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This is a final draft of the review published in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 22:4,

640-644. Accessible here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09672559.2014.948712

All references should be to the published version

Maurice Merleau-Ponty Le Monde Sensible et le Monde de lExpression. Geneva,

MetisPresses, 2011, 223pp. (Paperback: ISBN 9782940406388).
Merleau-Ponty regarded phenomenology as a moderating force that held the
promise of altogether criticizing and recuperating the problems and philosophical
structures instituted by the history of philosophy. To his mind, the task was not
onlyas it has become a platitudeto overcome many of the dualisms inherited
from the western philosophical tradition; it was also to establish a ground where such
dualisms, and their relative and historical efficacy could be accounted for. This
concern, which is the link that maintains him solidly within the philosophical tradition
eventually became the root of his move from the phenomenological analyses of the
Phenomenology of Perception to the full-blown phenomenological ontology of the
Visible and the Invisible: how come experience always gives the lie to the dualities of
the tradition whilst containing within its own structure the resources for the
establishment of such fictional dualities? It is no wonder therefore that one of the
main concerns of the ever-growing Merleau-Ponty scholarship is to grasp most fully
the conceptual stakes and the path that led Merleau-Ponty from The Phenomenology
of Perception to The Visible and the Invisible. As Emmanuel de Saint-Aubert points
out in his elegant and comprehensive introduction, this path is marked by a reversal of
the movement initiated by The Phenomenology of Perception: a movement that, after
the descent of intellectualism into incarnation, rises again to find this incarnation best
understood when completed by a movement of expression: this double movement
takes place only in a new, synthetic element Merleau-Ponty calls the flesh (p. 9).
As is well known, Merleau-Pontys concept of the flesh in turn opens into his
mature achievement of a phenomenology which is also an ontology. As MerleauPonty himself declares in the very first pages of his preparatory notes: For me,
perception was essentially a mode of access to being and I make no difference
between ontology and phenomenology because in my opinion, all that we are is
implied in the way that we perceive. (p. 46). Further, as Saint-Aubert notes,
Merleau-Pontys own criticisms of the Phenomenology of Perception take on the
appearance of a criticism of Heidegger as he writes resolutely: a hermeneutics of
facticity cannot be without facts.
Simple as it is, this insight opens up to Merleau-Pontys move to ontology by
allowing the potential of The Phenomenology of Perception to enter into a dialogue
with the ascendant movement of expression, and further, by establishing a ground
where experimental and scientific knowledge can be apprehended as a resource for
ontology (even as it falls short of legislating within the realm on philosophy.)
This lecture course, the first one delivered by Merleau-Ponty after his
inauguration at the College de France, chronicles Mdrleau-Pontys realization that
empirical data, whether it be drawn from detailed analyses of behavioral psychology,
Gestalt psychology, optics, cognitive science or orthopedics, only ever confirms one
fact: there is no beginning to the subjects engagement of the world (or as MerleauPonty often says, vision). On the contrary, it seems that evidence always presents a
mutual reliance of the world and the subject even as they seem to oppose each other.
This interdependence, of course, is Merleau-Pontys approximation of the
reversibility of perception and expression, activity and passivity, and the true secret of
this new book: sensibility and expression are always of each other.

Merleau-Pontys course spanned the first term of the academic year 19531954, with fourteen lessons organized into two themes, space and movement and
the body-schema. The editors have done a splendid job completing the course notes
with a well-chosen selection of working notes directly relevant to themes in the
In a long introduction that covers the first three lessons of the course,
Merleau-Ponty outlines his goal, namely, to show the continuity between the things
(that constitute the sensible world) and the cultural things, the usual objects, [and]
the symbols that constitute the world of expression (p. 45) and how this continuity
lies in the fact that things always suppose meanings, and how in turn, this constant
implication reveals a fundamental function of the world, namely its constant
sublimating activity. It is this very function that becomes determined as a sedimenting
force through the course and finally constitutes the object of Merleau-Pontys mature
ontology. In this simple declaration of intention, Merleau-Ponty deliberately calls into
question his work in The Phenomenology of Perception, which, he contends, did not
do sufficient justice to the fact that any relation to reality is always distant and
therefore that, we now must develop the analysis of how perception leads into
meaning (p. 47).
Such an analysis, Merleau-Ponty suggests, requires the abandonment of the
notion of consciousness for such a notion made internal articulations impossible,
projecting the inarticulate outside of consciousness. In fact, it is now a matter of
bringing the inarticulate back into consciousness, thereby showing how consciousness
is always projected towards meanings. This general teleology of truth (p. 51) which
is the characteristic activity of being, is neither independent from nor identical with
the man, who is this relation between expression and this that is being and
expressed. (p. 57)
In characteristically Merleau-Pontian fashion, the analysis of the reversible
relations of things and meanings is organized around strictly empirical remarks drawn
from experimental psychology and behavioral sciences. Merleau-Ponty begins with
the analysis of space. If the question of expression must remain the question of man,
one must begin with our spatial insertion in the world, or with what Merleau-Ponty
calls incarnation, defined as the adjunction of a point of view to a spirit. (p. 80)
Space, therefore, becomes regarded as the dimension of perspective, and MerleauPonty enumerates the experiments showing how distortionand especially all
distortions related to the experience of spatial depthreveal that objects are not given
in space, but instead that it is their relation with a spatial background that lies
nowhereand this relation alonewhich is given.
In typically phenomenological fashion, Merleau-Pontys next move is to
reverse his focus: if the analysis of the status of the givenness of the world as
givenness of the givenness relied on incarnation, we might be at risk of yielding to the
Husserlian tendency to misconstrue this priority of incarnation as a priority of the
transcendental subject. It is the analysis of movement that should provide the
resources to avoid the idealist path.
For Merleau-Ponty, the experience of movement, when properly analyzed,
possesses the ability to call into question any essentialist fantasy of self-identity: the
object of movement, even when experienced from within as ones own movement, is
notneverthe mobile. As is often the case throughout his writings, MerleauPontys critique of Bergsons description of movement stands as a critique of any
transcendental subject, whether it be Kantian or Husserlian. The subject of movement,
Merleau-Ponty insists, is my own body as mediation, that is to say, as both mobile

embedded in real space and perceived from within in the indivision of the
movement. In short, ones own movement is always an in-itself for-itself, thereby
eluding the primacy of subjectivity that always commits the error of desimplication.
(p. 91) It is in this quality that movement may be called a revelator of being (p. 100)
that operates the junction of the sensible world and the world of expression. (p.
149) As such, movement is the privileged phenomenon whose generalization
projects us into an ontology of a being as generality (p. 119-120), that is to say, an
If the incarnate man may be regarded as a generalizing machine (p. 92) it
is because the body-schema remains at the center of Merleau-Pontys concerns even
as they shift from phenomenology to ontology: the body-schema becomes the center
of gravity of being. Merleau-Pontys main project in the second part of the course is
therefore to show that the body-schema is first and foremost a structure, that is to say
that it is determined by articulations that express themselves as language. (pp. 160165) Language, in turn, becomes the name of all expression, that is to say, of all
behavior (whether it be human, historical, aesthetic or natural) for expression is now
the name of the reversible relation of being with itself, the intra-relation that makes
intra-ontology (and the standpoint from which Merleau-Pontys own work is uttered)
Any new work from Merleau-Ponty can only be welcomed with enthusiasm
by a public increasingly aware of his importance and relevance to the understanding
of representation for practical and theoretical disciplines alike. As such, The Sensible
World and the World of Expression needs no defense and we can only express our
keen wish to see it translated with the promptness that the vibrant English-speaking
Merleau-Ponty scholarship, deserves.
This book offers crucial insights into the motivations for Merleau-Pontys
move to ontology, as well as precious elaborations on the grounds of his
dissatisfaction with The Phenomenology of Perception, and the internal necessity of a
project like that of The Visible and the Invisible. This does not mean however, that Le
Monde Sensible et le Monde de lExpression should only be welcomed as a historical
insight into Merleau-Pontys work. In it, Merleau-Ponty talks to us not only of his
own philosophy, he addresses new subjects in unexpected ways, includingbut by no
means limited tothe phenomenon of cinema as moving image and image of
movement; to the notion of structure and its importance in preventing ontology from
collapsing into idealism; or to an understanding of myth as an essential aspect of the
fabric of our lives, albeit one whose expression, repressed by the modern tendency to
demand that any expression subject itself to the categories of truth and untruth, is
more problematic than ever. Le Monde Sensible et le Monde de lExpression analyses
the experience of an existence that constantly eludes the traditional categories in its
breathless creation of meaning.
Frank Chouraqui
Ko University, Istanbul