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  • Perception and Its Development in Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology ed. by Kirsten Jacobson and John Russon
  • Rawb Leon-Carlyle (bio)
Kirsten Jacobson and John Russon, eds. Perception and Its Development in Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology. University of Toronto Press. xiii, 374. $77.00

This collection of fifteen essays serves as a companion text to Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception in a specific manner; rather than parroting the contents of the philosopher's most popular work, this book [End Page 224] treats themes in Merleau-Ponty's work in a style akin to the development of perception itself – a process of perception perceiving itself. Readers looking for a mere recapitulation of the Phenomenology of Perception will be disappointed, as this volume instead foregrounds a manner of philosophical engagement essential to thinking with Merleau-Ponty and not simply about him.

Part One, "Intersubjectivity and Passivity," challenges the notion that perception is purely personal activity. Through an analysis of "paying attention," John Russon argues that whatever freedom there is in perception is constituted by passivity to the perceived world and its norms. Building on this, Maria Talero appeals to Merleau-Ponty's corpus and Emmanuel Levinas's notion of the image to argue that perception's activity is accomplished by the perceiver gearing into "rhythm" with the perceived. Kym Maclaren furthers this investigation of the personal nature of perception by using Merleau-Ponty's notion of "institution" to offer a new understanding of emotion, recognizing that emotions acquire their significance by virtue of the durable dimensions of our interpersonal relations with others. Susan M. Bredlau develops the interpersonal nature of perception, particularly that of the child, through an account of perceptual "incorporation": the manner in which we see according to other perceivers as we might perceive our surroundings differently using a cane or lens. Progressing from activity to passivity, from personal to interpersonal, Part One responds to the first third of the Phenomenology of Perception and its analysis of the perceiving body.

Part Two, "Generality and Objectivity," channels the second part of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception and its interrogation of the world as that which exists independently of the perceiver. Kirsten Jacobson begins with an account of spatial neglect, using the concept of the "spatial level" to explore how a portion of the supposedly "objective" world can fail to factor into a given subject's world. Don Beith continues this question of engaging with the world in its objectivity through an analysis of learning itself; our ability to engage with the world in a lasting way depends upon the network of motor habits constitutive of our body. Noah Moss Brender explores the inherited opposition of lived space and reflective space and reconciles the two by understanding reflection as a power of the living body. David Ciavatta follows this chapter on space with a discussion of natural and historical time, understanding the former in its generality to partially give itself over to the latter as personal, lived time.

Part Three, "Meaning and Ambiguity," draws out key themes of the third and final part of the Phenomenology of Perception. David Morris employs the concept of institution to argue that meaning arises through the structure of temporality itself and not merely our experience of time. Ömer Aygün appeals to the repeated image of binocularity across Merleau-Ponty's corpus to both elucidate this image and explore how images in general are employed in phenomenology. Scott Marratto responds to Levinasian critiques of Merleau-Ponty by employing the latter's analyses of painting to illustrate a philosophy of unknowing.

Whereas Parts One through Three channel Merleau-Ponty's knack for conversing with his scientific and philosophical contemporaries, Part Four, [End Page 225] "Expression," evokes his engagements with fine art. Matthew J. Goodwin explores the ideality of the invisible through the art of Gordon Matta-Clark; Stefan Kristensen locates the simultaneity of mourning in the work of Ana Mendieta; and Peter Costello revisits Merleau-Ponty's engagements with Paul Cézanne in the context of the former's ontological politics. Laura McMahon closes out the book with an extensive meditation on first-order and second-order expression, noting that philosophy's nature...


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