Maurice Merleau-Ponty (book review) Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Thomas Baldwin (Editor)


170118: this is a much later addition (3 years/3 more years): i have recently been evaluating 1) what sort, 2) who exactly, 3) which books of philosophy i have most enjoyed, and realize that though i read as determined amateur, out of love and not as student, i have read mostly according to where i started, that being Sartre, leading to 1) phenomenology (152/162), 2) of that sort somehow involving as author, subject, essays, of Merleau-Ponty (54/74), 3) of which this book is probably favourite. as i am not 'reading' as student, i actually have no pretensions of being a philosopher, i use such selections of his work as if lectures, i enjoy such to stimulate 'artistic' responses, that is my own (fictional) writing... for i have the general idea that when i can create using his (or any philosopher's) thoughts i have come closer to some understanding... now that my reading has gone on to Indic philosophy (54/95)) and feminist philosophy (56/68) and Japan-zen (32/43) and as author, subject, essays of Deleuze (23/27) and Bergson (37/54) i feel a need to think over this question of favourite philosophy texts so read again Husserl (30/34) as well: reaffirm this choice... see Merleau-Ponty as a kind of application, kind of questions, that all previous readings lead to... which does not mean I have stopped reading others...


091114 first review: this is a five. this is my favourite philosopher, of who, by whom, i have read more than any other, so even in a collection of essays and selected chapters like this- i find nothing less. these are of course translations from french, and though truly sartre is a more fluid author i find the ideas of merleau-ponty more sustaining my interest, more engaging of my thoughts, more in fact than any other phenomenologist...


after a useful editors intro, in part one there is a brief prospectus to which m-p remains faithful throughout his career. if there is a significant break or 'turn' in his thoughts, this change does not invalidate or confuse his earlier work, this is best seen as an evolution rather than rupture, this is incomplete and only at the end of his career in 'the visible and the invisible'. mostly he remains consistent, though his thought does adopt and extend terminology and ideas from husserl, heidegger, disputes with sartre...


part two has selections from his first work, 'the structure of behaviour', that indicate the importance he will develop from philosophical interpretations of psychology, and shows his difference from say heidegger in trying to deal with scientific knowledge, rather than refuse it, particularly in an evolutionary path from simplest forms of life, through animal life to human, on qualities of human consciousness where he does not hesitate to extrapolate from kant...


part three has extensive selections from m-p's masterwork, 'phenomenology of perception', which take up, naturally, the longest part of the book, to which i can only gesture as, well if you want to understand m-p, this is all his best work, most accessible, though his work will be unfinished, though he follows a 'tradition' that is radically different from that common to 'analytic' philosophers, though i cannot pretend to be able to summarize such writing. there is simply too much. i am simply too amateur. his preface begins with the question 'what is phenomenology?' and it really does not get easier. by now, having read more m-p than just these major works, have read on and a few by husserl, there is great pleasure in reading and recognizing some thoughts. part one of this selection is 'the body', for this is m-p's great concern, that we have in metaphysics separated the mind and the body, the cartesian dualism of 'substances' when we should allow only differences in 'style', in 'how', the mind and matter are essentially one, how this body image is not merely the physical, anatomical, 'mechanistic', which we as bare consciousness inhabit, but how this body is always, ever, where our world begins, how it precedes cartesian certainty, or maybe reverses the order- not 'i am because i think' but 'i think because i am', how there is necessary 'motility' of how we can sense the world, by movement, by focus, through our 'intentional arc'... this is his signal innovation to phenomenology inherited from husserl, beyond his 'cartesian meditations', continuing where husserl left off- the fact there is the body to fulfill his insistence that as humans, in addition to the 'tacit cogito', there must be a body that serves the 'i am', not simply a thinking cogito, but an 'i am able to', for there is 'pre-predicative' essence, there is being, there is body, before all else... part two of this selection is 'the world as perceived', how perception is other than an indefinitely extended causal process, how perception is anonymous and enveloping such that we are suffused by that sensation, that blue sky, that we are 'object' as 'subject', how 'the other' is possible and solipsism evaded... this involves 'pairing' and unavoidable perceptual faith, but i cannot claim to understand it as more than argument by analogy...


part four is for me the most abstract and difficult, in a selection from 'prose of the world', his early and incomplete form for 'the visible and the invisible'- primarily because it is an argument based on math and i go into brainlock at first appearance of terms like 'algorithm'...


part five is only a few pages longer than four, a selection, a chapter, from what he was working on when he died so young- that very 'the visible and the invisible'. this is the selection i had the most trouble with, and i read it twice in a row, though by now i can see this as logical extrapolation from all previous work. 'the intertwining: the chiasm' is m-p's pivotal expression of his latter work. 'the visible' is what we see, or rather in all ways sense. 'the invisible' is what we mean, or rather think in all ways. these are not in opposition but invisible 'inside' the visible but as a 'fold' and not 'nothingness'. m-p reveals struggles with his 'reversibility' theory of sensation, extending that image of 'right hand touching left hand' never coinciding, never resolved, always ambiguous, always subject always object- from tactile to visual, from touch to sight... if you ever want to test how challenging and difficult m-p can be, this is the place to look- or be looked by...


part six is two essays that could be seen as 'applications' of part five, which i had read previously in relevant collections- but this does not make them easier. this is late work, thoughts spurred by ideas, by images, of the 'chiasm'. this is art history of the most philosophical kind in 'cezanne's doubt', and theory of just what is 'doing art/art doing' in 'eye and mind'. i rec these two essays if you are at all interested in m-p...


part seven is philosophy of history seen by m-p, a rather marxist discussion of weber and the link between calvinism and capitalism...


so there is a question for me: not a new question, not a new answer- why do i read philosophy? this seems even more insistent after reading this collection, understanding some, missing much, enjoying it all. perhaps i read for the joy of thinking and thinking other thoughts. and that this is a selection, perhaps not what another editor would have chosen, not what i would have chosen, is a philosophical decision. there is the fact that in reading the reader does not actually read every letter but only a fragment of this and that one, building up what is written by following these gestures... there is the fact i hate, that some people underline or highlight lines or words that are to them important- and they are simple distraction to me... there is the fact that becomes clear to me reading essays previously read but here isolate or at least free of crowding, that these works are inexhaustible and i mean that in the best way...


well here is an answer to ‘why?’ i read philosophy: inspiration and pleasure, and as such offer these reviews to other gr readers, the inspiration primarily in my writing, the pleasure in sometimes understanding and how to share this...

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

An Introduction to Henri Bergson 220701: (this is eleven years later reread) recent read (220625)[book:Bergson’s Philosophy of Self-Overcoming: Thinking without Negativity or Time as Striving|52736601

if you like this review, i now have website: www.michaelkamakana.com 220611: this is probably the most academically accurate of the translations I have read of this book, but still prefer commentary o

Victor H. Mair (Translator) 220322: have decided to read various translations i have of this text, not that the renderings are necessarily much different but to read accompanying texts, in this case n