John Sallis: The Logos of the Sensible World: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenological Philosophy, Indiana University Press, 2019

The Logos of the Sensible World: Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenological Philosophy Couverture du livre The Logos of the Sensible World: Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenological Philosophy
The Collected Writings of John Sallis
John Sallis, edited by Richard Rojcewicz
Indiana University Press
Paperback $30.00

Susan Bredlau: The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of Our Experience of Other Persons

The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of Our Experience of Other Persons Couverture du livre The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of Our Experience of Other Persons
Susan Bredlau
SUNY Press
Hardback $80.00

Reviewed by: Peter Antich (Marquette University, Department of Philosophy, Milwaukee, WI, USA)

As conventionally posed, the problem of other minds concerns how, given that we can only observe the outward behavior of others, we can identify them as persons, as possessing minds. In phenomenology, this question more often takes the form, “How can we perceive others?” In other words, how can others figure as contents of our perception. Susan Bredlau’s new book, The Other in Perception, takes up not only this challenging question, but moves beyond it to ask how others become part of the very form of perception. The result is a helpful, insightful, and comprehensive treatment of our perceptual engagement with others.

Bredlau takes a phenomenological approach to the perception of others, i.e., she is concerned with describing the experience of others, both as contents of experience and as constituents of the very act of experiencing. Specifically, she aims to describe the role of others in perceptual experience, or more generally, in our embodied and pre-intellectual engagement with the world. Bredlau undertakes the project of describing this experience using the work of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and John Russon as her principal resources. Besides these three, Bredlau draws on a variety of other sources, including developmental psychology, Hegel, and de Beauvoir, to present a distinctive and insightful account of intersubjectivity.

Bredlau examines the role of the other in perception over the course of four chapters. The first explains the phenomenological framework Bredlau uses to analyze intersubjectivity. The second presents Bredlau’s phenomenology of interpersonal life, rooted in Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Russon. The third considers the formation of interpersonal life in childhood. The fourth analyzes the phenomenon of sexuality in order to provide insight into the nature and norms of interpersonal life generally. This leads Bredlau, in conclusion, to a reflection on the ethical dimension of the perception of others.

Bredlau’s first chapter provides the phenomenological account of perception she will use to analyze interpersonal life. This explanation involves three main parts. First, Bredlau introduces Husserl’s notion of intentionality, and explains some essential features of perceptual intentionality: its foreground-background and horizon structures. In doing so, Bredlau aims to establish the phenomenological account of the perception of things not as mental representations, but – to use Merleau-Ponty’s terms – in terms of there being for-us an in-itself. Second, Bredlau explains the embodied dimension of perception as described by Merleau-Ponty, arguing the embodied nature of perceptual experience is constitutive of its meaning and form. Drawing on Heidegger, she makes this point by noting that the meaning the world takes on for us is fundamentally rooted in practical rather than theoretical activity. Our practical engagement with the world, though, is shaped by the lived sense of one’s body as a capacity for such engagement, what Merleau-Ponty calls the “body schema.” Bredlau then turns to Russon’s concept of polytempoprality to show that every perceptual meaning is informed by a larger contextual meaning. The idea is that just as the distinct layers of a piece of music – its rhythm, harmony, and melody – fit together in a complex temporality which informs the meaning of each particular sound, so each of our isolated experiences is informed by the complex temporality of our lives. Each of our experiences, then, is embedded in a set of background meanings often not readily apparent to us.

Chapter 2 turns to the phenomenology of experiencing others. First, Bredlau confronts the problem of other minds – the problem of how we can perceive others as minds, given that mind is not outwardly observable. Bredlau argues that widespread psychological answers to this question – such as the “simulation theory” and “theory theory” – are phenomenologically inadequate. A careful description of experience reveals that we can in fact experience others as subjects, albeit as subjects engaged in a shared natural and cultural world, rather than as detached minds. Here too, Bredlau draws on Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Russon. From Husserl, Bredlau draws the notion of a “pairing” relation, as an account of how I experience the other not just as a body distinct from mine, but as a perceiver. In Bredlau’s terms, this entails not just perceiving the other as within a world oriented around me, but perceiving the world as oriented around the other. With Merleau-Ponty, Bredlau emphasizes that the perception of others is not primarily a cognitive theoretical activity, but practical and embodied: there is a bodily pairing between two perceivers that Bredlau describes as a “shared body schema.” Thus, when I perceive an object, I perceive it as perceivable not just for me, but for any perceiver, such that we experience the world as jointly – and not just individually – significant. In this sense, even though my experience of an object is not identical with the experience had by another, neither are they wholly cut off from each other, since they both participate in a shared world. With Russon, Bredlau moves beyond the problem of other minds to argue that others are not just part of the content of perception, but part of its very form. If each of our particular experiences is shaped by a meaningful context, surely one of the most significant such contexts is our relations with others. A child’s relation to their parents, for example, informs the way they approach their future relationships. Following Russon, Bredlau demonstrates this point through an analysis of neurosis. Bredlau argues that neuroses are best understood as cases in which habitual modes of taking up relationships (i.e., the meaningful context) conflict with the demands of one’s personal life. Much like Merleau-Ponty’s phantom limb example, neuroses show how our relationships are sustained by habitual modes of relating to others that can nourish or sap one’s present projects.

Having presented this phenomenological framework, in Chapter 3 Bredlau confirms it through the example of the child’s relations with others. For Bredlau, the child’s interpersonal life is a matter of the institution or Stiftung, in Husserl’s terms, of “the form of a meaningful world” (45), and as presenting a fundamental form of our relations with others, childhood offers special insight into our relations with others. Bredlau’s central claim in this chapter is that even very young children perceive others not just as things within the world, but as perceivers, sources of meaning. Bredlau introduces this claim by drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s example of playfully pretending to bite a fifteen-month old’s finger, to which the child responds by opening its mouth, as if imitating Merleau-Ponty. This example illustrates that infants recognize and are able to adopt others’ modes of behavior – not through some sort of reasoning by analogy (an infant would be unable to recognize the similarity between her outward appearance and the outward appearance of the other, given that very young children cannot recognize themselves in a mirror), but by directly perceiving the other’s behavior as intentional. Bredlau draws our attention to an overlooked feature of this passage: that the child mirrors not only Merleau-Ponty’s action, but seemingly the very moodedness of his behavior, as playful. This indicates that the child is able to perceive the world as it has become meaningful to Merleau-Ponty through this mood, i.e., as a place for play. Thus, the child already perceives Merleau-Ponty, then, not just as an object, but as “expressing a meaningful perspective” (48).

In the rest of Chapter 3, Bredlau supports this account through an analysis of childhood intersubjectivity. Here, Bredlau largely draws on child psychology, demonstrating how such phenomena as “joint attention” and “mutual gaze” confirm that a pairing relation exists between very young children and their caretakers. Bredlau relies on two main phenomena to make this point. First, she focuses on infants’ capacity to interact playfully with their caretakers. Drawing on the research of Daniel Stern (1977), she argues that this capacity for playfulness, for coordinating behavior with a caretaker, indicates that children perceive their caretakers as perceptive, for if they merely perceived their caretakers as things, they could not play with their caretakers. Second, Bredlau turns to examples of social referencing in slightly older children. For example, she draws on Suzanne Carr’s finding (1975) that children prefer to stay within the gaze of their mother – a behavior which requires that they not merely see their mothers, but see them as perceivers. Bredlau then notes that one of the distinctive features of the child’s pairing relation is that it is one of trust, i.e., one of being initiated into a meaningful world. She draws on Russon’s work to show how a child gains her sense of validity or agency from her relationship with her parents.

Chapter 4 provides a study of sexuality, a facet of interpersonal life of special interest since sexuality offers a uniquely bodily mode of engagement with others; in sexual attraction, we intend the other as a body. But as Bredlau shows, sexuality does not intend the other as a mere body, but rather as an intentional body, i.e., as a bodily subject; sexual desire for the other is, ultimately, desire for the other’s desire. This allows Bredlau, drawing on Hegel’s account of recognition, to argue that what we are ultimately concerned with, in the sexual sphere, is “embodied recognition.” Bredlau makes this point by engaging with de Beauvoir’s distinction between the sexual body as expressive and as passive. The latter points out that while men’s bodies are habituated to expressivity, women’s bodies are not. Ultimately, this disparity undermines erotic desire for both parties, indicating that sexual desire is oriented toward the mutual expressivity and passivity of both bodies. According to Bredlau, sexuality is characterized by what Merleau-Ponty calls reversibility, in which each party is simultaneously touching and touched, expressive and passive. Sexuality is fulfilled when this reversibility is affirmed in mutual recognition, in which the expressivity of one body is not lived as opposed to the expressivity of the other. Sexuality, Bredlau claims, is a case in which “our autonomy is most fully realized only to the extent that the others’ autonomy is also most fully realized” (86). Following Russon, Bredlau illustrates this idea by exploring how the vulnerability entailed by this reversibility can be “betrayed” in numerous ways, e.g., by attempting unilaterally to take control of a sexual situation or denying the shared character of the relation. Ultimately, Bredlau’s claim is that sexuality is characterized then by a sort of normativity – it is normatively oriented toward recognition – which is not the same as normalcy: when authentic, sexuality is a site for free mutual creation, rather than beholden to received notions of normal sexual life.

This claim leads Bredlau to conclude with a reflection on the ethical dimension of this project. In her view, the experience of the other is never value-neutral, but reveals ethical demands.

Bredlau’s work leaves open some questions the reader might want to find addressed in a work concerning these topics. For example, Bredlau does not consider the complications that erotic desire can pose to recognition suggested by phenomenologists like Sartre or, for that matter, Merleau-Ponty (2010, 28-40). Or, in terms of childhood intersubjectivity, it might have been interesting to consider Merleau-Ponty’s claim of a primitive “indistinction” between self and other (1964, 120). Though not exhaustive, Bredlau’s work makes a substantial contribution to the existing literature.

Specifically, in my view, this work achieves three main goods. First, it succeeds in integrating and offering a concise and lucid exposition of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Russon on interpersonal life. There is some room for Bredlau to clarify the relation between these thinkers – for example, it is a question whether Merleau-Ponty would accept Husserl’s description of “pairing” (see, e.g., Carman 2008, 137-140) which for Husserl involves an association between the interior and exterior of myself and the other (see Husserl 1999, §§50-2) that Merleau-Ponty criticizes (Merleau-Ponty 2012, 367-8). Still, Bredlau has succeeded in drawing together these distinct lines of thinking into a single and compelling account.

The second good lies in having provided such a cohesive and convincing exposition of the phenomenology of interpersonal life. Bredlau makes these often difficult concepts more readily available, and contributes an insightful account of interpersonal life that should be valuable to anyone interested in this topic.

Finally, Bredlau’s most original contributions come in her rich and compelling analyses of childhood interpersonal life in Chapter 3 and sexuality in Chapter 4. Her argument in Chapter 3 draws on contemporary psychological findings to substantiate her points about interpersonal life, not only updating the psychology used in Merleau-Ponty’s work, but creatively augmenting the phenomenology of childhood intersubjectivity. Further, her discussion of immanent norms of embodied recognition in sexuality offers an insightful avenue for thinking about the normative dimension of the perceptual experience of others. These analyses are both creative and contribute a great deal of phenomenological weight to the framework Bredlau provides in Chapters 1 and 2.

In sum, Bredlau’s work makes a substantial and engaging contribution to the phenomenology of interpersonal life at the perceptual level.

Works Cited

Carman, Taylor. 2008. Merleau-Ponty. New York, NY: Routledge.

Carr, Suzanne J. 1975. “Mother-Infant Attachment: The Importance of the Mother’s Visual Field.” Child Development, 46, 331-38.

Husserl. 1999. Cartesian Meditations. Translated by Dorion Cairns. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Merleau-Ponty. 2010. Institution and Passivity. Translated by Leonard Lawlor and Heath Massey. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty. 2012. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Donald Landes. New York, NY: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty. 1964. The Primacy of Perception. Edited by James M. Edie. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Stern, Daniel. 1977. The First Relationship. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Susan Bredlau: The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of Our Experience of Other Persons, SUNY Press, 2018

The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of Our Experience of Other Persons Couverture du livre The Other in Perception: A Phenomenological Account of Our Experience of Other Persons
Susan Bredlau
SUNY Press
Hardback $80.00

Jonathan Webber: Rethinking Existentialism, Oxford University Press, 2018

Rethinking Existentialism Couverture du livre Rethinking Existentialism
Jonathan Webber
Oxford University Press
Hardback £45.00

Ken Slock: Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty Couverture du livre Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Ken Slock
Paperback 24,00 €

Reviewed by:  Sophie Dascal (Geneva University of Art and Design)

L’ouvrage de Ken Slock tente d’initier un dialogue entre le philosophe Maurice Merleau-Ponty et le cinéaste-théoricien Jean Epstein autour desquels de nouvelles pistes de réflexion se sont ouvertes ces dernières années. Le texte de Slock, à l’intersection de l’esthétique du cinéma et de la philosophie, a pour but d’apporter non seulement un regard neuf sur la pensée d’Epstein et de Merleau-Ponty mais aussi d’aborder, à travers ces deux auteurs, certaines problématiques essentielles qui apparaissent à la frontière poreuse entre cinéma et philosophie. Bien qu’il n’y ait pas explicitement de philosophie du cinéma chez Merleau-Ponty, sa phénoménologie et l’esthétique du cinéma d’Epstein partageraient le même projet ambitieux de traiter la question du savoir dans sa relation au voir. Cette théorie de la connaissance les amène, chacun à sa façon, à repenser la place de la « raison » au sein de leur système philosophique, remettant en question par là-même la frontière entre philosophie et non-philosophie pour Merleau-Ponty et entre philosophie et cinéma pour Epstein. L’ouvrage de Slock se compose de trois parties, contenant chacune deux chapitres. La première partie présente les éléments des pensées de Merleau-Ponty et Epstein afin de les mettre en relation, notamment au travers du concept d’« ambiguïté ». La seconde partie poursuit la comparaison entre Epstein et Merleau-Ponty en se concentrant sur la notion de réversibilité ce qui permet à Slock d’amener le cinéma dans la pensée de Merleau-Ponty et d’entrer dans le cœur de sa thèse, à savoir le rapport entre la conscience cinématographique et la conscience humaine. Dans la troisième partie de son ouvrage, Slock fait intervenir un troisième auteur, Gilbert Simondon, afin de développer une esthétique de la machine basée sur l’asymétrie entre l’homme et le cinématographe. La conclusion de l’ouvrage propose alors une alternative « tactile » au modèle epsteinien basée sur le concept de profondeur tel que Merleau-Ponty le développe dans la Chair.

Dans la première partie, Slock décrit l’équilibre « précaire » de la position de Merleau-Ponty, à l’intersection entre phénoménologie husserlienne et rapprochement vers une forme d’ontologie. D’après lui, le caractère inachevé de son œuvre a amené la recherche « merleau-pontienne » à entamer un travail d’interprétation et de déchiffrement exigeant une reconnaissance d’une pensée plaçant l’opacité, l’ambiguïté et la profondeur, comme paramètres essentiels de son investigation de l’être, du monde et de l’image. Dès les premières lignes de son chapitre, Slock met en avant les problèmes que Merleau-Ponty hérite du projet husserlien de renégocier une séparation du transcendantal et de l’empirique et en particulier dans le cadre de son étude du langage. Selon Merleau-Ponty, le langage philosophique, incapable de produire lui-même un discours réflexif, est en crise et nécessite alors un discours réflexif non-verbal, ouvrant la porte aux images et aux images en mouvement, partiellement affranchies des failles du langage verbal. Le principe clé de l’intégration des images à la pensée de Merleau-Ponty serait dès lors de faire voir au lieu d’expliquer et c’est à partir de ce constat que Slock va rapprocher Merleau-Ponty d’Epstein. Même si la relation de Merleau-Ponty au cinéma repose sur un corpus restreint et même si la place accordée au cinéma est incomparable à celle accordée à la peinture, le cinéma, du fait de sa capacité immersive, donnerait la possibilité au sujet de devenir à la fois voyant et vu. A cause de sa dimension technique et artificielle, le cinéma est logiquement plus proche du langage parlé que la peinture. Cette dernière jouit d’une forme d’immédiateté et de simplicité du geste créateur qui correspond à la recherche de Merleau-Ponty d’une expérience artistique désœuvrée. Malgré cela, le cinéma possède la capacité d’offrir une réflexion sur la réversibilité de la conscience et du monde et les images cinématographiques feront peu à peu leur retour dans la pensée merleau-pontienne à mesure que le principe de réversibilité s’affine dans ses théories postérieures aux années 40.

En ce qui concerne Epstein, Slock le considère comme un auteur inclassable à plus d’un titre. Mêlant à la fois des enjeux scientifique, métaphysique et poétique, Epstein ne chercherait pas à être la conscience d’un artiste mais à décrire le cinéma en tant qu’entité artificielle indépendante. Malgré son travail théorique prolifique, celui-ci ne précède jamais l’élaboration de ses films. Au contraire, l’écrit récupère seulement ce que le film suscite en l’organisant dans un discours rationnel. Le langage écrit est toujours asservi à la rationalité et c’est pour cela que seul le cinématographe est capable de résoudre les problèmes de la philosophie en palliant aux limitations de l’esprit humain. Slock voit chez Epstein une pensée inédite de la rupture qui force le lecteur à un renversement total de ses croyances. Elle nous renvoie à une époque où la « philosophie du cinéma » restait tout à faire, un potentiel « indéfini » qui exigeait de repenser les frontières entre technologie, philosophie et image. Si le rejet de la doxa philosophique est radical chez Epstein, cela serait moins le cas chez Merleau-Ponty qui préserverait une certaine idée de la « raison ». Néanmoins, Slock rapproche le positionnement du cinéma chez Epstein, qui n’est ni une raison autoritaire, ni un pur empirisme, à l’ambiguïté de la philosophie merleau-pontienne. Mais contrairement à Merleau-Ponty, Epstein irait au-delà du stade de claudication volontaire du discours de Merleau-Ponty, en disposant d’une entité théorique capable de se soustraire aux cadres de la raison, et d’élever la perception au rang de connaissance. Slock conclut la première partie de son ouvrage en mettant en avant l’ambiguïté comme concept majeur unissant Epstein et Merleau-Ponty.

Dans la deuxième partie, Slock poursuit la comparaison entre les deux auteurs en se basant notamment sur une série de cours intitulée Le monde sensible et le monde de l’expression donnés par Merleau-Ponty en 1952-1953 et se concentre sur sa notion de réversibilité, au cœur du rapport de Merleau-Ponty à Epstein et au cinéma. D’après Slock, le concept de « mouvement », tel que développé dans les cours de Merleau-Ponty, se rapproche au plus près du « secret » de l’expressivité et c’est dans ce contexte qu’il ménagerait une place sans précédent au cinématographe. Le cinéma semblerait être, en effet, une possible mise en pratique de l’expressivité du mouvement. Mais surtout, et c’est le cœur de la thèse de Slock, le cinéma mettrait en jeu le concept de réversibilité. Ce sont plus particulièrement les dimensions de normalité et d’étrangeté qu’il met en avant car Merleau-Ponty utilise la notion d’étrangeté pour désigner la réversibilité et le rôle révélateur des procédés de manipulation de la temporalité au cinéma. Il y aurait donc rupture, pour Merleau-Ponty, entre la « normalité » attendue du cinéma en tant qu’enregistrement du réel et son étrangeté liée au choc que provoque son altérité avec le monde. Cette « normalité » amènerait Merleau-Ponty tout comme Epstein à associer le cinématographe à la conscience humaine, capable de se révolter contre cette association forcée aux normes de la perception humaine et ainsi soutenir l’idée d’un mouvement qui exprimerait plus que lui-même. Néanmoins, il est important pour Slock de défendre l’idée qu’il ne s’agit ni pour Merleau-Ponty ni pour Epstein de créer un régime d’identité entre le cinématographe et la conscience humaine. Bien au contraire, l’étrangeté évoquée par Merleau-Ponty proviendrait de l’altérité même de la conscience cinématographique face à celle de l’être humain. Avec la notion de réversibilité qui se retrouve au cœur du tournant philosophique de Merleau-Ponty, le cinéma gagne de l’importance en rendant compte du double mouvement du corps vers le monde et réciproquement. D’après Slock, cette notion est également centrale dans la relation entre Merleau-Ponty et Epstein. Mais si cette notion semble concerner l’écrit chez Merleau-Ponty, elle est le propre du cinéma chez Epstein. D’après Slock, l’intervention du cinématographe, qui fait exploser les lois de l’Univers par la réversibilité des images, mettrait fin à l’équilibre précaire de la phénoménologie pour laisser place à une pure instabilité. La réversibilité du temps, centrale dans la pensée d’Epstein, porte une valeur philosophique dont Slock ne doute pas. Slock pose dès lors la question suivante : « la temporalité alternative offerte par les images cinématographiques peut effectivement générer du savoir neuf, ou bien reste-t-elle une fiction philosophique » (128) ? Il répond positivement à cette réserve en défendant que le cinématographe, en plus de permettre de saisir cette alternative, serait également capable de générer un entendement alternatif, au travers du choc généré par la réversibilité des images, amenant ainsi la pensée brute et le monde à redécouvrir leurs liens.

Slock poursuit en se concentrant sur la question du regard de l’homme face à celui du cinématographe afin de déterminer ce en quoi ils se distinguent mais aussi ce en quoi ils se rejoignent. L’asymétrie entre ces deux regards est fondamentale d’après Slock car elle permet de rendre le cinématographe « expressif ». Le regard de la caméra s’inscrirait, pour Epstein, à un niveau « surréflexif ». Le cinéma apporterait de cette manière une solution au paradoxe phénoménologique d’une conscience capable de s’examiner sans interférer avec l’examination, mais aussi sans « s’oublier ». En effet, pour Epstein, le cinéma porte un regard qui peut assumer les distorsions sans que celles-ci soient falsifiantes. Le cinéma serait ainsi un excellent candidat pour ce « second niveau » de réflexion : « à l’écran, je découvre ma pensée “au carré” » (143). Slock propose alors un rapprochement entre l’idée epsteinienne d’un « baptême de l’écran » et la théorie du langage de Merleau-Ponty. Pour Epstein, le baptême de l’écran amène le spectateur à se confronter pour la première fois à sa propre image objectivée. En ce qui concerne Merleau-Ponty, une première rupture du silence est fondamentale car elle offre la possibilité d’expérimenter le vide, expérience qui se rapprocherait de celle du baptême de l’écran. Le spectateur se retrouve face à une image de lui-même identique mais différente, ce qui crée une instabilité dans son rapport avec sa propre identité. Cette première analogie amène Slock à en aborder deux autres : celle entre le concept epsteinien de croyance et celui d’hallucination de Merleau-Ponty et celle entre le mouvement vital selon Epstein et l’expressivité. Malgré ces similitudes, Epstein entrerait en conflit avec le désir de la phénoménologie d’un retour à l’être brut, à cause de l’intervention du cinématographe. Slock insiste en effet sur la méfiance de Merleau-Ponty à l’égard des artifices scientifiques et du culte de la technique qui en ferait un intermédiaire entre la conscience et le monde. Néanmoins, la conscience cinématographique et la conscience expressive « réformée » restent similaires d’après Slock en tant que le cinématographe n’agit pas comme une addition à la conscience, contrairement aux autres technologies, mais comme une forme expressive parallèle à celle-ci. Ainsi, Slock conclut en défendant l’idée selon laquelle le cinéma plutôt que d’amplifier la vision comme les autres outils scientifiques, offre une vue nouvelle du monde.

La troisième partie de l’ouvrage est consacrée à l’analyse de l’esthétique de la machine cinématographique au travers d’une analyse du rapport entre homme et machine en faisant appel à un troisième auteur, Gilbert Simondon. D’après Slock, le principe de la « conscience » cinématographique apparaît avec le postulat selon lequel le cinéma possède une vision différente de celle de l’être humain. C’est à partir de ce postulat que Slock défend l’idée du cinéma comme possible interlocuteur de la phénoménologie de Merleau-Ponty. Comme déjà abordé plus haut, Merleau-Ponty se méfie de l’outil artificiel comme dédoublement ou amplification du rapport naturel au monde car il met en danger la conscience irréfléchie qui s’anéantirait dans l’artifice. Ainsi, Merleau-Ponty critique l’excès de l’artifice, qu’il soit conceptuel ou technique en y opposant l’immédiateté du retour aux choses mêmes, non seulement à travers le corps percevant, mais en floutant les frontières entre le corps et le monde. Pour Slock, Epstein critiquerait également l’artifice comme valeur en soi à partir du moment où il se met au service de la rationalisation du monde. Néanmoins, Epstein défend le cinématographe qui, à l’inverse de la technique scientifique, ramène à un rapport plus originaire et non pas artificiel au monde. C’est dans ce rapport problématique de la conscience à l’artifice que Slock fait intervenir la philosophie de la technique de Gilbert Simondon, héritier de Merleau-Ponty, et qui possèderait la particularité de réussir à rendre compatible le retour au monde brut et l’artifice technique. L’idée centrale de Simondon est que la machine exprime directement l’être primitif en dialoguant avec lui et ne se réduit donc pas au prolongement d’une pensée technique et conceptuelle qui l’éloignerait de cet être. D’après Simondon, la difficulté d’intégrer les particularités techniques proviendrait du rejet culturel de son époque, de l’objet technique auquel l’on refuse toute dimension esthétique et donc une véritable valeur significative. Réduire la machine à l’outil consisterait, pour Simondon, à établir une symétrie entre celle-ci et l’homme, la vidant de son sens. C’est pourquoi, d’après Slock, le refus d’une esthétique de la machine aboutit à la fois à sa réduction au statut stérile d’outil et à sa sacralisation. Les intuitions de Simondon et de Merleau-Ponty quant à un prométhéisme de la machine seraient compatibles en ce qu’elles portent toutes deux sur une symétrie homme/machine qui donne lieu soit à une conception de l’outil comme prolongement de la conscience et une répétition automatique de sa forme, soit à l’idée d’une technique reproduisant la conscience de manière autonome. Slock fait alors intervenir Epstein et sa pensée du cinématographe, cette machine expressive qui ne s’apparente ni à un outil, ni au fantasme de l’androïde et qui entretient avec son créateur un rapport asymétrique riche de sens. Le modèle de la machine cinématographique d’Epstein offre un point de vue intéressant dans le problème « d’asymétrie » rencontré par Simondon dans sa tentative d’éclairer le rapport entre homme et technique et Merleau-Ponty dans sa réflexion du rapport entre philosophie et langage. D’après Slock, Simondon et Epstein se distinguent par leur vision différente du caractère automatique de la machine. Si pour Simondon, l’aspect automatique de la machine devrait être éliminé, pour Epstein il est fondamental dans sa capacité à manipuler le temps. Ce dernier se retrouve alors dans la tâche délicate de distinguer le pur mécanisme automatique de l’autonomie expressive de la machine. D’après Slock, il est difficile pour Epstein de faire de cette autonomie plus qu’une posture théorique. Il est pour cela vital, pour Epstein, de fonder sa pensée sur un potentiel incompressible, particulièrement en ce qui concerne la question de l’automatisme qu’il ne peut démontrer, où le potentiel du cinéma n’est appréhendé qu’en « décalage ». La réponse de Simondon au problème de l’automatisme qui correspond d’après Slock à la vision de la relation entre l’homme et la machine d’Epstein, consisterait à mettre la machine et l’homme sur un pied d’égalité asymétrique offrant la possibilité d’un dialogue. Slock conclut alors en affirmant la similitude entre les trois auteurs abordés dans la recherche d’une machine et d’une pensée qui s’articuleraient en une entité vivante.

Slock propose alors une analyse du rapport entre la machine cinématographique et le divin avant de s’atteler à la conceptualisation d’une philosophie du possible. D’après Slock, le cinéma apparait comme un outil surpuissant d’exposition de la vérité chez Epstein. Au lieu de prolonger et conforter le mode opératoire de la raison comme la science, la machine cinématographique y couperait court en instaurant sa propre autorité. La légitimité du cinéma se justifie en opérant en dehors des cadres établis par l’entendement humain, étant ainsi capable d’atteindre directement les choses mêmes. Cette conception pourrait rapprocher le cinématographe d’Epstein du divin. Néanmoins, il s’éloignerait autant de la conception du « divin », entendu comme ce qui rend possible un savoir basé sur la continuité et l’irréversibilité, que de l’humain. Face à ces deux types de pensée rigide, divin et humain, Epstein oppose la pensée fluide permise par le cinéma. Ainsi, contrairement à Merleau-Ponty qui ne distinguerait pas complètement la parole du cinématographe de sa récupération par le discours philosophique, Epstein la concevrait comme étant exclusive. Slock propose alors de situer le cinématographe dans un espace d’indétermination entre l’humain et le divin. A cela, il ajoute une mise en question de la valeur réelle du « possible » dans lequel cette alternative flotte. Cette valeur du possible constitue d’après Slock l’un des éléments essentiels de la pensée d’Epstein mais aussi l’un des points communs le plus fort entre ce dernier et Merleau-Ponty. Dans cette conception, Epstein se positionnerait contre Kant en défendant la validité épistémologique du fictif. L’écrit joue dans ce cadre un rôle prophétique, ne pouvant apporter la preuve mais seulement inciter la croyance. Slock revient alors sur le caractère divin du cinématographe, en ce qu’il ne construit pas un autre entendement mais une nouvelle apparition d’une forme d’entendement divin. Il y aurait en effet une divination de l’image chez Epstein, à partir du moment où le cinématographe possède la capacité d’insuffler à l’objet capturé une existence propre à l’écran. Slock propose alors une forte critique d’Epstein et de son échec double : « d’une part, il ne parvient pas à véritablement établir ce tiers « autre » entre Dieu et l’homme. Et d’autre part, il faillit à son discours parfois violemment critique d’une pensée assujettie à « Dieu » […] » (214). Ainsi, la pensée epsteinienne adopterait un accent ouvertement antirationaliste mais souterrainement théologique. Le renversement de la Raison amènerait à une autre tyrannie qui remet en cause l’indétermination dans laquelle Epstein veut se maintenir. Pour pallier cela, Epstein adopterait, d’après Slock, une position de « panthéiste moniste », « une posture censée lui permettre de résoudre finalement les dualismes de la philosophie, en les faisant régresser vers une unité primordiale » (216) et lui permettant de préserver une forme d’indéfinition entre le sujet et le monde qui s’entend surtout dans le sens d’une expansion radicale du sujet. Slock conclut alors cette troisième partie en insistant sur le fait que, contrairement à un prométhéisme tel que le craignait Merleau-Ponty, on assiste avec le cinématographe à une indistinction théorique entre le monde et la conscience.

Le chapitre conclusif propose une série de rapprochements entre l’esthétique du cinéma et la Chair de Merleau-Ponty en mettant en avant une alternative « tactile » au modèle epsteinien. Slock défend en effet l’importance du rôle de l’image en mouvement dans la volonté de sauvegarder le discours de Merleau-Ponty sur l’« être non coïncidant » et celle de penser l’image et l’image en mouvement comme mise en œuvre d’une réversibilité entre le voyant et le vu. Dans cette visée, Slock met en avant le concept de profondeur qui vise à réintroduire un principe d’altérité et de réciprocité dans l’ontologie merleau-pontienne et qui prendrait un sens supplémentaire lorsque mis en relation avec l’image en mouvement. La profondeur ainsi repensée amène à une redéfinition du voir fondamentalement compatible avec les théories d’Epstein et permet de confirmer une théorie de l’ouverture réciproque du voyant et du vu. D’après Slock, cette idée accompagne le problème de la proximité et de l’association du voir et du toucher, une autre voie possible pour rapprocher Merleau-Ponty du cinéma. En effet, d’après Slock, la tentative du phénoménologue de rendre la vision plus tactile, l’amènerait à préserver une forme de surréflexion en l’intégrant directement à l’expérience perceptive et ainsi mettre en relation réversibilité et cinéma. Pour Slock, il est primordial de poursuivre la volonté de permettre à l’expérience spécifique du cinéma et à la corporéité de la conscience merleau-pontienne de mieux se définir mutuellement. Pour lui, redéfinir la vision du cinéma comme vision tactile amènerait l’idée du film comme étant lui-même un corps percevant à la rencontre duquel le spectateur s’avance. Au travers du principe de réversibilité, le film devient sujet percevant, une structure à la fois perceptive et expressive. Cette conception l’amène à proposer une alternative à la théorie d’Epstein en pensant l’écart à travers l’interface avec laquelle la conscience perceptive va interagir avec cet « autre » présent dans les images en mouvement. Le film devient alors un corps à la fois voyant et visible et l’écran un espace de dialogue entre le corps du spectateur et celui du film. Cette conception de surface tactile marquée par le principe de réversibilité, désigné par les termes de surface et de profondeur, apparaît pour Slock comme la métaphore la plus pertinente destinée à penser le film comme interlocuteur corporel du spectateur. Ainsi pour Slock, « le cinéma n’offre pas de coïncidence complète du spectateur et du film, mais bien un rapport tactile au sens entendu ici, puisque c’est sur un même mode qu’ils sont chacun voyant et vu à la fois. La créature cinématographique d’Epstein se retrouve ici réduite à sa surface, l’écran, réciproque de l’épiderme humain » (246).

L’ouvrage de Slock présente une thèse intéressante et inédite sur la relation entre les pensées de Merleau-Pony et d’Epstein sur le cinéma et élabore une conception phénoménologique du cinéma qui ouvre sur un rapport « tactile » entre le spectateur et le film. Une des grandes forces d’une telle conception est son ouverture sur une possible réflexion sur les usages contemporains de l’image en mouvement comme les écrans tactiles ou la réalité virtuelle et augmentée. Ce livre me semble d’intérêt non seulement pour les chercheurs qui se consacrent à Merleau-Ponty ou Epstein, mais également pour les théoriciens du cinéma qui s’intéressent à des questions ontologiques et aux usages et développements contemporains de l’image en mouvement.

Jasper van Buuren: Body and Reality, Transcript Verlag, 2018

Body and Reality: An Examination of the Relationships between the Body Proper, Physical Reality, and the Phenomenal World Starting from Plessner and Merleau-Ponty Couverture du livre Body and Reality: An Examination of the Relationships between the Body Proper, Physical Reality, and the Phenomenal World Starting from Plessner and Merleau-Ponty
Jasper van Buuren
Transcript Verlag
Paperback 39,99 €

Pierre Guenancia: La voie de la conscience, Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricœur. Une histoire personnelle de la philosophie, Puf, 2018

La voie de la conscience, Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricœur. Une histoire personnelle de la philosophie Couverture du livre La voie de la conscience, Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricœur. Une histoire personnelle de la philosophie
Pierre Guenancia
Paperback 19,00 €

Don Beith: The Birth of Sense: Generative Passivity in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy, Ohio University Press, 2018

The Birth of Sense: Generative Passivity in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy Couverture du livre The Birth of Sense: Generative Passivity in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy
Series in Continental Thought, № 52
Don Beith
Ohio University Press
Hardback $76.00

Kirsten Jacobson, John Russon (Eds.): Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology

Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology Couverture du livre Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology
Kirsten Jacobson, John Russon (Eds.)
University of Toronto Press
Hardback $56.25

Reviewed by: Miguel A. Sepúlveda Pedro (Université de Montréal)

Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology (henceforth Perception and its Development) is a volume of fifteen papers from different authors, each addressing the most significant (or at least the most explicitly addressed) topic of the philosophical path of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, that is perception. Each chapter focuses on a specific subset of philosophical issues related to perception, all of them initially addressed by Merleau-Ponty in The Phenomenology of Perception (henceforth the Phenomenology).

Perception and its Development has two strikingly original aspects. First, although the authors use ideas thematized by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology as guidelines for their expositions, their understandings of these ideas are not limited to this context. Rather, the authors commonly enlarge the scope of their analyses beyond the Phenomenology, tracking conceptual developments through Merleau-Ponty’s later works. This strategy both offers us a different and broader perspective on the Phenomenology, and opens the door to new hermeneutical possibilities of this work that are unexplored in other companion readers. Secondly, while the authors do considerable hermeneutical work to reach this wider perspective, they do not subject us to extensive commentaries of Merleau-Ponty’s original texts. Instead, they usually appeal to more contemporary problems in diverse areas of philosophy, science, arts, and even politics, a method that unveils through demonstration the similar approach used by Merleau-Ponty in his work to the philosophical problems of his concern.

The fifteen chapters are separated in four sections. The logic behind the section divisions, the editors claim (8), is to reproduce the progressive advance made by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology, from the most basic aspects of our perceptual experience (i.e. our practical engagement with the environment as individuals), to the most complex contexts where our perception is at work—namely, in arts and politics, those activities proper to human culture. Despite the general similitude in the organization of Perception and its Development with the Phenomenology, the structure of this volume also displays a very different order of exposition. For instance, Perception and its Development begins by explicitly addressing the questions of passivity, intersubjectivity, and even freedom—all subjects that are addressed much later in the Phenomenology. This new order has both negative and positive consequences. The fact that there is no detailed account of the notions of “perception” and “the body” in the context of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology before deeper consequences of this phenomenological approach (especially those in later periods of his philosophy) are addressed may prove a real challenge for the novice reader of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy who, without first being lead to the proper conceptual clarity, may find themselves confused by claims made in Perception and its Development. Nevertheless, the alternative would be to follow the less original path already taken by most companion readers to the Phenomenology. In a positive light, then, the reordering of the topics of the Phenomenology, together with their integration with his later accounts of expression (a fundamental aspect of his post-phenomenological period) and his unfinished ontology highlights the pertinence of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy for addressing the ongoing philosophical concerns on particular aspects of perception like intersubjectivity.

Given their depth and complexity, a detailed description of the ideas posited in each chapter surpasses the scope of this review. In what follows, I shall summarize the main proposals of each author, focusing on the four conceptual divisions of this book.

Part I is titled “Passivity and Intersubjectivity” and deals explicitly with these topics, but it quickly becomes clear that freedom is also a crucial concept for immersing ourselves in the question of passivity in our perceptual lives. In chapter one, John Russon describes the act of (paying) attention as an act of freedom. This freedom is, however, not to be understood as the independent will of our minds (25), but as an act shaped and constrained by the organic nature of our bodies, the physical conditions of the environment, and, fundamentally, our engagement with others in shared projects (28-29). This is because our perceptual attention exhibits the capacity of our bodies to be responsive to particular conditions of the environment that call for a specific set of actions (i.e. bodily skills) on particular features of the environment, which appear as possibilities for action or affordances (30). This responsiveness of the body is generated through a process of habituation (31), but the normative process of habit acquisition is importantly determined by the intersubjective dimension. This is because the plasticity of the world and of the body is not enough to establish the necessary conditions for the criteria of adequateness needed to make our bodies responsive to worldly situations (32). Work and communication are described by Russon as further expressions of our freedom in human contexts (35-36).

In chapter two, we find a more detailed description of the nature of the interrelation of the body and the environment in what Maria Talero calls experiential workspace. This experiential workspace describes “the enactive coupling of bodily and environmental potentialities” (45). That is, the space where the bodily skills and the affordances of the environment are related. In this regard, the attunement of the body and the environment, in Talero’s metaphor, is like catching the rhythm of a piece of music when we dance. It is by understanding the rhythm of music in my body that I am able to coordinate my body movements with those of my partner, and effectively dance (49).

In chapter three, Kym Maclaren employs two further concepts to improve our understanding of the body/environment entanglement: institution and emotion. In Merleau-Ponty’s later work, the notion of institution clarifies how the body, the world, and their interrelation are not set in advance of their actual interaction. Maclaren names this process an entre-deux dialogue between an embodied being and the environment (52). The open-ended nature of the body-world entanglement, become stabilized (instituted) in a narrative form (56), like a story that help us to understand where something comes from (its past), but also, by setting the orientation of its future developments, where something is going, thus establishing “a matrix for future elaborations” (56). Maclaren offers three examples of institution: artistic expression, perception, and emotion, the most intriguing of which is the latter. Emotions, such as the love described by Merleau-Ponty in his lectures of Institution, are not psychological states of individuals, but the very relation through which two people are entangled (66). The expressive behavior of the other (their gestures, words, and actions) shapes the way I open toward them, and vice versa, such that the realm of emotion institutes a way of being with the other, a “binary rhythm” (66). Maclaren draws on an example of this from Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Child Relations with Others,” (in The Primacy of Perception) in which a child needs to reconfigure his emotional relation with his family after the birth of a new brother. Essentially, this child needs to “institute” a new form of interrelation with his family, given the loss of his position as the youngest son. This process of institution is possible only when the child reestablishes the equilibrium of the interfamilial relations (69).

Maclaren’s descriptions of emotions working as institutions of our relations with others preludes the central idea of chapter five, in which Susan Bredlau shows that perception may involve the active role of others as a form of incorporation. Merleau-Ponty argues in the Phenomenology that a blind person using a cane to navigate, given their habitual use of it, may incorporate the tool to the sensibility of their body. Likewise, for Bredlau, our perception extends its reach by involving the active participation of other people (82). An incorporation, Bredlau explains, involves a new form of sensitivity: the use of the cane is not the transformation of tactile experience in vision-like experience. Rather, it entails the acquisition of a new form of spatial navigation. Thus, “both perceiver and perceived take on new identities” (82). Bredlau distinguishes three types of scaffoldings based on other people incorporations: placement, engagement, and handling. The first type concerns the role of others drawing the paths of movement; the second refers to the influence of other people in constraining the possible actions that can be afforded in particular situations; and the third involves their participation in the development of the bodily skills necessary to function in such situations (95).

In part II, “Generality and Objectivity” the focus is turned from the most basic layers of our immediate perceptual experience of and ability to cope with the world to what gives to perception its “general” or even “objective” character, that is, that we naturally experience the world of perception as an independent reality given the stable structures of our perceptual field. In this regard, Kristen Jacobson, in chapter five, focuses on the virtual dimension of the body (the set of bodily skills learned by the body in his developmental path to cope with the environmental conditions) and the establishment of spatial orientation in what Merleau-Ponty names spatial levels (the meaning of the situation that is revealed through “calls,” or possibilities for action, corresponding to the acquired bodily skills) (103). From this perspective, Jacobson addresses the case of spatial neglect, a condition where people, having suffered brain damage, are incapable of moving one side of their bodies, and equally incapable of explicitly perceiving this same side in their visual field (104). In Jacobson interpretation, patients neglect one side of their visual fields because, while their “habitual” body (the body as structurally instituted in the past) is able to perceive the actual set of affordances in the environment, their actual bodily capacities, given their new physical condition, impede their ability to adequately respond to this environment such that they are no longer capable of making sense of this part of their visual field (113). They have lost the capacity to actualize their body/world relation—a condition that is similarly analyzed by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology, in cases such as that of Schneider (111). Thus, what is at stake in this condition is the incapacity of their lived bodies to create new spatial levels by actualizing the relation between their actual bodily skills and the present environmental conditions, a capacity we normally possess, and through which we adapt ourselves to the ever-changing realm of worldly situations (115).

The nature of the constitution (or institution, in the proper vocabulary of Perception and its development and of Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy) of these spatial levels and the habitual body is a temporal process that Don Beith describes in more detail in chapter six. The crucial step of this chapter is to highlight that the habitual body grounds its own stability through movement. As it has been argued in the previous chapters of this volume, the body “learns” to respond to situations by establishing patterns of movement, or motor habits, in developmental time (127), which are seen to be physical constraints on the scale of evolutionary time (128). The differences between the living bodies of humans and octopuses provide a good example of the peculiarities of movement and the institution of their bodies. Octopuses do not possess joints like us, their bodies are quite flexible. Joints, however, are fixed points of articulation that enable the opposition of different parts of our body and support further sequences of movement and patterns of locomotion. Since an octopus lacks these joints in its physical body, it needs to create the fixed points in its own patterns of movement—that is, in moving, it creates its own joints (126). By contrast, we have joints that certainly constraint the flexibility of our limbs, but at the same time increases the possibilities of movement for our whole body. Thus, paradoxically, the reduced flexibility of our limbs increases the range of freedom of our bodily movements (129). An interesting comparison between perceiving and learning to read is made by Beith at the end of this chapter. Beith believes that we learn to read by writing, and only understand the meaning of read words by also being actively engaged in the motor task of speaking and writing (135).

Although the editors say that the second part of Perception and its development would directly deal with the concepts of generality and objectivity in perception, it is not until chapters seven and eight that such concepts are explicitly addressed. In chapter seven, Moss Brender turns our attention from the perceptual realm of lived space to the perceptual experience of objective space, and in particular our perception of things. Drawing on two of Koehler’s experiments with chimpanzees, both quoted by Merleau-Ponty in the Structure of Behavior (his first important philosophical work), Moss Brender argues that chimpanzees do not possess the capacity to understand the localization of a thing in space if this localization is not relative to the motor actions of their own bodies (145); they remain attached to the present demands of a given situation (147). Humans, by contrast, are capable of understanding the position of things by virtually positioning their own body as if they were occupying the position of the thing, thus possessing a “mobility of perspective” (149). The key to understand the difference between lived and objective spatiality is the exercise of symbolic conduct (150): a sort of second order capacity, a second power (152), that turns the habitual motor significances into explicit or thematic objects of our experience (152). Moss Brender further describes how space has a crucial temporal dimension. On the one hand, space, as grounded in the developmental nature of the body, has an unfixed meaning that is open to the constant changes of that body. On the other hand, the meaning of space cannot be reduced to the activity of this body since space also involves a general or impersonal dimension that precedes the very existence of any-body (154). Hence space has a meaning or a particular orientation before the birth of my body, such that my body and the space it accesses is inherited by a past that is general, like its “evolutionary history” (154). Therefore, the space in which the body participates, the general space embodied by the orientation of the general past, is a tradition or an institution (155), but one that cannot be made fully explicit insofar as it transcends every possible individual body.

In chapter eight, David Ciavatta explicitly approaches the subject of time, and in particular its generality. He argues that, although our notion of time as an objective dimension of the world is rooted in the lived time of the embodied subject, it is the cyclical nature of time that gives it its generality, which does not correspond to any particular experience, but makes all of them possible. Essentially, the cyclical nature of the organic aspects of our bodies (such as breathing) and of natural events (such as day/night patterns) engender an attitude of indifference in experience of any particular moment of these cycles (161). Nonetheless, there is a discontinuity within this generality that makes these recurrent patterns identifiable as episodes of an even more general (or continuous) time, just like this present moment is part of the present day of the present week, and so on. (172). These temporal episodes, always nested in broader cycles, do not represent a simultaneous happening of all of them at once (173), but a disintegration of cycles into more general fields of presence (174). However, since the generality of time is grounded on the existence of individual cycles, each episode of time has an individuality that makes it unique in the general field of time (175). In this regard, any experiential subject has a limited duration marked by the start of their own birth. The time before their birth cannot, nonetheless, be experienced by them, though it can be experienced by someone else. The experience of natural cycles has the same historical or episodic feature. Consequently, the world has its own duration, its own history, its own episode, that is also part of a more general time. But here, we face a level of generality that cannot be lived by anybody—that is, the world has a past that has never been present, and this reveals some sort of natural a priori of time (177).

Part III, “Meaning and Ambiguity,” addresses the eponymous themes in terms of perceptual experience. In keeping with the question of time, David Morris, in chapter nine, lead us deeper into the question of how the temporally open-ended relation of living beings and the environment grounds the emergence of meaning. Morris’s metaphor of “balancing” is helpful in understanding Merleau-Ponty’s description of meaning as something “never fully present” for a subject, but instead present only as a temporal phenomenon of expression and institution. Although “balance” might be “represented” as a point in the idealized space of Newtonian physics, this “point” is actually unreachable in the temporal unfolding of the world. This balance, though, still might be considered as real if we consider it as a phenomenon of time—that is as balancing (201). Briefly, the balancing movement might be oriented towards an optimal state of balance, but this optimality depends on the forces already at work at any particular moment of the movement (such as gravity, momentum, inertia). Thus a balancing object moves towards this never fully given point of balance (its future) that carries on its past (the preset of the dynamic forces) (201). The establishment of (spatial) levels exhibits the same characteristic of balance in terms of the body. The habitual response of the body to the call of different situations is guided by a norm that is not fixed or set in advance of the actual history of embodiment and enactment of the space of any particular situation (198). However, in this latter case, the past of the body is not only the immediate past of its movement, but also the stable structure of the past represented by the habitual or virtual body, and the actualization of his actions when coping with the present conditions of the environment (199). This same phenomenon occurs in perception, where significant changes take place at the level of the stable structure of the environment (200). Finally, to understand the logic of perceptual development, in this normative sense, Morris turns our focus to the questions of expression and institution in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. Basically, Morris argues that perception is an expressive act that involves the generation of new meanings through an institutional process (203). Perception articulates new levels by generating new optimal points of balance (meaning), from the already given forces (the instituted past) in its encounter with the present. However, since this expressive act generates a never fully given meaning, the indeterminateness of meaning leaves room for the institution of new meanings (205). This indeterminateness, however, possess a directedness which is an excess, or a pregnancy of potential for new meanings. This excess, Morris argues, is temporality itself (212).

In chapter ten, we find one of the most peculiar texts of this volume. Ömer Aygün, begins by addressing Merleau-Ponty’s characterizations of binocularity from the Structure of Behavior to his posthumous work The Visible and the Invisible. Later, Aygün contrasts the different modes of existence implicated in binocularity and in the monocular vision of Cyclopes, as described in ancient Greece literature. Fundamentally, Aygün argues that binocularity, for Merleau-Ponty, cannot be grounded on the Cartesian idea of two already given separated (retinal) images that are later unified by consciousness. Neither the physical stimuli nor an act of consciousness are enough to explain its unified nature (223-24). This raises the problem of the integration of two different perspectives unified in the visual experience we habitually have. A more holistic approach to binocularity is taken by Merleau-Ponty as early as the Structure of Behavior, but it is in the Phenomenology that Merleau-Ponty offers an account of this issue in terms of an existential project (225)—that is, in terms of the articulation of the body in light of a particular situations soliciting movement. The synthesis of binocular visual fields is thus reached through the seeing subject’s the being-in-the-world rather than in consciousness. Moreover, the kind of unification represented by this binocularity is more than a synthesis. In the Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes this synthesis as a metamorphosis that expresses the power on perception (perceptual faith) to reveal the world as a unified whole where communication with others is possible (228). This communication, like binocular vision, also entails the ambiguity of two perspectives looking at the same object, but nonetheless engaged in one single project (237). By contrast, for the monocular view of the cyclops, the world is revealed as a sheer positivity (that is, presences without ambiguity) (230). This makes him an isolated being, enclosed in his solipsism, and thereby excluded from the normative domain of law, language and love, characteristic of humans.

In chapter eleven, Marrato responds to Levinas criticisms on Merleau-Ponty’s account of alterity. For Levinas, Merleau-Ponty ignores the radical separation between the self and the other (243). Marrato identifies three main lines of criticism. First, Levinas considers that the reversible experience of the body, of touching and being touched, is not equivalent to the experience of touching and being touched by another person’s body. Secondly, he argues that Merleau-Ponty’s account of expression does not highlight the fundamental communicative role of this phenomenon. Finally, Marrato argues, for Levinas, Merleau-Ponty’s focus on visual perception for his philosophical inquiries makes him more concerned with questions about the knowledge of the world than about the ethical engagement with the other (243). In response, Marratto argues that Merleau-Ponty’s account of vision is not the typical theoretical model found in Western philosophy, where the perceiver is detached from the perceived. Instead, vision is an act very similar to touch. But unlike touch, vision is a distancing experience that further emphasizes the inherent depth of the horizons of the world (245). To perceive is, indeed, an active engagement of the body in its response to the solicitations of the environment, Perception, that is, is already an expressive behavior, and the art of painting “prolongs” this power of expression (244). Painting, thereby, does not represent the world but articulates new forms of meaning, a new way to look at the world. Painting, Marratto argues, is already an ethical act since a normative dimension is already present in the very act of expression (246). Expression is achieved when the painter or the seer gives birth to a new meaning—but this meaning is not merely the creation of the painter or the seer. Rather, the visible imposes its own criteria of correctness on the act of expression (246), even as the visible is itself not fully determined in advance (246-47). In this regard, vision opens up to something that is other than itself, questioning and responding through the expressive act of painting and perception. It is in the distance between the question and the response that “the spade of alterity” emerges (247). This space of alterity inhabits the body itself since the reversible act of the hand touching and being touched exhibits a never fully given coincidence within itself (248). A similar account is given across the different modalities of perception (such as vision and touch, 248) and in binocularity (249). Hence the expressive act of perception always involves some degree of alterity.

The last part of the book— “Expression”—is comprised of four texts that turn our attention from Merleau-Ponty’s account of perception towards his inquiries into expression and ontology, and lead us beyond the Phenomenology. In chapter twelve, Mathew J. Goodwin explores the notion of aesthetic ideas. Instead of adopting the traditional position, which considers thinking and sensation as two separated realms, Goodwin argues that aesthetic ideas make our perception more profound, by revealing the sensible in “its lining and depth” (253). Goodwin starts by introducing us to the distinction made by Merleau-Ponty (adapted from Leonardo da Vinci) between two different kinds of artistic expressions: prosaic lines and flexuous lines. Prosaic lines aim to define, once and for all, the positive attributes of things, like “an eidetic invariant that is never actually perceived” (257)—namely, it is a mere process of abstraction. By contrast, flexuous lines aim to bring our aesthetic experience toward the very genesis of our perceptual experience, the lived space where things are situated and where they become enacted by our bodily activity. Likewise, an object is drawn “…according to whatever interior forces of development originally brought it into being…”. (258). Thus, it is by revealing this genesis that an artist gives us an aesthetic idea, making visible the usually invisible depth of a thing (258). Goodwin later argues in this chapter that Mata Clark’s sculptural performances are a good instance of these aesthetic ideas.

Stefan Kristensen, in chapter thirteen, makes reference to another artist’s work: that of Ana Mendieta. He argues that phenomenal space and the ontological notion of the flesh in Merleau-Ponty entail the phenomenon of mourning. Phenomenal Space or depth are concepts that redefine our traditional notions of space and time (273). Instead of conceiving space and time as already given dimensions where objects and events are juxtaposed and mutually excluded, depth is the dimension where they are seen to encroach upon one another (273). Kristensen is especially interested in the phenomenon of mourning as it is implicated in the temporal dimension of depth (275). Merleau-Ponty describes our experience of the world as involving not only its presence, but also its past. This past is not the discovery of a pre-existence, but the formation of something “that appears as having already been there” (276). Hence when we understand, for instance, a sentence or perceptual gestalt, we make a “backwards movement.” Likewise, the meaning of an utterance or a picture is given only afterwards (276). For perception, it is the structure of the body schema that establishes the “ground of praxis” for individuals’ action and perception (277). However, this foundational dimension of the body represents the already-being-there of the body, its past that cannot be seen but afterwards (278). Mourning, then, is the process of restructuring bodily spatiality (279) insofar as it is a process that set us free from the past, allowing us to become newly instituted in the present. Nonetheless, the divergence of the body from itself is a process of loss, through which the subject of perception has already vanished even before they try to look at themself. Ana Mendieta’s work, for Kristensen, exhibits the intertwining of presence and absence that make manifest the overlapped temporality of the body and space where the past (that has never been present) and the present (enacted by the presence of the past) converge (280).

In chapter fourteen, Peter Costello reveals the political dimension of the ontological descriptions of the flesh in Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy. The immersion of the body in the world, becoming part of the flesh (the ontological basis of meaning) exhibits its dual form of appearance as seeing and being seen. This phenomenon, for Costello, is analogous to the Aristotelian affirmation that democracy requires the capacity of citizens to govern and being governed (285). The flesh is also defined as the “formative medium of the object and the subject” (285), and represents the prior dimension of that traditional dichotomy. Moreover, the immersion of the body in the flesh involves the interrelation of the body with multiple (anonymous) other bodies, and thus has an intercorporeal aspect to it (285). This means that the flesh enables an anonymous dimension of visibility (286), like the space of the intertwining with other people—that is, the public space where we are always already interrelated one each other. Nevertheless, the full access to this public space involves our explicit engagement in it, by mutually caring for one another so as to create a community (288). In this regard, Costello considers that for Merleau-Ponty, Cézanne incarnates the democratic nature of the flesh in his paintings by considering color not as an already given property of things (292)—what Cézanne calls “the tyranny over color”—but as symptomatic of the relational space of things and the body, where colors emerge as a spontaneous organization (ibid) only insofar as we participate in their visibility. This makes the observers part of the enactment of colors in Cézanne’s paintings, thereby introducing us to the public space in which things, the painter, and the observer are intertwined in the visual experience (296).

The volume ends with an exquisite text from Laura McMahon, where phenomenology is described as (the reflection on) first order perception. McMahon begins her argument by distinguishing between first- and second-order expression. For Merleau-Ponty, a thought or an idea cannot be given before its linguistic expression since it is in the process of its concrete articulation in language that thought become explicit for the thinker themself, and for the others. Consequently, it is in the moment of speaking or writing that thoughts acquire their particular meaning, their existence (310). However, linguistic expression involves two possibilities: the banal enunciation of already given meanings in second-order speech; and the first-order speech that involves the first-time enunciation of a meaningful utterance, such as when children first begin speaking, or when a poet or philosopher opens a new field of meaning or “world” (314). The institution of a new meaning, therefore, does not constrain the individual to expressing themself through the already given network of significations of the human world, but allows them to break the “primordial silence” of the world (315) by enacting new manners of experiencing it. Expression, nonetheless, is not limited to human speech, since perception is already an expressive act that maintains a “creative dialogue with the things of the world” (316); perception itself is a “nascent logos” (ibid.). The meaningful wholes of perception (Gestalten) are the analogous unities of meaning to sentences in speech (317). In here, McMahon argues, it is also possible to find a second order of perception where things appear as already made objects, fully given in advance to our encounter, as if our own presence were irrelevant for their appearance. This second-order perception describes the experience of the world in a natural or unreflective attitude (320). By contrast, first order perception looks at the very genesis of things: the lived space where we, as perceivers, are already involved in the genesis of the appearance of things. In this regard, the act of perception looks at itself, and not only at what is perceived (321). This kind of self-perception leads Merleau-Ponty in the Visible and the Invisible to talk about what he calls radical reflection. This kind of reflection uncovers its own roots (322), by revealing the genesis of signification in the already given meaning of things. The implicit order of the world experience in second-order perception and in second-order reflection is best carried out by “positive” scientific thought (323). By contrast, the task of radical reflection, analyzing first-order perception, is the task of phenomenology itself. (324).

At the end of the introduction (18-19), the editors mention two important aspects of what they hope this book will achieve. One is to use this book as a companion for the Phenomenology; another is to treat Merleau-Pontian phenomenology as a practice rather than an object. In terms of the first target, I believe the success of this book depends on the degree of Merleau-Pontian expertise that reader brings to their reading. The novice reader may find the multiple terms and metaphors used by the authors, corresponding to different periods of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, confusing. Furthermore, a semantic promiscuity is pervasive across the different chapters, and readers might get confused by the multiple names used to refer to what seems to be the same concept, or at least concepts more closely linked than any author lets on (e.g. lived space, phenomenal space, depth and flesh). Without a further clarification, it is not clear if these terms are used as synonyms or if a nuanced sense is developed through the use of each term. By contrast, for someone already immersed in the vocabulary and general ideas of the Phenomenology, the use of this book as a companion piece will help them deepen their reading of the Phenomenology, explore Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy, and track the development of certain concepts. In respect of the second purpose, I find this volume undoubtedly successful. The fresh approach to the subject of perception that incorporates Merleau-Ponty’s late thought, as well as topics of more immediate, contemporary philosophical concern, avoids the repetitive enunciation of the concepts that one can already find in other companions to the Phenomenology. In conclusion, the works bound in Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology certainly open new possibilities for our practice of reading Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, and for the use of his ideas in addressing contemporary concerns.

Cited Works by Merleau-Ponty

The Structure of Behavior. Trans. Fisher, Alden L. Vol. 3: Beacon Press Boston, 1942/1967. Print.

Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Landes, Donald A. New York, NY: Routledge, 1945/2012. Print.

The Visible and the Invisible: Followed by Working Notes. Northwestern University Press, 1964/1968. Print.

The Primacy of Perception: And Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History, and Politics. Northwestern University Press, 1964. Print.

Institution and Passivity: Course Notes at the College De France (1954-1955). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2003/2010. Print.

Keith Whitmoyer: The Philosophy of Ontological Lateness, Bloomsbury, 2017

The Philosophy of Ontological Lateness: Merleau-Ponty and the Tasks of Thinking Couverture du livre The Philosophy of Ontological Lateness: Merleau-Ponty and the Tasks of Thinking
Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy
Keith Whitmoyer
Bloomsbury Academic
Hardback $102.60