Merleau-Ponty's mundus imaginalis: towards an apophatic ontology of reality
In this paper, I aim to explain the connections of flesh, truth and sacred life in Merleau-Ponty's works as a configuration leading to an "indirect" and apophatic ontology- ensuring thereby the overcoming of metaphysical dichotomies. I will first recall Merleau-Ponty's theory according to which the intertwining of flesh and perception redistributes the relations between truth and reality by configuring anew a certain space of visibility (I). Then, I will compare Merleau-Ponty's conception of embodied and creative perceptual life to the notion of the "mundus imaginalis" developed by Henry Corbin - his contemporary and colleague at Sorbonne, better known as the French translator of Heidegger's texts - in his works on Islamic mysticism and negative theology (II). In the last part, I will show that Merleau-Ponty's indirect ontology could be considered an hermeneutics of mundus imaginalis, an experience of the sacred rhythm of Being which points to what could be called a phenomenology from within (III).
Merleau-Ponty’s Nietzschean Notion of the Absolute : Flesh, Truth and God as Circle
Merleau-Ponty and the Manifestation of the Sacred
This paper is an exploration of the resources that Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of flesh offers us for comprehending the manifestation of the sacred. The senses of the divine that somehow appeal to Merleau-Ponty, as well as the meaning of God that he definitively rejects, serve as a springboard for understanding how, on his view, the sacred can appear as the Invisible of the visible. To describe these modes of appearance, the author appropriates the Stoic distinction between the logos endiathetos and the logos proforikos to which Merleau-Ponty appeals, as well as crucial insights articulated in Galen Johnson’s The Retrieval of the Beautiful. The paper concludes with concrete examples of experiences of the sacred that are consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s ontology.
Transfiguration in Merleau-Ponty and Nietzsche
Heretical Sacrality: An aesthesiology for life’s never not yet
In his later writings, Merleau-Ponty uses the term aesthesiology—an almost forgotten word—to characterize his philosophy. For the purposes of heretical gnosis, we will develop the phrase never not yet, which should be heard with the trace of an erased comma, inasmuch as discourse remains within the logics of reason which necessarily return a doubly expressed negative to the realm of positivity. This phrase, both with and against Heidegger’s always already, will help us think the maintained divergence of aesthesiology in its Greek origins as the logos of aisthesis and may help us understand the manner by which Merleau-Ponty at times expresses flesh: in the via negativa of what he calls negative philosophy. This will lead to a reading of his perceptual faith as a heretical sacrality of how to live by reclamation of the affective sensibility of an intelligibility which does not renounce its matrixial body.
The Sacred: a World Beneath the World
Merleau-Ponty never directly addressed the question of God, though he was, according to Sartre and de Beauvoir, disturbingly elusive and ambiguous on the question. This paper examines the enigmatic role of the sacred in the writings of Merleau-Ponty as a mystical anatheism beyond both theism and atheism. It then relates Merleau-Ponty's sacramentality of the flesh to the notions of epiphany and transubstantiation in the writings of Proust which so intrigued him. It concludes by contrasting his response to Christianity as a divine kenosis to Sartre's militant anti-theism.
Touching the Virgin. Jean-Luc Godard's Phenomenology of the Body
This paper interrogates the representation of the body in Jean-Luc Godard's works, in particular in Hail Mary (1984). My argument is that Godard's idea of the image is best understood in a parallel to the phenomenological reduction: the image is a means to turn away from the world of the "natural attitude" and learn to see the world in another fashion. Following Merleau-Ponty in his essay on cinema, the epoche of the image is the attempt to see as things the interval between things, i.e. to invert figure and ground. This leads to a specific interpretation of the sacredin terms of the flesh demanding a perceptual faith, i.e. a realm of primitive and unprovable certainty. My aim in this tentative merleau-pontian analysis of Godard's œuvre is to shed light on this preobjective dimension of experience and on the ways of representing it with filmic means. Women's bodies and faces play a crucial role in the revelation of this realm of experience and thus in Godard's cinematographic mission of redeeming the real.
Touching Matters: Embodiments of Intimacy and the Nature of Flesh
Touching matters. Touching, this paper argues, can be recognitive or transgressive. In its recognitive form, touch may not only give us pleasure but incarnate us, organize our bodies in new ways, give birth to new ways of being, and enliven us to new dimensions of reality. For these reasons, touch therapy has proven crucial for premature babies, the elderly, the disabled and the chronically ill. On the other hand, a transgressive touch can lead us to withdraw from our bodies, to lose our sense of vitality, to disintegrate and disassociate. This paper considers what touch must be such that it has these possibilities. It argues that touch is an intercorporeal form of intimacy that precedes developmentally and undergirds permanently the truly intersubjective intimacy that we can find between adult subjects; it considers the inherent temporality of touch; and in these ways it aims to shed light on the nature of flesh.
From the Phenomenology of Lived Space to the Ontology of ‘Immemorial Depth’
In his 1945 Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty shows that space has a fundamentally temporal structure: the past-present-future dimension, he says, corresponds to the here-there dimension. But of course Merleau-Ponty also speaks, in that work, of a more radical sense of pastness, what he calls an “original past,” and, in subsequent works, he also speaks of a more original spatial sense of depth. In this paper I show that these concepts are crucially linked, leading Merleau-Ponty to write, in Eye and Mind, of an “immemorial depth of the visible.” This sense of immemorial depth is a development of the notion of an original past and is, I argue, key to understanding Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of chiasmic Flesh.
Life, Flesh, and Materiality
My aim in this paper is to explore the complex relationships between life, flesh, and materiality in Merleau-Ponty’s work for the purpose of further clarifying the contours of his non-dualistic ontology. In his recent paper “Life, Movement, and Desire,” Renaud Barbaras claims that recognizing the ambiguous character of life will lead to “a genuine ontological reform” because established ontological divisions such as subject/object and interior/exterior will be thrown into question.1 Barbaras’ analysis of “life” raises the following questions: Is “life,” as described by Barbaras, the same concept as “flesh” as it is conceived by Merleau-Ponty in The Visible and the Invisible? And, in what sense can we say that these phenomena are material, if at all? Although Merleau-Ponty claims that “the flesh is not matter,”2 conceiving of flesh as a deeply relational medium seems to require some kind of materiality, namely, bodily proximities and distances that are both spatial and temporal. This study integrates Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions of flesh with more recent literature in the phenomenology of life in order to expose places in Merleau-Ponty’s thought where the themes of “life” and “flesh” are not only used interchangeably, but are also coincident with a special kind of materiality.
1 Barbaras, Renaud. 2008. Life, Movement, and Desire. Trans. Jen McWeeny. Research in Phenomenology 38: 3-17.
2 Ibid., 139.
Critique of Transcendental Violence: Images of Violence and Passivity in Merleau-Ponty's Descriptions of the Flesh
To the degree that Merleau-Ponty abstains from invoking violent imagery in his discussions of materiality and corporeality, his philosophy continues to serve as vital corrective to the normative and even transcendental status that violence assumes in contemporary philosophical discourse on the body. It is not simply in highlighting the passivity of the flesh that Merleau-Ponty breaks with the assumption of violence. Rather, it is in his descriptions of activity of the flesh, and its expressive powers, that Merleau-Ponty’s singularity in reference to the canon is laid bare. My essay argues that there is a “critique of transcendental violence” implicit in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh. In other words, Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy can be read as a rebuttal of the claim that violence universally (potentially or actually) conditions embodied life. Contra thinkers in the tradition such as Levinas, Derrida, and Foucault – for whom there is no knowledge or perception of a body without violence – Merleau-Ponty’s later work illumines those dimensions of embodied life that resist the conflation of corporeality and violence.
Merleau-Ponty's Critique of "Explanatory Theology"
Merleau-Ponty was always interested in the complex relationship between Christianity, philosophy, and theology. In both his published and unpublished work, we find a regular opposition between the "novelty of Christianity" — as experience of man, as religious attitude, and in its conception of God — and a theology characterized as "explicative", which fails to think this novelty, and even betrays it. This theology is accused of importing the God of the philosophers: of explaining God, and of using God to explain — but only to better evade — the mysteries of man and the tragic dimensions of his condition, thus paradoxically overlooking the space of negativity from whence the religious attitude itself unfolds. In this original confrontation, Merleau-Ponty transposes his own battle against certain philosophers, and mobilizes the essential axes of his thought: his conceptions of humanity and being, an anthropology of the perceiving and desiring flesh, and an ontology of a being that is both unfinished and inexhaustible.
In “Reading Montaigne”, a postwar meditation on the writings of the 16th century essayist, Merleau-Ponty suggests that Montaigne perhaps achieves “something like an ultimate truth” in the purposeful and painstakingly honest disclosure of himself: “this ambiguous self – which is offered to everything, and which he never finished exploring”. This intriguing notion of a truth that is at once “ultimate” and grounded in a self that is both “ambiguous” and “never finished exploring” can be more fully understood in light of three earlier essays also concerned with the question of what it means to live truthfully: “The War Has Taken Place”, “Faith and Good Faith”, and “Man, the Hero”. Merleau-Ponty’s attempts in these essays to wrest sense from the tragic events of the 20th century may be read as giving a new, global voice to his predecessor’s more personally transformative insights about life and the choices it forces upon us.
The Music of Being and the Silence of Nature
In his 1971 memorial essay to Merleau-Ponty, Claude Lévi-Strauss makes the provocative claim that Merleau-Ponty’s treatment of music in his last writings reveals a decisive ambiguity in his thought. In particular, he argues that Merleau-Ponty’s depreciation of music in favor of painting in Eye and Mind, where music is described as providing no more than an “outline” of Being, is contested by the nearly contemporaneous treatment of music in The Visible and the Invisible, where Vinteuil’s “little phrase” becomes a privileged example of the incarnate idea. For Lévi-Strauss, this ambiguous treatment of music demonstrates the gap between the phenomenological and the ontological in Merleau-Ponty’s final writings and elucidates his ambivalent relationship with structuralism. This essay takes up the question of the role of music in Merleau-Ponty’s ontology with respect to the light that this sheds on the relations between phenomenology and ontology, experience and structure, and culture and nature.
Synaesthesia, Recollection, Resurrection: Searching out Transcendence after Merleau-Ponty
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