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Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty

Aesthetics, Philosophy of Biology, and Ontology

Veronique M. Foti

Publication Year: 2013

The French philosopher Renaud Barbaras remarked that late in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s career, “The phenomenology of perception fulfills itself as a philosophy of expression.” In Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty: Aesthetics, Philosophy of Biology, and Ontology, Véronique M. Fóti addresses the guiding yet neglected theme of expression in Merleau-Ponty’s thought. She traces Merleau-Ponty’s ideas about how individuals express creative or artistic impulses through his three essays on aesthetics, his engagement with animality and the “new biology” in the second of his lecture courses on nature of 1957–58, and in his late ontology, articulated in 1964 in the fragmentary text of Le visible et l’invisible (The Visible and the Invisible). With the exception of a discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s 1945 essay “Cezanne’s Doubt,” Fóti engages with Merleau-Ponty’s late and final thought, with close attention to both his scientific and philosophical interlocutors, especially the continental rationalists. Expression shows itself, in Merleau-Ponty’s thought, to be primordial, and this innate and fundamental nature of expression has implications for his understanding of artistic creation, science, and philosophy.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. 10-11

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pp. xi-15

I owe special thanks to Deniz Durmus, currently a doctoral candidate in philosophy and women’s studies here at Pennsylvania State University, who freely offered me any assistance I might need with the preparation of the manuscript of this book. Since its chapters were written, in the margins of teaching and other academic duties, over a span of three ...

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pp. 3-11

In the “Prospectus of His Work” submitted to the Collège de France in 1952–53, on the occasion of his candidacy for the chair in philosophy, Merleau- Ponty outlines the guiding problems of his work from The Structure of Behavior of 1942 and Phenomenology of Perception of 1945 on to his future projects in what he then envisaged as The Prose of the World and L’origine de la vérité (The Origin of the Truth).1 He characterizes his philosophical ...

Part 1 - Expression in Merleau-Ponty’s Aesthetics

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Chapter 1 - Primordial Perception and Artistic Expression: Merleau- Ponty and Cézanne

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pp. 15-26

Although Merleau- Ponty’s remarks on Cézanne’s painting in the chapter “The Thing and the Natural World” in Phenomenology of Perception are of a piece with his discussion of the painter in the contemporaneous essay “Cézanne’s Doubt,”1 the first of his three essays on aesthetics, and particularly on painting, the context of his discussion of Cézanne ...

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Chapter 2 - Expression, Institution, and the Field: A Searching Itinerary

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pp. 27-39

When Merleau- Ponty reworked “Indirect Language,” the third chapter of his never- completed book, The Prose of the World, in 1951 and 1952, to become “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence,” and eventually the lead article in the collection of essays titled Signs,1 he found himself engaged in working out what Galen Johnson calls “a general theory of expression.”2 ...

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Chapter 3 - Painterly and Phenomenological Interrogation in “Eye and Mind”

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pp. 40-56

Neither expression nor institution are foregrounded in “Eye and Mind,” written in the summer of 1960 at Le Tholonet (close to Cézanne’s natal city of Aix- en- Provence). Since this essay or short monograph concerned with painting is the last work Merleau- Ponty published,1 it is indispensable for a study of the phenomenological ontology that he sought to develop in The Visible and the Invisible, left a fragment at his death. ...

Part 2 - Expression in Animal Life

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Chapter 4 - The Expressivity of Animal Behavior: Embryogenesis and Environing Worlds

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pp. 59-79

Of the three consecutive lecture courses on nature that Merleau- Ponty offered at the Collège de France between 1956 and 1960,1 it is the second course, titled “The Concept of Nature: Animality, the Human Body, and the Passage to Culture” that offers a rich source for studying the thematic of expression, since it not only deals with sentient life but also focuses ...

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Chapter 5 - The Expressivity of Animal Appearance and of Directive and Instinctual Activities

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pp. 80-93

From the embryology of behavior and of animals’ environing worlds, as considered so far, Merleau- Ponty turns to animal activities in their mature specifi city and with a view to their oriented or quasi- teleological character, as well as to mimicry, animal appearance, and the nature of instinct. His initial partner in dialogue is Edward S. Russell, whose The Directiveness of Organic Activities appeared in 1946.1 ...

Part 3 - Expression in Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology

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Chapter 6 - The Role of Expression in Merleau-Ponty’s Dialogue with the Rationalists

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pp. 97-110

Philosophy owes to Merleau- Ponty a rich, subtle, and insightful reading of Descartes who is, for him, the foremost partner in his sustained philosophical dialogue with the seventeenth- century rationalists. This dialogue, which has so far been barely touched upon in the Merleau- Ponty scholarship,1 is pertinent here because expression is a key rationalist ...

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Chapter 7 - The Irreducibility of Expression: Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology and Its Wider Implications

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pp. 111-124

In the “Second Sketch” of “Nature and Logos: The Human Body,” which constitutes the third of Merleau- Ponty’s lecture courses on nature, he writes that “there is always a language before language, which is perception.”1 The human body is “symbolism” in a nonconventional sense, which he characterizes as expressive, noting that perception and movement symbolize, and that their ...

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Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 125-128

The trajectory of Merleau- Ponty’s thought, with its complex philosophical and interdisciplinary engagements, which are at least partially interconnected by the thematic of expression, is oriented toward re-visioning ontology. Although his late ontology is phenomenologically inspired, it moves beyond phenomenology in seeking to divest itself of any traces of a ...


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pp. 129-143


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pp. 131-157

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 159-165

Index of Persons

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pp. 167-168

Index of Topics

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pp. 169-170

E-ISBN-13: 9780810166554
E-ISBN-10: 0810166550
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129009
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129000

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Volume Title: 1

OCLC Number: 867740641
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty

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Subject Headings

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 1908-1961.
  • Expression (Philosophy).
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 1908-1961 -- Aesthetics.
  • Animals (Philosophy).
  • Ontology.
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