Phenomenology or Deconstruction?The Question of Ontology in Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
Paul Ricur and Jean-Luc Nancy
Lucid and rigorous in equal measure, Watkins Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
is both a timely intervention and a critical introduction to a vital current in
contemporary European thought. It is also an essential reconfiguration of the
intellectual landscape as concerns phenomenology, giving us back the bodies we
need, but stranger and richer. Patrick ffrench, Professor of French, King's College London
Phenomenology or Deconstruction? challenges traditional understandings of the relationship
between phenomenology and deconstruction through new readings of the work of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricur and Jean-Luc Nancy. A constant dialogue with Jacques Derridas
engagement with phenomenological themes provides the impetus to establishing a new
understanding of being and presence that exposes significant blindspots inherent in
traditional readings of both phenomenology and deconstruction.
In reproducing neither a stock phenomenological reaction to deconstruction nor the routine
deconstructive reading of phenomenology, Christopher Watkin provides a fresh assessment
of the possibilities for the future of phenomenology, along with a new reading of the
deconstructive legacy. Through detailed studies of the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, Ricur
and Nancy, he shows how a phenomenological tradition much wider and richer than
Husserlian or Heideggerean thought alone can take account of Derridas critique of ontology
and yet still hold a commitment to the ontological.
This new reading of being and presence fundamentally re-draws our understanding of the
relation of deconstruction and phenomenology, and provides the first sustained discussion
of the possibilities and problems for any future deconstructive phenomenology.
Christopher Watkin holds a Junior Research Fellowship at Magdalene College, Cambridge,
where he is working on religious themes in current Continental thought. He has previously
published on Ricur and Nancy.
ISBN 978 0 7486 3759 1
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Phenomenology or Deconstruction?The Question of Ontology in Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
Paul Ricur and Jean-Luc Nancy
P H E N O M E N O L O G Y O RD E C O N S T R U C T I O N ?
For Jill, Ken, Alison and Elsiewith love
DECONSTRUCTION?The Question of Ontology in
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricur and Jean-Luc Nancy
EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS
Christopher Watkin, 2009
Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square, Edinburgh
Typeset in Sabonby Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire, and
printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne
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ISBN 978 0 7486 3759 1 (hardback)
The right of Christopher Watkinto be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Acknowledgements viiAbbreviations ix
1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 131.1 Contact 141.2 Facticity/Essence 171.3 The Enrootedness of Perception in the Body 201.4 The Enrootedness of Perception in the World 241.5 Towards an Indirect Ontology 281.6 Conclusion 32
2. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Language 452.1 Expression 452.2 Language, Figure and Ground 472.3 The Mute Call of the World 512.4 From Silence to Language 572.5 Beyond the Question of Contact 63
3. Paul Ricur: Selfhood 763.1 Fragments 773.2 Commitment 873.3 Justification 96
4. Paul Ricur: Justice 1064.1 Justice and Space 1094.2 Justice and Commitment 1154.3 Justice and Fragmentation 1194.4 Justice and Love 124
5. Jean-Luc Nancy: Sense 1365.1 Opening 1385.2 Presence 1435.3 Contact 1475.4 The Decision: Between Good and Evil 153
6. Jean-Luc Nancy: Plurality 1696.1 Corpus 1706.2 The Singular Plural 1776.3 Arbitration 185
Concluding Remarks 203
Bibliography and Further Reading 211Index 263
Fragments of a much earlier version of Chapter 4 of this book were published in Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Loves Wisdom(Indiana University Press, 2008), and fragments of Chapter 6 were mar-shalled to serve a different argument in an article that appeared inParagraph in 2007.
There are a number of people to whom I want to give special thanksfor their help in writing this book. Martin Crowley guided me expertlythrough the process of drafting the original PhD, and I am deeply grate-ful for his insight and availability at every stage. The doctoral researchwas made possible by funding from the Arts and Humanities ResearchCouncil (UK). It was Martin and Ian James who first suggested that Icombine Merleau-Ponty, Ricur and Nancy, and I am grateful to Ian forproviding both critical comment and personal encouragement at keystages along the way. Occasional conversations with Gerald Moore alsohelped to clarify some ideas, for which I am thankful. Special thanksmust be reserved for my father, Kenneth Watkin, who heroically proof-read the entire manuscript with a scrupulous attention to detail morethan once, and on one occasion in the middle of a raging cold. The widergratitude I bear to my parents for making this book possible is beyondwords. All remaining faults are, inevitably, my own.
W O R K S B Y M E R L E A U - P O N T Y
EM Eye and MindEP loge de la philosophieHAL Husserl aux limites de la phnomnologieHAL Husserl at the Limits of PhenomenologyI Un indit de Maurice Merleau-PontyIPP In Praise of PhilosophyN La Nature: Notes de cours au Collge de FranceN Nature: Course Notes from the Collge de FranceNC Notes de cours au Collge de France 19581959 et
19601961E Lil et lespritP2 Parcours deux, 19511961PM La Prose du mondePP Phnomnologie de la perceptionPP Phenomenology of PerceptionPPE Psychologie et pdagogie de lenfant: cours de Sorbonne
19491952PrP Le Primat de la perceptionPrP The Primacy of Perception and Its Philosophical
ConsequencesPW The Prose of the WorldRC Rsums de cours au Collge de France
19521960S SignesS SignsSB The Structure of BehaviourSC La Structure du comportementSNS Sens et non-sensSNS Sense and Nonsense
TFL Themes from the Lectures at the Collge de France19521960
VI Le Visible et linvisibleVI The Visible and the Invisible
W O R K S B Y R I C U R
A AutrementAJ Amour et justiceCC La Critique et la convictionCC Critique and ConvictionCFP La cit est fondamentalement prissableCI Le Conflit des interprtationsCI The Conflict of InterpretationsCOR The Course of RecognitionCRR Contingence et rationalit dans le rcitDC Le dialogue des culturesDDH Dclaration des droits de lhommeDIEF De lInterprtation. Essai sur FreudFP Freud and PhilosophyHT History and TruthHV Historie et vritJ The JustJ1 Le Juste, 1J2 Le Juste, 2JM Justice et marchL1 Lectures 1L2 Lectures 2L3 Lectures 3LJ Love and JusticeLQN Life in Quest of NarrativeMPCH La mtaphore et le problme central de lhermneutiqueMV La Mtaphore viveNR La Nature et la rgleOA Oneself as AnotherPR Parcours de la reconnaissanceROJ Reflections on the JustRM The Rule of MetaphorSCA Soi-mme comme un autreSC Le sujet convoquSE The Symbolism of EvilSyM Le Symbolique du mal
TA Du Texte lactionTA From Text to ActionTN1 Time and Narrative 1TR1 Temps et rcit 1WMUT What Makes Us Think?
W O R K S B Y N A N C Y
ACST Au Ciel et sur la terreAsc AscoltandoAE A lcouteAFI Au Fond des imagesAll AllitrationsBSP Being Singular PluralC CorpusCA La Communaut affronteCD La Communaut dsuvreCMM La Cration du monde, ou, la mondialisationCon Conloquium Com La ComparutionCor CorpusCWG The Creation of the World, or, GlobalizationDDC La Dclosion: dconstruction du christianisme, 1DDC Dis-enclosure: The Deconstruction of ChristianityDI Dies iraeEEP tre, cest tre peruEF Lvidence du filmEF The Experience of FreedomEL LExprience de la libertES Ego sumESP tre singulier plurielEsEP LEspce despace penseFH Finite HistoryFT A Finite ThinkingGOI The Ground of the ImageI LIntrusIC LImpratif catgoriqueIC The Inoperative CommunityM Les MusesM The MusesMD Mad DerridaNMT Noli me tangere
OBIC Of Being-in-CommonOP LOubli de la philosophieP PassagePD La Pense drobePDD Le Portrait (dans le dcor)PF Une Pense finiePoids Le Poids dune pensePV Le Partage des voixSCP Sur le commerce des pensesSM Le Sens du mondeSV Sharing VoicesSW The Sense of the WorldTEP Tout est-il politique?TP Technique du prsent: essai sur On KawaraUJ Un Jour, les dieux se retirentVPC Visitation (de la peinture chrtienne)
As a philosophical movement at the forefront of contemporary thought,phenomenology might be thought to have had its day. Since EdmundHusserl recast the term in his 1901 Logische Untersuchungen fromearlier Hegelian and Kantian usage,1 it has come to be employed mainlyas a yardstick against which to size up other features in the contempo-rary philosophical landscape, features that are themselves considered tobe post-phenomenological. Terms such as intuition and reductionretain the faint nostalgic glow of a simpler age, when meaning was givento consciousness and the philosopher could go about her business securein the knowledge that, if certain rigorous procedures were followed, theworld and its contents would inexorably surrender their treasures toconsciousness. Husserl himself is now very much a philosophersphilosopher, studied less in his own right and more as a figure whom itis necessary to have encountered if one is to grapple with more recentthinkers. Furthermore, the clutch of philosophers whose thought couldbe classed as phenomenological Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, to complete the quartet chosen for a recent multi-volume study2 have, if not faded from view, then at least been eclipsed by the shootingstars of Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan and, above all, given his close engage-ment with phenomenological themes, Derrida, whose decisive contri-butions still dictate the terms of the debate.
Of all the claims to have upset the phenomenological applecart,Derridean deconstruction is hailed with the greatest fanfare. Studyingphenomenology today is more often than not a means to the end ofcoming to grips with Derridas reading of Husserl in early works suchas his introduction to Husserls Origin of Geometry,3 La Voix et lephnomne4 and Lcriture et la diffrence.5 The subtitle of a recentintroduction to Derridas thought, From Phenomenology to Ethics,6
rather makes the point. Phenomenology is a staging post en route to
more fertile philosophical pasture. However, it is also noticeable that thephenomenological holds an abiding interest for many, not least in itsrelation to deconstructive thought.7 Add to this a sprinkling of infre-quent yet tantalising references in the secondary literature to phenom-enological deconstruction8 or deconstructive phenomenology9 and itseems that phenomenology, if it ever went away, is back with a decisivecontribution to make on the contemporary philosophical scene. It is outof the conviction that the phenomenological, however it is finally to beunderstood, does indeed have an important place in contemporary continental philosophical debates that this book has been written.Specifically, in the following pages we set out from the nostalgic premisethat the phenomenological notion of a meaningful world is, perhapsnaively, worth another look.
This book does not set out to be about deconstruction, or aboutDerrida, and to the extent that Derridas work is repeatedly evoked anddiscussed below, it is used to probe and pose questions to other philoso-phers. Derridas readings of the phenomenological tradition are requiredreading for any contemporary treatment of the topic, and they will beused to press for and provoke responses from the thinkers whose workwe shall be considering. Thus, while we have attempted at all points todeal fairly with Derrida and render a sympathetic and adequate accountof his thought, it will be understood that we have done so only to theextent that a detour via the problems he raises brings the phenomeno-logical responses to those problems into relief, and no more. In otherwords, we have not attempted to do justice to Derridas thought in itsown terms.
What follows can be read as an extended meditation on the relationbetween phenomenology and deconstruction, though none of those fivewords can remain unchallenged. It is always a difficult task to plot thehistory of thought in terms of the relations between different traditionsor schools, but the task can scarcely be more delicate then in the case ofthe relation between phenomenology and deconstruction. Delicate, butcrucial. Not only has the Derridean critique of phenomenology deter-mined in large part its contemporary reception, but the question of therelation of phenomenology and deconstruction is a matter of greatimportance for the future direction of Continental thought, as we shallargue below. However, any attempt to discern the contours of the rela-tion between phenomenology and deconstruction immediately encoun-ters the difficulty that both terms lack a discernible or at any ratewidely accepted and broadly unproblematic definition, though thereasons for the lack of consensus are different in each case. For phe-nomenology the issue is complicated by a broad spectrum of divergent
2 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
philosophies and philosophers all having hailed from the phenomeno-logical stable, whereas in the case of deconstruction we are not dealingwith a philosophy as such at all, for reasons to be explored below. Sobefore we can continue, the somewhat nebulous terms phenomenologyand deconstruction each require some minimal elucidation.
Perhaps the nearest we can come to a general statement about phe-nomenology is that la phnomnologie au sens large est la somme desvariations de luvre husserlienne et des hrsies issues de Husserl,10
and such a broad definition leaves us with a cohort of phenomenologi-cal thinkers united only by family resemblances. Deconstruction pro-vides us with problems which, while they are of a different nature,nonetheless lead to similar difficulties. Whereas the problem with phe-nomenology resides in deciding what, and who, is to count as phe-nomenological and who/what should define the phenomenological,with deconstruction the problem is in an inability to identify anythingthat is properly deconstructive. Deconstruction is not a method or aprocess in its own right. Derridas deconstruction of phenomenology,which is predominantly a deconstruction of Husserl, claims neither toadd nor to take away from Husserls own thought. Derrida argues,rather, that Husserl claims too much for himself, that la constitution delautre et du temps renvoient la phnomnologie une zone dans laque-lle son principe des principes (selon nous son principe mtaphysique:lvidence originaire et la prsence de la chose elle-mme en personne)est radicalement mis en question.11 Though there is here neither thespace nor the necessity to engage in a detailed analysis of Derridas earlytexts on Husserl, his relation to phenomenology can well be charac-terised as one of ambivalence.12 Phenomenology for Derrida is a critiqueof metaphysics, which he defines in Limited Inc as le projet de remon-ter stratgiquement , idalement, une origine ou une priorit simple, intacte, normale, pure, propre, pour penser ensuite la drivation,la complication, la dgradation, laccident etc.13 But phenomenology,notes Derrida, na critiqu la mtaphysique en son fait que pour larestaurer.14 Derrida is similarly suspicious of intuition; there can be noreturn to the things themselves because la chose mme se drobe tou-jours.15
In pursuing phenomenologys inability to adhere to its own principles,we could argue that Derrida is doing nothing more than being more radically, and truly, phenomenological than Husserl.16 But this is a mis-leading characterisation, for he is not merely suggesting that phenome-nology happens to be deficient, but that it is constitutively so, that it isimpossible for phenomenology to be self-consistent. The only truly phenomenological thing to do would therefore be to acknowledge the
ill-foundedness of phenomenology. Derrida, we might say, is at the limitof the phenomenological. This by no means indicates, however, that hethinks we should discount phenomenological thinkers; Husserl andHeidegger are two philosophers belonging to the space of repetitiondans lequel nous sommes compris, pr-compris, auquel nous sommesdj destins et quil sagirait de penser, non pas contre Husserl ouHeidegger, bien sr ce serait un peu simple, plutt partir deux, et sansdoute autrement.17 Indeed, though he notes inconsistencies in Husserl,Derrida by no means urges a disregard for Husserlian phenomenology.John D. Caputo, friend of the late Derrida and deconstructive practi-tioner, notes that Derrida better than anyone has shown us the ambi-guity of this text [Caputo is referring to Husserls writing in general:CW] and unearthed the radical, more deconstructive side of Husserl.18
A sustained effort to recover a nuanced reading of Derridas Husserlis made by Leonard Lawlor in his Husserl and Derrida, where he sug-gests that Derridas philosophy his deconstruction is continuouswith Husserls phenomenology.19 For Derrida il faut passer par elle [thetranscendental reduction: CW] pour ressaisir la diffrence,20 and JohnSallis in a similar vein talks of the closure of metaphysics as a matterof preparing a displacement of phenomenology from within, a dis-placement by the very force of its appeal to the things themselves, hencea displacement that would be at the same time a radicalising of phe-nomenology itself.21 The value of evoking these interventions as weembark on our study is to challenge the hasty assumption that equatesthe Derridean denunciation of the metaphysics of presence in Husserlwith an adequate reading of the relation between phenomenology anddeconstruction.
Having briefly sketched the difficulties inherent in using the termsphenomenology and deconstruction, we now come to the problem-atic copula and. The relation of phenomenology and deconstructionhas recently excited a flurry of critical activity, with volumes and arti-cles by Hugh Silverman22 and David Wood, 23 in addition to the afore-mentioned works by Cumming, Lawlor24 and Sallis. Robert DenoonCumming for his part is quite clear: Derrida is not a phenomenologist.25
Silverman is more circumspect, suggesting in the preface to Inscriptionsthat Derrida (and Foucault) mark out the place signified by the inter-section of phenomenology and structuralism, albeit not reducible toeither,26 while Sallis writes of an interplay between phenomenologicalresearch and deconstruction.27 It is our contention that such character-isations of the relationship are misleading, suggesting as they do thatphenomenology and deconstruction can be plotted in relation to eachother on some putative philosophical topography, and that the distance
4 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
separating them can be calculated. We cannot speak of some placebetween them, and we need to search for a different and better way ofarticulating the relation.28 Given that Derridas disagreements withHusserl are made in the name of phenomenology, it is by no means clearthat phenomenology and deconstruction is not a tautology, an idea weshall investigate further below.
In addition to this need to interrogate the copula, two further errorsare to be avoided. The first is the mistake of seeking to relate phenom-enology and deconstruction in terms of an arbitrary historical progres-sion. Cumming tends in this direction when he claims to be writing thehistory of phenomenology and of its aftermath, deconstruction,29 andMartin Jay seems to follow the same route when he cites Derrida as asalient example of the generation of French philosophers that fash-ioned itself as post-phenomenological and took special pleasure inderiding the concept of lived experience .30 Although the term post-phenomenological may be used here about Derrida, we search for theterm in vain in his own writing. It is in fact incorrect to say that he fash-ions himself as post-phenomenological, much less that he is a salientexample of post-phenomenology.
While it is wrong to draw too crisp a historical demarcation betweenphenomenology and deconstruction, it is equally misguided to accountfor deconstruction as a matter of internal phenomenological house-keeping. The relation is not best treated by applying to it some simpli-fying periodisation. Responding to a question from Richard Kearney asto what is to be done after deconstruction, Derrida emphatically replies:
Your question started with the phrase after deconstruction, and I mustconfess I do not understand what is meant by such a phrase. Deconstructionis not a philosophy or a method, it is not some phase, a period or a moment.It is something which is constantly at work and was at work before what wecall deconstruction started, so I cannot periodise. For me there is no afterdeconstruction . . .31
By this logic, for Derrida there is no before deconstruction either.Deconstruction never arrives, it is at work long before what we calldeconstruction became known as such but the recognition that (forexample) Husserls notion of presence self-deconstructs does nonethe-less have fresh philosophical implications. Philosophically speaking,with deconstruction something has happened. Something new, we nowsee, needs to be taken into account. But we cannot know ab initio whatthat something is, what sort of account needs to be taken, or how theencounter is to be thought, calculated and assimilated. Deconstructionnever signs off and it never clocked in, and it is precisely the problem ofdoing justice to that which has not happened as such, which is not an
event within the history of phenomenology, something that resists des-ignation as encounter or critique or disagreement it is precisely thisproblem that we shall have to address. Taking account or taking themeasure of the relation between deconstruction and phenomenology isan infinite task, demand and responsibility.
The encounters staged in the studies which follow explore theresources in the thought of three philosophers for thinking the ontolog-ical in a way that precisely does seek to take account of the questionsand problems that deconstruction raises, while from time to time alsothrowing questions and problems back to Derrida. Through interrogat-ing the relation of meaning and the world we shall be asking whetherthere is a phenomenology which is not amenable to deconstruction, orwhich accounts (per impossibile) for deconstruction. We are not askingwhat is left after deconstruction, but what sort of ontological claimscan be made when deconstruction has (not) happened.
We propose to investigate the issues sketched above through readingsof the work of three thinkers who, while it is not unreasonable to claimthat their work can in each case be characterised as to some extent phe-nomenological, are nonetheless far (to say the least) from being straight-forwardly Husserlian. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricur and Jean-LucNancy have been chosen in order to avoid the twin pitfalls indicated byRobert Cumming in the first of his four volumes on phenomenology anddeconstruction:
Most of the applauded ventures in the history of philosophy today do not dojustice to the problems of the relations between philosophers, either becausethey cover too many philosophers to get down to details about their rela-tions, or because they stick to an individual philosopher, subordinating hisrelations to other philosophers to the exposition of his.32
The reasons for the particular choice of Merleau-Ponty, Ricur andNancy are threefold. Pragmatically speaking, much more work hasalready been undertaken on Derridas relation to Husserl than to thesethree thinkers, and so we are in part redressing a critical deficit. It is animportant deficit to address because, given that these three writers arefar from straightforwardly Husserlian, we cannot simply read over itis an obvious point but needs to be made from Derridas engagementwith Husserl to assume that the relation of deconstruction withMerleau-Ponty, Ricur and Nancy will be some minor variation of it.
Secondly, thematically speaking these three thinkers have been chosenin order to allow us to elaborate a phenomenological ontology that hasnot yet sufficiently been brought to critical attention.33 We will use thethree writers to think the ontological differently to the position thatdraws Derridas fire in his reading of Husserl. In addition to this, it is
6 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
important for our purposes that all three thinkers assimilate phenome-nology only ever in relation to other philosophical ideas and doctrines,which means that their work will allow us to see the phenomenologicalin various guises to caricature for the sake of brevity: existential phe-nomenology in the case of Merleau-Ponty, hermeneutic phenomenologyfor Ricur and, in what must remain a provisional nomenclature at thisstage, deconstructive phenomenology for Nancy thus better under-standing its possibilities and limits.
Thirdly, and strategically speaking, the choice is prompted by a desireto situate Nancy more adequately than has hitherto been achieved in thelandscape of contemporary philosophy.34 On the way, we will also seemarked affinities between all three thinkers that are often obscured bythe vicissitudes of their critical reception. We claim no necessary pro-gression from Merleau-Ponty through Ricur to Nancy such that noother constellation of thinkers could have been chosen. Neither do weset out with the aim of telling the story of late twentieth- and earlytwenty-first-century phenomenology (or even philosophy), but rather ofstaging a series of related encounters between each of the three thinkersand the deconstructive concerns and responsibilities that Derrida setsforth.
Merleau-Pontys shadow looms ever larger in contemporary philo-sophical debates. Relatively neglected in the decades following hissudden death in 1961, Merleau-Ponty scholarship has in recent yearstaken on a new purpose with landmark volumes by Gary Madison,35
Renaud Barbaras,36 Martin Dillon37 and Franoise Dastur,38 withDerrida himself staging a long overdue encounter in Le Toucher.39
Partly as a result of this renewed interest, and partly through a newengagement with aspects of Merleau-Pontys thought previouslyshrouded in critical neglect, his philosophy is increasingly being usedboth to question deconstruction40 and to talk about an opening anddelimiting of phenomenology in a deconstructive register.41 Given widerconcerns in French thought, it is not surprising that Merleau-Pontysunderstanding of the body has generated much interest,42 whereas hiswork on language acquisition and visual art has been relatively under-received by philosophers.
Although Merleau-Ponty has before now been described as engagingin deconstruction,43 it is no aim of the studies below to discover in hima Derridean avant la lettre, but rather to bring Merleau-Ponty andDerrida into a dialogue which will lead to a better understanding of thecomplexity of Merleau-Pontys ontological position. In the first chapterwe shall argue that, from his early work on Gestalt psychology in LaStructure du comportement through to the cosmology of the visible in
Le Visible et linvisible, Merleau-Ponty develops an ontology thatcannot be subsumed as a Husserlian footnote. Through examiningDerridas reading of Merleau-Ponty in Le Toucher and the latters workon an indirect or diplopic ontology, we shall be able to see howMerleau-Ponty can respond to some of Derridas questions, on the waybeing confronted with the readerly problem of the ambiguity ofMerleau-Pontys own texts. The second chapter will turn to Merleau-Pontys work on language, both the Sorbonne lectures on languageacquisition and the philosophy of language in La Prose du monde. Wewill argue that the relation of meaning (le sens) and world (le monde)is thought by Merleau-Ponty in terms of a model not accounted for bya deconstructive reading, and that the world can indeed be said to bemeaningful, providing that this phrase is correctly understood.
The work of Paul Ricur has never enjoyed the fashionable interest thatnow surrounds Merleau-Ponty studies, though it is to be hoped that hissad death in 2005 will continue to occasion a stocktaking in the comingyears that will go at least some way to remedying this critical lapsus. Neverpart of the Parisian avant-garde, Ricurs philosophy is nevertheless anunavoidable milestone in twentieth-century French thought, and itsbreadth alone means that a Ricurean encounter is virtually inevitablefor the student of phenomenology, structuralism or psychoanalysis intwentieth-century France. Add to this his masterly study of the hermeneu-tics of the self in Soi-mme comme un autre, the two volumes of collectedessays on justice, his work on memory, history and forgetting and the lateParcours de la reconnaissance, and we see a rich and varied philosophicalcorpus still substantially waiting to be discovered by many.
In Chapter 3 we will focus on Ricurs work on the self in order toelaborate an understanding of selfhood that can respond to some of theworries Derrida voices in relation to Cartesian and Heideggereannotions of subjectivity. Examining Ricurs understanding of narrativewe shall ask whether it can achieve the ontological openness whichDerrida seeks. At stake in this chapter are two issues: the relationbetween life and narrative and the question of the coherence of het-erogeneous discourses into a meaningful synthesis. The latter problem,crucial to the difference between Ricur and Derrida, is further pursuedin the fourth chapter as we turn to Ricurs incisive though under-received work on justice. Following Ricur through his readings ofJohn Rawls, Michael Walzer, Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thvenot, wesee how he rethinks justice in ways that do not refute deconstructivereadings but operate otherwise than them. The two chapters buildtowards sketching a relation in which Ricur neither succumbs to themetaphysics of presence nor pulls the props out from under Derrida.
8 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
Their relation, it is argued, is less antagonistic than productive, thoughnever settled or stable.
The reception of Jean-Luc Nancys work has, until recently, been pre-occupied in the main with the question of community, but while this isindeed an important motif in Nancys earlier writings, such a focus doesnot do justice to the breadth of the concerns with which his more recentwork deals, where a different set of figures consideration, constella-tion, cosmos, fragmentation comes to the fore. Though recent publi-cations are going some way to rebalancing this lopsided reception ofNancy, these motifs, which we could group under the umbrella term ofthe (a)cosmological, have passed more or less under the critical radar.44
In the fifth chapter we explore, via the themes of openness, presence andcontact in Nancy, just how his thought responds to Derridas uneasinesswith his ontological language. By highlighting similarities with and dif-ferences from Merleau-Pontean and Ricurean thought, we will seeboth the uniqueness of Nancys position in the contemporary philo-sophical landscape and the difficulties his thought needs to face. We willinterrogate Nancys ontological language and elucidate the nature of hisontological claims, drawing conclusions about the ethical imperative inhis thought and its relation to Derridean responsibility. The chapter willculminate in a consideration of a question which cuts to the heart ofNancys ontological position: whether a decision can ever be retrospec-tively validated as good or condemned as bad. In the sixth and finalchapter we will turn to motifs of fragmentation and incommensurabil-ity, with particular reference to Nancys notions of corpus and the sin-gulier pluriel (singular plural). The chapter will question how, withinNancys thought, we can calculate the incalculable, whether that be interms of arbitrating between competing political systems, measuring thesenses against each other, or comparing and evaluating the relationbetween the different arts. With the problem of calculating the incalcu-lable we arrive at the very heart of what is at stake in the relationbetween phenomenology and deconstruction.
Gathering together the insights and clarifications accumulated oversix studies, we will conclude by suggesting ways to think about the rela-tion of phenomenology and deconstruction which avoid the pitfallssketched above. In addition to and in dialogue with these concerns, wewill show how our thinking about this relation can be put to use infinding fresh, distinctive and powerful ways to think about the philo-sophically crucial problems of alterity and coherence. Finally, at the endof the series of studies we will suggest a way to understand the onto-logical that neither repeats nor rebuts the Derridean position, but thinksontology otherwise. It is an understanding that will bring us closer to
seeing what form a deconstructive phenomenology might take. So aswe begin, the tantalising question is posed: to what extent can we speakof a phenomenological deconstruction, or a deconstructive phenome-nology, and what, if there is such a thing, might be its characteristics?
N O T E S
11. Kant first uses the term in his Metaphysische Anfangsgrnde derNaturwissenschaft: The fourth chapter, however, determines mattersmotion or rest merely in relation to the mode of representation or modal-ity, and thus as appearance of the outer senses, and is called phenomenol-ogy (Kant, Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science 191). HegelsPhaenomenologie des Geistes was published in 1807.
12. See Cumming, Phenomenology and Deconstruction.13. See Introduction LOrigine de la gomtrie de E. Husserl; Edmund
Husserls Origin of geometry: an introduction.14. See La Voix et le phnomne; Speech and Phenomena.15. See Gense et structure in Lcriture et la diffrence 22951; Genesis
and Structure and phenomenology in Writing and Difference 15468.16. Howells, Derrida: Deconstruction from Phenomenology to Ethics.17. Witness, for example, Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl; Howells, Derrida;
Cumming, Phenomenology and Deconstruction; McKenna and Joseph (eds),Derrida and Phenomenology; Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology;Reynolds, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida.
18. Ihde, Experimental Phenomenology: An Introduction 107; Evans,Phenomenological Deconstruction: Husserls Method of Abbau.
19. Wood, The Step Back; Vahabzadeh, Articulated Experiences: Toward aRadical Phenomenology of Contemporary Social Movements 5.
10. Ricur, A lcole de la phnomnologie 9; in the broad sense phenome-nology is both the sum of Husserls work and the heresies issuing from it(Husserl: An Analysis of his Philosophy 6).
11. Derrida, Lcriture et la diffrence 244; the constitution of the other andof time refers phenomenology to a zone in which its principle of princi-ples (as we see it, its metaphysical principle: the original self-evidence andpresence of the thing itself in person) is radically put into question (Writingand Difference 164).
12. It is an ambivalence reflected in the secondary literature. While Franois-David Sebbah argues in a recently published Companion toPhenomenology and Existentialism that it is not without legitimacy thatwe invite him [Derrida: CW] to this family reunion (Sebbah, FrenchPhenomenology 51), Leonard Lawlor argues that one can of course con-tinue to call these new kinds of investigations phenomenological, but, Ithink, that name does not acknowledge that a threshold has been crossed,that something has come to an end, and that we are starting to do some-thing else (Lawlor, Thinking Through French Philosophy 150).
10 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
13. Derrida, Limited Inc 174; the enterprise of returning strategically, in ide-alisation, to an origin or to a priority seen as simple, intact, normal, pure,untainted (i.e. presence), in order then to conceive of derivation, complica-tion, deterioration, accident, etc. (Derrida, Limited Inc 236; translationaltered).
14. La Forme et le vouloir-dire: Note sur la phnomnologie du langage 277;Phenomenology has criticised metaphysics as it is in fact only in order torestore it (Speech and Phenomena 107).
15. Derrida, La Voix et le phnomne 117; the thing itself always escapes(Speech and Phenomena 104).
16. This position, taken by Vincent Descombes when he characterises Derridaswork as the radicalisation of phenomenology (Modern French Philosophy136), is shared by Lawlor, who suggests that whether one follows Derridasor Deleuzes critique of phenomenology both have been extremely impor-tant for me what one is doing is following the phenomenological reduc-tion as far as one absolutely can, so far that phenomenology finds itselftransformed into something else, something non-phenomenological(Lawlor, Thinking Through French Philosophy 150).
17. Derrida, Du Droit la philosophie 516; in which we are contained, pre-understood, for which we are already destined and that we are to think notagainst Husserl or Heidegger that would of course be rather simple butrather beginning with them, and doubtless otherwise (authors translation).
18. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics 4.19. Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl 11.20. Derrida, La Voix et le phnomne 92; it is necessary to pass through the
transcendental deduction in order to grasp the difference (Speech andPhenomena, 82; translation altered).
21. Sallis, Delimitations x.22. Silvermans work on the relation of deconstruction and phenomenology is
scattered throughout a number of books. See Inscriptions; Merleau-Pontyand Derrida: Writing on Writing; Textualities; Silverman (ed.), Philosophyand Non-Philosophy Since Merleau-Ponty; Silverman and Ihde (eds),Hermeneutics and Deconstruction.
23. Wood, The Step Back.24. Leonard Lawlor has generated a prodigious output on this subject in recent
years. In addition to his Derrida and Husserl, see Imagination andChance: The Difference Between the Thought of Ricoeur and Derrida;Phenomenology and Metaphysics: Deconstruction in La Voix et lephnomne; and Verflechtung: The Triple Significance of Merleau-PontysCourse Notes on Husserls The Origin of Geometry.
25. Cumming, Phenomenology and Deconstruction, vol. 1, 20. In a similarvein, Dermot Moran rashly argues that Derrida portrays himself as havinggone beyond both phenomenology and philosophy (Moran, Introductionto Phenomenology 436).
26. Silverman, Inscriptions x.27. Sallis, Delimitations 77.
28. Silverman is not insensitive to these concerns, qualifying the placebetween in terms of the slashes, the borders, the belonging-together ofalternatives (Textualities 2), yet he persists in his use of the term between.
29. Cumming, Phenomenology and Deconstruction, vol. 1, 4; authors italics.The characterisation of deconstruction as an aftermath and the possessiveits are equally problematic here.
30. Jay, The Lifeworld and Lived Experience 91.31. In Kearney and Dooley (eds), Questioning Ethics 65.32. Cumming, Phenomenology and Deconstruction vol. 1, 15.33. A book by Renaud Barbaras (De ltre du phnomne: sur lontologie
de Merleau-Ponty (translated as The Being of the Phenomenon) and a PhDthesis by Matthew A. Daigler (Paul Ricurs Hermeneutic Ontology:Between Aristotle and Kant) are notable exceptions.
34. Ian James The Fragmentary Demand: An Introduction to the Philosophyof Jean-Luc Nancy goes a long way to redressing this deficit and is partic-ularly helpful on the relation of Nancy and Merleau-Ponty. In what followsI will be adding to and nuancing James work. The relation of Nancy andRicur and of Merleau-Ponty and Ricur have, as yet, not been broughtto light in a similarly clear way.
35. The Phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: A Search for the Limits ofConsciousness.
36. De ltre du phnomne.37. Merleau-Pontys Ontology.38. Chair et langage.39. Derrida, Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy; On Touching Jean-Luc Nancy.40. See Dillon, Semiological Reductionism. Although Dillons sallies against
Derrida are often ill-conceived, his use of Merleau-Ponty is neverthelessnotable.
41. See John Sallis, Delimitations.42. A by no means exhaustive list of recent articles includes Brodsky, Cezanne
Paints: Whole Body Practices and the Genre of Self-portrayal; Cassam,Representing Bodies; Matthews, Merleau-Pontys body-subject and psy-chiatry; Finlay, The Bodys Disclosure in Phenomenological Research;Kelly, Merleau-Ponty on the Body; Krasner, Doubtful Arms and PhantomLimbs: Literary Portrayals of Embodied Grief; Vasterling, Body andLanguage: Butler, Merleau-Ponty and Lyotard on the Speaking EmbodiedSubject; and Wynn, The Early Relationship of Mother and Pre-infant:Merleau-Ponty and Pregnancy.
43. . . . it is never a matter of sheer sensible content devoid of synthetic con-nection and over against it an activity of synthesis that would compose thefull perceptual object from that content. Rather, the effect of Merleau-Pontys analysis is to deconstruct the very distinction between syntheticform and sensible content (Sallis, Delimitations 80).
44. Jeffrey S. Libretts article The Practice of the World: Jean-Luc NancysLiminal Cosmology is a notable exception.
12 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty:Perception
Homme, libre penseur! te crois-tu seul pensantDans ce monde o la vie clate en toute chose? Des forces que tu tiens ta libert dispose, Mais de tous tes conseils lunivers est absent.
Grard de Nerval, Vers dors1
In recent years, two trends have coincided in French thought. First, anumber of authors have taken it upon themselves to assess the relationof deconstruction and phenomenology, and secondly in the same perioda renewed and growing interest has been shown in the work of MauriceMerleau-Ponty.2 The two tendencies are by no means independent, forMerleau-Pontys work is often cited in relation to deconstructive con-cerns, either as a precursor3 or as an antagonist.4 It appears that themoment has come to assess, if not settle, the ontological accountsbetween Merleau-Ponty and deconstruction.
A text which by any reckoning constitutes one of the most decisiveinterventions in this debate is Jacques Derridas Le Toucher: Jean-LucNancy. In Le Toucher, Derrida stages the most significant of his engage-ments with Merleau-Pontys thought, both in terms of its length hedevotes an entire chapter, Tangente III, to a discussion of Merleau-Ponty, in addition to a number of references elsewhere in the text andits subject matter he sets out in an extended series of readings his mainconcerns with Merleau-Pontys thought. This makes Le Toucher a priv-ileged text for considering the relation of Merleau-Pontys phenomenol-ogy to deconstruction.
While some have chosen to cast the relation of phenomenology anddeconstruction as a querelle dcole, an internal case of philosophicalhousekeeping, and others herald in deconstruction the end of phenom-enology, a careful reading of Tangente III reveals that both these posi-tions oversimplify what is at stake. In this chapter we offer an alternative
reading of the Merleau-Pontean account of perception, one that takesits lead from Merleau-Pontys own interpretation of Gestalt psychologyand the elaboration, in his later work, of an indirect or diplopic ontol-ogy which, it will be argued, does not belong to what Derrida calls themetaphysics of presence.
1 . 1 C O N TA C T
It is to say the least remarkable that, before the publication of Le Toucherin 2000, Derrida had undertaken no extended discussion of Merleau-Pontys thought. Before this overdue engagement, Derridas references toMerleau-Ponty are broad and, on the whole, disparaging.5 Le Toucher isa text which ranges over the philosophical history of tactility fromAristotle to Nancy, exploring the motif of touch in terms of the possibil-ity of contact with alterity, either in terms of the external world or otherpeople. The evocation of contact is understood by Derrida as a meta-physical claim to the immediate proximity of alterity,6 which he dismissesas a metaphysical impossibility, for je se touche en sespaant, en perdantle contact avec soi, justement se toucher.7 For Derrida, contact isalways also non-contact, con-tact comme contact interrompu.8
It is notable that, in the course of a close and trenchant reading ofMerleau-Pontys philosophy in Le Toucher, Derrida witnesses a certainreaderly malaise, finding the interpretation of Merleau-Ponty une chose la fois passionnante et difficile, mais aussi parfois irritante ou dce-vante.9 Derrida ascribes this reaction to the juxtaposition in Merleau-Pontys texts (and above all in Le Visible et linvisible) of, on the onehand, phenomenological statements with which he strongly disagreesand, on the other hand, indications of a phenomenology that receives abroad, if not unconditional, Derridean welcome.
Turning first to the Merleau-Ponty with whom Derrida disagrees, theDerridean misgivings focus on two interrelated confusions: the relationbetween touching ones own body and seeing another person, and therelation between the senses, primarily touch and sight. He fails to seehow Merleau-Ponty can claim that:
Ma main droite assistait lavnement du toucher actif dans ma maingauche. Ce nest pas autrement que le corps dautrui sanime devant moi,quand je serre la main dun autre homme ou quand seulement je le regarde.10
Even leaving aside the punning humainisme (humanualism) that hedetects in the anthropological privilege of the hand in Merleau-Pontysdiscussion of touch, Derrida protests that Husserl, whom Merleau-Ponty claims to be glossing, would never have signed up to this ce nest
14 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
pas autrement. Rather than orientating Husserl towards taking moreaudacious account of the other, Derrida argues, this interpretationrisque daboutir au rsultat exactement inverse. On risque de recon-stituer un intuitionnisme de laccs immdiat lautre, aussi originaireque mon accs mon propre le plus propre.11 The ce nest pasautrement risks, in negating the difference between touching ones handand touching the hand of another (never mind merely looking at them),negating also the difference between self and other, reducing the otherperson to the same quality of otherness as ones own hand: that is to say,to an alterity very much less other than Derrida would like. We risk,he warns, reappropriating the alterity of the other more certainly, moreblindly and more violently than ever.12
The second confusion Derrida finds in Merleau-Pontys writing isbetween touch and sight. In Signes Merleau-Ponty claims that je vois quecet homme l-bas voit, comme je touche ma main gauche en train detoucher ma main droite.13 In addition to finding it impossible to justifythis comme, Derrida is alarmed at the conclusions which Merleau-Ponty is quick to build upon its shaky foundations, for it becomes indis-pensable to the Merleau-Pontean ontology of the sensible and to whatDerrida understands to be a Merleau-Pontean notion of (dualistic) incar-nation, la mienne et, sans limite, celle de la chair du monde.14 Themetaphysical shades summoned by the notion of incarnation have notbeen exorcised to Derridas satisfaction. The two confusions amount tothe collapsing, on Merleau-Pontys part, of two irreducible Husserliandifferences: (1) the difference between originary and direct intuition ofmy body (corps propre) touching itself and (2) the indirect appresenta-tion that gives me access to other people, with both of these also con-fused with the difference between sight and touch. Add to this both anexorbitant privilege of vision in Merleau-Ponty15 and the claim that ilme semble que lexprience visuelle est plus vraie que lexpriencetactile,16 and it becomes clear why Derrida would feel a deconstructiveresponsibility to disrupt these unwarranted confusions and privileges.
These worries on Derridas part are indicative of a broader concernin Le Toucher with a (disingenuous) philosophical desire for full orimmediate presence which he sees it as his task to expose:
nous essayons . . . didentifier un intuitionnisme constitutif de la philosophiemme, du geste qui consiste philosopher et mme du processus didali-sation qui consiste retenir le toucher dans le regard pour assurer celui-cile plein de prsence immdiate requis par toute ontologie ou par toute mtaphysique.17
Precisely whether such immediate presence is indeed required byevery ontology and metaphysics, and in our immediate context by
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 15
Merleau-Pontys ontology, it is the business of this chapter to question.The starting point for our consideration of the Derridean claim thatevery ontology requires immediate presence is given by Derrida himself,when he claims that malgr toutes les diffrences qui sparent le dis-cours que je tiens linstant dun discours de style husserlien . . . je luitrouve plus daffinit avec celui que Husserl maintient obstinment ausujet de lapprsentation . . . quavec celui dun certain Merleau-Ponty.18 Derrida is closer to Husserl than is a certain Merleau-Ponty, acurious choice of words upon which Derrida expands, albeit fleetingly,as he discusses more briefly another Merleau-Ponty with whom he findsa much greater degree of affinity, a Merleau-Ponty with une insistancecroissante sur linadquation soi, sur la non-concidence, sur la dhis-cence, la fission, linterruption, linachvement et la bance du corpsvisible, le hiatus, lclipse, linaccessibilit de cette plnitude ou decette rversibilit sensible qui reste toujours imminente.19 This otherMerleau-Ponty is implicitly commended for loriginalit du traitementde linvisible, dun invisible non intelligible ou idal mais dun invisiblequi, pour tre mme le visible ne serait pas linvisible comme un autrevisible possible, ou un possible visible pour un autre ,20 in otherwords for precisely avoiding, in the way he talks about the relationbetween the visible and the invisible, the perils of dualistic incarnationwith which Derrida has trouble elsewhere in Tangente III. Derridastreatment of this other Merleau-Ponty echoes certain aspects of Jean-Luc Nancys thought with which he deals, of course, at length elsewherein Le Toucher.
Derridas palpable exasperation passionnante . . . difficile . . . irri-tante . . . dcevante21 at what he considers to be the contradictorynature of these two Merleau-Pontys leaves him ambivalent:
Faut-il en crditer le philosophe, comme je suis le plus souvent tent dele faire, ou au contraire regretter quil nait pas pu procder une re- formalisation plus puissante de son discours pour thmatiser et penser la loisous laquelle il se plaait ainsi, prfrant toujours, au bout de compte, en fait,la concidence . . . la non-concidence.22
The question is, frustratingly, left hanging. While Derrida has opened afascinating vein of Merleau-Ponty interpretation in Le Toucher, wemust now take the bait of his observations and ask whether there are infact two Merleau-Pontys and, if not, how the two aspects of Merleau-Pontys thought which Derrida identifies might be brought together. It isnot uncommon to refer to contradictions or inconsistencies in Merleau-Pontys work,23 but it is high time to ask whether that common obser-vation does not read Merleau-Ponty against the grain of his own ideasand miss something of the subtlety of what he is doing. Given Derridas
16 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
characterisation of the two Merleau-Pontys, the problem of readingMerleau-Ponty here represents the relation of deconstruction and phe-nomenology en abyme.
It is possible, indeed imperative, to build a case in support of Merleau-Ponty that is sensitive to the Derridean caution while not completelyaccepting its reading. This chapter will lay out such a response by inter-rogating the notion of meaning as contact, upon which the ontologicalsuspicion relies. We shall argue that it is possible to claim that the worldis meaningful without having to rely on any notions of incarnation ordualistic thinking. Any argument in support of Merleau-Ponty will berequired to deal, therefore, not with outright refutation but with a scep-tical questioning: how could we know if the meaning we think we findis not, in fact, manufactured by us? On what basis could a claim to havestumbled across meaning in the world be substantiated, for surely itwould require verification from a position outside human subjectivity,the imprimatur of a view from nowhere. Or perhaps not. It is byexploring how Merleau-Ponty thinks the question of contact and therelated issues of alterity and the coherence of the visible that we shallbegin to see how his thought complicates any attempt crisply to delin-eate the relation of phenomenology and deconstruction.
1 . 2 FA C T I C I T Y / E S S E N C E
In discussing possible responses to the concerns raised by Derrida, it isnot our intention to argue that Merleau-Ponty proleptically and pre-sciently rebuts Derridas arguments, but rather that he elaborates hisontological commitment in a way that is only obliquely addressed byTangente III. The metaphysics of presence which Derrida impugns sitsill with Merleau-Pontys ontology, especially as it is elaborated in hislater work. Merleau-Ponty can sustain the claim, we will argue, that theworld is meaningful, provided that we understand what that claimimplies and what it does not.
Before broaching the question of intramundane meaningfulness itself,it is instructive to note how Merleau-Ponty deals with the alternative.To hold that the world has no role in determining meaning, he main-tains, resolves to idealism and implies a detached subject:
car admettre un naturalisme et lenveloppement de la conscience dans lunivers des blosse Sachen titre dvnement, cest prcisment posercomme premier le monde thortique auquel elles appartiennent, cest unidalisme extrme. (RC 11213)24
The demand for a constituting subjectivity, argues Merleau-Ponty, callsfor and is inextricable from a world affirmed to be, or assumed to be,
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 17
bare of meaning.25 In opposition to this extreme idealism, Merleau-Ponty proposes that self and world are inextricable in the constitutionof sense, an unanalysable Gestalt in which meaning emerges in the inter-action of self and world, while remaning reducible to neither.
The terms in which the question of meaning is posed for the earlyMerleau-Ponty (that is to say, the Merleau-Ponty before Le Visible etlinvisible and Lil et lesprit) are fact or facticity and essence,echoing the scholastic motifs of the an sit: whether something is (exis-tence) and the quid sit: what something is (essence).26 The first way inwhich Merleau-Ponty problematises this distinction between fact andessence is by renouncing the vain quest for knowledge of an ab-soluteor pure essence apart from phenomenality. The fundamental metaphys-ical fact, he insists in Le mtaphysique dans lhomme (SNS 10249/SNS 8398), is a double sense of the cogito, that I am sure that thereis being, but only on the condition that I do not seek another sort ofbeing than being-for-me (SNS 114/SNS 93). In Renaud Barbaras pithyformulation, being for Merleau-Ponty is the being of the phenomenon.27
In Phnomnologie de la perception he frames the argument in still morestrident terms, insisting that to ask oneself whether the world is real isto fail to understand what one is asking (PP 396/PP 144), and il ne fautdonc pas se demander si nous percevons vraiment un monde, il faut direau contraire: le monde est ce que nous percevons (PP xi).28
This must by no means be understood as a retreat into solipsisticreverie. It would be so only if Merleau-Ponty maintained the dichotomyof fact and essence and if self, world and meaning were not intertwined.That the world exists is for Merleau-Ponty undeniable, providing ofcourse that we understand the world as the world-for-me, the phenom-enality of the world. But that does not mean that I understand or cangive an account of the world:
Il y a un monde , ou plutt il y a le monde , de cette thse constantede ma vie je ne puis jamais rendre entirement raison. Cette facticit du mondeest ce qui fait la Weltlichkeit du Welt, ce qui fait que le monde est monde.(PP xii)29
This, for Merleau-Ponty, is not simply a claim to the facticity of theworld completely divorced from the question of its essence, however,for essentiality encroaches onto facticity. David Michael Levin helps usto understand this by drawing a contrast with the Lvinasian il ya/there is.30 In Lvinas, the il y a of brute Being is indeterminate andcontent-free, an absolute other beyond calculation. For Merleau-Pontyhowever, brute being is not chaotic and inscrutable, but more like theHeraclitean notion of nature under the spell of the logos, with a certain
18 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
incipient though by no means definitive synthetic form.31 It is inde-terminate, but only relatively so, a proto-meaningfulness as opposed toa meaningless facticity. Concomitantly, the experience of the il y a isnot one of abject horror as it is for Lvinas, but of Heraclitean thau-mazein, astonished incomprehension at being confronted with the incip-ient logos. The world-for-me is always already pregnant (a term towhich we shall have occasion to return) with form, structure andmeaning.
Facticity never appears for me without this pregnant, indeterminateessence, and so the question of essence cannot be evoked a posteriori,as if it were a second stage in an argument of which the first move is toestablish brute facticity. Essence is ni au-dessus, ni au-dessous desapparences, mais leur jointure, elle est lattache qui relie secrtementune exprience ses variantes (VI 153).32 In the terms that come tocharacterise Merleau-Pontys investigation in the later work, the invis-ible (essence) is the invisible of the visible (the sensible world),encrusted in the joints of the visible, and there is no dualism of fact andessence.
In addition to the fact/essence dichotomy being an a posterioriabstraction from a primary meaningfulness, the claim that the world ismeaningful rests on two further moves on Merleau-Pontys part, oneconcerning the body and one concerning the world. We cannot say thatfacticity is given to the perceiver from the world (that the perceiver ismerely a passive receiver), nor that essentiality is projected upon theworld by the perceiver (that the perceiver is, in this respect, merely anactive conceiver). That distinction is, in its turn, abstractive and a pos-teriori. Meaningfulness must be understood in terms of a strictly irre-ducible mutuality of self and world, and Merleau-Pontys argument forthis mutuality is two-pronged: perception is anchored (1) in the bodyand (2) in the world. This is what guards both against an exclusivelypassive theory of perception as reception and an overactive under-standing of perception as conception:
Lesprit qui peroit est un esprit incarn, et cest lenracinement de lesprit dansson corps et dans son monde que nous avons cherch dabord rtablir, aussibien contre les doctrines qui traitent la perception comme le simple rsultat delaction des choses extrieures sur notre corps, que contre celles qui insistentsur lautonomie de la prise de conscience. (I 402; authors emphasis)33
We shall take these two arguments the rootedness of the perceivingmind in the body and in the world in turn, in order to explore howMerleau-Pontys understanding of meaning in terms of an intertwiningand mutuality of world and body escapes the binaries upon whichDerridas intervention will, in turn, be shown to rely.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 19
20 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
1 . 3 T H E E N R O O T E D N E S S O F P E R C E P T I O N I NT H E B O D Y
The possibilities afforded by Merleau-Pontys understanding of the bodyfor any staging of an encounter between his phenomenology and decon-struction are not lost on Merleau-Ponty scholars. Jack Reynolds in hisMerleau-Ponty and Derrida asserts that a thorough thematisation ofthe body might have induced a somewhat different deconstruction, andperhaps one more along the lines of the later philosophy of Merleau-Ponty,34 and David Michael Levin inveighs against a biologism thatignores the phenomenological body of meaningful experience andrefuses to recognise that the human body has is an order of itsown.35 The body, in belonging both to the perceived world and to theperception of the world, can be adequately described in terms of neitheraspect alone. Given that tout mouvement de mes yeux bien plus, toutdplacement de mon corps a sa place dans le mme univers visible quepar eux je dtaille (VI 175)36 any phenomenology of perception mustacknowledge the indivision de cet tre sensible que je suis et de tout lereste qui se sent en moi (VI 309).37
We must not assume, furthermore, that the body acts like a Husserliantranscendental subjectivity: the consciousness that constitutes the world.That division is precluded, once more as a result of the overlapping orintertwining of perceiver and perceived in the body. In the lecturecourse Nature et logos: Le corps humain (N 263354),38 Merleau-Ponty emphasises that the body straddles the nature/culture divide,and expression lies half way between physis and logos. As theNichturprsentierbarkeit of the Nichturprsentierten that is: the figura-tion of the invisible in the visible (N 271/N 209) the body is both in theworld and that which gives access to things in the world. For Merleau-Ponty there is no passively received worldly meaning, and there is nothingoutside expression, for lexpression nest pas une des curiosits quelesprit peut se proposer dexaminer, elle est son existence en acte (S 127).39
Perception always already stylises (PM 83/PW 59). Nevertheless, and thisis where Merleau-Pontys thought antagonises Derridas anti-ontologicalbent, he can still claim that it is mute Being which itself comes to showforth its own meaning (E 87/EM 188). To understand how this is so,we turn now to examine the relation of the biological and the historicalin the bodys perception of worldly meaningfulness.
Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus helpfully distinguish in Merleau-Pontythree different ways in which corporeality contributes to an under-standing of meaning. Assuming that the basic structure of the body isnot up for interpretation,40 Dreyfus and Dreyfus argue for a facticity of
the perceptual world based on corporeality. There are three ways ourbodies determine what shows up in our world, each stage having a different balance of givenness and constitution. The three ways are(1) innate structures, (2) general acquired skills and (3) specific culturalskills. To explain, Dreyfus and Dreyfus take the example that, toWestern human beings, a chair affords sitting. In terms of innate struc-tures, this is because we have the sort of bodies that get tired and thatbend backwards at the knees; in terms of general acquired skills this isbecause chairs can only solicit once we have learned to sit, and in termsof specific cultural skills, only because we Western Europeans arebrought up in a culture where one sits on chairs, do chairs solicit us tosit on them.41
So my favourite armchairs affordance of sitting is neither a given nora purely contingent fact; it is neither received nor conceived and it canbe accounted for neither in purely biological nor in purely historicalterms. Each of these discourses (biological, historical and cultural,though this list is not exhaustive) must be called upon to account for anaspect of the chairs affordance of sitting. The point here is not thatchairs share an essence of sit-onable-ness, but that any adequate expla-nation of their function is incomplete if it does not take into accountboth the facticity of the human body and any number of historico- cultural accretions. Merleau-Pontys embodied philosophy splits thehorns of the historicism/biologism dilemma. Levin, once again, calls theorder of the body (what Dreyfus and Dreyfus term innate structures)an immanent logos of the flesh42 and, provided that we understand thisin terms of the Heraclitean logos of incipient meaningfulness (asopposed to a notion of the logos in terms of ready-made meanings inwhich things participate), this is an accurate characterisation.
The role Merleau-Ponty gives to the body in perception also helps usto respond to some of Derridas worries in Le Toucher. Merleau-Pontydoes not understand the body as a simple unity, which would by thattoken be ripe for deconstruction. On the contrary, our body acquaintsus with a type of unity that is not a matter of subsumption under a law(PP 175/PP 150), and though there is an imminence (with an i) oftouched and touching, the circle never closes in self-presence. Neitherthe body nor perceptual experience is ever gathered under a concept;their coherence is fragile and untheorisable:
il y a une idalit rigoureuse dans les expriences qui sont des expriences dela chair : les moments de la sonate, les fragments du champ lumineux,adhrent lun lautre par une cohsion sans concept, qui est du mme typeque la cohsion des parties de mon corps, ou celle de mon corps et du monde.(VI 199; authors emphasis)43
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 21
The body is irreducibly open. The body itself, furthermore, is not a givenbut an inextricable mutuality of the biological and the historical, asmuch a human creation as a natural artefact. It is not to a physical objectthat the body is to be compared, but to a work of art (PP 176/PP 150).
Merleau-Ponty seeks to articulate this inextricability of fact andessence through the notion of style. There is no dichotomy of bodilyperception and bodily expression because perception is always alreadyexpressive, poetic and creative; as we have seen already, la perceptiondj stylise (PM 83).44 Merleau-Ponty would agree here with Derrida,contra Husserl, that we have no access to a pure or pre-schematisedworld of meanings, no reduction to meaning. Perception, Merleau-Ponty claims in Le langage indirect et les voix du silence, must bepoetry, cest--dire quelle rveille et reconvoque en entier notre purpouvoir dexprimer, au-del des choses dj dites ou dj vues (S 84).45
The style of existence is expressed in the body, again with no gulfbetween perception and expression:
Le corps . . . nest pas o il est, il nest pas ce quil est puisque nous levoyons secrter en lui-mme un sens qui ne lui vient de nulle part, le pro-jeter sur son entourage matriel et le communiquer aux autres sujets incar-ns. (PP 230)46
In short all perception, and all action which presupposes it, indeed everyhuman use of the body, is already primordial expression (PM 110/PW78). Style is a notion larger than the perceived or the expressed alone,and indeed the categories of perception and expression can only beunderstood as a posteriori abstractions from a poetic, participatoryengagement of coping in a meaningful body-world manifold.
The uses to which bodily intertwining are put in the secondary liter-ature are, it has to be said, sometimes forced, and the responses toDerridean deconstruction upon which they are based misguided. JackReynolds takes the example of a master chess player, whose decisions inthe context of a game can be made quickly, even while occupied withanother mental task, with negligeable loss of proficiency. FollowingDreyfus and Dreyfus, and with an eye to the Derridean understandingof the decision (which we shall discuss at length in the coming chapters),Reynolds ventures that the aporetic difference between that which pre-pares for a decision and the instantiation of the decision itself can belargely effaced. The aporia is eased by mastering a technique.47
Reynolds argument here is won in his choice of example, for the chessmove is not amenable to comparison with the Derridean decision. Howdo I reach checkmate? is not a question requiring a decision of the sameorder as what is just?, to whom should I give? It may well be that the
22 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
aporia of decision can be minimised in the context of a game of chesswith its given rules and aims, but this proves nothing in the case of gift-giving, justice or hospitality with their competing and incommensurableclaims and responsibilities. Computers can convincingly win compli-cated chess games; they cannot convincingly decide complicated legalcases.
Furthermore, restricting the openness of undecidability through habitdoes not challenge the aporia of the decision in Derrida, for it is pre-cisely that irreducible undecidability that the aporia is ensuring in thefirst place. The decision must be impossible, otherwise it would limitwhat Derrida seeks to preserve as a limitless responsibility. It would turnthe decision into a technology, la simple application dun savoir ou dunsavoir-faire.48 The decision for Derrida needs to be undecidable in orderto avoid the reliance on mechanical, unthinking, reflexive decision-making which would pay little attention to the singularity of the case, acalculability that Reynolds seems to want to argue is an improvementon Derridas position. All that Reynolds embodied decisionmakingcan do is restrict the openness of undecidability, the very openness thatDerrida labours hard to maintain. Habit is precisely what Derrida needsto suspend in the decision. Reynolds is not correcting Derrida, butsimply reiterating the position against which the latters understandingof the decision militates in the first place.
It gets us nowhere to suggest that Merleau-Pontys chiasmic accountof embodiment, and his emphasis on the body-subjects propensity toseek an equilibrium within its environment, better accounts for thepossible side of the aporias that Derrida describes.49 Derridaaccounts quite adequately for such possibility himself in terms of cal-culation and convention. It is wrong to suggest that habitual behaviourcan alter and sometimes even recuperate the aporetic framework thatDerrida discerns,50 for the aporia is nothing if not that which cannot berecuperated. No, this is not the point at which Merleau-Ponty can bebrought in to help us better understand how phenomenology mightrespond to deconstructions questions. It is wrong to use Merleau-Pontys account of corporeality to ground decision-making or eliminatethe aporia of the decision. This does not mean, however, that corpore-ality is unable to help us mediate fact and essence. We must be clear notonly that Merleau-Pontys understanding of enrootedness is to beemployed in his encounter with Derrida, but how it is to be employed,and in order to explore the latter point more adequately we turn now tothe relation of meaning and world.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 23
24 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
1 . 4 T H E E N R O O T E D N E S S O F P E R C E P T I O N I NT H E W O R L D
The second way in which Merleau-Ponty thinks the enrootedness of per-ception is in the world. Meaning is always a function of the irreduciblemanifold of body and world. It is important to recognise that this isincompatible with an information-theoretical understanding of meaningas a datum transmitted from the object itself to the percipient herself,where the two are separated by a gulf or abyss. Rather, we must acknowl-edge that meaning emerges from the selfworld Gestalt and does not maponto the codedecode and sender-receiver model of transactional com-munication. Meaning is shared between body and world in the same waythat (as we shall shortly see) it is shared between figure and ground, andan attempt to locate it exclusively in one or the other will inevitablytraduce this relation which cannot be analysed into the quantifiable con-tribution of each abstracted element. From his earliest work, Merleau-Ponty seeks to capture this idea of irreducibility in the notion ofcomportement (behaviour), which is neither objective nor subsumableunder the cogito.
In coping with the world, there is a compound of the world and ofourselves that precedes reflection (VI 295/VI 102), and once more wemust avoid here the mistake of assuming an originary dichotomy of selfand world. On the contrary, il ne faut plus que je me pense dans lemonde au sens de la spatialit ob-jective, ce qui revient mautoposeret minstaller dans lEgo uninteressiert (VI 276).51 I am not only in theworld, according to Merleau-Ponty, but also of it (N 164/N 121): celuiqui voit en est et y est (VI 134).52 This does not suggest a consciouslycognisable or totalisable relation, however. The world is not what Ithink, but what I live through, and I am open to it and have no doubtthat I am in communication with it, but I do not possess it, for it is inex-haustible (PP xii/PP xvixvii). This irreducible relation is evident inMerleau-Pontys writing as early as La Structure du comportement.Arguing against the mechanising tendencies of a behaviourism thatreduces experience into a system of inputs and outputs, Merleau-Pontymaintains that perception is irreducibly structured as a Gestalt of figureand ground.
The evocation of Gestalt in no way amounts to suggesting thatworldly meaning is mathematisable. Indeed, in La Structure du com-portement Merleau-Ponty is arguing against precisely this sort of reifi-cation of perceptual order, such as that found in the early behaviourismof J. B. Watson,53 according to which specific mental phenomena are thereflex caused by the firing of specific, localisable nerve endings, where
reflex is lopration dun agent physique ou chimique dfini sur unrcepteur localement dfini, qui provoque, par un trajet dfini, unerponse dfinie (SC 7).54 Merleau-Ponty rejects the logic of cause andeffect in favour of a circular causality (SC 13/SB 15) between body andenvironment. John Sallis articulates well the way in which the Gestaltfor Merleau-Ponty is not the imposition of order on the formless contentof perception. We quote him here at length:
. . . it is never a matter of sheer sensible content devoid of synthetic connec-tion and over against it an activity of synthesis that would compose the fullperceptual object from that content. Rather, the effect of Merleau-Pontysanalysis is to deconstruct the very distinction between synthetic form andsensible content. Instead of an external correlation of form and content, hisanalysis uncovers at every level a sensible content that is already informed or, more precisely, a sensible fragment that is already installed within a hori-zonal structure and through that structure already engaged in synthesis . . .[This is] a shift of the horizonal structures into the very core of the contentin such a way that there virtually ceases to be any merely presented content.55
Sallis goes on to characterise Merleau-Pontys thought in terms strik-ingly similar to those more commonly employed to describe Derridasrelation to phenomenology. He notes how this second shift, decon-structing the distinction between horizonal structures and the intuitivelypresented, proves so radical as to turn phenomenology against itself,against its founding injunction. And it is equally a turning against meta-physics, a shift by which phenomenology is driven to the very edge ofmetaphysics.56
The distinctiveness of a Gestalt understanding of meaning is that itis the structure or form of the world that is meaningful, not someideational essence infusing inert matter with sense, for it is in virtue ofthe structure and arrangement of the world that meaning and existenceare inextricable one from the other:57
Ce quil y a de profond dans la Gestalt do nous sommes partis, ce nest paslide de signification, mais celle de structure, la jonction dune ide et duneexistence indiscernables, larrangement contingent par lequel les matriaux semettent devant nous avoir un sens, lintelligibilit ltat naissant. (SC 223)58
The meaningfulness of form (structure, pattern) is basic and irreducible,and Merleau-Ponty uses the term comportement to describe this irre-ducible form-matter manifold as it relates to human action. The termbreaks disciplinary boundaries, such that un nouveau genre danalyse,fond sur le sens biologique des comportements simpose la fois lapsychologie et la physiologie (SC 19),59 and it amounts to a profoundcriticism of the Gestalttheorie from which Merleau-Ponty is neverthe-less drawing inspiration, for the Gestaltists, while affirming the primacy
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 25
of structure, conceive it in a realist fashion, reducing all forms to phys-ical forms, in contrast to which Merleau-Ponty understands that byrevealing structure or form as irreducible elements of being he hasagain thrown into question the classical alternative between existenceas thing and existence as consciousness and established a communi-cation between, and a mixture of, objective and subjective.60 Meaningas order is understood to be immanent in the world.61
In Phnomnologie de la perception Merleau-Ponty develops the cri-tique of the behaviourists idea that the perceiving subject is the passiverecipient of a data stream of atomised sensations, in the process sub-suming the Humean category of sensation under the broader notion ofperception.62 It is simply not the case that we construct the world out ofintrinsically meaningless raw and disconnected sensations. On the con-trary, une figure sur un fond est la donne sensible la plus simple quenous puissions obtenir . . . Le quelque chose perceptif est toujoursau milieu dautre chose, il fait toujours partie dun champ (PP 10).63
The perceptual field is not composed of constitutive parts waiting tobe actively related into a Gestalt; the Gestalt is irreducible. Such anunderstanding does not fall prey to the charge of totalisation, for theGestalt is never closed, the perception never complete. In fact, toute per-ception nest perception de quelque chose quen tant aussi relativeimperception dun horizon ou dun fond, quelle implique mais ne th-matise pas (RC 12).64 To adopt Merleau-Pontys own terms fromPhnomnologie de la perception, the Gestalt is neither empiricist norintellectualist (idealist), but an inextricable melange of both.
In Le Visible et linvisible, this relation will be understood in terms ofan ontology of the visible (VI 182/VI 140) in which the invisible is notseparate from the visible but encrusted in its joints. If meaning is a func-tion of form and structure, then meaning and matter are inextricable,and il faut comprendre que cest la visibilit mme qui comporte unenon-visibilit (VI 295).65 Merleau-Pontys account of meaning is notincarnational, but rather what we might venture to call excarnational:Meaning emerges in the folds of the world, from within the structure ofits unatomisable ripples and forms. The passing of sensible objectsunder our gaze or through our hands is comme un langage que sen-seignerait lui-mme, o la signification serait scrte par la structuremme des signes, et cest pourquoi lon peut dire la lettre que nos sensinterrogent les choses et quelles leur rpondent (PP 369).66 There is noideational home of meaning alien to sensible experience; excarnationalmeaningfulness does not rely on a principle or concept to governmeaning, it harbours no dualistic echoes, and by that token it avoids theparalysing dichotomy of the given and the constituted:
26 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
Une chose nest pas donc effectivement donne dans la perception, elle estreprise intrieurement par nous, reconstitue et vcue par nous en tant quelleest lie un monde dont nous portons avec nous les structures fondamen-tales et dont elle nest quune des concrtions possibles. (PP 377)67
This trajectory of thought also leads Merleau-Ponty to an understand-ing of form in nature. In his 195960 Collge de France lectures onNature et Logos: Le corps humain he develops a structural under-standing of being in relation to organisms in the natural world, empha-sising the necessity of understanding an organism or animal as a wholein its environment, and not as a sum of microscopic, punctual parts orevents. The animal is a phnomne-enveloppe , macroscopique, quelon nengendre pas partir des lments (N 275).68 This appeal to formin nature does not require the introduction of a second element or spaceoutside, behind or otherwise elsewhere than the meaning-world mani-fold; Merleau-Ponty does not need to reinstate dualistic incarnation byintroducing a supplement to the phnomne-enveloppe, for he main-tains that it is both merely the sum of its parts and also a transcendententity (N 204/N 153):
les diverses parties de lanimal ne sont pas intrieures les uns aux autres. Ilfaut viter deux erreurs: placer derrire les phnomnes un principepositif (ide, essence, entlchie) et ne pas voir du tout de principe rgulateur.(N 2067)69
It is not the case that another principle suspends the normal functioningof physico-chemical laws in order to establish the structure of thephnomne-enveloppe, yet it is the case that physico-chemical laws areby themselves inadequate to explain that structure:
Lorganisme ne se dfinit pas par son existence ponctuelle; ce qui existe au-del, cest un thme, un style, toutes ces expressions cherchant exprimernon une participation une existence transcendante, mais une structuredensemble. (N 239; authors emphasis)70
A multiplicity of discourses is required to account for its existence, andno one discourse alone is adequate. The organism exists as relation-ship, not as substance; it burgeons forth between its elements, andtotality is partout et nulle part (N 240).71 This totality is not simplygiven in the natural world, and neither is it a perceptual illusion.Structure is originary, and the holistic phnomne-enveloppe is a non-dualistic response to the ide cartsienne de la dcomposition du com-plexe en simple, qui exclut toute considration de la compositioncomme ralit originale (N 124).72 We must not, insists Merleau-Ponty, count form and structure as any less real than the smallest divi-sions of matter: La notion de rel nest pas forcment lie celle dtre
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception 27
molculaire. Pourquoi ny aurait-il pas de ltre molaire? (N 209).73
This is a radical challenge to the notion of self-present and immediatepunctual identity.
1 . 5 T O WA R D S A N I N D I R E C T O N T O L O G Y
As the figure-ground structure is primary for Merleau-Ponty, so too isits meaningfulness. Matter is pregnant with its form (PrP 42/PrP 12) notpregnant with a meaning dualistically divorced from its own structurebut with an always-already meaningful distribution of folds, forms andstructures; il faut reconnatre . . . avant la subsomption du contenusous la forme, la prgnance symbolique de la forme dans le contenu(PP 337).74 Again:
soit une tache blanche sur un fond homogne. Tous les points de la tache onten commun une certaine fonction qui fait deux une figure . La couleurde la figure est plus dense et comme plus rsistante que celle du fond; lesbords de la tache blanche lui appartiennent et ne sont pas solidaires dufond pourtant contigu; la tache parat pose sur le fond et ne linterromptpas. Chaque partie annonce plus quelle ne contient et cette perception lmentaire est donc dj charge dun sens. (PP 9; authors emphasis)75
Once more what we have here is an invisible of the visible.But what is meant by sens here? Certainly not one pole of a
dichotomy of matter and meaning; there is no incarnational haunting ofcertain material substances by ideal significance. It is for Merleau-Pontythe structure or order of the world that is meaningful, and it is in virtueof structure and order that meaning and existence are inextricable onefrom the other. In Le Visible et linvisible the interweaving of the ques-tions of meaning and order is given expression in terms of a cosmologyof the visible:
Je rvoque en doute la perspective volutionniste, je la remplace par une cos-mologie du visible en ce sens que, considrant lendotemps et lendospace, ilny a plus pour moi de question des origines, ni de limites, ni de sriesdvnements allant vers une cause premire, mais un seul clatement dtrequi est jamais. (VI 313)76
Cosmology of the visible does not mean that the visible can beabstractly and precisely charted on some kosmotheoretic mappa mundi,nor that every object in the field of vision is equally determinable.Cosmos is not the antonym of chaos here, just as tre and nant forMerleau-Ponty are not dichotomised as they are for Sartre. So to claimthat for Merleau-Ponty the universe is in fact not a chaos but a cosmos,that is a Totality, a Great Whole which is well structured and which,consequently, is intelligible (chaos being by definition unintelligible),77
28 Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
is to pass over the important way in which the world exists for Merleau-Ponty in a tension between cosmos and chaos, order and disorder,and how, like the elements of a perceptual Gestalt, these poles are aposteriori abstractions from a more originary complex.
The intelligibility in the nascent state (SC 223/SB 207) of the body-world manifold adumbrates what, in Le Visible et linvisible, Merleau-Ponty will later call an empirical pregnancy:
La prgnance empirique . . . consiste dfinir chaque tre peru par unestructure ou un systme dquivalences autour duquel il est dispos, et dontle trait du peintre, la ligne flexueuse, ou le balayage du pinceau est lvo-cation premptoire. Il sagit de ce logos qui se prononce silencieusementdans chaque chose sensible, en tant quelle varie autour dun certain type demessage, dont nous ne pouvons avoir ide que par notre participation char-nelle son sens, quen pousant par notre corps sa manire de signifier ou de ce logos profr dont la structure interne sublime notre rapportcharnel au monde. (VI 2578; authors emphasis)78
By the term empirical pregnancy Merleau-Ponty is suggesting thatthere is worldly meaningfulness, but that it stops short of giving anyworldly meanings. It is inchoate, indeterminate and therefore not a pres-entation or gift of meaning but an invitation to participate in meaning.79
This pregnancy is also a promiscuity, a term Merleau-Ponty uses todescribe the overlap of the visible and the invisible, rejecting a dualismof exteriority and interiority in favour of an empitement de tout surtout, tre de promiscuit (VI 282).80
Meaningful contact between percipient and perceived, if we under-stand it in terms of the relative presences and absences of the Gestalt withits reliefs and folds, is made not with objects or substances, and not interms of any full or immediate presence of worldly meanings to thesubject, but laterally, and in terms, once more, of style. For Merleau-Ponty the other is there for us not with the frontal evidence of a thing, butinstalled crosswise to (install en travers de) our thought (S 259/S 159).This refusal of alterity fixed in the gaze is important in understanding howMerleau-Pontys ontology cannot be straightforwardly deconstructed.
Contact must not be understood in terms of immediacy and com-munion, but promiscuity, the Gestalt and the mutuality of body andworld. In other words, the world with which there is contact is not unpur objet de pense sans fissure et sans lacune, mais comme le style uni-versel auquel participent tous les tres perceptifs (I 404),81 not an objectin my field of vision of which I can be directly aware, but the style of allvision, that by virtue of which vision is possible and that by virtue ofwhich the question of co