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Reviews187 Inscriptions: Between Phenomenology and Structuralism, by Hugh J. SUverman; xvi & 390 pp. New York: Roudedge and Kegan Paul, 1987, $29.95. This is a book with a very wide remit. Its aim is to trace the paraUel progress of phenomenology and structuralism, showing how the two are interrelated and differentiated. It does so "for phenomenology from the later Husserl through Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty and through structuralism from de Saussure through Lévi-Strauss to Lacan" (p. xü). The book foUows this tortuous phUosophic story through aU its twists and turns. Let me take one example as representative: the discussion of ambiguity in the work of Merleau-Ponty which appears at the heart of the book. It is well known that Merleau-Ponty bridged the gap between phenomenology and structuralism . He has always been thought of as a phenomenologist but a great deal ofhis work was a detaüed rejection of much of Husserl's thinking. He was also, in France at least, one of the earliest admirers of Saussure. Süverman notes that many works about Merleau-Ponty (those, for instance, of Alguie, de Waelhens , WUd, Lefebvre) have noted this ambiguity, but he considers their treatment of it superficial. He finaUy homes in on TUliette, who no longer thinks of ambiguity as a way of resolving a dualism but rather as the very definition of existence. SUverman then deals with ambiguity under five headings: sense experience, human existence, perception, the body, and temporality. The conclusion is that understanding or self-knowledge must be the experience ofbeing ambiguous: "Hence our contact with ourselves wül always be within the sphere ofambiguity. Our knowledge ofambiguity wül be in the terms ofour ambiguity. In fact, our knowledge of ambiguity wiU be our ambiguity" (pp. 81-82). SUverman then shows how this ambiguity is also temporal. This fascinating line of thought seems then to go underground during an extended discussion of Merleau-Ponty's treatment oflanguage, surfacing briefly over eighty pages later in a passing reference to the ambiguity of language (p. 169). This is foUowed by an interesting account of Sartre and language, a section which has a good analysis of Sartre's work on Genet. On the whole the essays on Sartre seem less interesting than those on Merleau-Ponty, maybe because Sartre is the less interesting thinker of the two. Ambiguity operates as a kind of subtext throughout the book returning in the later sections on Derrida and in Süverman's summing up: "The signs of the self are produced through the interpretation and maintained through the ongoing activity of interpretive experience. Self-knowledge therefore wül depend upon a careful understanding of signs in relation to one another. These signs however are not separable from the understanding that reveals them. This ambiguity is the perplexity of western phUosophy" (p. 342) and has motivated aU its dualisms. The author suggests that we need a "hermeneutic 188Philosophy and Literature semiology of the self" which "wiU show that the separation is artifice" (p. 342). Those same signs that are interpreted are themselves signs of an interpretative act: "The interpretive act is the presence and actualization of the self's sign system and it yearns to be recovered—through interpretation itself" (p. 345). The chapters on Merleau-Ponty form the core of the book in more ways than one. More overdy than the other phUosophers dealt with here, MerleauPonty worked within this struggle between phenomenology and structuralism and it is here that Silverman's discussion of ambiguity is best able to play on that dialogue and become genuinely exciting. The chapters on Husserl and Heidegger are, in a sense, introductory and the discussion of Derrida seems less original ifonly because Derrida makes his own case so well. But it is, without doubt, a real advantage to have the whole dialogue drawn together into one volume which is worthwhüe for its discussion of Merleau-Ponty alone. University of EssexDavid Pollard Samuel Johnson and Three Infidels: Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, by Mark Temmer; 212 pp. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988, $25.00. This volume is clearly the culmination of years of reflection on the writers under scrutiny, their psychological and intellectual make...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 187-188
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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