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Merleau-Ponty's Notion of Flesh

Fred Evans, Leonard Lawlor

Publication Year: 2000

Leading scholars explore the later thought of Merleau-Ponty and its central role in the modernism-postmodernism debate. Some of the best interpretations and evaluations of Merleau-Ponty’s innovative notions of chiasm and flesh are presented here by prominent scholars from the United States and Europe. Divided into three sections, the book first establishes the notion of the flesh as a consistent concept and unfolds the nuances of flesh that make it a compelling idea. The second section adds to the force of this idea by showing how flesh can be extended to phenomena that Merleau-Ponty was not able to treat, such as the internet and virtual reality, and the third offers criticisms of Merleau-Ponty from feminist and Levinasian points of view. All the essays attest to the fecundity of Merleau-Ponty’s later thought for such central philosophical issues as the bonds between self, others, and the world.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

We have imposed on all the essays collected in this volume a consistent English translation of Merleau-Ponty’s term “écart” as “divergence.” Certain essays have been published previously. We gratefully acknowledge Editions Flammarion for the essay by Henri Maldiney, Chair et verbe dans la philosophie de Merleau-Ponty, and for the essay by Françoise Dastur, Monde, ...


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pp. ix-x

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INTRODUCTION: The Value of Flesh: Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy and the Modernism/Postmodernism Debate

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pp. 1-20

By collecting the articles presented here—written by some of the most interesting American and European philosophers—we aim to contribute to the evaluation of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the flesh.1 Merleau-Ponty introduced his notion of chiasm—of the chiasmic structure of flesh—in his posthumous work, The Visible and the Invisible.2 He intended this notion to ...

PART I Explications of the Flesh

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CHAPTER 1: World, Flesh, Vision

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pp. 23-49

One cannot deny that the philosophical problem that oriented Merleau- Ponty’s entire approach is, in a sense, the “classical” problem of the relations of the soul and the body. Merleau-Ponty did not encounter this, however, as a “regional” problem, to which he would have devoted the full force of his reflection; rather, he encountered this problem because one of the most general ...

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CHAPTER 2: Flesh and Verb in the Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty

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pp. 51-76

Throughout his whole life—a life that is an existence—Merleau-Ponty wanted every day to be a philosopher. “To be a philosopher everyday” means to be a philosopher according to the insistent agency of time, according to the time about which Merleau-Ponty said that it is someone. In order to make each given moment something present, it is necessary to make presence itself ...

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CHAPTER 3: Perception and Movement:The End of the Metaphysical Approach

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pp. 77-87

The purpose of the Phenomenology of Perception is to describe the perceived world, as it appears beneath the idealizations of objective thought, whether empiricist or intellectualist. To this end, Merleau-Ponty tries to return to the true meaning of the perceiving subject: it is not an intellectual subject before which the world is spread out in a transparent way, but an embodied subject ...

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CHAPTER 4: The Paradox of Expression

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pp. 89-102

The ambiguous, equivocal phenomenon Merleau-Ponty calls the paradox of expression echoes one of Husserl’s statements, which the French phenomenologist often cites in the form of a motto. Section 16 of the Cartesian Meditations, which concerns the proper beginning of a phenomenologically oriented psychology, says: “The beginning is the pure and, so to speak, still ...

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CHAPTER 5: “In Praise of Philosophy”: A Hermeneutical Rereading

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pp. 103-120

The back cover of the French edition of Signs, Merleau-Ponty’s last collection of articles, states: “Signes, c’est-à-dire non pas un alphabet complet, et pas même un discours suivi. Mais plutôt de ces signaux, soudains comme un regard, que nous recevons des événements, des livres et des choses.”1 Could philosophical hermeneutics, which is the theory of the operations of understanding ...

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CHAPTER 6: The Thinking of the Sensible

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pp. 121-130

In a working note to The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty writes that philosophy “shows by words . . . like all literature.” He continues in the same note by saying that there is “no absolutely pure philosophical word” (VI 319/ 266). ...

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CHAPTER 7: Is Merleau-Ponty Inside or Outside the History of Philosophy?

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pp. 131-143

In 1956, Maurice Merleau-Ponty published a volume of essays on the history of philosophy. It was entitled Les Philosophes c

PART II Extensions of the Flesh

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CHAPTER 8: The World at a Glance

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pp. 147-164

The glance—not the gaze or the regard (which is Sartre’s territory) or studied scrutiny (the prescribed attitude of so much of Western philosophy, from Plato to at least Descartes) or even bare contemplation (an ascetic ideal). The glance has none of the gravity of these more austere and traditionally sanctioned kinds of looking. It is a mere featherweight by comparison. Instead of ...

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CHAPTER 9: Blind Man Seeing:From Chiasm to Hyperreality

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pp. 165-176

Once in a great while a play opens that should have irresistible appeal to afficionados of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Such a play is Molly Sweeney, Irish playwright Brian Friel’s extraordinary drama about the crisis in the sensory and affective life of a woman born blind who, through surgery, supplants a world of darkness with one of limited sight. Where does sensory richness lie, ...

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CHAPTER 10: Merleau-Ponty and the Origin of Geometry

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pp. 177-187

It is clear from “An Unpublished Text” that after completing Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty became committed to elaborating what he calls “a theory of truth” (PRI 6–9). It is also clear from his writings and notes that he understood this to be a fully developed account of the relationship between “the perceived world [and] the field of knowledge, i.e., the field in which the mind ...

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CHAPTER 11: Embodying Perceptions of Death: Emotional Apprehension and Reversibilities of Flesh

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pp. 189-201

Perceptions of death are extremely evocative, intrinsically affective experiences. Unless we are coroners or undertakers, our knowledge of the significance of death is not based on dispassionate observation. An advantage of Merleau- Ponty’s philosophical approach to perception is that perceptions and emotions ...

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pp. 203-216

Taken together, these two claims challenge clear-cut divisions between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the natural and the unnatural. Inverting the Platonic understanding of mimesis in which copies not only depend for their existence upon a prior origin(al), but derive their own (moral) value and aesthetic merit through the preciseness with which they imitate that origin(al), ...

PART III Limitations of the Flesh

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CHAPTER 13: Wild Meaning: Luce Irigaray’s Reading of Merleau-Ponty

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pp. 219-236

Merleau-Ponty calls for a new beginning, a recommencement of philosophy, a return to a place that will allow us to form “new instruxments” to replace those of “reflection and intuition.” Instead of the fixed subject-object opposition, or the rigid distinction between existence and essence, he wants to “rediscover . . . some of the living references” that sustain the “mystery” ...

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CHAPTER 14: Recursive Incarnation and Chiasmic Flesh: Two Readings of Paul Celan’s “Chymisch”

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pp. 237-249

Merleau-Ponty’s elaboration of the chiasmic body in The Visible and the Invisible leaves the self articulated through that body, at least in the passage quoted above, in a state of “threat” or “menace.” The other’s gaze, Merleau- Ponty notes, often burns my own body at the point seen. This burn, this wounding of my flesh, is not a trauma induced through a violation of my own ...

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CHAPTER 15: Merleau-Ponty and Feminist Theory on Experience

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pp. 251-271

Feminist philosophy, if it is to aid in the empowerment of women, must develop a better account of the relationship between reason, theory, and bodily, subjective experience.1 To quote Rosi Braidotti, we need to “elaborate a truth, which is not removed from the body, reclaiming [our] body for [ourselves]. . . . [We need] to develop and transmit a critique which respects and bears the ...


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pp. 273-276


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pp. 277-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780791492031
E-ISBN-10: 0791492036
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791446850
Print-ISBN-10: 0791446859

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2000