The Untouchable Merleau-Ponty’s Last Subject

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


Philosophy, as we all know and some of us still like to believe, is not a science. Inevitably, its questions seem to turn back on the philosopher who raises them and end up putting him into question (VI 27). Which is why he would miss the specific‘practice of the self’ involved in philosophy if he would try to adopt the position of the scientist for whom in principle “there is no special question about being for which there is not a corresponding yes or no in being which settles it” (PW 17). One cannot find a response in being to the kind of questions philosophy raises. They call for an indirect ontology that would explore what it means that there is no answer to the “question of knowing why there are questions and how there come to be those nonbeings who do not know but would like to know” (ibid.). Endo- ontology, then, was to look for‘the origin of truth’and as it became more and more convinced that the point was “to understand that truth itself has no meaning outside of the relation of transcendence” (VI 185) the “archetype” of which it found in perception (VI158), it seems to have concluded that the origin of truth has “broken up” and that “philosophy must accompany this break-up, this non-coincidence, this differentiation” (VI124).


Latent Intentionality Working Note Lateral Implication Phenomenological Reduction Specific Void 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. M. Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in ID., Language, Counter Memory, Practice. Selected Essays and Interviews(ed. D. F. Bouchard), Ithaca (New York), Cornell U.P., 1980, pp. 139-64.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    J. Derrida, ‘Introduction’, in E. Husserl, L’,origine de la géométrie,Paris, P.U.F., 1974, p. 98.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Cf. R. Bernet, ‘Thenomenological Reduction and the Double Life of the Subject’, in Th. KlSIEL—J. VAN BUREN (eds.), Reading Heidegger from the Start. Essays in his Earliest Thought,Albany, SUNY, 1994, pp. 263, 265.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    “kein Tilgen der Seinvergessenheit, sondern das sichstellen in sie” (M. Heidegger, ‘Protokoll zu einem Seminar über den Vortrag ‘Zeit und Sein’’, in ID., Zur Sache des Denkens;Tübingen, Niemeyer, 1976, p. 32).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Cf. TLC 111-2: “If we call philosophy the quest of Being or of the Ineinander,is not philosophy quickly brought to silence — that very silence which from time to time breaks into Heidegger’s essays? But does not this come from Heidegger’s search for a directexpression of what is fundamental at the very moment he is showing its impossibility? Is it not the result of his refusal of all the mirrorsof Being?”. And cf. VI 179: “One cannot make a direct ontology. My ‘indirect’ method (being in the beings) is alone confirmed with being”.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    I am thinking here of Lacan’s attempt in The Ethics’of Psychoanalysisto “define the field of the subject insofar as it is not simply the field of the intersubjective subject, the subject subjected to the mediation of the signifier, but what is behind this subject” (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book VII (1959–60),London, Tavistock/Routledge, 1992, p. 103).Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    One can already find this idea of “a past which has never been (a) present”, usually associated with Levinas or Derrida, in Merleau-Ponty’s PP 242.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    On the problems involved in approaching an older work (the unfinished manuscript of The Prose of the Worlddates back to the early 1950’s) through the lenses of a more recent one, cf. the opening quotes of section I above. In what follows, I will only make some indirect suggestions as to the shift in Merleau-Ponty’s thought when he moves from PW to VI.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    As is well known, in Speech and Phenomena,Evanston Ill., Northwestern U.P., 1973, Derrida has turned this argument against Husserl’s reduction of the indicative moment of the sign (see, in particular, the opening paragraph of Derrida’s sixth chapter, and already its title: “The Voice That Keeps Silence”).Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Cf. VI 145/190 (Merleau-Ponty’s marginal note): “In what sense we have not yet introduced thinking […] we were not in it [= thought] in the sense that the thinking we have introduced was there is (il y a),and not it appears to me that (il m’ apparaít que)…” (to be compared with VI 224).Google Scholar
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    E. LEVINAS, ‘Language and Proximity’, in CPP, pp. 109-26, e.g. p. 119: “This relationship of proximity (…), in which every transmission of messages, what ever bethose messages, is established, is the originallanguage, a language without words or propositions, pure communication. (…) Proximity, beyond intentionality, is the relationship with the neighbor in the moral sense of the term.”(my italics — expressing doubt about the originality of this proximity which for Merleau-Ponty would be derived from a situation which is already ‘non-intentional’ and thus seems to call into question at least part of Levinas’s favourite stratagem of setting up hasty oppositions between ontology and ethics …).Google Scholar
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    Cf. section I above. As to what could have become of The Visible and the Invisiblehad Merleau-Ponty chosen a more subtle form of ‘relativism’ (?) as discussion-partner, see chapter 4 above.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    For this use of the term ‘imaginary’: J. Lacan, Ecrits. A Selection,London, Tavistock/Routledge, 1989, esp. chapters 1–3.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Rudi Visker

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