Raw Being and Violent Discourse Foucault, Merleau-Ponty and the (Dis-)Order of Things

  • Rudi Visker
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 155)


Phenomenology has been too pacifying, Deleuze tells us, and he suggests that we leave Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty for what they are and turn to Foucault in order to discover a more profound Heracliticism. Genealogy is too much a war-machine, others like Habermas respond, and they recommend different remedies. There is nothing extraordinary about this situation. We are, in fact, all too familiar with it. We have come across it in different philosophical settings, with different parties engaging one another and with different choices to be made. We all know from our own experience — and lest we forget, there will always be a flourishing para- philosophical literature to remind us — that this “originating” miracle we know as the philosophical tradition has been “breaking up” (cf. VI 124).


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  1. 1.
    G. Deleuze, Foucault, Paris, Minuit, 1986, p. 120 (“la phénoménologie est trop pacifiante, elle a béni trop de choses”) and passim.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I am alluding to the title of chapter 10 in MERLEAU-PONTY’s Sense and Non-Sense, Evanston Ill., Northwestern U.P., 1964Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On this notion of’statement’ (énoncé) and its function in Foucault’s archaeology see AK, part III.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In ‘Réponse à une question’ ( Esprit, 1968 (36: 5)) Foucault defined discourse as that which is “constituted by the difference between what could be correctly said in a given epoch (according to the rules of grammar and of logic) and what is effectively said” (p. 863, — my transi.).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Foucault who was Hyppolite’s student and successor at the Collège de France, may have taken this expression from the latter’s intervention at the famous 1957 Royaumont-colloquium on Husserl (Husserl (Cahier de Royaumont. Philosophie n° III), Paris, Minuit, 1959, p. 323): “J. Hyppolite: (…) is the notion of a transcendental field in which the conditions of subjectivity would appear, and where the subject would be constituted out of (à partir du) this transcendental field, is such a situation possible? — Rev. Van Breda: For Husserl, this solution is inconceivable.” (my transi.).Google Scholar
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    For a lucid account see Russell KEAT’s The Critique of Objective Thought’ which is the fifth chapter of the jointly written Understanding Phenomenology (M. Hammond, J. Howarth, R. Keat), Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1991.Google Scholar
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    On this shift see my Michel Foucault. Genealogy as Critique, pp. 66 ff.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., chapters 2 and 3.Google Scholar
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    Merleau-Ponty’s view that classical Italian painting “lacked any idea of the subjectivity of the painting” (SO 518) should perhaps be qualified somewhat in the light of recent research pointing to “an increasingly articulate sense of the artists’ individuality” in the course of the 15th century Italian Renaissance, which was, however, primarily based on differences in skill (e.g. the mixing of colours, the drawing of faces, etc.) and does not yet seem to imply the notion of subjectivity Merleau-Ponty seemed to have had in mind (M. Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, Oxford/New York, Oxford U.P., 1991, pp.20 ff.)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    E. Panofsky, La perspective comme forme symbolique et autres essais’, Paris, Minuit, 1975, pp. 63-6. Merleau-Ponty quotes repeatedly from Panofsky’s famous 1924 piece on ‘perspective as symbolic form’ in Eye and Mind (PrP, 174-5).Google Scholar
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    For a brief exposition see H. Putnam., Reason, Truth and History, Cambridge U.P., 1981, esp. chapter 3.Google Scholar
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    As can be inferred from Merleau-Ponty’s discussion with Kant throughout PP and in the opening chapter of VI or from Foucault’s explicit disclaimers in AK 126ff. (on ‘conditions of reality’) and in the 1973 interview ‘An Historian of Culture’ (in Foucault Live (Intel-views, 1966–84), New York, Semiotext(e), 1989): “What I called episteme in The Order of Things has nothing to do with historical categories, that is with those categories created in a particular historical moment” (p. 75).Google Scholar
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    Raw being seen as an ‘inaccessible radical exteriority’ makes Jean-Pierre Le Goff, in an otherwise interesting article, interpret Merleau-Ponty’s last writings as an attempt to turn philosophical reflexion into “an intellectual mysticism” ('Le paradoxe du language et l’être brut’, Les Cahiers de Philosophie (nr. 7: Actualités de Merleau-Ponty), 1989 (spring), pp. 69-84, esp. pp. 76 ff.).Google Scholar
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    In his intervention at Royaumont Merleau-Ponty stressed that “the transcendental attitude is not an attitude where one can stay (se tenir) or install oneself (s’installer)” (Husserl, o.c., p. 159 — my transi.)Google Scholar
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    On this “transition from the mute world to the speaking world” (VI 154/202) which was already a major theme in PP, see J. Taminiaux, ‘Experience, expression and form in Merleau-Ponty’s itinerary’, in ID., Dialectic and Difference: Finitude in Modern Thought, New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1985, pp. 133-54 and Y. Thierry, Du corps parlant. Le langage chez Merleau-Ponty, Brussels, Ousia, 1987.Google Scholar
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    Cl. Lefort, ‘Editor’s Foreword’, in VI, p. XXX.Google Scholar
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    B. Waldenfels, Ordnung im Zwielicht, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1987: “Mit jedem Anspruch, der in der Erfahrung auftritt, tritt etwas auf, das selektive und exklusive Formungen produziert, aber in diesen nicht aufgeht”, (p. 178). Waldenfels’s attempt to generate from this insight a notion of a ‘responsive rationality’ is further documented in some of his essays in the two companion volumes to Ordnung im Zwielicht: In den Netzen der Lebenswelt, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1985 and Der Stachel des Fremden, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1990. Cf. also, more recently, his Antwortregister, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 1994.Google Scholar
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    As is suggested in B. Waldenfels, ‘Das Zerspringen des Seins. Ontologische Auslegung der Erfahrung am Leitfaden der Malerei’, in A. MéTRAUX — B. WALDENFELS (eds.), Leibhaftige Vernunft. Spuren von Merleau-Ponty’s Denken, München, Fink, 1986, p. 185.Google Scholar
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    A solution which, it should be noted, is explicitly rejected in ‘Das Zerspringen des Seins’, p. 159.Google Scholar
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    One will find this theme of a ‘retreat of language’ differently developed from PP, through PW to VI. For a good overall account of Merleau-Ponty’s views on language see e.g. J. Schmidt, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Between Phenomenology and Structuralism, London/Basingstoke, MacMillan, 1985, chapter 4 (with literature).Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    M. Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, London, Penguin Books, 1983, pp. 61 ff. (‘On Two Kinds of Laughter’).Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Rudi Visker

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