their surface... The Museum kills the vehemence of painting just as the library, as Sartre says, transforms writings which were once a man’s gestures into messages. It is the historicity of death. But there is a living historicity of which the museum offers only a broken image. It is a historicity that dwells in the painter at work when, in a single gesture, he binds the tradition he continues into the tradition he founds. It is the historicity which in a single stroke joins him with everything that has ever been painted in the world, without his having to leave either his place or time, or has blessed and accursed labor. The true history of painting is not one which puts painting in the past and then invoke superartists and fatalities – it is the history that puts everything in the present, that dwells in artists and reintegrates the painter with the fraternity of painters. (72-3)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  The Prose of the World.  Trans. John O'Neill.  Northwestern University Press 1973. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Thingly Aspect of the Artwork; Discourse; A Fundamental Quality of an Act; The Act of Naming 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:46 | The Central Attitude

Inspired by the paintings of Da Vinci, Valéry described a monster of pure freedom, without mistresses, creditors, anecdotes, or adventures. No dream intervenes between himself and the things themselves; nothing taken for granted supports his certainties; and he does not read his fate in any favorite image, such as Pascal’s abyss. Instead of struggling against the monsters he has understood what makes them tick, has disarmed them by his attention, and has reduced them to the state of known things. “Nothing could be more free, that is, less human, than his judgments on love and death. He hints at them in a few fragments from his notebooks: ‘In the full force of its passion,’ he says more or less explicitly, ‘love is something so ugly that the human race would die out (la natura si perderebbe) if lovers could see what they were doing.’ This contempt is brought out in various sketches, since the leisurely examination of certain things is, after all, the height of scorn. Thus, he now and again draws anatomical unions, frightful cross-sections of love’s very act.” He has complete mastery of his means, he does what he wants, going at will from knowledge to life with a superior elegance. Everything he did was done knowingly, and the artistic process, like the act of breathing or living, does not go beyond his knowledge. He has discovered the “central attitude,” on the basis of which it is equally possible to know, to act, and to create because action and life, when turned into exercises, are not contrary to detached knowledge. He is an “intellectual power”; he is a ‘man of the mind.’ (21-2)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Non-Sense.  Trans. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Patricia Allen Dreyfus.  Northwestern University Press 1964. 


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Lexicon Entries

The Most Blameworthy Ignorance
The Red Ink
A Fundamental Quality of an Act

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

See also About


LX:45 | Freedom and Self-Emergence

But let us make no mistake about this freedom. Let us not imagine an abstract force which could superimpose its effects on life’s “givens” or which cause breaches in life’s development. Although it is certain that a man’s life does not explain his work, it is equally certain that the two are connected. The truth is that this work to be done called for this life. From the very start, the only equilibrium in Cézanne’s life came from the support of his future work. His life was the projection of his future work. The work to come is hinted at, but it would be wrong to take these hints for causes, although they do make a single adventure of his life and work. Here were are beyond causes and effects; both come together in the simultaneity of an eternal Cézanne who is at the same time the formula of what he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. There is a rapport between Cézanne’s schizoid temperament and his work because the work reveals a metaphysical sense of the disease: a way of seeing the world reduced to the totality of frozen appearances, with all expressive values suspended. Thus the illness ceases to be an absurd fact and a fate and becomes a general possibility of human existence. It becomes so when this existence bravely faces on of its paradoxes, the phenomenon of expression. In this sense to be schizoid and to be Cézanne come to the same thing. It is therefore impossible to separate creative liberty from that behavior, as far as possible from deliberate, already evident in Cézanne’s first gestures as a child and in the way he reacted to things. The meaning Cézanne gave to objects and faces in his paintings presented itself to him in the world as it appeared to him. Cézanne simply released this meaning: it was the objects and the faces themselves as the saw them which demanded to be painted, and Cézanne simply expressed what they wanted to say. How, then, can any freedom be involved? True, the conditions of existence can only affect consciousness by way of a detour through the raisons d’être and the justifications consciousness offers to itself. We can only see what we are by looking ahead of ourselves, through the lens of our aims, and so our life always has the form of a project or of a choice and therefore seems spontaneous. But to say that we are from the start our way of aiming at a particular future would be to say that our project has already stopped with our first ways of being, that the choice has already been made for us with our first breath. If we experience no external constraints, it is because we are our whole exterior. That eternal Cézanne whom we first saw emerge and who then brought upon the human Cézanne the events and influences which seemed exterior to him, and who planned all that happened to him – that attitude toward men and toward the world which was not chosen through deliberation – free as it is from external causes, is it free in respect to itself? Is the choice not pushed back beyond life, and can a choice exist where there is as yet no clearly articulated field of possibilities, only one probability and, as it were, only one temptation? If I am a certain project from birth, the given and the created are indistinguishable in me, and it is therefore impossible to name a single gesture which is merely hereditary or innate, a single gesture which is not spontaneous – but also impossible to name a single gesture which is absolutely new in regard to that way of being in the world which, from the very beginning, is myself. There is no difference between saying that our life is completely constructed and that it is completely given. If there is a true liberty, it can only come about in the course of our life by our going beyond our original situation and yet not ceasing to be the same: this is the problem. Two things are certain about freedom: that we are never determined and yet that we never change, since, looking back on what we were, we can always find a sense of what we have become. It is up to us to understand both these things simultaneously, as well as the way freedom dawns in us without breaking our bonds with the world. (20-1)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Non-Sense.  Trans. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Patricia Allen Dreyfus.  Northwestern University Press 1964. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

A Fundamental Quality of an Act
Intentional Arc
White

Works and Days


Documents

 


Notes

 


 

 

LX:44 | Radical Reflection

He who doubts cannot, while doubting, doubt that he doubts. Doubt, even when generalized, is not the abolition of my thought, it is merely a pseudo-nothingness, for I cannot extricate myself from being; my act of doubting itself creates the possibility of certainty and is there for me, it occupies me, I am committed to it, and I cannot pretend to be nothing at the time I execute it. Reflection, which moves all things away to a distance, discovers itself as at least given to itself in the sense that it cannot think of itself as eliminated, or stand apart from itself. But this does not mean that reflection and thought are elementary facts there to be observed as such. As Montaigne clearly saw, one can call into question thought which is loaded with a sediment of history and weighed down with its own being, one can entertain doubts about doubt itself, considered as a definite modality of thought and as consciousness of a doubtful object, but the formula of radical reflection is not: ‘I know nothing’ - a formula which it is all too easy to catch in flat contradiction with itself - but: ‘What do I know?’ Descartes was not unmindful of this. He has frequently been credited with having done beyond skeptical doubt, which is a mere state, and with making doubt into a method, an act, and with having thus provided consciousness with a fixed point and reinstated certainty. But, in fact, Descartes did not suspend doubt in the face of the certainty of doubt itself, as if the act of doubting were sufficient to sweep doubt away by entailing a certainty. He took it further. he does not say: ‘I doubt, therefore I am’, but ‘I think, therefore I am’, which means that doubt itself is certain, not as actual doubt, but as pure thought about doubting and, since the same might be said in turn about his thought, the only proposition which is absolutely certain and which halts doubt in its tracks because it is implied by that doubt, is: ‘I think,’ or again, ‘something appears to me.’ (464-5)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

I Know that I Know Nothing 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:43 | The Lesson Reduction Teaches

The most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a complete reduction. This is why Husserl is constantly re-examining the possibility of the reduction. If we were absolute mind, the reduction would present no problem. But since, on the contrary, we are in the world, since indeed our reflections are carried out in the temporal flux on the which we are trying to seize (since they sich einströmen, as Husserl says), there is no thought which embraces all our thought. The philosopher, as the unpublished works declare, is a perpetual beginner, which means that he takes for granted nothing that men, learned or otherwise, believe they know. It means also that philosophy itself must not take itself for granted, in so far as it may have managed to say something true; that it is an ever-renewed experiment in making its own beginning; that it consists wholly in the description of this beginning, and finally, that radical reflection amounts to a consciousness of its own dependence on an unreflective life which is its initial situation, unchanging, given once and for all. (xv-xvi)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

This Permanent Dissonance
The Red Ink 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes


LX:40 | The Tutelage of Perception

What then have we learned from our examination of the world of perception? We have discovered that it is impossible, in this world, to separate things from their way of appearing. Of course, when I give a dictionary definition of a table - a horizontal flat surface supported by three or four legs, which can be used for eating off, reading a book on, and so forth - I may feel that I have got, as it were, to the essence of the table; I withdraw my interest from all the accidental properties which may accompany that essence, such as the shape of the feet, the style of the moulding and so on. In this example, however, I am not perceiving but rather defining. By contrast, when I perceive a table, I do not withdraw my interest from the particular way it has of performing its function as a table: how is the top supported, for this is different with every table? What interests me is the unique movement from the feet to the tabletop with which it resists gravity; this is what makes each table different from the next. No detail is insignificant: the grain, the shape of the feet, the colour and age of the wood, as well as the scratches or graffiti which show that age. The meaning, ‘table’, will only interest me insofar as it arises out of all of the ‘details’ which embody its present mode of being. If I accept the tutelage of perception, I find I am ready to understand the work of art. For it too is a totality of flesh in which meaning is not free, so to speak, but bound, a prisoner of all the signs, or details, which reveal it to me. Thus the work of art resembles the object of perception: its nature is to be seen or heard and no attempt to define or analyse it, however valuable that may be afterwards as a way of taking stock of this experience, can ever stand in place of the direct perceptual experience. (70-1)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception.  Trans. Oliver Davis.  Routledge 2008. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Thingly Aspect of the Artwork 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes


LX:39 | Perception and Critical Thought

We never cease living in the world of perception, but we go beyond it in critical thought - almost to the point of forgetting the contribution of perception to our idea of truth. For critical thought encounters only bare propositions which it discusses, accepts or rejects. Critical thought has broken with the naive evidence of things, and when it affirms, it is because it no longer finds any means of denial. However necessary this activity of verification may be, specifying criterion and demanding from our experience its credentials of validity, it is not aware of our contact with the perceived world which is simply there before us, beneath the level of the verified true and the false. Nor does critical thought even define the positive steps of thinking or its most valid accomplishments. (3)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Primacy of Perception.  Ed. James M. Edie.  Trans. Arleen B. Dallery.  Northwestern University Press 1964. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:36 | Le Monde Perçu

The world of perception, or in other words the world which is revealed to us by our senses and in everyday life, seems at first sight to be the one we know best of all. For we need neither to measure nor to calculate in order to gain access to this world and it would seem that we can fathom it simply by opening our eyes and getting on with our lives. Yet this is a delusion. In these lectures, I hope to show that the world of perception is, to a great extent, unknown territory as long as we remain in the practical or utilitarian attitude. I shall suggest that much time and effort, as well as culture, have been needed in order to lay this world bare and that one of the great achievements of modern art and philosophy (that is, the art and philosophy of the last fifty to seventy years) has been to allow us to rediscover the world in which we live, yet which we are always prone to forget. (31-2)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception.  Trans. Oliver Davis.  Routledge 2008. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Intentional Arc; The Shamans and Sorcerers. The Psychoanalysts. The Artists.

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:35 | The Intention to Speak

We can perceive [...] the essence of normal language: the intention to speak can reside only in an open experience. It makes its appearance like the boiling point of a liquid, when, in the density of being, volumes of empty space are built up and move outwards.  ‘As soon as man uses language to establish a living relation with himself or with his fellows, language is no longer an instrument, no longer a means; it is a manifestation, a revelation of intimate being and of the psychic link which unites us to the world and our fellow men. The patient’s language may display great knowledge, it may be capable of being turned to account for specific activities, but it is totally lacking in that productivity which is man’s deepest essence and which is perhaps revealed nowhere so clearly, among civilisation’s creations, as in the creation of language itself.’1

It might be said, restating a celebrated distinction, that languages or constituted systems of vocabulary and syntax, empirically existing ‘means of expression’, are both the repository and residue of acts of speech, in which unformulated significance not only finds the means of being conveyed outwardly, but moreover acquires existence for itself, and is genuinely created as significance. Or again one might draw a distinction between a speaking word and a spoken word. The former is the one in which the significant intention is at the stage of coming into being. Here existence is polarized into a certain ’significance’2 which cannot be defined in terms of any natural object. It is somewhere at a point beyond being that it aims to catch up with itself again, and that is why it creates speech as an empirical support for its own not-being. Speech is the surplus of our existence over natural being. But the act of expression constitutes a linguistic world and a cultural world, and allows that to fall back into being which was striving to outstrip it. Hence the spoken word, which enjoys available significances as one might enjoy an acquired fortune. From these gains other acts of authentic expression - the writer’s, artist’s or philosopher’s - are made possible. This ever-recreated opening in the plenitude of being is what conditions the child’s first use of speech and the language of the writer, as it does the construction or the word and that of concepts. Such is the function which we intuit though language, which reiterates itself, which is its own foundation, or which, like a wave, gathers and poises itself to hurtle beyond its own limits. (228-9)


[1] Goldstein, L’ Analyse de l’aphasie et l’essence du langage, p. 496. Our italics.

[2]'sens' in French means ‘direction’ and ‘significance’ (Translator’s note).


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Discourse
The Red Ink
A Fundamental Quality of an Act

Works and Days

 

Documents

  pdf CPE : Signifier, Signified (94 KB)  


Notes


LX:34 | The Body (Is Not An Object)

The experience of our own body, on the other hand, reveals to us an ambiguous mode of existing. If I try to think of it as a cluster of third person processes - ‘sight’, ‘motility’, ‘sexuality’ - I observe that these ‘functions’ cannot be interrelated, and related to the external world, by causal connections, they are all obscurely drawn together and mutually implied in a unique drama. Therefore the body is not an object. For the same reason, my awareness of it is not a thought, that is to say, I cannot take it to pieces and reform it to make a clear idea. Its unity is always implicit and vague. It is always something other than what it is, always sexuality and at the same time freedom, rooted in nature at the very moment when it is transformed by cultural influences, never hermetically sealed and never left behind. (230-1)

[...]

Every external perception is immediately synonymous with a certain perception of my body, just as every perception of my body is made explicit in the language of external perception. If, then, as we have seen to be the case, the body is not a transparent object, and is not presented to us in virtue of the law of its constitution, as the circle is to the geometer, if it is an expressive unity which we can learn to know only by actively taking it up, this structure will be passed on to the sensible world. The theory of the body schema is, implicitly, a theory of perception. We have relearned to feel our body; we have found underneath the objective and detached knowledge of the body that other knowledge which we have of it in virtue of its always being with us and of the fact that we are our body. In the same way we shall need to reawaken our experience of the world as it appears to us in so far as we are in the world through our body, and in so far as we perceive the world with our body. But by thus remaking contact with the body and with the world, we shall also rediscover ourself, since, perceiving as we do with our body, the body is a natural self and, as it were, the subject of perception. (239)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

 

Works and Days

Creative Activity 

Documents

 


Notes


LX:21 | This Permanent Dissonance

There is no act, no particular experience which exactly fills my consciousness and imprisons my freedom, ‘there is no thought which abolishes the power to think and brings it to a conclusion— no definite position of the bolt that finally closes the lock. No, there is no thought which is a resolution born of its own very development and, as it were, the final chord of this permanent dissonance.’ No particular thought reaches through to the core of our thought in general, nor is any thought conceivable without another possible thought as a witness to it. And this is no imperfection from which we may imagine consciousness freed. If there must be consciousness, if something must appear to someone, it is necessary that behind all our particular thoughts there should lie a retreat of not-being, a Self. I must avoid equating myself with a series of ‘consciousnesses’, for each of these, with its load of sedimentary history and sensible implications, must present itself to a perpetual absentee. Our situation, then, is as follows: in order to know that we think, it is necessary in the first place that we actually should think. Yet this commitment does not dispel all doubts, for my thoughts do not deprive me of my power to question; a word or an idea, considered as events in my history, have meaning for me only if I take up this meaning from within. I know that I think through such and such particular thoughts that I have, and I know that I have these thoughts because I carry them forward, that is, because I know that I think in general. (465-6)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Act; The Lesson Reduction Teaches; La Mort; The Red Ink;A Fundamental Quality of an Act; Get Off the BusTraining of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:15 | Principle of Incompletion

Where human beings are concerned, rather than merely nature, the unfinished quality to knowledge, which is born of the complexity of its objects, is redoubled by a principle of incompletion. For example, one philosopher demonstrated 10 years ago that absolutely objective historical knowledge is inconceivable, because the act of interpreting the past and placing it in perspective is conditioned by the moral and political choices which the historian has made in his own life - and vice versa. Trapped in the circle, human existence can never abstract from itself in order to gain access to the naked truth; it merely has the capacity to progress towards the objective and does not possess objectivity in fully-fledged form. (79-80)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception.  Trans. Oliver Davis.  Routledge 2008. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Foucault's Objective;A Fundamental Quality of an Act;A Limited But Infinite Path

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:14 | Diplomatic Situation

Leaving the sphere of knowledge for that of life and action, we find modern man coming to grips with ambiguities which are perhaps more striking still. There is no longer a single word in our political vocabulary that has not been used to refer to the most different, even opposed, real situations: consider freedom, socialism, democracy, reconstruction, renaissance, union rights. The most widely divergent of today's largest political parties have all at some time claimed each of these for their own. And this is not a ruse on the part of their leaders: the ruse lies in the things themselves. In one sense it is true that there is no sympathy for socialism in America and that, if socialism involves or implies radical reform of relations of property ownership, then there is no chance whatsoever of its being able to settle under the aegis of that country; rather, subject to certain conditions, it can draw support from the Soviet side. Yet it is also true that the socioeconomic system which operates in the USSR - with its extreme social differences and its use of forced labor - neither conforms to our understanding of what a socialist regime is nor could develop, of its own accord, in order to so conform. Lastly, it is true that a form of socialism which did not seek support from beyond French national borders would be impossible and, therefore, would lack human meaning. We truly are in what Hegel called a diplomatic situation, or in other words a situation in which words have (at least) two different meanings and things do not allow themselves to be named by a single word.  (80)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception.  Trans. Oliver Davis.  Routledge 2008. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Red Ink; A Limited But Infinite Path;The Most Basic Sphere of Concern is Schooling;Standing Toe to Toe 

Works and Days

Monday May 11 2009

Documents

 


Notes

 


 

LX:10 | Situated Freedom

The synthesis of in itself and for itself which brings Hegelian freedom into being has, however, its truth. In a sense, it is the very definition of existence, since it is effected at every moment before our eyes in the phenomenon of presence, only to be quickly re-enacted, since it does not conjure away our finitude. By taking up a present, I draw together and transform my past, altering its significance, freeing and detaching myself from it. But I do so only by committing myself somewhere else.  (528)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Act; A Fundamental Quality of an Act;Training of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:9 | Silent Relationship with the Other

Let us pursue dialogue a little further - and first of all, in the silent relationship with the other - if we wish to understand the most essential power of speech.

It is not sufficiently noted that the other is never present face to face. Even when, in the heat of discussion, I directly confront my adversary, it is not in that violent face with its grimace, or even in that voice traveling toward me, that the intention which reaches me is to be found. The adversary is never quite localized; his voice, his gesticulations, his twitches, are only affects, a sort of stage effect, a ceremony. Their producer is so well masked that I am quite surprised when my own responses carryover. This marvelous megaphone becomes embarrassed, gives a few sighs, a few tremors, some signs of intelligence. One must believe that there was someone over there. But where? Not in that overstrained voice, not in that face lined like any well-worn object. Certainly not behind that setup: I know quite well that back there there is only “darkness crammed with organs.” The other’s body is in front of me - but as far as it is concerned, it leads a singular existence, between I who think and that body, or rather near me, by my side. The other’s body is a kind of replica of myself, a wandering double which haunts my surroundings more than it appears in them. The other’s body is the unexpected response I get from elsewhere, as if by a miracle things begin to tell my thoughts, or as though they would be thinking and speaking always for me, since they are things and I am myself. The other, in my eyes, is thus always on the margin of what I see and hear, he is this side of me, he is beside or behind me, but he is not in that place which my look flattens and empties of any “interior.” Every other is a self like myself. He is like that double which the sick man feels always at his side, who resembles him like a brother, upon whom he could never fix without making him disappear, and who is visibly only the outside prolongation of himself, says a little attention suffices to extinguish him. Myself and the other are like two nearly concentric circles which can be distinguished only by a slight and mysterious slippage. This alliance is perhaps what will enable us to understand the relation to the other that is inconceivable if I try to approach him directly, like a sheer cliff.  (133-4)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  The Prose of the World.  Trans. John O'Neill.  Northwestern University Press 1973. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Trap of Life and Experience
White

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:1 | Intentional Arc

Let us therefore say rather, borrowing a term from other works, that the life of consciousness - cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life - is subtended by an ‘intentional arc’ which projects round about us our past, our future, our human setting, our physical, ideological and moral situation, or rather which results in our being situated in all these respects. It is this intentional arc which brings about the unity of the senses, of intelligence, of sensibility and motility. (157)


Source

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception.  Trans. Colin Smith.  Routledge 2005. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Philosopher; Le Monde Perçu; If Photography Tends to the Literary;A Fundamental Quality of an Act; Freedom and Self-Emergence;Training of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

Documents

 


Notes

 


Concepts are Discursive

The look, we said, envelops, palpates, espouses the visible things. As though it were in a relation of pre-established harmony with them, as though it knew them before knowing them, it moves in its own way with its abrupt and imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory - I do not look at a chaos, but at things - so that finally one cannot say if it is the look or if it is the things that command.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty | The Visible and the Invisible



[1] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  The Visible and the Invisible.  Ed. Claude Lefort.  Trans. Alphonso Lingis.  Northwestern University Press 1968.


See also: 
Semiotics
Ideas (Alone and In Their Own Right)
that That