From Marxism to Ontology: Maurice Merleau-Ponty
The name of Maurice Merleau-Ponty conjures a multitude of images, refracting against one another in ways that continually surprise. There is first of all the phenomenologist. Under his pen, phenomenology becomes less than a method to be applied and more than an attitude: the phenomenological analyses emerge on their own from the materials in which they were embedded, those of science, of culture, and of the everyday. His studies of expression in art and literature are of a piece with the sure hand that guides his interpretations of the so-called hard sciences. The philosopher was part of a generation that lived through war, occupation, and the unanswered challenges of creating a post-war. The same manner of cleaving to the world is present in his political choices and critical analyses. He seemed to accept the reality of Cold War political dualism (in Humanism and Terror) before challenging its apparent common sense in a denunciation of what he called ‘Sartre’s Ultra-Bolshevism’ in his study of the Adventures of the Dialectic. The speculative moment of his phenomenology reappears in the unfinished ontology in The Visible and the Invisible where the reader has a sense that a poetic layer of mystery overlain with Heideggerian echoes weighs down the articulation of his philosophical lucidity. Each rereading, particularly in light of the fact that his work was cut short prematurely, offers new possibilities of interpretation, poses new questions, even at times suggests new practical political-historical understandings.