The Being of the Phenomenon (book review) Renaud Barbaras

Merleau-Ponty's Ontology


Ted Toadvine,

Leonard (Translators) Lawlor,

John Sallis (Editor)


080719 review of reviews i have given fives: i recall my fascination with the ideas of merleau-ponty, years past, and this review helps me see why. writing the ‘author profile’ for ‘goodreads’ reminds me that it is philosophy that stimulates my creativity, not necessarily science, and m-p certainly frees me from dependence on ‘science’ of any sort to buttress those changes which i speculate. this is not to denigrate science but to recognize that, for me, the world is always greater than the universe... the universe is understood by science to our great benefit, but it is the world we live in and of... not ‘i think therefore i am’ but ‘i am able to therefore i am’... do not know if i will read this text again but definitely remains favorite philosophy...


220918 this is much much later later later addition: i read this review again and stumble on my assertion the other is not 'in' the world but 'of' the world, and feel a need to clarify my understanding of this point, which is not actually contrary, just a point to emphasize, i mean that the body, the other, is not a separate object 'in' the world in that sense, but it is not separate, not object 'in' a box, but necessarily 'of' the world which it is 'in'- where to be 'in' is 'of' and not separate. or something like that...


010716 this is much later later addition: a friend asks me, what is your favourite merleau-ponty book? this book is a candidate, though i have only read it once. why? i think that these questions, these uncertainties, lead me to reading other m-p books- something not yet done. yes, there is a biographical element that interests me in m-p, both his life and mine, in which he died relatively young and i have only been lucky to have survived... these are perhaps irrelevant in both cases. these are both very significant in taste or 'style' that i find so amenable in his way of thought...


010214 first review: persistent question that arises for me: why do i give these last few works on Merleau-Ponty's ontology such high marks when i cannot claim to have fully understood them? partly, i love all the phenomenology m-p works out, the ideas of embodied, given, real that precedes, that grounds, that is the invisible that supports and delivers the visible. this is contrary to heidegger's idea that the real is sort of a platonic source of being. please forgive disorder and some infelicity of ideas- i am writing this without notes, without referring to these texts, in an emotional judging way... partly, i am writing these reviews for my future self, as unlikely as it may ever be someone else reads this, and so i am telling myself that if i want to read again, if i want to study, i really enjoyed these works...


this is why. i am not studying m-p, i am not teaching m-p, i am not a professional philosopher. i am reading this for pleasure, as difficult as this concept might be for my artist friends. i like to read continental philosophy. analytic not so much, unfortunately. i do not believe there is a difference between intellectual pleasure and the more usual pleasures from narrative, poetic, work. or at least i do not think there should be...


from Dillon's book [book:Merleau-Ponty's Ontology|203385] i get the idea of m-p's ontology being something like gestalt 'all the way down', evading or surpassing all inherited dualisms of Western phil, of mind/body, subject/object, immanence/transcendence. i had even tried writing a full review, then decided i did not know enough, you can read it here, if you want... if i was studying m-p i might have continued... (260917 did continue if you look at reviews)...


from Marratto's book [book:The Intercorporeal Self: Merleau-Ponty on Subjectivity|17122372] i get the idea of how m-p necessarily combats the idea of solipsism, how the body is 'of' rather than simply 'in' the world- as of the same world, rather than 'in a box', that any one subject is 'intercorporeal', that is shares the corporeal world, the being, but i did not write even a fragment of a review. i think this is indicative of how i enjoy m-p: this tending to the unsaid, the unwritten, the 'flesh' of being, that m-p was embarking on when he died young (for a philosopher). this application of m-p's innovative ontological scheme fascinates me, certainly summons me to read this and m-p again, again, again...


from this book [book:The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty's Ontology|203380] i come from a long 'detour', or rather 'short cut that makes long delay', to other phil, particularly Henri Bergson [book:Duration, Temporality, Self: Prospects for the Future of Bergsonism|16293463] and [book:Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life|115738]and Heidegger [book:The Heidegger Reader|7118395] and even a great collection of essays on m-p [book:Merleau-Ponty: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers|14863377] (all volumes). all these other works helped clarify further what means the term 'Merleau-Ponty's Ontology...


so from this book i have had the most helpful conceptual understanding from reading those others, but also the most difficult ideas, as the more i know the more i try to know the more i come to limits of my understanding. and this is a great pleasure as much a great difficulty. this covers all the work m-p was engaged in leading to his incompletely revealed ontology of the 'flesh'. Barbaras wants to share all this, all the ways it extends Husserl- or rather starts where he ends- how Barbaras argues for m-p's ideas against Sartre- insisting on the visible/invisible rather than being/nothingness- how m-p seems to be almost reversing Heidegger's ontology- that the world is not an effusion of Being, things are only vague, only human perceived, while the Being is logically before or behind. or something like that. no, for m-p it is the world that comes first, the things, the beings, that lead to Being- and this book shows how these ideas are evolving throughout m-p's corpus, how even from his earliest works his ontology is emerging, his ontology is maturing, his ontology is so unique and powerful and needed to make phenomenology a successful explication of the world...


i may still not understand his ‘ontology’, or any other significant fraction of m-p's thought, however much my intuitive sense is satisfied- and a work like this only highlights my sadness that he could not finish it before death- but this makes m-p only for me, an even more fascinating thinker. this is great stuff. i give it a five without hesitation. if there is any one thematic idea i get from this book, it is that ideas are built on ideas, that there are precursors and errors all leading to better understanding of resulting work. which then become basis for the new ideas...


there is a great translators' introduction by Lawlor and Toadvine- whose work i have read before, and this encourages me to trust accuracy of the text- and even if the text was published before the other great works on phenomenology and by m-p i refer to above, i do not think Barbaras is overcome or dated...


first is the theme: toward ontology. this section begins by investigating the dualism of m-p's early triumph 'phenomenology of perception' and how this stimulated him through the encounter with the Other, the problem of expression, of speech and being, of the need for an ontology for phenomenology. next, is an interrogation of how metaphysics previous, are insufficient, how our great Descartes initiated those ways of interpreting the world that nurtured all those dualities, simply because he saw and could not reconcile ideas of thought and body, mind and matter, how this leads to conflicts of fact and essence such as bedevils Husserl, such as leads to the dialectic of Being and Nothingness of Sartre. then, comes a review of m-p's philosophical investigation...


so m-p begins working out his own Ontology: starting with the 'flesh' of the visible and the invisible, noting the dimensionality of the perceived world- if there is anything great in this text it is the explication of the difference between our perception of depth as more than, other than, essentially different from, our perception of width. depth is not just width turned sideways. and then comes our experience of time, of music, of time not being punctual but through protention and now and retention, as time is no more singular than space is lines or points. this is great stuff. which ends up in something like a modified idealism of Leibniz, but this too is an error in thought...


and m-p continues with the invisible, with the overcoming of solipsism through the shared, intersubjective, frame of perception. i think this means, finally, that separateness or solitude is something we must mistakenly learn, rather than sense through our experience. this is clearest when he talks about desire, and how this is an unavoidable sense of being and Other and the world. he ends with an exploration of 'the last chiasm', which i cannot fully explain to myself. great stuff. enjoyed this book partly because of all those others already read, and of course my mind always already intuitively primed to absorb these ideas...


this sounds like it is understood, well no, not entirely- the point is in tentative answer to the question first posed: these works on m-p get such high marks because they encourage me to think the questions, the ideas, the ontology, that m-p works with. for me, again, this is a lot of fun! wish someone else here on GR wanted to talk about this! oh well there are always already more books to read...


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