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Volume 45


John J. Drummond, Fordham University

Editorial Board:

Elizabeth A. Behnke
David Carr, Emory University
Stephen Crowell, Rice University
Lester Embree, Florida Atlantic University
J. Claude Evans, Washington University
Burt Hopkins, Seattle University
Jose Huertas-Jourda, Wilfrid Laurier University
Joseph J. Kockelmans, The Pennsylvania State University
William R. McKenna, Miami University
Algis Mickunas, Ohio University
J. N. Mohanty, Temple University
Tom Nenon, The University of Memphis
Thomas M. Seebohm, Johannes Gutenberg-Universitat, Mainz
Gail Soffer, New School for Social Research, New York
Richard M. Zaner, Vanderbilt University


The purpose of this series is to foster the development of phenomenological philosophy through
creative research. Contemporary issues in philosophy, other disciplines and in culture generally,
offer opportunities for the application of phenomenological methods that call for creative responses.
Although the work of several generations of thinkers has provided phenomenology with many results
with which to approach these challenges, a truly successful response to them will require building on
this work with new analyses and methodological innovations.

edited by

Emporia State University,
Emporia, KS, U.S.A.


Florida Atlantic University,
Boca Raton, FL, U.S.A.


A C.I.P. Catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

ISBN 978-90-481-5953-6 ISBN 978-94-015-9944-3 (eBook)

DOl 10.1007/978-94-015-9944-3

Printed on acid-free paper

All Rights Reserved

2002 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht
Originally published by Kluwer Academic Publishers in 2002
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2002
No part of the material protected by this copyright notice may be reproduced or
utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
induding photocopying, recording or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner.
Preface by Lester Embree vii

Introduction by Ted Toadvine xv

I. Merleau-Ponty as a Reader of Husserl

1. Merleau-Ponty on Husserl: A Reappraisal 3

Dan Zahavi

2. Merleau-Ponty's Ontological Reading of Constitution 31

in Phenomenofogie de fa perception
Elizabeth A. Behnke

3. The Phenom~nological Movement: A Tradition 51

without Method? Merleau-Ponty and Husserl
Thomas M Seebohm

II. Phenomenology and Method in Merleau-Ponty

4: Leaving Husserl' s Cave? The Philosopher's Shadow Revisited 71

Ted Toadvine

5. From Dialectic to Reversibility: A Critical Change 95

of Subject-Object Relation in Merleau-Ponty's Thought
Hiroshi Kojima

6. What about the praxis of Reduction? Between Husserl 115

and Merleau-Ponty
Natalie Depraz

7. From Decisions to Passions: Merleau-Ponty's Interpretation 127

of Husserl' s Reduction
Sara Heinamaa

ill. Legacy and Tradition

8. The Time of Half-Sleep: Merleau-Ponty between Husserl 149

and Proust
Mauro Carbone

9. Eugen Fink and Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Philosophical 173

Lineage in Phenomenology
Ronald Bruzina

10. The Legacy ofHusserl's "Vrsprung der Geometrie": 201

The Limits of Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty and Derrida
Leonard Lawlor


11. Merleau-Ponty's Reading ofHusserl: 227

A Chronological Overview
Ted Toadvine

Notes on Contributors 287

Index 291


All projects have stories behind them, and perhaps the one behind this
volume is worth telling. I first read some Merleau-Ponty while working on
my doctorate at the New School for Social Research in the 1960s. Later, in
the mid-1970s and after I had transferred from my first teaching position at
Northern Illinois University to my second at Duquesne University, I studied
Merleau's oeuvre fairly thoroughly and taught several graduate courses on
his thought. On the basis of those efforts, I wrote "Merleau-Ponty's
Examination of Gestalt Psychology."! It seems a tacit norm in how I was
trained that one express gratitude to a source from whom one has learned by
writing at least one essay on her or him; I have also paid my philosophical
debts to Cairns, Gurwitsch, Hume, Husserl, James, Sartre, and Schutz.
While writing my Merleau-Ponty essay, I recognized the possibility of
and need for a study of his interpretation of Husserl and even reserved the
right to conduct it. I do hope that nobody took that claim seriously because
my interests wandered elsewhere once I was no longer learning from
Merleau-Ponty. But I also underestimated the task (more recently I thought
similarly that I might survey Alfred Schutz's interpretation of Husserl only
quickly to find that interpretation was far more extensive and complex than
it had first seemed).
A study of Merleau-Ponty on Husserl had apparently still not been done
when, several years ago, Dr. Ted Toadvine came to serve for a year as the
William F. Dietrich Fellow under my supervision here at Florida Atlantic
University. I soon found him extremely knowledgeable about Merleau-
Ponty, told him myoId idea for a study, and our collaboration began.
Toadvine had reviewed practically all of the secondary literature on
Merleau-Ponty when writing his dissertation, Contradiction, Expression,
and Chiasm: The Development ofIntersubjectivity in Merleau-Ponty, at the
University ofMemphis under Leonard Lawlor, and he confirmed that indeed
practically nothing had been published on how it was that Merleau-Ponty
understood what was for him the greatest figure in the previous generation.
When he told me how much Merleau-Ponty had actually written about
Husserl, we decided that he should prepare the chronicle that is included as
the appendix to the present volume.

J. Research in Phenomenology IO (1980): 89-121.


I am responsible for the word "reading" in our title, although Ted did not
resist it. Let me explain that choice. I do oppose all attempts to model as
texts objects that are not texts and to construe all experiences as literary
experiences. In the first place, I deny that we do literally read the items that
we are most interested in, which is to say other animate beings; I may read
my lover's letters but I do not read my lover's face. Not only do most
objects not convey significations, as words do, but most of those that
represent, e.g., smiles, are indicative or signaling.2 I even doubt that thinking
is an ingredient in all experiencing. It may seem harmless to say that a
subsistence hunter or farmer "reads" signs of animals or the weather, but are
the woods or the sky texts? Does such a model fundamentally help or hinder
an understanding of how such people encounter their surroundings? Is not
better and more literal terminology needed?
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Merleau-Ponty's access to
Husserl's thought was fundamentally through the reading of texts. He never
met Husserl, and he seems to have heard Husserllecture only once. To be
sure, he must have learned something about phenomenology in dialog with
Husserl's students, Eugen Fink and Aron Gurwitsch, but those are secondary
sources. And, as Toadvine's chronicle and some testimony included below
show, Merleau-Ponty's reading ofHusserl was highly selective. He was not
an Husserl scholar by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, he simply took
inspiration from his main source.
Before we decided to include Toadvine's chronicle in this volume, we
called it a "prompting text" and sent it to the people we invited for our
research symposium. They were equally amazed and used it to greater or
lesser degrees in preparing their chapters. Even so, these chapters show that
we have only begun to understand Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl.
Toadvine's chronicle will be useful to others in years to come.
The main event in preparation for this volume was the research sympo-
sium held in Delray Beach in November 1999. This was the ninth such
meeting organized by myself with colleagues and with support from the
Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology, Inc. as well the William
F. Dietrich Eminent Scholar Chair at Florida Atlantic University and

2. Cf. Aron Gurwitsch, "The Phenomenology of Signals and Significations," iri Aron
Gurwitsch, Marginal Consciousness, ed. Lester Embree (Athens: Ohio University Press,
1985),83-106; and Lester Embree, "The Phenomenology of Representational Awareness,"
Human Studies 15 (1992): 301-11.

published in the Contributions to Phenomenology series that c.A.R.P. Inc.

sponsors at Kluwer Academic Publishers. The technique involved is simple,
and others are welcome to imitate it.
Once one has the resources, a theme and a collaborator need to be decided
upon. Then a list of perhaps fifteen possible participants is developed and
ranked with some consideration given to matters of gender, generation, and
geographical areas. Such considerations are necessary since the
phenomenological tradition has always been receptive to women, since
cultivating the next generation cannot be forgotten, and since it is a world-
wide tradition. 3 Each group of participants should look as much like
phenomenology as possible.
Toadvine and I recruited an appropriate number of people from North
America, East Asia, and Western Europe to come to Delray Beach for
mutual criticism of drafts that would be revised into chapters for this
volume; in future meetings, colleagues from Eastern Europe and Latin
America will also be included. We were also guided in this process by the
senses that we had of who might be more sympathetic with which of the two
philosophers chiefly in question. The major error in our recruitment effort,
for which we have neither explanation nor excuse, concerned the influence
of Eugen Fink on Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husser1. 4 This omission
became clear during the symposium. Fortunately, Ronald Bruzina was just
the expert needed for that aspect, and he has the character not to resent our
oversight; his is Chapter 9 below. The editors and readers of this volume
must be particularly grateful to him.
What of the influence of Aron Gurwitsch? According to some notes I kept
from a conversation with Gurwitsch on November 13, 1971, "I suggested
that he had taught M-P his phenomenology. He said he did not think so, that
rather Aron, Levinas, and Cavailles had done that." (Although there are
several perfunctory footnotes, there are no discussions of Fink in
Gurwitsch's work; in addition, Gurwitsch never mentions Levinas in print,
although there is an early MS. on Levinas in his Nachlass.) Nevertheless,

3. Cf. Lester Embree and J. N. Mohanty, "Introduction," in The Encyclopedia of

Phenomenology, ed. Lester Embree et al. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997),

4. Cf. Fred Kersten, "Notes from the Underground: Merleau-Ponty and Husserl's Sixth
Cartesian Meditation," in The Prism ofthe Self Philosophical Essays in Memory ofMaurice
Natanson, ed. Steven Galt Crowell (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995),43-58.

some people have thought otherwise, but an adequate textual basis has not
been available for it to be studied. With Gurwitsch's Esquisse de la
phenomenologie constitutive in press, however, this situation is about to
change. Let me repeat the external facts about their contacts that are also
mentioned in my Introduction to that work. 5
Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Aron Gurwitsch were introduced during a
reception at the home of Gabriel Marcel in Paris in the Fall of 1933. The
younger man asked ifthe older was related to the author of Phiinomenologie
der Thematik und des reinen Ich and Gurwitsch acknowledged his doctoral
dissertation. 6 Merleau-Ponty began attending his courses of lectures at
L'Institut d'Histoire des Sciences (Sorbonne), beginning with the first one,
which was published as "Quelques aspects et quelques d6veloppements de
la psychologie de la forme."7 He corrected the French on that long essay and
also on the long critical study of the papers of a conference that was also
published as Psychologie du langage. 8 And Father van Breda told me that
when Merleau-Ponty visited the recently established Husserl Archives at
Louvain in April 1939 he told him at length about Gurwitsch's course of
1937, which is what the Esquisse was developed from.
Later Gurwitsch wrote as follows to Alfred Schutz:

I have checked Merleau-Ponty's Structure du comportement out of the library. It

seems to be a very competent work. I took a look at his sections dealing with

5. Aron Gurwitsch, Esquisse de la phenomenologie constitutive, ed. Jose Huertas-Jourda

(Paris: Librairie Vrin, forthcoming).
6. Psychologische Forschung 12 (1929): 279-381, English translation by Fred Kersten in
Aron Gurwitsch, Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1966). Since this dissertation was cited neither in La Structure du
comportement (1942) nor Phenomenologie de la perception (1945), Gurwitsch was quite
pleased when I showed him the citation of it in Merleau-Ponty's "La Nature de la perception"
(1934), published in Theodore F. Geraets, Vers une nouvelle ph ilosophie transcendantale:
La Genese de la philosophie de Maurice Merleau-Ponty jusqu 'il la Phenomenologie de la
perception (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971), 191; "The Nature of Perception: Two
Proposals," trans. Forrest Williams, in Merleau-Ponty, Texts and Dialogues, ed. Hugh J.
Silverman and James Barry, Jr. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992),74-84.

7. Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique 35 (1936): 413-70, English translation

by Richard M. Zaner in Gurwitsch's Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology.
8. Aron Gurwitsch, "XIe Congres international de psychologie," Revue de mitaphysique et
de morale 50 (1938): 145-60.

Goldstein's work. He used a great deal that I have said about that in print as well
as in lectures. (December 15, 1946)

I am currently reading Merleau-Ponty's Perception . ... I hear an enormous

amount from my lectures in the book. He has learned a lot from me and taken
over a great deal. Not only in details, where he has carried many things further.
I doubt that he would have had the idea of interpreting the psycho-pathological
material phenomenologically without my influence. My reaction to the reading
is a mixture ofpleasure and melancholy. Honest pleasure over the excellent book,
which is truly a fme achievement; also pleasure over the fact that my influence
in a sense was the godfather. And the melancholy refers to the modus prateritus.
Here I will never have such a fme influence. (August 11, 1947)9

After the war, Gurwitsch reviewed both the French original of Phe-
nomenofogie de fa perception and later its English translation. His chief
objection concerned the omission of the concept of no ema from that work.
One can indeed wonder how phenomenological an extensive research
product without that concept can be. \0 Merleau-Ponty cites Gurwitsch twice
in his Sorbonne Lectures,ll and his critique of Gurwitsch's Theorie du
champ de fa conscience has recently been published. 12
What is written above addresses how the idea of this volume emerged for
me and was then developed in collaboration with Ted Toadvine, but it does
not address the source of my interest. My motivation was from the
beginning not that Merleau-Ponty's reading was simply another nice topic

9. Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch, Philosophers in Exile: The Correspondence ofAlfred
Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch 1939-1959, ed. Richard Grathoff (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1989),88 and 93. Gurwitsch told me that when he departed France he left
his copy ofSchutz'sDer sinnhafteAufbau der socialen Welt (1932) with Merleau-Ponty, but
there seems no further sign of this.

10. Cf. Lester Embree, "Gurwitsch's Critique of Merleau-Ponty," The Journal ofthe British
Society for Phenomenology 12 (1981): 151-63.

11. Both published references are in Merieau-Ponty's 1950-51 course, "Psycho-Sociologie

de I'enfant," in Merleau-Ponty ala Sorbonne: resume de cours 1949-1952 (Paris: Cynara,

12. Merleau-Ponty, "Notes de lecture et commentaires sur Theorie du champ de la conscience

de Aron Gurwitsch," ed. Stephanie Menase, Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale 3 (1997):
321-42; "Reading Notes and Comments on Aron Gurwitsch's The Field ofConsciousness,"
trans. Elizabeth Locey and Ted Toadvine, Husserl Studies 17, n. 3 (2000): 173-93.

for some scholarship. Rather it goes back to the consternation I felt when I
started going to meetings ofthe Society for Phenomenology and Existential
Philosophy in 1969 and began actually hearing certain objections to Husserl
from people who were partisan to Merleau-Ponty. I had been trained in
constitutive phenomenology by Dorion Cairns and Aron Gurwitsch in the
golden era of the New School and hadllittle doubt about what Husserl's
positions were on most matters.
It is even now amazing to remember hearing it said that Husserl was a
solipsist, that consciousness for him was disembodied, that he was an
intellectualist, that he had no account of history, that there was for him only
one transcendental ego (Were they talking about Averroes?), and that he had
abandoned transcendental phenomenology in Die Krisis der europaischen
Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phaenomenologie of 1936 and
became an existentialist in the end. Even now I cannot say which of these
claims strikes me as the most preposterous. I will not attach names and
footnotes to the expressions of such opinions, not only because it does not
seem worth my current assistant's time to search the pertinent literature
from the 1950s and '60s for confirmations, but also because I do not see a
benefit in embarrassing colleagues most of whom have very probably
recognized and corrected their errors in the meantime. Myths, however, can
live on.
It was also part ofthe division oflabor between Ted and me that he would
write the Introduction to this volume and I would write this Preface. But just
what belongs in which part was not made clear in all respects. There are two
general remarks that I now seize the opportunity to make. First of all, while
I hope I have become somewhat notorious for constantly urging that soi
disant phenomenologists engage in phenomenological investigations of the
matters themselves rather than more and more dubious scholarship on texts,
the present project calls for scholarship on what Merleau-Ponty's texts
contain in the way of interpretation of Husser!' Let me make it clear that I
am not opposed to scholarship as such, but rather to the mixing of genres
that corrupts both as well as the continuing shortage of new phenomenology
strictly so called. Is it not more important to contribute to the primary than
to the secondary literature?
Texts of course arise in contexts. Husserl's phenomenology is arguably
the first context for Merleau-Ponty's oeuvre. Perhaps the chapters here will
stimulate the scholarly exploration of yet other contexts. No doubt the
Heidegger-Merleau-Ponty connection has been explored, but it was a matter

of course before the rise of hermeneutical phenomenology that there were

not two but three major sources of phenomenology: Husserl, Heidegger, and
Scheler. With the publication of Jean-Paul Sartre's Cahiers pour une
morale, \3 the influence of Max Scheler on him is the more clear. Probably
there was an influence of Scheler on Simone de Beauvoir. The secondary
literature on Merleau-Ponty would be stronger ifthere was either a study of
Scheler's influence on Merleau-Ponty or a comparative study of their two
philosophies. In her chapter in this volume, Elizabeth Behnke links Scheler
with Edith Stein in affecting Merleau-Ponty's perspective on Husserl.
Merleau-Ponty's first publication is on Scheler even though he seems to
confuse him with Husserl in it. 14
In the second place, the question of Merleau-Ponty's method is raised in
some of the chapters here and was also discussed to some extent at the
research symposium. Afterwards, I recalled a passage that may shed some
light on this aspect of Merleau-Ponty's work, and that Toadvine has
translated for us.

In reality, [Merleau-Ponty] did not carry out detailed pioneer work, but rather
picked out passages and formulas that electrified his own meditation. He was not
and did not want to be a scholiast nor even an historian of philosophy. He
approached Husserl with ulterior motives, knowing by divination what he would

13.Jean-Paul Sartre, Cahiers pour une morale (Paris: Gallimard, 1983); Notebooks/or an
Ethics, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

14. Merleau-Ponty, "Christianisme et ressentiment," La Vie intellectuelle 36 (1935): 98-109;

"Christianity and Ressentiment," trans. Gerald G. Wening, in Texts and Dialogues, 85-100.
Perhaps an amusing adventure in scholarship is worth a comment. I first read Scheler in the
French translation of his Formalismus. I still have my copy, but the covers of this French
paperback are long gone. I remember firmly, even now, reading a statement on the back cover
that struck me in its style as written by Merleau-Ponty, who was, with Sartre, an editor ofthe
series in which that Scheler translation appeared. So I have searched for a copy of this book
with the covers intact. It is a first edition. The statement on the back of the second edition is
different from what I remember, used booksellers in the U.S. and France could not find a first
edition for me, it is not held in the Library of Congress, none of the people in the present
project or in Scheler studies or among the circles offriends whom I consulted had the book.
I wrote to the publisher, Gallimard, and received a nice letter back that did not convince me
that the first edition was looked at. It would be a delight that only a scholar would appreciate
if somebody found that edition so that it could be decided if the blurb was written by
Merleau-Ponty and, if so, then his concise assessment around 1950 was appreciated. But
perhaps my memory is misleading me.

find there, as he had read the others, for example Goldstein, whom he has very
falsely been accused of having plagiarized. His reading was selective yet
attentive. When a text struck him, he picked up his pen and wrote a kind of free
commentary, grafting his thought onto that of others, and put his own mark upon
it. One can show that many pages of the Phenomenoiogie resemble concentrated
glosses, that they make up autonomous developments on a suggestion, a
launching ramp offered by a theme whose inventor had not quite perceived all of
its implications. I take these details about Merleau-Ponty's work habits from a
conversation long ago with Professor Gerhard Funke at Mainz, who was then, in
1938, lecturer-tutor at the Rue d'U1m alongside his French colleagueY

The editors thank the participants in this volume for their excellent
contributions. The reader should know, however, that none of us believe that
we have more than opened some of the issues that fall under the heading of
"Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl."

Lester Embree
Delray Beach, February 2001

15. Xavier Tilliette, Merleau-Panty au la mesure de l 'hamme (Paris: Editions Seghers, 1970),

In recent years, academic philosophy's tendency toward pedantic specializa-

tion and superfluous textual analysis has been the target of considerable
criticism, especially by academic philosophers themselves. The title of the
present work, Merleau-Panty 's Reading afHusserl, is apt to raise suspicions
along these lines. First of all, beyond the small group of scholars specializ-
ing in Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, or the still smaller group with an interest
in both, who, indeed, would take an interest in such a topic? And, second,
the very idea of an entire collection with the structure "X's reading ofY's
reading of Z" seems likely to inspire the kind of meta-referential vertigo
associated with recent fads in literary criticism. Yet, while such criticisms
may at times be justified, they would be unfounded in the case of the present
work. In fact, it would not be overstating to assert that this volume addresses
an issue central to the future of philosophy that carries repercussions
extending across disciplinary boundaries.
For a start, it is worth pointing out that phenomenology, broadly
understood, has inspired nothing less than a world-wide revolution in
philosophical thinking during its first century, as well as extending its
influence far beyond the academic discipline of philosophy to establish
phenomenological branches in such disciplines as anthropology, architec-
ture, geography, law, nursing, psychology, and sociology. 1 Even so, the
importance of phenomenology for academic philosophy has been difficult
to assess, especially in the United States, where the term "phenomenology"
has often been used loosely as a methodological equivalent for the
geographical designation "continental philosophy."2 Certainly recent
movements treated as part of "continental" theory-e.g., structuralism, post-
structuralism, or critical theory-cannot be considered part of the
phenomenological tradition strictly speaking, and in many cases the
proponents of these theoretical movements take their point of departure
precisely in a criticism and rejection of phenomenology's central method-

I. For entries on phenomenology in these disciplines and the influence of phenomenology

throughout the world, see the Encyclopedia of Phenomenology, ed. Lester Embree et. at.
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997).

2. This is adequately shown by the diverse philosophical methodologies represented at the

annual meetings of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), which
has been described as the largest annual meeting of "continental philosophers" in the world.


ological tenets. But this reaction against phenomenology is also a certain

debt to it, in that those schools of thought included under the rubric of
"continental" philosophy have in general defined themselves either as
beginning from or against phenomenology, that ofHusserl in particular. 3 If
this is so, we are justified in seeing phenomenology as the shared central
core of continental philosophy throughout the last century, and Husserl is
analogously the shared central core of phenomenology: he is, to use my co-
editor's expression, the "trunk" of the Continental "tree." Even though
analytic philosophy remains the dominant tendency in certain parts of the
world (especially in English-speaking countries), there are many indications
that even here philosophy is heading toward a more pluralistic future, one
in which the sharp factional boundaries of the past few generations are no
longer as easily drawn. There are good reasons to believe, then, that the
success phenomenology has achieved in other disciplines and countries will
have a growing effect on philosophy in these more anglophone areas. Our
future is clearly bound, therefore, to Husserl's legacy, and the recognition
of this fact may account for the growing international revival of interest in
"classical" phenomenology.4
Even so, the question remains of what phenomenology will make of itself
in this open future: what will future generations of "phenomenologists," in
philosophy as well as other disciplines, mean by the term "phenomenol-
ogy"? It is here that the issues raised in Merleau-Ponty's reading ofHusserl
have their decisive force. As has been recognized many times (and most
recently in the Preface above), Merleau-Ponty was certainly not a Husserl
scholar in any strict sense of the term. Yet if he were no more than a
commentator on Husserl, such attention to his reading of Husserl would be
both unnecessarily redundant, since we could simply return to the primary

3. Lester Embree has developed this line of thinking in some detail in his as yet unpublished
manuscript, "Husserl as Trunk of the American Continental Tree." It is also worth re-
emphasizing here, l1s Embree has noted, the extent to which such figures of recent interest as
Derrida and Levinas, while often treated as post-phenomenological, insist on the necessary
role of phenomenology in their own thinking.

4. I am using this expression, as I have elsewhere, not to imply the relegation of this tradition
to a merely historical importance but, on the contrary, to suggest that it has become a
"classic" in Merleau-Ponty's sense ofthe term, i.e., that it institutes a tradition ofthought that
retains and rewards perennial attention. See Merleau-Ponty, Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960),
16-7; Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964),

source himself, and of questionable value for anything more than intellectual
history. I do not mean to denigrate the importance of examining the history
of philosophy (quite the contrary, as my essay in this volume attests), but
there is little call for commentary on commentators, and for good reason. If
Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl demands a properly philosophical
examination, this is so precisely because it marks the confrontation of two
original thinkers. And the topic of this confrontation is nothing other than
the question that faces us squarely today: what is the proper scope, method,
and future of phenomenology?
It is probably unnecessary to admit at the outset that the present volume
will not answer this question, and it may well be that questions of this form
do not admit of straightforward answers. There is admittedly considerable
difficulty involved in clarifying the question itself. Since the time when we
first began collaboration on this project, my co-editor and I have returned
often to debate on this very topic, e.g., whether necessary conditions for
phenomenology as a deep historical tradition can be specified (cf. his
remarks on noema in the above Preface). Of course, the difficulty of
defining phenomenology is also already noted by Merleau-Ponty in his
famous Preface to Phenomenologie de la perception, written to answer the
very question, "What is Phenomenology?" Admitting straightaway that this
question "has by no means been answered," Merleau-Ponty writes the

the opinion of the responsible philosopher must be that phenomenology can be

practiced and identified as a manner or style of thinking, that it existed as a
movement before arriving at complete awareness of itself as a philosophy. 5

While this characterization may be appropriate for its time, it does no more
for us today than make the issue more pressing: has phenomenology arrived,
in the meantime, at "complete awareness of itself as a philosophy"? Should
it be striving to do so? Is any such "complete awareness" even possible
within the limits of phenomenological investigation, as espoused by either
Husserl or Merleau-Ponty? Itis to such significant questions that each of the
essays in this volume points, more or less explicitly, and we could well have

5. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), ii;

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962;
rev. 1981), viii. The emphasis is Merleau-Ponty's.

sub-titled this volume "What is Phenomenology?" The absence of a final

consensus in answering such questions, and even on the form of the
questions themselves, will perhaps be understandable to our reader.
Nevertheless, the dialogue crystallized in this volume is certainly a new
stage in phenomenology's self-understanding, for the simple fact that the
question of Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl has been raised explicitly
for its first extended consideration. The willingness of our contributors to
wade into this troubling confluence of ideas, and their open-minded
consideration of issues that might, in other contexts, arouse partisan
responses, certainly deserves appreciation. As editors, it has been our key
goal to encourage just such open dialogue among the wider audience of
scholars inspired by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, to urge them to reject the
caricatures that pepper contemporary literature in favor of closer examina-
tion both of texts and of other matters themselves. The future of
phenomenological philosophy lies, we believe, in this direction.

The essays in the volume are divided topically into three groups, the first of
which, "Merleau-Ponty as a Reader of Husserl," deals with the general
issues raised by Merleau-Ponty's Husserl-interpretation, i.e., whether this
interpretation is true to Husserl's text and to the "spirit" of Husserl's
philosophy. To begin the volume, Dan Zahavi's essay, "Merleau-Ponty on
Husserl: A Reappraisal," starts from the surprising fact of the rejection of
Merleau-Ponty's Husserl-interpretation by many Merleau-Ponty scholars.
While Merleau-Ponty himself finds in Husserl a philosophical approach
compatible on many key points with his own, the general consensus has
been that Merleau-Ponty's reading ofHusserl is more creative than faithful.
Zahavi, by contrast, believes Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl to be
ahead of its time and largely borne out by posthumously published material
and still unpublished manuscripts. To make his case, Zahavi draws on
material from throughout Husserl's oeuvre to portray a Husserl startlingly
close to that championed by Merleau-Ponty himself, concentrating on
certain key themes: the nature of the reduction, reciprocity and reversibility
in the constitution of nature and incarnated subjectivity, the constitutive role
of embodiment, the significance of operative intentionality, and the claim
that transcendental subjectivity gives way to transcendental intersubjec-
tivity. While not denying significant differences between the two philoso-

phers, nor that there are other tendencies within Husserl' s thought that
Merleau-Ponty does not pursue, Zahavi concludes that Merleau-Ponty's
reading avoids many still common misconceptions of Husserl' s enterprise
and demonstrates a closer congruence between his and Husserl' s thought
than is found in other post-Husserlian phenomenologists.
Elizabeth A. Behnke's essay "Merleau-Ponty's Ontological Reading of
Constitution in Phenomenologie de la perception," is less sanguine about
the congruence ofMerleau-Ponty' s project with that ofHusserl. After taking
note of the interpretative context (shaped in part by the earlier work of
Scheler, Stein, and Fink) and the general strategies that inform Merleau-
Ponty's appropriation of the concept of constitution, Behnke charts the
dialectical stages ofthis appropriation in Merleau-Ponty' s Phenomenologie
de la perception. To Kant and the early Husserl, Merleau-Ponty attributes
a negative, "intellectualist" conception of constitution, portraying it as the
meaning-giving activity of an absolute consciousness before which the
world is transparently displayed. As an alternative, Merleau-Ponty offers a
positive account of constitution as a creative and dynamic event that takes
its impetus not from the experiencing agent but rather from the "spontane-
ous upsurge of the world." But this latter, positive version of constitution
always implies a certain pre-given ontological stratum, and Merleau-Ponty
uses this account of constitution as a springboard to turn toward interpretive
questions of fundamental ontology. Behnke expresses concern that,
whatever its value for Merleau-Ponty's purposes, his treatment fails to
appreciate the essential methodological role that constitution plays in
Husserl's descriptive phenomenological analyses-analyses upon which
Merleau-Ponty's own work relies. This disparagement of constitutive
phenomenology in favor of interpretive ontological speculation has, in
Behnke's view, encouraged the emphasis on text interpretation that
characterizes our current philosophical climate. As antidote, she recom-
mends a return to the consultation and description of experiential evidence
as advocated by Husserlian philosophical practice.
Although it could just as easily have been included in the following
section on method, Thomas M. Seebohm's essay, "The Phenomenological
Movement: A Tradition without Method? Merleau-Ponty and Husserl," is
included here for its value as an introduction to the general problematic that
Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl raises. For Seebohm, borrowing from
Spiegelberg, phenomenology in the strict sense is characterized by a concern
with the how of givenness, while phenomenology in the broad sense, the

camp into which Merleau-Ponty's work is seen to fall, satisfies itself with
a consideration of the what of givenness alone. After setting out preliminary
distinctions of methodological hermeneutics, Seebohm examines Merleau-
Ponty's reconstruction ofHusserl' s project in terms of distinct developmen-
tal periods. To justify this reconstruction, Merleau-Ponty relies on the
traditional topos of separating the "letter" of Husserl' s philosophy from its
"spirit," claiming to find a tacit sanction for his own position in Husserl's
later reformulations. In Seebohm's view, such a claim of sanction is
mythical and lacks any basis in Husserl' s texts, as he demonstrates through
an analysis of Merleau-Ponty' s specific claims about the phenomenological
reduction, the eidetic reduction, and the structure of intentionality. Although
Merleau-Ponty's rejection of the how of givenness, and thus of questions of
method, may stem from his recognition of the difficulties that Husserl' s
metaphysical self-interpretation introduces, these difficulties do not apply
to a properly methodological conception of Husserlian phenomenology.
Seebohm concludes that we are justified in excluding Merleau-Ponty' s work
from phenomenology in the strict sense on the basis of his rejection ofthe
phenomenological method and the absence in his work of the development
of a substantive methodological alternative. Yet, given his primary concern
with the what of human existence, we are justified in treating him as a
phenomenologist in the broad signification of the term.
The essays in Part II continue these reflections on the question of method
and the nature of phenomenology as Merleau-Ponty has appropriated it. This
section opens with my essay, "Leaving Husserl's Cave? The Philosopher's
Shadow Revisited," which explores the intentions behind Merleau-Ponty's
final essay on Husserl, "Le Philosophe et son ombre." Merleau-Ponty' slater
appropriation ofHusserl is motivated not by a rejection of phenomenology'S
transcendental starting point, I contend, but by the attempt to develop a
phenomenological account of the limits of phenomenology, an account that
necessarily radicalizes his earlier understanding of the phenomenological
reduction. Taking his cue from Husserl, Merleau-Ponty is increasingly
concerned with the historical telos of philosophy and consequently with
rethinking the nature of the reduction by way of an archeological retrieval
of the history of philosophy. While his interpretation of the reduction at the
time of Phenomen%gie de la perception was modeled on a radicalized
Cartesian doubt, this model ofthe reduction lacks resources for understand-
ing the contingency and resistance ofthe world. In his later work, Merleau-
Ponty seeks a transformation of phenomenology that will provide it with

resources for exploring its own limits, its relation with non-philosophy, and
this leads him to an examination of the ancient Greek origins of reflective
philosophy, specifically the grounding of Western philosophy's telos in
Platonism. This shift of emphasis is apparent in "Le Philosophe et son
ombre," which should be read, I suggest, as a re-interpretation of the
transcendental reduction that takes as its paradigm Plato's myth of the cave.
According to this reinterpretation, the chiaroscuro of the cave serves as
allegory for the relation between phenomenology and the resistance and
contingency that mark its limits. In conclusion, I propose that the incorpora-
tion of the depths of the cave within the progression towards truth offers
new resources for exploring phenomenology's "shadow."
Hiroshi Kojima's essay, "From Dialectic to Reversibility: A Critical
Change in the Subject-Object Relation in Merleau-Ponty's Thought,"
contrasts Merleau-Ponty's treatment of the subject-object relation in his
three major theoretical works, with an eye toward the implications of this
shift for his relation with Husserlian phenomenology. In La Structure du
comportement, Merleau-Ponty's appropriation of Gestalt theory guides his
analyses of subject-object relations toward resolution in a synthetic
coincidence, the lower order (e.g., the body) being maintained as a
subordinate structure within the higher order (e.g., the mind). But, according
to Kojima, the transcendence of human consciousness and of the alter ego
lead Merleau-Ponty, in Phenomenologie de la perception, to seek a
philosophical grounding for Gestalt theory in Husserlian phenomenology,
despite his difference from Husserl on the nature of transcendental
subjectivity. While Merleau-Ponty continues to offer examples of subject-
object coincidence in his second book, his denial of objectivity to "subjec-
tified objects," e.g., instruments incorporated into the corporeal schema,
often obscures this coincidence. On Kojima's reading, this marks the
beginning of a retreat away from the dialectical synthesis of subject and
object, a shift also apparent in Merleau-Ponty's reorganization of the
relations between personal, social, and organic existence. This reorganiza-
tion leads to the emphasis on reversibility in Le Visible et I 'invisible, which,
for Kojima, is linked with Merleau-Ponty's redefinition of Gestalt in terms
of deviation and his development of a notion of hyperdialectic that lacks
synthesis. The denial of coincidence between subject and object implied by
this emphasis on antithetical reversibility is problematical, Kojima contends,
as it undercuts the proper description of the human body's corporeal
schema. Concluding with a brief summary of the implications to be drawn

from Merleau-Ponty's ontology of "flesh," Kojima questions whether such

a notion can truly provide the basis for "continuous practical human
agency," given its denial of the subject-object synthesis that makes such
agency possible.
In her essay, "What about the praxis of Reduction? Between Husserl and
Merleau-Ponty," Natalie Depraz seeks a middle ground between Merleau-
Ponty's and Husserl's views of the reduction by describing its concrete
practice. Although both Merleau-Ponty and Husserl discuss the "possibility"
of the reduction, Depraz shows that for Merleau-Ponty this is a possibility
for activity within the world, and is therefore subject to the limitations of
our incarnate existence. For Husserl, on the other hand, the in-principle
possibility of the reduction concerns the radical putting out of play of the
world, although his multiplication of the attempts at formal theoretical
description of the reduction run the risk of a methodologism that cuts us off
from its concrete act. For both Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, the emphasis lies
with the "claim" of the reduction, a claim that lends itself to being
understood either as essentially incomplete due to our finitude or as a
Kantian regulative ideal, and this emphasis encourages us to understand
reduction as something that can never be actualized. According to Depraz,
Merleau-Ponty's rejection of the thematization of the reduction is concor-
dant with his general privileging of operative intentionality and pre-
reflective experience, but he does admit the existence of an "operative"
reduction already at work in phenomenological description-a possibility
that might not be opposed to Husserl' s own view of reduction. Rej ecting the
oppositions between thematization and operativity and between immanent
praxis and transcendental theory, Depraz develops an "intermediate"
conception of the reduction by elaborating its three principle
phases-suspension, conversion, and letting-go--and describing the
relations between these phases and the motivations that set the process
going. This structured description of the reduction in terms of concrete eide
aims to overcome the limitations of both the Husserlian and Merleau-
Pontian accounts, providing a "priming" for continued intersubjective
description and confirmation.
Bringing this section to a close, Sara Heinamaa's essay, "From Decisions
to Passions: Merleau-Ponty's Interpretation of Husserl's Reduction,"
explores the link between Merleau-Ponty's claim that a complete reduction
is not possible and his characterization of the reduction, following Fink, as
"wonder in the face of the world." Dismissing the common claims that

Merleau-Ponty rejects either the transcendental or the eidetic reduction,

Heinamaa contends that his methodological conception of the reduction
extends below the level of theoretical activity and will to also bracket the
non-thetic affective dimension of our perceptions. The key to this level of
reduction lies in the notion of wonder, borrowed not so much from the
Greeks as from Descartes, whose account ofthe mind-body compound plays
a decisive role as precursor to the phenomenological description of the lived
body. For Descartes, wonder precedes the evaluation of its object, thereby
serving a different role than that of the other passions, i.e., maintaining and
serving the well-being of the mind-body compound. Rather than pursuing
the useful or the pleasurable, wonder is an interruption in our normal
routine, a break that makes a change of direction or orientation possible.
Under this interpretation, wonder plays the crucial role of disengaging us
from our natural affective orientation toward the world, turning us instead
toward its face, its unified and expressive style. It follows, according to
Heinamaa, that the reduction can never be completed, for Merleau-Ponty,
because of the type of event that it is: not an activity, an accomplishment of
will, but precisely a passion, what I must await to befall me. Even so, I can
prepare myself for this experience by "cultivating the openness to the
unexpected," an approach to the philosophical task that Merleau-Ponty
continues to share with Husserl.
The third section of our volume looks specifically at Merleau-Ponty's
relation to three other figures, past and present, who are intertwined in
different ways with his reading of Husserl: Proust, Fink, and Derrida. In
"The Time of Half-Sleep: Merleau-Ponty between Husserl and Proust,"
Mauro Carbone finds Merleau-Ponty's gradual break with Husserl's analysis
of temporality and the ontology undergirding it to be inspired by motifs
borrowed from Proust's A fa recherche du temps perdu. As Carbone shows,
Proust's descriptions of corporeal experience, e.g., those of memory in the
state of half-sleep, inform Merleau-Ponty's analysis of temporality in
Phenomenofogie de fa perception, where he eschews the traditional
interpretation of time as a series of now-points in favor of a description of
its originary experience. Bringing together Husserl' s notion of operative
intentionality and a Heideggerian conception of transcendence, this earlier
work emphasizes the continuity and circularity ofthe relation between past,
present, and future in our corporeal experience, treating "time as the subject
and the subject as time." But in his later work, Carbone asserts, Merleau-
Ponty has cause to revisit this analysis of time, relying once again on the

inspiration of Proust. Merleau-Ponty's shift away from a philosophy of

consciousness toward a "diacritical" ontology leads him, Carbone maintains,
to reject the continuity of time grounded on the intentional horizons of
subjectivity. Instead, Merleau-Ponty's later work suggests a "simultaneity"
of past, present, and future as dimensions of a self-differentiating Being.
According to this ontological perspective, "operative intentionality" is best
understood as an event within being, no longer governed by distinctions
between continuity and discontinuity, subject and object, or active and
passive. In developing this later position, according to Carbone, Merleau-
Ponty borrows again from Proust for his guiding motifs, and these lead him
to finally break with the vestiges of Husserlian intellectualism that had
marked his earlier work
Ronald Bruzina's essay, "Eugen Fink and Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The
Philosophical Lineage in Phenomenology," explores the historical interac-
tion and philosophical convergence between these two like-minded disciples
of Husserl. To explore this convergence, Bruzina pieces together the
available facts about the historical interaction of the two men, especially the
decisive moment of their meeting and discussions in Louvain in 1939,
drawing on Van Breda's accounts, Merleau-Ponty's familiarity with Fink's
work, Fink's own ongoing research, and unpublished materials, including
Merleau-Ponty's letters, drawn from the Fink Nachlass. Fink's conception
of transcendental phenomenology during this period shares "substantive
philosophic continuities" with Merleau-Ponty's account inPhenom/mologie
de la perception, according to Bruzina, and these continuities are particu-
larly evident in Merleau-Ponty's claims concerning the unfinished nature of
phenomenology, the relation between concrete and eidetic investigation, the
pregivenness of the world, the constitutive role of our embeddedness in the
world, and the emphasis on operative intentionality. Further evidence of
philosophical convergence is found in Fink's own contributions to
phenomenology, e.g., in his development of the "system" -character of the
phenomenological method and in his re-interpretation of the radical nature
of the phenomenological reduction confronted by the self-givenness of the
world, as well as in the subject matter of his transcription work at Louvain.
The convergence of these two conceptions of the phenomenological project
are reflected, Bruzina suggests, in the parallel concepts of Weltbefangenheit
and prejuge du monde, in their similar interpretations of phenomenology's
open-endedness, and in their development of the dimension of "ontological
experience" in human existence. While rejecting any simplistic understand-

ing of Fink's "influence" on Merleau-Ponty, Bruzina asserts that the

"coherency of sense" in the work of the two phenomenologists is evidence
of Fink's place in the "lineage" of philosophical development from Husserl
to Merleau-Ponty.
In the final essay of this section, "The Legacy ofHusserl's 'Ursprung der
Geometrie': The Limits of Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty and Derrida,"
Leonard Lawlor finds a basic convergence between the later thought of
Merleau-Ponty and the early work of Derrida, a convergence that comes to
light by comparison oftheir respective readings of Husserl 's late fragment,
"Ursprung der Geometrie." On the basis ofHusserl's comments here about
the role of writing in the constitution of ideal objects, Merleau-Ponty and
Derrida both assert a "double necessity," according to Lawlor. On the one
hand, writing is necessary in order to go beyond subjective experience and
achieve ideal objectivity; but, on the other hand, writing also answers to the
necessity of opening ideality to subjective experience. Lawlor explores this
double necessity by focusing on key images drawn from each author's
reading ofHusserl: the grimoire for Merleau-Ponty and the "entombment"
oflost intentions for Derrida. These two images converge in the ambiguous
notion of "sur-vival," entailing the going-beyond or overcoming oflife (i.e.,
death), but equally the intensification oflife (i.e., the overcoming of death).
The necessity of going beyond life is represented by "originary non-
presentability" in Merleau-Ponty and "non-presence" in Derrida, but while,
for Merleau-Ponty, this negativity is a content lacking form, for Derrida the
form lacks and requires content. Turning next to the intensification of life,
Lawlor finds that both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida rely on conceptions of
faith and repetition, although for Merleau-Ponty this is the repetition of
perpetual beginning, "recommencement," while for Derrida it is the
indefinite iteration of the end, or "refinition." Exploring the continuity
between these two thinkers in terms of their orientation toward phenomen-
ology's basic problems and limits, Lawlor concludes that Merleau-Ponty's
legacy survives in Derrida, while both remain faithful to the spirit of
My chronicle of Merleau-Ponty's writings on Husserl, the "prompting
text" referred to by Professor Embree in his Preface, is included as the
Appendix to the volume under the title "Merleau-Ponty's Reading of
Husserl: A Chronological Overview." The aim of this chronicle is to bring
together the historical and biographical information that is available about
Merleau-Ponty's familiarity with Husserl's work and to provide a reason-

ably concise survey of Merleau-Ponty's comments on Husserl throughout

his career. In particular, I have attempted to identify the texts by Husserl to
which Merleau-Ponty had access at different points, especially in the early
years of his career, and to highlight those comments in his writings on
Husserl that seem best to reflect his overall understanding of Husserl's
project at any particular point. Of course, such a project cannot hope to be
exhaustive, even in these many pages, but this chronicle may at least lead
the interested reader to further sources for more detailed study.
We are grateful to Samuel J. Julian for his assistance with the conference
in Delray Beach where most of these essays were first presented, and to
Elizabeth Locey for translating the essay by Mauro Carbone for its
publication here. Along with Professor Embree, I would also like to express
my thanks to those who have contributed to this volume, both for their fine
work and for their cheerful patience.

Ted Toadvine


Chapter 1

Merleau-Ponty on Busserl: A Reappraisal

Dan Zahavi
Danish Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities

Abstract: Many Merleau-Ponty scholars have questioned the validity

of Merleau-Ponty 's Husserl-interpretation. In contrast, this paper
argues that Merleau-Ponty 's reading was ahead of its time and has
been confirmed to a very large extent by recent Husserl scholarship.
This is shown in detail through a presentation of Husserl's late
reflections on reduction, constitution, embodiment, passivity, and
intersubjectivity, reflections which are primarily to be found in
posthumously published manuscripts.

If one comes to Phenomenologie de la perception after having read Sein und

Zeit (or Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegrijfs), one will be in for a
surprise. Both works contain a number of both implicit and explicit
references to Husserl, but the presentation they give is so utterly different that
one might occasionally wonder whether they are referring to the same author.
Thus nobody can overlook that Merleau-Ponty's interpretation of Husserl
differs significantly from Heidegger' s.1t is far more charitable. In fact, when
evaluating the merits ofHusserl and Heidegger respectively, Merleau-Ponty
often goes very much against the standard view. This is not only the case in
his notorious remark on the very first page of Phenomenologie de la
perception, where he declares that the whole of Sein und Zeit is nothing but
an explication of Husserl' s notion oflifeworld, but also--to give just one
further example-in one of his Sorbonne lectures, where MerIeau-Ponty
writes that HusserI took the issue of historicity far more seriously than

1. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), i;

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962; revised, 1981),
vii [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English pagination]; Merleau-Ponty,
Merleau-Ponty ala Sorbonne: Resume de cours 1949-1952 (Paris: Cynara, 1988),421-2;
"Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," trans. John Wild, in The Primacy 0/Perception,
ed. James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 964), 94-5.
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husser~ 3-29.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

1. Husserl and the Merleau-Pontyeans

My point of departure will be the surprising fact that a large number of

Merleau-Ponty scholars have questioned the validity of Merleau-Ponty's
reading of Husser!' Let me illustrate this with a few references.
In his book, The Phenomenology ofMerleau-Ponty, Gary Madison writes
that Merleau-Ponty in the central essay "The Philosopher and His Shadow"
attempts to unearth the implications ofHusserl' s late philosophy and to think
his "unthought thought." But as he then continues, "the essay is no doubt
more interesting for what it tells us about Merleau-Ponty's own late
thought.,,2 Thus, according to Madison, the essay is not so much about what
Husserl did say, as it is about what he should have said, and it must
consequently be read as an exposition of Merleau-Ponty's- own thoughts
rather than as a genuine Husserl-interpretation (Madison, 213, 330). And as
he then adds: "I do not mean to say that Merleau-Ponty completely misunder-
stood Husserlian philosophy ... but only that he did not want or could not
believe that Husserl was nothing more than the idealist he was" (Madison,
In Martin Dillon's book, Merleau-Ponty's Ontology, we find a similar
interpretation. Speaking of the same essay from 1959, he writes: "Just as he
finds his own thought in the unthought ofHusserl, the Husserl Merleau-Ponty
finds reason to praise is frequently an extrapolation of his own philosophy.,,3
And Dillon then basically continues along the same line as Madison: If
Husserl had rigorously pursued the ontological implications of the notion of
the lifeworld that he set forth in Krisis "he might have altered his own
transcendental idealism (with all its latent solipsism) and arrived at a position
similar to Merleau-Ponty' s. But the fact is that Husserl never abandoned the
reductions or the idealism to which they inevitably lead" (Dillon, 87).
To mention just one more example, in his book Sense and Subjectivity: A
Study ofWittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty, Philip Dwyer writes that although
Merleau-Ponty occasionally tries to make excuses for Husserl and even
distorts his doctrine in order to make it more palatable, the fact remains that

2. Gary B. Madison, The Phenomenology ofMerleau-Ponty (Athens: Ohio University Press,


3. M.e. Di1Ion,Merleau-Ponty 's Ontology (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1997),


for the most part, Husserl 's work was antithetical to Merleau-Ponty's.4 And
as Dwyer then concludes: "In my view, what, for the most part, Husserl
meant by and practiced as 'phenomenology' can only be described as giving
new meaning to the word 'muddled.' The less said about the details of
Husserl's philosophy the better" (Dwyer, 34).
Given Merleau-Ponty's persistent and rather enthusiastic (though by no
means uncritical) interest in Husserl-an occupation that lasted throughout
his life, and which actually increased rather than diminished in the course of
timeS-this unwillingness among Merleau-Ponty scholars to take his Husserl-
interpretation seriously is somewhat astonishing. Why is there such certainty
that the philosophies of the two are antithetical, and that Merleau-Ponty must
have misrepresented Husserl's position more or less knowingly in order to
make it less offensive? Some ofthe reasons have already been mentioned. In
the eyes of a number of Merleau-Ponty scholars, Husserl remained an
intellectualist, an idealist, and a solipsist to the very end, regardless of what
Merleau-Ponty might have said to the contrary.
If we take another look at Madison's and Dillon's accounts, we will
basically encounter a criticism of Husserl that seems to owe much more to
Heidegger's reading of Husserl than to Merleau-Ponty's. In their view,
Husserl held on to the idea of a self-transparent transcendental ego that could
be fully disclosed through systematic reflection (Dillon, 31). This transcen-
dental ego was moreover conceived along the lines of a transcendental
onlooker for whom its own body, worldly things,and other subjects would
be but constituted objects spread out before its gaze (Madison, 38). Thus
Dillon and Madison imply that Husserl understood transcendental subjectiv-
ity as a sovereign spirit which reigns supremely over the world as its original

4. Philip Dwyer, Sense and Subjectivity. A Study ofWittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty (Lei den:
Brill, 1990),33-4.
5. For a careful account of the different phases of Merleau-Ponty's Husserl-reading see
Toadvine's Appendix "Merleau-Ponty's Reading ofHusserl: A Chronological Overview" in
this volume. The issue of Merleau-Ponty's own development raises a question that I will be
unable to pursue in this paper, namely, the relation between his early and later thought.
Madison and Dillon disagree on this point, and for that reason draw different conclusions
when it concerns Husserl's influence on Merleau-Ponty. Whereas Dillon emphasizes the
continuity between Phenomenologie de la perception and Le Visible et I 'invisible, Madison
denies it. Consequently, Dillon claims that Merleau-Ponty's break with Husserlian
phenomenology is already to be found in Phenomenologie de la perception, whereas Madison
actually argues that Merleau-Ponty's position in that work does not differ in any radical way
from Husserl's (!), and that all the supposed shortcomings of the work are due to that fact
(Madison, 32, 226).

creator and as the final judge of truth and value (Madison, 101; Dillon, 170).
Husserl consequently remained an immanentist and an intellectualist. He
neverrealized the significance ofthe Other, he never understood the problem
of passivity, and he never acknowledged the role of the body, but unto the
very end located the sole constitutive foundation in the pure agency of the
transcendental ego (Madison, 213; Dillon, 58, 146, 113).
On what textual basis do Madison and Dillon found this interpretation?
Unfortunately both of them seem to consider the criticism they express to be
so very much the received opinion that they deem a thorough documentation
to be unnecessary. This is in particular the case for Madison, whose work
contains amazingly few references to Husserl's own writings. The situation
is slightly better in Dillon, but even he does not always bother to substantiate
his criticism, and when he finally does, the only works he refers to are from
the usual group, i.e., Zur Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins, Die
Idee der Phiinomenologie, Philosophie als strenge WissenschaJt, Ideen I,
Cartesianische Meditationen and Krisis. For somebody not familiar with
Husserl's writings, this might seem to be more than sufficient, but, as any
Husserl scholar will know, the fact that Dillon does not refer to the posthu-
mously published material makes a decisive difference. Not only does it
imply that he never refers to the work by Husserl that had the greatest impact
on Merleau-Ponty, namely IdeenII, but neither does he draw on volumes like
Erste Philosophie II, Erfahrung und Urteil, Analysen zur passiven Synthesis,
or Zur Phiinomenologie der Intersubjektivitiit I-III, all of which contain
material that are highly pertinent when it comes to the issues that Merleau-
Ponty claimed to find in Husserl.
As has been known for a long time, thanks to Van Breda's article,
"Maurice Merleau-Ponty et les Archives-Husserl aLouvain," Merleau-Ponty
had access to some of Husserl's unpublished manuscripts very early on. In
fact, when he arrived in Louvain in April 1939, he was the very first outsider
to visit the Husserl-Archives, and his interest in Husserl's research manu-
scripts persisted until the very end. The reason for this was undoubtedly that
he saw the main thrust of Husserl' s work to be contained in these manu-
scripts. As he wrote in a letter from 1942: "After all, Husserl' s philosophy is
almost entirely contained in the unpublished manuscripts .... "6 A remark that
merely echoes Husserl' s own estimation. As Husserl writes to Adolf Grimme

6. Quoted in H. L. Van Breda, "Merleau-Ponty and the Husser! Archives at Louvain," in

Mer!eau-Ponty, Texts and Dialogues ed. Hugh J. Silverman and James Barry, Jr. (Atlantic
Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992), 155.

in 1931: "Indeed, the largest and, as I actually believe, most important part
of my life's work still lies in my manuscripts, scarcely manageable because
of their volume.,,7
To formulate my point more directly, I think the reason many Merleau-
Ponty scholars have had difficulties in accepting Merleau-Ponty's visionary
if not to say revolutionary interpretation of Husserl is because they, in
contrast to Merleau-Ponty himself, failed to take Husserl's research
manuscripts into account. s I think Merleau-Ponty did in fact capture some
important submerged tendencies in Husserl' s thinking, tendencies which
might not be very obvious if one sticks to the works published during
Husserl's life, but which become overwhelmingly clear if one-as is
nowadays a must--draws upon the volumes subsequently published in
Husserliana. Thus to a certain extent, I will even argue that Merleau-Ponty
did not go far enough. The publication ofHusserliana has shown that Husserl
did in fact think through some of the themes that Merleau-Ponty still took to
belong to his unthought.
What I intend to do in the following is to pick out some of Merleau-
Ponty's central assertions, and then try to match them with statements taken
from Husserl's posthumously published works, i.e., from material not
considered by Madison and Dillon.

I will start off with Merleau-Ponty' s claim that Husserl' s phenomenolog-

ical reduction might have more in common with Heidegger' s emphasis on
our Being-in-the-world than with any traditional idealism. As Merleau-
Ponty puts it in the preface to Phenomenologie de la perception: The aim
of the reduction is not to let us withdraw from the world in order to
uncover a detached constituting consciousness but on the contrary to
thematize our intentional rapport with the world-a relation that is so
pervasive and tight that we normally fail to notice it (phP viii-ixlxiii-xiv).

I will next consider Merleau-Ponty's statement in Signes to the effect that

Husserl eventually abandoned the idea of a static relationship between the

7. Edmund Husserl, Zur Phiinomen%gie der Intersubjektivitiit. Husserliana, vol. 15, ed. Iso
Kern (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), Ixvi [cited hereafter as Hua XV]. Translations of
quotations from Husserl's untranslated works are my own.
8. Let me just add that I think the situation is changing. As some ofthe contributions in this
volume attest, a number of younger Merleau-Ponty scholars are no longer ignoring Husserl's
posthumously published writings.

constituted and the constituting, and instead discovered a reciprocity and

reversibility between nature and incarnated sUbjectivity.9

I will then turn to the issue of embodiment. According to Merleau-Ponty,

Husserl ascribed a significant constitutive role to the body and was
particularly interested in its unique subject-object structure, since he saw
it as a key to an understanding of intersubjectivity (S 210/166, 2151170,

This wi111ead me to Merleau-Ponty's claim that Husserl's archeological

effort to go beyond the theoretical, thetica1, and objectifying level of act-
intentionality made him discover the existence of an operative in-
tentionality characterized by anonymity and passivity (S 217-81172-3;
PhP xiii/xviii).

The final issue I wish to consider is Merleau-Ponty's repeated claim that

Husserl considered transcendental subjectivity to be an intersubjectivity.
One finds statements to this effect, for instance, in Phenomenologie de la
perception (PhP vii/xiii), Signes (S 121197), and Sens et non-sens. IO

2. Reduction and Constitution

Let me start out by briefly outlining what I take to be Husserl' s mature view
on the reduction. As is well known, Husserl claims that it is necessary to
suspend our naive and dogmatic presuppositions concerning the ontological
status of the world and instead follow the principle ofprinciples, that is, to
regard every originary intuition as the legitimizing source of cognition, if we
wish to commence our phenomenological exploration. II That is, in order to

9. Merleau-Ponty, Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 217-8; Signs, trans. Richard McCleary
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 172-3 [cited hereafter as S, with French
preceding English pagination].

10. Merleau-Ponty, Sens et non-sens (Paris: Nagel, 1966),237; Sense and Non-Sense, trans.
Hubert and Patricia Dreyfus (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 134 [cited
hereafter as SNS, with French preceding English pagination].

11. Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiinomenologischen Philosophie.

Erstes Buch. Allgemeine Einfiihrung in die reine Phiinomenologie, Husserliana, vol. 3-1, ed.
Karl Schuhmann (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976),51,43 [cited hereafter as Hua III];
Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First
Book. General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. Fred Kersten (The Hague:

avoid unjustified ontological presuppositions, one has to undertake a radical

reduction toward the phenomenologically given. Contrary to repeated
misunderstandings, this reduction, however, does not imply a negation, an
abandonment, a bracketing, nor an exclusion ofthe transcendent world. Quite
to the contrary, the purpose ofthe epoche and reduction is exactly to enable
us to approach the world in a way that will allow for a disclosure of its true
sense. 12 And to speak of the sense of reality in this context does not, as
Husserl will eventually add, imply that the being of reality, i.e., the really
existing world, is somehow excluded from the phenomenological sphere of
research. As Husserl writes in Krisis and Erste Philosophie II respectively:

What must be shown in particular and above all is that through the epoche a new
way of experiencing, of thinking, of theorizing, is opened to the philosopher; here,
situated above his own natural being and above the natural world, he loses nothing
of their being and their obj ective truths .... \3

First of all, it is better to avoid speaking of a phenomenological "residuum," and

likewise of"excluding the world." Such language readily misleads us into thinking
that from now on, the world would no longer figure as a phenomenological theme,
leaving only the "subjective" acts, modes of appearance, etc., related to the world.
In a certain way this is indeed correct. But when universal subjectivity is posited
in legitimate validity-in its full universality, and, of course, as transcenden-
tal-then what lies within it, on the correlate side, is the world itself, as legiti-
mately existing, along with everything that it is in truth: thus the theme of a
universal transcendental inquiry also includes the world itself, with all its true
being. (Hua VIII 432; Cf. Hua XV 366)

These passages clearly indicate that the epoche and the reduction do not
imply a loss. They do not make us tum our attention away from the worldly
objects, but permit us to examine them in a new light, namely in their
appearance or manifestation for consciousness, i.e., qua constituted

Martinus Nijhoff, 1982),44,36 [cited hereafter as Ideas 1].

12. HusserI, Erste Philosophie II, HusserIiana, vol. 8, ed. Rudolf Boehm (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1959),457,465 [cited hereafter as Hua VIII]. See also Hua III 120lIdeas
13. HusserI, Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale
Phiinomenologie, Husseriiana, vol. 6, ed. Walter Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1954), 154-5 [cited hereafter as Hua VI]; The Crisis of European Sciences and
Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1970), 152 [cited hereafter as Crisis].

correlates. The passage from Erste Philosophie II is particularly illuminating

since Husserl indicates that the exclusive interest in subjectivity is only
apparent. The moment a proper transcendental interpretation of this
subjectivity is in place, it will be revealed that its examination ultimately
includes a study of all of its constituted transcendent correlates as well, for
which reason nothing is strictly speaking left out. To put it differently, and
this is repeatedly emphasized by Husserl, eventually phenomenology
incorporates everything it had first bracketed for methodological reasons:

The excluding has at the same time the characteristic of a revaluing change in
sign; and with this change the revalued affair finds a place once again in the
phenomenological sphere. Figuratively speaking, that which is parenthesized is not
erased from the phenomenological blackboard but only parenthesized, and thereby
provided with an index. As having the latter it is, however, part of the major theme
of inquiry. (Hua III 1591Jdeas J, 171; Cf. Hua III 1071Jdeas J, 114; Hua VI 155,
184/Crisis, 152-3, 181)

To perform the epoche and the reduction is to carry out a change of attitude
that makes a fundamental discovery possible, thus, ultimately enlarging our
sphere of experience. 14 Suddenly, the perpetually functioning but, until then,
concealed transcendental subjectivity is revealed. This is why Husserl in
Krisis can compare the performance of the epoche with the transition from
a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional life (Hua VI 12l/Crisis, 119).
The performance of the epoche does not imply an exclusion (Aus-
schaltung) of the world, but merely a suspension of our naive and dogmatic
beliefs concerning the nature and character of its existence. The so-called
exclusion of the world is in reality an exclusion of a prejudiced conception
of the world:

The real actuality is not "reinterpreted," to say nothing of its being denied; it is
rather that a countersensical interpretation of the real actuality, i.e., an interpreta-
tion which contradicts the latter's own sense as clarified by insight, is removed.
(Hua III 120lJdeas J, 129; Compare Hua VIII 465)

14. See Hua V1154; Crisis, 151; and Husseri, Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser
Vortriige, Husserliana, vol. 1, ed. Stephan Strasser (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950),66
[cited hereafter as Hua I]; Cartesian Meditations, trans. Dorion Cairns (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1960),27 [cited hereafter as CM].

Husserl urges us to suspend our automatic positing of the world and give up
our ontical preoccupation with it in order to attend to its mode of givenness
(Hua VIII 502). We are, in other words, henceforth only to examine worldly
objects insofar as they are being experienced, perceived, imagined, judged,
used, etc., i.e., insofar as they are correlated to an experience, a perception,
an imagination, etc. Thus, the attempt at a philosophical disclosure of the
world leads indirectly to a disclosure of the correlated experiencing
subjectivity, since the phenomenological approach to the world must
necessarily be by way of its appearance-for subjectivity CHua VIII 263).
This indirect approach is particularly emphasised by Husserl in his so-called
ontological way to the reduction.
Let me repeat that the explication of constituting subjectivity takes place
hand in hand with and inseparably from a philosophical clarification of the
world. And it must be emphasized that the constitutive correlation to be
investigated is not a correlation between consciousness and some abstract
intermediary entity, but between consciousness and the transcendent worldly
object itself. ls It is, as Husserl repeatedly writes, reality itself that is a
constituted intentional correlate. 16 And it is agaihst this background that
Husserl, in both Cartesianische Meditationen and in Erste Philosophie II,
claims that a fully developed transcendental phenomenology is eo ipso a true
and real ontology (Hua I 138/CM 108; Hua VIII 215), where all ontological
concepts are elucidated in their correlation to the constituting subjectivity. 17

15. HusserI, Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, HusserIiana, vol. 11, ed. Margot Fleischer (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966),221 [cited hereafter as Hua XI); HusserI, Formale und
transzendentale Logik, Husserliana, vol. 17, ed. Paul Janssen (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1974), 256 [cited hereafter as Hua XVII]; Formal and Transcendental Logic, trans. Dorion
Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978), 291 [cited hereafter as FTL]; Hua VI 154/Crisis,
16. HusserI, Ideen III, HusserIiana, vol. 5, ed. Marly Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1952), 152-3 [cited hereafter as Hua V]; "Author's Preface to the English Edition of Ideas,"
in Husserl: Shorter Works, ed. Peter McCormick and Frederick Elliston (Notre Dame: Notre
Dame University Press, 1981),48.

17.When HusserI is speaking of ontology in this context, I think he is referring to formal and
material ontology. These types of ontology are basically theories concerning the formal and
material properties of objects, and they must be distinguished from the kind of fundamental
ontology that later phenomenologists such as Heidegger were concerned with. However, this
is not to say that HusserI had nothing to offer when it comes to Heidegger's questions. In fact,
I believe that his own investigation into the nature of temporality and self-awareness heads
in that direction, but I cannot pursue that question here. Cf. however D. Zahavi, "Michel
Henry and the Phenomenology of the Invisible," Continental Philosophy Review 32, no. 3

In other words, contrary to some widespread misunderstandings, HusserI

is not occupied with meaning-theoretical reflections without metaphysical or
ontological implications. To claim that is not only to misinterpret his theory
of intentionality, but also the transcendental-philosophical nature of his
thinking. As Fink remarks in an article from 1939, only a complete misunder-
standing of the aim of phenomenology leads to the mistaken but often
repeated claim that HusserI 's phenomenology is not interested in reality, not
interested in the question ofbeing, but only in subjective meaning-formations
in intentional consciousness. 18
So far so good. But does HusserI not, after all, speak of a constituting
transcendental ego, and does the very notion of constitution not imply an
asymmetry between subjectivity and worId that inevitably leads to some form
of idealism? As MerIeau-Ponty points out, however, in his Notes de cours sur
L 'Origine de la geometrie de Husserl, although HusserI never stopped using
the concepts of consciousness and constitution, it would be an error to
overIook the decisive changes these concepts underwent in the course of his
thinking. 19
Let me try to illustrate these changes by drawing attention to texts where
HusserI seems to entertain the idea that the process of constitution implies
reciprocity and intertwining between worId and subjectivity.
But first, what exactly is constitution? To make a very concise suggestion,
constitution must be understood as a process that allows for manifestation
and signification, i.e., it must be understood as a process that permits that
which is constituted to appear, unfold, articulate, and show itself as what it
is (cf. Hua XV 434). Contrary to another widespread misunderstanding,
however, this process does not take place out of the blue, as if it was
deliberately and impulsively initiated and dominated ex nihilo by the
transcendental ego. As HusserI points out in a manuscript from 1931,
constitution has two primal sources: the primal ego and the primal non-ego.

(1999): 223-40, and D. Zahavi, Self-awareness and Alterily (Evanston: Northwestern

University Press, 1999).
18. Eugen Fink, "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund HusserIs," Revue internationale
de philosophie 1 (1939),257; "The Problem ofthe Phenomenology of Edmund HusserI," in
Apriori and World, ed. and trans. William McKenna, Robert M. Harlan, and Laurence E.
Winters (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981),44.
19. Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours sur L 'Origine de geomlhrie, ed. Renaud Barbaras (Paris:
Presses Universitaires de France, 1998), 64.

Both are inseparably one, and thus abstract if regarded on their own. 20 Both
are irreducible structural moments in the process of constitution, in the
process of bringing to appearance. Thus, although Husserl insists that
subjectivity is a condition ofpossibility for manifestation, he apparently does
not think that it is the only one, i.e., although it might be a necessary
condition, it is not a sufficient one. Since Husserl occasionally identifies the
non-ego with the world (Hua XV 131,287; Ms. C 2 3a)-thereby operating
with a more fundamental notion of the world than the concept of an obj ective
reality which he attempted to nihil ate in the (in)famous 49 of Ideen I-and
since he even finds it necessary to speak of the world as a transcendental
non-ego (Ms. C 7 6b), I think one is entitled to conclude that he conceives of
constitution as a process involving several intertwined transcendental
constituents: both subjectivity and world (and ultimately also intersubjec-
tivity, cf. below). Obviously, this should not be taken as a new form of
dualism. On the contrary, the idea is exactly that subjectivity and world
cannot be understood in separation from each other. Thus, Husserl' s position
seems very close to the one adopted by Merleau-Ponty in the following

The world is inseparable from the subject, but from a subject which is nothing but
a project of the world, and the subject is inseparable from the world, but from a
world which the subject itselfprojects. The subject is a being-in-the-world and the
world remains "subjective" since its texture and articulations are traced out by the
subject's movement of transcendence. (PhP 491-2/430)

To put it differently, Merleau-Ponty was certainly right in claiming that

Husserl did not remain satisfied with the position he had originally advocated
in Ideen I. As Husserl himself writes in Zur Phiinomenologie der
Intersubjektivitiit III (with an obvious critical reference to his own earlier
view), it is an abstraction to speak of a pure worldless ego-pole. The full
subjectivity is a world-experiencing life. 21 And eventually, Husserl also gave
up the idea of a static correlation between the constituting and the constituted.

20. Ms. C 10 15b. I am grateful to the Director of the Husserl-Archives in Leuven, Prof.
Rudolf Bernet, for perniitting me to consult and quote from Husser!'s unpublished

21. Hua XV 287. For further uses of the term" WeltbewujJtseinsleben." see Husser!, Die Krisis
der europiiischen Wissenschaflen und die transzendentale Phiinomenologie. Ergiinzungsband.
Te.xte aus dem NachlajJ 1934-1937, Husser!iana, vol. 29, ed. Reinhold N. Smid (Dordrecht:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993), 192 ,and 247 [cited hereafter as Hua XXIX].

As he points out in some of his later writings, the constitutive performance

is characterized by a kind of reciprocity insofar as the constituting agent is
itself constituted in the process of constitution. Thus, Husserl claims that the
constitution of the world as such implies a mundanization of the constituting
subject CHua I 130/CM 99), and he occasionally speaks about the reciprocal
co-dependency existing between the constitution of space and spatial objects
on the one hand and the self-constitution of the ego and the body on the
other.22 In other words, it is a misunderstanding to think thatthe subject could
somehow refrain from constituting, just as it is a misunderstanding to think
that the transcendental subject remains unaffected by its own constitutive

The constituting consciousness constitutes itself, the objectivating consciousness

objectivates itself-and indeed, in such a way that it brings about an objective
nature with the form of spatiotemporality; within this nature, my own lived body;
and, psychophysically one with the latter (and thereby localized in natural
spatiotemporality according to place, temporal position, and duration), the entire
constituting life, the entire ego, with its stream of consciousness, its ego-pole and
habitualities. (Hua XV 546)

To understand Husserl's final position on this issue, however, it is not

sufficient to stick to the dyad subjectivity-world. Intersubjectivity must
necessarily be taken into account as well, as the third indispensable element.
Ultimately, the constitutive process is a process that takes place in a threefold
structure: subjectivity-intersubjectivity-world. As Husserl already wrote in

22. Hua V 128; Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological

Philosophy. Third Book. Phenomenology and the Foundation ofthe Sciences, trans. Ted Klein
and Williarn Pohl (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980), 116-7 [cited hereafter as Ideas IIIJ.
One of the significant consequences of this is that the mundane subject can no longer be
regarded as a contingent appendix to the transcendental subject, and therefore no longer as
something that transcendental phenomenology can allow itselfto ignore. On the contrary, it
is of crucial importance to understand why the transcendental subject as a part of its
constitutive perfonnance must necessarily conceive of itself as a worldly intrarnundane entity.
The explanation offered by Husser! is that the transcendental ego can only constitute an
objective world ifit is incarnated and socialized, both of which entail a mundanization (Hua
XXIX 160-5; Hua I 130/CM 99; Hua V 128/Ideas III, 116-7; Husser!, Ding und Raum.
Vorlesungen 1907, Husserliana, vol. 16, ed. U. Claesges (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1973), 162 [cited hereafter as Hua XVI]; Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907, trans. R.
Rojcewicz (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997), 137 [cited hereafter as TS].

Ideas II: I, we, and the world belong together. 23 The remaining and difficult
task was to clarify their exact relation. I think there are strong indications that
Husserl increasingly came to view the three as intrinsically intertwined. As
we have already seen, Husserl took self- and world-constitution to go hand
in hand. But Husserl also claims that world- and self-constitution take place
intersubjectively (Hua I 166/CM 139). And when it comes to intersubjec-
tivity, he explicitly states that it is unthinkable unless it is

explicitly or implicitly in communion. This involves being a plurality of monads

that constitutes in itself an Objective world and that spatializes, temporalizes,
realizes itself-psychophysically and, in particular, as human beings-within that
world. (Hua I 166/CM l39; cf. Hua VIII 505-6)

Le. the constitution of the world, the unfolding of self, and the establishing
of intersubjectivity are all parts in an interrelated and simultaneous process
(Cf. Hua VI 416-7; Hua XV 639,367-8).

3. The Body

So far I have argued that Merleau-Ponty was right when he claimed that
Husserl did eventually acknowledge a certain constitutive reciprocity
between subjectivity and world, a certain dialectical reversibility between the
constituting and the constituted. Let me now turn to an area that might be
specifically suited to illustrate this in further detail, namely Husserl's
investigation of the body.
As is well known, Husserl claims that the perception of space and spatial
objects presupposes a functioning lived body. This is not only due to the
body's function as the indispensable center of orientation, but also to the
constitutive contribution of its mobility. Our perception of the world is not
a question of passive reception, but of active exploration. At first, Husserl
merely calls attention to the importance ofbodily movements (the movement
ofthe eyes and the head, the touch ofthe hand, the step of the body, etc.) for
the experience of space and spatial objects (Hua XI 299), but ultimately he

23. Husser!, Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiinomenologischen Philosophie.

Zweites Buch. Phiinomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution, Husser!iana, vol. 4, ed.
Marly Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969),288 n [cited hereafter as Hua IV]; Ideas
Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book.
Studies in the Phenomenology o/Constitution, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989),301-2 n [cited hereafter as Ideas II].

claims that perception is correlated to and accompanied by the self-sensation

or self-affection of the moving body. Every visual or tactile appearance is
given in correlation to a kinesthetic experience (Hua XI 14; Hua VI
108-9/Crisis, 106). When I play the piano, the keys are given in conjunction
with sensations offinger-movement. When I watch a horse race, the running
horse is given in conjunction with the sensation of eye-movement. This
kinesthetic experience amounts to bodily self-awareness, and according to
Husserl it should not be considered as a merely accompanying phenomena.
On the contrary, it is absolutely indispensable when it comes to the constitu-
tion of perceptual objects.24
As is clear from his investigation into the bodily roots of perceptual
intentionality, Husserl was very well aware of the constitutive role of the
body, and he clearly recognizes the importance of distinguishing the pre-
reflective, unthematic, lived body-awareness from the thematized conscious-
ness of the body. My original body-awareness is not a type of object-
consciousness, is not a perception of the body as an object. Quite the
contrary, the latter is a founded move which, like every other perceptual
experience, is dependent upon and made possible by the pre-reflectively
functioning body-awareness:

Here it must also be noted that in all experience of things, the lived body is co-
experienced as a functioning lived body (thus not as a mere thing), and that when
it itself is experienced as a thing, it is experienced in a double way-i.e., precisely
as an experienced thing and as a functioning lived body together in one. 25

Originally, I do not have any consciousness of my body. I am not

perceiving it, I am it. Originally, my body is experienced as a unified field of
activity and affectivity, as a volitional structure, as a potentiality of mobility,
as an "I do" and "I can" (Hua XI 14; Hua I 128/CM 97; Hua XIV 540; Hua
IX 391). My awareness of my functioning body is an immediate, pre-
reflective self-awareness, and not a type of object-intentionality.

24. HuaXVI 189, 159/TS 159, 135; HuaXI 14-5; HuaIV 66/Ideas II, 71; Hua VI lO9/Crisis,
107. For a more extensive presentation cf. Zahavi, Self-Awareness and Alterity.
25. Husserl, Zur Phiinomenologie der Intersubjektivitiit. Texte aus dem Nachlass. Zweiter
Teil. 1921-1928, Husserliana, vol. 14, ed. Iso Kern (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973),57
[cited hereafter as Hua XIV]. Cf. Hua XV 326; and Husseri, Phiinomenologische
Psychologie. Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1925, Husserliana, vol. 9, ed. Walter Biemel (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968), 392.

At the same time, Husser! is anxious to emphasize the peculiar two-

sidedness of the body.26 My body is given as an interiority, as a volitional
structure, and as a dimension of sensing (Hua XIV 540; Hua IX 391), but it
is also given as a visually and tactually appearing exteriority. But what is the
relation between that which Husser! calls the "Innen-" and the "Aussen-
leiblichkeit"? CHua XIV 337). In both cases, I am confronted with my own
body. But why is the visually and tactually appearing body at all experienced
as the exteriority of my body? If we examine the case of the right hand
touching the left hand, the touching hand feels the surface of the touched
hand. But when the left hand is touched, it is not simply given as a mere
object, since it feels the touch itself CHua IV 145/Ideas II, 152-3). The
decisive difference between touching one's own body and everything else,
be it inanimate objects or the body of Others, is consequently that it implies
a double-sensation. Husser! also speaks of a bodily reflection taking place
between the different parts ofthe body CHua I 128/CM 97; cf. Hua XV 302).
What is crucial, however, is that the relation between the touching and the
touched is reversible, since the touching is touched, and the touched is
touching. It is this reversibility that testifies that the interiority and the
exteriority are different manifestations of the same. 27 The phenomenon of
double-sensation consequently presents us with an ambiguous setting in
which the hand alternates between two roles, that of touching and that of
being touched. That is, the phenomenon of double-sensation provides us with
an experience of the dual nature of the body. It is the very same hand which
can appear in two different fashions, as alternately touched and touching.
Thus, in contrast to the self-manifestation of, say, an act of judging, my
bodily self-givenness permits me to confront my own exteriority. For Husser!
this experience is decisive for empathy (Hua XV 652), and it serves as the
springboard for diverse alienating forms of self-apprehension. Thus, it is
exactly the unique subject-object status ofthe body, the remarkable interplay
between ipseity and alterity characterizing the double-sensation which

26. Hua IX 197; Phenomenological Psychology, trans. John Scanlon (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1977), 151; Hua XIV 414, 462; Hua IV 145/Ideas II, 152-3.

27. Hua XIV 75; Husser!, Zur Phiinomenologie der Intersubjektivitiit. Te.xte aus dem
Nachlass. Erster Tei!. 1905-1920, Husser!iana, vol. 13, ed. Iso Kern (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1973),263 [cited hereafter as Hua XIII]; and Ms. D 12 III 14.

permits me to recognize and experience other embodied subjects. 28 When my

left hand touches my right, I am experiencing myself in a manner that
anticipates both the way in which an Other would experience me and the way
in which I would experience an Other. This might be what Husserl is
referring to when he writes that the possibility of sociality presupposes a
certain intersubjectivity ofthe body (Hua IV 297/Ideas II, 311). I hardly need
to point out to what a large extent this account anticipates Merleau-Ponty's
own analysis.
As I have mentioned above, Husserl occasionally speaks of the reciprocal
co-dependency existing between the constitution of spatial obj ects, on the one
hand, and the constitution of the body, on the other. The very exploration and
constitution of objects imply a simultaneous self-exploration and self-
constitution. This is not to say that the way we live our body is a form of
object-intentionality, but merely that it is an embodied subjectivity character-
ized by intentionality that is self-aware. The body is not first given for us and
subsequently used to investigate the world. The world is given to us as bodily
investigated, and the body is revealed to us in its exploration of the world
(Hua V 128/Ideas III, 116; Hua XV 287). To phrase it differently, we are
aware of perceptual objects by being aware of our own body and how the two
interact, that is, we cannot perceive physical objects without having an
accompanying bodily self-awareness, be it thematic or unthematic (Hua IV
147IIdeas II, 154). But the reverse ultimately holds true as well: the body
only appears to itself when it relates to something else--or to itself as Other
(HuaXIII 386; HuaXVI 178/TS 150; HuaXV 300). As Husserl writes, "We
perceive the lived body [Leib] but along with it also the things that are
perceived 'by means of it" (Hua V 10/Ideas III, 9, trans. slightly altered).
This reciprocity is probably nowhere as obvious as in the tactual sphere-the
hand cannot touch without being touched and brought to givenness itself. In
other words, the touching and the touched are constituted in the same process

28. Hua VIII 62; Hua XV 300; Hua XIV 457, 462; Hua IX 1971Phenomenological
Psychology, 151; Hua XIII 263. In his article "Le Paradoxe de l'expression chez MerIeau-
Ponty" (in MerIeau-Ponty, Notes de cours sur L 'Origine de la geometrie de Husserl, 331-48),
Waldenfels illustrates the difference between a good and a bad ambiguity in a neat way. The
good ambiguity is the neither-nor; the bad ambiguity is the both-and (338). If one accepts this
way of making the distinction, it could be claimed that one of the differences between HusserI
and MerIeau-Ponty is that HusserI 's traditional language use commits him to a bad ambiguity,
whereas Merleau-Ponty is more aware of the need for a radical break with the traditional
categories and consequently better prepared to opt for a good ambiguity. One illustration is
HusserI's occasional talk ofthe body as a subject-object whereas MerIeau-Ponty is cautious
to emphasize that the body is neither.

(Hua XIV 75; Hua XV 297, 301), and according to Husserl this holds true for
our sensibility in general. 29 Thus, Husserl would argue that every experience
possesses both an egoic and a non-egoic dimension (Ms. C 10 2b). These two
sides can be distinguished, but not separated:

The ego is not something for itself and that which is foreign to the ego something
severed from it, so that there is no way for the one to tum toward the other; rather,
the ego is inseparable from what is foreign to it. ... (Ms. C 16 68a)30

As Merleau-Ponty would put it (with Husserl's approval, I believe):

Subjectivity is essentially oriented and open toward that which it is not, be
it worldly entities or the Other, and it is exactly in this openness that it reveals
itselfto itself. What is disclosed by the cogito is consequently not an enclosed
immanence, a pure interior self-presence, but an openness toward alterity, a
movement of exteriorization and perpetual self-transcendence. It is by being
present to the world that we are present to ourselves, and it is by being given
to ourselves that we can be conscious of the world (PhP 344/297-8,
431-2/376-7,467/408,485/424,487/425-6,492/430-1; SNS 164-5/94).
In the light of the preceding discussion, Husserl' s view concerning the
intrinsic connection between time-consciousness, affection, and incarnation
cannot come as a surprise. As Husserl points out in the Analysen zur passiven
Synthesis, inner time-consciousness taken on its own is a pure but abstract
form. And he further characterizes the phenomenology of inner time-
consciousness as an abstractive analysis which has to be complemented by
a phenomenology of association dealing with the fundamental laws and
forms governing the syntheses pertaining to the content. 3 ! In concreto there

29. As Husserl writes a propos the relation between the kinesthetic and the hyletic sensations:
"The system of kinaestheses, however, is not constituted in advance; rather, its constitution
takes place along with the constitution of the hyletic objects that it is aiming toward in each
case" ("Das System der Kinasthesen ist aber nicht im voraus konstituiert, sondem seine
Konstitution erfolgt in eins mit der Konstitution hyletischer Objekte, auf die es jeweils
hinauswill ... ," Ms. D 10 lla).

30. The original passage reads as follows: "Das Ich ist nicht etwas fiir sich und das Ichfremde
ein vom Ich Getrenntes und zwischen beiden ist kein Raum flir ein Hinwenden. Sondem
untrennbar ist Ich und sein Ichfremdes ... " (Ms. C 16 68a).

31. Hua XI 118, 128; Hua I 28; The Paris Lectures, trans. P. Koestenbaum (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1967), 28 [cited hereafter as PL]; Husserl, Erfahrung und Urteil:
Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik, ed. Ludwig Landgrebe (Hamburg: Felix Meiner
Verlag, 1985), 76; Experience and Judgment, trans. James S. Churchhill and Karl Ameriks

can be no primal impression without hyletic data, and no self-temporalization

in separation from the hyletic affection. That is, there can be no inner time-
consciousness without a temporal content. Time-consciousness never appears
in pure form but always as a pervasive sensibility, as the very sensing of the
sensations: "We regard sensing as the original consciousness of time .... "32
But these sensations do not appear out of nowhere. They refer us to our
bodily sensibility (Hua XV 324, 293; Hua XIII 292; Hua IV 153/Ideas II,
160; Ms. D 10 IV 15).
But ifthere can be no primal impression without a hyletic content, and no
hyletic content without a lived body (according to Husserl, the hyletic data
are only given in correlation to kinesthetic experiences), it must be concluded
that the nature of temporality and embodiment cannot be exhaustively
comprehended independently of each other. 33 We are ultimately dealing with
an incarnated temporality.
To forestall misunderstandings, let me just add that I am not arguing that
Husserl would claim that every type of experience is a bodily experience. I
am only claiming that he takes the lived body to be indispensable for sense-
experience and thereby of crucial (founding) significance for other types of
experience. As Husserl writes in Ideen III and II:

Of course, from the standpoint of pure consciousness sensations are the indispens-
able material foundation for all basic sorts ofnoeses .... (Hua V I1/Ideas III, 10)

Hence in this way a human being's total consciousness is in a certain sense. by

means o/its hyletic substrate, bound to the body [Leibl, though, to be sure, the
intentional lived experiences themselves are no longer directly and properly
localized; they no longer form a stratum on the body [Leib]. (Hua IV 153/Ideas II,
161, trans. slightly altered)

(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973),73 [cited hereafter as EU, with German
preceding English pagination]; and Ms. L I 15 3a.
32. Husser!, Zur Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins (1893-1917), Husser!iana,
vol. 10, ed. RudolfBoehm (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), 107; On the Phenomenology
of the Consciousness of Internal Time, trans. John Brough (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, 1991), 112
33. Cf. D. Franck "Le Chair et Ie probleme de la constitution temporelle," in Phenomen%gie
et metaphysique, ed. I-F. Courtine (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1984), 141.

4. Anonymity and passivity

Husserl has often been accused of focusing exclusively on the performance

of an active and self-possessed ego. This is hardly true. If we examine the
case of a simple perception, Husserl would say that, in a regular intentional
act, I am directed at and preoccupied with my intentional object. Whenever
I am intentionally directed at objects, I am also pre-reflectively self-aware.
But when I am directed at and occupied with objects, I am not thematically
conscious of myself. And when I do thematize myself in a reflection, the very
act of thematization remains unthematic. In short, when subjectivity
functions, it is self-aware, but it is not thematically conscious of itself, and it
therefore lives, as Husserl puts it, in anonymity.
One ofthe significant consequences of this is that there will always remain
an unthematic spot in the life of the subject. It is, as Husserl says, evident that
the very process of thematization does not itself belong to the thematized
content, just as a perception or description does not belong to that which is
perceived or described CHua IX 478). Even a universal reflection will
consequently contain a moment of naIvete, since reflection is necessarily
prevented from grasping itself. It will forever miss something important,
namely, itself qua anonymously functioning subject-pole CHua XIV 29). I
cannot grasp my own functioning subjectivity because I am it: that which I
am cannot be my Gegen-stand, cannot stand opposed to me CHua VIII 412;
HuaXV 484).
We are confronted with a fundamental limit here. When I reflect, I
encounter myself as a thematized ego, whereas the Living Present of my
functioning subjectivity eludes my thematization and remains anonymous.
That is, just like MerIeau-Ponty, HusserI acknowledges the limits of
reflection, and declares that there will always remain a difference between the
lived and the understood. 34 However, Husserl would deny that this leads to
skepticism. As he points out, the elusiveness and evasiveness of lived
consciousness are not deficiencies to overcome, are not results that threatens
the phenomenological enterprise, but are rather to be taken as the defining
traits of its pre-reflective givenness.
At this point it might be retorted that the existence of an anonymous life
will remain a problem for a Husserlian phenomenology for as long as the
latter adheres to the earlier mentioned principle of principles, which declares

34. Husser!, AujSatze und Vortrage 1911-1921, Husserliana, vol. 25, ed. H. R. Sepp and
Thomas Nenon (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1986),89 [cited hereafter as Hua XXV].

that phenomenology is supposed to base its considerations exclusively on that

which is given intuitively in the phenomenological reflection. I think there
is some truth in this, but I also think Husserl himself eventually realized the
limitations of this methodological principle, particularly the moment he
started investigating the dimension of passivity.
Thus, contrary to yet another widespread misunderstanding, Husserl did
not overlook the problem of passivity. In fact, he dedicated numerous
analyses to this important issue. Although our starting point might be acts in
which the subject is actively taking a position, that is, acts in which the
subject is comparing, differentiating, judging, valuing, wishing, or willing
something, Husserl is quick to point out that whenever the subject is active,
it is also passive, since to be active is to react on something (Hua IV 213,
337/Ideas II, 225, 349; Ms. E III 2 12b). And as he ultimately says, every
kind of active position-taking presupposes a preceding affection.

[E]goic activity presupposes passivity-egoic passivity-and both presuppose

association and preconsciousness in the form of the ultimate hyletic substratum.
(Ms. C 3 41b-42a)35

In the light of this investigation of passivity, Husserl eventually conceded

that the intentional activity of the subject is founded upon and conditioned by
an obscure and blind passivity, by drives and associations, and he even
admits that there are constitutive processes of an anonymous and involuntary
nature taking place in the underground or depth-dimension of subjectivity
that cannot be seized by direct reflection (Hua IX 514; Hua IV 276-7/Ideas
II, 289). Reflection is not the primary mode of consciousness, and it cannot
uncover the deepest layers of subjectivity. Thus, the supremacy of reflection
(and the absolute validity of the principle of principles) is called into
question. But although it must be acknowledged that there are depth-
dimensions in the constitutive processes which do not lie open to the view of
reflection, this does not necessarily imply that they remain forever com-
pletely ineffable, beyond phenomenological investigation. They can be
disclosed, not through a direct thematization, but through an elaborate
"archeological effort," that is, through an indirect operation of dismantling

35. The original passage reads as follows: ""[I]chliche Aktivitat setzt Passivitat
voraus-ichliche Passivitat-und beides setzt voraus Assoziation und VorbewuBtsein in Form
des letzlich hyletischen Untergrundes" (Ms. C 3 41 b--42a).

and deconstruction (Husserl's own term is, of course, Abbau).36 As he

declares in Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, his investigation ofthe problem
of passivity could well carry the title "a phenomenology of the
unconscious. ,,37


Let me finally tum to the issue of intersubjectivity. The easiest way to

introduce Husserl 's analysis of intersubjectivity is through his concept of the
lifeworld, since Husserl claims that it is intersubjective through and through.
This is not merely to be understood as an accentuation ofthe fact that I, in my
being in the world, am constantly confronted with intersubjective meaning,
understood as meaning-formations (such as social institutions, cultural
products etc.), which have their origin in community and tradition, and which
therefore refer me to my fellowmen and ancestors. Husserl also advocates the
more fundamental view that already my perceptual experience is an
experience of intersubjectively accessible being, that is, being which does not
exist for me alone, but for everybody (Hua IX 431; Hua XIV 289,390; Hua
XVII 243/FTL 275; Hua VI 469). I experience objects, events, and actions
as public, not as private (Hua I 123/CM 91; Hua XV 5), and consequently
Husserl claims that a phenomenological analysis, insofar as it unveils the
being-sense (Seinssinn) of the world as intersubjectively valid, leads to a
disclosure of the transcendental relevance offoreign subjectivity and thus to
an examination of transcendental intersubjectivity (Hua XV 110); and as he
ultimately formulates it: transcendental intersubjectivity is the absolute
ground of being (Seinsboden) from which the meaning and validity of
everything objectively existing originate (Hua IX 344).
More generally, Husserl characterizes the intersubjective-transcendental
sociality as the source of all real truth and being (Hua I 35, 182IPL 35/CM
156; Hua VIII 449; Hua IX 295,474), and occasionally he even describes his
own project as a sociological transcendental philosophy (Hua IX 539), and
writes that the development of phenomenology necessarily implies the step

36. HuaIX 514; HuaIV 276-7/Ideas II, 289. See also A. Mishara, "Husser! and Freud: Time,
Memory, and the Unconscious," Husserl Studies 7 (1990), 35. Cf. Hua XI 125.
37. Hua XI 154. For some of Husser!'s rare references to psychoanalysis, cf. Hua IV
222/Ideas II, 234; Hua VI 240/Crisis, 237.

from an egological to a transcendental-sociological phenomenology. 38 For as

he writes, a radical implementation ofthe transcendental reduction leads with
necessity to a disclosure of transcendental intersubjectivity (Hua I 69/CM 30;
Hua IX 245-6; Hua VIII 129).
As I have already indicated, scholars have occasionally claimed that not all
of Merleau-Ponty's references to passages in Husserl's unpublished
manuscripts should be taken at face value. Spiegelberg, for instance, points
out that Merleau-Ponty's repeated quotation ofa statement in Hus serl'sKrisis
to the effect that transcendental sUbjectivity is an intersubjectivity is actually
not contained in this work. 39 But although Husserl might not have made
exactly that statement in Krisis, he did so elsewhere, for instance in Zur
Phiinomenologie der Intersubjektivitiit III. Here Husserl writes:

I have to distinguish: the currently transcendentally phenomenologizing

subjectivity (as an actual ego-monad), and transcendental subjectivity as such;
the latter turns out to be transcendental intersubjectivity, which includes the
transcendentally phenomenologizing subjectivity within itself. (Hua XV 74-5)

This is by no means an isolated statement. In Erste Philosophie II, he writes

that transcendental subjectivity in its full universality is exactly inter-
subjectivity (Hua VIII 480), and in a research manuscript from 1927, which
has been published in Zur Phiinomenologie der Intersubjektivitiit I, he writes
that the absolute reveals itself as the intersubjective relation between subjects
(Hua XIII 480). Thus, HusserI's recurrent point is that, just as a radical
carrying out ofthe transcendental reduction will lead to intersubjectivity (Hua
IX 344), a thorough self-reflection necessarily leads to the discovery of
absolute intersubjectivity (Hua VI 275, 472/Crisis, 340).
It is obvious that Husserl believed the notion of a plurality of transcend en-
tal subjects to be coherent, that is, possible. Ultimately, he would even
strengthen this assertion, and claim that it is necessary, insofar as "subjectiv-
ity is what it is-an ego functioning constitutively-only within inter-
subjectivity" (Hua VI 175lCrisis, 172). The claim that subjectivity only
becomes fully constitutive, that is, transcendental, through its relation with
Others, is in striking contrast with any traditional Kantian understanding of

38. This formulation, which is from Husserl's London lectures in 1922, can be found in K.
Schuhmann, Husserls Staatsphilosophie (Freiburg: Karl Alber, 1988),56.

39. H. Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978),

transcendental sUbjectivity. Curiously enough, it is exactly this traditional

understanding which Schutz tacitly accepts in his well-known critique of
Hussed's theory of intersubjectivity. Thus he writes:

[I]t must be earnestly asked whether the transcendental Ego in Hussed' s concept
is not essentially what Latin grammarians call a "singular tantum," that is, a term
incapable of being put into the plural. Even more, it is in no way established
whether the existence of Others is a problem of the transcendental sphere at all,
i.e., whether the problem of intersubjectivity does exist between transcendental
egos ... ; or whether intersubjectivity and therefore sociality does not rather
belong exclusively to the mundane sphere of our life-wodd. 40

Hussed, however, takes issue with this position in a manuscript now

published in the supplementary volume to Krisis, where he explicitly states
that the possibility of a transcendental elucidation of self and world is lost if
one follows the Kantian tradition in interpreting transcendental subjectivity
as the isolated ego and thereby ignores the problem of transcendental inter-
subjectivity (Hua XXIX 120).
It could eventually be suggested that Husserl's intersubjective tum is
without any real impact, since it is merely a formal acknowledgment which
leaves his overall concept of philosophy with its strong essentialism
untouched. This suggestion, however, would be unfounded. Let me briefly
illustrate why.
If one accepts Hussed's conviction that reality is intersubjectively valid
and that my reality-positing acts are dependent upon my interaction with
Others, one is bound to take not only the consensus but also the dissent of the
manifold world-experiencing subjects seriously. Hussed' s extended analyses
of this problem eventually made him enter fields that have traditionally been
reserved for psychopathology, sociology, anthropology, and ethnology.
Whereas a strict Kantian transcendental philosophy would have considered
such empirical and mundane domains as without any transcendental
relevance, due to his interest in transcendental intersubjectivity, Hussed was
forced to consider them from a transcendental point of view (cf. Hua XV
391). Thus, I believe that Husserl's late thinking is characterized by a
decisive expansion of the transcendental sphere; an expansion which was
brought about by his interest in intersubjectivity, and which ultimately forced
him to consider the transcendental significance of such issues as generativity,
tradition, historicity, and normality.

40. A. Schutz, Collected Papers I (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), 167.

One philosopher who clearly did grasp these implications was Merleau-
Ponty. As he eloquently formulates it in Signes:

Now if the transcendental is intersubjectivity, how can the borders of the

transcendental and the empirical help becoming indistinct? For along with the
other person, all the other person sees of me-all my facticity-is reintegrated into
subjectivity, or at least posited as an indispensable element of its definition. Thus
the transcendental descends into history. Or as we might put it, the historical is no
longer an external relation between two or more absolutely autonomous subjects
but has an interior and is an inherent aspect of their very defmition. They no longer
know themselves to be subjects simply in relation to their individual selves, but in
relation to one another as well. (S 134/107)

Let me also say a few words about the two concepts normality and
generativity, since they clearly illustrate some of the more far-reaching
consequences of Husserl's phenomenology of intersubjectivity.
Basically, Husserl claims that our experiences are guided by anticipations
of normality. We apprehend, experience, and constitute in accordance with
the normal and typical structures, models, and patterns which our earlier
experiences have sedimented in our mind (Hua IX 1861Phenomenological
Psychology, 143). If that which we experience happens to clash with our
earlier experiences-if it is different-we have an experience of anormality,
which subsequently leads to a modification and specification of our
anticipations (Hua XV 438; cf. Ms. D 13 234b). Originally Husserl examined
this process in connection with his analysis ofpassive synthesis, but it is not
only at work in the solitary subject. As he says, I have been together with
people as long as I remember, and my anticipations are therefore structured
in accordance with the intersubjectively handed-down forms of apperception
(cf. Hua XIV 117, 125; Hua XV 136). Normality is also conventionality,
which in its being transcends the individua1. 41 What is normal I learn from
Others (and first and foremost from my closest relatives, that is from the
people by whom I am brought up, and who educate me [Hua XV 428-9,569,
602-4]), and I am thereby involved in a common tradition, which through a
chain of generations stretches back into a dim past. For that reason, Husserl
even goes as far as to claim that the incorporation into an historical genera-

41. Hua XV 611. Cf. G. Brand, "Die Nonnalitat des und der Anderen und die Anomalitat
einer Erfahrungsgemeinschaft bei Edmund Husserl," in Alfred Schatz und die Idee des Alltags
in den SozialwissenschaJten, ed. Walter M. Sprondel and Richard Grathoff (Stuttgart:
Ferdinand Enke, 1979), 118.

tive context belongs just as inseparably to the ego as its very temporal
structure (Hua VI 256lCrisis, 253).

What I generate from out of myself (primally instituting) is mine. But I am a

"child of the times"; I am a member of a we-community in the broadest sense-a
community that has its tradition and that for its part is connected in a novel manner
, with the generative subjects, the closest and the most distant ancestors. And these
have "influenced" me: I am what I am as an heir. (Hua XIV 223)

As Husserl puts it, my own home-worldly normality is instituted through

tradition and generativity and is therefore historical. Normality is a tradition-
bound set of norms. Thus, Husserl designates the normal life as generative
and' claims that any normal person is historical as a member of an historical
community (Hua XV 138-9, 431). Moreover, the very constitution of
objectivity and of a common objective world is an historical process (Hua
XV 220, 421). Far from being already constituted, the meaning-formations
"objectivity" and "reality" have status as intersubj ective presumptions, which
can only be realized in an infinite process of socialization and horizonal
fusion. For this reason, Husserl can even write that there is no stagnant world,
since it is only given for us in its relativity of normality and anormality (Hua
XV 212-4,381; Hua VI 270lCrisis, 335-6; Ms. C 17 31a).
In other words, Husserl considered the subj ect' s embeddedness in a living
tradition to have constitutive implications. It is not merely the case that I live
in a world that is permeated by references to Others and that Others have
already furnished with meaning, or that I understand the world (and myself)
through a traditional, handed down, linguistic conventionality. The very
category "historical reality" implies a type of transcendence which can only
be constituted insofar as I take over traditional meaning, which has its origin
outside of me, in a historical past.
Is it possible on this background to conclude that Husserl in the last phase
of his thinking substituted the historical community of the lifeworld for the
transcendental ego as the phenomenological point of departure? I think the
answer is no. Although the transcendental intersubjectivity is the transcen-
dental foundation, it is vital not to forget Husserl' s phenomenological
approach. There is no community without ego-centering, and consequently
no generative intersubjectivity without a transcendental ego, where the
intersubjectivity can unfold itself (Hua XV 426). As Husserl has emphasized
several times, the "we" stretches/rom me outwards to the simultaneous, past,
and future Others (Hua XV 61, 139, 142,499); the historically primary is our
present (Hua VI 3821 Crisis, 373). In other words, the transcendental analysis

of the historical past, of the previous generations, and more generally, the
transcendental phenomenological treatment of meaning that transcends the
finiteness of the subject, must always take its point of departure from the
first-person perspective. 42

6. Conclusion

I have tried to make a strong case for Merleau-Ponty's reading ofHusserl.

My way of doing that has been by drawing on material from Husserl's
research manuscripts, material which I believe serious Merleau-Ponty
scholars have to take into account if they want to evaluate the relation
between Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.
My thesis has been that a central part of Merleau-Ponty's Husserl-
interpretation was indeed well-grounded. His attempt to follow the spirit
rather than the letter of Husserl' s writings, his endeavor to distinguish
between Husserl' s programmatic statements and his actual phenomenological
analyses, and his effort to think along with Husserl and to articulate his
unthought thought, might not live up to the standards of modem text
philology. But the amazing fact is that his reading was ahead of its time, and
that to a large extent it anticipated results that have only much more recently
been confirmed by Husserl scholarship.43
Having said that, I do have to add, of course, that I am not claiming that
everything Merleau-Ponty said about Husserl is correct, or that the Husserl
Merleau-Ponty uncovered is the only one. Husserl was not only a prolific

42. Despite Husserl's increasing emphasis of intersubjectivity, he did not cease to stress the
importance of subjectivity. As he points out in Krisis, it would be a methodological mistake
to start out with transcendental intersubjectivity, since this might lead to a neglect of the Ur-
Ich (Hua VI I 88/Crisis, 185). Ultimately, intersubjectivity can only be treated as a
transcendental problem through a radical "mich-selbst-befragen" (Hua VI 206/Crisis, 202),
that is from the first-person perspective. For an extensive discussion of why this celebration
of subjectivity does not undermine Husserl's theory of intersubjectivity, but on the contrary
constitutes a necessary and called for supplement, see D. Zahavi, Husser! und die
transzendentale Intersubjektivitiit. Eine Antwort auf die sprachpragmatische Kritik
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996).

43. Cf. N. Depraz, Transcendance et incarnation (Paris: Vrin, 1995); A. Steinbock, Home and
Beyond: Generative Phenomenology after Husserl (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1995); D. Zahavi, Husserl und die transzendentale Intersubjektivitiit. This should be
emphasized given the fact that Merleau-Ponty's Husserl-interpretation has been called into
question not only by Merleau-Ponty scholars, but also by a number of more traditional
Husserl scholars.

writer, he was also an eternal beginner, and his writings contain a variety of
different suggestions and tendencies, not all of which point in the direction
of Merleau-Ponty. However, this fact was recognized by Merleau-Ponty
himself. As he says in Notes de cours sur L 'Origine de la geometrie de
Husserl: "I am not proposing an interpretation of Husserl's work as a
coherent whole, and have never done so. All I am saying is that his work
contains something else besides the early Husserl. To show this, back to the
texts" (Notes de cours, 15). For the very same reason, I am obviously not
arguing that there is no relevant or significant difference between Husserl and
Merleau-Ponty. Such a claim would be absurd. Not only are there many
issues on which the two disagree-to mention but one, in Le Visible et
I 'invisible Merleau-Ponty probably went further than Husserl ever did (some
would say too far) in his attempt to surpass the dualism between subject and
world-and more generally, both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty had insights
that cannot be found in the other.
Nevertheless, and these are the two points I have wanted to make: (1) Even
if Merleau-Ponty's reading only captures part of what Husserl was up to, it
has the great virtue of staying clear of most of the common misconceptions.
It consequently puts one in a far better position to evaluate Husserl' s theory
(even the part of it that clashes with Merleau-Ponty's own view), than if one
subscribes in advance to the view that Husserl is a solipsist, a subjective
idealist, and an essentialist; (2) I do think there is far more congruence
between Husserl's philosophical project and Merleau-Ponty's than, say,
between Husserl' s project and Heidegger' s or Sartre' s. In that sense Merleau-
Ponty certainly was the most Husserlian of the three major post-Husserlian
phenomenologists. This was a fact that Merleau-Ponty himself readily
acknowledged, but which many Merleau-Pontyeans have tried to belittle.
Perhaps they felt more comfortable sticking to a Husserl-interpretation that
would leave them with a handy whipping-boy, against whom they could then
display the brilliance ofMerleau-Ponty. Obviously, this is not an acceptable
scholarly stance. And again this was something clearly seen by Merleau-
Ponty himself, since he quite explicitly scolds scholars who too quickly resort
to the standard criticism ofHusserl rather than making the effort of actually
reading his writings. Let me give the last word to Merleau-Ponty: "So Naville
and Herve, each for his own reasons, have something other to do than master
the texts of an untranslated and two-thirds unpublished Husserl? All right.
But then why talk about it?"44

44. SNS 1651135-6. lowe this last reference to Linda Fisher.

Chapter 2

Merleau-Ponty's Ontological Reading of Constitution

in PhenomenoLogie de La perception

Elizabeth A. Behnke
Study Project in Phenomenology ofthe Body

Abstract: In Phenomenologie de la perception Merleau-Ponty

constructs and critiques two notions of "constitution, " both of which
he ascribes to Husserl: an "intellectualist" sense that he rejects
because it perpetuates a dualistic ontology of determinate being; and
a "genetic" sense that is rejected on the grounds that it assumes an
ultimately pre-given ontological matrix that it cannot itself provide.
Thus Merleau-Ponty gives "constitution" an exclusively "metaphysi-
cal" reading, thereby occluding Husserl 's distinctive methodological
sense of the term.

1. Issues and Strategies

Merleau-Ponty's "reading" of Husserl is simultaneously a "writing" of

Husserl-a writing that appropriates and develops, but also deforms and
occludes. Doing full justice to the richly textured sweep of this process is
clearly beyond the compass of a single essay. I shall nevertheless attempt to
identify one crucial strand in the fabric ofMerleau-Ponty's Husserl-reading
and to indicate one of the problems this reading raises, taking the way
Merleau-Ponty uses the term "constitution" in Phenomenologie de la
perception as a point of entry into this problem. A detailed survey of
Merleau-Ponty' s use of this concept in the text in question I reveals that at
least four strategies are in play.

1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945);

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962;
reprint, with translation revisions by Forrest Williams, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities
Press, 1976). Since the term "constitution" is translated a number of ways in the English
edition, the research project upon which the present essay is based relies solely upon the
French edition. However, references to this work will provide French/English page numbers
throughout. Unattributed page numbers throughout this essay refer to this work.
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husser I, 31-50.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

a. The shifting senses of "constitution"

The word "constitution" occurs literally hundreds of times in the text of

Phenomenofogie de fa perception. Yet it is a chameleon concept, taking on
different senses or nuances of sense against different backgrounds and
shifting sense without warning, so that it can be used in significantly
different senses in adjacent passages. For example, Merleau-Ponty makes
no effort to distinguish between a technical and a non-technical sense of the
word, and this functionally contributes to the prevailing climate of
interpretation for the specifically technical senses, since it effectively
prepares the reader to understand the philosophical import of the term
according to the model of a mundane "making," "assembling," or
"establishing."2 Moreover, the word "constitution" takes on distinctly
different shades of meaning according to whether Merleau-Ponty is
criticizing empiricism or intellectualism; proposing an alternative,
existential account; or moving in the direction of an indirect ontology of
indeterminate being. Yet these variegated senses are never truly thematized
and clarified. And although Merleau-Ponty's text does construct both an
"earlier" and a "later" Husserl (with a different concept of constitution
ascribed to each of them) ,3 the overall trajectory of Phenomenofogie de fa
perception is sustained as much by the ambiguities that tacitly blur and
undermine the notion of "constitution" as by any explicit contrast between
an "earlier" and a "later" sense of the term in Husserl.

2. Cf. Thomas M. Seebohm, "Intentionalitat und passive Synthesis. Gedanken zu einer

nichttranszendentalen Konzeption von Intentionalitat," in Husser! in Halle. Spurensuche im
Anfang der Phiinomen%gie, ed. Hans-Martin Gerlach and Hans Rainer Sepp (Frankfurt am
Main: Peter Lang, 1994), 68~9, on extra-philosophical senses of "constitution" in political
and medical contexts.

3. Merleau-Ponty's periodization of Husserl's work in terms of a trajectory moving from

logicism to existentialism (317 n. 1/274 n. I; cf. 61 n. 1/49 n. 1,63 n. 1/51 n. 1,281 n. 1/243
n. I )-albeit to an existentialism marred by "throwbacks" to earlier periods (419 n. 1/365 n.
I )-is structured by a narrative shape that expresses Merleau-Ponty's own philosophical
concerns in Phenomen%gie de /a perception, and this narrative does not always hold up in
light of subsequent scholarship on Husserl's texts; for example, in the 1945 work, Merleau-
Ponty was unable to take into account that the 1928 version of the time lectures, edited by
Stein and Heidegger, mingles manuscripts from different periods (cf., e.g., 178 n. 11152 n.

h. The interpretive contexts already in play

Scholars have characterized MerIeau-Ponty's reading ofHusserI in various

ways; some suggest that MerIeau-Ponty projects his own philosophical
concerns back upon HusserI and "makes his predecessor into the spokesman
for his own ideas,"4 while others insist that MerIeau-Ponty read HusserI far
more accurately than the latter group of scholars have realized, since all the
themes that MerIeau-Ponty purports to find in HusserI (e.g., transcendental
intersubjectivity) are in fact to be found there. s But both assessments are
warranted, insofar as MerIeau-Ponty was indeed correct in claiming that the
themes in question appear in HusserI's writings, yet his understanding of
these very themes (and of other themes in HusserI) is entirely mediated by
the aims, motivations, and commitments governing his own philosophical
project, rather than reflecting any attempt to provide an exposition of
HusserI's work in and on its own terms. 6
What is important here, however, is to acknowledge that the HusserI-
reading at work in Phenomenologie de la perception is already informed by
other HusserI-interpretations-most notably, by two currents of influence
that we can designate the "Scheler-Stein" and the "Heidegger-Fink" lines of
development. Thus the reading of HusserI that is written into the text of
Phenomenologie de la perception is a further reading of a "pre-read"
HusserI, i.e., of a HusserI who has already been inscribed and assimilated

4. Peter J. Hadreas, In Place ofthe Flawed Diamond: An Investigation ofMerleau-Ponty 's

Philosophy (New York: Peter Lang, 1986),7.
5. See, e.g., Zahavi's contribution to the present volume.

6. Cf. ii/viii on constructing a "phenomenology for ourselves" based on the premise that "we
find in texts only what we put into them"; see also Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signes (Paris:
Gallimard, 1960), 160, 167, 201-2; Signs, trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1964), 128, 133, 159-60, and cf. Edmund HusserI, AuJSiitze
und Vortriige (1911-1921), Husserliana, vol. 25, ed. Thomas Nenon and Hans Rainer Sepp
(Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), 207-8, for similar sentiments in HusserI-who does,
however, distinguish this mode of "constructive" reading, undertaken to inspire one's own
philosophical writing, from a scientifically motivated history of philosophy, which does
indeed rely on philological interpretation and critique of the documents and traditions
concerned: contrast Husserl, Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschaflen und die
transzendentale Phiinomenologie. Ergiinzungsband: Texte aus dem Nachlass 1934-1937,
Husserliana, vol. 29, ed. Reinhold N. Smid (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992),
49-51 and 243-4.

into contexts critical of his work. It is obviously beyond the scope of this
essay to document the influence of these interpretive contexts on Merleau-
Ponty/ or to trace the fortunes of the notion of "constitution" in each of the
four thinkers just mentioned. But two points may at least be indicated.
As we know, the Husserl-reading at work in Phenomenologie de la
perception is based on unpublished as well as published works, with Stein's
edition of Ideen II playing a particularly important role. Stein, however,
apparently thought that Husserl's own notion of constitution required
clarification, and in recasting the work, she deliberately steered it in the
direction of a "non-idealistic" understanding of "constitution," i.e., one in
which the activity of "constitution" has irreducible ontological
prerequisites. 8 Thus when Merleau-Ponty turned to Ideen IL pe was turning
to a text already bearing the imprint of a critique of constitutive phenomen-
ology carried out from the standpoint of realistic phenomenology and its
horizon of convictions-including the commitment to an ontology that
precedes "phenomenology" per se.
The philosophical project in Phenomenologie de la perception is also
decisively influenced by Heideggerian concerns, expressed not in any direct
attack on Husserl from a Heideggerian position, but in Merleau-Ponty's
allegiance to Fink's philosophical program, which calls for the results of
specific phenomenological investigations initially carried out in an
"ontologically disinterested" manner to be reinterpreted in light of the
"metaphysical problem" that-according to Fink-"drives and moves
Husserl's philosophy," i.e., the question of being (and in particular, that of

7. It would be particularly interesting to examine the influence of Max Scheler, "Idealismus-

Realismus," Philosophischer Anzeiger 2 (Bonn: Verlag Friedrich Cohen, 1927),255-93;
"Idealism and Realism," in Selected Philosophical Essays, trans. David R. Lachterman
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 288-356-a work that Merleau-Ponty does
indeed cite in Phenomenologie de la perception-in this light, not only with regard to the
general notion of knowledge as an ultimate, underivable, and participatory ontological
relationship exemplified first of all in an "ecstatic" (ekstatische) form of knowledge prior to
any reflection or conscious knowledge, but also with regard to Scheler's overall approach to
the "idealism"-"realism" controversy (cf. section l.d. of the present paper).

8. See Marianne Sawicki, Body, Text, and Science: The Literacy ofInvestigative Practices
and the Phenomenology ofEdith Stein (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997), 73
ff., 153 ff.; cf. 164 n. 38.

the absolute origin of all being, prior to the "subject"-"object" framework).9

Thus the appropriation and development of the notion of "constitution" that
emerges in Phenomenologie de la perception is not only carried out in an
ontological register, but follows hermeneutical phenomenology in relying
on "interpretation" rather than "description" (even if what is being
interpreted in an ontological light is itself the result of descriptive
phenomenological investigation).

c. The motif of the "incompletely constituted"

The appropriation and development of "constitution" inPhenomenologie de

la perception is effected not only by destabilizing the term and taking it as
pre-inscribed within certain contexts of interpretation, but also by a complex
rhetorical trajectory whose structure is reminiscent of a musical process of
development wherein a motif is not simply repeated, but gradually
transformed as its various potentials are exploited, so that it eventually
becomes unrecognizable, or even-as in some works of Beethoven-is
progressively dismantled until it disappears altogether. Merleau-Ponty
appropriates the motif of the lived body as a "remarkably incompletely
constituted thing" from Ideen II; transforms it into the motif of that which
can never be an "object," because it can never be "completely constituted";
extends this notion to time and to the world; links the motif of the "never
completely constituted" with the notion of the "already constituted";
complements the critique of the constituted "object" with a rejection of any
need for a constituting "subject"; and anticipates his later work in indirect
ontology by limning the contours of an indeterminate being (i.e., a pre-
objective realm that is never "completely constituted") that is always
necessarily pre-given (i.e., always "already constituted," prior to any
productive "constituting" operations on the part of a subject to/for whom it

9. Eugen Fink, "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund HusserIs," Revue internationale
de ph ilosophie 1 (1939),256-7, and see also 236, 270; "The Problem of the Phenomenology
of Edmund Husserl," trans. RobertM. Harlan, in Apriori and World: European Contributions
to Husserlian Phenomenology, ed. William McKenna et al. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1981), 44-5, and see also 29, 54; cf., e.g., Martin Heidegger, Die Grundprobleme der
Phiinomenologie, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio
Klostermann, 1975); The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. Albert Hofstadter
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 5.

would be "given").lO In this way a phrase drawn from a phenomenological

description of the perceiving body-a description based on the experien-
tially demonstrable correlation between a situated perceiver and a
perspectivally given world-becomes the occasion for an extended
ontological interpretation that winds up undermining its own starting point.
But Merleau-Ponty makes use of yet another key strategy in the course of
this interpretive endeavor.

d. The turn to the roots of a dilemma

One of Merleau-Ponty's most typical strategies consists of identifying

traditional dualisms and rejecting both ready-made alternatives in order to
propose an entirely different account. This strategy is found, for instance, in
his treatment of "intellectualism" on the one hand and "empiricism" on the
other in PMnomenologie de la perception. Their respective accounts of
perception are indeed contrasted, and pitted against one another to a certain
extent, but in the end, both accounts are declared inadequate. More
specifically, Merleau-Ponty's strategy in this case involves showing that
both positions rest on the same assumptions-assumptions he then subjects
to critique in order to prepare the way for an account of his own. Stated
more generally, Merleau-Ponty's procedure here is to trace both sides of an
inherited dichotomy back to the same underlying paradigm in order to rej ect
this paradigm itself and provide a new one, as when, for example, he offers
the notion of "existence" as a third term "between" the pour soi and the en
soi (142 n. 11122 n. 1). Thus the strategy is to provide, as it were, a
"coherent deformation" of a pre-existing tradition, accomplished not simply
by challenging the reigning/rival accounts in their own terms, but by
reformulating the terms in which the question is thought. Applied to the
issue of constitution, this procedure takes the form of a "neither/nor"
Aujhebung that attacks one understanding ofconstitution while provisionally
appealing to another, only to leave the notion of constitution behind
altogether once it has served its purpose. In other words, it is precisely by
initially assuming and maintaining these very senses of "constitution" that

10. This development is worked out in my "'Remarkably Incompletely': A Contribution to

the Study of the Constitution-Problematic in Merieau-Ponty," presented at the research
symposium on "Merieau-Ponty's Reading of Husseri," Delray Beach, FL, November 1999.

Merleau-Ponty is ultimately able to transgress it and dispense with it as a

whole. Let us now follow the stages of this process in more detail.

2. "Negative" and "Positive" Senses of "Constitution"

a. The indictment of an intellectualist sense of "constitution"

Many mentions of the word "constitution" in Phenomenologie de la

perception occur within the context of Merleau-Ponty's critique of an
intellectualist version of this notion. The true target of this critique is
modem philosophy as a philosophy of the "subject," conceived within the
framework of an ontological dualism of "subject" and "object"-a dualism
Merleau-Ponty wants to transcend. But to the extent that Husserl's name is
linked with the intellectualist version of "constitution," he too is read as
belonging-at least in what Merleau-Ponty sees as his earlier, "Kantian"
period-to the ontological tradition that is to be overcome. 11 Thus the
critique of an intellectualist sense of "constitution" occupies an important
position in Merleau-Ponty's reading/writing ofHusserl (and in the tradition
of Husserl-interpretation that Merleau-Ponty instituted). Here, however, it
is not my task to offer a correction of this reading from a Husserlian
standpoint. Instead, let us examine how Merleau-Ponty portrays the
"intellectualist" model of constitution by reviewing the salient points in a
constellation of features that gradually emerge (and persistently re-emerge)
along the course of Merleau-Ponty's text.
The constituting agent is held to be a particular type of mind or con-
sciousness that is sometimes equated with a pure "transcendental ego,"12 but
is more frequently characterized as an "absolute" or "universal" conscious-
ness. It is not only atemporal-"etemally given" (77/63) and without history
(55 n. 2/45 n. 3)-but acosmic (cf. 248/214, 503/441), for it has no "here"

11. Merleau-Ponty's objections to certain "Kantian" texts of Husserl (cf. 320 n. 11276 n. 1)
can also be seen as expressions of Merleau-Ponty's effort to distinguish his own work from
the prevailing neo-Kantian scholarly climate; cf. also Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Les Sciences
de l'homme et la phenomenologie (Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire, 1958;
reprint, 1975), 15,71; The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays, ed. James M. Edie
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 52, 92, where Merleau-Ponty links
Husserl's use of the term "phenomenology" with Hegel's.

12. See, e.g., 55 n. 2/45 n. 3, 75/62, 2411208, 486-7/425-6.


and is therefore everywhere at once or nowhere at all. 13 Moreover, this

constituting consciousness is said to be a pure interiority without exteriority
(68/56); as an "impartial spectator" (xv/xx) contemplating a world in which
it has no place, it is a sheer "subject" or "pour soi, " and at times is even
defined as "absolutely outside of being" (246/212) or "absolute non-being"
(247/213,2811243). But above all, it is a thinking subject or consciousness,
so that the world simply becomes the correlate of thought about the world
(2411208). Thus to speak of "constitution" inevitably entails replacing
perception with intellection (53/43), movement with the thought of
movement (160/137,443-4/387), and so on.
The activity of constitution is held to be a centrifugal sense-bestowing
(Sinngebung-see, e.g., 490/428) that proceeds exclusively from the side of
the constituting consciousness and imposes order either upon a flux of
"appearances," "profiles," or "perspectives" (178/152, 376/325-6) or upon
some presumed array of objective "sensations" or "impressions" (141/121)
without any intrinsic organization of their own (cf. 464/405). This
"constitutive work" of consciousness (49/39) is thus an operation in which
a "directing" thought dominates "indifferent" matter (492/430) or inspects
the flux of appearances and links them according to "secret" laws of
intelligible structure that the absolute constituting consciousness eternally
possesses in advance (36/28). Constitution, in other words, "makes" sense
by building up meaningful objects out of otherwise meaningless materials.
However, the relationship of the constituting consciousness to what it
constitutes is not only held to be a unilateral relation of producer to
produced, but is also assumed to be a frontal relation of surveyor to
surveyed: that which is constituted is deployed, displayed, or spread out
before the constituting consciousness 14 in such a way that the constituted
would have to be given fully and transparently, with no possibility of error
or illusion. IS Moreover, Merleau-Ponty assumes that any recourse to such
a constituting operation automatically carries with it the claim that

13. See, e.g., 47/37, 75/62, 365/316, 383/332.

14. See, e.g., 55-6 n. 2/45 n. 3, 365/316, 509/446. Merleau-Ponty typically uses such
locutions as "deploye devant" and "etale devant, " as well as the phrase "en face de. "

15. See, e.g., 76/63, 239/206, 275/238, 387-8/336, 418/364-5.


"constituting" is utterly contemporaneous with what it constitutes. 16 And

critiques of both these points are crucial in Merleau-Ponty's attack on the
intellectualist notion of constitution.
Finally, the outcome of constitution is held to be "objectivity." This
means not only that constitution is the constitution of objects, i.e., of
identical unities achieved by synthesis, but also that to be constituted is to
be invested or endowed with objectivity in a serious ontological sense
(although Merleau-Ponty also refers to the constitution of an "objective"
world in the more specific sense of the measurable world of the exact
sciences, i.e., the world of geometric space amenable to the predicative
order of objective logic). In other words, just as the constituting conscious-
ness is identified with the pour soi, the constituted realm is inevitably en soi
(401-2/349,506/443); whenever constitution in the intellectualist sense is
in play, the result is an object over against a subject, whether this object is
my own body, the empirical I, another person, or an objectified, spatialized
time. 17 And this is taken not merely as a claim regarding a pervasive style
or structure of experience, but as an indication of a particular type of
ontological commitment. Moreover, the constituted is said to exist only for
the constituting agent (51141,2411208) and the constituting consciousness
is said to be "co-extensive" with being (4011349,405/353), i.e., the universal
constituting consciousness is said to be a transcendental field with no
conceivable "outside," so that nothing beyond its scope could affect it or
even reach it (427/372): ultimately, all being is absorbed into knowing
(76/62). Pushed to extremes, this means that to say that consciousness
"constitutes" the world is equivalent to saying that it "constructs" the world
it experiences from out of its own resources, "since the transactions between
the subject and the things round about it are possible only provided that the

16. "To understand is ultimately always to construct, to constitute, to bring about here and
now the synthesis ofthe object" (490/428, emphasis added). Here Merleau-Ponty is not only
identifying the "intentionality of acts" (478/418, 490/429; cf. xii/xvii) with a Kantian
synthesis of "sense-data" into "objects" and treating such "acts" as active centrifugal
operations of Sinngebullg deriving their impulse from the subject as synthesizing "agent" (cf.
498/436), but is also portraying the "acts of consciousness" concerned as "distinct
Erlebnisse" (466/407), each occurring in a spatialized "present" that is always
"contemporary" with the consciousness that posits it (474-5/415).

17. See, e.g., 68/55-6, 86/72, 140-11121,274/237,4011349,474/415.


subject first of all causes them to exist for itself, actually arranges them
round about itself, and extracts them from its own core" (424/370).18
Yet what is at stake here is more than a critique of an idealism in which
the world is swallowed up, as it were, by a constituting consciousness, for
the intellectualist account falls short in other ways as well. By taking the
constitution of "objects of thought" as a model for all intentionality, this
account focuses on intellectual projects at the expense of the existential
project they spring from, which is lived prior to ever being thought
(509-10/446-7). Moreover, in seeking for "conditions of possibility" and
finding them in the constituting activity of a cognizing subject, it accounts
only for a world "in idea," and does not succeed in disclosing the "condi-
tions of reality"-i.e., the operations responsible for the existing perceptual
world itself, in its living actuality (48/38, 4311376,5011439). And finally,
the intellectualist understanding of constitution arises through a reflection
that moves from a determinate, already "congealed" world in itself back to
a "reconstruction" of the synthesizing activity ascribed to an absolute
constituting consciousness that is itself constructed in such a way as to make
precisely this notion of an absolute determinate being possible (ivlix-x,
50-1140-1). Thus intellectualism simply takes over the ready-made world
of the empiricist thesis and adds the words "consciousness of.. .," thereby
establishing the rule of a universal thinker without changing the terms in
which the world is thought (240-11207-8): in granting a privileged role to
the pour soi while maintaining a pour soi-en soi schema, the intellectualist
account merely perpetuates a dualistic ontology.
Merleau-Ponty's strategy, then, is to set up a particular, "intellectualist"
way of understanding "constitution," then to interpret it in terms of its
ontological implications. And although the question of whether or not
consciousness bears some sort of "ontological responsibility" for the world
(so that "constitution" would be equivalent to "construction" or "creation"
in some ontologically significant sense) hovers in the background of
Merleau-Ponty' s critique ofthe intellectualist account, the indictment ofthis
sense of "constitution" actually rests upon a critique of the particular kind

18. Merleau-Ponty's discussion here is focused on Lachieze-Rey, a Kantian whom he

takes-along with the Husser! ofthe Ideen-as a representative ofthe "classical conception"
of intentionality, which "treats the experience of the world as a pure act of constituting
consciousness" (281/243), i.e., conceives it in terms of the intellectualist interpretation of
"constitution" as Mer!eau-Ponty understands it.

of ontology this notion of constitution implies, for it reinstates the same

"prejuge du monde" that governs causal, empirical accounts, and it
presupposes a disembodied, "constituting" consciousness that faces,
surveys, and dominates a determinate world en soi of which it is never a

b. The positive senses of "constitution"

Despite Merleau-Ponty's indictment of the specifically intellectualist sense

of "constitution," he continues to rely upon other senses of constitution in
many places in his text, exploiting it in a variety of ways toward a variety
of ends. And he continues to evoke Husserl's name in the course of this
endeavor to lay bare "the true problem of constitution" (77/63) and reach a
genuine "constitutive dimension" (48/38). Once again, however, my aim in
this section is not to evaluate Merleau-Ponty's understanding of the "later"
Husserl's concept of constitution from a Husserlian standpoint, but simply
to review some of the features that make a more positive notion of
"constitution" a: valuable resource for Merleau-Ponty's own philosophical
First of all, Merleau-Ponty presents constitution as having a certain
efficacy. To search for the "constitutive origins" (51141) of the world means
to disclose the "constituting power" (430/375) of a "constitutive source"
(17110); to appreciate "historical constitution" (63 n. 1151 n. 1) is to
acknowledge a productive, creative accomplishment, as when, for example,
a new thought and a new expression for it "are simultaneously constituted"
in a genuine birth of meaning through which "a fresh cultural entity" comes
into existence "once and for all" (213-4/183). Thus although the constitutive
accomplishment is historically situated, its efficacy is more than momen-
tary: it does not dissipate without a trace, but leaves behind a new cultural
possibility as an abiding acquisition. More fundamentally, however, the
perceived world itself, in its primordial amplitude and depth, is "the result
of a constitutive process the stages of which we must, in fact, trace back"
(295/255)-precisely because what we encounter most directly is the
product of this efficacy, while its silent labor in the living matrix of

experience is forgotten in favor of the object it delivers, and must therefore

be explicitly disclosed. 19
And when we do this, we find that the original constitutive work is a
dynamic event to be seized "it I' etat naissant. "20 This is true not only of the
authentic, creative, and originary movements of thought and expression in
which a new meaning comes into being, but also of the more fundamental
achievement of perception as a "process of integration" in which the "text"
ofthe external world is not merely "re-copied," but "constituted" (16/9). Yet
this is not to be confused either with "objective," mechanical-causal
processes linking "elementary" psychophysical events with one another, nor
with the intervention of a "subjective" operation such as "memory" or
''judgment'' that would cement separate "sensations" together (29-30121-2,
42/33). Instead, what the dynamic event of "active constitution" does is to
make "explicit and articulate what was until then presented as no more than
an indeterminate horizon" (39/30), thereby clarifying the "still ambiguous
meaning" that had served to motivate it in the first place (39/31). Constitu-
tion, in short, names the effective movement from a pre-given indetermi-
nacy to the givenness of something determinate. 21
Yet for Merleau-Ponty, the dynamic and efficacious event of the
constitution of perceptual (or cultural) meaning stands in a peculiar
relationship to the perceiver or experiencer-a relationship that is certainly
a participatory one, yet is not always or necessarily one in which the impetus
or initiation proceeds from the side of the perceiver. Merleau-Ponty does

19. See 69/57, 71158, 161 n. 11138 n. 2,490-11429. The latter passage-which refers to the
"operative intentionality" that is at work in the "logos of the aesthetic world" (i.e., the
Husserlian "transcendental aesthetic") as "an 'art hidden in the depths ofthe human soul,' one
which, like any art, is known only in its results"-echoes not only Kant but also Fink's
characterization of operatively functioning intentionality in terms of modes of consciousness
that "operate in concealment and are veiled by their result"-Fink 193911981 (see n. 9

20. See, e.g., xvi/xxi, 140/120,229/197,2541219,337-8/292.

21. The notion of the "positive indeterminacy" of the pre-objective world appears in
Phenomenofogie de fa perception as an antidote not only to the "freezing of being"
accomplished by the objective sciences (66-7/54), but also to its more fundamental
presupposition-namely, the prejudice of the objective world, i.e., of determinate being in
general (see, e.g., 12/6, 19/12,62 n. 1151 n. 1, 109/92,316/273), which serves as the "tacit
thesis" ofa primordial perceptual faith in a coherent, explorable world (66/54),

recognize that this re1ationship--which we might term complicity22-can

involve a focusing or centering of the milieu that structures the field of
experience as a whole in terms of the current project of the experiencer,
thereby effecting a Sinngebung in a positive and more primary sense of the
term (503/441). Thus, for instance, a certain pattern ofbodi1y comportment
can "invest" the surrounding objects with a certain significance (225/193),
or "polarize" the field of action along certain lines of force (130/112), and
so on. In other words, it is through our constitutive complicity that a milieu
of a specific structure is disposed around us in a particular way (394/342);
the phenomenal world would not be the same without us (cf. 498/436). But
Merleau-Ponty speaks of a centripetal as well as a centrifugal Sinngebung
(501-3/439-41), so that a world that has constituted itself(cf. 251/217)
solicits from me the bodily attitude in which it will come into focus
(248/214, 367/318), or "proposes" things to my body as things to be
touched, taken up, traversed, etc. (503/441). And through this transitional
model of a double centrifugal/centripetal movement, the way is paved for
a full reversal, i.e., for the shift from a unilateral constitution "of' what is
experienced "by"; the experiencer (i.e., "due to" or "by way of' the
experiencer's participation) to the spontaneous upsurge of a world that is
"not the outcome of a constituting effort" at all (467/408)-a shift that
culminates, for example, in the notion that I do not constitute time as an
object of my knowledge, but live a time that is a "dimension" of my being
and is thus "constitutive" of me (475/415, 488/427).
Finally, yet another feature emerging from the positive profit Merleau-
Ponty draws from the concept of constitution must also be emphasized: all
constitutive labor takes place on the basis of some sort ofpre-given stratum.
Although part of Merleau-Ponty's rejection of the intellectualist account is
directed toward the notion of constitution as an imposition of sense
according to an Auffassung-Inhalt scheme (178 n. 1/152 n. 1), as when
meaningless "sensations" are held to serve as an "opaque" hyletic layer
upon which the constitutive work of consciousness can be carried out
(2811243), what is actually being rejected is a specific type of pre-given
"objective" material and subsequent "subjective" work; the overall scheme

22. See 485/424; cf. viii/xiii, 4911429.


of a pre-given basis for subsequent productive activity persists in the

positive appropriation of the notion of constitution. 23
And for much of the text, Merleau-Ponty retains the language of
"constitution" in discussing this pre-given basis, typically referring in this
context to the "already constituted," even as he insists that it is not
constituted by me, by "consciousness," or by "subj ectivity. "24 For example,
most of the time we dwell in "constituted language," making use of thoughts
and expressions that are "already constituted," already at our disposal
(213/183, 219/188). But even the birth of meaning in authentic creative
expression rests upon an already constituted system of vocabulary and
syntax that it transforms in the very act of transcending it (229/196-7). It is
true that subsequent acts in general have the sedimented achievements of
previous acts at their disposal as the ground for further productive achieve-
ments, which in their turn will serve as a basis for still further acts, and so
on (156/134). The question facing Merleau-Ponty at this juncture, however,
is how this ongoing dynamic process is initially set in motion. Similarly,
perceptual things are always given to us as situated in terms of an already
constituted spatial "level" (2881249), just as movement is always perceived
as a modulation of an already familiar milieu-yet how are this level and
this milieu themselves "constituted" prior to any act of "consciousness"
(3191275-6)? How, in other words, are we to account for the "already"
constituted, in the most fundamental sense of a primal, ultimately originat-
ing institution, in light of the displacement of the locus of constitutive
efficacy from the complicit contribution of the experiencer to the "unmoti-
vated upsurge of the world" (viii/xiv)? It is here that the notion of
"constitution" begins to shimmer and break up: the very concept that has
helped Merleau-Ponty gain access to a fundamental ontological problem
will be precisely what must break down and give way so that an essential

23. See, e.g., 1471127, where Merleau-Ponty characterizes the phenomenological notion of
Fundierung in terms of "the relationship between matter and form."

24. See, e.g., 275/238, 399/347,4111358,461/402,462/404; cf. Signes (see n. 6 above),

2271180: "Originally a project to gain intellectual possession of the world, constitution
becomes increasingly, as Husserl's thought matures, the means of unveiling a back side of
things that we have not constituted."

non-givenness ofthe primally pre-given can paradoxically (and indirectly)

come into view. 25

3. Merleau-Ponty's Move Beyond "Constitution"

As 1 have already indicated, Merleau-Ponty destabilizes the term

"constitution" by using it ambiguously and by playing significantly different
senses off of one another. In addition, he transforms its inherited philosophi-
cal sense by subjecting it to a reversal whereby it is the world's self-
constitution that is ultimately given primacy, not the activities of a
constituting "consciousness." The shift that is at stake here might appear at
first simply to stem from replacing the figure of a disembodied, de-situated
"subject" facing the "objects" from which it is separated by an ontological
gulf with the figure of a situated, perceiving body geared in with the
articulated milieu that opens around it in accordance with its projects. But
Merleau-Ponty's move is more complex than this, for it is not just a question
of a new and improved description of a constituting "agent"; rather, the
accent is on the ontological grounds on the basis of which perceptual (and
cultural) sense or meaning can emerge in the world at all.
And here what Merleau-Ponty begins to emphasize is a pre-logical
installation in the world, a bodily rootedness in being, such that I understand
the world because I am included within it as a situated existence, an etre au
monde. 26 In this way I find a sense in being, not by having given it this sense
myself by way of a "constituting" operation (whether this is understood
negatively or positively), but by virtue of the abiding power of "a more
ancient pact" (293/254). This "primordial pact" between pre-personal bodily
perceiving and perceptual world (2511216) is a "pact" in the sense that the
"primordial experience" has always already "sided" with the world, so that

25. On the need to complement constitutive analyses with a "constructive" phenomenology

directed toward that which is "non-given" in principle, see Eugen Fink, VI. Cartesianische
Meditation. Teil I. Die Idee einer transzendentalen Methodenlehre, ed. Hans Ebeling, Jann
HolI, and Guy van Kerckhoven (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988); Sixth
Cartesian Meditation: The Idea ofa Transcendental Theory ofMethod, trans. Ronald Bruzina
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 7; for Van Breda's appraisal ofthe influence
of this work on Phenomenologie de la perception, see his letter of 17 December 1945 to
Merleau-Ponty, cited in Bruzina's "Translator's Introduction," lxxxiii, n. 119.

26. See, e.g., 404/351,467/408,485/424.


the "prejuge du monde" that was the target of Merleau-Ponty's critique

gives way to a "parti pris pour Ie monde" (see 2501216, 296/256), a "parti
pris en faveur de l'etre" (294/254).27 But it is precisely here that talk of
"constitution" breaks down altogether, for nothing remains to "constitute"
the primordial pact; my very being as an original world-project, as a field,
as experience, as a possibility of situations, is simply inaugurated with my
birth (465-6/406-7), and this primordial pact itself owes nothing to any
"constituting" activity, power, or labor, but has always already secretly
happened (324/280,326/281). Thus it is not only that objective science, for
instance, rests upon a more primordial perceptual world, or that reflection
in general presupposes the pre-reflective; rather, what perception "ratifies
and renews in us" is a "prehistory" (277/240) that Merleau-Ponty character-
izes as an "original past" that has never been present (280/242).
Hence for Merleau-Ponty, that which is pre-given for any "constitu-
tion"-namely, an ultimate source or level that would be "founding" but not
"founded," "grounding" but not "grounded"-cannot be provided by any
"constitution," for the primal ontological matrix that is always already
abidingly in play whether we perceive or speak or act or think cannot be
accounted for by any type of experiencing subjectivity (even an anony-
mously functioning, pre-personal bodily life) of which it would be the
contemporaneous correlate: it lies utterly beyond the reach of the "given."
This means, however, that no inquiry directed toward "consciousness,"
"subjectivity," or "experience" can reach a truly foundational level. Instead,
anything like a "phenomenology" must, according to Merleau-Ponty,
presuppose in principle an ontology it can neither provide nor set out of

27. In addition to using the image of a primordial "pact," Merleau-Ponty also presents the
body-world relation in terms of a kind of correspondence or mirroring. This is not only
apparent when Merleau-Ponty tells us that the constitution of the body as an object is a
"decisive moment" in the constitution of the objective world (86/72), but also informs the
passages where the schema corporel is characterized as an open yet unified system that itself
not only opens onto, but is correlative to the world of intersensorial things (see, e.g., 1651141,
168 n. 11143 n. 3, 2371205, 2711235, 367/317-8), culminating in the notion of the
correspondence between the "open unity" of the world and the "open and indefinite unity"
of the experiencer (465/406). Although in Phenomenologie de la perception the
correspondence does not reach the degree of ontological intimacy expressed in the later
notion of "flesh," it can certainly be seen as an important stage in Merleau-Ponty's
development of this theory, and cf. also the reference to the "sentient subject" as a "hollow"
or "fold" in being (2491215).

play. Thus what we learn from the very attempt to perform the reduction is
the "impossibility of a complete reduction" (viii/xiv); we simply cannot
account for "being" in terms of "constitution." In other words, the question
for which "constitution" fails to be the answer is the question of being as the
primal pre-given matrix for any "experiencing" whatsoever, and Merleau-
Ponty's text is governed by this question from the start. 28 Yet such "pre-
givenness" cannot itself be brought to "original" presence, but must be
addressed indirectly, in an interpretive move that can never be legitimated
by recourse to an original "of' which it would be an interpretation, for this
original ineluctably belongs to the never-present past-and our only access
to it is through an interpretation that manifests it without exhausting it (cf.
The purpose of this paper is neither to defend nor to critique Merleau-
Ponty's philosophical position in this regard, but only to indicate the use he
has made of the concept of constitution in arriving at it. However, his
treatment of constitution has had an undeniable impact upon the
phenomenological tradition as a whole. I shall therefore conclude with some
brief remarks on this issue.

4. Implications of Merleau-Ponty's ReadinglWriting of Husserl

As I have indicated, both the negative and positive senses of "constitution"

in Phenomenologie de la perception are linked with Husserl's name. But
Merleau-Ponty's presentations do not necessarily provide an accurate and
comprehensive account of the ways this concept actually functions within
the context of Husserl 's own projects. 29 Here, of course, it is not possible to
offer a detailed exposition of the key senses of constitution in Husserl's
work-a complex topic that has generated considerable controversy in its

28. Thus in the guise of seeking the "foundations of being" in the phenomenological world
(xv/xx), Merleau-Ponty is in full agreement with Fink 193911981 (see n. 9 above),236/29:
"It is the fundamental thesis of the interpretation undertaken here that the understanding of
the sense of phenomenology as a philosophy is dependent upon the extent to which the
problem of being is recognized as the horizon of the thematization of consciousness." Cf.
Richard M. Zaner, The Problem of Embodiment: Some Contributions to a Phenomenology
ofthe Body (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), 130,233-4.

29. For one example of a Husserlian critique of Merleau-Ponty's understanding of

"constitution" in Phenomenologie de la perception, see Zaner 1964 (see n. 28 above), 208 ff.

own right. It is nevertheless crucial to point out that Merleau-Ponty's

reading does significant disservice to one major element ofHusserl's work
as a whole: Merleau-Ponty's destabilization and dismissal of "constitution"
has affected not only the specifically philosophical senses of the term that
he sets up and subjects to critique, but the ongoing reception of the
methodological sense of constitution as well, a sense that is indispensable
to the practice of phenomenological research. 30
The irony, however, is that Merleau-Ponty makes ample use of the
findings of constitutive phenomenological research throughout the text of
Phenomenologie de la perception. First of all, he draws upon Husserl's
descriptive phenomenological work in demonstrating the inadequacies of the
empiricist and the intellectualist accounts of perception and developing an
alternative account. Yet he has no interest in corroborating Husserl' s
findings, producing further findings using Husserl' s methods, or devising
new phenomenological methods in order to tackle new research topics-all
of which requires turning to the experiential evidence proper to the
phenomenon in question. Instead, his chief aim throughout is to understand
the researchers he relies upon better than they understand themselves by
disclosing the ontological significance of their work. 31 When we tum to
Phenomenologie de la perception, then, we should not expect to find a
"phenomenology of perception" in the sense of a research project carried out
using phenomenological methods and yielding descriptions pertaining to the
experience of "perceiving" and to the "perceived" as experienced; rather, we
must expect an interpretation that is carried out under the sign of the
question of being and aims at disclosing the hidden ontological origins of

30. Cf. Elizabeth A. Behnke, "The 'remarkably incompletely constituted' body in light of a
methodological understanding of constitution: An experiment in phenomenological practice,"
presented at the Husser! Circle, Seattle, W A, June 2000.

31. See, e.g., Maurice Merleau-Ponty, La Nature: Notes, cours du College de France, ed.
Dominique Seglard (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1995), 149, and cf. Seebohm's contribution to
the present volume. Note that the notion of an "interpretive phenomenological ontology" is
part of the heritage of realistic phenomenology, including, e.g., Hedwig Conrad-Martius's
1923 Realontologie, which Mer!eau-Ponty cites in Phenomenologie de la perception; cf.
Harald Delius, "Descriptive Interpretation," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 13
(1952-53),309 n. 6. We might well see Merleau-Ponty's "existential phenomenology" as an
interpretation ofthe findings of constitutive phenomenology carried out under the influence
of the methods, commitments, and agendas of realistic phenomenology and hermeneutical

the perceptual event. And in treating individual phenomenological analyses

as pre-given "matter" for ontological interpretation, Merleau-Ponty is
effectively carrying out Fink's program, which calls for subordinating all
such analyses to a fundamental philosophical question and determining their
philosophical relevance solely in its terms.32
But the problem is that in rejecting "constitution" on the gfounds that it
fails to provide an ultimate ontological explanation-on the grounds that
recourse to an ultimately founding, original/originary experience is
impossible, since the origin of the primal ontological pre-givenness lies in
a never-present past-Merleau-Ponty also occludes the descriptively
motivated tum to firsthand experiential evidence that lies at the heart of
constitutive phenomenological research undertaken under the sign of the
reduction. In other words, he conflates the "metaphysical" and "method-
ological" senses of the term,33 and the result is that in rejecting the
ontological senses he has so carefully constructed in the course of the text,
he also excludes its methodological senses-thereby precluding the
possibility of carrying out the very procedures that produced the results he
relies on in the first place. 34
On the whole, then, Merleau-Ponty's Husserl-reading is characterized by
an interpretive engagement with the content of Husserlian texts rather than
a concern for adopting a phenomenological attitude, consulting experiential
evidence for ourselves, and carrying Husserl's research tradition further.
"Phenomenology," in other words, is taken solely as a textual tradition of
indebtedness and ecart, not as an intersubjective research horizon. And since

32. See, e.g., Eugen Fink, "Vergegenwiirtigung und Bild. Beitrage zur Phanomenologie der
Unwirklichkeit" (1930), in his Studien zur Phiinomenologie 1930-1939 (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1966), 2; for a stronger statement, see the quotation from Fink's
unpublished "Elemente einer Husserl-Kritik" (1940) cited in Sebastian Luft, "Dialectics of
the Absurd: The Systematics of the Phenomenological System in Husserl's Last Period,"
Philosophy Today 43, supplement (1999), 113 n. 2. That Husserl's own use of ontological
language leaves him open for ontological interpretations of his phenomenological analyses
has been emphasized by Thomas M. Seebohm in a number of essays-see, e.g.,
"Apodiktizitat. Recht und Grenze," in Husserl-Symposium Mainz 27., ed. Gerhard
Funke (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1989),90; cf. 71-2.

33. J. N. Mohanty, "Understanding Husserl's Transcendental Phenomenology: An

Introductory Essay," in Apriori and World (see n. 9 above), 12-3.

34. Cf. Zaner 1964 (see n. 28 above), 204.


Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl has had a profound influence on the

way Husserl' s work has been received in general, the overall effect has been
to perpetuate a climate of interpretation in which Husserlian themes and
terms are typically approached in light of received philosophical problems
and received ways of posing them, all at the expense of the possibility of
appropriating phenomenology as a living research horizon. For in reading
the "philosophical" Husserl in the light cast by the question of being,
Merleau-Pontyrelegates the "methodological" Husserl to the shadows ofthe
margin. Thus Merleau-Ponty' s reading/writing ofHusserl-as admirable as
it may be when the results are considered solely in terms ofMerleau-Ponty' s
own philosophical aims and convictions-stands in serious need of
supplementation by a renewal of genuinely Husserlian phenomenological
practice. 35

35. See the essay by Depraz in the present volume.

Chapter 3

The Phenomenological Movement:

A Tradition without Method? Merleau-Ponty and Hussert

Thomas M. Seebohm
Johannes Gutenberg - Universitat Mainz

Abstract: Section I tries to analyze the ambivalence of Merleau-

Ponty's references to Husserl. On the one hand, they indicate a
deconstruction of Husserl 's phenomenological method; on the other
hand, there are attempts to "save" Husserl. Section II is a critical
evaluation ofMerleau-Ponty 's account ofthe development ofHusserI 's
phenomenology. Section III deals with his rejection ofthe reduction, the
account ofeidetic intuition, and intentionality. Section IV is an attempt
to characterize the motives behind Merleau-Ponty's disinterest in

I. Preliminary Considerations

I say "preliminary considerations" because they introduce viewpoints of

methodological hermeneutics, viewpoints for the analysis of literary
traditions of philosophy in general. The phenomenological movement is a
literary tradition, and what is at stake here is the development of this
tradition between 1933 and, approximately, 1960, i.e., the period of texts
written by Merleau-Ponty. He will be, of course, in the center of the
following considerations.
Adolph Reinach' s term "phenomenological movement," re-introduced by
Herbert Spiegelberg in 1960, is in general accepted as a name for one ofthe
most influential literary traditions of philosophy in the twentieth century. At
least one phenomenologist has developed some doubts about the appropriate-
ness of this historical category. Set aside that for German ears the term
Bewegungnow has a very bitter aftertaste if applied to a development having
its roots in the first half of the twentieth century in Germany, the notion has
some serious shortcomings. First, the phenomenological movement is no
"school," and this means it is not determined by a system or, like German
Idealism, by a sequence of systems in which changes are clearly articulated
in the framework of a critique of the preceding systems. There seems to be
something like a general principle guiding the phenomenological movement,
namely "the return to the primary sources of direct intuition and to insights
into essential structures (Wesenseinsichten) derived from them" taken from
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, 51-68.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

the head of the Jahrbuch for phiinomenologische Forschung. 1 But this

"platform" defining phenomenology in the broad sense2 includes only the
intuition of what appears and not of how it appears, i.e., it includes not only
most representatives of the Gottingen school but also the early Heidegger.
The platform is the principle of phenomenology in the broad sense and must
be distinguished from phenomenology in the strict sense. The "platform" has
by no means the character of a strict methodical principle like, e.g., the
principle guiding the development of classical empiricism from Locke to
John Stuart Mill, "nihil est in intellectu quod non ante fuerit in sensu,"
determining the how in addition to the what. The question concerning
Merleau-Ponty is whether he is only interested in the what and not also in the
how. The how refers to the epistemological account of the givenness of
different types of entities, including questions ofmethodological viewpoints.
In Husserl, the how refers to the noetic aspect of his descriptions. The what
refers to the contents of what is known about such entities. In Husserl, the
latter is the noematic aspect. The two aspects cannot be separated according
to Husser!'
Some methodological remarks are necessary before the discussion of this
question. The concern at this point is not the problem of method in
philosophy in general or in phenomenology. What is at stake is the
methodology of the reconstruction of historical reality in the history of
philosophy. The sources of the reconstruction, i.e., the "facts" of the
historian, are in this case first of all texts. 3
(1) One ofthe procedures guiding such research consists in starting with
external criteria on the level of the lower hermeneutics before asking
questions about the content of "what was meant," i.e., the questions of the
"higher hermeneutics." The external criterion for the connection between
texts are explicit and implicit references to other texts. The criterion is
external because nothing is said about the positive application of the texts of

1. Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement, vol. 1 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,

1960), 5.
2. The Phenomenological Movement, vol. 1, 6.
3. For the general background of this approach, I refer to J. Gustav Droysen, Historisch-
kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 1, ed. Peter Ley (Stuttgart: FrommannIHolzboog, 1977). For
information concerning methodological hermeneutics in the 19th Century, cf. Hans Ineichen,
Philosophische Hermeneutik, Handbuch Philosophie, ed. ElisabethStroker and Wolfgang
Wieland (Freiburg: Karl Alber, 1991), part B, sections I-IV. Cf. also my "Boeckh and
Dilthey. The Development of Methodical Hermeneutics," in Phenomenology and the Human
Sciences, ed. J. N. Mohanty (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1985).

the tradition or negative critical rejection or a certain, sometimes, as we will

see, highly complex mixture of both on the level of the higher text herme-
neutics. There is the extreme case of complete rejection, e.g., Descartes's
rejection of scholasticism and also the art of rhetoric of the humanists as
examples of scientific philosophy. Complete rejection is often followed by
complete negligence and forgetting of the old tradition that is now consid-
ered dead and of interest only from a historical point of view.
Spiegelberg introduced a distinction between phenomenology in the broad
sense and phenomenology in the broadest sense. Phenomenology in the
broadest sense includes, according to his definition, also Jacques Derrida and
his followers "in the margins," because Derrida refers to Husserl and the
phenomenological tradition but would not consider himself to be a
phenomenologist. Another example would be Heidegger after the Kehre. I
am not too happy with Spiegelberg's terminology because the weak
difference between broad and broadest blurs the radical difference between
an at least partially positive application of a tradition and thus the sharing of
some common denominators and a radical rejection including explicitly or
implicitly the verdict "is at its end." Merleau-Ponty' s phenomenology is not
a phenomenology in the broadest sense. But even in case of a phenomenol-
ogy in the broad sense, large parts of the tradition, in this case ofHusserl's
phenomenology, can be rejected.
(2) A still external criterion is the style hermeneutics belonging to the
level of higher hermeneutics. Radical changes and differences of style and
structure of the texts in one tradition are external indicators of essential
changes in the method and perspectives. A simple and obvious example is
the difference of the style and structure of the third of Descartes's Medita-
tions and the quaestiones 2-12, Summa Theologiae of Thomas of Aquinas.
Sometimes the difference of changes of the connotations of terms can be
indicators of serious changes--of course without determining the real
content and the real significance of such changes. The difference of the style
ofHusserlian texts and the texts ofMerleau-Ponty is obvious, but an analysis
of such style differences indicating differences in approach is not necessary
if there are explicit remarks about method in the texts.
(3) A very tricky problem of the hermeneutics of style is the use of so-
called topoi and especially topoi used in references to earlier texts of a
philosophical tradition. There is a certain topos used again and again in the
Western philosophical tradition. The topos of "understanding a text
according to the spirit and not to the letter" was originally coined for the

purposes of biblical hermeneutics in the Patristic tradition. 4 Since Fichte's

interpretation ofKant,5 the topos and its derivations has been used again and
again, especially in the European philosophical tradition. A variant of the
topos with a less theological halo is Kant's claim that it is possible to
understand an author better than he understood himself. 6 There are other
variants of the topos and the precise understanding of the specific meaning
and the significance of such topoi in the context in which they are used is in
the most cases very difficult. 7
There are some variants belonging to the tricky area of split application
and rejection that can have the character of hiding the fact that what seems
to be an at least partial application is in the end a complete rejection.
Whether that is the case or not can only be seen in closer interpretations of
the content. One example is Fichte's use of the topos in his interpretation of
Kant. No doubt, Fichte held Kant in high esteem. He was his spiritual mentor
and hero. But his own enterprise implied a complete rejection of basic and
decisive results of Kant's philosophy and a complete overthrow of his
regressive "hypothetical" constructions of "the conditions of the possibility
of experience." Thus Fichte, in order to "save" his master, tells us that his
philosophy unearths the hidden presuppositions of the Critique of Pure
Reason according to its letter and, in addition, claims that these presupposi-
tions belong to the spirit of the Critique and that Kant was aware of it.
The sixty-page chronological overview of "Merleau-Ponty's reading of
Husserl" by Professor Ted Toadvine is a highly valuable tool for an attempt
to answer the central question of this essay: what happens to the
phenomenological method in Merleau-Ponty's writings? The material
collected there is sufficient to illustrate my thesis in general and the reasons
that can be given for it. This does not imply that I claim that the material
covers the ground for possible material comparisons between Merleau-
Ponty's and Husserl' s phenomenology of perception, intersubjectivity, and
other concrete problems, although there may be enough hints for such
purposes. I restrict myself to such hints when I must refer to more concrete

4. E. g., Athanasius the Great. The question whether he was the first can be left open.

5. Second Introduction to the Wissenschajislelzre.

6. Critique of Pure Reason, 8 370, with respect to Plato.
7. Derrida's "deconstruction" of texts is also a most radical variant of the tapas, implying in
addition a breathtaking eschatological background of speculation.

In explicating my thesis, I start with Professor Toadvine 's observation that

already an interpretation of the preface of the Phenomenologie de la
perception has:

to gauge the degree to which Merleau-Ponty already separates the letter of

Husserl's philosophy from the spirit in which this philosophy is taken up by
Merleau-Ponty himself. 8

This is, of course, a use of the Fichtean version ofthe topos. It is possible to
show how Merleau-Ponty himself used more and more radical versions of
the topos. It is also possible to show that he tried to give an interpretation of
the development ofHusserl distinguishing three stages. The last stage alleges
that Husserl himself hints at the hidden presuppositions of his phenomenol-
ogy, thereby revealing the true "spirit" of his philosophy that has to be saved.
It will be the first task of this paper to discuss this interpretation and to
indicate that it is untenable as an interpretation. Nevertheless, the interpreta-
tion shows that Merleau-Ponty is in every respect honest in his attempts to
"save the face" of his honored master in the light of the new developments
introduced by him and others. What I will add are some general observations
concerning the historical context of this interpretation in the development of
the phenomenological movement in France and Germany before 1960.
My thesis is that in the course ofthis development the main motive behind
Husserl's phenomenological reduction is abandoned but finally also
Husserl's version and his methodological treatment of eidetic intuition.
Using Spiegelberg's formula: phenomenology in the broad sense is
completely purged of the problem of the "how of the givenness." What is left
is the pure "what is given in originary intuition" and the "what" that remains
is, in the final instance, a "what" that is in its essence beyond the reach of the
realm in which questions about method are meaningful. It is an "absolute
givenness." Questions concerning method, i.e., precisely the questions of the
"how of the givenness," are meaningless.
I want to enter several caveats: (1) I am far from denying the tremendous
value of Merleau-Ponty's research for the understanding of Husserl's
published and unpublished writings. He was a great pioneer-if not the
greatest in this respect. (2) I am far from denying the value and significance
of his phenomenological and, in part, post-phenomenological research, its

8. T. Toadvine, "Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husser I: A Chronological Overview," appendix

to this volume, 237 [cited hereafter as Appendix].

insights and basic ideas. (3) I am convinced that the problems Merleau-Ponty
discovered in Husserl's philosophy are real problems and remain real
problems. His "way out" is in principle a viable solution of the problems.
But this solution leads directly to a post-phenomenological treatment ofthe
problems. I am personally convinced that such a step is too hasty and not in
every respect necessary. To show this in detail is beyond the scope of my
paper. Only some hints will be given. 9

II. The Periods of Husserl's Phenomenology:

A Schematized Version of Merleau-Ponty's View

This presentation is schematized because it neglects the reasons behind the

second and the third stage of the development. They will be considered in the
following sections. The merger of the difference between interpretation and
critique in the guiding tapas of this interpretation ofHusserl's development
will be considered from the aspect of interpretation. The implicit critique will
be analyzed later.
(1) The first period: The leading viewpoint of Husserl's early writings,
especially the Lagische Untersuchungen (LU), is characterized as
"logicism." Logicism is understood as focusing only on the problems of
logic and the opposition between a phenomenology of the ideal objects of
logic (and mathematics) and logical psychologism (Appendix, 243, 255,
(2) The second period is the period of the Ideen I (Id. I). The problem of
psychologism is solved with the aid of the transcendental-phenomenological
reduction. Its counterpart is a transcendental idealism as an idealism of
meaning. The world is the correlate of subjective acts and completely
transparent for the transcendental-phenomenological attitude after the
reduction. The strict distinction between fact and essence, real and ideal

9. The main reason is that Husser! wants to understand his phenomenological descriptions in
his self-interpretation as a new type of prima philosophia. This has some questionable
metaphysical consequences. Cf. my "Transcendental Phenomenology," in Husserl's
Phenomenology: A Textbook, ed. J. N. Mohanty and W. R. McKenna (Washington, D.C.:
Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1989),
345-384; "The Paradox of Subjectivity and the Idea ofUitimate Grounding in Husser! and
Heidegger," in Phenomenology and Indian Philosophy, ed. D. P. Chattopadhyaya, L. Embree,
and J. N. Mohanty (New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research and Motilal
Bamasidass Publishers, 1992), 153-68.

objects, is an immediate implication of transcendental phenomenological

idealism as an idealism of meaning (Appendix, 238, 240-1).
(3) The third period is characterized by new but intrinsically connected
contents and fields for phenomenological research in Husserl' s writings: the
phenomenology of perception, passive synthesis, genetic phenomenology,
the discovery of the significance of intersubjectivity and with it the
significance of the historical world and the cultural world, natural language,
and finally the lifeworld. The correlate is that Husserl tacitly broke with the
philosophy of essences (Appendix, 243), abandons the earlier idealism
(Appendix, 244), and finally abandons the ideal of philosophy as a rigorous
science (Appendix, 265).
Nobody can challenge that a distinction between these three periods is
meaningful. What could be said, however, is that the periods are periods of
the predominance of three different aspects of Husserl' s thought, but that
these aspects-set aside the transcendental-phenomenological reduction
missing in the first period-are always present in Husserl.
In this respect a remark concerning "logicism" is necessary for the
purposes of this essay. The predominant interest ofHusserl in the LU is the
phenomenology of logic, and phenomenology of logic is for sure not a
logicism like "logic as the essence of philosophy" in classical analytical
philosophy. But the phenomenology of logic is also predominant in
Husserl's late writings, especially in Formale und Transzendentale Logik
(FTL) and Erfahrung und Urteil (EU), and this also means logic as the
correlate of formalizing abstraction. The achievements of FTL compared
with LU and their significance have been analyzed in the most recent
literature on the phenomenology oflogic. IO The main point is, however, that
the whole context ofEU 1 indicates that a proper account of eidetic intuition,
i.e., the problem of the "how of the givenness" of essences, presupposes
more than the vague idea of fantasy variation, namely a good deal of
methodological viewpoints taken from formal ontology and given in
formalizing abstraction.

10. Olav Wiegand, Interpretationen der Modallogik. Ein Beitrag zur phiinomenologischen
Wissenschafistheorie, Phaenomenologica, vol. 145 (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers,
11. Husser!, Erfahrung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik, ed. Ludwig
Landgrebe (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1972); Experience and Judgment, trans. James
S. Churchill and Kar! Ameriks (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), part III.

This is an essential extension of similar presuppositions that can be found

in the third L U. It would not be possible to deny that Merleau-Ponty and, by
the way, also the other members of the Louvain Circle in the phenomenolog-
ical movement l2 had no interest in logic and the phenomenology oflogic. He
and others neglected this aspect ofHusserl's thought completely, probably
because they lacked the taste for and the insight into the significance of the
subject for the trained mathematician and logician Edmund Husser!' This
point has to be mentioned because it has some consequences for Merleau-
Ponty's critique of Husserlian essences and eidetic intuition. This will be
returned to in the next section.
Merleau-Ponty's interpretation of the third stage in the development of
Husserl's thought and its relation to the second is the place in which the
topos mentioned above is the guiding thread. The variant of the topos can be
characterized by the catchword "Husserl' s strabismus" (Appendix, 266). The
upshot is that Husserl was not able to reconcile two foci, namely, on the one
hand, his idealism and related methodological viewpoints-and, with that,
the self-sufficiency of the methodology guiding his second stage-and, on
the other hand, the results of the descriptions in the third stage. There are
serious incompatibilities between the two stages. But there is also the attempt
to show that it dawned on Husserl-that he finally came to his senses-that
he had to give up his original methodological project. This attempt to "save
Husserl" is, in my opinion, not tenable. On the one hand, Merleau-Ponty
admits that the return to the Lebenswelt should be, according to Husserl,
followed by the "properly philosophical task of universal constitution"
(Appendix, 262). On the other hand, there is a last attempt by Merleau-Ponty
to save Husser!' He quotes Beilage XXVII of the Krisis: "philosophy as a
rigorous science, this dream is all dreamed out." 13 But Gadamer had already

12. There is an interest in Husser!'s logic and philosophy of mathematics in France after
1930, beginning with Jean Cavailles, but this tradition is not the tradition of the Louvain
Circle. By "Louvain Circle," I mean the group of French phenomenologists and some German
phenomenologists, first of all the last assistants of Husser!, Fink and Landgrebe. The
inaugurator was H. L. Van Breda, the director of the Husserl Archives in Louvain, the
organizer of several conferences of the Colloque International de Phenomenologie since 1951,
and chief editor of the first volumes of the Phenomenologica Series. Cf. Spiegelberg, The
Phenomenological Movement, vol. 2 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960), part IV, section
XIII, especially#2; and Elisabeth Straker and Paul Janssen, Phiinomenologische Philosoph ie,
Handbuch Philosophie (Freiburg: Karl Alber, 1989),249.
13. Husserl, Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschafien und die transzendentale
Phiinomenologie, Husserliana, vol. 6, ed. Walter Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,
1954), 508 (Summer 1935); The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental

pointed out in 1963 that "We misunderstand Husserl' s words if we take them
to be his own opinion."14 A letter from Husserl to Ingarden in 1935 and
published in 1968 proves this point. 15
Let me draw a conclusion: As in the case of Fichte and Kant, the topos
serves as a cover-up of a critique, and this critique has the character of a
deconstruction. Fichte showed with respectto Kant, and Merleau-Ponty with
respect to Husserl, that what they believed to be the last word in philosophy
is built on "unthought" presuppositions. These lurk behind the hidden
contradictions of the criticized position (Appendix, 270-1). The new task is
the recognition and explication of these presuppositions, thus asking for the
possibility ofthe criticized positions. A deconstructive critique has, taken for
itse.1f, the character of a more or less complete rupture and radical rejection
of the positions in question. But the goal is also to claim some kind of
continuity. That is the purpose ofMerleau-Ponty's claim-sometimes with
untenable interpretations of Husserl's texts-that he himself was "on the
way" to developing a similar critique of the second stage in the development
of his philosophy. At least it "dawned on him" that there are hidden
alternatives and presuppositions behind the foreground of his phenomenol-
ogy. Thus, in spite of a deconstructive critique, a continuity and, with it, the
continuity ofphenomenology could be maintained by Merleau-Ponty and his
Before going on, a brief historical remark is in order. Merleau-Ponty's
critique is based on an extensive study of unpublished research manuscripts
of the late Husserl. His knowledge of this background was as extensive as
the knowledge of the last assistants of Husserl, Eugen Fink and Ludwig
Landgrebe. But he was doubtless the first who developed, already in the
"Preface" of the Phenomenofogie de fa perception (1945), the general
paradigm of Husserl interpretation dominating the French and the German
phenomenological movement in the next decades. The question of whether
Merleau-Ponty developed his interpretation and critique already under the
influence of others, perhaps first of all Fink, is a question for further research

Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970),389. Cf.
Appendix, 265.
14. Hans-Georg Gadarner, "The Phenomenological Movement," in Philosophical
Hermeneutics, trans. David E. Linge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 158.
15. Husser!, Briefe an Roman Ingarden, ed. Roman Ingarden, Phaenomenologica, vol. 25
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968),92-3.

and not a concern of this essay. But it can be said that Merleau-Ponty offers
a very well corroborated version of this paradigm.
There are some differences in the German and French developments. The
influence of Heidegger and a new conception of metaphysics as a medium
of unearthing the hidden presuppositions of Husserl' s phenomenology
figures predominantly in the German development. Existentialism has a
similar function in France and especially in Merleau-Ponty. A common
denominator is Hegel and speculative thinking. The underlying understand-
ing of Hegel is guided by his Phiinomenologie des Geistes and only by his
Phiinomenologie. I think that this underlying interpretation of Hegel is a
serious misrepresentation of Hegel 's real intentions and achievements. This
raises a rather complex question. Only a few remarks at the end of this paper
hint to a possible answer to this question.

III. What Happens to Method?

Until now we have considered Merleau-Ponty's interpretation and critique

of Husserl from the more general point of view of the topos. Such a
treatment is not sufficient for an analysis of the specific character of
Merleau-Ponty's critique ofthe basic concepts ofHusserlian phenomenolog-
ical methodology, the phenomenological reduction and eidetic intuition.
What has to be given is a summarizing account of the arguments. The
question whether the underlying interpretation of Husserl is correct or not
will not be raised.

A. The Phenomenological Reduction

Originally, the phenomenological reduction and the transcendental attitude

is understood by Merleau-Ponty as Husserl's answer to the problem of
psychologism. Psychologism occurs only in the natural attitude, and the
bracketing of this attitude eliminates psychologism (Appendix, 230). The
consequence is Husserlian idealism and a complete swing to the side of the
subject, eliminating the bilateral relationship between consciousness and
world (Appendix, 238). The final verdict is that Husserl' s formulations of the
reduction are self-contradictory and beset with paradoxes (Appendix,
Husserl's phenomenological reduction is also a transcendental reduction
because it implies idealism, i.e., as Merleau-Ponty says later, the idealism

that proclaims the untenable priority ofreflection and consciousness. 16 In the

preface of the Phenomenofogie de fa perception, the reduction can be
recognized as a radicalized means "of neutralizing our naturalizing preju-
dices." But the idealistic interpretation of the reduction of Husserl and his
interpreters has to be rejected, because the reduction itself teaches us the
impossibility ofa complete reduction (Appendix, 240). Husserl' s philosophy
of reflection has the unreflected in its unthought background, and it is unable
to penetrate it, though it is its very presupposition. This is the root of the
contradictions and paradoxes of the reduction (Appendix, 271).
Merleau-Ponty has, of course, good reasons for his critical analysis of the
transcendental reduction. The difficulties he faces with the problem of
intersubjectivity and the relation between ego and alter are the immediate
consequence of the idealism of Husserl's self-interpretation, and this self-
interpretation is in turn the consequence ofthe claims for the primacy of the
subject connected with a philosophy of reflection. The problems are well
known at this time. 17 Toadvine has given a good and comprehensive account
of Merleau-Ponty's own comments and the consequences in his different
writings in different periods of his development. To repeat this account and
to comment on it is not the task of this essay.
What has to be emphasized, however, is: (1) This is the place where the
implicit contradictions and paradoxes ofHusserl' s transcendental reduction
become obvious, but also (2) that the real root of the paradox is the whole
realm of passive synthesis, genesis, and the problem of a transcendental
aesthetics. The "paradoxical" outcome is that the reduction itselfleads to the
insight that the natural attitude and its roots in primordial passivity are
genetically prior to all acts of reflection. (This is, in my view, a refined and
universalized extension of the old truism that all acts in oblique intention,
i.e., acts of reflection, require and presuppose acts of direct intention and
with it, of course, the world as the sum total and medium of all objects of
direct intention.)

16. See Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), vii;

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962;
rev. 1981), xiii; and Xavier Tilliette, "Husserl et la notion de nature (Notes prises au cours
de Maurice Merleau-Ponty)," Revue de metaphysique et de morale 70, no. 3 (1965),268-9;
"Husserl's Concept of Nature," trans. Drew Leder, in Texts and Dialogues. 168. The
Appendix cites these passages at 239-40 and 268.
17. Probably Theodor Celms, Der phiinomenologische Idealismus Husserls (Riga: Acta
Universitatis Latviensis, 1928) is one of the earliest books raising such questions.

Before going on, let me introduce some remarks about different aspects
of the phenomenological reduction. They are essential for the question of
what happens to method. It is possible to distinguish, on the one hand, an
epistemological and methodological aspect, and, on the other hand, Husserl' s
"transcendental-idealistic" self-interpretation. The self-interpretation can be
called "metaphysical" because Husserl talks, without hesitation, about the
"absolute being" of the subject and the "relative being" of the world. Such
talk is guided by an interest. It is the interest in first philosophy and "final
grounding," in finding and revealing the first order presupposition that is
itself without presupposition. But there is also the possibility of understand-
ing the reduction primarily from a methodological point of view. The
metaphysical conclusions of Husserl need, in my view, two premises. The
methodological aspect is one premise, and it is the minor premise. The major
premise is the thesis that there ought to be a final grounding in the sense of
traditional modem philosophy, i.e., a final grounding in a "transcendental"
subjectivity. But the minor premise is of interest for its own sake. It specifies
the peculiar character of phenomenology in the modem philosophical
The purpose of the methodological or epistemic task of the
phenomenological reduction is by no means only to uproot naturalizing
prejudices. The uprooting of such prejudices-and also the prejudices of
anthropologism!-is only a consequence of the reduction and not its
immediate goal. The immediate purpose is to determine the precise meaning
of the methodical interest in problems of the "how ofthe givenness" without
presupposing, for methodical reasons alone, the question "what is given."
The method-taken for itself without further pretensions-eliminates the
priority of the "what is given" and insists on the methodological priority of
the descriptive account ofthe "how." The most general account of the "how"
is the description of the structure of intentionality. The essential parts of Id.
I as well as of the Cartesianische Meditationen are devoted to this task.
Merleau-Ponty also gives an account of the revisions that are, according to
his view, necessary. But Husserl' s method has another essential implication,
the eidetic reduction. Thus we deal first with Merleau-Ponty's interpretation
and critique of this part of Husserlian phenomenological methodology.

B. The Eidetic Reduction

Let us first summarize our main points. (1) Merleau-Ponty characterized

Husserl's theory of essences and eidetic intuition in the period of the L U as
logicism. This is, as already mentioned, a very peculiar use of this term, and

some additional remarks about logicism will be necessary. Following

Merleau-Ponty's interpretation, two changes seem to be essential for the
"turn" from the first period to the second and then the last: (a) He empha-
sizes Husserl' s distinction between morphological essences and exact
essences belonging to mathematics and physics and morphological essences
belonging to the psychological and phenomenological realm (Appendix,
256), and (b) Husserl no longer considers essence as separated from fact
(Appendix, 260), the concrete from the universal. Merleau-Ponty apparently
disregards exact essences as not relevant and does not even mention formal
essences, i.e., the essences that make up the mathematical realm in the
narrower sense according to Husserl.
(2) Before separating interpretation and critique, and that means in this
case also the letter and not the assumed spirit ofHusserlian phenomenology,
we have briefly to characterize Merleau-Ponty's interpretation ofHusserl's
essences and eidetic intuition. In this case, Merleau-Ponty claims that his
interpretation is almost in complete accordance "with the later thought of
Husserl. ,,18 Wesenschau is a kind of induction. It starts from a single concrete
case, is not bound to actual cases like empirical induction, and relies on free
fantasy. But empirical induction also requires interpolation. Thus eidetic
intuition is connected with empirical intuition in a "reciprocal envelopment,"
and thus its objects are also the concrete facts ofexperience (Appendix, 257).
Merleau-Ponty is interested, as already mentioned, only in morphological
essences. Exact eidebelong for him to the natural sciences. Morphological
essences belong to the realm of human experience and human reality, the
It is not the task of this essay to argue for or against Hussed' s concept of
eidetic intuition or for or against Merleau-Ponty in this respect. What has to
be stressed is only that Merleau-Ponty's claim that his approach is in
accordance with Husserl' s later thought is a mythological construction with
no basis in Hussed' s own treatment of the problem of eidetic intuition.
Merleau-Ponty simply neglects the second chapter of Part III of EU. This
chapter is a tremendous refinement of what has been said about eidetic
intuition in the LU and Id. 1. It is a refinement because the core remains
untouched. The core is that it is by no means free fantasy taken for itself that
is constitutive, but, especially in the case of morphological eide, free fantasy

18. Merleau-Ponty, Les Sciences de f'homme et fa phenomenofogie (Paris: Centre de

Documentation Universitaire, 1975),74; "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," trans.
John Wild in The Primacy o/Perception, ed. James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1964),93. This passage is cited at Appendix, 260.

is guided by viewpoints taken from the theory of whole and parts, i.e., the
formal ontological theory developed in the third L U. The main results of this
theory and its roots in pure passivity are summarized in EO, 30-32. The
refinement is first of all the clarification of the distinction between differenti-
ation in the realm of reality and in the realm of eidetic intuition. Further-
more, the concept of pure possibility characterizing essences presupposes
Husserl's theory of modalizing developed in his later phenomenology of
logic and formal ontology.
It is neither necessary nor possible to give a precise account and an
evaluation of Husserl's analyses. The main point is that Husserl, from the
beginning to the end, tries to give a precise account of the "how of the
givenness" of essences together with a corroborated methodology for eidetic
intuition. Merleau-Ponty simply recognizes the human ability to distinguish
between what is essential and what is not essential, i.e., intelligible structures
impose themselves on me (Appendix, 255). This is close to Scheler's
assertion that there is an ability to "see" essences. Some have it, and others
do not. But seen from a methodological point of view, it coincides with what
Aristotle had already said about epagage in the end of the Analytica
Posteriora. Husserl, driven by his methodological interest, tried hard to give
a much more corroborated account of this process, and this account
presupposes what Merleau-Ponty called the "logicism" of the LU. But this
logicism is still a dominating force in the FTL and EU. That Husserl
recognized in his later investigations that logical forms are in the last
instance one-sidedly founded in the pre-predicative realm of pure passivity
by no means shatters the significance oflogical and formal ontological forms
for his methodology.
What was left from the phenomenological reduction for Merleau-Ponty is
at least the recognition that it is a necessary step, though it itself reveals its
insufficiency and its limits. In the case of eidetic reduction and eidetic
intuition, he simply rejects the presuppositions of the methodological
approach in the LU and simply neglects all the references of Husserl to the
LU in the FTL and EU indicating that the LU are the core and the presuppo-
sitions of all further refinements of Husserl' s theory of essences and in his
phenomenology oflogic and formal ontology.19

19. There are numerous references to the LV in FTL and EU. They offer additions and
modifications but there is no indication that H usserl abandoned the essentials of the main
work of his first period.

C. Intentionality

We have postponed discussing "intentionality." As a phenomenological

description in Husserl, the explication of intentionality as the most universal
structure of consciousness presupposes, on the one hand, thephenomenolog-
ical reduction and the eidetic reduction, i.e., Husserl' s basic methodological
principles. But it is, on the other hand, itself of methodological significance
for static phenomenology because it provides the most general frame for all
further descriptions dealing with specific intentional acts and their specific
horizons. There are certain difficulties because the discussion of the two
reductions require already the analysis of certain structures of intentionality.
But this was not Merleau-Ponty's concern. It is already obvious, from a
purely methodological point of view, that intentional analysis in Husserl's
sense presupposes acts of reflection. Furthermore, though the object is used
as a guiding thread, it concentrates for methodological reasons on the
analysis of the "how of givenness," and that means, in the case of static
phenomenology, on intentional acts of consciousness that are acts of an ego.
Before coming to the core of these considerations, I have to insert a brief
account of my evaluation of Husserl' s discovery of passive synthesis and
passive genesis in the twenties. Critics who want to reject my thesis
wholesale will not convince me without proving essential weaknesses of this
The methodological background of the phenomenological analysis of
intentional acts at the level of static phenomenology "invites" idealistic
interpretation, but it implies as a methodological principle neither realism
nor idealism nor. .. nor. .. -whichever might claim metaphysical relevance.
A closer consideration of the structure of active intentionality reveals that
there are essential abstract moments in static phenomenology. There is a
dimension of passivity in the analysis of intentional acts. The analysis
presupposes their connectedness in inner time and the "constitution" ofinner
time is pre-given to all acts of consciousness. This constitution is primordi-
ally passive, not produced by acts of an ego but an essential presupposition
and necessary moment in the dimension of horizon intentionality. That is
what was later called the formal aspect of passivity by Husser!' But one
ought to keep in mind as well that Husserl, an educated psychologist of the
late nineteenth century and an assistant to Carl Stumpf, was well aware of
the problems of perception and association and, given his training, able to
follow the research concerning these problems in psychology. A careful
reading of the L U-especially the first edition-can discover that such hints
are not in the margins but in the main text. Thus the problem of perception,

"matter," and passivity was present already in the first period of Husserl's
But the significance changes after the introduction of the "transcendental"
phenomenological reduction and Husserl' s idealistic metaphysical interpreta-
tion of the reduction. What supports the idealistic interpretation is the
structure of phenomenological research restricted to intentional analysis in
the framework of static phenomenology. In my view, there is no doubt that
this self-interpretation gets into serious troubles in the descriptions ofpassive
synthesis, perception, association, affection of the ego out ofthat field, and,
last but not least, the approach to the problem of the givenness of the other
on the level of primordial passivity. But-without giving my reasons in this
context-I am also convinced that the problems ofthe idealistic metaphysi-
cal self-interpretation are by no means real problems for the principles of
Husserlian phenomenological methodology.
Merleau-Ponty's "way out" of such problems of intentionality, for him
also problems of Husserlian idealism, is the broadened conception of
intentionality applied to human events. This intentionality has to grasp the
"structure of being," the "unique core of existential meaning" leading to the
"union of extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism." He connects this
with the Urdoxa of EU. 20 The goal is clear enough. But what are the
methodological consequences?

IV. Conclusion

The phenomenological reduction has to be left behind in order to reach the

"beyond" of the core. But what is left behind is not only idealism. What is
left behind is also the methodological significance of the reduction for the
question of the how of the givenness. The question of "what is given" can
only be answered with and after the question of the "how of givenness" in
Husserl's method. Merleau-Ponty's existential phenomenology or, to be
more precise, his phenomenology of concrete human existence, speaks
immediately about the "what." There are some concepts that imply some
hints of an underlying methodology like "paradox," "contradiction," and
"dialectic." But, to the best of my knowledge, they are used only to
characterize the "what" of human existence. In Hegel's philosophy,
"contradiction" and "dialectic" belong, on the one hand, to the "what" of die

20. Phenomenologie de la perception, ix, xiii; Phenomenology ofPerception, xiv-xv, xviii.

The Appendix cites these passages on 241.

Sache selbst. But it is the self-movement of the concept as die Sache selbst
that leads to a precise methodological account ofthe use of such concepts,
and this account can be found in the second book of the Die Wissenschaft der
Logik. It is made very clear by Hegel in this context that a dialectical
contradiction has nothing in common with the so-called logical law of non-
contradiction. This law is only the negative aspect of identity as a
Reflexionsbestimmung. Dialectical contradiction is the in-itself dialectical
explication of difference and leads to the synthesis of absolute ground or the
absolute determined as ground. There is no way of getting to this point by
reading Hegel's Phanomenologie and only the Phiinomenologie. The
Phanom{?nologie is only the introduction to the system, and the "for us," the
educator of experiencing consciousness, namely Hegel himself, knows the
real nature of dialectical contradictions. The "for it," i.e., the empirical
consciousness, moves blindly to the next level of its development after
experiencing an unspecified contradiction. It is not able to grasp the nature
of the contradiction because it has not yet reached the higher level.
Back to Merleau-Ponty. It is essential that he speaks in one breath about
paradoxes and contradictions. Now, a full-fledged paradox given with a
sentence of the form "If p then not p" and "if not p then p" leads to a simple
logical contradiction. If the "dialectic" determining the history and genesis
of intentional consciousness implies this concept of "contradiction," then it
cannot be explicated in terms of Hegel. Why should it? But there is no
methodological account for this set of concepts in Merleau-Ponty. That is not
an impairment either. These concepts are used in the description of the
"what" of human experience and can be taken as metaphors indicating
something essential about the essence of human existence, like other
metaphors used by Merleau-Ponty. He asserts, as shown, that we have the
ability to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential in
this realm. That is all, and no further methodological reflection about the
"how" follows.
I repeat: this is no critique of what Merleau-Ponty has to say about
perception and human existence and all of its far-reaching implications. The
thesis is only that Merleau-Ponty implicitly and explicitly rejects the very
principles ofHusserlian phenomenology and does not supply us with another
methodology. What is left is, in the words of Spiegelberg, a phenomenology
in the broad sense that is purged from the problem of the "how of givenness"
and restricts itself to the description of the pure what of an absolute given.
One final remark: Husserl's self-interpretation mentions, among other
things, the absolute being of the subject and the only relative being of the
world. In other words, Husserl has given, and nobody can deny this, an

ontological and metaphysical interpretation ofhis methodological principles

and was not able to separate them. This is the background of his specific
transcendental idealism, and this idealism is really incompatible with the
results of the descriptions of the realm of passivity. Thus it is, seen from this
point of view, justified to look for answers to the "question of being."
Merleau Ponty's answer is not Heidegger's answer, and his answer is even
much closer to the material content ofHusserl' s texts. Thus all that happens
to method in Merleau-Ponty's interpretation and critique ofHusserl has its
background in Husserl' s inability to separate the phenomenological method
and his yearning for an "absolute being," his claim that his phenomenology
is at the same time a first philosophy in the traditional sense. Merleau-Ponty
rejected the traditional interpretation of absolute being as an absolute
subjectivity in Husserl. But the question of being, concrete-being and real
human existence, is the leading question for him. He is, like Husserl in his
self-interpretation, searching for the absolute and is in this respect a faithful
follower of Husserl.


Chapter 4

Leaving Husserl's Cave?

The Philosopher's Shadow Revisited

Ted Toadvine
Emporia State University

Abstract: Despite the claim by contemporary commentators that

Merleau-Ponty ignores the transcendental perspective of Husserlian
phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty's final essay on Husserl, "Le
Philosophe et son ombre, " is engaged in reformulating the relation
between the transcendental and the mundane. The necessity for this
reformulation lies in his reconsideration of the Cartesian ism underly-
ing his earlier appropriation of the phenomenological method.
Merleau-Ponty's later formulation of the reduction, I contend, is a
historical retrieval ofPlatonic dialectic by way of a re-reading of the
myth of the cave.

Why should we bother reading Merleau-Ponty's interpretation of Husserl

today? It is well known that Merleau-Ponty's most enthusiastic claims about
the turn toward existentialism in Husserl' s Krisis and later manuscripts have
not been borne out; that in the early days ofHusserl scholarship, the reports
of those few who had visited the archives were greeted with more incredu-
lity than is appropriate today, as more and more volumes of Husserl's own
writings are available for purchase or for perusal at our local libraries; and
that, perhaps more importantly, careful Husserl scholarship has demon-
strated, as one recent commentator remarked, that "Husserl' s was from
about 1905 through to the end of his life a transcendental philosophy," while
"existential phenomenology is not transcendental." , For all intents and
purposes, this solves any philosophical questions that might be raised for
Husserl by Merleau-Ponty. We know in advance both the error to be
expected here and the prescribed cure.
But of course it is out of no mere sense of duty to correct a misreading
that we find this interpretation of Husserl interesting today; our interest

I. Lester Embree, "Foreword," in An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology, ed. Rudolf

Bernet, Iso Kern, and Eduard Marbach (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993), xi.
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, 71-94.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

stems rather from the recognition that we are implicated and invested in the
issue of this reading. As phenomenologists, our identity and philosophical
practice are themselves at stake in the definition of phenomenology.
Therefore, as Merleau-Ponty recognized, we cannot so easily draw the line
between investigations of intellectual history and philosophical methodol-
ogy as such. Perhaps Husserl had overlooked this point in believing that
future generations of phenomenologists would go straight to the things
themselves rather than poring over his old papers: text scholarship, here as
elsewhere in recent philosophy, is not simply a matter of finding inspiration
or interesting points of departure: it is a labor by which our own philosophi-
cal identities and allegiances are made, broken, and reformed-at least if we
can read with an open mind.
In fact, Husserl considers examination of the history of philosophy to be
crucial for responding to the crisis of rationality in his time, which
undoubtedly holds true for our time as well: "we must engross ourselves in
historical considerations if we are to be able to understand ourselves as
philosophers and understand what philosophy is to become through US."2
The issues raised by our attempt to read Merleau-Ponty reading Husser!
today are the same issues at stake in Husserl' s later reflections on the history
and telos of European philosophy: the relationship between phenomenology
and tradition, the necessity of reading and writing and their concomitant
forms of sedimentation and reactivation, the possibility of self-presence, the
viability of the assumption that every description can be checked against the
original through a simple return to the matter itself. If thinking were truly
a frictionless machine, the aims of phenomenological practice would be both
obvious and achieved effortlessly, with no need for recourse to the writings
of others or to writing of our own-with no need, that is, for memory or
tradition. Must we not, as phenomenologists, account in some way for what
within us resists thought, what resists phenomenology, what makes our
thinking both necessary and possible while simultaneously setting out its
limits? Ifthere is any need for a "tradition" of phenomenology, any need for

2. Husserl, Beilage XXVIII, in Die Krisis der Europiiischen Wissenchaflen und die
Transzendentale Phiinomenologie, Husserliana, vol 6, ed. W. Biernel (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1976) [cited hereafter as Hua VI]; "Denial of Scientific Philosophy. Necessity of
Reflection. The Reflection [Must Be] Historical. How is History Required?", Appendix IX,
in The Crisis ofEuropean Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970),391 [cited hereafter as Crisis].

reading Husserl rather than rushing out on our own into the obvious light of
the matters themselves, this need is precisely an example of phenomenol-
ogy's possibilities and its limits. It is precisely those slippages and
resistances which make a tradition possible that are at stake in Merleau-
Ponty's reading of Husserl and that are at stake in reading both today.
Rather than dismissing such "contingency" as an undesirable consequence
of embodiment or finitude, the standard response of the tradition from Plato
through the Enlightenment, Merleau-Ponty tries to account for this
contingency by means of the one philosophical method with the potential,
in his opinion, for bringing it into the open: phenomenology.
Our reading of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty today cannot help but be
reactive: having read them and read about them, we now form our view
within the context of the surrounding "debate"; we anticipate and look for
clues to confirm our expectations. Anyone reading our reactions and not
aware of this ongoing discussion would very likely get a misleading
impression of both philosophers. The same point must be made with respect
to Merleau-Ponty's own reading: each of his published discussions of
Husserl is already dearly marked as a reaction to views well-known at the
time and is presented in most cases as a defense of Husserl against his
critics. This is already true of Merleau-Ponty's 1936 review of Sartre's
L 'Imagination, of the Preface to Phenomenofogie de fa perception, and even
of"Le Philosophe et son ombre," Merleau-Ponty' s last published discussion
ofHusserl, which is clearly put forward to weigh in against "the 'transcen-
dental' Husserl, the one who is at present being solemnly installed in the
history ofphilosophy."3 In fact, it seems likely that Merleau-Ponty's essay
is in part a response to Ricoeur's analysis of Ideen II, in which Ricoeur
insistently and repeatedly underlines the differences between Husserl's
transcendental method and the approach of such "existential
phenomenologists" as Gabriel Marcel and Merleau-Ponty. In Ricoeur's
words, Husserl "does not dream of a fusion of the transcendental and the
objective within an ambiguous experience which somehow holds them in an

3. Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 203; Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1964), 160 [cited hereafter as S, with French preceding
English pagination).

irresolvable suspension."4 If these words had been written after "Le

Philosophe et son ombre," we would have no option but to read them as an
objection to Merleau-Ponty' s approach. But since they were published eight
years before, we are forced to confront the fact that Merleau-Ponty made his
claims not only despite Ricoeur's warning, but boldly in the face of it.
Merleau-Ponty was well aware of the argument we make so glibly, thirty
years later, to dismiss his "existentialist" misinterpretation of the transcen-
dental project; and "Le Philosophe et son ombre" was probably written as
his response to this very same dismissal.
But "Le Philosophe et son ombre" is also the culmination of a tum in
Merleau-Ponty' s own thinking about Husserl, reflected in his writings about
Husserl over the course of the several previous years and building toward
his critique of Husserl in the "Reflection and Interrogation" chapter of Le
Visible et l'invisible. Merleau-Ponty's strategy in "Le Philosophe et son
ombre" is linked to his tum away from the Cartesian understanding of
phenomenology that had dominated his own earlier work. Rather than
defending a "phenomenological positivism," he is now explicitly seeking the
limits of phenomenology, the borders it shares with non-phenomenol-
ogy-not by rejecting the necessity of transcendental thinking, but precisely
by pushing it to its limits.
But pushing phenomenology to its limits also requires an archeology of
its past, a determination of its historical telos. In order to circumscribe the
limits of Enlightenment rationality and retrieve a more fundamental telos of
European philosophy, Husserl returned to what was, for him, the founding
moment of our philosophical heritage: Plato's reorientation toward the
infinite. 5 Following Husserl's lead, Merleau-Ponty's model for the
transcendental reduction, in "Le Philosophe et son ombre" and his later
lecture courses on Husserl, is less the Cartesian doubt than the Platonic
dialectic. To return to a point prior to-or move beyond-reflective

4. Paul Ricoeur, "Husserl's Ideas II: Analyses and Problems" in Husserl: An Analysis ofhis
Phenomenology, trans. Edward G. Ballard and Lester E. Embree (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1967), 67. See also Ricoeur's explicit remarks about the distinction between
transcendental and existential phenomenological approaches on 43, 48, and 52. This essay
first appeared as "Analyses et problemes dans 'Ideen II' de Husserl," Revue de meraphysique
et de morale, n. 56 (October-December, 1951): 357-94, and n. 57 (January-March, 1952):

5. See Husser!, Abhandlung III, Hua VI; "The Vienna Lecture," Appendix I of Crisis.

philosophy of the Cartesian variety, one must rethink the Platonic roots of
the distinction between exterior and interior, mundane and transcendental,
fact and essence. Pushing phenomenology to its limits, therefore, requires
a reevaluation of that inherently chiaroscuric origin of Western thought, the
shadowy cave.

I. Merleau-Ponty's Cartesian Progression

Due, perhaps, to the cultural and linguistic accessibility of Husserl's

Cartesianische Meditationen, Merleau-Ponty's early interpretation of the
transcendental reduction was profoundly influenced by the Cartesian
approach to phenomenology.6 In consequence, his early appropriation of
phenomenology sought to restore something of an ontological progression
after a radicalized Cartesian doubt. This ontological reinterpretation of the
transcendental reduction underlies the conception of "phenomenological
positivism" championed during the period of Phenomenologie de la
In CartesianischeMeditationen, suspension of belief in the external world
leads us to the "phenomenological epoche," which is another way of saying
that doubt returns us to the purified cogito, but a cogito that, on HusserI's
description, includes the entire universe,just as before, now as the correlate
of my subjective processes, i.e., ''purely as meant in them."? At this point,
it becomes clear that the world is originally nothing other than a world as
experienced by my cogito: "By my living, by my experiencing, thinking,
valuing, and acting, I can enter no world other than the one that gets its
sense and acceptance or status in and from me, myself' (Hua I 60/CM 21).
Since all possible positings of the world must find their source within my
cogitationes, the distinction between the world-as-phenomenon and the

6. It bears mentioning both that Merleau-Ponty had attended the original "Paris Lectures" and
that Meditations cartesiennes (trans. Gabrielle Pfeiffer and Emmanuel Levinas [Paris:
Armand Collin, 1931]) remained the only major text by Husser! to appear in French until the
1950 publication of Paul Ricoeur's translation of Husser!' s Ideen I (in the Gallimard series
directed by Mer!eau-Ponty and Sartre).

7. Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vortriige, Husserliana, vol. 1, 2nd ed., ed. Stephen
Strasser (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963), 60 [cited hereafter as Hua I]; Cartesian
Meditations, trans. Dorion Cairns (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993),20 [cited
hereafter as CM].

world-as-objective must be rooted there as well. It is this turn that eluded

Descartes, who, as a consequence, interpreted the cogito as what Husserl
called a "little tag-end ofthe world" ~nd lapsed thereby into transcendental
realism (Hua I 63/CM 24).
The crucial point for understanding the radical nature of phenomenology,
according to Husserl, lies in distinguishing it from transcendental realism.
Simply put, the "I" of the "I exist" is not I the man, the human being, who
is a part of the world. This is obvious from the fact that the ego remains
untouched in its existential status "regardless of whether or not the world
exists and regardless of what my eventual decision concerning its being or
non-being might be" (Hua I 64/CM 24). The crucial point for grasping the
sense of transcendental phenomenology is that it is not a psychological
description, not an inventory of "inner states," not a withdrawal into the
human psyche. Since "the psychic life that psychology talks about has in
fact always been, and still is, meant as psychic life in the world" (Hua I
64/CM 25), the topics ofpsychology and transcendental phenomenology are
sharply distinct albeitparalle1. 8 1t is the ego as transcendental, i.e., as having
abstained from granting the validity of the world's existence, including that
part of the world that comprises its own psychophysical being, that bears
responsibility for the entire sense and existential status of the objective
world. This is not to deny, of course, the transcendence of the objective
world, but rather to recognize that such "transcendence" is "part of the
intrinsic sense of anything worldly," and therefore is itself borne within the
transcendental ego (Hua I 651CM 26).
Two related differences between the Cartesian and Husserlian prob-
lematics are relevant here, as Ricoeur has noted: First, there is no room in
Husserl's account for the ontological aspect of Cartesianism, i.e., the being
of the subject that is reached through the discovery of the idea of infinity.
For Descartes, the cogito is midway between being and nothingness: "Ifthe
ego has in fact more being than its objects, it has less being in its esse
objectivum than the idea of infinity. "9 The excess of being found in the idea
of infinity forms one pole ofthe Cartesian philosophy, shifting its center of

8. Merleau-Ponty's earliest published references to Husserl emphasize precisely this sharp

distinction between transcendental and mundane analyses, as I have indicated in "Merleau-
Ponty's Reading of Husserl: A Chronological Overview" (Appendix to this volume).

9. Ricoeur, "Cartesian Meditations, I-IV," in Husser!, 88.


gravity away from a pure egology. Husserl's answer to the idea of infinity
is the constitution of intersubjectivity in the Fifth Meditation, which first
reinstates a "for all" in place of the "for me." This is the closest Husserl's
thought can come to classical objectivity. This difference from Descartes,
which marks for Ricoeur a "failure to recognize [the] structure of
Cartesianism,"lo points toward a second difference that is profoundly
important for measuring Merleau-Ponty' s distance and proximity to Husserl
in Phe.nomenologie de la perception. Despite the parallel between the
Husserlian reduction and Cartesian doubt, Husserl does not reinstate the
world; in Ricoeur's words, "The epoche does not consist in stretching an
ontological bond in order to be more assured of it; rather it claims to dispel
irrevocably the realistic illusion of the in-itself' (Ricoeur, 88).
Consider the contrast between these remarks and the preface to
Phenomenologie de la perception, where Merleau-Ponty claims that we
carry out the reduction

not because we reject the certainties of common sense and a natural attitude to
things-they are, on the contrary, the constant theme of philosophy-but
because, being the presupposed basis of any thought, they are taken for granted,
and go unnoticed, and because in order to arouse them and bring them to view,
we have to suspend for a moment our recognition of them. II

Phenomenology, on Merleau-Ponty's interpretation, does not "replace the

world itself by the world as meaning"; 12 rather, the reduction "slackens the
intentional threads" binding the subject to the world in order to bring these

10. Ricoeur, 83-4.

11. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), Vlll;
Phenomenology ofPerception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962;
trans. rev. 1981), xiii, my emphasis [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English

12. Merleau-Ponty is distancing himself here from the views of Gaston Berger. See Aron
Gurwitsch's discussion of Berger in The Field of Consciousness (Pittsburgh: Duquesne
University Press, 1964), e.g., 183: "Phenomenology, as Berger has clearly seen, does not
recognize any other philosophical problems except those concerning meaning and

intentional relations to light (PhP viii/xiii).13 Apparently, Merleau-Ponty

wishes to restore to phenomenology something ofthe Cartesian progression:
doubt is followed by a specifically ontological reinstatement of the
world--or perhaps the world is never in doubt at all. Should we conclude
that Merleau-Ponty is not, in fact, a transcendental philosopher in Husserl' s
sense, that he has fallen prey to the temptations of a Cartesian transcendental
We cannot relegate Merleau-Ponty to this position too quickly, since he
has reinterpreted the Cartesian notion of doubt in two significant ways. First,
Merleau-Ponty reverses the priority of the relation between the cogito and
the sum. The fact of my existing cannot be grounded in or derived from my
thought of existing, but rather vice versa:

In the proposition 'I think, I am,' the two assertions are to be equated with each
other, otherwise there would be no cogito. Nevertheless, we must be clear about
the sense of this equivalence: it is not the 'I am' which is pre-eminently contained
in the 'I think,' not my existence which is brought down to the consciousness
which I have of it, but inversely the 'I think,' which is re-integrated into the
transcending movement of the 'I am,'and consciousness into existence. (PhP

It is, in Descartes' case, the effective act of doubting that subtends the
cogito, not the simple thought of doubting. Merleau-Ponty has then returned
to the original polarity of Cartesian thought, the necessity of finding within
the cogito an "amalgam of being and nothingness" (PhP 455/397), i.e., of
situating the self at the cross-hairs of epistemology and ontology. But more
primordial than doubt per se is the ambiguous faith in contact with being
that every doubt implicitly takes for granted. Hence, Merleau-Ponty
considers Husserl's fictive destruction of the world impossible, since it
overlooks the extent to which the subject is bound to the world.

13. The influence on this discussion of Eugen Fink's famous 1933 Kantstudien article, "Die
phanomenologische Philosophie Husserls in der gegenwartigen Kritik," cited on the same
page, is clear, especially in Merleau-Ponty's appropriation of Fink's criticisms of critical
philosophy. The English translation of Fink's essay, "The Phenomenological Philosophy of
Edmund Husserl and Contemporary Criticism," can be found in The Phenomenology of
Husserl: Selected Critical Readings, ed. R. O. Elveton (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970),

Secondly, Merleau-Ponty reformulates the notion of doubt in a way that

clarifies the sense in which the reduction may be, for him, the "stretching of
an ontological bond." Both Descartes and Husserl insist upon the
dubitability of the world. If! consider the table before me, only my thought
ofthe table resists an imagined destruction of the objective world. The table
may well be a phantom, but qua phenomenon my thought of the table
remains impregnable. At this very first stage of the problem, Merleau-Ponty
registers his disagreement:

[1]s it in fact as easy as is generally thought to dissociate these two assertions and
hold, independently of any judgement concerning the thing seen, the evident
certainly of my 'thought about seeing?' On the contrary, it is impossible.
Perception is precisely that kind of act in which there can be no question of
setting the act itself apart from the end to which it is directed. Perception and the
perceived necessarily have the same existential modality, since perception is
inseparable from the consciousness which it has, or rather is, of reaching the thing
itself. (PhP 429/374)

In other words, Merleau-Ponty wishes to extend the argument of the "I

think" to the "I perceive." While the object of my thought may be a fiction,
the object of my perception-if it is truly a perception-must also be.
Hence, "I perceive (something)" entails both "I am" and "something is." If
one sees, in the full sense of the word, one sees something, and the validity
of a perception therefore attaches to the very consciousness of having
reached the perceived object. The Husserlian doubt presents us, therefore,
with a dilemma: either we grant that the object of perception is dubitable, in
which case we must also lose our certainty in the "thought of perceiving,"
since this lack of validity inevitably attaches to that thought; or else we
affirm that the perception qua cogitationes is grasped apodictically, which
entails as well the affirmation that it has veritably reached its object. 14 The
decision whether I have in fact sensed something is inseparable from the
determination of whether or not something is there, with the consequence
that transcendental interpretation cannot function apart from the configura-

14. It should be born in mind that this extension of apodicticity to the object of perception is
held for perception in general; it does not deny the possibility of illusion. In other words,
Merleau-Ponty can, following RusserI's own distinctions, affirm the apodicticity of
perception without asserting its complete adequacy.

tion of the phenomena, 15 or, equally, that "there is no sphere of immanence,

no realm in which my consciousness is fully at home and secure against all
risk of error" (PhP 431/376). The possibility of error is not eliminated by
this relationship, but is in fact made possible by the ecstasis of the percep-
tual cogito, by its inherent reference to a world.
But the term "world" here is ambiguous. According to Merleau-Ponty,
doubt-that is, the transcendental reduction-is necessary to eliminate the
supposed causal efficacy of the in-itself, of external determinations of
subjectivity. The world to which we are primordially bound is not, therefore,
the world that Husserl would have us doubt-the "objective" world taken
for granted by naturalism-since Merleau-Ponty has redefined the "world"
to be the world of our perception, the perceived world, the Lebenswelt. "We
must not, therefo~e, wonder whether we really perceive a world, we must
instead say: the world is what we perceive" (PhP xvi/xi). This
"phenomenological positivism" (PhP xii/xvii) reorients reflection toward the
noematic r~ther than the "transcendentally real" object, but it does so in a
manner that Rrevents the absorption of the noema as a moment of conscious-
ness. The noematic has its own factual ecceity, its own thickness; and in
some measure, every consciousness is perceptual consciousness because it
is precisely in the corporeal relationship of perception that contact with this
ecceity is made. By returning to the~ntological dimension of the Cartesian
philosophy, Merleau-Ponty has reoriented phenomenology from a
"philosophy of sense"16 toward an "ontology of sense."17
This "ontology of sense"\may be accurately characterized as a "bipolar-
ity" or bilateral relationship between self a~d world, a relationship revealed

15. Compare this point with the criticisms of Cartesianische Meditationen in Merleau-Ponty,
Le Visible et I 'invisible, ed. Claude Lefort (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 171-2; The Visible and
the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968),225-6
[cited hereafter as yI, with French preceding English pagination].

16. Ricoeur, 89.

17. This characterization is made by Jean Hyppolite at Merleau-Ponty's presentation of the
thesis ofPhenomenologie de la perception to the Societe fran~etie philosophie,'''Le Primat
de la perception et ses consequences philosophiques," Bulletin de la Societe fran{:aise de
philosophie, n. 41 (1947), 149; "The Primacy of Perception and its Philosophical
Consequences," in The Primacy of Perception, ed. James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1964), 39 [cited hereafter as PrP, with French preceding English

by phenomenology but obscured by classical reflective philosophies in their

emphasis on subjectivity (PhP iii-iv/ix). The revelation, however, can come
about only by breaking with the transcendental idealism of Husserl ' s stated
methodology, the "return to a transcendental consciousness before which the
world is spread out and completely transparent" (PhP v/xi). For Merleau-
Ponty, Husserl' s strength lies in the fact that his descriptions cut against the
logic of his method. What must be grasped is precisely the "paradoxical"
status of the world, and this paradox is apparent in Husserl' s descriptions
even if misunderstood both by his interpreters and himself (PhP viii/xiv).
We might say, following this analysis, that Merleau-Ponty reads Husserl
back into the structure of Cartesianism; but in so doing, he attempts to
correct one reflective philosophy by another. The consequences of this
limited correction are apparent in the Cartesian motifs maintained in
Merleau-Ponty's account: First, the bipolar dialectic of subject and object
has neither epistemological nor ontological outside or limit. Hence, this
modell~ks the resources needed to describe the possibility of contingency
orr~sistar:ice. In explaining why the later Husserl requires an "existentialist"
twist, Merleau-Ponty points out this dilemma for transcendental idealism:
"either [universal] constitution makes the world transparent, in which case
it is not obvious why reflection needs to pass through the lived world, or
else it retains something of that world, and never rids it of its opacity" (PhP
419 nl365 n). Merleau-Ponty's answer suggests that there is a necessity to
the world, to facticity, that stands outside of meaning and outside of the
relation to subjectivity. But his recourse to a bipolar harmony between
nature and spirit obscures this outside.
The second point concerns the methodological implication of this
bipolarity for phenomenology. The "paradox" of the world is here presented
as the primary object of phenomenology: the "wonder" evoked by our
intentional attachment to the world is not a complication for phenomenol-
ogy, but precisely the object we invoke the reduction to reveal. If this is so,
philosophy cannot, through its own means, encounter non-philosophy. There
is no outside, no limit, that can be revealed for phenomenology by way of
phenomenology-nor, for that matter, through any other means. The
ontology of science and the ontology of sense form exhaustive options, and
the only alternative to causal explanation is phenomenological description.
But the possibilities for that description seem determined a priori by the
subject-object correlation Merleau-Ponty appropriates from his starting
point in Cartesian doubt. Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological positivism

lacks, in other words, any sense of the sublime, the unpresentable, the very
thingliness of the thing that resists or exceeds the sense it gives to me. 18

ll. The Philosopher's Shadow

In addition to being Merleau-Ponty's last and most detailed published

discussion of Husserl, "Le Philosophe et son ombre" clearly lays the
methodological groundwork for the description of "brute being" in Le
Visible et I 'invisible, as the first working note of the published text
testifies. 19 The discussion centers on Ideen II, a text Merleau-Ponty had
examined on his first visit to Louvain, to which he had devoted much of his
1956-1957 lecture course on Husserl, and the reading of which he once
described as "une experience presque voluptueuse."2o Merleau-Ponty was
clearly aware that his reading, a virtual litany of praise for Husserl' s work
as an opening onto "brute being," did not accord with Husserl' s own
intentions21-that, in fact, his "interpretation" stood the standard reading of
Husserl's text on its head. Merleau-Ponty's strategy here is surprising. Why
claim that Husserl's text is a success at achieving a goal that it clearly did
not have?
Consider, by way of contrast, Ludwig Landgrebe's reading of Ideen II in
"Seinsregionen und regionale Ontologien in Husserls Phanomenologie,"
published three years earlier than Merleau-Ponty's essay. Landgrebe reads

18. See also Merleau-Ponty's own later criticisms ofthe "pure correlation" of mind and world
at VI 71147.

19. The first working note, from January 1959, indicates Merleau-Ponty's intention to "Draw
up the picture of wild Being, prolonging my article on Husserl" (VI 165/219).

20. See Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer's "Translator's Introduction" to Husserl,
Ideas II (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), xvi.
21. This is entailed not only by Merleau-Ponty's stated intention of evoking Husserl's
impense (S 202/160) but also by his admission in his earlier lecture course that this text could
not be coherently explicated and that Husserl would have resisted his interpretation (See
Merleau-Ponty, La Nature, ed. Dominique Seglard [Paris: Seuil, 1995], 104, 112).
Note that Merleau-Ponty's reference to Husserl's own discussions of the "problems of
tradition" are probably a reference (at least in part) to Husserl's discussion of Plato in Beilage
XXVIII (Hua VI). Merleau-Ponty refers to Husserl's discussion here explicitly in his
1958-1959 course on "La Philosophie aujourd'hui," Notes de cours: 1959-1961, ed.
Stephanie Menase (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 85 [cited hereafter as NC].

Ideen II as Husserl's flawed attempt to motivate the transition from the

methodological sense of constitution to its idealistic metaphysical interpreta-
tion. 22 In fact, Landgrebe suggests, it is in the space of this failed attempt
that new paths to elucidate the "structure of the world" become possible. 23
Like Merleau-Ponty, Landgrebe emphasizes the "permeation" of the three
different layers of analysis (thingly, animal, and human), the "interpenetra-
tion" of the regions of thing and psyche, and the "naturalization of the
psychical and the spirit" by which the natural and human realms "recipro-
cally implicate each other" (Landgrebe, 319/162). Husserl attempts to justify
the non-relativity of spirit and its priority over matter, and consequently the
transition from methodological to metaphysical idealism, by spirit's internal
principle of individuation: the thing's individuality must ultimately refer
back to a subject as the sole orginary individual (Landgrebe,321-2/169).24
According to Landgrebe, this move fails, and with it Husserl' s justification
for the metaphysical interpretation of constitution, since Husserl cannot
account for that "residuum of nature" implied by his starting point in
"originary sensibility" (Landgrebe, 3221170-1). Husserl oversteps the
boundaries required by the phenomenological method itself, consequently
falsifying the possibility of receptivity in sensation.
One the one hand, the themes of Landgrebe's reading have significant
correspondence with Merleau-Ponty's own position, including not only the
centrality of the "reciprocal implication" of nature and spirit located in the
perceiving body, but also the final concern with the "residuum of nature,"
that "back side of things that we have not constituted" (S 227/180). But
Landgrebe concludes that the overall project of Husserl's text fails, since
Husserl's analyses undercut the very possibility of the transition from a

22. Of course, this is closely related to what Ricoeur terms "the most embarrassing question
of Ideas II," viz., the relation between Geist and transcendental consciousness. See Ricoeur,
76 ff.
23. Ludwig Landgrebe, "Seinsregionen und regionale Ontologien in Husserls
Phanomenologie," Studium Generale 9 (1956), 316; "Regions of Being and Regional
Ontologies in Husserl's Phenomenology," in The Phenomenology o/Edmund Husser!, trans.
Donn Welton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 155-6.

24. See also Ricoeur, 78


methodological to a metaphysical position. 25 Merleau-Ponty, on the other

hand, is not critical of Husserl, since, from Merleau-Ponty's perspective,
Husserl succeeds-despite himself-in revealing the "residuum," the non-
philosophical basis of philosophy, in the only possible way. That Landgrebe
could draw his conclusions about the "structure of the world" on the basis
of Husserl' s "failure" is, from a certain perspective, the key to Husserl' s
unique success (or at least the success of the phenomenological method,
despite Husserl's own intentions). To understand this strange failure that is
a success, we must look to Merleau-Ponty's gradual reinterpretation of the
transcendental reduction.
What had interested Merleau-Ponty in the Cartesian approach to
phenomenology was that, despite the equivalence of "I think" and "I am,"
the world was not immediately returned with the acquisition of the cogito
(PhP iii-ivlix). As Natanson points out, "Merleau-Ponty's criticism of
reduction turns back on itself. If the lesson of reduction is that reduction is
impossible, that lesson can only be learned through reduction. "26 Of course,
Merleau-Ponty had not claimed that the reduction was impossible, since the
reduction to the transcendental alone could introduce the philosopher into
the proper realm of phenomenology, but only that it was impossible to bring
the reduction to a state of final completion. The fecundity of phenomenol-
ogy lay in the tension between the mute life of the world and the reflective
tum that seeks to express it, a tension already captured in the phrase from
the Cartesianische Meditationen that Merleau-Ponty could recall from
memory: "It is the still mute experience which it is a question of bringing
to the pure expression of its proper sense."27 But this relation implies a
seriality-from mundane to transcendental, from engaged to reflective, from
tacit to explicit cogito-a telos, a development toward clarity by way of a

25. Thomas Seebohm has more recently expressed the view that a viable transcendental
phenomenology must purify itself of HusserI's metaphysical language. See, e.g., "The
Apodicticity of Absence," in Derrida and Phenomenology, ed. William McKenna and J.
Claude Evans (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995), esp. 186-7, and his essay in
the current volume.

26. PhP viii/xiv. See Maurice Natanson, Edmund Husserl: Philosopher of Infinite Tasks
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 82.

27. For Merleau-Ponty's recollection ofthis phrase in the context here under discussion, see
his criticisms of de Waelhens' presentation in Husser!' Cahiers de Royaumont, Philosophie
N. III (Paris: Minuit, 1959), 157-9.

passage through the world. Specifically, the "Cartesian progression" implies

a development from appearance to reality, from doxa to episteme, from mute
experience to expressive voice.
After Phenomenologie de la perception, Merleau-Ponty becomes more
focused on the tension inherent in the reduction itself, not so much as a
hindrance or an unavoidably obscure beginning than as philosophically
revealing in its own right. His remarks at the 1957 Royaumont colloquium
devoted to "The Work and Thought of Husserl" make this change salient.
The enigmatic character of the reduction, he explains there, is not "simply
a matter of a difficulty of fact;lt is a problem in principle":

From whence comes this resistance of the non-reflective to reflection? One

cannot simply consider this resistance as an adversity without name; it is the
index of an experience that is not the experience of reduced consciousness, that
has value and truth in itself and of which it would also therefore be necessary to
take account. 28

Following this point, and admitting the need to rethink his earlier oversim-
plification of the problems of the unconscious, Merleau-Ponty writes in his
1960 preface to Hesnard's L 'Oeuvre de Freud that "All consciousness is
consciousness of something or of the world, but this something, this world,
is no longer, as 'phenomenological positivism' appeared to teach, an object
that is what it is, exactly adjusted to acts of consciousness."29 With this
recognition, Merleau-Ponty calls for a phenomenology that "descends into
its own substratum," thereby revealing its"latent content or its unconscious"
by which it achieves a consonance with psychoanalysis. 30 The Cartesian
doubt is clearly no longer the guiding motif for this re-reading of the
transcendental reduction; rather, the reduction has become a radical

28. Husserl. Cahiers de Royaumont, 158.

29. "Preface" in A. Hesnard, L 'Oeuvre de Freud et son importance pour Ie monde moderne
(Paris: Payot, 1960), 8; "Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis: Preface to Hesnard' s L' Oeuvre
de Freud," trans. Alden Fisher, in Merleau-Ponty and Psychology, ed. Keith HoeBer (Atlantic
Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1993), 70.

30. "Preface" in Hesnard, 8-9170-1. We begin to see here that the philosopher's shadow is
less a name for some unthought of Husserl than for the resistant element of our own
philosophical unconscious, our culture's "shadow." Commenting on Part II of Krisis, for
instance, Merleau-Ponty discusses the existence of "un 'ya' philosophique," NC 80.

"archeology" ofthought descending into an inherently obscure substratum.

Merleau-Ponty is suggesting that the reduction take the form of spelunking,
an exploration of the subterranean passages below the level of conscious-
When, in his last work, Merleau-Ponty justifies the shift in terminology
from "Being and Nothingness" to "Visible and Invisible," it is clear that he
intends to leave behind the "existential" basis of his earlier thought, founded
as it was on a subject whose infinite freedom situated it between nothingness
and being:

It would be better to speak of "the visible and the invisible," pointing out that
they are not contradictory, than to speak of "being and nothingness." One says
invisible as one says immobile-not in reference to something foreign to
movement, but to something which stays still. The invisible is the limit or degree
zero of visibility, the opening of a dimension of the visible. There can be no
question here of a zero in every respect or of an umestricted being. (S 30121)

Along with the rejection of the Cartesian heritage, one cannot help but hear
in this choice of "new" terminology the reference to Plato's Phaedo, to the
"two classes of things" Plato names "the invisible and the visi-
ble"-invariable and never the same, idea and fact, soul and body, spirit and
nature. For Plato, the invisible and the visible are anything but correlative
terms, anything but situated on the same ontological plane. Perhaps we are
justified, then, in reading Merleau-Ponty's re-writing of these old words as
a form of anti -Platonism, a reversal of the relation between spirit and nature,
essence and fact. And this would seem fitting, given Merleau-Ponty's
regular criticisms of the "Platonic" element in Husserl' s thought. Maybe this
is a retreat, then, from the "natural light" into the shadows of the cave, a
reversal of the Platonic progression.
But such a reversal had already been carried out in Phenomenoiogie de ia
perception, where "phenomenological positivism" is understood precisely
as the reversal of the relation between fact and essence. It is also noteworthy
that Merleau-Ponty's reinterpretation of Descartes (and, ultimately, his
retreat toward the tacit cogito) in Phenomenoiogie de fa perception is an
attempt in part to respond to Meno's dilemma (PhP 425/370)-a prioritiza-
tion, then, of the Cartesian form of reflective philosophy over classical

rationalism. 3 ! In fact, at the presentation of this text to the Societe Franc;aise

de philosophie, Emile Brehier noted Merleau-Ponty's tendency to "take
up ... Platonic idealism and follow a specifically reverse direction. "32 But
Merleau-Ponty responds as follows:

You have said that Plato tried to quit perception for ideas. One could also say that
he placed the movement oflife in the ideas, as they are in the world-and he did
it by breaking through the logic of identity, by showing that ideas transform
themselves into their contraries. 33

Plato, as it turns out, is a key influence on Merleau-Ponty's move beyond

existentialism, that is, beyond a philosophy situated within the parameters
of the Cartesian project. The clue to Plato's significance is found in this
passage about the Greek "Founders of Philosophy" from Merleau-Ponty's
1956 introduction to Les Philosophes celebres:

Thus they invented the dialectic, that is, the overcoming of skepticism, the truth
that issues from paradox, the power of the truth inseparable from the power to go
astray, the being-oneself in the being-other. They invented immanence, since

31. Note that Merleau-Ponty later develops an alternative to Meno's dilemma based on his
reading ofHeidegger, according to which interrogation, as a manner of existing, bypasses the
dilemma of immanent-transcendent. See NC 129.

32. Perhaps it is significant that Merleau-Ponty's thesis on Plotinus in satisfaction of the

requirements for the Diplome d'Etudes Superieures, now lost, had been written under Brehier.
See Theodore Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale: La Genese de la
philosophie de Maurice Merleau-Ponty jusqu 'a la Phenomenologie de la perception (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971),5.

33. PrP 136-7/28-9. Merleau-Ponty probably has in mind the Plato of the Parmen ides, which
he praises throughout his career for its "dialectical idea of being" and later compares to the
Heideggerian notion of "being at a distance" (S 197/156). See also Merleau-Ponty, Sens et
non-sens (Paris: Nagel, 1948; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 1996),36; Sense and Nonsense, trans.
Hubert and Patricia Dreyfus (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964),27; Merleau-
Ponty, ed., Les Philosophes celebres (Paris: Mazenod, 1956),250 [cited hereafter as PC];
Merleau-Ponty, Texts and Dialogues, ed. Hugh Silverman and James Berry, JT. (Atlantic
Highlands, NJ: Humanities, 1992), 16, 127 [cited hereafter as TD].

every idea of its own accord leads us to others, but an immanence that functions
by reversal is therefore also called transcendence. 34

If we wish to root out the origin of the division into inside and outside,
immanence and transcendence, we cannot stop our historical inquiry with
Descartes; we must return to Plato.
Merleau-Ponty did not arrive at the decision to return to Plato on his
own. 35 Husserl's Krisis writings, which Merleau-Ponty examined carefully
during several of the courses taught in his last years, make repeated
reference to the Greeks, and Plato in particular, as the initiators of the telos
of European philosophy. In the opening pages of his "Nachwort" to
Gibson's English translation of Ideen L Husserl admits his aim to "reinstate
the most original idea of philosophy, which, since the time of its first solid
formulation by Plato, has laid at the basis of our European philosophy and
science," namely, the idea of philosophy as a rigorous science. 36 In the
Vienna Lecture, he notes the root of the original the aria in Greek
thaumazein (Hua VI 332/Crisis, 285). In fact, the first genuine break from
the "natural attitude" might well be located in the thought of Plato and

Since Socrates, man has become a theme in his specifically human qualities, as
a person, man within the spiritual life of the community. Man still has a place
within the order of the objective world; but for Plato and Aristotle this world
becomes a greattheme [in its own right]. Here a remarkable split makes itselffelt;

34. This "invention of immanence" Merleau-Ponty traces to the "myth of reminiscence,

which seems to be a reverie on the soul's prenatal past" but which gives rise to the "pure
principle of interiority" by its claim that "all knowledge is recognition, that nothing
absolutely external to us ever befalls us" (PC 45/TD 124).

35. Obviously, Merleau-Ponty's reading of Heidegger also plays an important role in his
return to early Greek thinking, as is evident in remarks made throughout the discussion of
Heidegger in "La Philosophie aujourd'hui," Notes de cours: 1959-1960. In both this course
and the following year's course on "Ursprung der Geometrie," Merleau-Ponty stresses the
continuity between the later Husserl's thought and that of Heidegger. Sorting out the role of
Heidegger in relation to Husserl on these points must await another occasion.

36. Husserl, "Nachwort," Ideen III, Husserliana, vol 5, ed. Marly Biemel (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1952), 139; "Epilogue," in Ideas 11,406. See also Husserl, "Philosophy as
Rigorous Science," in Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, trans. Quentin Lauer
(New York: Harper and Row, 1965),76.

the human belongs to the sphere of objective facts, but as persons, as egos, men
have goals, ends, norms given by the tradition, norms of truth-eternal norms.
(Hua VI 3411Crisis, 293)

The duality inherent in this Greek perspective on the human being paves the
way for the dualism of Cartesian thought, the objectivist rationality that
treats humanity's spiritual aspect and achievements as a secondary layer
added onto the "true" objective facts. According to Husserl' s account in the
Vienna Lecture, Descartes is the modem heir ofGreekrationality-"Just as
the sun is the one all-illuminating and warming sun, so reason is also the one
reason" (Hua VI 3411Crisis, 294). But his legacy is one-sided; the infinite
scientific task is skewed by the absurd duality of Spirit (Geist) and Nature
that founds the former on the latter. By way of phenomenology, this self-
alienation of reason is ultimately overcome in the reversal of the hierarchy
of Spirit and Nature, thereby fulfilling the te/os of European thought: the
pursuit of the infinite as grounded in the spiritual in its own right.
Husserl finds in Plato the root of Cartesian reason in its pure form, prior
to the refinements that transformed rationality into objectivism. So, the goal
of phenomenology is a return to Platonism, but a Platonism that, having
passed through the self-alienating stage of the Enlightenment, returns to
itself at a higher level of consciousness: "Only when the spirit returns from
its naive external orientation to itself, and remains with itself and purely
with itself, can it be sufficient unto itself' (Hua VI 345lCrisis, 297). Given
this dialectical language, it is not surprising to find that Merleau-Ponty
equates Husserl's "intentional history" with "dialectic."3? In fact, the
common link Merleau-Ponty finds between Plato and these later writings of
Husserl is not so much an orientation toward the infinite idea as a dialectical
rationality. While for Plato "the ideas are not at rest," for Husserl "European
knowledge would maintain its value only by becoming capable of under-
standing what is not itself' (SHP 67/89). In his 1955-56 course on "La
Philosophie dialectique," Merleau-Ponty cites Plato's Parmenides as a
demonstration of the "uneasy equilibrium" of dialectic that reveals "an

37. Merleau-Ponty, Les Sciences de l'homme et fa phenomenofogie (Paris: Centre de

Documentation Universitaire, 1975),67; "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," in The
Primacy o/Perception, trans. James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964),
89 [cited hereafter as SHP, with French preceding English pagination]. Merleau-Ponty is also
aware, of course, that Husserl would reject the characterization of his thought as dialectical,
cf. S 1961156.

element of transcendence": "this transcendence of being, whose source

remains fixed ... can be neither thought nor being and always appears only
through a plural participation."38 In many of Plato's dialogues, Merleau-
Ponty concludes, one finds a thought "which is neither ascendent nor
descendant" (RC 861128). It is not a great leap from such conceptions of
participation and dialectic to Merleau-Ponty's later characterizations of
Husserl. We should not be surprised, then, to find Merleau-Ponty claiming
that, iIi Ideen II, Husserl "rediscovers th[ e] identity of Ore-entering self' and
'going-outside self''' (S 2041161). The reduction, Merleau-Ponty proclaims,
is "as if rent by an inverse movement which it elicits" (S 2041161), precisely
the same characterization Merleau-Ponty had earlier ascribed to the Platonic
Although the retrieval of Plato remains a subtext in "Le Philosophe et son
ombre," the need for such a retrieval becomes an explicit theme in Merleau-
Ponty's last courses on Husserl, especially in his 1958-59 course on "La
Philo sophie aujourd'hui,"39 and the 1959-60 course on "Husserl aux limites
de la phenomenologie."40 Commenting on Husserl's Vienna Lecture in the
first course, Merleau-Ponty emphasizes the link between a retrieval of the
philosophical heritage of the Greeks and the discovery of a new telos for
philosophy. Understanding the crisis of rationality requires a return to the
founding act, and this return will make it possible to restore philosophy
"precisely as the fullest consciousness of non-philosophy" (NC 72-3). In the
second course, Merleau-Ponty makes it clear that the founding and
continuity of the philosophical tradition is implicated in the overt issue of

38. Merleau-Ponty, Resumes de cours (College de France, 1952-1960) (Paris: Gallimard,

1968), 82; "Themes from the Lectures at the College de France, 1952-1960," trans. John
O'Neill, in In Praise 0/ Philosophy and Other Essays (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1988), 125 [cited hereafter as RC, with French preceding English pagination].

39. "La Philosophie aujourd'hui," NC 31-157. Although an English translation of these

course notes is not yet available, Merleau-Ponty's brief summary of the course may be found
under the title "Philosophy as Interrogation," trans. John O'Neill, in In Praise o/Philosophy
and Other Essays, 167-80.

40. "Husserl aux limites de la phenomenologie," ed. Franck Robert, in Merleau-Ponty, Notes
de cours sur L'Origine de la geometrie de Husser!, ed. Renaud Barbaras (Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France, 1998), 11-92 [cited hereafter as HLP]; Merleau-Ponty, Husser! at
the Limits o/Phenomenology, trans. Len Lawlor with Bettina Bergo (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, forthcoming). My thanks to Professor Lawlor for making available to me
a draft of his translation.

the origin and development of geometry: the "depth dimension of geometry"

is "the model for thinking the history of philosophy" (HLP 19). Plato is
HusserI's own example, cited repeatedly by MerIeau-Ponty, of "reactiva-
tion" of a historical figure within the philosophical tradition, and this
"reactivation," this retrieval, becomes the sole means of opening a genuine
future for the tradition. During his 1958-59 course, MerIeau-Ponty writes:

We have not read Plato. Weare reading him. This transforms us. We must reread
him. The other is "Dichtung." And yet, it is in this Dichtung and that of the others
that "philosophy," this universal common to all, understands itself. (NC 382-3;
cf. NC 85-6)

Or, again, a year later:

How to discover the emerging sense of philosophy? By expanding our thoughts,

our lived philosophical situation, through those of the ancients, and those of the
ancients by ours. (HLP 20)41

From HusserI, MerIeau-Ponty has learned that tradition is the double

movement of "looking ahead in order to receive the entire force of the past"
since "the futural horizon is made precisely from this surplus which was
forgotten over the course and yet was intended from the beginning" (HLP
37). Or, as he had written elsewhere, "the most ancient time is summoned
to be present to what it will become in us" (TD 127). And this reference to
the Ancients, Plato in particular, is more than one example among many
others ofthe possible retrievals of the tradition, since the unconcealment of
a true history requires "a total remanipulation of the distinction between fact
and essence, real and ideal" (HLP 20)-that is, a total rethinking of
Platonism. To rediscover the "depth-dimension" of history, MerIeau-Ponty
writes, one must "excavate below ... Platonism" (HLP 17).
This retrieval of Plato cannot, of course, be a simple inversion of
Platonism. Nor can MerIeau-Ponty's re-inscription of the reduction within
the Platonic dialectic be simply an empty repetition of philosophical history.
The intention is to carry philosophy of reflection, by its own inertia, back to
the point of its origin-to push it forward until it can capture its own limit,

41. This same example and motifretums in the first draft ofthe "Interrogation et intuition"
chapter of Le Visible et I 'invisible. See "Brouillon d'une redaction," NC 374-5.

what lies prior to its birth historically and methodologically. Ifwe wish to
think outside of interiority, we must begin by thinking forward into that time
that precedes interiority. Husserl's project is an advance over Plato thanks
to the resources it offers for a total reflection, a reflection that incorporates
its own limits. The reduction is a path toward truth that must capture itself
precisely as path, as movement, rather than in terms of a finished product.
Husserl was right to see phenomenology as the fruition of the "infinite task"
initiated by the Greeks. But this infinite task does not await the return to
pure spirit, the "purely theoretical spectator" ofHusserlian science (Hua VI
346lCrisis, 298). It will explore, instead, the "inward being-for-one-another
and mutual interpenetration" (Hua VI 346lCrisis, 298) of Nature and Spirit.
Reoriented toward this interpenetration and dialectic, phenomenology's new
infinite task becomes "interrogation."
Rethinking rationality and the telos of philosophy after Husserl requires
reconceiving the very relation between fact and essence, the guiding trope
for which, in Western metaphysics, has been Plato's allegory ofthe cave. By
way of Neo-Platonism and scholastic metaphysics, Western thought has
remained tied to the association of the sun with the transcendental, light with
knowledge, and darkness with the opacity of matter. Merleau-Ponty's
attempt to reorient our thinking about the relation of fact and essence,
mundane and transcendental, doxa and episteme, could be fruitfully
understood, then, as a rewriting of Plato's mythical progression, as a
complication of the easy transition between darkness and light, invisible and
visible. While Husserl 's progressive constitution of the thing in Ideen II can
clearly be read as a progression from doxa to episteme, from flat images to
intersubjective objectivity, Merleau-Ponty's re-reading seeks to complicate
the linearity ofthis progression, treating the reduction as a "descent into the
realm of our archeology" to rediscover the "secret of secrets" (S 208/165).
The phenomenological path has not reached its conclusion once we arrive
under the sun of transcendental consciousness, whose constitutive activity
conjoins noesis and noema as the light of the sun conjoins eye and object.
The conclusion of the path must incorporate the very necessity of the path
into its own truth: the cave is not something we overcome, but an essential
part of the journey. The truth of the sun is incomplete without its ground.
Hence, the inside and the outside, the natural attitude and reduced con-
sciousness, "are not side by side or sequential, like the false or the apparent
and the true" (S 2071184).

The cave-that is, our pre-philosophical Lebenswelt-holds ontological

and epistemological priority over the constitution of fact and essence,
mundane and transcendental, Nature and Spirit; hence, what must be
understood is the "unveiling of the world precisely through its dissimulation
in the chiaroscuro of the doxa" (S 207/164). This priority is "not just a way
of saying that we must necessarily begin with and go by way of opinion
before we can attain knowledge" (S 207/164); it is not a simple transition
from obscure doxa to the light of episti3me. Rather, we must understand our
relationship with those shadowy things, "only half-opened before us,
unveiled and hidden" (S 212/167) as the primary form of intentionality,
undergirding the intentionality of acts that stand naked in the light of the
transcendental ego, the Sun.42 Correlatively, the essence as invariant or
possibility must be thought in terms ofthe dimensionality of the Lebenswelt:
"Ideas can no longer be considered a second positivity or second world
which puts its riches on display beneath a second sun" (S 28-9/20). Rather
than a confrontation or simple transition between dark and light, we have a
chiarascuro; the Lebenswelt includes "reflections, shadows, levels, horizons"
(HLP 15), and the stages of the cave ineinanderjliej3en.
The task of rethinking the cave allegory in terms of the Lebenswelt is of
a piece with the task of responding to the crisis of rationality, that is, of
answering the question "what is philosophy?" If we take seriously the
necessity of incorporating the movement of dialectic within its result, the
cave is an essential part of that single movement that constitutes truth.
Hence, for Merleau-Ponty, the task of the movement toward truth-that is,
the task of phenomenology-must be to incorporate its own resistance, its
own shadow:

the ultimate task of phenomenology as philosophy of consciousness is to

understand its relationship to non-phenomenology. What resists phenomenology
within us ... cannot remain outside phenomenology and should have its place
within it. The philosopher must bear his shadow, which is not simply the factual
absence of future light." (S 225/178)

42. In fact, this transition is never truly between two points: we are no more faced with an
inner-outer dualism in the case of the cave than we are with the relation between mundane
and transcendental attitudes, since we are always in-between ("entre-deux," 8 209/166). The
cave myth includes no moment of complete darkness nor of complete light; so, in a sense, the
transition is always within a range of shadow as well as within a range of light. "There is an
ordered sequence of steps, but it is without end as it is without beginning" (8 209/165).

For Plato, the shadow is the figure of the in-between, the apparition at the
nexus of the visible and invisible that remains trapped on earth rather than
spiriting off to join the gods (Phaedo 81 c, d). The "ontological rehabilita-
tion of the sensible" allows a new role for this mediation between visible
and invisible, one in which the path can be incorporated into the end:

a thought which does not efface its tracks, does not forget its path, where the path
codefines the truth, where the 'conclusion' is not more true than the progression,
where the end is also beginning and vice-versa. 43

That the philosopher must bear his own shadow implies that the
cave-the origin of thought that resists thought, the subterranean depths of
consciousness, the opacity and contingency of reality-must, in a sense, be
internalized, brought within the purview of our philosophical project. But
"what is this 'interiority' which will be capable of the relationships between
interior and exterior themselves" (S 225/179)? Can the very resistance to
interiority, to reflection, become a thematic object for reflection itself-or
would this be precisely to strip it of its quality of resistance, of absolute
externality?44 If we take the homology with the cave seriously, we can see
that, although sun and cave are both part of one world, one system, the sun's
light can never penetrate the cave's inner reaches, can never strip its
shadows. Just as the sun is the symbol of absolute presence, of pure self-
conscious reflection, the cave is the ideal motif of internalized negation; it
is the primordial carnal contact of flesh with flesh, the fold of the earth.45

43. "L'Ontologie cartesienne et I'ontologie d'aujourd'hui," NC 225, where Merleau-Ponty

describes the need for a new "dialectical" philosophy.

44. Merleau-Ponty's later discussions of "hyper-reflection" and "hyperdialectic" are another

formulation of this same problematic. See VI 61138, 70-1146,129-30/94-5.

45. A number of themes in this essay are also discussed within the context of a slightly
different investigation in my essay, "Chiasm and Chiaroscuro: The Logic of the Epoche,"
Chiasmi International 3 (200 I).
Chapter 5

From Dialectic to Reversibility:

A Critical Change of Subject-Object Relation
in Merleau-Ponty's Thought

Hiroshi Kojima
Niigata University

Abstract: This essay is trying to clarify the process ofthe change ofthe
subject-object relation in Merleau-Ponty's writings. This process is
deeply concerned with his own reading ofHusserl. This philosopher's
"shadow, "namely, that which was unthought by Husserl, became more
and more his main theme, and this motiv(ltes him to abandon the
dialectical synthesis ofsubject and object, not only in the realm ofthe
superior human ego, but also in the kinaesthesis of the human body.

It is perhaps the case that Merleau-Ponty, throughout his Phenomenologie

de la perception, gave no word such an ambiguous meaning as the word
"object" or "objective." I think this is one of the main reasons why this book
is so difficult to understand. This is not a contingent matter, because
considered in the wider perspective-namely, between his first book; La
Structure du comportement (1942), and his posthumous work, Le Visible et
['invisible (1963)-Merleau-Ponty's idea of the Subject-Object relation
changed remarkably, and accordingly in his second book, Phenomenologie
de la perception (1945), the position of the object towards the subject is just
in the process of changing.

In his first book, La Structure du comportement, it is evident that Merleau-

Ponty uses Gestalt theory as his method in order to achieve the goal of his
book, namely to "understand the relations of consciousness and nature:
organic, psychological or even social.'" As a Gestalt is a total structural
unity of elements with a proper sense, the constructing principle of which

1. Merleau-Ponty, La Structure du comportement (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,

1942), 1; The Structure of Behavior, trans. Alden Fisher (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), 3
[cited hereafter as SC, with French preceding English pagination].
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), MerleauPonty's Reading of Husserl, 95-113.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

is dialectical, the synthetic coincidence of each of its constructing elements

is self-evident. A Gestalt could be a Gestalt insofar as it could integrate any
independent or even opposing elements or lower Gestalts into itself and
make them its subordinate structure.
"In a form [i.e., Gestalt], the whole is not the sum of its parts" (SC

The relation of each order to the higher order is that of the partial to the total. ...
The advent of higher orders, to the extent that they are accomplished, eliminate
the autonomy of the lower orders and give a new signification to the steps which
constitute them. This is why we have spoken of a human order rather than of a
mental or rational order. The so frequent distinction of the mental and the somatic
has its place in pathology but cannot serve for the knowledge of normal man, that
is, of integrated man, since in him the somatic processes do not unfold in isolation
but are integrated into a cycle of more extensive action. It is not a question of two
defacto orders external to each other, but of two types of relations, the second of
which integrates the first. (SC 195/180-1)

The higher behavior retains the subordinate dialectics in the present depths
of its existence. "They are not recognizable in the whole when it functions
correctly, but the disintegration in case of partial lesion attests to their
immanence" (SC 224/208). There is a duality that reappears always on one
level or another: hunger or thirst disturbs thinking or sentiments; the
properly sexual dialectic is usually visible through a passion. The integration
is never absolute, and it is always stranded, whether at a higher level in a
writer, or at a lower one in an aphasiac, says Merleau-Ponty.

There always comes a moment when we divest ourselves of a passion because of

fatigue or self-respect. This duality is not a simple fact; it is founded in
principle-all integration presupposing the normal functioning of subordinated
formations, which always demand their own due.
But it is not a duality of substances; or, in other words, the notions of soul and
body must be relativized: there is the body as mass of chemical components in
interaction, the body as dialectic ofliving being and its biological milieu, and the
body as dialectic of social subject and his group; even all our habits are an
impalpable body for the ego of each moment. Each of these degrees is soul with
respect to the preceding one, body with respect to the following one. (SC

Following this principle, Merleau-Ponty found three types of Gestalt as

regionally fundamental: Physical order, Vital order, and Human order.
"[M]atter, life and mind must participate unequally in the nature of form;
they must represent different degrees of integration and, finally, must
constitute a hierarchy in which individuality is progressively achieved"(SC
l43/l33). From here on, the vital order integrated into the human order is
called by him the "phenomenal body" (SC 1691156).
The phenomenal body is a dialectical relation not only with biological
nature, but also with an economic, social, and cultural nature (second
nature). But to pertain to the economic, social, and cultural world is not yet
a sufficient definition of the human order. "What defines man is not the
capacity to create a second nature--economic, social or cultural-beyond
biological nature; it is rather the capacity of going beyond created structures
in order to create others" (SC 1891175). The existential character of
Merleau-Ponty's idea of humanity is quite evident at this point. (I will return
later to this problematical idea.)
But for our investigation of his idea of object, I will quote here a very
interesting example that Merleau-Ponty uses to clarify the difference
between human and ape:

[I]f an ape picks a branch in order to reach a goal, it is because it is able to confer
a functional value on an object of nature. But ... we have seen that, having
become a stick for the ape, the tree branch is eliminated as such-which is the
equivalent of saying that it is never possessed as an instrument in the full sense
of the word .... For man, on the contrary, the tree branch which has become a
stick will remain precisely a tree-branch-which-has-become-a-stick, the same
thing in two different functions and visible for him under a plurality of aspects.
(SC 189-90/175)

Merleau-Ponty says that this ability makes it possible for humans alone to
create instruments for virtual use, even without the factual pressure of a
Thus the Mer1eau-Ponty ofLa Structure du comportement seeks to clarify
the inner relation of consciousness and nature, including the body, by using
Gestalt theory and arrives at three types of dialectical structure: the Physical,
the Vital, and the Human, the latter of which, as a higher order, integrates
the former orders into itself as subordinates. As Merleau-Ponty calls the
higher order of this hierarchy "mind" and the lower order "body," we may

also call them "subject" and "object" and regard his dialectical Gestalt
system of hierarchy as subject-object dialectics.
In seeking the philosophical foundation of Gestalt theory, however,
Merleau-Ponty was content neither with naive Empirical realism nor with
Kantian transcendental idealism, which, according to him, eliminates the
original experience of the real world. He wants to define transcendental
philosophy anew in a way that allows it transcendentally to integrate the
phenomena of the real world into itself and to gather up all the life of
consciousness en soi into consciousness pour soi. "To return to perception
as to a type of original experience in which the real world is constituted in
its specificity is to impose upon oneself an inversion of the natural
movement of consciousness" (SC 236/220). In his footnote, he identifies this
inversion of consciousness with the phenomenological reduction in the
sense of the late philosophy of Husser!'
From the last pages of La Structure du comportement, I think we can
surmise quite well the reason that led Merleau-Ponty to Husserlian
Phenomenology. Gestalt theory based upon dialectics treats human
consciousness as a subjective Gestalt synthesizing the objective Gestalt, but
it never reaches self-consciousness as the first person, the ego, who is the
ultimate origin of cognitive evidence. For a given subjective Gestalt, the
"human" is always the third person that is a kind of object for an anonymous
(first person) observer of the Gestalt. Merleau-Ponty never wants to abandon
the dialectical structure ofthe human. He wants only to ground it philosoph-
ically, with the evidence of the free consciousness that not only intends any
Gestalt in the world as perception, but can also project the world itself as the
ground of such object-intentionalities. But, in a sense, such human
consciousness surpasses any Gestalt, because it can transcend any given
Gestalt structure by creating a new meaning. It is the "invisible" in a
genuine sense. And the phenomenological reduction is, in a sense, the only
method to make this invisible visible.
The second problem that seems to have led Merleau-Ponty to phenomen-
ology is the problem of the alter ego. Not only my ego, but also the ego of
the other, surpasses any Gestalt and is invisible. Though, of course, the alter
ego often appears through the various social and cultural sedimentations in
the world, he or she sometimes presents himself or herself to me more
directly, especially in the case of dialogical speech. In order to grasp the
appearing of such an invisible other consciousness, I suggest, Merleau-
Ponty has to proceed from Gestalt theory to phenomenology.

At the same time, however, Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology could not,

from the beginning, be the same as Husserl's phenomenology. The
transcendental subjectivity that intentionally constitutes elements of the
natural and social world (namely, the lifeworld) is not the superior ego for
Merleau-Ponty, as it is for Husserl, but is rather the inferior impersonal
subjectivity that is subordinate to the world-projecting personal ego.
Transcendental subjectivity as anonymity (I 'on) belongs originally to the
vital order, integrated into the higher human order. Merleau-Ponty's
assertion of the essential imperfection of the phenomenological reduction
necessarily results from this hierarchically founded position of transcenden-
tal subjectivity.


Now let us turn to Merleau-Ponty's second book, Phenomenologie de la

perception, which is in ultimate principle no longer based upon Gestalt
theory, but rather declares itself to be a new development of Husserlian
As 1 suggested above, Merleau-Ponty needed a new method in order to
treat the epistemological grounding ofthe world-structure by consciousness,
because this is a special kind of relation that surpasses any hierarchical
relation in Gestalt theory. "I am the absolute source, my existence does not
stem from my antecedents, from my physical and social environment;
instead it moves out towards them and sustains them. "2 It is an absolute self-
transcending relation of the ego to the world-Gestalt, which is also the main
theme of Husserlian phenomenology and is disclosed only by the method-
ological reduction of the general thesis. This is because this self-transcend-
ing relation is already involved, before its transcendence, in a kind of
ontological relation with the world, and in the core of this ontological
relation stands my non-objective body in a still anonymous figure.
Phenomenological reduction was originally intended to minimize the effect
of this ontological relation upon consciousness by bracketing it, but Husserl
himself gradually became aware that what is in the bracket is as important
as the residuum, although he could not ultimately thematize this anonymous

2. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), iii;

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962;
rev. 1981), ix [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English pagination].

body that his successors called "existence." Merleau-Ponty was convinced

that, without the analysis of the body as existence, even the transcenden-
tality of consciousness could not be clarified, because this body is the sole
anchorage of consciousness in the world that it transcends.
In fact, the self-transcending relation ofthe ego could not reach dialectical
synthesis with any world-Gestalt except through its incarnation in the case
of that small part of it called "body." Therefore, the body might not only be
the contact point of the ego and the world-Gestalt, but also that of Gestalt
theory and Husserlian phenomenology, from which Merleau-Ponty now
wishes to develop a new theory of perception, namely, a theory of the
specific givenness ofthe world-Gestalt to the ego. "[T]he consciousness/or
which the Gestalt exists was not intellectual consciousness but perceptual
experience" (SC 227/210). And "the body is ... as it were, the subject of
perception" (PhP 239/206).
It is well known that, in 1939, after writing La Structure du
comportement, Merleau-Ponty visited the Husserl Archive in Louvain and
eagerly read Husserl's in edits , including Ideen II and Krisis. It is quite
probable that he was greatly impressed by Ideen II, because the
hierarchically-founding structure of human personality-Things / Life /
Person / Spirit-described there by Husserl has some resemblance with
Merleau-Ponty' s own view inLa Structure du comportement, exceptthatthe
former is, as a whole, founded transcendentally. Nevertheless, he could not
immediately assume the Husserlian view of the self because Husserl's
highest personal subject is the transcendental ego (of the I think), a purely
cognitive subject temporarily self-objectified into an inferior body, while
Merleau-Ponty's highest ego is an existence as world-projection incarnated
a priori in a body (already inhabited by a pre-personal transcendental
subjectivity); the latter (the body) is called a generalized existence (the ego
of the I can).
Merleau-Ponty's human ego is not so simple as HusserI's ego, because it
not only transcends itself, but also incarnates itself transcendentally with the
body. It is always moving in the di-pole of incarnation, pure existence and
generalized existence, both of which seem to have once reached a synthesis
in Gestalt theory, but now begin to show a more complicated path to one
another, as we will see. Confidently assuming the same methodological
reduction, MerIeau-Ponty nevertheless insists upon the egologically
fundamental fact of "the transcendentally incarnated existence" that Husserl
never confronted thematically. Merleau-Ponty's return to the ego seems, as

it were, to be a groping into the shadow (i.e., what is bracketed) ofHusserl's

ego, which would, for its part, stand essentially without any corporeity.
Therefore, the best expression of the manner ofMerleau-Ponty's reading of
Husserl will perhaps be Heidegger's words, "The greater the work of a
thinker ... the richer is what is unthought in this work, which means, that
which emerges in and through this work as having not yet been thought,"3
which Merleau-Ponty himself quotes in "Le Philosophe et son ombre."4


We will now thematize in particular Merleau-Ponty's idea of the subject-

object relation in his second book, which seems to me to begin a subtle
change from the dialectical synthesis in the structure of the human body.
On the one hand, the "objective world" is still an indispensable moment
of human existence as conceived by Merleau-Ponty. He says, "My life is
constantly thrown headlong into transcendent things, and passes wholly
outside me" (PhP 423/369). On the other hand, this transcendence of my
existence into the objective world is possible only through the
objectification of my existence into the world and, then, the reintegration of
this objective (or objectified) body into a subjective (phenomenal) body, as
Merleau-Ponty indicates in his analysis of Schneider's case of psychic
blindness. The patient Schneider could not point out (zeigen) with his finger
the point of skin bitten by a mosquito, even though he could grasp (greifen)
the area immediately. According to Merleau-Ponty, in order to become
possible simultaneously for the patient to both zeigen and greifen the point
where the mosquito had bitten, the objective side of his body must already
be integrated into the subjective side of his body, thus constituting the
corporeal schema in the latter. The corporeal schema is a dynamic Gestalt
of patterns of kinesthetic movement ofthe subj ective body acquired through
repeated exercise. Schneider is thought to have lost some fundamental
schemata through the wound in his head.

3. M. Heidegger, Der Satz vom Grund (Pfullingen: Verlag Gunther Neske, 1957), 123-4; The
Principle ofReason, trans. Reginald Lilly (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991),71.

4. Merleau-Ponty, "Le Philosophe et son ombre," in Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960),202;

"The Philosopher and his Shadow," in Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1964), 160 [cited hereafter as S, with French preceding
English pagination].

No reversibility of subject and object has validity in the corporeal

schema, but only their coincidence. For if the phenomenal body that is bitten
and the objectified body that is to point out alternate reversibly, how could
one point out the bitten place on his body? The itchy spot must necessarily
be given in both the corporeal space and the objective space coinciding at
once. Merleau-Ponty says, "If the patient is no longer able to point to some
part of his body which is touched [or bitten by a mosquito-H. K.], it is
because he is no longer a subject face to face with an objective world" (PhP
1401121). That is to say, he would have to be an objectified subject in a
normal state.
Thus we have seen the coincidence (not reversibility) of subject and
object in the case of the corporeal schema as analyzed by Merleau-Ponty.
There is another example of the coincidence of subject and object in his
analysis. Concerning the acquisition of habituality, he says

A woman may, without any calculation, keep a safe distance between the feather
in her hat and things which might break it off. She feels where the feather is just
as we feel where our hand is. If! am in the habit of driving a car, I enter a narrow
opening and see that I can "get through" without comparing the width of the
opening with that of the wings, just as I go through a doorway without checking
the width of the doorway against that of my body. The hat and the car have
ceased to be objects with a size and volume which is established by comparison
with other objects. They have become potentialities of volume, the demand for
a certain amount of free space. (PhP 1671143, emphasis added)

What Merleau-Ponty indicates with the metaphors "potentialities of

volume" or "demand for a certain amount of free space" is nothing other
than the object dialectically integrated into a subjective body. The woman's
hat with feather or the body of my driven car has indeed stopped being a
posited object numerically measurable with quantity, but it nevertheless still
has some degree of size and volume intuitively comparable with others. It
has become a subjectified object, or a non-thetic object integrated and
assimilated to the subject. Here the reversibility of subject and object is out
of the question, because such an object is so deeply subjectified that it has
some kind of consciousness within it. When the woman bends her knees to
avoid her feather touching a low door frame, the feather itself has a
consciousness of distance just as the top of my head has of the ceiling. In the
same way, the surface of my car has a consciousness of distance just as the
side of my body has, and if I mistakenly scrape the car with some obstacle

on the road, I feel some pain. As with Merleau-Ponty, this is not a

metaphor. 5
The matter will be clearer with the stick that Merleau-Ponty refers to next.
He says, "The blind man's stick has ceased to be an objectfor him and is no
longer perceived for itself; its point has become an area of sensitivity,
extending the scope and active radius of touch, and providing a parallel to
sight" (PhP 167, emphasis added). According to Merleau-Ponty, the stick
has ceased to be an object to the blind man, but he says nothing about what
it has then become. I say, rather, that the stick still remains as a non-posited
object in the corporeal space of the objectified subject that is moving with
a corporeal schema. The stick has become a new type of object-a non-
posited object-through its coincidence with the subject. Merleau-Ponty's
words, "To get used to a hat, a car or a stick is to be transplanted into them,
or conversely, to incorporate them into the bulk of our own body" (PhP
1681143), seems to mean the same thing, but Merleau-Ponty never
recognizes this as the coincidence of subject and object, because these things
are no longer considered objects by him.
Here we must recall the comparison of human and ape concerning
instrument-making inLa Structure du comportement. There Merleau-Ponty
argues that only the human has the ability to see the double aspects of object
and instrument in a thing. Accordingly, a hat or a car or a stick must have
two aspects and must retain its objectness even during its use as an
instrument. If they cease to be objects, as Merleau-Pontynow contends, how
can we understand ceasing to use them? When he said "every figure stands
out against the double horizon of external and bodily space" (PhP 11711 0 1),
he should have been aware of the new type of object, namely, the subjec-
tified object, as the partner of the objectified subject based upon the
corporeal schema. But despite mentioning "a practical system" of "bodily
space and external space" (PhP 119/102) in the seemingly most successful
analysis of the corporeal schema, he seems to refrain from the clear idea of
the coincidence of subject and object, to say nothing of the coincidence of

5. Here we must assume a new kind of intentionality that is not only accompanied by a non-
positional consciousness of my body, but, unlike the Sartrean, also intends every world-object
from this non-positional extension of my body as the starting point (or rather the starting
surface). Only this fact makes the pairing of my body and objects, and sometimes the
assimilation of objects into my body, possible. My non-positional body is a kind of inner
Gestalt that, even extended, always includes the differentiation of its parts.

the subjectified object and the objectified subject, insisting as always upon
the ostensible difference of subject and object. This seems undeniably to
indicate the retreat from dialectical synthesis in his second book.
How, then, could he proceed from the virtual coincidence of subject and
object to their reversibility in his later thought? I will offer a model of the
process by which Merleau-Ponty abandoned the coincidence of subject and
object. A ballpoint pen in my right hand becomes a subjectified object
during my writing and possesses a kind of tactile consciousness on its tip
while touching the paper. I feel the roughness of the paper not in my hand
but just on the moving tip of the pen. But if the ink in it is suddenly
exhausted, then the pen becomes a pure object or a brute thing among things
which resists and restricts my freedom. As soon as the pen ceases to be a
writing utensil by any accident, then an abyss opens between my (objec-
tified) subjectivity and the (subjectified) object pen, and the coincidence
between them disappears. It now turns into an antithetical relation.
My body becomes an empty subjectivity wanting to continue writing in
vain, and the pen becomes a pure object resisting my want. There would
remain, at best, a reversibility or chiasm of subject and object. In fact, in a
case where the pen had been given to me to take a difficult test in a limited
time, then the pen was a subject that ordered me to write and my kinesthetic
body was an object that resisted it. Now the depletion of ink brings a change
of situation. Possibly, the subject becomes object and the object becomes
subject alternately, according to the situation.
As Merleau-Ponty abandoned the former dialectic without philosophically
thematizing the subjectified object, namely the Being of the instrument, he
reached, under the name of the subject-object relation, only such an external,
opposing (antithetical) relation. He says, "It is thus, and not as the bearer of
a knowing subject, that our body commands the visible for US."6 This is
because our body, according to him, is reversible with brute things.
It is remarkable that, even in the case where he is deeply concerned with
the corporeal schema, he assumes no coincidence of subject and object: "the
objective body and the phenomenal body turn about one another or encroach
upon one another" (VI 157/117).

6. Merleau-Ponty, Le Visible et I 'invisible, ed. Claude Lefort (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 180;
The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1968), 136. [Cited hereafter as VI, with French preceding English pagination.]


Before discussing the "unexpected" relation between subject and object

mentioned by Merleau-Ponty, we will first refer to another relation that is,
however, not immediately a relation between subject and object, but is a
relation between two subjects, higher and lower, namely, personal existence
and generalized existence. But from the dialectical standpoint, we shall be
allowed to treat this as a kind of subject-object relation, because the former
integrates the latter into itself. Generalized existence is another name for the
kinesthetic subject based upon the corporeal schema that we analyzed as the
coincidence of subject and object. Merleau-Ponty says,

Thus there appears round our personal existence a margin of almost impersonal
existence, which can be practically taken for granted, and which I rely on to keep
me alive; round the human world which each of us has made for himself is a
world in general terms to which one must fIrst of all belong in order to be able to
enclose oneself in the particular context of a love or an ambition. (PhP 99/84)

This impersonal general existence is also called an "organism" as part of


[I]t can be said that my organism, as a prepersonal cleaving to the general form
of the world, as an anonymous and general existence, plays, beneath my personal
life, the part of an inborn complex. It is not some kind of inert thing: it too has
something of the momentum of existence. It may even happen when I am in
danger that my biological situation abolishes my human one, 7 that my body lends
itself without reserve to action. But these moments can be no more than moments,
and for most of the time personal existence represses the organism without being
able either to go beyond it or to renounce itself; without, in other words, being
able either to reduce the organism to its existential self, or itself to the organism.
(PhP 99-100/84)

Merleau-Ponty's view of the relation between existence and organism,

person and nature, coincides exactly with his increasingly ambiguous view
of the subject-object relation mentioned above. His description reminds us
of the case where the worker can neither assimilate the partially-broken
machine to himself, nor stop working completely in accordance with its poor

7. We have corrected a reversal in the original text.


functioning. But this analogy holds only insofar as the organism or the
object has lost its ordinary function by accident and has become an obstacle
or restriction to personal existence or the subject. Merleau-Ponty forgets
that, insofar as the organism is functioning ordinarily, it is integrated into
personal existence in complete coincidence, and there is no repression
between them. Most of the time, the organism is assimilated into the person
and supports him in an anonymous way, just like a functioning utensil is in
the phenomenal body.
In other words, we are aware of the natural organism, as it is, only when
it loses its balance and needs some adjustment (e.g., nutrition or excretion)
or some repair (e.g., receiving medication or a medical operation).
Otherwise, contrary to Merleau-Ponty' s assertion here, most of the time our
personal existence reduces its organism to itself and lets it function as an
anonymous element of itself. It functions just like the accustomed utensil in
our subject body, e.g., the stick for a walking blind man, the pen in the
writing hand, the keys to the fingers of a pianist. We might say, at this point,
that the utensil as subjectified object is nothing other than the analogue in
the lower order of the human organism as the objectified subject.
Our description of the subject-object synthesis in human existence is quite
in accordance with the description cited before from La Structure du com-
portement concerning the hierarchical Gestalt orders, but now in his second
book the center of gravity ofthe author's description is remarkably changed.
Namely, Merleau-Ponty no longer sees it as the dialectical synthesis of
subject (higher order) and object (lower order), but rather as an opposing
(antithetical) difference of orders. Objects, losing their duration, are
believed to disappear in the synthesis with subjects and are allowed their
independence only in reversibility, which is the disintegration of synthesis. 8

I will go one step further and try to clarify a little better the reasons that
virtually compelled Merleau-Ponty to dissolve the subject-object synthesis
prevailing in his first book. It seems to me that the key to this question lies
in the last chapter of Phenomenofogie de fa perception, which is entitled

8. It deserves mention that Merleau-Ponty, in his "Le Philosophe et son ombre" (1959),
quotes the sentence "der Leib ist das subjektive Objekt" from Husserl's Ideen III (p. 124),
translating it as " Ie corps est sujet-objet" (S 2101166).

"Freedom." Here generalized existence is consistently treated only as

socially-qualified (es-qualite) existence, namely, as the being of a second
nature (society) apart from the organic being of first nature. "I must
apprehend myself from the onset as centred in a way outside myself, and my
individual existence must diffuse round itself, so to speak, a socially-
qualified [es-qua/iti] existence" (pbP 512/448).
In La Structure du comportement, an organism and a social being, both
as generalized existence, were in principle not distinguished from each other
and together were integrated as inferior vital orders into the superior order,
namely, personal existence. Now the problematic status of this treatment
becomes evident. For social existence now demands parity with personal
existence and, unlike organic existence, would no longer be subordinate to
the latter. "My life must have a sense which I do not constitute; there must
strictly speaking be an intersubjectivity; each one of us must be both
anonymous in the sense of absolutely individual, and anonymous in the
sense of absolutely general. Our being in the world, is the concrete bearer
of this double anonymity" (ibid.).
Clearly, the hierarchical structure between my individuality (subject) and
my sociality (object) is being dissolved, and a new structure of intra- and
inter-subjectivity is sought in which both subjectivities stand at parity.9

[T]he generality and the individuality of the subject, subjectivity qualified and
pure, the anonymity of the One and the anonymity of consciousness are not two
conceptions of the subject between which philosophy has to choose, but two
moments of a unique structure which is the concrete subject. (PhP 514/450-1)

The problem now is not the relation of subject and object, but rather that
between the two kinds of subject themselves.
Therefore it seems strange that Merleau-Ponty still does not abandon the
designation of"object" for generalized existence and retains it, though under
the condition of its reversibility with the subject, i.e., with pure existence!
I think that the deepest root of his ambiguous usage of the word "object"
perhaps lies here, in this second book, as mentioned at the beginning ofthis
essay. The extent of the influence ofthis ambivalence is not small. Because

9. The question of whether this change in the structure of the ego stems directly from
Merleau-Ponty's appropriation of phenomenology or rather altogether for other reasons
cannot be discussed here.

the immediate synthetic coincidence in parity oftwo subjects, the individual

and the social, is in principle hopeless, as it is, even the words "synthesis or
coincidence of subject and' object' (not another subject)" are rather absurdly
rejected as a whole and everywhere kept away as far as possible. This will
be the very reason for his strange hesitance about using the expression "the
coincidence of subject and object," even in the case of kinesthetic phenom-
ena, as we have seen in this second book.
Instead, the reversibility of subject and object is suggested for the
dimension of the organic subject (organism), already in this second book.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the synthesis of subject and object in organic
subjectivity will never lose its validity in spite of any improvement in the
status of social subjectivity by relation to pure subjectivity, while Merleau-
Ponty's introduction of reversibility into the organic dimension has no
ground in itself except in the case of some accidents.
He says, "We have just seen that the two hands are never simultaneously
in the relationship of touched and touching to each other. When I press my
two hands together, it is not a matter of two sensations felt together as one
perceives two objects placed side by side, but of an ambiguous set-up in
which both hands can alternate the roles of 'touching' and being 'touched'"
(PhP 109/93). But, I would say, anyone who has the experience of joining
his or her palms together (e.g., in prayer) knows that the alternation of
touched and touching does not continue for long, but after a while a unique
synthetic sensation remains which could not be separated into either touched
or touching. This is just the synthesis of subject and object that Merleau-
Ponty denied. Also, in the case of my voice and the other's voice, which he
will refer to as an example of mutual deviation (see next section), we can
give an example of a splendid coincidence between them in the case of a
chorus. But considered more closely, my hand or our voice is neither a pure
subject nor a pure object. It is already an objectified subject as a member of
our phenomenal body. It is therefore undeniable that the synthesis of subject
and object already proceeds in our organism in advance, whether one might
admit any reversibility between them or not.
According to what we have examined, it has become clear that the actual
problem that Merleau-Ponty confronted when finishing Phenomenologie de
la perception was finding the new structure of human subjectivity that
includes individuality and sociality in their parity, though he still seems to
insist upon the vague concept of "object" as visibility or sensibility. He says
in a footnote:

we must ask why there are two views of me and of my body: my body for me and
my body for others, and how these two systems are compossible. It is indeed not
enough to say that the objective body belongs to the realm of "for others," and
my phenomenal body to that of "for me," and we cannot refuse to pose the
question oftheir relations, since the "for me" and the "for others" coexist in one
and the same world .... (PhP 123 n!106 n)


In Merleau-Ponty's last book of posthumous manuscripts and working

notes, this issue becomes more evident: the synthesis of subject and object
that was the gravitational center of human existence in his first book is
intentionally neglected, and only the reversibility of subject and object in
chiasm is stressed. He says, "reversibility is not an actual identity of the
touching [=phenomenal body, H. K.] and the touched [=objective body, H.
K.]. It is their identity by principle (always abortive)" (VI 325-6/272).
Further, "To be sure, one can reply that, between the two 'sides' of our
body, the body as sensible and the body as sentient (what in the past we
called objective body and phenomenal body), rather than a spread [?cart],
there is the abyss that separates the In Itself [l 'En Soil from the For Itself
[Pour Soi]" (VI 180/136-7).
He stresses this point again:

We say therefore that our body is a being of two leaves, from one side a thing
among things and otherwise what sees them and touches them; we say, because
it is evident, that it unites these two properties within itself, and its double
belongingness to the order of the 'object' and to the order ofthe 'subject' reveals
to us quite unexpected relations between the two orders. (VI 180-1/137)

Here the antithetical or at least non-synthetic relation of subject-order and

object-order is quite evident. I will quote another impressive portion of this

But this incessant escaping, this impotency to superpose exactly upon one another
the touching ofthe things by my right hand [=subject, H. K.] and the touching of
this same right hand [=object, H. K.] by my left hand, ... or the auditory
experience of my own voice [=subject, H. K.] and that of other voices [=object,
H. K. ]-this is not a failure. For if these experiences never exactly overlap, if
they slip away at the very moment they are about to rejoin, if there is always a
"shift," a "spread" [ecart], between them, this is precisely because my two hands

are part of the same body, ... because I hear myself both from within and from
without. I experience-and as often as I wish-the transition and the metamor-
phosis of the one experience into the other, and it is only as though the hinge
between them, solid, unshakeable, remained irremediably hidden from me. But
this hiatus between my right hand touched and my right hand touching, between
my voice heard and my voice uttered, ... is not an ontological void, a non-being.
It is spanned by the total being of my body, and by that of the world. (VI

Frankly speaking, I cannot help being surprised by the magnitude of the

change of Merleau-Ponty's thought over the course of twenty years. He
gives a new definition even to Gestalt itself: "To have the experience of a
Gestalt is not to sense by coincidence. . . . It is transcendence." (VI

To say that there is transcendence, being at a distance, is to say that being (in the
Sartrean sense) is thus inflated with non-being or with the possible, that it is not
only what it is. The Gestalthafte, if one really wanted to defme it, would be that.
The very notion of Gestalt-if one wishes to defme it in its own terms and not a
contrario, as "what is not" the sum of the elements-is that.
And at the same time the perception of . .. the Gestalt cannot be a centrifugal
Sinngebung, the imposition of an essence, a vor-stellen--One cannot
distinguish Empfindung and Empfundenes here. It is openness-- (VI

In other words, Gestalt should essentially imply "differentiation" or

"deviation" in itself. As the human body is also a kind of Gestalt, this
redefinition will at once make difficult any coincidence of main elements in
the structure of our organic body.
This redefinition of Gestalt seems plausible, insofar as the definition of
a human self-consciousness as Gestalt is concerned, because its Being must
imply non-Being or transcendence of its own Being, as I suggested before.
The human as Gestalt cannot be a Sartrean Etre-en-soi, but rather, so to
speak, an Etre-en-soi pregnant with Etre-pour-soi. It will be difficult for
anyone to deny the existence of a kind of deviation (or hiatus) which must
be mediated in a superior human ego. But to suppose in it a reversibility or
chiasm of these diverse elements is quite another problem. 1o On the

10. On this point, cf. my book, Monad and Thou (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000).

contrary, Merleau-Ponty's words about the non-distinguishableness of

Empfindung from Empfundenes in the Gestalt cannot be accepted literally,
because, as already quoted, Merleau-Ponty intentionally denies the
coincidence of both and repeatedly asserts the reversibility of both on the
basis of the hiatus between them.
Even with respect to dialectic, Merleau-Ponty comes to discriminate two
dialectics: good and bad.

The bad dialectic is that which thinks it recomposes being by a thetic thought, by
an assemblage of statements, by thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; the good
dialectic is that which is conscious of the fact that every thesis is an idealization,
that Being is not made up of idealizations or of things said, ... but of bound
wholes where signification never is except in tendency. (VI 129/94)

He called this good dialectic the hyperdialectic or the dialectic without

synthesis (ibid.).
We have located the internal motivation behind the move in this direction
in the change of balance between social subjectivity and personal subjectiv-
ity in Merleau-Ponty's dialectical thought. What, then, was the main
external motivation, if any, that drove Merleau-Ponty farther in this
direction? We find the following remarks in his working note of September

The Saussurean analysis of the relations between signifiers and the relations from
signifier to signified and between the significations (as differences between
significations) confirms and rediscovers the idea of perception as a divergence
[ecart] by relation to a level, that is, the idea of the primordial Being, of the
Convention of conventions, of the speech before speech. (VI 255/201, first
emphasis added)

At the same time, we often find the phrase "perception as deviation [from
things]" in his working notes. "[T]he figure-ground distinction introduces
a third term between the 'subject' and the 'object.' It is that deviation
[ecart] first of all that is the perceptual meaning." (VI 250/197). Ideas are
"that certain deviation, that never-finished differentiation, that openness
ever to be reopened between the sign and the sign, as the flesh is, we said,
the dehiscence of the seeing into the visible and of the visible into the
seeing" (VI 2011153).

Whether it was Ferdinand de Saussure or not who influenced Merleau-

Ponty to proceed farther in this direction, the synthesis of subject and object
is now undoubtedly denied, with their chiasmatic antithesis in reversibility
introduced instead. But I cannot help doubting whether the signification
through the difference of signifiers should necessarily compel the separation
(hiatus) of subject and object. Rather, in my opinion, the signifier is the
subjectified object as a kind of utensil, and the difference of signifiers must
be the difference between subjectified objects with respect to each other, but
not immediately that of subject and object.
As we have seen before, Merleau-Ponty's hierarchical Gestalt theory
based upon the synthesis of subject and object has decisive advantages
compared with other theories for the explanation of the human body's
corporeal schema. I am afraid that Merleau-Ponty would lose these
advantages by leaving behind the dialectical synthesis of subject and object
and introducing the idea of perception as the sole deviation of subj ect and
Instead of the synthetic coincidence of subject and object in his earlier
thought, now the antithetic, decentralized relation of subject and object
comes to the fore, though under the new condition of the reversibility of
both. Merleau-Ponty even calls this reversibility "the ultimate truth" (VI
204/155). We could say that, starting from Gestalt theory and proceeding
through post-Husserlian phenomenology, Merleau-Pontywas entering a new
ontological period in his latest thought. He says in the working notes that in
his new book he must take up again, deepen, and rectify his earlier two
books entirely within the perspective of ontology (VI 222/168). The central
idea of his ontology is the "flesh." It is clear that in the preceding quotations
fromLe Visible et I 'invisible, what is spoken of as the "unexpected relations
between the order of the 'object' and the order of the 'subject' ," or as "the
total being of my body and of the world" which bridges the hiatus of subject
and object is just what Merleau-Ponty now calls the flesh (VI 24/9). The
biggest problem will be the manner of mediation (or bridging) between
subject and object by the "flesh." In any case, as this Being is also thought
to be the hidden axis or hinge of the reversal of subject and object, it will be
not unsuitable to our theme to try to outline it briefly. Because of the
unfinished character of his manuscript and working notes, however, the
interpretation ofMerleau-Ponty' s ontological idea offlesh is so difficult that
perhaps nothing more than suggestive remarks on it can be offered.

(1) Considered from the perspective of hierarchy, the flesh implies the
highest subjective order ofpersonal existence (ego) that is able to project the
world. In the earlier period, this dimension was conceived as integrating
"the phenomenal body" or "the corporeal space" in contrast to "the objective
body" or "the objective space."
(2) Considered from the emphasis on reversibility, the flesh will also
imply the alter ego in its equality with my ego.
(3) The flesh will also be the Being of the world as a totality that is before
any objectification.
(4) The flesh produces through objectification (dehiscence) the "general-
ized or qualified" human existence (objectified subject) as well as the first
nature (the physical world) and the second nature (the social and cultural
world). But the origin of this objectification is not clear from his manuscript.
(5) The flesh will be the origin of all the meaning or sense which
corresponds to the primordial dimension of "the tacit cogito." The langue
is the objectification ofthis original meaning, while the parole is a creative
project of new meaning from the depths of silence. This is the origin of the
priority of parole to langue.
(6) The cognitive relation between generalized existence and objectified
nature is perception, while that between personal existence and the flesh of
the world itself before any objectification is imagination.
(7) The flesh is invisible in the primordial sense, as the vertical or wild
Being of all the visible (Ur-priisentierbarkeit).1t is the profoundness of the
visible and the deepest motive of painting.
We could continue this sketch further, but this will already be enough to
conclude this short essay.
Last of all, I must confess that, although the flesh is the pregnant
storehouse of all subjectivity and objectivity as outlined above, I cannot
think that this flesh could provide for any continuous practical human
agency in the world, because it could not be the virtual mediator of
kinesthetic movement and world projection, of perception and imagination,
as well as of signifier and signified, without having any steadfast synthesis
of subject and object in the human being (e.g., corporeal schema)-which
the very definition of the flesh as the hinge of the hiatus of subject and
object prohibits.
Chapter 6

What about the praxis of Reduction? Between Husserl

and Merleau-Ponty

Natalie Depraz
Universite de Paris IV - Sorbonne

Abstract: What does it mean to actually practice reduction? The

primary method ofphenomenology has long been thought ofas a sheer
possibility that does not need to be and a fortiori must not be really
accomplished. I first layout Husserl's and Merleau-Ponty 's specific
endeavors to give reduction a prominent role, be it as a formal method
or as an immanent praxis. Profitingfrom their valuable steps, I then try
to combine both efforts in order to provide a sequenced description of
such ajoint method, both dynamically structured and actually achieved.


Merleau-Ponty's main statement about the phenomenological reduction in

his Preface to Phenomenologie de la perception is quite well-known, but let
us quote it again in order to keep it freshly in mind:

The most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of
a complete reduction. This is why Husserl is constantly re-examining the
possibility ofthe reduction. If we were absolute mind, the reduction would present
no problem. But since, on the contrary, we are in the world, since indeed our
reflections are carried out in the temporal flux on to which we are trying to seize
(since they sich einstromen, as Husserl says), there is no thought which embraces
all our thought. ...
. . . The unfinished nature of phenomenology and the inchoative atmosphere
which has surrounded it are not to be taken as a sign of failure, they were
inevitable .... 1

I. M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (paris: Gallimard, 1945), viii-ix and

xvi; Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1962; rev. 1981), xiv and xxi [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English
pagination]. The French text of the cited passage is as follows:

Le plus grand enseignement de la reduction est I'impossibilite d 'une reduction complete.

Voila pourquoi Husserl s'interroge toujours de nouveau sur la possibilite de la reduction.
Si nous etions I'esprit absolu, la reduction ne serait pas problematique. Mais puisque au
contraire nous sommes au monde, puisque meme nos reflexions prennent place dans Ie
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, 115-125.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

The author of Phenomenologie de la perception is far from denying the

importance of the reduction for the very work of the phenomenologist. Quite
to the contrary. He even goes so far as to acknowledge that the gesture of
reduction is a necessary teaching inherent in a phenomenological work. As
early as La Structure du comportement, he even gave an accurate definition
of epoche as a necessary inversion of the natural attitude. 2
But such a vital necessity of reduction goes hand in hand with a strong
claim about it: the scope of reduction is limited. In other words, there is no
full reduction. Reducing is an act that has to remain incomplete. Thus the
vital necessity of reduction lies in its contingent incompletion. This
contention about reduction is founded on the idea that a full reduction would
be the act of an absolute all-knowing mind. As we are finite living beings,
reduction can only be an unfinished act.
Throughout this paper, I am going to question this equivalence Merleau-
Ponty draws between the fullness and completion of the reduction and the
activity of an all-knowing mind. In other words, can the reduction be fully
fulfilled without being the act of an all-knowing mind? Is there a praxis of
a full reduction within our acts as finite subjects?

I. The Act of Reduction: Husserl

A. The "Solemnity" of its Thematization

It is well-known that Husserl has solemnly and over and again put the
reduction to the fore as the key method of phenomenology. Around sections
31 and 32 in Ideen I, transcendental epoche is quite formally thematized in
its possibility as a radical alteration or modification of the world-thesis, that
is, as Ausschaltung and Einklammerung, as the act of putting the world as an
effective and existential reality out of circulation or in brackets.
As Merleau-Pontyrightly stressed in his Preface, Husserl is only interested
here in the possibility de principe of reduction, not in its actualization. The

flux temporel qu' e1les cherchent capter (puisqu' e1les sich eintromen comme dit Husserl),
il n'y a pas de pensee qui embrasse toute notre pensee ....
. . . L'inachevement de la phenomenologie et son allure inchoative ne sont pas Ie signe
d'un echec, ils etaient inevitables ....

2. M. Merleau-Ponty, La Structure du comportement (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,

1942),236; The Structure of Behavior, trans. Alden Fisher (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963),

first solemn and formal statement about reduction deals with the possible
accomplishment of reduction. But whereas Merleau-Ponty understands
possibility as a potentiality, as a token of our ontological finitude and of the
incompletion of our activity, Husserl seems to posit it as something more
like radicality, and more precisely transcendental radicality. Indeed,
possibility has to do for Husserl with the level of essence as a first eidetic
step towards transcendentality. Potential incomplete reduction remains for
Merleau-Ponty an activity within the world, whereas Husserl tends to
consider it as an act that puts the world in brackets or out of circulation, and
even with a real tendency in Ideen Ito deny the reality of the world itself and
not merely to suspend it.

B. A Transcendental Theory of Reduction

In the 1920s, Husserl will even go a step further in the stress he puts on
reduction as the formal method of phenomenology. Being aware that his
presentation in Ideen Iremains limited (because of the risk of the pure denial
of the world mentioned, but also because of the tendencious Cartesian
solipsism of ego that it involves), the founder of phenomenology starts
pluralizing the act of reduction along a number of different pathways. In
order to avoid the mentioned limitations of the Cartesian transcendental
epoche, he himself relies on psychology, logic, and the life world in order to
layout several still transcendental but genetic ways to the reductive egoic
In Erste Philosophie II, Husserl is able to present a systematic view of two
of these pathways (the psychological one, and a renewed Cartesian one); in
Krisis, he will then describe two others (a renewed version ofthe psycholog-
ical one, and the pathway through the lifeworld).
Such a systematization of the method of phenomenology presents us with
its transcendental theory and remains caught in the idea of its possibility.
Besides, the risk of methodologism is not far away as soon as one so strongly
emphasizes the different structural steps of reduction without embedding
them within the description of a content-oriented concrete experience. Then
the following question arises unavoidably.

C. Is Transcendental Epoche really Experienceable?

Starting with the possibility of reduction and with the systematicity of its
different pathways amounts to understanding transcendental reduction as a

claim, of course the first claim of phenomenology as a method, but

nevertheless a claim that is not able to be and must not be actualized.
To that extent, the reduction has to remain within the realm of possibility,
be it an ideal search for its essence (Husserl) or a testimony of our potential-
ity as finite living beings anchored in the world (Merleau-Ponty). In both
cases, the reduction coincides with the Kantian figure ofa regulative ideal:
it has not-on either interpretation-to be actually achieved.
Since Merleau-Ponty, most phenomenologists have shared such a leit-
motiv of the constitutive incompletability of the transcendental reduction.
Actualization could not be the achievement of an activity that is itself in its
essence incomplete and has to remain such. To attempt to achieve it has no
meaning whatsoever, since it is the kind of experience that is in principe
To summarize what has been argued so far, there are three different
interpretations ofreduction understood as possibility: (1) reduction is thema-
tized as a theoretical formal method intended to provide an apodictic
justification of true knowledge. Husserl in his early period claims such an
understanding of reduction; Merleau-Ponty's criticism of this Husserlian
version of reduction has its roots precisely here; (2) reduction is in essence
not a reachable ideal and gives us therefore indications about our own
inachievability as finite living beings. Merleau-Ponty claims such an
interpretation of reduction; Husserl acknowledges such a claim when he
stresses the Kantian theme of the teleology of ideality in later works (in
Krisis, for example); (3) reduction is a speculative product of reflection.
Both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty refuse such a "mythical conceptual
construction," but neither of them provide us with a more experiential
understanding of reduction as a concrete process.

II. The Reduction in Actu: Merleau-Ponty

The alternative to such a basic difficulty is at first sight easy: since

transcendentality is a level of experience that usually remains hidden to our
sensibility as finite beings, since transcendental epocheremains a theoretical
tool, an unrealized ideal or a mythical construction, let us forget about
formally thematizing the epoch.
Transcendental epochehas been said to be the method of phenomenology.
Very well. But do we really need to thematize it to do phenomenology? Does
its formal thematization not obstruct our actual doing of phenomenology? Is
it not far more fruitful to forget about it in order actually to practice it?

A. An Informal Operative praxis

Throughout his phenomenological descriptive work, Merleau-Ponty seems

to advocate over and again such a contention about reduction. To state it in
the form of an apparent paradox: reduction is best achieved when it is not
thematized, even when its very wording does not appear as such. As soon as
it is thematized, on the contrary, it is set up as a formal tool and loses its own
experiential dynamics.
Now, while stressing the immanent dynamics ofreductive activity against
its formal methodic instrumentality, MerIeau-Ponty refers to a gesture that
is precisely at work in the very development of genetic phenomenology. I
mean the move of intentionality as what HusserI calls a fungierende
Intentionalitiit (operative intentionality). Fungieren is an activity the
achievement of which takes place without being thematized, i.e., without the
immanent attention or the explicit reflection of a subject.
In this respect, the exemplary experience in which we have to do with
such an immanent operativity is bodily experience: most of the time, we
inhabit our lived-body withouttaking itpacticularIy into account as an object
of our perception, of our emotion, or even of our reflection. Fungierende
Intentionalitiit is then another name for a passive, latent, kinesthetic, and
driven intentionality that operates in us unnoticed and necessarily so.
In a sense, such a privilege given to the operativity (Fungierung) of our
experience as subjects inhabiting the worId precludes any thematization of
such an experience. Like Levinas later on, MerIeau-Ponty claims very earIy
that thematization destroys the richness of our operative/operant experience,
which is the sole genuine phenomenological one. Like Levinas (but unlike
Fink, who first laid out such a distinction between thematic and operative
concepts), MerIeau-Ponty is prone to axiologize such a distinction.
Now, what is the consequence of such an immanent operative praxis of
phenomenology for the reduction?

B. The Non-Transcendental Immanence of the Reductive praxis

The sole reductive praxis that is in the end allowed by such a strong claim
about phenomenology is the descriptive praxis at work in the
phenomenological way itself. Reduction is practiced at the very moment
when you achieve a phenomenological description of a peculiar experience.
Describing my visual perception of you as the audience in front of me, my
auditory perception of my own voice while I am talking to you right now,
my inner sensations of ease because I have just been swimming and of dis-

ease because I feel like sleeping rather than giving a talk with jet lag, my
feeling of anxiety because I am not quite sure of my linguistic competence,
the emotion of joy to be able to convey a stimulating talk for the following
discussion-all of these mixed and irreducibly intertwined experiences
already, when described, involve a transcendental epoche: indeed I am
interested here in accounting for ways of perceiving, feeling, and acting, and
I am not solely and directly describing the object of that perception, of this
feeling, and of such an acting.
For Merleau-Ponty, immanent descriptions ofbodily motricity, of synaes-
thetic feelings, of hallucinations, of the others in the social and historical
world, of affected time, or of the mute cogito presuppose a transcendental
reduction always already at work that ensures us that we are dealing with the
lived experiences of a subject, and not with the naturalistic view conveyed
through empirical psychology and physiology.
But on the other side, such a transcendental reduction does not need to be
brought to the fore as such, since we would then run the risk of falling back
into the prejudice of what Merleau-Ponty calls "the philosophy of reflec-
tion." Every time we engage in reflective considerations about what we are
doing, we lose the very doing and end up in abstraction. Thematizing
reduction would amount for Merleau-Ponty to concentrating on methodo-
logical "metadiscursive" arguments that take us far away from the richness
of the givenness ofthe world.
Besides, Merleau-Ponty's criticism of reflection and his claim for the
essential non-reflective dimension (irrejlechi) of our know-how are strongly
linked with his initial statement about the reduction in his Preface to
Phenomenologie de la perception. The abstract position of a cosmo-theoros
(so he calls the Husserlian and Finkean disinterested onlooker) gives
phenomenology an intellectualist twist that is contrary to its own claim of a
return to the things themselves.
At first sight, it seems that Merleau-Ponty's contention about the sheerly
immanent operativity ofreduction lodged within the immanently developing
descriptions themselves stands in full contrast with Husserl' s own statement
about the necessary thematic and systematic theory of reduction.
-First, Husserl himself acknowledges the idea of a reduction being at
work within a phenomenological description without it being explicitly
thematized. He calls such a reduction an "intersubjective reduction." After
having described the experience of empathy through which I am able to have
an experiential access to the other's innerworld (Innenwelt), Husserl then
writes: "A formal phenomenological reduction is not achieved here, but it is

actually present, and such a presentation is even better that the one that is to
be found in Ideen. ,,3
-Second, although we live prior to any reflection on our living, Merleau-
Ponty is absolutely aware ofthe fact that "my reflection cannot be unaware
of itself as an event, and so it appears to itself in the light of a truly creative
act, of a changed structure of consciousness" (PhP iv/x).
Needless to say, on both sides we find a first step in the direction of the
phenomenological description ofthe act of reduction in actu. Let us unfold
and actualize now such potential implications that are to be found specifi-
cally in both perspectives.

ill. The Act of Reduction in Actu

How is it possible to describe (that is: to thematize formally) the very

concrete process of reduction without reducing it to a formal theory, an
unreachable ideal, or a mythical construction? (Husserl) How is it possible
to account for the very praxis of reduction without embedding it or hiding
it in the descriptions of other experiences (time, space, imagination,
empathy)? (Merleau-Ponty)
Besides: is reduction as a reflexive act necessarily an abstract position? Is
there not a concrete experience of reduction? Do we not consider ourselves
from within as reductive subjects? What is this peculiar experience we have
to undergo with when we perform reduction? Is such a pragmatic operation
not describable?
In this third part I would like to show that a pragmatic description of
reduction as an immanent operation is possible (in the style of Merleau-
Ponty), and how we need to take reduction seriously as a solemn and formal
act in order to do so (in the Husserlian vein). To take up such a challenge, let
us first and foremost put aside two fruitless oppositions that have much
burdened our previous analyses: (1) thematization as opposed to operativity;
(2) immanent praxis as opposed to transcendental theory.
In order to disclose the everyday practical activity that is hidden within
transcendental epoche, I am going to describe three complementary aspects
of such a concrete act. In fact, the three of them belong together as a braid

3. Husser!, Zur Phanomenologie der Intersubjektivitiit. Texte aus dem Nachlass. Erster Tei!.
1905-1920, Husser!iana, vol. 13; ed. Iso Kern (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers,
1973),449: "Eine feierliche phanomenologische Reduktion wird da nicht gemacht, aber im
Grunde liegt sie vor, und diese Art hat sogar Vorziige gegeniiber der der Ideen."

that is in the process of being more and more finely intertwined in our
experience. In ajoint work that I recently completed with Francisco Varela
and Pierre Verrnersch, we laid out a dynamic description of the gesture of
reduction. 4
The present attempt at description follows a logic of priming, meaning
that it is not presented as a finalized result. Rather, it is a first attempt at a
thematic characterization of an individual experience, activated or reacti-
vated individually and subject to a progressive and intersubjective control.
Epoche as a gesture is always complemented by a resulting intuitive
evidence or understanding, a minimal self-sufficient cycle. In other words,
epoche and intuitive evidence call to each other, so to speak. EpochiHinds
its natural accomplishment in the intuitive crystallisation of a strong internal
evidence, prepared for and qualified by a gradual process offilling-in which
is endowed with a characteristic property of suspension at the heart

A. The Three Components ofEpoche

Let us now elaborate three principal phases we are proposing to describe the
unfolding of epoche:

a. A phase of suspension of the habitual thought and judgement, the basic

possibility of any change in the attention which the subject gives to his
own experience and which represents a break with a "natural" or
unexamined attitude;

b. A phase of reflective conversion of attention from "the exterior" to "the

in teri or";

c. A phase of letting-go or of reception of the experience.

4. The description I sketch here comes from a first synthetic presentation of our work: N.
Depraz, F. Varela, and P. Vermersch, " Die phanomenologische Epoche als Praxis," in
Reduktion und Epoche, ed. R. Kuhn (Freiburg: Karl Alber, 2001); "The gesture of
awareness," in Phenomenal Approaches to Consciousness, ed. M. Velmans (Amsterdam:
Benjamin Press, 2000); French version in Etudes Phenomenologiques (2000). For more
details, see N. Depraz, F. Varela, and P. Vermersch, A I'epreuve de I 'experience: pour une
pratique phenomenologique; On becoming aware: The Pragmatics of Experiencing
(Amsterdam: Benjamin Press, 2001).

We call epochethe ensemble ofthese three organically-linked phases, for the

simple reason that phases B and C are always reactivated by and reactivate
phase A. Note in passing that, in this recursive movement, the suspending
movement which begins the process has a quality which is different each
time around, at each step of the structuring of the reductive act.

B. Suspension and its Immediate Following-up

The initial suspending phase can be rooted or started in at least three distinct

an external or existential event may play the role of triggering the

suspending attitude, e.g., confronting the death of others or aesthetic

the mediation of others can also be decisive, e.g., a direct injunction to

accomplish the act, or rather a less directive attitude, as it is the case when
someone plays the role of a model;

exercises initiated by the individual, presupposing a self-imposed

motivation and long phases oftraining and learning the art of stabilization.

These three possibilities of priming are not exclusive, but come into play
together, each in relation to another. They amount to motivations: mundane,
intersubjective, and individual. All three, of unequal import as a function of
individuals and their stage of development, converge to make possible and
then maintain phases Band C.
Talk of an initial phase regarding suspension requires an immediate
qualification: this "initialization" has already taken place and, at the same
time, it unfolds as if in a new way each time. What is needed for the
reduction to be set in motion?-A suspending move. But the very fact of
posing this question shows that there is a problem. Considered in terms of
behavioral indicators, or by the products of its activity, the difference with
the reductive act is perhaps not relevant to this priming relation. But at the
same time it is not possible to describe such a reductive act other than in
having put it into action. That has several consequences: we find ourselves
again in the provisional circle of having to describe an act in its very putting
into play; the radical character ofthe question of initialization is obscured by
the fact that this beginning has already taken place for someone who uses it
to describe this very same transition, as we are doing here.

The two subsequent phases Band C are complementary and presuppose,

as we have said, the initial phase as well as its active maintenance. They
correspond to two fundamental changes in the orientation of cognitive
activity. The first emerges as a change of direction of attention, which,
distancing from a worldly show, takes an inwards tum. In other words, in
place of perception is largely substituted an apperceptive act. There is a
massive obstacle to this change: the necessity of turning away from the
habitual form of cognitive activity, usually oriented towards the exterior
world. The second change consists in passing from the voluntary movement
of the turning of attention from the exterior towards the interior to a
movement of simple reception and listening. That is, from B to C we pass
from a "looking for" to a "letting come," a letting "reveal itself." The
principal obstacle to this third phase resides in the necessity of traversing an
empty time, a time of silence, of the lack of taking-up of the immediate
givens which are available and already assimilated to consciousness.
Here we are dealing with two reversals of the most habitual cognitive
functioning, of which the first is the condition for the second; the second
cannot happen if the first has not already taken place.

A turning of the direction of attention from the exterior to the interior (B) .

A change in the quality of attention, which passes from the looking-for to

the letting-come (C).

Whereas the first reversal remains governed by the traditional distinction

between interior and exterior, that is to say, driven by a sort of dual
redoubling, and involves a portion of undeniably voluntary activity, the
second is characterized by a passive disposition of receptive waiting, which
echoes the residual duality of the first reversal.


Now, one may ask the following: what do we gain with such a structured
description of the phase-to-phase non-linear dynamics ofthe reductive act?
Merleau-Ponty may object: it remains too much a formal structure, be it a
dynamical structure. Let us describe a "real" experience of reduction!
Husserl may object: what the hell are you doing with "my" reductive
method? Why does the particular individuality of the subject play such an
important part here?

My challenge lies in the ability to confront and to trespass two limits that
are inherent in both the Husserlian and Merleau-Pontian accounts of
reduction: (1) I provide a structured sequential description of the reductive
act as a concrete dynamic that everyone is able as a conscious subject to
appropriate: so it is founded on the real experience of a subject (to Merleau-
Ponty); and (2) I am attentive to bringing in categories that are concrete eid:
suspension, redirection of attention, and receptive welcoming. Eidebecause
they have the universality of concepts; concrete because they proceed from
an individual experience.
With such a structured dynamics ofthe act of reduction, I do not intend to
go further than what Husserl and Merleau-Ponty offered, each in their own
style, in terms of rigor and richness. I merely tried to squeeze both paths into
a joint-method in order to combine both efforts and to profit by both
Chapter 7

From Decisions to Passions:

Merleau-Ponty's Interpretation of Husserl's Reduction

Sara Heinamaa
University of Helsinki

Abstract: This paper focuses on Merleau-Ponty's understanding of

Husserl's philosophical method. It argues against interpretations that
claim that Merleau-Ponty abandons Husserl's reductions: the
phenomenological-transcendental reduction, the eidetic reduction, or
both. The paper shows that Merleau-Ponty's critical comments are not
directed against Husserl's methodic ideas but against intellectualist
interpretations of them. For Merleau-Ponty, the phenomenological
reduction is not an intellectual operation effected by will or by decision.
It is a specificform ofpassivity: something invites us to departfrom our
natural and habitual ways ofresponding to the world and allows us to
notice these relations.

The starting point ofthis paper is in two remarks made by Merleau-Ponty in

the Preface to his Phenomenologie de la perception.' There Merleau-Ponty
writes first: "The best formulation of the reduction is probably that given by
Eugen Fink, Husserl' s assistant, when he spoke of' surprise or wonder' in the
face of the world" (PhP viii/xiii). A few lines below he adds: "The most
important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a
complete reduction" (PhP viii/xiv).
So, on the one hand, Merleau-Ponty suggests that reduction is in some
important respect like the passion of wonder, and on the other hand, he
argues that reduction is something that cannot be completed. How are we to
understand these claims? How can the two remarks be combined? In short,
what does reduction mean in Merleau-Ponty's interpretation of Husserl's
Some readers have suggested that when stating the impossibility of a
complete reduction, Merleau-Ponty wanted to restrict the scope ofHusserl' s
phenomenology and base it on a prior ontology. On this reading, Merleau-
Ponty's statement would be a claim about the transcendental or

1. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945);

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962;
rev. 1981) [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English pagination].
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, 127-146.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

phenomenological reduction, more precisely its first phase, the epochethat

suspends all existential beliefs. Merleau-Ponty would claim that we are
bound to retain at least some beliefs about existence. Thus, he would neglect
or reject Husserl' s explicit statements about the universality of the epoche. 2
Aron Gurwitsch, for example, presents such a reading in The Field of
Consciousness. He claims that Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology suspends
objective knowledge but does not include a full epochethat arrest also our
confidence in the existence of the pre-objective world:

No transcendental question is raised by Merleau-Ponty as to the constitution of

the pre-objective world. On the contrary, he accepts it in its absolute facticity. If
Merleau-Ponty has not developed a phenomenology in the full transcendental
sense, it is because the existentialist setting of his investigations prevents him
from performing the phenomenological reduction in a radical manner.3

Martin Dillon follows Gurwitsch's reading in his work, Merleau-Ponty 's

Ontology. He claims that Merleau-Ponty "refuses to complete" the
transcendental-phenomenological reduction, and explains further that
"Merle au-Ponty was not committed to the methodology of reduction.,,4 Also
Gary Madison argues in similar lines. He states that in Merleau-Ponty' s work
phenomenology becomes a purely "negative philosophy," which is only able
to point out the limits of consciousness and its reductions: "It is precisely by
thinking the impossibility of a total reduction that phenomenology thinks a

2. Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiinomenologischen Philosophie,

Erstes Buch: Allgemeine Einfohrung in die reine Phiinomenologie, Husserliana, vol. 3-1, ed.
Karl Schuhmann (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976),66-9 [cited hereaftei as Hua III];
Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First
Book. General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. Fred Kersten (The Hague:
Martinus Hijhoff, 1982), 63-6 [cited hereafter as Ideas 1]; HusserJ, Die Krisis der
europiiischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phiinomenologie: Eine Einleitung in
die phiinomenologische Philosophie, Husserliana, vol. 6, cd. Walter Biemel (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1954),77, 151-3 [cited hereafter as Hua VI]; The Crisis 0/ European
Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1970),77, 148-50 [cited hereafter as Crisis].
Husserl emphasizes that the phenomenological epoche does not suspend our beliefs
individually but all "with one blow [mit einem Schlagel" (Hua VI 153/Crisis, 150).
3. Aron Gurwitsch, The Field o/Consciousness (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press,
4. Martin Dillon, Merleau-Ponty 's Ontology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988),

Being in transcendence not reduced to the 'perspectives' of 'conscious-

ness' ."5
These readings are problematic in that they ignore Merleau-Ponty's
explicit statements about the transcendental-phenomenological character of
his work. In Phenomenologie de la perception, Merleau-Ponty claims that
the phenomenal field is transformed into a transcendental one in his study
(PhP 63/63).6 Later, in the essay "Le philosophe et son ombre," he writes:
"What resists phenomenology within us-natural Being-cannot remain
outside phenomenology and should have a place within it.',7 Although
Merleau-Ponty characterizes his late philosophy as an "ontology" (VI
219/165), he emphasizes repeatedly that one can arrive at such a description
only through the method of reduction (VI 2191165,233/179). The incom-
pleteness of the reduction should not be seen as an obstacle to the reduction,
"it is the reduction itself' (VI 232/178).
Another possibility is to argue that Merleau-Ponty's statement about the
incompleteness of the reduction is meant to reject only the subsequent eidetic
reduction as Husserl presents it in Ideen I and in Cartesianische
Meditationen. 8 This, for example, is what Remy C. Kwant proposes in his
early study, The Phenomenological Philosophy ofMerleau-Ponty:

From the preceding study ofMerleau-Ponty' s philosophy it should be sufficiently

clear that his perspective leaves no room for a necessary and universal nucleus.
Consequently, an eidetic reduction in the same sense as that of Husserl is out of
place in his thought. 9

5. Gary Madison, The Phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: A Search for the Limits of

Consciousness (Athens, Ohio University Press, 1981), 194-5; see also 332-3.
6. Cf. Merieau-Ponty, Le Visible et I 'invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964),226; The Visible and
the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 172
[cited hereafter as VI, with French preceding English pagination].
7. Merieau-Ponty, Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960),225; Signs, trans. Richard McCleary
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 178.

8. Hua III 125-341Ideas I, 135-43; Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen und pariser

Vortriige, Husseriiana, vol. 1, ed. Stephan Strasser (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950), 103
ff. [cited hereafter as Hua I]; Cartesian Meditations, trans. Dorion Cairns (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1970),69 ff. [cited hereafter as CM].

9. Remy C. Kwant, The Phenomenological Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty (Pittsburgh:

Duquesne University Press, 1963), 159.

This reading is also questionable. The main problem here is that Merleau-
Ponty asserts that the phenomenological-transcendental reduction and the
eidetic reduction are necessarily connected. He points out this connection
already in Phenomenofogie de fa perception when discussing the problems
of prevailing interpretations of phenomenology (PhP ix/xiv, 430/376). In the
later essay "Le Philosophe et son ombre," he emphasizes the connection
again by writing: "Had not Husserl warned from the outset that all transcen-
dental reduction is inevitably eidetic?" (S 226/179).
Kwant, among others, suggests that eidetic studies are for Merleau-Ponty
only transitional, and essences merely a means of understanding the
particularities and facticities oflife, the "living stream ofexistence" (Kwant,
159). Such interpretations are usually supported by the section ofthe Preface
where Merleau-Ponty compares essences to workman's tools: "Husserl's
essences will bring back all the living relationships of experience, as the
fisherman's net draws up from the depth of the ocean quivering fish and
seaweed" (PhP x/xv). The comparison is illuminating but should not be
overemphasized, for, on the other hand, Merleau-Ponty treats particularities
and facticities as starting points for transcendental-eidetic studies. He states,
after his study ofthe Schneider case and its philosophical explanations, that
"our body ... is a condition of possibility, not only of the geometrical
synthesis, but of all expressive operations" (PhP 445/288), and again: "we
found beneath the intentionality of acts, or thetic intentionality, another kind
which is the condition of the former's possibility" (PhP 490/429).10
Philosophy, according to Merleau-Ponty, is not just a pursuit of essences, nor
a mere description of particularities. It is not a one-way path but a back and
forth movement, an infinite meditation, "never knowing where it is going"
(PhP xvi/xxi; VI 282/229).11

10. Compare also Husserl's and Merleau-Ponty's discussions of the relation between the
science of physics and our pre-scientific experience of the natural world: PhP 490-4/429-32;
Husserl, "Die Krisis des europaischen Menschentums und die Philosophie," in Hua VI;
"Grundlegende Untersuchungen zum phanomenologischen Ursprung der Riiumlichkeit der
Natur," in Philosophical Essays in Memory of Edmund Husser!, ed. Marvin Farber
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940).
II. Merleau-Ponty, Eloge de la philosophie et autre essays (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 14; In
Praise of Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. John Wild and James Edie (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1988),8.
A central part ofMerleau-Ponty's works is an attempt to describe the essential features of
the perceived world. But at the same time he argues that the essential should not be
understood as a separate reality above sensible particularities, but must be seen as their
"connective tissue," their secret, invisible bond (VI 228/174-5, 273/220; cf. PhP 514/450).

My aim in this essay is to develop a third alternative. I argue that instead

of limiting the scope of Husserlian reductions, Merleau-Ponty's remark is
aimed at describing the phenomenon of the epoche, its nature or way of
appearing. Merleau-Ponty argues that such a step, although methodological,
is not a result of a pure act of will or a decision but involves a passion. The
epocheis not an accomplishment but an event. Rather than heading towards
some goal, anticipated and determined in advance, the phenomenologist falls
into a new state, and his task is to maintain this uncommon, exceptional
This can be seen only if Merleau-Ponty's remark about reduction as
wonder is taken seriously. Usually it is understood as an allusion to the
ancient sources of Husserl's phenomenology. Thus the background of the
remark would be in Plato and Aristotle. Plato explains in his Theaetetus that
"wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.,,12
Following him, Aristotle characterizes first philosophy in his Metaphysics
by emphasizing its origin in wonder: "That it is not a science of production
is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to
their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.,,\3
Husser! refers to these sections in his Vienna lecture when reflecting on the
origins of Western philosophy. He distinguishes the theoretical attitude of
the philosopher-scientist from the practical attitude of the mystic and the
man of religion, and writes:

Merleau-Ponty does not reject eidetic studies but only the philosophically naive notion that
takes essences as independent objectivities (VI 147-541109-15; cf. PhP x/xv). Cf. Alphonso
Lingis, Foreign Bodies (New York: Routledge, 1994), 10-2; Renaud Barbaras, Le Tournant
de l 'experience: Recherches sur la philosophie de Merleau-Ponty (Paris: Vrin, 1998), 81,
12. Plato, Theatetus, 155d, in The Dialogues ofPlato, 4th ed., vol. 3, trans. B. Jowett (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1953), 251.

13. Aristotle, Metaphysics, bk. I, chap. 2, 982bI2-22, in The Complete Works ofAristotle,
vol. 2, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 1554. For an
overview ofHusserl' s remarks on wonder, see Mark Kingwell, "HusserI' s Sense of Wonder,"
The Philosophical Forum 31, no. I (2000): 85-107. For a history of the concept of wonder,
see Ronald W. Hepburn, "Wonder," in Wonder and Other Essays: Eight Studies in Aesthetics
and Neigbouring Fields (Edinburg: Edinburg University Press, 1984); Susan James, Passion
and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Oxford: Claredon Press,
1997); and Philip Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experience
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998).

There is a sharp cleavage, then, between the universal but mythico-practical

attitude and the "theoretical," which by every previous standard is un-practical,
the attitude of thaumazein, to which the great men of Greek philosophy's fIrst
culminating period, Plato and Aristotle, trace the origin of philosophy. Man is
gripped by a passion [Leidenschaft] for observing and knowing the world, a
passion that turns from all practical interests and in the closed circle of its own
knowing activities, in the time devoted to this sort of investigation, accomplishes
and wants to accomplish [erwirkt und erstrebt] only pure theoria. (Rua VI
3311Crisis, 284---5)

These reflections are certainly also part ofMerleau-Ponty' s understanding

of the origins of phenomenological philosophy. But I will argue that Plato's
or Aristotle's discussions of passions are not the conceptual frame in which
Merleau-Ponty operates when he relates the method of reduction to wonder.
My contention is that although Ancient sources are as important to Merleau-
Ponty as they are to Husserl, his characterization of the phenomenological
reduction as wonder is Cartesian rather than Ancient. And as such it involves
a specific claim about the nature of the phenomenological reduction: the
epoche requires not just a suspension of cognitive attitudes, beliefs in the
existence of the world, but also a suspension of affective movements.
I argue that if we relate Merleau-Ponty's remarks about wonder to
Descartes's Les Passions de l'ame and study them in this conceptual context,
then we can better understand what Merleau-Ponty means when he states that
the reduction cannot be completed. I proceed in three steps. First, I describe
the main line of Merleau-Ponty's central argument concerning perception
and the phenomenological way of studying it. Then, I study Merleau-Ponty' s
reading of Descartes and focus on his comments on Descartes's idea of the
mind-body compound. The third part of the paper explicates Descartes's
notion of wonder. In the end, I hope to be able to explain what it means to
state both that reduction is like wonder and that it cannot be completed.

1. Affective Perception

How does one start to philosophize about perception? Merleau-Ponty

answers by rephrasing Husserl's well-known idea of a return and says that
first one has to return to the actual experience: "We are invited to go back to
the experiences" (phP 17/10, 114/97).
Thus, the first task of the phenomenologist is to put aside his theoretical
and philosophical preconceptions about perception and to awaken the non-
theoretical activity of perceiving. In other words, he must suspend his

theoretical theses, his knowledge, beliefs, and presuppositions about

According to Merleau-Ponty, the suspension ofthe theories of perception
includes three subtasks: we refrain from assuming that perception is similar
to the objects perceived (PhP 18/11), we also refrain from assuming that all
objects of perception are determinate and simply present (phP 18/11), and
we finally refrain from assuming that the body is a mediator of sensations
(PhP 15/9).
Merleau-Ponty calls these suspensions, taken together, "the reduction of
the prejudice of the objective world" or the reduction of the realistic
prejudice (e.g., PhP 12/6, 17/10). It corresponds to the first reduction, the
reduction of the objective sciences, described by Husserl in Die Krisis der
europiiischen Wissenschaften. As such, it is a return to the activities of the
life-world and their objects.
What we end up with is affective perception:

The perceiving subject ceases to be an 'acosmic' thinking subject, and action,

feeling and will remain to be explored as original ways of positing the object,
since 'the object looks attractive or repulsive before it looks black or blue, circular
or square.' (PhP 32124)

In Merleau-Ponty'sdescription, perception is not a mere thetic act but

involves a passion, an affective movement. The object of perception is
originally given with an "affective" and "motor" value (valeur affectif,
valeur motrice, PhP 2421209).14 The qualities that move us-sound, taste,
texture, and smell-are not added to the object afterwards but appear
together with its shape and size. So it is not the case that the object is first
constituted as present and only then evaluated. It appears originally with a

14. In Le Visible et I 'invisible, Merleau-Ponty characterizes perception as "faith" [foil, as

distinguished from thetic acts, from judgement, opinion, knowledge, and decision. He
explains: "It is not faith in the sense of decision but in the sense of what is before any
position" (VI 17/3); and further: it is "not affirmation or negation of the same thing in the
same respect, positive and negative judgement, or as we said a moment ago, belief and
incredulity-which would be impossible; beneath affirmation and negation, beneath
judgement ... it is our experience, prior to every opinion, of inhabiting the world by our
body, of inhabiting the truth by our whole selves" (VI 48128). In the working notes, he states:
"it is by principle that every perception is movement" (VI 2841230-1; cf. VI 2771224;
Merleau-Ponty, L 'CEil et I'esprit [Paris: Gallimard, 1964], 16-20; "Eye and Mind," trans.
Carleton Dallery, in The Primacy of Perception, ed. James Edie [Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1964], 162-4 [cited hereafter as OE, with French preceding English

value, or to put it more accurately, it appears as affective: circle as a face

(PhP 316/273-4), flower as 10ve(PhP 3711321), world as the homeland (PhP
119/1 02). This means that the value is not a separate reality but involved in
the original way in which the object appears.
Affectivity is not just characteristic of our perceptions of persons. A
landscape and a city, like a human being, has an affective significance (PhP
230/197,245/212,328/284; VI 292/238-9). It moves us, attracts or repels,
and we move towards it or tum away.

In the natural attitude, I do not have perceptions, I do not posit this object as
beside that one, along with their objective relationships, I have a flow of
experiences which imply and explain each other simultaneously and successively.
Paris for me is not an object of many facets, a sum of perceptions, nor is it the law
governing all these perceptions. Just as a person gives evidence of the same
affective essence in his gestures with his hand, in his way of walking and in the
sound of his voice, each individual perception occurring in my journey through
Paris ... stands out against the city's whole being, and merely confirms a certain
style or a certain significance of Paris. (PhP 3251281)

This is the description of perception Merleau-Ponty gives in the

Phenomen%gie. My interest is not in asking if the description is correct or
if it agrees with Husserl's analysis. Rather I want to understand how
Merleau-Ponty arrives at his description: What is the path that must be taken,
what are the positions that must be passed through in order to see that
perception is (or is not) as Merleau-Ponty claims it to be? One does not get
this description by merely putting aside one's theories of perception. Such
an operation is claimed to bring us back to the perceiving activity and not to
a phenomenological consciousness about perception.
According to Husserl, we can become conscious of our natural intentional
bonds [Bindung] , our ways of relating to the world, by suspending our
general thesis of the world, the whole of our thetic activity (Hua III 61-41
Ideas 1,57-60; Hua VI l53-5/Crisis, 148-52). So after the reduction of our
theories of perception we would need to suspend the natural thesis of the
world that is contained in our everyday practices and perceptions (Hua VI
154-5/Crisis, 150-1; cf. VI 235/181-2). But if perception is only partly
thetic and necessarily involves or presupposes a non-thetic element, as
Merleau-Ponty claims, will this be enough? What can be done in respect to
the affective part of perception? Reduction in the sense of the suspension of
the thesis is ineffective here; it cannot be accomplished. How then is
Merleau-Ponty's description possible? What distinguishes his attitude in
understanding perception from the attitude of a person living in perception?

My contention is that, according to Merleau-Ponty, reduction in the sense

of the suspension of the thesis is only part of the phenomenologist's task.
There is something else that needs to be "done" if one aims at offering a
description of perception as it is lived. It is here that the Cartesian framework
proves to be illuminating. I will argue that Descartes's notion of wonder is
central to Merleau-Ponty's understanding of his task as a phenomenologist
aiming at describing perception. In order to make my suggestion plausible,
I will first present some general remarks about Merleau-Ponty's relation to
Descartes's philosophy, and then focus on the notion of wonder.

2. The Mind-Body Compound

Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology is usually presented in .opposition to

Descartes's philosophy. This is a misleading simplification. Although
Merleau-Ponty is critical to Descartes's metaphysical dualism, he finds in
Descartes's texts an important notion of the philosophical task and a fruitful
discussion on the mind-body compound. 15
Descartes's work is well-known for the separation of the mind from the
body, or to be more accurate, the thinking substance from the extended
substance. Substance-dualism certainly forms the main part of his epistemol-
ogy and his metaphysics, but his work includes also a description of the
union or compound of the mind and the body. Descartes discusses the mind-
body compound and our knowledge of it already in the sixth section of his
Meditationes de prima philosophia, but the fully-developed explication is
given in Les Passions de I 'ame. 16 The work includes both a physiological
explanation of the functions of the mind-body compound (Part I), a set of
detailed descriptions of emotions as they are experienced, and some remarks
on their role in ethics (Parts II and III).17

15. In both respects, Husserl's reading of Descartes is crucial for Merleau-Ponty (Hua I
43-65/CM 1-26; Hua VI 71-86/Crisis, 70-84).
16. See also his correspondence with Princess Elizabeth. Cf. Martina Reuter, "Questions of
Sexual Difference and Equality in Descartes' Philosophy," in Norms and Modes ofThinking
in Descartes, ed. Tuomo Aho and Mikko Yrjonsuuri, Acta Philosophica Fennica (Helsinki)
66 (1999); Lilli Alanen, Descartes' Concept of Mind, unpublished manuscript; Martina
Reuter, Questions ofBody, Sexual Difference and Equality in Cartesian Philosophy (Ph. D.
Diss., University of Helsinki, 2000).

17. On the connection between Descartes's description of the passions and his ethics, see
James, Passion and Action; and Lisa Shaphiro, "Cartesian Generosity," in Aho and
Yrjonsuuri, Norms and Modes of Thinking in Descartes.

In subsequent discussions, Descartes's description of our experience of the

mind-body compound is not considered to be philosophically significant, but
merely an unsuccessful attempt to answer the critique directed against the
Sixth Meditation. This understanding of philosophical significance comes
from Descartes himself. He argues, as is well-known, that our knowledge of
the mind-body compound is necessarily obscure and confused, and that only
our ideas of the two different and independent substances are clear and
distinct. First philosophy consists exclusively of clear and distinct ideas and
the rational relations between them. Thus there is no place in philosophy for
descriptions of the mind-body compound. All knowledge concerning it
belongs either to everyday life or to the natural sciences.
Merleau-Ponty problematizes this definition of philosophy in the
beginning of his Phenomenologie by referring to Descartes's own descrip-
tion ofthe philosopher's radical critical task. He argues that all thinking that
operates with clear and distinct ideas has a starting point in obscure and
confused thoughts of the mind-body compound. If the only thing that we are
able to say about this basis is that it can be described by the natural sciences,
then our self-understanding as philosophers is severely limited. According
to Merleau-Ponty, Descartes's requirement of radical questioning does not
allow for such an unthought-of element in philosophy.

Analytical reflection becomes a purely regressive doctrine, according to which

every perception is a muddled form of intellection, and every setting of bounds
a negation. It thus does away with all problems except one: its own begin-
ning .... No philosophy can afford to be ignorant of the problem of the finitude
under pain of failing to understand itself as philosophy (PhP 48/38; cf. VI

Merleau-Ponty follows Husserl in radicalizing Descartes's doubt to

include the principles of the philosophical activity itself (Hua VI 76-841
Crisis, 75-82;PhPxv-xvi/xx-xxi, 75-7/62-3). We have toproblematize and
critically study the mathematical model of clear and distinct axioms and
deductions that lead Descartes to reject the possibility of a philosophical
description of the mind-body compound and its passions. Such a study
shows that the axiomatic-deductive structure is not necessarily included in
the idea of science (Hua I 63-51CM 23-5; cf. Hua VI 193/Crisis, 189).
Phenomenology is not a mathematics of experience; its method is descriptive
(Hua III 158IIdeas I, 169-70).
Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception is generally known for its
arguments against the mechanical descriptions of the living body. These

sections are often read as a rejection of Descartes's understanding of the

body. IS This too is a simplification. Merleau-Ponty argues that we cannot
understand the role of perception in experience if we base our thinking on
descriptions of the cause-effect relations, but he does not consider Des-
cartes's Passions as a mere mistake. On the contrary, he sees Descartes's
work as fruitfully ambiguous, full of ideas and descriptions that must be
elaborated and developed if we are to understand ourselves as finite bodily
beings. 19
What is important and valid, according to Merleau-Ponty, in the descrip-
tion that Descartes gives of the mind-body compound is that the living body
is seen as wholly animated by the soul. The soul is not an entity inserted into
the body. It is not in the body "like a pilot is in his ship," but "wholly
intermingled with the body," visible in all its postures and movements. 20
Descartes realized and acknowledged that we do not merely think about the
soul as a non-visible entity effecting bodily changes, but we also see it
appear in bodily movements and experience it in them all.
Merleau-Ponty repeats this early reading of Descartes in his last publica-
tion, L 'mil et I 'esprit, where he once again turns back to study Descartes's
notion of philosophy. He emphasizes that Descartes's work teaches us that

18. E.g., in Dillon, Merleau-Ponty 's Ontology; David Michael Levin, The Opening of Vision
(New York: Routledge, 1988); Drew Leder, The Absent Body (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1990).
19. Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," trans. John Wild, in The
Primacy of Perception, 45-6; VI 2421188, 2521198; S 160-11128. See also Jacques
Taminiaux, "La Phenomenologie dans Ie demier ouvrage de Merleau-Ponty," in Le Regard
et I 'excedent (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977); "Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty's Late
Work," in Taminiaux, Dialectic and Difference, ed. Robert Crease and James T. Decker
(Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1985).
20. Merleau-Ponty, "Un Inedit de Merleau-Ponty," Revue de metaphysique et morale, no. 4
(1962),403; "An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus of his Work,"
trans. Arleen B. Dallery, in The Primacy of Perception, 5; cf. Merleau-Ponty, L 'Union de
['ame et du corps chez Malebranche, Biran et Bergson: Notes prises au cours de Maurice
Merleau-Ponty a I 'Ecole Normale Superieure (J947-J948), ed. Jean Deprun (Paris: Vrin,
1997), 11-6. Here Merleau-Ponty refers to Descartes's Sixth Meditation where Descartes
writes: "Nature also teaches me, by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst and so on, that I
am not merely present in my body as a pilot is present in a ship, but that I am very closely
joined and, as it were, intermingled with it, so that I and the body form a unit" (Rene
Descartes, Oeuvres des Descartes, 12 vols., rev. ed., ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery
[Paris: VrinlC. N. R. S., 1964-1976], vol 9, 64 [cited hereafter as AT]; The Philosophical
Works ofDescartes, 3 vols., trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984-1991], vol. 2, 56 [cited hereafter as CSM].

the mind is not part of the body but "suffused [repandre] throughout the
body" (OE 60/178, cf. VI 286/232-3, 312-31259). And again, in the working
notes for the manuscript of Le Visible et I'invisible, he writes: "[t]he
Cartesian idea of the human body as human non-closed, open inasmuch as
governed by thought-is perhaps the most profound idea of the union of the
soul and the body" (VI 2881234).
The problem with contemporary philosophies, philosophies of our time,
is that they have forgotten the Cartesian notions ofthe mind-body compound
and clung to the Cartesian idea of philosophy and science as quasi-mathe-
matical systems (OE 56-7/177).
For Medeau-Ponty, the Cartesian understanding of the mind-body
compound is an important precursor of the descriptions that Hussed gives in
the second book of his Ideen. 21 There Hussed points out that we can take two
different attitudes toward the living body. We can relate to the body as an
object of natural science, but we can also understand the body as an
expression. In the first attitude we are interested in explaining and predicting
the positions and movements ofthe body; in the second attitude, we answer
them. Hussed writes:

What has been said concerns all our fellow men as well as ourselves, to the extent
that we consider ourselves theoretically precisely in this attitude [the attitude of
the natural scientist]: we then are animated Bodies, Objects of nature, themes of
the relevant natural sciences. But it is quite otherwise as regards the personalistic
attitude, the attitude we are always in when we live with one another, talk to one
another, shake hands with one another in greeting, or are related to one another
in love and aversion, in disposition and action, in discourse and discussion. 22

The personalistic attitude does not posit the body as a research object but
presupposes it as a non-thematized horizon of all activity, both everyday
dealings and scientific practices. The phenomenological method makes it
possible to study and describe this presupposition (Hua IV 172-85IIdeas II,

21. The second book ofHusserI's Ideen remained unpublished until 1952, but MerIeau-Ponty
knew this work as a manuscript.

22. HusserI, Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiinomenologischen Philosophie,

Zweites Buch: Phiinomenologische Untersuchung zur Konstitution, Husseriiana, vol. 4, ed.
Marly Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1952), 183 [cited hereafter as Hua IV]; Ideas
Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Second Book.
Studies in the Phenomenology o/Constitution, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989), 192 [cited hereafter as Ideas II].

181-4). The living body presents itself as an expression [Ausdruck] of

mental or spiritual life. Bodily gestures, postures, and movements are
expressions of the soul, of its meanings and the unity composed ofthem.23
The soul binds bodily functions and parts together into a spiritual unity that
cannot be broken up or divided into autonomous parts. Thus, the organs and
movements of our bodies form a similar stylistic unity as chapters, para-
graphs, and sentences of a book (Hua IV 236/Jdeas II, 248). Husserl sums

The Body is, as Body, filled with the soul through and through. Each movement
of the Body is full of soul, the coming and going, the standing and sitting, the
walking and dancing, etc. Likewise, so is every human performance, every human
production. (Rua IV 240lIdeas II, 252).

Merleau-Ponty specifies how the phenomenological understanding of the

living body differs from the Cartesian notion in Phenomenofogie de fa
perception, at the end of the chapter on "Le corps comme expression et la
parole." The difference is not in recognizing different forms of knowledge;
Descartes does not claim that we only have knowledge of the body as a
biomechanism. In a letter to Princess Elizabeth, he writes:

Metaphysical thoughts, which exercise the pure intellect, help to familiarize us

with the notion of the soul; and the study of mathematics, which exercises mainly
the imagination in the consideration of shapes and motions, accustoms us to form
very distinct notions of the body. But it is the ordinary course of life and
conversation, and abstention from meditation and from the study of the things
which exercise imagination, that teaches us how to conceive the union of the mind
and the body. (AT III 692/CSM III 227)

The difference is in the order of knowing. In Descartes's philosophy, the

personalistic attitude, and the specific kind of knowledge attached to it,
"remain subordinated" to knowledge ofthe body attained through mathemat-
ical thinking (PhP 231/199; cf. PhP ii-iii/viii). In phenomenology, on the

23. The idea of the body as the expression of the soul is easily misunderstood. First, we tend
to base our thinking on the model oflanguage. But Merleau-Ponty emphasizes that bodily
expressions do not form a linguistic system (PhP 203 ff.l174 ff.; VI 225/171). Another
misconception is to think about the mind or soul as a separate entity behind or inside the
visual body (Hua IV 176/Ideas II, 185-6). Merleau-Pontyexplains: "I do not see anger or a
threatening attitude as a psychic fact hidden behind the gesture, I read anger in it. The gesture
does not make me think of anger, it is anger itself' (PhP 215/184).

contrary, the objects of natural and mathematical sciences are understood as

accomplishments, attained by abstracting from the affective and practical
objects of the personalistic attitude (cf. Hua IV 251Jdeas II, 27).
This difference does not devalue Descartes's descriptions ofthe emotions.
On the contrary, Descartes's idea of the mind-body compound gives a
guideline for Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological investigations. More
particularly, Descartes's explanations of the primary position of wonder
among emotions deciphers Merleau-Ponty's remarks on reduction as a
wondering state.

3. Wonder and Reduction

Wonder [admiration] is, according to Descartes, the first of all emotions. The
other basic emotions are love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness. Thus, there
are altogether six basic emotions. All others are "either composed from some
of these six or they are species of them" (AT XI 380/CSM I 353).
Descartes's reasons for stating that wonder is the first of all emotions are
crucial for understanding Merleau-Ponty's notion of reduction. Descartes
explains his position by pointing out that we wonder at an object "before we
know whether it is beneficial to us or not" (AT XI 373/CSM I 350). Further,
he remarks that wonder has no opposite, unlike the other passions, for
example, veneration and scorn. The difference between wonder and the other
emotions is further elaborated in the description of the function of the
passions. In general, their task is to "dispose the soul to want the things
which nature deems useful for us, and to persist in this volition" (AT XI
372/CSM I 349). The mind needs the passions in order to be able to direct
and fix its thoughts to beneficial tasks, such as acquiring scientific knowl-
edge (AT XI 3851CSM I 355). The passions "move the soul to consent and
contribute to actions which may serve to preserve the body or render it in
some way more perfect" (AT XI 430/CSM I 376). So their function is to
contribute to the maintenance and well-being of the mind-body compound.
But taken strictly, this applies only to the five basic emotions: desire, love,
hatred, joy, and sadness (AT XI 430/CSM I 376). The function of the first
passion is different. It precedes evaluations of the object, of its suitability
[convenance], usefulness, or harmfulness to the maintenance and well-being
of the mind-body compound. This is why it does not have any opposite, and
this is why Descartes considers it as the first of all passions (AT XI
373/CSM I 350).
Wonder is indispensable because it allows us to notice and learn things of
which we were previously ignorant or which are different than the ones we

know. It is the state in which we pay attention to something we see or hear,

before we apply our standards of good and bad, pleasurable and painful,
useful and harmful, to it So wonder is the passion in which we encounter
un-usual and extra-ordinary things, new to our previous experience and
knowledge (AT XI 3 84/CSM I 354-5). Descartes writes: "The other passions
may serve to make us take note of things which appear good or evil, but we
feel only wonder at things which merely appear unusual" (AT XI 384/CSM
I 355).
Thus understood, wonder is a passion in which our evaluative functions
are out of operation. Jean-Marie Beyssade characterizes Cartesian wonder
by saying that it resides in "the alertness ofthe first glance": when we look
at something and see something for the first time, we attend to it in a specific
way. Wonder is like an interruption that makes possible a change of
direction. It allows the mind-body compound to deviate and diverge from its
routines. The one who wonders is able to illuminate the object without
reducing or adjusting it. 24 He does not adapt the object to his expectations.
Instead the object changes the habitual movements of his body (AT XI
382/CSM I 353?5
This idea of interruption is repeated in Merleau-Ponty's characterization
of reduction:

It is because we are through and through compounded of relationships with the

world that for us the only way to become aware of the fact is to suspend the
resultant activity .... The best formulation of the reduction is probably that given
by Eugen Fink, Husserl' s assistant, when he spoke of "surprise or wonder" in the
face of the world. Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unity
of consciousness as the world's basis; it steps back to watch the forms of
transcendence fly up like sparks from a fIre; it slackens the intentional threads
which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is
consciousness of the world because it reveals the world as strange and paradoxi-
cal. (PhP viii/xiii; cf. VI 144/107)

24. Jean-Marie Beyssade, "Reflexe ou admiration: Sur Ie mecanismes sensori-moteurs selon

Descartes," in La Passion de fa raison: Hommage aFerdinand Afquie, ed. Jean-Luc Marion
and Jean Deprun (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France), 113; Luce Irigaray, Ethique de fa
difference sexuelle (Paris: Minuit, 1984),77; An Ethics ofSexual Difference, trans. Carolyn
Burke and Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell, 1993), 74-5.
25. For a more detailed discussion, see my "Wonder and (Sexual) Difference: Cartesian
Radicalism in Phenomenological Thinking," in Aho and Yrj5nsuuri, Norms and Modes of
Thinking in Descartes.

In interpretive work, Merleau-Ponty' s remarks about wonder and surprise

are usually not considered crucial to his understanding of the phenomenolog-
ical method of reduction. The neglect comes from the habit of understanding
Husserl's reductions as operations that are performed or accomplished by the
intellect and the will: the phenomenologist sees the need for the reduction,
he judges it necessary, performs the operation, takes the phenomenological
step, and thus goes from the natural attitude to the phenomenological stance.
Understood in this way, the phenomenological reduction is one of our
philosophical tools or intellectual instruments, comparable to conceptual
analysis or rational reconstruction. 26 The passion of wonder has no role in an
operation like this. Thus Merleau-Ponty's reference to it is taken to be
motivated by extra-philosophical interests.
But this is problematical, for Merleau-Ponty' s modification ofphenomen-
ology is based on a very different interpretive tradition. When he states that
reduction is like wonder, he refers to Eugen Fink's explications given in
"Die phanomenologische Philosophie Edmund Husserls in der gegen-
wartigen Kritik" and in "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund
Husserls." Fink presents a very dramatic view ofthe phenomenological step.
For him, the phenomenological reduction is not an operation or a rule
governing our thinking but an unexpected, catastrophic event. 27

26. E.g. Herbert Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement: An Historical Introduction

(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960),655 ff.; Michael Hammond, Jane Howarth, and Russell
Keat, Understanding Phenomenology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991),24-30,62-70; Jitendra
Mohanty, Phenomenology: Between Essentialism and Transcendental Philosophy (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1997),9-10,43-5.
27. Eugen Fink, "Die phiinomenologische Philosophie Edmund Husserls in der gegenwiirtigen
Kritik," Kant-Studien 1, no. I (1933),346; "The Phenomenological Philosophy of Edmund
Husserl and Contemporary Criticism," in The Phenomenology ofHusserl: Selected Critical
Readings, ed. R. O. Elveton (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), 104; Fink, "Das Problem
der Phiinomenologie Edmund Husserls," in Studien zur Phanomenologie 1930-1939, (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1939), 181; "The Problem of the Phenomenology of Edmund
Husserl," in Apriori and World: European Contributions to Husserlian Phenomenology,
trans. and ed. William McKenna, Robert M. Harlan, and Laurence E. Winters (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), 23; Fink, "Reflexionen zu Husserls phanomenologischer
Reduktion," in Nahe undDistanz: Vortrage undAujSiitze (Freiburg: Karl Alber, 1971),301-5.
In the Preface to Phenomenologie de la perception, Merleau-Ponty refers to pages "331
and ff." [90 ff.] in Fink's earlier 1933 article. Here Fink discusses the meaning of Husserl's
slogan "to the things themselves" [zu den Sachen selbst] and argues against Kantian readings
that reject phenomenology as intuitionist or ontological dogmatism. There is no discussion
of wonder on these pages. Later, however, in the chapter on spatiality, Merleau-Ponty returns
to the notion of reduction as wonder (PhP 342/295). Here he refers to page 350 [l09] in

Fink compares Husserl's reduction to an earthquake: It sets our well-

ordered world in motion and changes our habitual relations to it. 28 The
philosophical "step" takes us out from our familiar world, and as such it is
frightening and terrifying. 29 The epocheis the first strike, the impulse, that
starts the destruction.30
Fink explains further that the term "attitude" [Einstellung] is problematical
and misleading since it easily gives the impression that reduction is a
volitional act: as ifthe natural attitude and the phenomenological stance were
two options from which we could choose according to our personal
inclinations and interests. This is a misunderstanding, according to Fink. The
natural attitude is not optional; it is our fate. It is a habit, not a social or
historical habit, but a way of existing. 3l
Merleau-Ponty follows Fink in his basic understanding of the
phenomenological method. He sees the epoche as an unexpected event that
starts a radical change. 32 But, for him, reduction as philosophical wonder is

Fink's earlier text where Fink briefly characterizes philosophical wonder as directed at the
mystery of the being of the world. A more extensive discussion is given in Fink's later 1939
paper. I am grateful to Betsy Behnke for illuminating discussions on Merleau-Ponty's
references to Fink.
28. "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls," 181; "The Problem of the
Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl," 23; "Reflexionen zu Husserls phanomenologischer
Reduktion," 317.
29. "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls," 182-3; "The Problem of the
Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl," 23-4.
30. On these comparisons and their relevance to our understanding of the phenomenological
reduction, see Juha Himanka, "Reduction in concreto: Two readings of the Idea of
Phenomenology," Recherches husserliennes 11 (1999): 51-78; cf. also Rodolphe Gasch!!,
The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy ofReflection (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1986), 109-20.

31. "Die phanomenologische Philosophie Edmund Husserls in der gegenwlirtigen Kritik,"

348-51; "The Phenomenological Philosophy of Edmund Husserl and Contemporary
Criticism," 107-9; "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund HusserIs," 182-4; "The
Problem of the Phenomenology of Edmund HusserI," 24-5; "Reflexionen zu HusserIs
phanomenologischer Reduktion," 308-9; cf. S 206/163.
32. Husserl himself says that the epocheis like the beginning of a "religious conversion" (Hua
VI 140lIdeas II, 137).

not about the pure being or the sheer existence of the world. 33 This is because
his explicit aim is to give us a phenomenology of perception, and perception,
according to him, is primordially not a belief in existence but an affective
movement, a response to the call [sollicitation] of the things (PhP 161/139;
cf. VI 262/209).
So reduction cannot just mean the intellectual and volitional suspension
of theories and beliefs about existence but must also include the suspension
of our affective movements. This cannot be done by mere decision. 34 Instead,
something interrupts our motor-perceptive functions, something makes us
deviate from our natural ways of approaching and withdrawing.
The Cartesian notion of wonder characterizes reduction at the primordial
level of affective perception. It is a state in which our evaluative functions
are arrested. Such an interruption allows us to perceive the object in a new
way, to perceive what remains unperceived in everyday perception. Thus we
can see the invisible, hear the inaudible, and touch the intangible. 35
As such, Merleau-Ponty's wonder is very different from the traditional
concept of philosophical wonder. 36 Merleau-Ponty is not referring to the
astonishment at the fact of the world, its being rather than non-being. He
thematizes a different kind of surprise: a wonder in the face of the world.
When we are wondering at the face of the world, we relate in a special
kind of way to the whole ofthe world. We are not just focused on this or that
particularity as in natural astonishment in which everything else remains
familiar. Instead, the whole world seems new to us. But the whole of the

33. For Fink, philosophical wonder is about being as being and the nature oftruth [die Frage
nach dem Seienden als Seiendem und der Natur der Wahrheit] ("Das Problem der
Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls," 181; "The Problem of the Phenomenology of Edmund
Husserl," 23).
34. In Le Visible et I 'invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes the "solipsist illusion that consists
in thinking that every surmounting is a surmounting accomplished by oneself' (VI 189/143).

35. In "Le Doute de Cezanne" (in Sens et non-sens [Paris: Nagel, 1948; Gallimard, 1996];
Sense and Non-Sense, trans. Hubert and Patricia Dreyfus [Evanston: NorthwesternUniversity
Press, 1964]) and in L 'CEil et I 'esprit, Merleau-Ponty argues that an art work, a painting, can
interrupt our habitual ways of perceiving and help us look and see differently. On the
relevance of these texts to Merleau-Ponty's notion of reduction as wonder, see Mauro
Carbone, "A partir de Cezanne," in Figures de la finitude: Etudes d'anthropologie
philosophique, vol. 3, ed. G. Florival (Paris: Vrin, 1988).

36. On traditional interpretations of philosophical wonder, see Hepburn, "Wonder."


world is not a collection of things or a system of facts.37 According to

Merleau-Ponty, it is "an immense individual" (PhP 468/409; cf. PhP
xiii/xvii, 393-4/341-2,491-2/430). By this he means that the world has,
originally, an affective significance. It is an expressive, stylistic unity in
which every part and every phase is intertwined and irreplaceable. As such,
the world "asserts itself' and appeals to us, and our perception is a respond-
ing. 38 In the chapter on things and nature in Phenomenofogie de fa percep-
tion, Merleau-Ponty writes:

It [the natural world] is not like a crystal cube, all possible aspects of which can
be conceived by their law of construction, and which even reveals its hidden sides
in its actual transparency. The world has its unity, although the mind may not
have succeeded in inter-relating its facets and in integrating them into the
conception of a geometrician. This unity is comparable to that of an individual
whom I recognize with unchallengeable evidence before I possess the formula of
his character, because he retains the same style in everything he says and
does .... I experience the unity of the world as I recognize a style. (PhP 378/327;
cf. PhP 372/322, 465/406)

So in its scope, the Merleau-Pontian reduction reminds one of the

theoretical attitude invented by the ancient Greeks and thematized by
Husserl. It is directed towards the world as a whole, and as such it is an
exceptional state, as Merleau-Ponty suggests by using the word
"etonnement," which in Descartes's terminology refers to excessive, useless
wonder (AT IX 385-6/CSM I 355-6). But this similarity does not allow us
to identify Merleau-Ponty' s notion of reduction with the mere suspension of
existential belief. For the whole of the world is not a theoretical totality of
beliefs, facts, or entities, but an open, expressive, unity similar to that of a
Following Husserl, Merleau-Ponty argues that we can become aware of
the mutual constitution of the perceived and the perceiver only if something
interrupts our natural and habitual functions. Wonder is a name for the state
of interruption at the primordial level of affective perception. It is neither a
theoretical abstraction nor an intellectual generalization of affects; it is not
an overcoming of passivity but a specific mode of it.

37. Cf. Barbaras, Le Tournant de ['experience, 67-9, 78-9.

38. On the concept of appeal in Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, see Bernhard Waldenfels,

Antwortsregister (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1994).

The notion of reduction as wonder provides a new possibility for

understanding what Merleau-Ponty means when he states that the reduction
cannot be completed. The claim is not that reduction is an operation that
remains to be completed, or can be completed by some superior soul not
restricted by our bodily bonds. Rather, Merleau-Ponty suggests that
reduction is not the sort ofthing that can be completed: it is not pure activity
but includes an element of passivity. It cannot be completed for reasons
similar to those why a storm, a bankruptcy, or an awakening cannot be
completed: the epoche is not our accomplishment but something that
happens to us.
The passivity involved in reduction does not mean that the work of the
phenomenologist has no bearing on the reductive event. Even though the
phenomenologist cannot perform the reduction by will, he can-and he
must-prepare himself for the possibility of such an event. Philosophical
striving, philosophical responsibility, would consist in the attempt to sustain
the state of wonder, to continue this specific mode of passivity and postpone
or defer habitual responses. In William Lenkowski' s words, the philosophi-
cal activity "is a preventing ofthe return ofthe world's familiarity"; it is "the
active refusal to let the world cease to be a problem.,,39
The essence of the philosophical practice would be in the task of
cultivating the openness to the unexpected, both at the level of beliefs and at
the level of primordial perception. For Merleau-Ponty, such an openness or
wonder represents the philosophical gesture of self-criticism and responsive-
ness. His philosophy is not in opposition to that ofHusserl but rather carries
further the task of self-interrogation that Husserl presented as the core of all

Forme, philosophy, as an idea, means universal, and in a radical sense, "rigorous"

science. As such, it is science built on an ultimate foundation, or what comes
down to the same thing, a science based on ultimate self-responsibility, in which,
hence, nothing held to be obvious, either predicative1y or pre-predicative1y, can
pass, unquestioned, as a basis for knowledge. 40

39. William Jon Lenkowski, "What is Husserl's epoche? The Problem of Beginning in a
Husserlian Context," Man and World 2, no. 4 (1978), 314-5.
40. Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiinomenologischen Philosophie.
Drittes Buch: Die Phiinomenologie und die Fundamente der Wissenschaflen, Husserliana,
vol. 5, ed. Marly Biemel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1952), 139; Ideas II, 406.


Chapter 8

The Time of Half-Sleep:

Merleau-Ponty between Husserl and Proust

Mauro Carbone
State University of Milan
(Translated by Elizabeth Locey, Emporia State University)

Abstract: While Proust's Recherche interested Merleau-Ponty

throughout his career, the progressive development of this interest
raised questions that led him to deepen his own thought. In the
Phenomenologie de la perception, first of all, this interest is concen-
trated on the "body's function in remembering. " In fact, Merleau-
Ponty's observations on this subject, like Proust's, reveal a tendency
to accentuate the corporeal tonality of temporal experience in
comparison with Husserl 's transcendental phenomenology. But at this
stage of Merleau-Ponty's meditation, the difference between his
perspective and that ofHusserl is not yet explicit. Such a difference is
thematized and developed in the last phase ofMer!eau-Ponty 's thought
on the basis of motifs of reflection provided once again by Proust's
Recherche, leading him to a critique ofHusser! 's analysis oftemporal-
ity as well as the ontology that subtends it.

I. Lived Time

In the chapter on "The Body as Expression, and Speech" in Phenomenofogie

de fa perception, Merleau-Ponty cites a famous description of half-sleep
given by Marcel Proust:

when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt to

discover where I was, everything revolved around me through the darkness:
things, places, years. My body, still too heavy with sleep to move, would
endeavor to construe from the pattern of its tiredness the position of its various
limbs, in order to deduce therefrom the direction of the wall, the location of the
furniture, to piece together and give a name to the house in which it lay. Its
memory, the composite memory of its ribs, its knees, its shoulder-blades, offered
it a whole series of rooms in which it had at one time or another slept, while the
unseen walls, shifting and adapting themselves to the shape of each successive
room that it remembered, whirled round it in the dark. ... [M]y body, the side
T. Toadvine andL. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of HusserI, 149-172.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

upon which I was lying, faithful guardians of a past which my mind should never
have forgotten, brought back before my eyes the glimmering flame of the night-
light in its urn-shaped bowl of Bohemian glass that hung by chains from the
ceiling, and the chimney-piece of Sienna marble in my bedroom at Combray, in
my grandparents' house, in those far-distant days which at this moment I
imagined to be in the present without being able to picture them exactly.... 1

According to Merleau-Ponty, the experience described on this page from

Proust reveals that "memory is, not the constituting consciousness of the
past, but an effort to reopen time on the basis of the implications contained
in the present" and that "the body, as our permanent means of 'taking up
attitudes' and thus constructing pseudo-presents, is the medium of our
communication with time as well as with space" (PhP 2111181, trans. mod.).
In fact, by virtue of the original movement of intentionality that projects it
into the world, one's own body inhabits a spatio-temporal totality, animates
space and time with its presence, and literally incorporates them into its
experience, where later it can find the trace again.
Thus, far from being an intellectualist operation, memory emerges from
the corporeal experience oflived space and time. This "body's function in
remembering" (PhP 2111181) appears, therefore, as being at the foundation
of what Merleau-Ponty indicates elsewhere as one of the central philosophi-
cal ideas of Proust' s oeuvre: "the envelopment of the past in the present and
the presence oflost time."2

1. M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), 211 n. 1;

Phenomenology ofPerception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962;
revised, 1981), 181 n. 2 [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English pagination].
The passage from Proust may be found at A la recherche du temps perdu, Pleiade edition,
vol. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1954),6; Remembrance of Things Past, vol. 1, trans. C. K. Scott
Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (New York: Vintage, 1981), 6-7 [cited hereafter as R I,
with French preceding English pagination]. (We have cited from the English translation of
Proust, rather than from the translation provided in Phenomenology ofPerception-Trans.).
Concerning the pages of the Recherche cited here, Florival notes that Proust "reveals
himself instinctively to be a phenomenologist avant fa lettre in his way of describing to us
the discovery of the lived body" (G. Florival, Le Desir chez Proust. A fa recherche du sens
[Louvain, Paris: Nauwelaerts, 1971],28).

2. Merleau-Ponty, Sens et non-sens (Paris: Nagel, 1948),45; Sense and Non-Sense, trans.
Hubert and Patricia Dreyfus (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 26 [cited
hereafter as SNS, with French preceding English pagination].
In this same first section of his essay "Le Roman et la metaphysique," Merleau-Ponty

If we want to penetrate more deeply into the motives behind Merleau-

Ponty's interest in Proust's work, our attention is thereby drawn to the
analysis of temporality that he develops in the Phenomen%gie de /a
perception. Concerning this issue, it is also necessary to remember that for
Merleau-Ponty "subjectivity, at the level of perception, is nothing but
temporality" (PhP 276/239), because "the spatial synthesis and the synthesis
of the object are founded on this unfolding of time" (PhP 277/239) that
one's own body produces. Thus, Merleau-Ponty's reflection endeavors to
underline what the description of the waking body in the Recherche has
shown: "My body takes possession of time; it brings into existence a past
and a future for a present; it is not a thing, but creates time instead of
submitting to it" (PhP 277/240).
How, then, does this time present itself, this time that one's own body
"secretes,"3 as Merleau-Ponty says?

emphasizes that "[s]ince the end of the 19th century ... the ties between [philosophy and
literature] have been getting closer and closer" (SNS 46/27) since their common task has
become to describe the "invasion" of the metaphysical in man at a time when "there is no
longer any human nature on which to rely" (SNS 49/28). It also follows that "[p]hilosophical
expression assumes the same ambiguities as literary expression, if the world is such that it
cannot be expressed except in 'stories' and, as it were, pointed out" (SNS 46127). The
reference to Proust we made above takes on its full meaning in this context: as a consequence
of his attitude that we could define, by means of an expression from Merleau-Ponty, as
"metaphysical and disinterested attention," the Proustian description oflived time reveals the
metaphysical import of the way in which man lives time.
3. We find the same verb "to secrete" in Proust to indicate an identical process: "all this
length of Time had not only, without interruption, been lived, experienced, secreted by me"
(A la recherche du temps perdu, PIeiade edition, vol. 3 [Paris: Gallimard, 1954], 1047;
Remembrance o/Things Past, vol. 3, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and
Andreas Mayor [New York: Vintage, 1981], 1106, emphasis added [cited hereafter as R III,
with French preceding English paginationD. This is but a small example of the fact that,
starting with Phenomenologie de la perception and becoming more and more evident as time
goes on, Proust's writing itself constitutes a fundamental point of reference for Merleau-
Ponty. On this subject, see also the beginning of A. Simon, "Proust et I"architecture' du
visible," in Merleau-Ponty et Ie litteraire, ed. A. Simon and N. Castin (Paris: Presses de
I'Ecole norrnale superieure, 1997), 106: "Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from Phenomenologie de
la perception to Le Visible et I 'invisible, was 'haunted'-in the Merleau-pontian sense of
creative innervation-by the Proustian thought and writing such as they are found in A la
recherche du temps perdu." To define Proust as "his model," as did Lyotard, does not seem
to us then as without foundation (cf. J.-F. Lyotard, "La Philosophie et la peinture a!'ere de
leur experimentation. Contribution aune idee de la postmodemite," Rivista di Estetica, n. 9

It is precisely this question that Merleau-Ponty chooses to answer in the

chapter of Phenomenologie de la perception dedicated to "Temporality,"4
in which he is committed to refuting, in its multiple versions, the common
notion of time as "succession of instances of now"5 as well as that of a "non-
temporal subject": "The problem is how to make time explicit as it comes
into being and makes itself evident [en train d 'apparaitre], time at all times
underlying the notion of time, not as an object of our knowledge, but as a
dimension of our being" (PhP 475/415).
In other words, it is a question of describing the originary experience of
time. Merleau-Ponty conceives it as temporality lived by the subject inside
his or her own "field of presence,"6 enclosing these two horizons that,
inspired by Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, as we know, calls horizon a/retention

[1981], 10; "Philosophy and Painting in the Age of their Experimentation: Contribution to
an Idea of Postmodernity," trans. Maria Minich Brewer and Daniel Brewer, in The Merleau-
Ponty Aesthetics Reader, ed. Galen Johnson [Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1993], 330).

4. The most immediate points of reference ofMerleau-Ponty's analysis are indicated by the
very epigraph of this chapter, Heidegger (Sein und Zeit) and Claudel (Art poetique). In other
respects, his analysis also borrows much from Husserl's reflections on this theme, in
particular those found in Vorlesungen zur Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstsein,
originally published in Jahrbuch for Philosophie und phiinomenologische Forschung, IX
(1928). Today, this work is published in Zur Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins
(J 893-1917), Husserliana, vol. 10, ed. Rudolf Boehm (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966);
On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, trans. John Brough
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991).
On the conception of the relation between Husserl and Heidegger that underlies Merleau-
Ponty's reflection at this stage of his thought, Spiegelberg reminds us that he "did not seem
to feel that there were any basic differences between them. Thus in the Phenomenology of
Perception he presented Husserl's phenomenological reduction, to be sure in his own
reinterpretation, as the indispensable foundation for Heidegger's conception of being-in-the-
world, and implied that Heidegger's 'ph ilosoph ie existentielle' was a legitimate prolongation
of Husserl's phenomenology. Besides, the climatic chapter on 'Temporality' in the
Phenomenology of Perception is preceded by a motto from Sein und Zeit and leans heavily
on Heidegger's text" (H. Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement [The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1982], 538).

5. M. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, quoted by Merleau-Ponty (PhP 4711412).

6. On the notion of Priisenzfeld in Merleau-Ponty with respect to Husserl, see P. Burke,

"Merleau-Ponty's Appropriation of Husserl's Notion of 'Prasenzfeld,'" in Husserl in
Contemporary Context, ed. B. C. Hopkins (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997),

and horizon ofpro tent ion. Merleau-Ponty also specifies that what Husserl
understands by the notion of retention is not "voluntary memory"-that is,
the fruit of intellectual synthesis by which the past event is deliberately
evoked-but what we could call the "lived past," which subtends this
voluntary memory and which is still retained in the field ofpresence. 7 Also,
as Merleau-Ponty explains in Phenomenologie de la perception: "when I
rediscover the concrete origin of the memory, ... it is, therefore, because I
recapture [rejoins] time that is lost: because, from the moment in question
to my present, the chain of retentions and the interlocking horizons coming
one after the other insure an unbroken continuity" (PhP 478/418). Is it not,
then, a question of analyzing, in other terms, "the envelopment of the past
in tbe present and the presence oflost time" that Merleau-Ponty discovers

7. "Husserl introduced the notion of retention, and held that I still have the immediate past
in hand, precisely for the purpose of conveying that I do not posit the past, or construct it
from an Abschattung really distinct from it and by means of an express act; but that I reach
it in its recent, yet already elapsed, thisness" (PhP 477/417).
It is nonetheless necessary to note how the very considerations that Merleau-Ponty
develops on the function of the body in remembering allow a glimpse of his tendency to
accentuate, in comparison with Husserl's transcendental phenomenology, the corporeal
tonality of temporal experience, which in other respects emerges clearly in the page of Proust
that he cites on this occasion. Thus Merleau-Ponty emphasizes that protentions and retentions
"do not run from a central I, but from my perceptual field itself' (PhP 476/416). The
difference existing between Merleau-Ponty's perspective and that of Husserl has also been
noted by one ofHusserl's last assistants, Ludwig Landgrebe, who illustrates it in this fashion:
"Husserl also speaks of sedimented and habitual knowledge, of the imprint of preceding
experiences, in the light of which the perceived appears as this thing or that thing. But he
considers this as a possession ofthe I. Merleau-Ponty on the contrary wants to call attention
to the fact that it is not a possession of the I but a possession of the body, which has learned
to move about in the world in a purposive manner and without the least reflection, and which
consequently operates a synthesis of the present and the past, which belongs to it as an
acquisition, a synthesis thanks to which we can speak of a perception" (L. Landgrebe,
"Merleau-Pontys Auseinandersetzung mit Husserls Phanomenologie," in Phiinomen%gie
und Geschichte [Giitersloh: Giitersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1968], 178). This
difference in comparison with Husserl's orientation, which, however it may be, is not yet
explicit at this stage of his meditation, will be thematized and developed by Merleau-Ponty
in the last phase of his thought, on the basis of motifs of reflection that will be provided, once
again, by Proust's Recherche. He will then be led to critique Husserl's analysis of
temporality, as well as the ontology that underlies it.
On the differences between Husserl and Proust with respect to the conception of memory,
see the chapter entitled "L'Encadrement du souvenir (Husserl, Proust et Barthes)" in R.
Bernet, La Vie du sujet. Recherches sur I 'interpretation de Husserl dansla phenomenologie
(Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994),243-65.

in Proust's work? In fact, Proust's intention is precisely to describe the lived

temporality from which Marcel feels the involuntary memory emerge-the
involuntary memory that, as Paul Ricoeur emphasizes, "opens up the
recaptured time."8
Merleau-Ponty brings this idea of an implication of the past-and,
symmetrically, of the future-in the present to the Husserlian notion of
operative intentionality ifungierende Intentionalitat), that is, to the ante-
predicative relation that, in unifying the individual with the world,
inaugurates lived time. In fact, by virtue of this operative intentionality,
which Merleau-Ponty finds again in the Heideggerian concept oftranscen-
dence, "[m]y present outruns itself in the direction of an immediate future
and an immediate past and impinges upon them where they actually are,
namely in the past and in the future themselves" (PhP 478/418).
This description of the implication of the past and of the future in the
present also shows us-in addition to the character of transcendence-the
character of continuity in which time is wrapped in our originary experience.
Critical of Bergson's thesis on this point, Merleau-Ponty nevertheless
affirms that continuity, though it is an "essential phenomenon" (PhP 4811
420), does not however suffice to explain time, but calls for clarification in
its tum: this continuity must be brought back precisely to the transcendence
that pushes the present to surpass itself toward the past and toward the
future. In Merleau-Ponty's conception, time thus unfolds itself as a single
movement, the different moments of which flow into each other. From this
fact, rather than erasing each other, the different moments mutually recall
and reaffirm each other-starting from the privileged field of the
presene-in a sort of coexistence that is habitually hidden by the idea of
time as "a succession of instances of now." It results from this that time,
according to Merleau-Ponty, is one unto itself; and, in his opinion, this is

8. P. Ricreur, Temps et rridt, vol. II, La Configuration dans le redt de fiction (Paris: Seuil,
1984),203; Time and Narrative, vol. II, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 137. Ricreur wishes in fact to avoid "the hasty
interpretation according to which the fictive experience of time in Proust would consist in
equating time regained with involuntary memory" (202/136).

9. It is in the name ofthis privilege attributed to the present, "because it is the zone in which
being and consciousness coincide" (PhP 485/424), that Merleau-Ponty critiques (cf. PhP
489/427) the primacy ofthe future affirmed by Heidegger, who represents nonetheless, as we
have said, one of the principle sources of inspiration for MerJeau-Ponty's account of time.

what expresses its "mythical personifications." In this way, in accordance

with Proust's tendency to make time a "personified entity," as Ricoeur
notes,10 which will reveal itself more and more as the main character of
Proust's work, Merleau-Ponty affirms then that "[w]e are not saying that
time is for someone, which would once more be a case of arraying it out,
and immobilizing it. We are saying that time is someone, or that temporal
dimensions, in so far as they perpetually overlap, bear each other out and
ever confine themselves to making explicit what was implied in each, being
collectively expressive of that one single explosion or thrust which is
subjectivity itself' (PhP 482-3/422).
The circularity of temporal dimensions comes to light in this manner in
lived temporality, a circularity analogous to that which Florival notes in
Proust's work: "the past is realized through the future that reveals and
unfolds all of its possibilities. A past, the presentness [l 'actualite] of which
had not been recognized in its time, looms up in the light of present
temporality. Thus, the reversibility of time is finally obtained."ll It is
probably this manner of posing the problem which allows Merleau-Ponty to
not see the opposition between the "intermittences" of Proustian time and
his own phenomenological conception of temporal continuity.
But the circularity of temporal dimensions inside of lived temporality
cannot be understood if one conceives of ultimate subjectivity (where there
is the consciousness of time) as "intra-temporal," that is-in Heideggerian
terms-as an "entity within-the-world" (innerweltliches Seiendes) which is
arrayed out in time. 12 In this case, in fact, temporal dimensions could present
themselves only as reciprocally antagonistic, because it would be impossible
for an irremediably intratemporal subjectivity to develop the cohesion
among these dimensions that makes their relation circular. This does not
mean, however, to situate subjectivity in a sort of eternity. Merleau-Ponty,

10. Ricreur, Time and Narrative, 210/141.

11. Florival, Le Desir chez Proust, 122.

12. Cf. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Halle: Neimeyer, 1963), 80,419 ff.; Being and Time,
trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1962),471 ff.
Originally published in lahrbuch for Philosophie und phiinomenologische Forschung VIII
Merleau-Ponty explains that "[s] ubjectivity is not in time, because it takes up or lives time,
and merges with the cohesion ofa life" (PhP 483/422).

on the contrary, emphasizes that "we must understand time as the subject
and the subject as time" (PhP 483/422). In this chiasm, the two formulae
clarify each other mutually. The first intends to indicate that the "object
time" or "constituted time" of intratemporality (that is, time as "succession
of instances of now" or as "developed series of presents") is made possible
precisely by the "subject time" or "constituting time" that presents itself"as
an indivisible thrust and transition" (PhP 484/423); it sub tends object time
and coagulates into it. In return, the second formula aims to underline the
fact that subjectivity, insofar as it is enrooted in a field of presence, ex-
presses its own "indivisible power" in "distinct [intratemporal] manifesta-
tions," but at the same time-from the fact of the movement of transcen-
dence that characterizes it as temporality-it does not cease to recapture
these manifestations in developing their coexistence and circularity.
In this duality, Merleau-Ponty sees a light bursting forth: that of the
"relationship ofselfto self' (PhP 487/426). He then continues by affirming
that "it is through temporality that there can be, without contradiction, ip-
seity, significance and reason" (PhP 487/426).
The duality of the phenomenon that we have just described is expressed
in the concept oftemporalization, which designates the movement by which
lived time springs forth: the subject finds itself situated in this movement (of
which it is not the author), but can at the same time take on this situation.
Thus, Merleau-Ponty considers that the concept oftemporalization makes
possible the elucidation of the paradox that Husserl calls the "passive
synthesis" of time.

II. Time and Subject

Fifteen years after the publication of Phenomenologie de la perception, in

April of 1960, Merleau-Ponty begins one of the most dense and most
pregnant working notes of Le Visible et I'invisible-entitled "'Indestructi-
ble' Past, and intentional analytic-and ontology"-with the following

The Freudian idea of the unconscious and the past as "indestructible," as "in-
temporal" = elimination of the common idea of time as a "series of Er-
lebnisse"--There is an architectonic past. cf. Proust: the true hawthorns are the
hawthorns of the past--Restore this life without Erlebnisse, without
interiority ... which is, in reality, the "monumental" life, Stijtung, initiation.

This "past" belongs to a mythical time, to the time before time, to the prior life,
"farther than India and China"-- (VI 296/243)

By this exordium, Merleau-Ponty expresses his intention ofrethinking the

Husserlian description of time-and, consequently, the themes of the
continuity of time and of subjectivity as temporality-in supplying the
ontology of brute sensible being with motifs of reflection drawn once again
from Proust's Recherche, as well as from Freudian psychoanalysis.
In fact, the "ontological rehabilitation of the sensible" (S 2101167) that
Merleau-Ponty had announced in "The Philosopher and his Shadow"13 also
has consequences for the conception of time and subjectivity, and ends by
bringing Merleau-Ponty to criticize the way in which Husserl himself treats
these problems.
As another working note from Le Visible et I'invisible affirms, "[t]he
sensible, Nature, transcend the past present distinction, realize from within
a passage from one into the other Existential eternity" (VI 3211267).14
The dimension of the erste Natur which underlies the concept of Nature that
dominates beginning with Descartes is, in other words, the dimension of the

13. Merleau-Ponty, "Le Philosophe et son ombre," in Edmund Husser! (1859-1959) (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959), 195-220. Reprinted in Signes (Paris: GalIimard, 1960),
201-28; Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964),
159-81 [cited hereafter as S, with French preceding English pagination].

14. As Merleau-Ponty reminds us at the beginning of a working note citing the commentary
of Lucien Herr on Hegel, "Nature is at the first day" (VI 320/267). He explains while
commenting on this sentence in the summary of his first course on Nature: "It presents itself
always as already there before us, and yet as new before our gaze. Reflexive thought is
disoriented by this implication of the immemorial in the present, the appeal from the past to
the most recent present. For reflexive thought each fragment of space exists on its own
account and they can only coexist under its gaze and through its activity; each moment of the
world ceases to exist when it ceases to be present and is only held in past being by reflexive
thought. If it were possible to abolish in thought all individual consciousness there would
remain only a flash of instantaneous being, extinguished no sooner than it has appeared"
(Merleau-Ponty, Resumes de cours. College de France 1952-1960 [Paris: GalIimard, 1968],
94-5; "Themes from the Lecture Courses," trans. John O'Neill, in In Praise ofPhilosophy
and Other Essays [Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988], 133 [cited hereafter as
RC, with French preceding English pagination]).
The reference to Herr is drawn from his article "Hegel," in Grande encyc/opi!die, vol. 19,
99 ff.; reprinted in Choix d 'ecrits, vol. 2 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1932),
109-46. See also Merleau-Ponty, La Nature. Notes. Cours du College de France, ed.
Dominique Seglard (Paris: Seuil, 1995), 76.

erste Geschichtlichkeit, in which palpitates a time that is not "the serial time,
that of' acts' and decisions" (VI 2221168), but rather a time characterized by
the enjambment of simultaneity "upon succession and diachronics" (S
1541123)Y It deals with the time that Merleau-Ponty now calls precisely
"mythical": a time, he explains, "where certain events 'in the beginning'
maintain a continued efficacity" (VI 43/24).16

15. The citation is drawn from Merleau-Ponty, "De Mauss it Claude Levi-Strauss," Nouvelle
Revue Fram;:aise, n. 82 (1959): 615-31; "From Mauss to Claude Levi-Strauss," reprinted in
S (143-5711 14-25).
Already in the course summary from the CoIIege de France in 1954-55 on "Institution in
Personal and Public History," this form of temporality is iIIustrated in an important way by
Merleau-Ponty's use of Proust's Recherche, as weII as the history of painting. "The analysis
oflove in Proust reveals this 'simultaneity,' this crystaIIization upon each other, of the past
and of the future, of subject and 'object,' of the positive and the negative" (RC 6211 09). In
the same way, he continues, "[t]hus, rather than a problem, there is an 'interrogation' of
painting, which lends a common sense to all its endeavors and binds them into a history" (RC
6311 10-1).
As is weIl-known, the phenomenon of simultaneity is affirmed moreover in the very
phrase by which the Recherche ends: men, writes Proust, "simultaneously, like giants plunged
into the years, ... touch epochs that are immensely far apart, separated by the slow accretion
of many, many days" (R III 104811 107). Merleau-Ponty seems to be aIluding to this phrase
in Notes des cours au College de France 1958-1959 et 1960-1961 (Paris: GaIlimard, 1996),

16. Here is the complete passage to which we have just referred: "As the ethnologist in the
face of societies caIled archaic ... must describe a mythical time where certain events 'in the
beginning' maintain a continued efficacity; so also social psychology, precisely if it wishes
to reaIly know our own societies, cannot exclude a priori the hypothesis of mythical time as
a component of our personal and public history" (VI 43/24). This passage demonstrates in
an implicit way that Merleau-Ponty, as a philosopher and in reference to Western ontology,
intends to accomplish a task analogous to that which he sees carried out by the ethnologist
and required of the social psychologist.
Regarding the evocation of a mythical time by Freudian psychoanalysis (to which the last
phase of Merleau-Ponty's thought gives new attention, an attention that was not unfamiliar
with the contemporary research of Lacan), the course summary from the CoIlege de France
in 1954-55 on "Le Probleme de la passivite: Le Sommeil, l'inconscient, lamemoire"-which
must be kept in mind in its entirety with respect to the problems discussed in this
paragraph-already notes that the Freudian description of the oneiric consciousness shows
that "our dreams are not circumscribed the moment we dream them, but import en bloc into
our present whole fragments of our previous duration" (RC 7011 18). On the subject of
"mythical time" in its relation with Merleau-Ponty's intention to advance, during this phase,
toward an "ontological psychoanalysis," we will find interesting considerations in P.
Gambazzi, "Fenomenologia e psicoanalisi neII'ultimo Merleau-Ponty," Aut Aut, n. 232-3

But the ontological rehabilitation of the sensible does not limit itself to
transcending the distinction between past and present; it also leads us back
to this side of the distinction between time and space. The sensible, in fact-
as an indivisible stuff that interweaves things, animals, and others at the
same time as our body--opens us to them in a simultaneity that isjust as
much temporal as spatial, as the innovations of modem painting have
revealed. And the sensible makes the latency of the elsewhere, as well as
that of past and future, erupt in the here and now, as happens to Marcel with
the rediscovered hawthoms. 17
Merleau-Ponty emphasizes that our perceptual opening to Being is, thus,
the "foundation of space and of time" (VI 2441191, Merleau-Ponty's
emphasis): it is to this that the concept ofStiftung, evoked in the working
note cited at the beginning of this section, alludes.
In its tum, this Husserlian concept refers to that of "institution," which
Merleau-Ponty had introduced in his writings in the first half of the 1950's
to indicate how sense is not constituted by consciousness but autoconstitutes
itself inside of a system that is structured diacritically.18 It is precisely
according to this acceptation that Merleau-Ponty now defines time- but he
conceives of space in the same fashion-as "an institution, a system of

(July-October 1989), 5, as well as in Chapter 4 of Gambazzi, L 'occhio e it suo inconscio

(Milan: Cortina, 1999),39--44.
This mythical time, which thus also palpitates in the "personal and public history" of
Western man, is nevertheless not only evoked for MerIeau-Ponty in the works of Proust, of
Freud, or in the innovations of modem painting. In his essay "De Mauss a Claude Levi-
Strauss," cited above, he remarks in fact that in linguistic time itself "synchronies, like
legendary or mythical time, encroaches upon succession and diachronics" (S 154/122-3). It
is equally necessary to remember that, as we have already indicated, Phenomenologie de ta
perception affirmed that "there is more truth in mythical personifications of time than in the
notion of time considered, in the scientific manner, as a variable of nature in itself, or, in the
Kantian manner, as a form ideally separable from its matter" (PhP 482/422).

17. Cf. R I 922/983--4. As Anne Simon points out, "[0]ne can understand ... why Proust is
a constant reference of Le Visible et I 'invisible, where the Proustian discovery of a
generalized ontological opening finds itself, deepened and thematized as such" (A. Simon,
"Proust et I"architecture' du visible," in Merleau-Ponty et Ie litteraire, 109).

18. The course summary of "L"institution' dans I'histoire personnelle et publique" rightly
begins by explaining that "the concept of institution may help us to find a solution to certain
difficulties in the philosophy of consciousness" (RC 5911 07). This calling into question of
the philosophy of consciousness is deepened precisely in the last phase of MerIeau-Ponty's
thought and nourishes its ontological developments.

equivalences" (VI 2381184), whose sense is not constituted by our

intentional activity, as Phenomenologie de la perception had already shown,
but autoconstitutes itself, as Merleau-Ponty now adds, inside the carnal
fabric of differentiations of which we are [dont nous "en sommes"]. As
seeing-visibles, we are in fact inherent in a visible present that, all the while
inhabiting us, announces and opens up to us simultaneously other invisible
dimensions of space and time, compossibles insofar as they are all set off
against Being as "universal dimensionality" (VI 289/236). As Merleau-
Ponty implies more than once, it is thus on the model ofthe ontology of the
visible that this fabric of spatio-temporal differentiations should be de-
scribed. 19 What in fact does simultaneity indicate, if not the chiasm of
presence and absence sketched by the relation between visible and invisible?
And how, then, does the relation-on which the institution feeds-between
the sedimented presence of the instituted element and the latency of
possibilities of the instituting element appear, except as the chiasmic
relation between visible and invisible?20
It is precisely in understanding "time as chiasm" (VI 3211267), one of the
working notes from Le Visible et I 'invisible tells us, that we can understand
that "past and present are Ineinander, each enveloping-enveloped" (VI 3211
268) without having to attribute to time the "essential phenomenon" (PhP
4811420) of continuity, which was by contrast affirmed in Phenomenologie
de la perception. Thus, the ontological perspective drafted in the final
writings pushes Merleau-Ponty to "take up again, deepen, and rectify"21 his
own earlier conception of time-to which elsewhere the ontological

19. "The structure of the visual field, with its near-bys, its far-offs, its horizon, is
indispensable for there to be transcendence, the model of every transcendence" (VI 284/23 I).
Or again: "the solution [to the problem of subjectivity] is to be sought in vision itself;
memory will be understood only by means of it" (VI 248/194). And moreover, "[d]epth is
urstiftet in what I see in clear vision as the retention is in the present" (VI 273/219). In short,
as Kaufmann explains, "spatio-temporal distancing must borrow the language of vision, or
rather, distancing depends in its formulation only on an approximative first language of which
the expression of visibility constitutes its profound sense" (P. Kaufmann, "De la vision
picturale au desir de peindre," Critique 20, n. 211 [1964], 1061).

20. This remark is also found in C. Capalbo, "L'historicite chez Merleau-Ponty," Revue
philosophique de Louvain, n. 73 (1975), SIS.

21. See VI 222/168.


perspective is in part beholden22-and consequently pushes him to move

farther away from the description given of it by Husserl.
Our carnal opening to the world is for Merleau-Ponty, in brief, Urstiftung
of a Zeitpunkt and of a Raumpunkt that inaugurates a diacritical system of
temporal and spatial indices, a "spatializing-temporalizing vortex (which is
flesh and not consciousness facing a noema)" (VI 298/244, emphasis
added)-as he explains, precisely by critiquing Husserl, in the working note
by which we started this section.23
Merleau-Ponty is led to this critique of Husserl by, among other things,
the deepening of his reflection on the phenomenon of memory, linked in
Phenomenologie de la perception to that of temporal continuity. There,
however, Merleau-Ponty failed to see a contradiction-as we have already
noted-between that conception and the analysis of the "intermittences of
the heart" by means of which Proust shows discontinuity, on the contrary,
to be a characteristic aspect of the functioning ofmemory.24

22. In this sense, Duchene remarks that "the final works [of Merleau-Ponty] generalize the
affection of self by self, an affection made of immanence and of transcendence and
discovered starting with Phenomenologie de la perception with respect to time, to the visible,
to the sensible, to space, and to language: like time, the visible, the sensible, and language
have two sides and are object-subject, seen-seer, sentient-sensible. Flesh is this generalized
structure" (J. Duchene, "La structure de la phenomenalisation dans la Phenomenologie de la
perception de Merleau-Ponty," Revue de mhaphysique et de morale 83, n. 3 [1978], 395,
note 151). It nonetheless remains the case that this "generalization" is not without implying
a deepening and a rectification regarding the conception of time itself.
23. Already in the course summary on "Le Probleme de la passivite: Le Sommeil,
I'inconscient, la memoire," Merleau-Ponty wrote: "For man, to live is not simply to be
constantly conferring meaning upon things but to continue a vortex ofexperience which has
been set up at our birth, at the point of contact between the 'outside' and he who is called to
live it" (RC 591115, emphasis added). In fact, by virtue of the spatio-temporal Urstifiung, he
explains in Le Visible et I 'invisible, "The things-here, there, now, then-are no longer in
themselves, in their own place, in their own time; they exist only at the end of those rays of
spatiality and oftemporality emitted in the secrecy of my flesh. And their solidity is not that
of a pure object which the mind soars over; I experience their solidity from within insofar as
I am among them and insofar as they communicate through me as a sentient thing" (VI

24. Cf. in particular A la recherche du temps perdu, Pleiade edition, vol. 2 (Paris: Gallimard,
1954),755-8; Remembrance of Things Past, vol. 2, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieffand Terence
Kilmartin (New York: Vintage, 1981),783-5. On the other hand, as Bernet reminds us, "for
the Husserlian theory ofrecollection, forgetting is only an accident" and it "does not at all
threaten the continuity between the present and the past of consciousness" (La Vie du sujet,

In a working note from Le Visible et I'invisible, Merleau-Ponty now

concentrates precisely on the "problem of forgetting," which "lies essen-
tially in the fact that it is discontinuous" (VI 2481194),25 and consequently
constitutes an obstacle for a philosophy of consciousness. It is from this
essential discontinuity that the diagram of retentions and protentions
formulated by Husserl-taken up by Merleau-Ponty for his own account in
the chapter on "Temporality" in Phenomenologie de la perception-no
longer seems able to offer an account to Merleau-Ponty, because, in spite of
Husserl's efforts, it is still "dependent on the convention that one can
represent the series ofnows by points on a line" (VI 2481195).
Several lines further, Merleau-Ponty nevertheless specifies that he does
not intend to critique Husserl from a Bergsonian point of view for having
"spatialized" time: we have seen, in fact, that it is the very distinction
between space and time that, in his opinion, is called into question in the
horizon of brute being. Instead, the critique that Merleau-Ponty addresses
to Husserl is that of not having seen what Merleau-Ponty prefers now to
define as the "vortex" of our temporalization-spatialization-that is, our
field of presence-in its gestaltist form. By placing transcendence in relief,
in fact, this form can account for the discontinuous aspects of that field, or
better, surpass the very opposition between continuity and discontinuity
precisely in the figure-ground model. It thereby shows forgetting, just with
its discontinuous character, as "a manner of being to ... in turning away
from ... " (VI 2511196), that is, as the reverse of memory, precisely
according to the gestaltist relation that links the visible and the invisible, a
relation in which the first term implicates differentiation and the second
dedifferentiation. 26


25. It seems interesting to us to emphasize how the themes of time and (Proustian) narrative
are linked here in this way with those of memory and forgetting, which Rica:ur has found
necessary to treat in his latest book, considering them precisely as "median levels between
time and narrative" (Rica:ur, La Memoire, I 'histoire, I 'oubli [Paris: Seuil, 2000], I).

26. The bases of this conception are laid out in the above cited course summary on "Le
Probleme de la passivite," in which Merleau-Ponty tries to show how, by conceiving the field
of presence founded by our perceptual opening to Being in gestaltist terms, the alternative
between conceiving memory as conservation or as construction disappears: "then there would
be no question of any alternative between conservation and construction; memory would not
be the opposite of forgetfulness, and it might be seen that true memory is to be found at the

As another working note from Le Visible et I 'invisible explains, Merleau-

Ponty critiques Husserl for having conceived of the field of presence "as
without thickness, as immanent consciousness" while, from his perspective,
he unceasingly emphasizes that "it is transcendent consciousness, it is being
at a distance" (VI 227/173) precisely by virtue of its gestaltist form. It is
indeed by virtue of this form that, in our field of presence, the present
sketches itself simultaneously with the past to which it obliquely refers, and
that, consequently, the reminiscence of this past does not presuppose the
intervention of an intentional act. According to Merleau-Ponty, Husserl's
conception, on the contrary, cannot account for this simultaneity of past and
present, because the intentional analytic-Qn which this conception
rests-"tacitly assumes a place of absolute contemplation/rom which the
intentional explicitation is made, and which could embrace present, past,
and even openness toward the future" (VI 297/243).27 In this fashion,
Husserl's conception gives, about the past, not a "vertical" vision, in which
it gives itself simultaneously with the present, but a "surveying" vision, in
the sense of a vision from the perspective of this "place of absolute
contemplation" starting from which consciousness, across the series of its
intentional acts, supports the continuity of temporal dimensions. This
conception, "blocked by the framework of acts which imposes upon it the
philosophy of consciousness" (VI 297/244), finishes then, according to
Merleau-Ponty, as we have seen in the note cited at the opening of this
section, by revealing itself still subordinate to a serial idea of time. It is so
precisely insofar as it refers to the order of consciousness conceived as a
series of intentional acts, which present the link between past and present
as adhesion of the consciousness of the past to the consciousness of the

intersection of the two, at the moment where memory forgotten and kept by forgetfulness
returns. It might then be clear that forgetfulness and memory recalled are two modes of our
oblique relation with a past that is present to us only through the determinate void that it
leaves in us" (RC 72/119).

27. We find the critique of the Husserlian intentional anaIytics also in Merleau-Ponty's
intervention at the VIe Colloque de Bonneval (October, 1959) on the unconscious. The
summary, written by Pontalis, ofMerleau-Ponty's comments (who had died in the meantime),
in fact affirms that "the solution [to the problem of the unconscious] is also not to be found
in phenomenology, at least as long as it is conceived as an intentional analytics that would
positively distinguish and describe a series of operations or acts of consciousness" (Merleau-
Ponty, intervention in the discussion on "Langage et inconscient," in L'Inconscient (VIe
Colloque de Bonneval), ed. H. Ey [Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1966], 143).

present, and not as their Ineinander being, precisely not as simultaneity.

According to Merleau-Ponty, what underlies Husserl's conception is
consequently "an ontology that obliges whatever is not nothing to present
itself to the consciousness across Abschattungen and as deriving from an
originating donation which is an act, i.e. one Erlebnis among others" (VI
298/244). Merleau-Ponty, on the other hand, emphasizes that "it is necessary
to take as primary, not the consciousness and its Ablaufsphanomen with its
distinct intentional threads, but," as we have already seen, "the spatializing-
temporalizing vortex (which is flesh and not consciousness facing a noema)"
(VI 298/244). In other words, this vortex refers not to the intentional activity
of consciousness, but to "the fungierende or latent intentionality which is
the intentionality within being" (VI 297-8/244).
In examining the concept of temporality in Phenomenologie de la
perception, we have already noted how Merleau-Ponty saw operative in-
tentionality as the ante-predicative relation between the world and our life,
a relation that precisely inaugurates lived time, and how he assimilated the
Husserlian notion of operative intentionality to the Heideggerian notion of
transcendence, putting it at the base of his own analysis of temporality. But
operative intentionality was then still conceived within the
"'consciousness'-'object' distinction" (VI 253/200) from which this work
started, as a working note from Le Visible et I 'invisible indeed recognizes,
and consequently appeared to be marked by a duality between activity and
passivity. It is precisely this "duality" (in Merleau-Ponty's words) that the
concept oftemporalization expressed in describing the subject, on the one
hand, as plunged into the movement of time, and, on the other hand, as able
to take on the sense of this movement and to have the experience of its
continuity by virtue of its own transcendence. In short, by means of this
transcendence, the present could surpass itself toward the past and toward
the future, whereas we have now seen Merleau-Ponty demonstrating the
simultaneity in which the temporal dimensions sketch themselves within the
field of presence.
The descent, in the footsteps ofHusserl, into our "archeological" domain,
and the ontological rehabilitation of the sensible that has followed it, there-
fore have not remained without consequences-just as "Le Philosophe et
son ombre" shows-for the "conception of noesis, noema, and in-

tentionality" (S 208/165).28 In revealing the indivisible dimension of the

inaugural there is [if y a], this research has in fact shown that "the constitut-
ing consciousness is the philosopher's professional imposter" (S 227/180).
At the same time, the linked meditation on Gestalttheorie and on Saussure' s
linguistics has paved a way into Merleau-Ponty's thought for the idea of
transcendence as divergence [ecart]. He manages to develop this idea into
an ontological perspective by seeing in the very structure of Being the
source of that transcendence and by indicating in that divergence the latent
sense that is sketched in the dimension of the there is. 29 The sense that
precedes the face-to-face of consciousness and the object, the distinction
between activity and passivity, is auto-constituted precisely by virtue ofthe
operative intentionality internal to Being itself. The intimate relationship
that links this conception of intentionality with the structural idea of sense
as auto-production of a diacritic ally-organized system is clarified in this
way. Thus Merleau-Ponty's thought frees itself from the influence of the
philosophy of consciousness. We can, in fact, measure the distance that
separates this conception from that of Phenomenologie de la perception: if

28. In the light of Husserl's examples of pre-theoretical constitution, Merleau-Ponty in fact

wonders on this occasion: "[a]fter we have made this descent, are we still entitled to seek in
an analytics of acts what upholds our own and the world's life without appeal?" (S 208/165).

29. "The figure-ground distinction," according to a w:orking note from Le Visible et

I 'invisible, "introduces a third term between the 'subject' and the 'object.' It is that separation
(ecart) first of all that is the perceptual meaning" (VI 250/197). Regarding the change in the
conception of transcendence we can observe in Merleau-Ponty's last texts, one must recall
that, starting with Phenomenologie de la perception, he emphasizes that in addition to the
transcendence of one's own body there is a transcendence of things from the perspective of
human existence. Nevertheless, in this work such movements remain juxtaposed with one
another, even though there are clearly cross-references. Now, on the contrary, the insertion
ofthe body and things into the same ontological fabric, conceived diacritically, collapses the
distinction between subject and object, as well as that between activity and passivity. This
permits the determination of the source of transcendence in the very structure of Being. On
this subject, therefore, Taminiaux remarks that in Merleau-Ponty's final writings "the very
word 'transcendence' itself has changed its meaning; it no longer designates the intentional
escape from what is simply given but, instead, a belonging to a Being that withholds itself,
a Being at a distance, ever open, one that, more than being grasped by us, calls out to and
holds us" (J. Taminiaux, "L 'Experience, I' expression et la forme dans I'itineraire de Merleau-
Ponty," in Le Regard et I 'excedent [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977], 110; "Experience,
Expression, and Form in Merleau-Ponty's Itinerary," in Dialectic and Difference, ed. and
trans. Robert Crease and James T. Decker [Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1985],

the preface of this work affirmed that operative intentionality furnishes "the
text which our knowledge tries to translate into precise language" (PhP
xiii/xviii)-thus recalling the conception of unreflective consciousness as
positive foundation-sense animated by operative intentionality presents
itself now as the divergence that cuts across the sensible being ofwhich we
are. 30
Thus conceived, Merleau-Ponty consequently explains, operative in-
tentionality "becomes the thread that binds, for example, my present to my
past in its temporal place, such as it was (and not such as I reconquer it by
an act of evocation)" (VI 227/173).
It is therefore in developing the notion of operative intentionality in this
ontological perspective that Merleau-Ponty intends to "leave the philosophy
of Erlebnisse and to pass to the philosophy of our Urstiftung" (VI 2751221)
and hence to show "the passivity of our activity" (VI 274/221). Actually, we
have seen that the "philosophy of Erlebnisse" attributes the constitution of
our system of retentions and protentions to the intentional activity of
consciousness. What emerges, on the contrary, in the philosophy of spatio-
temporal Urstiftung that inaugurates our field of presence, according to
Merleau-Ponty, is not only that we do not constitute time but that our re-
tentions themselves do not refer back to an intentional act of consciousness.
Rather, they refer precisely to the operative intentionality internal to being.
Consequently, this conception modifies that of subjectivity as temporality
affirmed in Phenomenologie de la perception. While in fact confirming that
"time is thus myself' (S 2311184), as Merleau-Ponty writes in a manner that
makes evident the aspects of Bergson's philosophy present in his own

30. Consequently, while the preface of Phenomenologie de la perception emphasized

Husserl's merit at having distinguished operative intentionality from act intentionality, here
Merleau-Ponty tends to underline how operative intentionality in Husserl remains inflexible
because of a "positivist endeavor" (VI 285/231, Merleau-Ponty's emphasis). On the other
hand, MerIeau-Ponty's 1945 work was itself influenced by this endeavor. On the
abandonment, in MerIeau-Ponty's ontology, ofthe idea ofa "phenomenological positivism"
affirmed in Phenomenologie de la perception (PhP xii/xvii), see Taminiaux, Le Regard et
/'excedent, 90-115; Dialectic and Difference, 131-54. See also G. B. Madison, La
Phenomenologie de Merleau-Ponty. Une Recherche des limites de la conscience, (Paris:
Klincksieck, 1973),208-9; The Phenomenology ofMerleau-Ponty (Athens: Ohio University
Press, 1981), 195-6.

thought,31 this conception also indicates that I am not "a flux of individual
Erlebnisse" but "a field of Being" (VI 293/240) structured according to the
model of the visual field. This field is composed of dimensional differences
which are cut out on the universal dimensionality of Being. Even self-
presence is sketched, therefore, in diacritical terms: in fact, it cannot be
coincidence with the lived, because the visible present is not without its
invisible ground. 32 This coincidence therefore can only be, as Merleau-Ponty
affirms by means of an expression that comes precisely from Bergson in the
lines we have just cited in a footnote, "partial coincidence" insofar as it
gives itselfas "coinciding from afar" (VI 1661125)~33 In this sense, Merleau-
Ponty writes that "Self-presence ... is an absence from oneself, a contact
with the Self through the divergence [ecart] with regard to Self--The
figure on a ground" (VI 246/192, trans. mod.). It is here that Merleau-
Ponty's self-criticism relative to the concept of the tacit Cogito, which
precisely tried to indicate being close to oneself in primordial and silent
experience, is enrooted. And it is also here that the conception of subjectiv-
ity as ''fissure,'' which already appeared in Phenomenologie de la perception

31. Cf. Merleau-Ponty, "Bergson se faisant," read atthe Congres Bergson (May 17-20, 1959)
and published in Bulletin de la Societe fram;aise de philosophie, n. 1 (1960): 35-45.
"Bergson in the Making," reprinted in S 229-41/182-91.
Regarding the influence of Bergson on Merleau-Ponty's later thought, see R. Ronchi,
Bergson filosofo dell'interpretazione (Genoa: Marietti, 1990), in particular Chapter 3; E.
Lisciani-Petrini, "Merleau-Ponty-Bergson: un dialogo 'se faisant'," II pensiero, n.s., n. 33
(1993),67-93; R. Barbaras, Le Tournant de I 'experience (Paris: Vrin, 1998), in particular
Chapter 2; T. Toadvine, "Nature and Negation: Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Bergson,"
Chiasmi International 2 (2000), 107-17.

32. "The present itself is not an absolute coincidence without transcendence; even the
Urerlebnis involves not total coincidence, but partial coincidence, because it has horizons and
would not be without them-the present, also, is ungraspable from close-up ... it is an
encompassing" (VI 2491195). See equally VI 244/191.

33. "But," Merleau-Ponty wonders, "what is a coincidence that is only partial? It is a

coincidence always past or always future, an experience that remembers an impossible past,
anticipates an impossible future, that emerges from Being or that will incorporate itself into
Being, that 'is of it' but is not it, and therefore is not a coincidence, a real fusion, as of two
positive terms or two elements of an alloyage, but an overlaying, as of a hollow and a relief
which remain distinct" (VI 163-4/122-3).

without being deepened, is deve10ped. 34 InLe Visible et I 'invisible, Merleau-

Ponty emphasizes that subjectivity is ''fissure,'' not in the Sartrean sense of
pure nothingness, of emptiness or "hole" immediately filled with the
plenitude of being, but in the sense of "hollow," hollowed out precisely by
the woof of sensible being's differentiations. In fact, this woof culminates
by folding itself back into a sensible that, on the other side-the side of
absence of its presence to that being, the "spiritual side" spoken of by
Husserl-is also sensing. 35 By virtue of this, therefore, the sensible-sensing
sketches a hollow inside the sensible by which the reflexivity of this very
sensible exerts itself.
In light of the foregoing, we can now see what Merleau-Ponty calls the
"passivity of our activity." As a field of differentiations cut across by the
transcendence of Being, the one that we can no longer properly call
"subject," in his dealings with the flesh of the world in which he is held,
participates in the looming up of sense at the heart of Being. In other words,
in these dealings animated by latent intentionality, perception accomplishes
itself in the indistinction between perceiving and being perceived. Con-
sciousness does not consist, therefore, in operating a series of acts of
attribution of sense, but reveals itself as "transcendence, as to be surpassed
by ... and hence as ignorance" (VI 250/197). In this sense, our activity is
always doubled with a passivity, and what Merleau-Ponty calls "the second
and more profound sense of narcissism" (VI 183/139) is the narcissism of
Being itself: the reflexivity by virtue of which it manifests itself Merleau-
Ponty again makes allusion to all of this in the working note of Le Visible
et I 'invisible dedicated to the problem of forgetting: he emphasizes that what
must be affirmed is "that the things have us, and that it is not we who have
the things. That the being that has been cannot stop having been. The

34. For an examination of this theme, see M. Carbone, "A partir de Cezanne. Art et 'pre-
monde' chez Merleau-Ponty," in Figures de la finitude. Etudes d'anthropologie
philosophique, vol. 3, ed. G. Florival (Louvain-Ia-Neuve-Paris: Editions de l'Institut
Superieur de Philosophie et Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1988), 100-14.
35. "In short: nothingness (or rather non being) is hollow and not hole" (VI 249/196).
Another working note adds: "The soul, the for-itself, is a hollow and not a void, not absolute
non-being with respect to a Being that would be plenitude and a hard core. The sensibility of
the others is 'the other side' of their aesthesiological body. And I can surmise this other side,
nichturprasentierbar, through the articulation of the other's body on my sensible" (VI
2861233). Regarding Merleau-Ponty's critique ofthe Sartrean conception of subjectivity, cf.
also VI 78 ff.! 52 ff.

'Memory of the World. ' That language has us and that it is not we who have
language. That it is being that speaks within us and not we who speak of
being" (VI 247/194).
As one of the working notes by which we began this section suggested in
other terms, being announces itself at the same time as always already there
before us and as always "at the first day": for this reason, the time that
palpitates in this dimension marks precisely the passivity of our activity.36
In fact, still commenting on Bergson's thought, Merleau-Ponty writes that
"I know my duration as no one else does because I am caught up in it;
because it overflows me, I have an experience of it which could not be more
narrowly or closely conceived" (S 231/184, emphasis added).
This time, this duration which I am insofar as I am ojbrute being, always
already there and always at the first day-as this same essay emphasizes-is
a time "always new and, precisely in this respect, always the same" (S
2311184). Consequently, this time outlines a sort of "existential eternity,"
the simultaneity between past and present. It deals with the "mythical time"
about which we have seen Merleau-Ponty evoke the names of Proust and
Freud, this time that he opposes to serial time and in the conception of
which the critique of the modem category of novum comes to the surface.
The last of Le Visible et I 'invisible working notes to which we have made
allusion designates the time that palpitates in the dimension of brute being
as "a sort of time of sleep" {VI 320/267).37 In sleep, as in the dimension of
brute being, where subject and object are not yet constituted, where activity
and passivity are undifferentiated, where space and time lose their
distinction, the present is enveloped, in fact, by a past that is the farthest
away, a past defined by the citation with which we began this section as
"indestructible," as "intemporal." It is precisely this pastthat Merleau-Ponty

36. Le Visible et I 'invisible indicates that "[w]hen I find again the actual world such as it is,
under my hands, under my eyes, up against my body, I find much more than an object: a
Being of which my vision is a part, a visibility older than my operations or my acts" (VI

37. It is necessary to recall concerning this issue the manner in which the course summary on
"Le Probleme de la passivite" underlines that "sleeping consciousness is not a recess of pure
nothingness: it is cluttered with the debris of the past and present; it plays with them" (Re

sees brought to the surface by the "associations" used by Freudian

psychoanalysis. 38
With respect to this past, this same note invokes "the Proustian corporeity
as guardian ofthe past" (VI 2971243) against the order of consciousness that
blocks the Husserlian analysis of temporality. Already in Phenomenologie
de la perception, the influence of Proust on the Merleau-Pontian analysis of
temporality seemed to temper that ofHusserl and led Merleau-Ponty, as we
have already indicated, to accentuate, in comparison to Husserl, "the body's
function in remembering." Now, the lesson of Proust on this subject seems
to assert itself decidedly in comparison to that of Husserl. In fact, because
it is through the body that we are implicated in brute sensible being,
according to an indistinction between activity and passivity, the body
presents itself as the guardian of "mythical time," of the "existential
eternity" that palpitates in brute sensible being. This seems to be alluded to
in the concise passage from a working note of Le Visible et I 'invisible that
clearly intends to emphasize the identity of activity and passivity, a passage
in which Merleau-Ponty announces his intention to "[p]osit the existential
eternity-the eternal body" (VI 318/265). And if, as was already the case in
Phenomenologie de la perception, this eternity seems to be enrooted in
temporality-it makes itself one only with "mythical" time-nevertheless,
unlike Phenomenologie de la perception, the power to "eternalize" is here
no longer a privilege of speech.39 Instead, sedimentation is defined as a
synonym "of secondary passivity, that is, of latent intentionality" (VI
227/173). In short, sedimentation gives itself by virtue of our spatio-
temporal Urstiftung in Being, and it is precisely the notion of Urstiftung that
we have seen Merleau-Ponty oppose to the "philosophy of Erlebnisse" with
the aim of showing the passivity of our activity. The preface to Signes seems
to refer us to this conception when, paraphrasing Proust's allusion to the

38. "The 'associations' of psychoanalysis are in reality 'rays' of time and of the world" (VI
293/240). Another passage ofLe Visible et I 'invisible explains in fact that "[I] ike the memory
screen of the psychoanalysts, the present, the visible counts so much for me and has an
absolute prestige for me only by reason of this immense latent content ofthe past, the future,
and the elsewhere, which it announces and which it conceals" (VI 1541114). On this subject,
see also Gambazzi, Fenomenologia e psicoanalisi nell 'ultimo Merleau-Ponty, esp. 122, n. 30.

39. Regarding this privilege that Merleau-Ponty attributes to speech in Phenomenologie de

la perception, see in particular the chapter ofthis work devoted to "The Body as Expression,
and Speech," as we11 as the one devoted to "The Cogito."

figure of "embodied time,"40 Merleau-Ponty affirms that "I function by

construction. 1 am installed on a pyramid of time which has been me" (S
21114).41 The figure of "embodied time" and Proust's work in its entirety,
in fact, describe a life without consciousness, an experience emerging
precisely as in sleep or in one of those states of half-sleep of which the
Recherche is fu1l 42 and of which we saw a famous example, cited in
Phenomenologie de la perception, at the beginning of this essay. In short,
the object of Proust's search [recherche] is this "life without Erlebnisse,
without interiority" (VI 2961243) that Merleau-Ponty also intends "to
restore." In this manner, both of them profoundly show the disintegration of

40. "This notion of Time embodied, of years past but not separated from us, it was now my
intention to emphasise as strongly as possible in my work. And at this very moment, in the
house of the Prince de Guermantes, as though to strengthen me in my resolve, the noise of
my parents' footsteps as they accompanied M. Swann to the door and the peal-resilient,
ferruginous, interminable, fresh and shrill-ofthe bell on the garden gate which informed me
that at last he had gone and that mamma would presently come upstairs, these sounds rang
again in my ears, yes, unmistakably I heard these very sounds, situated though they were in
a remote past" (R III 104611 105).

41. Anne Simon also observes that this expression by Merleau-Ponty "makes one think of the
final pages of Temps retrouve'" (Simon, "Proust et l"architecture' du visible," 106, n. 1).
The consonance of the Proustian figure of "embodied time" with the Merleau-Pontian
conception of temporality moreover reveals the motifs demonstrated by Ricceur's
commentary on this figure: "The itinerary of Recherche moves from the idea of a distance
that separates to that of a distance that joins together. This is confirmed by the final figure of
time proposed in Recherche, that of an accumulated duration that is, in a sense, beneath us"
(Time and Narrative, vol. II, 224/151).
42. In fact, Giorgio Agamben notes that "Proust seems ... to be thinking about certain
twilight states, such as half-sleep and the loss of consciousness: 'I could not even be sure at
first who I was' -such is its typical formulation, of which Poulet inventoried the innumerable
variations" (G. Agamben, InJanzia e storia. Distruzione dell'esperienza e origine della storia,
2nd ed. [Turin: Einaudi, 1979],39).

the very notion ofthe subject43 and, thereby, the consequent "mutation of the
relationship between humanity and Being"44 within which we are living.

43. On this topic, one must recall that Walter Benjamin, in his essay on Baudelaire,
recognizes in Proust's work a critique ofthe concept of Erlebnis, to which he sees opposed
that of Erfahrung as experience accumulated in passivity. Consequently, he brings the
dialectic of memory and forgetfulness of which the Recherche is woven back to this latter
concept. See W. Benjamin, "Uber einige Motive bei Baudelaire," (1939-40), in Gesammelte
Schriflen, vol. 1,2, ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhauser (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp,
1972-77),605-53; "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire," in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn
(New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 155-200. See also Benjamin, "Zum Bilde Prousts,"
(1929), in Gesammelte Schriflen, vol. 2, 1, ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhauser
(Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1972-77),310-25; "The Image of Proust," in Illuminations,
We refer here to our Di alcuni motivi in Marcel Proust (Milan: Cortina, 1998), in which
we have had occasion to compare the interpretations given by Benjamin and Merleau-Ponty
on this subject.

44. Merleau-Ponty, L'mil et ['esprit (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 63; "Eye and Mind," trans.
Michael Smith, in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, ed. Galen Johnson (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1993), 139 (trans. mod.).
Chapter 9

Eugen Fink and Maurice Merleau-Ponty:

The Philosophical Lineage in Phenomenology

Ronald Bruzina
University of Kentucky

Abstract: Published and unpublished documentation allows drawing

significant similarities between Merleau-Ponty 's grasp ofHusserlian
phenomenology, as summarized in his "preface" to Phenomenologie
de la perception, and Fink's well-based understanding ofthat program.
Pivoting on the long discussion the two philosophers held in Louvain
in 1939, the article outlines the themes of the remarkable continuity
and coherence between them, suggesting the two were carrying out the
central investigatory thrust that is phenomenology's core.

The history and life of philosophy is the interplay between, on the one hand,
a tradition of accepted ways in which meaning has form and determi-
nacy-terms, ideas, interpretations, issues, methods, principles-and, on the
other, telling new realizations by which previously gained achievements are
radically reconfigured and revitalized in a new living actuality in thought
and writing. But the interplay between a heritage and the autonomous action
by which that heritage lives in innovative thinking is also always the
straining of the one factor against the other in inseparable codeterminacy.
This is what we see in the issue addressed regarding the present collection
of conference papers, "MerIeau-Ponty's Reading ofHusserI," in the form of
the question that arose in the course of discussion at the conference, namely,
of the role Eugen Fink played in the understanding that MerIeau-Ponty
gained of the investigative thrust of HusserI's phenomenology. We have
here a concrete instance of the way a lineage prepares for, and demands, the
innovation that continues its living force; for in this case, impelled by the
constitutive principles of the phenomenological investigation that HusserI
inaugurated, Fink strained against HusserI' s own practice as the two worked
together in that very program. And this same compelling necessity is what
we see followed by MerIeau-Ponty in what I would consider the single most
substantively investigative phenomenology after HusserI.
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, 173--200.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

I. The Documentation of a Lineage

There are two aspects to the understanding of how Merleau-Ponty under-

stood Husserl's phenomenology: 1) the question of how central points in
Merleau-Ponty's reading of Husserl were shaped by Fink's understanding
of transcendental phenomenology, and 2) the question of how Fink's
understanding of transcendental phenomenology was situated as an
integrated element in the actual development of phenomenology in the final
phase of Husserl's work. It would be a large order to cover all that both
aspects comprise, and so the following study will have to suffice as little
more than a precis.
To begin with: The only way to see how to a significant degree Merleau-
Ponty was oriented by Fink's work is to study the evidence of contact both
indirect and direct. The indirect contact was Merleau-Ponty' s reading of the
material Fink had published by 1940 on Husserl' s phenomenology. 1 While
Merleau-Ponty had given special attention to Fink's work, other essays and
other thinkers had drawn his interest as well. Showing how Fink's material
worked in the context of these other influences and the steps by which
Merleau-Ponty developed his distinctive insights is not undertaken here. 2
One telling event in that development, however, was the direct contact that
took place during Merleau-Ponty's brief week in Louvain in the spring of

1. See Theodore Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale: La Genese de la

philosophie de Maurice Merleau-Ponty jusqu '11 la Phenomenologie de la perception (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971), in particular pp. 28-31, 137-46. OfMerleau-Ponty's three
extant letters to Fink from after World War II (January 20, 1951, June 29, 1959, and
September 13, 1960) in the Fink Nachlass, in the first he writes that he had "read the works
you published (and even the 'Sixth Cartesian Meditation') while you were with Husserl" and
that it was Sartre "who a long time ago had directed me to your article in Kantstudien."
Merleau-Ponty goes on to speak of the wish he has long had in knowing "the direction your
personal reflection would be taking, so close to and yet so different from Husserl's." He
explains too that it is not just Fink the "commentator on Husserl," but also the "original
philosopher" that he saw in those early publications. On Merleau-Ponty's reading of the
"Sixth Cartesian Meditation," see p. 177 below. See, too, the reference to Fink's pre- 1940
writings below on pp. 176-7.

2. That is, a study similar to Theodore Kisiel's massive tracing of the piecing of threads by
which Heidegger wove his Sein und Zeit, The Genesis of Heidegger 's Being and Time
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), might also be done for Merleau-Ponty's
Phenomenologie de la perception. A substantial measure of this is already provided by
Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale.

1939 (April 1-6), a mere two weeks after Fink had arrived in Louvain
(March 16) upon emigrating from Germany, where a university career was
denied him because of his refusal to leave Husserl. During that week in
Louvain, Merleau-Ponty studied the then yet unpublished typescripts for
Husserl's Ideen II, the transcription of late manuscripts on primordial
constitution, and Part III of the Krisis typescript; but in addition, as Father
Van Breda recounts,3 Fink and Merleau-Ponty held "a long exchange on
how they viewed things, and moreover an exciting one,"4 despite the
considerable difficulty each had in expressing himself in the other's
language-an exchange that Van Breda himself facilitated by acting as
interpreter for them. 5
Merleau-Ponty's visit to Louvain was made, as he explains in his letter to
Van Breda (March 20, 1939), as he was "pursuing work on the Phe-
nomenologie de la perception."6 In other words, the understanding of
phenomenology that would be formulated in Phenomenologie de la
perception was in process, and would be affected by the study he would be

3. H. L. Van Breda, "Maurice Merleau-Ponty et les Archives-Husserl it Louvain," Revue de

mlitaphysique et de morale 67 (Oct.-Dec., 1962),410-30; "Merleau-Ponty and the Husser!
Archives at Louvain," trans. Stephen Michelman, in Texts and Dialogues, ed. Hugh J.
Silverman and James Barry Jr. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992), 150-61
[cited hereafter as "Archives," with French preceding English pagination].

4. "Archives," 413/152, my translation.

5. Ibid. So far as I can determine, there are at the Husser! Archives no records by Van Breda
of this conversation. Yet Fink has notes for or from many conversations in the last years
before World War II both in Freiburg (apart from Husser!, most often with Landgrebe) and
in Louvain after his arrival there (with Landgrebe again, but frequently also with Alphonse
de Waelhens and Van Breda himself, among others). While these do not show what the topics
of the conversation with Mer!eau-Ponty were, still one can be sure that some ofthe topics and
points broached with Mer!eau-Ponty figured in conversations with others as well. Three good
examples are Fink's notes for discussions with Van Breda from 1939-Z-XXVI 100a-b-and
from January 1940-Z-XXVIII Xl1a-4a and 23a-b (see below, pp. 186-7 and note 30), each
of which take up issues that are directly relevant to Merleau-Ponty's central theses regarding
transcendental phenomenology. These folders of notes will be in Vol. 4 of the edition of
Fink's hitherto unpublished work with Husserl, Die letzte phiinomenologische Werkstatt
Freiburg: Eugen Finks Mitarbeit bei Edmund Husserl, Manuskripte und Dokumente, in
preparation for the series Orbis Phaenomenologicus, Alber Verlag [cited hereafter as EFM,
followed by the volume number]. The first two volumes are expected to appear within the
coming year and the remaining two volumes a year or two later.

6. Van Breda, "Archives," 4121151, my translation.


able to make at Louvain. It is significant, too, that in his letter Merleau-

Ponty asks about the status of the sequel to Fink's article in Revue
internationale de philosophie, "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund
Husserls."7 This reverts to the question ofMerleau-Ponty's indirect contact
with Fink's thinking, both before his visit to Louvain and after. Before the
visit Merleau-Ponty had found special interest in Fink's famous 1933
Kantstudien article, 8 in addition to both the essay in the Revue international
de philosophie just mentioned as well as Fink's introductory remarks to
Husserl's "Origin of Geometry" also appearing there in Fink's extensive
reworking ofit. 9 Two years after Merleau-Ponty's visit at Louvain, Gaston
Berger's study, Le Cogito dans la ph ilosophie de Husser! appeared, 10 a book
significant for the present issue in a number of ways. For one, Berger's
influential study refers to Fink's work dozens of times, in particular the
Kantstudien article and "Was Will die Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls?",

7. Reprinted in Studien zur Phiinomenologie, 1930-1939, Phaenomenologica21 (The Hague:

Martinus N ijhoff, 1966), 179-223 [cited hereafter as Studien]. There is indication that before
the disruption of Fink's life in Louvain by the invasion ofthe Low Countries by Germany on
May 10, 1940, he had in fact composed the sequel, but it is no longer extant. Still Fink has
notes on his thinking about its tenor and topics, offering, again, indication of the context for
points he would have made with Merleau-Ponty. See EFM 4 Z-XXVII.

8. "Die phanomenologische Philosophie Edmund Husserls in der gegenwiirtigen Kritik, I,"

in Studien, 79-156; "The Phenomenological Philosophy of Edmund Husserl and
Contemporary Criticism," in The Phenomenology ofHusser!: Selected Critical Readings, ed.
R. O. Elveton (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1970), 73-147 [cited hereafter as "Husserl and
Contemporary Criticism"]'

9. See Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, 137 ff. Fink's "Vorwort" is
in Revue internationale de philosophie 2 (1939): 203-6, with the text of "Origin" on 207-25.
Fink's revision changes many passages in line with the understanding ofthe matters involved
that he had gained in his years with Husserl, a revision task that was normal for assistants. In
this case, however! there was no opportunity for Husserl's input in the revision process
beyond what had already gone on during the several years oftheir close work on the "Crisis"-
project as a whole. This is another matter that cannot be specifically gone into here. For a
brief entry into it, however, see my essay "Language in Lifeworld Phenomenology: The
'Origin of Geometry' Was Not the Final Word," in Phenomenology and Beyond, Selected
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, v. 21, ed. John D. Caputo and Lenore
Langsdorf, supplement to Philosophy Today 40 (1996): 91-102.

10. Berger, Le Cogito dans la philosophie de Husser! (Paris: Aubier, 1941); The Cogito in
Husser! 's Philosophy, trans. Kathleen McLauglin (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,

an essay Fink had published in 1934; 11 and this is no accident. Berger had
visited Fink and Husserl in Freiburg in August, 1934, after contacting Fink
on the occasion of having read the copy of the latter article that Fink had
sent him. 12 During the visit Fink gave Berger his own copy of the "Sixth
Cartesian Meditation,"13 and Berger refers to it also in his book. 14 Thus it
was that Merleau-Ponty was able to read the "Sixth Meditation" manuscript
during a visit to Provence in the summer of 1942, as he explains in a letter
to Van Breda from October 1 that same year. 15 Here is why Merleau-Ponty

II. "Was Will die Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls," reprinted in Studien, 157-78; "What
Does the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl Want to Accomplish?" trans. Arthur Grugan,
Research in Phenomenology 2 [1972]: 5-27. There are thirty-six footnote references to Fink
in Le Cogito, beginning with one to "the 1934 essay" and the reference to the "Sixth
Meditation" on p. 115/92.

12. Letter from Berger to Fink, June 25, 1934, in the Fink Nachlass, Freiburg. Berger also
wrote a brief notice on the article in the journal he edited, Les Etudes philosophiques 8
(1934): 44-5, where he speaks of it as a "very important study," noting "the particular
authority" that Fink's treatments possess "because of his being in constant and very close
relationship with Husserl," knowing not only the latter's writings, "but also his intentions and
not yet published work." He also refers readers to Fink's Kantstudien article. These remarks
reflect the experience Berger had in his visit with Husserl and Fink in Freiburg. See also
Husser!'s remarks on being impressed by Berger in his letter to Gustav Albrecht, October 7,
1934 (Edmund Husser!, BrieJwechsel, ed. Kar! Schuhmann, Husserliana Dokumente III/9
[Dorchrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994], 105-6).

13. See Guy van Kerckhoven' s account of the situation in Mundanizzazione e individuazione;
La posta in gioco nella Sesta Meditazione cartesiana di Husserl e Fink (Genova: il
melangolo, 1998),71-2. The "Sixth Meditation" has been published as Eugen Fink, VI.
Cartesianische Meditation, Teill: Die Idee einer transzendentalen Methodenlehre, ed. Hans
Ebeling, Jann Holl, and Guy van Kerckhoven, Husserliana Dokumente III I ; Teil 2:
Ergiinzungsband, ed. Guy van Kerckhoven, Husserliana Dokumente II12 (Dordrecht: Kluwer
Academic Publishers, 1988) [cited hereafter as Hua-Dok III I and II12]. See note 23 below for
the translation.

14. Berger, Le Cogito, 115 n. 1192 n. 95. Though this is the only direct mention-and the
earliest published mention anywhere-because of the direct compositional linkage between
the Kantstudien essay and the "Sixth Meditation," the many references to Fink's Kantstudien
essay highlight the importance of the "Sixth Meditation."

15. See Van Breda's quoting from this letter in "Archives," 421/156.

could refer to the "Sixth Meditation" in his "Preface" to Phenomenologie de

la perception. 16
The documentary evidence, then, shows that an important measure ofthe
general interpretive principles for the understanding of Husserl 's transcen-
dental phenomenology that was forming in the French context from which
Merleau-Ponty drew stemmed from Fink, all of which added to the effect
that the conversation with Fink himself in 1939 had upon his thinking. Yet
the fact that Merleau-Ponty came to phenomenology from an interest in the
biology and psychology of human existence is also of deep importance to
the formation ofthe orientations that prepared him for the lessons he would
learn about phenomenology out of Fink's contribution to its development.
Indeed, what led to Merleau-Ponty' s work in La Structure du comportement
was at least in part "pre~phenomenological"-with sources as diverse as
Henri Bergson, Gabriel Marcel, F.J.J. Buytendijk, and Kurt Goldstein l7-
and hence quite concordant with phenomenology, if not, as in the case of his
work with Aron Gurwitsch, already squarely phenomenological. This, too,
is very much a part of, indeed essential to, Merleau-Ponty's development,
and cannot be forgotten when the present explication of substantive
philosophic continuities with the transcendental phenomenology that Fink
worked in are undertaken.

2. Themes in a Further Phenomenology

(A) The overarching thesis ofMerleau-Ponty' s "Preface" to Phenomenolog-

ie de la perception is most quickly grasped if we link its opening sentences
to the ones that close it. And this is the thesis that the question of what
phenomenology is can only be answered if we realize phenomenology is
always unfinished. This is so because the fundamental structure that endows
human being with, and holds it in, its capacities and actions also constitu-
tively restricts phenomenology in its task of explicating that fundamental

16. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), vii;

PhenomenologyojPerception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962;
revised, 1981), i [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English pagination]. Merleau-
Ponty's characterization of the "Sixth Meditation" as "redigee par Eugen Fink" is more
correctly rendered as "composed" rather than as "edited," as the translation by Colin Smith
has it.

17. See Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, Chapter 1.


structure to being effective only by always remaining inchoate in that task.

Human being is held already from the beginning in the linkage of "the world
and reason,"18 and can never exit from that empowering embrace to take a
fully-detached, adequate and all-encompassing look upon it. And phenom-
enology's whole effort teaches that this is true of philosophy as such, not
just of itself as phenomenology.

(B) This lesson is spun in various threads throughout the "Preface" (as well
as throughout the book), being most pronounced in the whole conception of
the way concrete investigation and the eidetic interrelate-a theme that not
only dominates the "Preface" (and is repeated in the main text), but is taken
up again and again in the rest ofMerleau-Ponty's thinking and writing right
through to Le Visible et I 'invisible. 19 Most dramatically, however, this prime
lesson is expressed as the realization of the "impossibility of a complete
reduction" (PhP ix/xiv). And the reason for it is clearly given: "We are in
the world, since indeed our reflections are carried out in the temporal flux
on which we are trying to seize." There is, therefore, no way to gain in
thought a complete and exhaustive grasp of all there is to thinking-that is,
of the singularly radical way the intrinsic, constitutively transcendental

18. It is surely no accident that, having gone to Louvain to read as much as he could of the
full typescript of Husserl's Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschaften und die
transzendentale Phiinomenologie, Merleau-Ponty repeats in the closing lines of his "Preface"
(PhP xvi/xxi) the overarching problematic that Husserl sets for the whole "Crisis"-project:
"the ... world-problem of the deepest essential interrelation between reason and that-which-
is" (Husserl, Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale
Phiinomenologie, 2 nd ed., Husserliana, vol. 6, ed. Walter Biemel [The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1976], 5, 12 [cited hereafter as Hua VI]; The Crisis of European Sciences and
Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr [Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1970], 5,13, translation modified [cited hereafter as Crisis]).

19. Thus PhP ii-ix/viii-xiv prepares for the points that then are made directly regarding
"essences" and the knowledge of what "consciousness" is on pp. ix-xiv/xi v-xix; see also the
first half ofp. 76 [last half of 63]. "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man" takes up the
issue again (in Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, And Other Essays on
Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics, ed. James M.
Edie [Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1964],43-95); and, finally, the issue within this
issue works throughout Le Visible et I 'invisible. See in particular the opening section,
"Reflex ion et interrogation," Le Visible et I 'invisible, ed. Claude Lefort (Paris: Gallimard,
1964), 17-74; "Reflection and Interrogation," The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso
Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968),3-49 [cited hereafter as VI, with
French preceding English pagination].

interrelation of the world and reason is the dependence of consciousness "on

unreflective life which is its initial situation, unchanging, given once and for
all. "20
I. would argue that, in an astonishingly astute insight on Merleau-Ponty' s
part, this is equivalent to the overall thrust of Fink's "Sixth Cartesian
Meditation"; but this is an interpretive point it would take a long elucidation
of that essay to demonstrate. Let me get to it in a more summary way by
reviewing some of the other points in Merleau-Ponty's take on Husserl's

(C) To begin with, in the whole "Preface," and in this very passage on the
essential incompleteness of the reduction, Merleau-Ponty draws out the
implications of the massive totally singular kind of "fact" within which all
else is held, namely, that "the world is 'already there' before reflection
begins"-as the opening lines point out (PhP i/vii)-and that this "already
there"-ness, this inescapable pregivenness ofthe world, is the very situation
within which the kind of inquiry and reflection that is phenomenology must
move in order to be at all, as the penultimate paragraph emphasizes.

(D) This embeddedness in the world, now, is a double constraint, to expand

somewhat the point already made in (A). In being the constitutive
condition21 that makes living reason and reflection possible as actual
reasoning and reflecting, embeddedness in the world is both a) the condition
that prevents carrying out the reduction to its fullness, that is, to the
presumptively consummate point of effectively countering that embedded-
ness, if not removing it, and b) the condition that makes a reduction
necessary, namely, in that the condition dissembles its own character and
originative fundamentality precisely in its being effectively originative. Put

20. PhP ix/xiv; see, again, PhP 75-6/62-3. It is this general thrust that is also embodied in
VI, especially the section entitled "The Perceptual Faith and Reflection," 48-74128-49.

21. One could suggest saying "the ontic-ontologically constitutive condition" in order to
make clear that we are not talking here about a pure condition of possibility for conceptual
rationality, as some might construe Kant's effort in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft. But this
would have to be understood as saying that the result o/this ultimate kind of condition is
ontic-ontological constitutive status, and not that the condition itself is to be understood in
either ontic or ontological terms. This, however, is another issue and far too complex to take
up here, straddling as it would the theoretical convergences and differences between Merleau-
Ponty, Fink, Husserl, and Heidegger.

another way, the pregivenness of the world is simultaneously the basis a) for
the conviction that the world is the consummate reality, and b) for the naIve
way in which that reality tends to be interpreted as simply the sum-total of
the things that are to be found around us within the world. In a word, the
pregivenness of the world is the prejuge du monde, which is both a
constitutive condition and the naIvely mistaken construal of that condition
in a particular belief about what the world is, whether implicit as an attitude
or explicit as a metaphysically naturalistic assertion. 22

(E) To be as embedded in the already given world, now, cannot be

interpreted as a one-modality existence; there are many ways in which one
is living consciousness in a milieu, and of these the fundamental mode,
sustaining all others, is what is termed "operative intentionality (fundierende
Intentionalitiit), that which produces the natural and antepredicative unity
of the world and of our life," in distinction from explicitly thematic object-
aiming intentionality, "intentionality of act." With this "operative
intentionality" one is finally able to begin making clear the character of the
constitutive origination of the sense that unfolds in and articulates the full
compass and variety of the field of historical existence that is one's life in
the world (PhP xiii-xiv/xviii-xix). This is what transcendental phenomenol-
ogy aims to disclose within what is termed-always in preliminary fashion,
that is, in ever-open anticipation of what will be discovered as its fundamen-
tal character-"subjectivity." However, the method for the disclosure that
aims to explicate the fundamental condition that grounds all further
modalities of experiential engagement in the world has to be the kind that
is appropriate to the status of that fundamental condition. In that this
fundamental condition is that out of which phenomenality as such arises, it
is not the kind of thing that can itself1ie open phenomenally in an intuitive
moment of evidencing. A method is required, therefore, that brings this
fundamental condition to consideration without pretending to be simple,
straightforward presentation.

22. It is unfortunate that the import of Merleau-Ponty's expression,prejuge du monde, has

not been fully appreciated, leading to the obscuring of its complex, and double, sense in the
translation (e.g., in Phenomenology of Perception, p. 5, where it is translated simply as
"widely held prejudice," or pp. 257 and 273, as "preconceived notion of the world.") See
below, 194 ff., where it is linked to Fink's term, Weltbefangenheit.

There is much more that could be said, but this much at least specifies
points that, being so basic as to mark his work thereafter to the very end,
unmistakably pertain to the core of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological
thinking; and this much will allow the identifications that place that thinking
in a quite specific philosophical lineage.

3. The Antecedents in the Lineage of a Further Phenomenology:

The System of Phenomenology

The manner in which these points basic to Merleau-Ponty's understanding

of phenomenology allow determining a lineage from Husserl by way of the
contributions of Fink to framing the character of transcendental phenomen-
ology depends upon the place Fink had with Husserl, on the one hand, and
upon the features of phenomenological self-understanding that comprise
Fink's basic contribution to it. Summary treatment of the situation is
something that is offered elsewhere and is too much to repeat here.23
Moreover, the fact of Fink's working with Husserl from 1928 until the
latter's death in 1938 is well known, even if the particulars of that associa-
tion are not, in particular regarding the way Fink unfolded critical transfor-
mations within Husserlian phenomenology as the realization its internal
dynamic demands, even if these took it beyond Husserl's own framework
of habitual practice and published declaration. For the present purpose, what
needs at least to be indicated is Fink's methodological contribution, and,
along with this, his interpretive reorientation of issues in accord with that
methodology-both matters in the forefront of the publications by Fink that
Merleau-Ponty had studied.
On the first point, the contribution to the methodological self-understand-
ing of phenomenology, there are two aspects. One is Fink's making explicit
of the distinctive "system"-character ofHusserl's method, and the other is
developing the self-critique dimension in phenomenology upon the basis of
its programmati9 and theoretical fundamentals, viz., a) the phenomenologi-

23. See my "Translator's Introduction" to Eugen Fink, Sixth Cartesian Meditation: The Idea
of a Transcendental Theory of Method, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995),
vii-Iix [cited hereafter as Sixth Meditation]. A far fuller treatment will be offered in Edmund
Husserl and Eugen Fink: Beginnings and Ends in Phenomenology, 1928-1938, under
preparation for Yale University Press; the first chapter will present a detailed, historically
documented account [cited hereafter as Bruzina, Husserl and Fink].

cal reduction and b) the place of the world as the ultimate horizon of
meaning and actuality in properly posing the problem of reason and being.
On the "system"-character, while the term "system" can be used-and
was by Husserl-in the general sense of the ordering relationship between
principles, stages of inquiry, and leading points of investigative outcome,
Fink found it more significant to place the heart of any conception of
systematic coherence for phenomenology in the dynamic a/its investigative
principles, that is, in the problem-determining demand that drove the
inquiry. Fink's own statements of it perhaps best characterizes this sense of
"system," in somewhat telegraphic notebook style:

With Husserl, his system grows out of the individual analyses. The paradoxical
situation, that the concreteness of phenomenological philosophy lies in the
manuscripts, which however first make possible the general systematic
projections. On the other hand, it is only in the light of these projections that the
more comprehensive relevance of the analyses can be seen. These systematic
anticipatory perspectives guided things for Husser1. 24

Another way of putting it is also Fink's:

The peculiarity of Edmund Husserl's way of working is that all systematic

projections are not constructions that precede concrete investigations, rather they
develop in the analyses. But that filled out analyses are made possible also results
in the systematic projected design being broken open again, to gain thereby the
characteristic of mobility. This is a fundamental characteristic of phenomenol-
ogy-despite all its rigor [it is an] open system. 25

What is systematic in phenomenology, then, is not that it achieves a final,

definitive hierarchy of principles, elements, interrelationships whereby
every factor or finding links demonstratively to every other in clear, logical

24. This text is from one of Fink's folders of notes for his work on the editing of Husserl's
Bernau manuscripts on temporal analysis, designated B-1 40a, and contained in EFM 2 (my
25. B-1 22a (EFM 2), emphasis Fink's, insertion in brackets mine (my translation). In more
general expression, see also Fink's discussion of "the openness of the systematic of
phenomenology" in Hua-Dok III I , 8-9/Sixth Meditation, 7-8, which conforms with Fink's
way here of rephrasing the "zig-zag" principle first spoken of in Logical Investigations, vol.
I, trans. J. N. Finlay (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970),261 (in Husserl's original
division: Vol. II, Introduction, 6); see also Hua VI 59/Crisis, 58.

necessity-as Christian Wolff attempted in his vast ordering of all

knowledge-but rather that any such relationships be conceived in terms of
the dynamic methodology of the distinctive kind of investigation that the
reduction imposes. Because phenomenological investigation, in order to get
to the "matters themselves," must start from the given precisely as taken in
terms of already attained construals and differentiations, that is, in terms of
the naively grasped results of already worked constitutive processes, the
action of inquiry must move back behind those naively accepted results
down into the constitutive sources ("roots") on which they depend. In a
word, inquiry must be re-gressive and radical. This means that descriptive
analysis of the "matters themselves" works in an interplay of dimensions
that together, inseparably and incessantly, constitute the program.
On the one hand, the formulations that guide one's inquiry have to be in
terms of what is already in some measure understood-or thought to be
understood-on the basis of philosophic endeavors that precede phenomen-
ology, otherwise there would be no direction and guidance to the inquiry.
On the other hand, the inquiry must also constantly apply effort to counter
the greatest hindrance there is to reaching constitutive insight into "matters
themselves," viz., the naivete of preconceptions and commonly accepted
stances rooted in, and conceptually construing, the most fundamental of
conditions in which human existence finds itself, namely, being set
inextricably within the world-natiirlich eingestellt, to use Husserl' s
participial phrasing of what, more statically put, is usually rendered the
"natural attitude": die Natiirliche Einstellung. 26
Thus one cannot begin nowhere, even if it is realized that all initial
orientational conceptions have to be corrected out of the inquiry they enable
us to begin. And the way this correction must work is, once again, out of the
force of the inaugurative determination of the source of fault in any initial
determinations: the naivete of unconsidered self-conceptions, regarding both
a) the world in which one lives and b) the basic capacities that make up
human existence in that world. This is nothing other than the radical

26. See Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiinomenologischen

Philosophie, Erstes Buch, Husserliana, vol. 311, ed. Karl Schuhmann (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1976), 67 ( 33); Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a
Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. Fred Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982),64;
and Fink's drawing out the significance of this designation in "Vergegenwartigung und Bild,"
Studien, 4, 11.

importance and constant action of the phenomenological reduction. 27 As a

general consequence, the systematic ordering is accordingly one that follows
the move through stages ofinquiry and through orders ofconstitutive action
that lie behind and within the phenomena that are initially determined as the
"matters themselves," but which, not yet laid open in their constitutive
radicality, remain yet to be investigated and yet to be seen as they them-
selves are in that constitutive radicality. And only in the measure that that
constitutive radicality is attained will the full sense of what was
investigatively laid out on earlier levels be given its proper sense.
It must be said, now, that Merleau-Ponty's practice in philosophical
investigation, in evidence already in La Structure du comportement in his
close reading of biology and psychology in order to trace the emergence of
sense in organic life, was already essentially in conformity with the
"system" -methodology of phenomenological investigation just outlined. It
was not, therefore, a theoretical statement of that methodology that would
convince him of the worth of phenomenology, but rather the practice of it
as he could see in the texts he was and would be reading, both by Husserl
and by Fink. Again, whether any word of this passed in the long conversa-
tions Merleau-Ponty had with Fink or not, the pattern of the way matters
discussed were handled would also have confirmed that understanding.
The crucial question, however, is this: Can the phenomenological
reduction ever actually result in either a) countering all presuppositional
elements of meaning in the conceptualization of the constitutive-originative
factors that a transcendental phenomenology aims to disclose and explicate,
or b) countering the limitations of Eingestelltsein for the action of
phenomenological inquiry itself? That is, accepting for the sake of argument
the determining and clarifying of the structures of phenomena that arise
within the horizons of temporality and spatiality-i.e., phenomena as

27. For a compact treatment of this conception of "system" and methodology in its broader
implications, see my article "Eugen Fink" in Encyclopedia of Phenomenology, ed. Lester
Embree et a\. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997), 232-7, and in more detail in
Bruzina, "Ph6nomenologie et critique chez Fink et Husserl," in Eugen Fink: Actes du
Colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle, 23-30 juillet 1994, ed. Natalie Depraz and Marc Richir
(Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997),89-111. This idea is at work in the whole of the Kantstudien
article as well, "Husserl and Contemporary Criticism," 73-147 (Studien, 79-156); cf. also,
for example, pp. 105-9/111-5, and 126-36/134-46. Finally, this conception of system-
dynamics is implicitly visible throughout Fink's "Einleitung" to his dissertation, e.g., 2,
6, and 7, Studien, 3-7,16-8, and 18-9.

intrinsically in-the-world appearings-we nonetheless have to ask further

if and how the constitutive process of the arising of these horizons for
phenomenality can be detennined and clarified. For achieving this means
detennining and evidentially displaying the constitutive factors for the
origination of the horizonalities of being-as-appearing as such, the
constitutive process of world-constitution as such. This is the matter of the
greatest radicality both in material importance and methodological demand;
and this is the issue that lies at the heart of the critical aim of Fink's VI.
Cartesianische Meditation: Die Idee Einer Transzendentalen Methoden-
It is in this critique of methodology that the awesome observation that
inaugurates inquiry in Husserl's Ideen I-the pregivenness of the
world-confronts the final question ofHusserl's long career and the overall
theoretical question of the "Crisis" -texts: How is constitutive inquiry into
that world-pregivenness, the whole milieu of human life and the primary end
to which transcendental origination is geared as constitutive Ur-Prozess, to
be accomplished? It is a question that has implications for, and draws from,
all of phenomenology, and, of course, goes far beyond the confines of the
present paper. The most that can be done here is to point out that this is the
primary issue on which Fink focused in his long work with Husserl. 28 And
this is the concern that he certainly brought with him to Louvain in 1939
where he was to meet Merleau-Ponty.
Among the indicators of the constituents of this theoretical conjunction
is, for example, the conversation Fink had with Van Breda in January 1940
following that of May 1939 in which Fink had met Mer1eau-Ponty-who,
we recall, two years later read the VI. Cartesianische Meditation (1942).29
Among the topics Fink took up with Van Breda was Habitualitiiten, one of
the pivotal features ofHusserl's later work through the Krisis. Fink makes
clear the necessity of distinguishing between I) those structures of sense that
come to be habitual in the coursing of the life of a particular experiential
agent-"habitualities"-"that can be reactivated," because these
"habitualities" "are instituted on the ground of the pregiven world and in

28. The burden of showing this, and of detailing the critically reinterpretive movement
through the basics ofHusserl's extraordinary phenomenology that this question imposes, is
what the work in progress, Husserl and Fink: Beginnings and Ends in Phenomenology, takes
up (see note 23).

29. See above, p. 177.


their institution already unthematic ally presuppose it [the world]," and 2)

"fundamental habitualities ... that cannot be repeated straight out, that do
not stand upon the ground of the pre given world but rather precisely make
up this pregivenness. "30 We cannot suppose that this repeats what Fink may
have said to Merleau-Ponty, but it does indicate that, to the extent the two
would have got into fundamentals-given the reading Merleau-Ponty had
already done in Fink's treatment of phenomenology-this is the kind of
point that would have come up in one way or another. And it is a point at the
heart of Merleau-Ponty's work: it is the whole determination on his part of
the distinctiveness, the radical elusiveness and otherness, of the dimension
of the origination of sense, of the basic moments that comprise differential
coherences in the world, both of human being itself and of the things and
events that human being experiences as the entitative phenomena of its
milieu. It is, moreover, what limits the performance of the phenomenologi-
cal reduction, rendering it essentially incompletable. 31 Here again is one of
the prime points embodied in the whole argument of the VI Cartesianische
Meditation, but also in the explication ofHusserl's phenomenology laid out
in one of the readings Merleau-Ponty had made of Fink's work prior to
meeting him, namely, the Kantstudien article of 1933. 32
This entire meta-understanding, then, ofthe "system" of phenomenologi-
cal inquiry centered on the reduction and its situation in initiating
phenomenological investigation is one of the major elements that, already
in play in nuce in Merleau-Ponty's thinking, both motivated his visit to
Louvain and enabled him to profit from it to the maximum. There already
was a convergence between a) the critically reinterpretive movement Fink
had worked out in far more detail than Merleau-Panty could know and b) the
orientations Merleau-Ponty had absorbed from his own study in Paris. This

30. Z-XXVIII Xl3a (EFM 4), emphasis all Fink's, bracketed insertion mine, for clarity of
reference (my translation).

31. See B and D above in the previous section, in the catalogue of primary theses in Merleau-
Ponty's understanding of Husserl's phenomenology.

32. Studien, in particular from p. 138; "Husser! and Contemporary Criticism," in particular
from p. 129, where Fink speaks of the reduction as "phenomenology's permanent
desideratum" (his emphasis), on to the end, with the brief statement of the final paradox on
p. 1551144, that "all antic forms of identity are unable to define 'logically' the constitutive
identity of the transcendental and human egos." Here we see the non-terminability of the
reduction, even if the problematic of its farthest reach is able to be defined.

is what enabled Merleau-Ponty to incorporate Fink's meta-theoretical

understanding of phenomenology into the Phenomenologie de la perception
by a brilliant existential analysis of perceptual experience beyond what
Husserl could have managed, but for which Fink's critique, precisely in
insisting on the limit-setting ontological status of existence in the pre-given
world (Weltbefangenheit, to be taken up later before ending), prepared the
necessary place. But this aptitude on Merleau-Ponty's part would not have
been there had his thinking not been very much rooted in the philosophic
study he had already done earlier, in particular in the strong influence
Bergson's work continued to exercise, in the existential orientation Marcel
had emphasized, and in the way phenomenology had entered France via the
combined interest in both Husserl and Heidegger. 33
I wish to mention one further indication of the philosophic conjunction at
the point that brought Fink and Merleau-Ponty together, but it would be
better to do so after reviewing a second prominent factor in Fink's
understanding ofthe system-dynamic ofphenomenological inquiry, namely,
the elusive character of the process that phenomenology's deepest sounding
attempts to explicate. To begin with, the movement further into constitutive
"depth" from a) the naiVe-level recognition of intentionality in human
experience that takes it as primarily explicit-act intentionality focused in
thematic cognition on a specific obj ect in one's surroundings, back "behind"
and "under" this to b) the non-act-intentionality of the fungierende
Intentionalitiit that is so prominent in Phenomenologie de la perception
(theme D in the previous section), has to be at the same time, in Fink's
theoretical critique, the shift in conceptual schema from the classic
"philosophy of reflection" subject-object relationship to something more
appropriate to the distinctive structured process of proto-temporalizing
constitution. This is the very issue with which the 1939 essay in the Revue
international de philosophie ended, which, again, Merleau-Ponty had

33. See Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, 5-7. See also the appendix
Geraets includes (188-98), Merleau-Ponty's 1934 report submitted in conjunction with his
applying for the renewal of support for research on "La Nature de la perception" (see ibid.,
8-13). This appendix is translated as "The Nature of Perception: Two Proposals," trans.
Forrest Williams, in Merleau-Ponty, Texts and Dialogues, ed. Hugh J. Silverman and James
Barry Jr. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992),74-84. Noteworthy is that, for
the philosophical literature, Merleau-Ponty now mentions Husserl above all, together with
Fink's 1933 Kantstudien article and 1929 dissertation, "Vergegenwartigung und Bild."

carefully read. 34 It must be added, however, that while this article makes
emphatically clear that it is not cognitive object-specifying intending but the
"performance character" of experience in general, its "execution function,"
that is the primary form of the intentional hold that unites being and
knowing in a constitutive "synousia,"35 it does not specify that this is a shift
from the schema of subject-object as a philosophy ofreflection conceptual-
ity, nor that "operative intentionality" coincides with Urzeitigung,36 two
points that are massively in evidence in Fink's notes from his earliest years
with Hussed through his time in Louvain. 37 In particular, in his notes from
the years 1938-1940 Fink unfolds the full range of this critique of

34. See above, p. 176. The relevant points are dealt with in the second part of the essay,
"B-The Idea of an Intentional Analytic" (Studien, 201-23). It should be noted as well that
this critique of the limits of "act-intentional" focus is already explicitly indicated in Fink's
1929 dissertation, "Vergegenwiirtigung und Bild" (Studien, 5 and 19). Finally, one could
expand the point in terms of "noematization" and the move past taking being-as-noematized
as the first, original form of constitutive accomplishment; see again "Vergegenwiirtigung und
Bild," Studien, 12-3. Cf. also the Kantstudien article, Studien, 130-3; "Husser! and
Contemporary Criticism," 123-5.
35. Studien, 209-12. The concordance between the "synousia" in Fink's essay and the
governing idea of the fundamental situational "body"-performance dynamic that Merleau-
Ponty's Phenomenologie de la perception is constantly working to disclose and bring to an
appropriate conceptuality is unmistakable-as, for instance, in his characterization of "the
subject of sensation" as "a power which is born into, and simultaneously with, a certain
existential environment" (245/211), "that primordial layer at which both things and ideas
come into being" (254/219); or in his speaking of "that ambiguous life in which the forms of
transcendence have their Ursprung, . . . and on this basis makes knowledge possible"
(418-9/365). In his essay, "Le Philosophe et son ombre" (in Signes [Paris: Gallimard, 1960];
"The Philosopher and His Shadow," in Signs, trans. Richard C. McCleary [Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1964]; cited hereafter as S, with French preceding English
paginationD, Merleau-Ponty will call it "a third dimension" in which the distinction between
the "objective" and the "subjective" becomes "problematic" (205/162). Finally, the move
from reflective to the un- or pre-reflective is everywhere in Phenomenologie de la perception,
e.g., 73-6/60-3 and 247/213, to se1ectjust a couple of places.

36. The identification ofthe deepest level of constitution with temporality is, however, made
in the Kantstudien article (142-61133-7), as well as earlier in the dissertation (Studien, 5 and

37. On the earlier notes in which this is in evidence, see some indication of this in the
discussion of Fink's concept of Entgegenwiirtigung as pivotal in the analysis oftemporality,
in my article "The Revision of the Bernau Time-Consciousness Manuscripts: New
Ideas-Freiburg, 1930-1933," Alter, n. 2 (1994): 367-95.

"reflection-philosophical" conceptuality, especially in Husserl's habitual

adherence to it, while at the same time developing a perspective to counter
it-and to re-center philosophic thinking as a result of the critical revisiting,
in the years he spent with Husserl, of the massive whole of the
phenomenological investigation that Husserl had spent his life producing.
One must note, finally, the overall consequence of this non-egoic-subject
originative role of "operative intentionality," namely, the realization that its
constitutive function in regard to both the givenness status of objects and the
character ofthem as horizonally determined-spatially and temporally-are
operations that take place in me, not by me, that is, by me as (an) I. This
kind of operation is what institutes and sustains me as an I in my experienc-
ing, rather than being an action I exercise in control and effectiveness; and
this, again, is a conception that comes to be massively in evidence in
Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenologie de la perception.
The philosophic convergence at the point when Merleau-Ponty came to
Louvain is indicated further in Merleau-Ponty's letter to Van Breda on
March 20, 1939,38 where he asked if the sequel to Fink's article, "Das
Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls," was going to be soon
published. It was not, nor has it been since; it is lost. But here again we may
certainly expect that the kinds of interpretive explication that were to have
followed would have greatly interested Merleau-Ponty; and if they can be
determined, they were quite likely to have come up in the conversations
Merleau-Ponty subsequently actually had with Fink. Moreover the brief
outline in the 1939 article itself,39 when put in conjunction with Fink's own
notes on his projects and other writings from the period, can be fleshed out
further, if only along general lines. And this is what we are following in the
present section.
Here, now, we can tum to the second indication mentioned earlier (p. 188)
of the remarkable philosophical conjunction of Merleau-Ponty's visit just
at the moment that Fink was getting himself settled in after emigrating from
Germany. One of the tasks that was to be Fink's (as well Landgrebe's, who

38. See above, pp. 175-6.

39. In Studien, 185, we find the following sketch for what would follow the two sections
published in the article: "D. Science and Lebenswelt; E. The Theory ofthe Natural Attitude;
F. The Theory of the Phenomenological Reduction G. The Theory of Constitution; H. The
Fundamental Problem."

would arrive a little later, on April 24),40 in addition to finally being able to
give university courses, was that he continue the transcription of Husserl's
manuscripts. In December of that year he wrote a report on the result of his
transcription work so far. 41 Beyond the impressive total number he records,
some 1500 pages, what is most interesting is the description of Husserl' s
work in these manuscripts in general, and then specifically regarding those
he had transcribed from Groups C and D. What he emphasizes here is a deep
and fundamental linkage between the two.
Group C, as is well known, is Husserl' s final attempt "to work out, in
intentional analytic concreteness, a phenomenological theory of time,"
fundamentally "transforming" and "overtaking," in Fink's words, the earlier
two efforts (the 1928 publication and the Bemau set).42 Here, in the analysis
of the structure of the "living present"-"not a present in time and thus not
the always changing passage between future and past," but rather "the 'nunc
stans' prior to any temporalization into a now in time," the "true life-center
of absolute subjectivity" and that whose explication is "the first and
principal part of the doctrine of world-constitution"-Husserl seeks "to
illuminate the process oftime' s formation."43 The manuscript-group D, now,
viewed from an integrative standpoint, is, writes Fink, "only the logical
continuation of the doctrine of time-constitution." Group D takes up the
matter of "the constitution of the first proper content within time and
underlying all else, the constitutive theory of nature," "nature" here
understood not as the nature of natural science, but rather as the "stuff'
given before any theorizing at all: "the solidity of things that we see and

40. A good part of this whole story is given in Van Breda's account in "Le Sauvetage de
I'heritage husserlien et la fondation des Archives-Husserl," in Husserl et la pensee moderne.
ed. H. L. Van Breda and 1. Taminiaux (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959),37.

41. "Bericht tiber die Transkription der Nachlassmanuskripte Husserls, vom 2.Dezember
1939" (EFM 4).

42. "Bericht," 3. The first group is familiar in Zur Phiinomenologie des inneren
Zeitbewusstseins (1893-1917), 2nd ed., Husserliana, vol. 10, ed. R. Boehm (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1969); On the Phenomenology a/the Consciousness a/Internal Time, trans.
John Brough (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), while the second, the Bemau
set, is now virtually ready for publication.

43. "Bericht," 4, emphasis Fink's.


touch in sensuous immediacy."44 Here, too, is the analysis of "optical space"

and "the basic essential forms" that take dimensional definition within it, of
"tactile space" too, and the "interweaving of meaning in the visual and
tactile data fields in the constitution ofthings for the senses," and finally of
"kinesthesia" and the constitutive function it serves for "objectivating the
operative body [des fungierenden Leibes]" in the objective complex of
"natural bodies [der Naturkorper]."45 Finally the real main problem of
Group D is "the problem of individuation," of the "tode ti," in a way that
reaches beyond the metaphysical tradition to take up the problem of space,
time, and matter in terms of the fundamental constitution. 46
Again, though not a direct record of what Fink was saying to Merleau-
Ponty, these matters were more than things to which Fink was going to be
turning in his transcription work at Louvain; they were as well matters that
he had been working on all along, as the whole history of his time with
Husserl can show. 47 When this setting is put in connection with the materials
that Merleau-Ponty was going to be reading in Louvain-Ideen II, one
manuscript in D 17 from May 7 and 9, 1934, on "primordial constitution,"48
dealing just with some of the themes from Group D that Fink highlights in
his 1939 report, and part III A and B of the Krisis 49-we see how fully
Merleau-Ponty's interests as they were developing from La Structure du

44. "Bericht," 5, emphasis Fink's own. One should compare Fink's summary characterization
here with the earlier sketch for treatment of these same matters in a "progressive
phenomenology," in the 1930 "Layout" that will be spoken of shortly, in Hua-Dok II12, 7-8.
45. "Bericht," 5-6.

46. "Bericht," 6-7, emphasis Fink's.

47. The demonstration of Fink's work on a) the ultimate analyses oftemporality, and b) the
constitutive sources of nature and individuation goes far beyond the limits of the present
paper; it lies in the notes that will be published in EFM 1-4 (see the "Einleitung" to EFM 1
forthcoming) and will be detailed in Bruzina, Husserl and Fink, chaps. I and 5. In the
meantime, see the preliminary studies in my essay, "The Revision of the Bemau Time-
Consciousness Manuscripts: Status Quaestionis-Freiburg, 1928-1930," in Alter, n. I (1993):
357-84, and its sequel as given in note 37 above.

48. See the part ofthis manuscript translated by Fred Kersten, "Foundational Investigations
of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature," in Husser!: Shorter Works, ed.
Peter McCormick and Frederick Elliston (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, (981),

49. See Van Breda, "Archives," 416-7/152-3. See p. 175 and note 3 above.

comportement to Phenomenologie de la perception converged with Fink's

treatment of relevant themes in Husserl's work in the context of that point
in time-and how high the potential was for his profiting from the contact
with Fink.
At this point a couple of remarks have to be made about one of these
convergent points. In Fink's work with Husserl, it is a constant virtually
from the beginning that the way to achieve the most coherent sense for both
presenting the general program of phenomenology and for organizing its
work in the most systematically coherent way-that is, precisely in terms of
the many-layered phenomenological sense of systematic coherence in the
program, as discussed earlier-lay in showing the thematic priority and
preeminence of the problematic of the world. While this is already implied
in the way Fink spelled out the general thematic methodological issues for
phenomenology in the "Einleitung" to his 1929 dissertation, it was
nevertheless first fully and explicitly formulated in the still not widely
familiar nor well understood "Layout for Edmund Husserl' s 'System of
Phenomenological Philosophy' of August 13, 1930," with which the
supplementary volume of the German edition of VI Cartesianische
Meditation opens. 50 This same point of the "pregivenness of the world" and
its preeminence in phenomenology's problematic is then worked out in the
long draft in which Fink wrote up the opening treatment that his "Layout"
proposed. 51 The same priority is clearly expressed as well in the Kantstudien
article, and Merleau-Ponty could not have missed it. 52 And all this points to
the concordance on point C in the previous section.
Having said this, however, several remaining points cannot be left out in
discussing the convergence between Fink and Merleau-Ponty, and the
influence that Fink had upon Merleau-Ponty's conception of overarching
features ofHusserl' s phenomenology. The first is that, while the "pregiven-
ness" of the world is an intrinsic element to the "natural attitude," neither

50. "Disposition zu 'System der phanomeno10gischen Phi10sophie' von Edmund HusserI

(13.August 1930)," Hua-Dok lIl2, 3-9.

51. Hua-Dok II12, 10-105, and especially 8. See, however, the explanation of the adapting
and nuancing of this preeminence to HusserI's concerns in this draft, as explained in my
essay, "Redoing the Phenomenology ofthe WorId in the Freiburg Workshop, 1930-1934,"
Alter 6 (1998): 45-54 (for the entire article, 39-118).

52. See Studien, 116, 139--42, and 151; "HusserI and Contemporary Criticism," Ill, 130-2,
and 140.

that "pregivenness" nor the "natural attitude" is a contingent condition for

human being as an actually existent being of experience and thought. To be
in the world and to be naturally caught up in dealing with things found in
one's milieu therein are constitutive, not accidental. That is, they are also not
eliminable; to be as "set up-eingestellt" in the world is constitutive of the
way human being is. For this and other reasons, Fink prefers to use the term
Weltbefangenheit-"captivation in the world"-in place of "natural
attitude"-and to give it an ontological cast. 53 But the point in the present
context is that Weltbefangenheit can quite correctly be translated as prejuge
du monde, Merleau-Ponty's regular term for "natural attitude" in
Phenomenologie de la perception. It may appear, however, that Merleau-
Ponty uses prejuge du monde to mean the preconceptual idea of a fully
determined and objectively given universe of things and events, rather than
the essential pregiven situationality of human being in the world that Fink
finds eventually established in phenomenological inquiry. 54 Yet the analyses
ofMerleau-Ponty's book have the very aim of demonstrating the very same
constitutive character of "being set up in the world" that Weltbefangenheit
in Fink's handling displays. Given that the understanding of human
constitutive placement in, and attentive engagement with, the particulars of
a living milieu is the view shared by Merleau-Ponty with Fink, and given
that Merleau-Ponty would have seen that very term for it, Weltbefangenheit,
used in Fink's VI Meditation when he read it in 1942,55 it is not unreason-
able to see his expression, prejuge du monde, as the echo of Fink's
Weltbefangenheit. 56

53. On this change ofterm, see my "Redoing the Phenomenology ofthe World" (cf. footnote
51 above), 57-60.

54. See Phenomenologie de la perception, 11, 62, 296, and 316; the corresponding passages
in the translation (5,51,256, and 273) do not always reflect the French formula.

55. See Hua-Dok IIIl, 46 and 81; Sixth Meditation, 42 and 72.

56. The supposition is reinforced by the way Merleau-Ponty later speaks of the "natural
attitude" in "Le Philosophe et son ombre," where what he writes there essentially concurs
with Fink's understanding: "Relative to this scientific naturalism, the natural attitude
involves a higher truth that we must regain. For the natural attitude is anything but
naturalistic .... Our most natural life as men intends an ontological milieu which is different
from that of being in itself ... " (S 206/163). I have modified the second sentence here, for
the translation reads the French wording-"rien moins que naturaliste"-incorrectly, making
the sentence contradict the point of the passage. One can read this same point also in Fink's

The second point to make is that, all this notwithstanding, there may still
seem to be a serious divergence between Fink and Merleau-Ponty in their
understanding of the constitutive situation, despite the seeming harmony of
concept-"synousia" (Fink) or "that ambiguous life in which the forms of
transcendence have there Ursprung" (Merleau-Ponty).57 In the published
essays by Fink that Merleau-Ponty had read-and indeed in all of Fink's
published writings so far-there is little hint that the effort to reach and
disclose this originative, constitutive situation would result in anything less
than explicit, conceptually determinate, descriptive disclosure. Yet in
Merleau-Ponty's program achieving just this result is not so certain-and
certainly not as a definitive, fully-comprehensive conceptual and cognitive
mastery-especially as he continues his work through to Le Visible et
I'invisible. (This relates to point A in the previous section.) The contrast,
however, diminishes considerably when one realizes the extent to which a)
Fink's conception of the dynamic system of phenomenological work enj oins
an ever-reapplied self-critique and self-correction, an unceasing renewal of
the questioning that is constitutive of reduction-governed investigation, and
b) Merleau-Ponty incessantly tries to achieve an effective, radically concept-
transformative characterization, first, of that ultimate dimension of
constitutive action itself, and, secondly, of the kind of reflection that turns
to it. In other words, when their respective research writings-in-progress are
looked at more fully there is equally striking convergence here as well.
For completeness one should add, too, that, once one elicits out of Fink's
personal unpublished notes the essentials of the extraordinarily radical
dimension of thinking that is his meontie, then the moment of ever-renewed
questioning enjoined by reduction methodology receives its ultimate
confirmation in the radical open-endedness of phenomenology. For the

the sentence contradict the point of the passage. One can read this same point also in Fink's
Kantstudien article (Studien, 105-6 and 112-6; "HusserI and Contemporary Criticism,"
/99-100 and 107-10), and so would MerIeau-Ponty as well. The word Befangenheit occurs
in the latter passage in the Kantstudien article, though not Weltbefangenheit.
Weltbefangenheit, however, does occur in Fink's 1934 article, "Was Will die
Phanomenologie Edmund Husserls?" (cf. note I I), and this whole essay is an explanation of
the primacy of the theme of the world for phenomenology. It is not clear if Merleau-Ponty
had read this article before meeting Fink, though it was well-known to Berger, who refers to
it a number of times (including on the very first page) in his 194 I book, Le Cogito dans fa
philosophie de Husser!. See above, pp. 176-7.

57. See note 35 above.


origination is the idea of that out of which the whole horizonal framing of
being, becoming or happening, and appearing springs, proto-origination as
such is a process the status of which, in giving rise to that framing, is
anterior to the framing. Any process of trying to render it intelligible would
be a process in which the constitutive conditions of both meaningfulness and
the noetic grasp of meaningfulness-i.e., all cognitive processes-are in
principle set within that framing, and hence cannot reach any purported pre-
originated as such. Any attempt positively to reach something that lies
anterior to or beyond being can only be the "ontification" of what is sought,
the rendering of it into something like a being within the horizonal framing
it supposedly originatively constitutes. The consequence is that the proto-
originative can only be intelligible as a moment of and in the originated,
rather than as something in itself, even if the result is a radical paradoxical-
ity. This whole matter, however, requires more treatment than can be given
in the confines of the present essay.58
Finally, one should recognize that one other element in Fink's work
throughout 1939-1940 was his explicating a foundational element in
phenomenology that took the thrust of the VI Meditation, the Kantstudien
article, and the 1934 essay, "Was Will die Phanomenologie Edmund
Husserls?" beyond the concern that, in keeping with so much of Husserl's
long-standing analytic focus, tended to dominate phenomenological
investigations, namely, the rich and complex region that is human psychol-
ogy; and the 1939 essay, "Das Problem der Phanomenologie Edmund
Husserls" already gives clear expression to it. What Fink finds phenomenol-
ogy to disclose within and beyond self-conscious operations-the "self-
conceptions" of the modem philosophic preoccupation with immanent
processes from Descartes on-is rather "the problem of being as the horizon
of the theme of consciousness," the "interconnection of being and

58. On this, however, see Fink's treatment in the VI. Meditation, II C, where the basic
structure ofthe "Absolute" that is ultimately to be determined in phenomenological "science"
is explained. See also my essay, "The Transcendental Theory of Method in Phenomenology;
the Meontic and Deconstruction," Husserl Studies 14 (1997): 75-94, where the same issue
is presented according to Fink's unpublished notes in terms of the paradoxical intelligibility
ofthe "meontic Absolute." In anticipation, the central chapter, Chapter 7, of my Husser! and
Fink will take up the meontic to clarify the effect of this idea in Fink's work for Husserl, and
therefore in the contribution Husserl drew from their years together.

knowing"S9-which, it bears noting, Husserl announces as the overall

problematic of the Krisis. In Fink's research notes from 1939-1940, this is
signaled by the phrase, "the ontological experience," which was to be the
overarching topic not only of the remainder of the publication project
represented by the first part appearing as the 1939 "Das Problem" essay, but
of a yet more focused treatment to be entitled either "Tractatus on Philo-
sophical Research" or "The Ontological Experience."6o In other words, the
area in which Merleau-Ponty was working, the phenomena of living
consciousness and the emergence of sense in living experience, whether
dealt with in biology or psychology, was preparatory to the need for
reinterpretation in the philosophical dimension in which alone those
phenomena and all others relating to human existence could be properly
understood, namely, the dimension of "ontological experience." And the
context of the notes from Fink's conversations with Van Breda and others
indicates the prominence of this direction in his thinking, showing how the
fullest intelligibility for the specifics of the complex scaffold of basics in
phenomenology is to be gained by this consummative realization.
It is, however, an insight certainly though subtly in evidence also in
Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenologie de la perception, and then of manifest
prominence in his last effort, the working notes in Le Visible et I 'invisible.
Again, here is a matter the evolution of which, in both Fink and Merleau-
Ponty, is a topic that goes beyond what can be done in the present essay.
And even if we may suppose it to have been broached in their 1939
conversation, one can only infer that it took place-unless Fink's massive
collection of notes on the matter allow some parallel to be drawn with notes
that Merleau-Ponty at that same point in time may have been keeping, but
with which, unfortunately, I am not familiar.

4. Concluding Remarks

While the treatment so far has proceeded in great part in terms of the
relationship betweenpersons, fundamentally the development at issue is the

59. Studien, 189 and 197; this is the whole burden of section A of that essay, 185-201. See
also Fink's Sein und Mensch, Vom Wesen der ontologischen Erfahrung, ed. Egon Schiltz and
Franz-Anton Schwarz (Freiburg: Alber, 1977), drawn from his university lectures in

60. See Fink's folders Z-XXIX and Z-XXX in EFM 4.


relationship between achievements of thinking. That is, what matters most

here is the coherence in disclosures and interpretations that devolves from
theoretical and methodological principles as these principles interplay with
what is ultimately their source, the ascertainable in manifest being. What
one thinker gains from contact with another in this interplay of principle and
reality is not the transfer of a datum of material, but rather the moment of
the initial emergence of an insight instigated by some communication of
meaning between them; and that emerging insight draws its strength from
the context that already disposes a thinker along lines that already hold some
measure of concordance with that other thinker. This at least is what one
sees in the "influence" of Husserl on Fink (and vice versa) or Fink upon
Merleau-Ponty. It is a shift of understanding and a progression of insight
that owes as much to the power of initiative and synthesis on the part of the
recipient as to the depth of grasp in the one from whom the "influence"
comes. In the present essay, then, the aim has been to show the coherencies
in sense between the several deposits of written expression in which the
individuals involved respectively articulated the philosophic understandings
that were in play in the communications in question.
Since, then, contacts like those between Fink and Merleau-Ponty are
moments in the fluid branching of meaning, rather than instances of the
impact of packets of force upon recipient substance, we cannot expect to
trace exactly how from one constellation of thought another springs,
especially if a newly emerging constellation is one of striking originality.
Again, what is to be grasped is the coherency of sense between the
constellations in question that, when viewed in terms of the contacts that can
be demonstrated in documentation, establishes the lineage by which
Merleau-Ponty's understanding of HusserI, in crucial points, would have to
be seen as passing through Fink. Thus the merits in each case are one
thinker's own, even while such merits parallel those in the other person.
When the spark of insight jumps from one mind to another, the blazing up
ofthe second is not the doing of the first, even if the first is a great flame of
its own. And still again, what in the end gives philosophical force and
legitimacy is the way a coherence of thought-out meaningfulness is seated
in theoretical and methodological principle, which in phenomenology must
link inextricably with the experience of being.
Still we may ask, ifMerleau-Ponty' s phenomenological lineage does pass
by way of Fink, why was there not more of an acknowledgment of it and
why did not the contact between them grow greater? One could answer that

the whole war situation, and the difficulties of the first ten years of post-war
recovery, were a serious hindrance; and then Merleau-Ponty's unfortunate
death in 1961 cut short the later development that was in truth beginning, as
Merleau-Ponty's three letters to Fink in 1951 (January 30), 1959 (June 29),
and 1960 (September 13) reveal. These letters show a warm and specific
appreciation ofFink' s work,61 and an interest in establishing serious contact.
Reading them one can see the imminent possibility of a further contact, as
had happened with others. For example, warm contact was reestablished
with Van Breda after the war's end in 1945 and the pre-war friendship with
Jan Patocka became closer yet after 1945, despite the difficult circumstances
in Prague after the Communist take-over in 1948. But Merleau-Ponty's
engagements in Paris were heavy, as he explains in his 1959 letter, which is
no doubt also the reason that he seems to have had but limited time to
participate in the Royaumont conference in 1957. 62 One must remember too,
as already indicated, that a genuine thinker's thinking is that thinker's own
more than it is a transferred possession, however much there is an indebted-
ness. Even so a thinker's own thinking is never strictly speaking a posses-
sion. It is rather a moment in a lineage of philosophic realization, and the
lineage itself lives to the extent that it is taken up again and moved further,
in the self-transformation that is the power of any good philosophical
systematic. This, then, is what we see in the relationship between these

61. In his letter from June 29, 1959, for example, Merleau-Ponty speaks of his reading of
Fink's more recent books-Zur ontologische Friihgeschichte von Raum-Zeit-Bewegung (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1957) and Sein, Wahrheit, Welt: Vor-Fragen zum Problem des
Phiinomen-Begriffs (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1958)-and that in them he sees that,
"today as in the past, I am very close to your preoccupations and your meditation, even if the
approach and the mode of expression are different." He writes too of his earnest hope, when
his work would allow it, to be able to accept Fink's invitation to come for a visit to Freiburg,
where he would once again "have a long conversation with you," proposing the possibility
that Jean Beaufret might assist in the communication as Van Breda had done twenty years
earlier. The hope for quiet, informal conversation is repeated and emphasized in the letter
from September 13, 1960. Time ran out before it could happen. Merleau-Ponty died suddenly
on May 3, 1961.

62. See the papers from the conference, April 23-30, 1957, and the discussion that followed
each, in Husserl. Cahiers de Royaumont, Philosophie No. III (Paris: Minuit, 1959). Fink
presented a paper, but Merleau-Ponty did not, and, though he may well have attended several
sessions, is noted as present and engaged in the discussion for only one (157-9), that by
Alphonse de Waelhens.

thinkers-Husserl, Fink, and Merleau-Ponty-and perhaps what we may see

between them and ourselves. 63

63. One could also read with profit Fred Kersten's insightful study ofHua-Dok III 1-2, "Notes
from the Underground: Merleau-Ponty and Husserl's Sixth Cartesian Meditation," in The
Prism of the Self: Philosophical Essays in Honor of Maurice Natanson, ed. Steven Galt
Crowell (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995), 43-58, which, however, was
written without the advantage of having Fink's yet unpublished material on hand for
interpreting the dynamics at play in the development of these texts.
Chapter 10

The Legacy of Husserl's "Ursprung der Geometrie":

The Limits of Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty
and Derrida

Leonard Lawlor
University of Memphis

Abstract: In this essay, I attempt to clarify an obvious confusion, the

confusion between the late philosophy ofMerleau-Ponty and the early
philosophy ofDerrida. This confusion has become particularly obvious
recently with the publication in 1998 of Merleau-Ponty course notes
from 1959-60 on Husserl 's "Ursprung der Geometrie. "I argue that the
confusion between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida is justified, since
Merleau-Ponty stresses the role of writing in the institution of ideal
objects. More precisely, I think that both see a concept ofnecessity at
work in Husserl, a necessity that leads beyond phenomenology to
ontology, and even beyond ontology to ethics.

Nothing is more confusing than to examine, side by side, Merleau-Ponty's

late writings with Derrida's early writing; it almost seems as though we are
reading the same philosopher. Most obviously, the confusion arises because,
in the decade from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, there is a massive
terminological and thematic overlap between, say, Merleau-Ponty' s 1961 Le
Visible et I 'invisible' and Derrida's 1967 La Voix et lephenomene/ indeed,
most of this overlap centers around one word, the French word, ecart.3 The
confusion is exacerbated by the fact that this overlap occurs precisely when

1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le Visible et I 'invisible (paris: Gallimard, 1964); The Visible and
the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968) [cited
hereafter as VI, with French preceding English pagination).

2. Jacques Derrida, La Voix et Ie phenomene (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967);

Speech and Phenomena, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1974) [cited hereafter as VP, with English preceding French pagination].
3. This essay extends a previous essay on Merleau-Ponty and Derrida: "Eliminating Some
Confusion: The Relation of Being and Writing in Merleau-Ponty and Derrida," in Ecart and
Difference: Merleau-Ponty and Derrida on Seeing and Writing, ed. M. C. Dillon (Atlantic
Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1997),71-93.
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (etis.), MerleauPonty's Reading of Husserl, 201-223.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Merleau-Ponty's career comes to an end and Derrida's is just beginning.

When, however, Derrida matures and becomes Derrida, the confusion seems
to dissipate. No one would think, for example, that Merleau-Ponty had
written this strange thing called Glas. Here at last, in 1974 (whenGlas is
published), one can say easily that there is no confusion between the
philosophies ofMerleau-Ponty and Derrida. But Derrida himselfbrings the
confusion back in his 1990 Memoirs d'aveugle when he himself suggests "a
program for an entire rereading of the later Merleau-Ponty."4 Derrida says
that, ifhe were to pursue this re-reading ofMerleau-Ponty, he would follow
the traces of "absolute invisibility," a "pure transcendence without an ontic
face." This last phrase comes from a working note toLe Visible et I 'invisible
dated January 1960, in which Merleau-Ponty also says: "Elaborate a
phenomenology of 'the other world,' as the limit ofa phenomenology of the
imaginary and the hidden."5 We know, especially now, that this
phrase-"the limit of a phenomenology"-refers to a lecture course
Merleau-Ponty presented in 1959---60 called "Husserl at the Limits of
Phenomenology," a lecture course concerning Husserl's last writings but
especially his "Ursprung der Geometrie."6 The publication of these notes in
1998 makes the confusion between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida even more
overwhelming, since here Merleau-Ponty stresses that the constitution of
ideal objects takes place through writing, just as Derrida had stressed it in
his 1962 Introduction to his French translation of "Ursprung der
Geometrie."7 In fact, while reading these two texts together, one has the

4. Jacques Derrida, Memoires d 'aveugle (Paris: Editions de la Reunion des musees nationaux,
1990),56; Memoirs of the Blind, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1993),51-2, Derrida's italics.

5. See Merieau-Ponty, Le Visible et I 'invisible, 283; The Visible and the Invisible, 229, my

6. Edmund Husseri, "Beilage III," in Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschaflen und die
transzendentale Phiinomenologie, Husseriiana, vol. 6, ed. Walter Biemel (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), 365-86; "The Origin of Geometry," in The Crisis of European
Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1970), 353-78 [cited hereafter as HUS, with German preceding English

7. Maurice Merieau-Ponty, Notes de cours sur L 'Origine de la geometrie de Husser! suivi de

Recherches sur la phenomenologie de Merleau-Ponty, ed. R. Barbaras (Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France, 1998); Husserl at the Limits ofPhenomenology Including Texts by

experience that Merleau-Ponty sounds more like Derrida than Derrida does
in the Introduction. The question now is obvious: are we supposed to think,
now, in light of these "new" Notes, that Derrida's philosophy somehow
continues that of Merleau-Ponty?
I think we have to answer this question with a "yes." Indeed, it seems to
me that the confusion of the two philosophers is justified. Despite
appearances-Merleau-Ponty as the philosopher of speech; Derrida as the
philosopher ofwriting-despite appearances, this difference between speech
and writing does not absolutely determine the relation between Merleau-
Ponty and Derrida. In short, this difference is not decisive. At almost the
exact same moment, in the late 1950s, Derrida and Merleau-Ponty have
stumbled upon the same structure of experience, and, most generally, we can
call this structure the structure ofthe experience ofintersubjectiyity.8 What
we call this structure-speech or writing-is not decisive. Both, of course,
use other terms to designate it. From the Phenomenologie de la perception
on, it is called the Fundierung relation (PhP147-8/127; 451-2/394); from
La Voix et Ie phenomene on, it is called differance. But, in the Notes
Merleau-Ponty appropriates another Husserlian term besides Fundierung to
designate this structure; this appropriation is decisive: he appropriates the

Edmund Husser!, trans. Leonard Lawlor with Bettina Bergo (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, forthcoming) [French edition cited hereafter as HL; English translations are
my own]. Edmund Husser!, L 'Origine de la geometrie, trans. and intro. Jacques Derrida
(Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962); Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An
Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989) [cited
hereafter as LOG, with French preceding English pagination].

8. For the importance of the experience of the other in Merleau-Ponty, see Renaud Barbaras,
De I'etre du phenomene: I 'Ontologie de Merleau-Ponty (Grenoble: Millon, 1992); The Being
of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty's Ontology, trans. Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor
(New York: Humanity Books, forthcoming). What is most remarkable about Derrida's
Introduction, when one compares it to his earlier 1953-54 memoire called Le Probleme de
la genese dans la philosophie de Husserl (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990), is
that the Introduction frequently discusses intersubjectivity (LOG 83 n. 1186 n. 90; cf. LOG
129 n. 2/121 n. 134,46/57-8,49-50/60-1). This interest in the experience of intersubjectivity
will only intensify for Derrida, especially after his 1964 encounter with Levinas in "Violence
et rnetaphysique," and, as a result of this encounter, the interest dominates La Voix et Ie
phenomene. See Jacques Derrida, "Violence et metaphysique," in L 'Ecriture et la difference
(Paris: Seuil, 1967); "Violence and Metaphysics," in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978).

exact term Derrida will appropriate in La Voix et Ie phenomene:

Verflechtung (interweaving, entrelacement) (VP 20/20). Merleau-Ponty
says: "True Husserlian thought: man, world, language are interwoven,
verflochten. A thick identity exists there, which truly contains difference"
(HL 50; also HL 45). Nothing could sound more Derridean.
So, what I intend to do here, most basically, is compare Merleau-Ponty's
Notes and Derrida's Introduction in order to demonstrate the continuity
between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida and thereby to justify the confusion that
usually surrounds their relation. In fact, I hope to demonstrate that there is
an exact point of continuity between them; this exact point of continuity, as
we are going to see, lies in a certain concept of necessity. If there is this
exact point of continuity, in a certain concept of necessity, then I think we
can say that Merleau-Ponty's spirit lives on in Derrida, even in Derrida's
most recent writings; perhaps we have to say that Merleau-Ponty eventually
could have, would have written a book like Glas. But, we can go even
farther. If this heritage that I am going to layout between Merleau-Ponty
and Derrida is correct, then one has to say as well that Husserl 's spirit lives
on in Merleau-Ponty's final writing and even in Derrida's most recent
writings. 9 We have to say that Merleau-Ponty at the end of his career, when
he is ontologizing phenomenology, is still faithful to Husserl, and we have
to say that Derrida, even in his eschatological writings like the 1993
Spectres de Marx, is still faithful to Husserl. But again, most basically, what
I intend to do here is work out a comparison of Merleau-Ponty's Notes on,
and Derrida's Introduction to, Husserl's "Ursprung der Geometrie." The
exact point of continuity comes from "Ursprung der Geometrie." So, let us
now turn to these two texts.

1. The Necessity of Stiftung: Writing

Both Merleau-Ponty's 1960 Notes and Derrida 1962 Introduction concern

what Husserl himself calls Stiftung, institution, establishment, or foundation
(HUS 366/354). On the one hand, Derrida says in section 10 of his

9. Jacques Derrida, Spectres de Marx (Paris: Galilee, 1993); Specters afMarx, trans. Peggy
Kamuf (New Yark: Routledge, 1994).

This is how the motif of finitude has perhaps more affmity with the principle of
a phenomenology which would be stretched between thejinitizing consciousness
of its principle [that is, the principle of all principles] and the injinitizing
consciousness of its final foundation [that is, the Idea in the Kantian sense;
fondement], the "Endstiftung" indefmitely deferred [differee] in its content, but
always evident in its regulative value. (LOG 1511138; Derrida's italics)

Here, with Stiftung, we have Derrida's earliest use of the verb differer. So,
we can say that the Husserlian problem of Stiftung is the context for Derrida
developing his most famous concept, that of differance. But, on the other
hand, Merleau-Ponty says in his Notes that:

Stiftung is not an enveloping thought, but open thought, not the intended and
Vorhabe of the actual center, but the intended which is off center and which will
be rectified, not the positing of an end, but the positing of a style, not frontal
grasp, but lateral divergence, algae brought up from the depths. (HL 30; Merleau-
Ponty's underlining; cf. also HL 31)

Here, with Stiftung, Merleau-Ponty speaks ofthe divergence. So, again, we

can say that the Husserlian problem of Stiftung is the context for Merleau-
Ponty developing his most famous final concept: the ecart which is the basis
for the chiasm. But, more importantly, the problem of Stiftung implies that
both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida develop their basic concepts as concepts
of writing. Merleau-Ponty in the Notes and Derrida in the Introduction
recognize that writing is necessary for Stiftung.
Everyone knows that Husserl, in "Ursprung der Geometrie," discusses
documentation and thus "writing-down" (Niederschrift); "writing-down" is
the last step in the original institution of geometrical ideal objects. Ifwe can
speak of steps here, there are two prior steps: internal subjective iteration
and then linguistic expression in the community of the inventor. Finally,
there is documentation; this is what Husserl says, and for both Merleau-
Ponty and Derrida this is the most important thing Husserl says in
"Ursprung der Geometrie":

Now we must note that the objectivity of the ideal structure has not yet been fully
constituted through such actual transferring of what has been originally produced
in one to others who originally reproduce it. What is lacking is the persisting
existence of the "ideal objects" even during periods in which the inventor and his
fellows are no longer wakefully so connected or even are no longer alive. What

is lacking is their continuing-to-be even when no one has realized them in self-
evidence. The important function of written, documenting linguistic expression
is that it makes communications possible without immediate or mediate personal
address; it is, so to speak, communication become virtual. (RUS 3711360)

As both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida recognize, this comment means that

writing is necessary in order for an ideal object to be fully constituted, in
other words, to be what it is (HL 30; cf. PhP 10 2061177; LOG 86/89);
Derrida in the Introduction calls it an "eidetic necessity" (LOG 17 n. 1/36).
Thus, for both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, "the written"-Merleau-Ponty
uses the word ['ecrit (HL 28)-or "writing"-Derrida uses the word
['ecriture (LOG 84/87)-is not a mere "substitute" for or a "degradation"
of the sense (HL 29); it is not merely "congealed speech" (HL 78); it is not
mere transmission or communication (HL 29, 78); nor is the writing-down
mere "abbreviations" , "codification"" "signs" or "clothing" (HL 70, LOG
86/89). It is not a "defect" (HL 69), nor is it a merely "worldy and
mnemotechnical aid" (LOG 86/89). The passage above-and I think this is
crucial-implies all of these negative characterizations of writing because
in it Husserl says "something is lacking" (es Jehlt); the necessity of writing
down comes from this lack in the "ideal structure"; the lack-here is the
necessity-needs to be filled in.
Husserl points to this need of filling in, when, in "Ursprung der
Geometrie," he says, "the writing-down effects a transformation of the
original mode of being of the sense-structure" (HUS 371/361). Most
obviously, and of course both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida note this in their
texts, the transformation of the ontological status of the sense-structure
means that writing endows the sense-structure with the characteristic of
being "non-spatio-temporal" (LOG 88/90) or "supratemporal" (HL 24); this
supratemporality or omnitemporality is the persisting existence mentioned
above, "their continuing-to-be even when no one has realized them in self-
evidence." Prior to the achievement of omnitemporality, the sense-structure
is too subjective (or transient) and not objective enough (or permanent).
Merleau-Ponty, for example, calls the sense-structure an "intra-psychic
event" (HL 53). However just as, prior to the transformation, the sense-

10. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945);

Phenomenology o/Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962;
revised, 1981) [cited hereafter as PhP, with French preceding English pagination].

structure is too subjective, after the transformation, when the sense-structure

has achieved omnitemporality, it is too objective. As Merleau-Ponty says,
it becomes a "monument" (HL 78), or, as Derrida says, it becomes a
"lapidary inscription" (LOG 85/88). But, the transformation of the
ontological status of the sense-structure into omnitemporality does not
mean, for Husserl, of course, that the sense-structure, now ideal object,
exists outside of time; as Derrida says, quoting Erfahrung und Urteil,
"'supratemporality implies omnitemporality,' and the latter itself [is] only
'a mode of temporality'" (LOG 165/148).
So, when writing effects a transformation of the ontological mode of the
sense-structure, it also makes the ideal object "sensible" and "public," as
Merleau-Ponty says (HL 69, 78); it comes "into the world" (HL 69); or, as
Derrida says, it is "incarnated," "localized and temporalized" (LOG 86/89).
So, as both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida see, the necessity of writing down
must be "double" (HL 37)-this is Merleau-Ponty's word, sounding like
Derrida--<>r "ambiguous"-this is Derrida's word, sounding like Merleau-
Ponty (LOG 84/87). So far then, we have seen that the necessity of writing
is based in a lack which needs-this need is the source of the neces-
sity-which needs to be filled in. And, we have seen that this lack is double:
sense lacks objectivity that produces a need to go beyond subjective
experience, and sense lacks subjectivity that produces a need to go beyond
ideal objectivity. In other words, on the one hand, sense must be written
down in order to be omnitemporal, in order to exceed subjective experience;
on the other hand, sense must be written down in order to be temporal, in
order to make itself available to subjective experience. In short, the writing
down turns the sense-structure into sedimentation (HL 29; LOG 92/93). The
mention of sedimentation, of course, conjures up the image of survival. So,
let us examine this survival.

2. The Necessity of Writing: Survival

Merleau-Ponty characterizes the persisting existence that the written makes

available to sense as "the Book" (HL 78 n. 1, 70). What one is supposed to
imagine here is a book containing many leaves (HL 53), and on each page
there are formulas, geometrical formulas of course. These formulas on the
page do not change. This image is why Merleau-Ponty says that the book or
the written gives us "the exact sense" (HL 78; Merleau-Ponty's underlin-
ing). Indeed, the exact sense is precisely what we have when we have

memorized a formula: "C2=A2+B2." The image ofthe book, therefore, is an

image of memorization, of a memorandum, which amounts to a sort of
forgetfulness of the kind of acts that produced the formula. Making an
allusion to the body, Merleau-Ponty calls this "sclerosis" (HL 78). This is
what Husserl himself, of course, called "Sinnentleerung" or even the crisis.
But, we must not forget that, even with this emptying out of sense, the
formulas have persisting existence, and thus the sense of geometry has a
unity over and above its psychological institution; the persisting existence
of the book gives us the sense of "the," as Merleau-Ponty says, the one and
only geometry (HL 19). There must be memorization. Memorization gives
us the unity of geometry, that it is one thing with one voice, that it is, we
might say, univocal.
In his Introduction, Derrida calls the persisting existence that writing
makes available to sense "univocity" (LOG 103--41101-2). Derrida focuses
on the question of univocity because Husserl himself in "Ursprung der
Geometrie" recommends to individual scientists that, when they write, they
strive to form expressions that are univocal (HUS 372/362). Derrida calls
this recommendation "the imperative of univocity" (LOG 10 111 00; cf. HL
30), and the word "imperative," of course, suggests, that here we are dealing
with a necessity. Derrida say,

Univocity only indicates the limpidity of the historical ether. ... Husserl's
demand for univocity ... is therefore only the reduction of empirical history
towards a pure history. Such a reduction must [the verb Derrida uses here is
"devoir"] be recommenced indefinitely.... (LOG 1041102)

In other words, for Derrida, there must be iteration even though, like
Merleau-Ponty's Book, this iteration is forgetfulness and the emptying out
of sense. There must be sameness if there is to be any communication. But
Derrida also says-and here I continue the comment Ijust quoted: "Such a
reduction must be recommenced indefinitely, for language neither can nor
must [again the 'verb here is devoir] maintain itself under the protection of
univocity" (LOG 10411 02). We are now confronted with the other necessity.
For Derrida in the Introduction, univocal expression is smooth and thereby
provides no "fold" into which a culture or a language, as it advances, could
deposit "more or less virtual significations" (LOG 10311 0 1). In other words,
univocity would "sterilize or paralyze history in the poverty of an indefinite
iteration" (LOG 10411 02). So, there must be equivocity for Derrida as well,

if there is to be history or communication, because communication itself

requires that there be others and thus that the sense of the words be "other"
(LOG 107/104).
Turning back to Merleau-Ponty's Notes, we find this necessity of
equivocity under what he calls the "second power of sedimentation" (HL
80).11 While the book endows sense with persisting existence, this persisting
existence "sublimates"-this is Merleau-Ponty's word-what was only
empirically accomplished (HL 78). This sublimation institutes the "pre-
existence of the ideal" (HL 28-9, 78); here Merleau-Ponty relies on
Husserl's commentthat "what is lacking is their continuing-to-be even when
no one has realized them in self-evidence" and that, in the written,
"communication becomes virtual." What these comments mean for
Merleau-Ponty is that there are "virtualities," that is, "virtual creations," that
are not actual (HL 69); we can even say that the "sublimation" of the
empirical institutes virtual idealities, which "have never been experienced
by anyone and they have never been conceived with evidence" (HL 71).
These virtual idealities are necessary so that there is progress in the
sciences; without these virtual idealities what Husserl calls reactivation
would be just the "reconquest of lost time," "of a certain forgetfulness";
because of the virtual idealities, reactivation, as Merleau-Ponty says,
"consists in going farther in the same direction ... " (HL 78). In other words,
without the sublimation, reactivation would be nothing more than a sterile
iteration; if a culture or a tradition is "to advance," "equivocity," to use
Derrida's words, or "virtuality," to use Merleau-Ponty' s words, is necessary.
So, what we have seen so far is a double or ambiguous necessity in both
Merleau-Ponty and Derrida. The necessity of writing consists in the double
movement of the communication and of virtuality, or in the ambiguity of
iteration and of alterity. It seems to me that one image in Merleau-Ponty's
Notes and one image in Derrida's Introduction crystalize this necessity, and
here we start to see the profound implications of it. When Merleau-Ponty
speaks of the Book, he calls it a grimoire, a book of spells or incantations
(HL 69, 78). There is one obvious reason why he appeals to this image: at
least since the time of the Phenomenologie de la perception, he had been

11. Cf. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L 'CEil et I'esprit (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), 22, where
Merleau-Ponty speaks of "un visible it deuxieme puissance"; "Eye and Mind," trans. Michael
Smith, in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, ed. Galen A. Johnson (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1993), 126.

referring to perception as a "magical" relation (PhP 207/178). So, here in the

Notes, Merleau-Ponty uses the word grimoire in order to intend a pre-
scientific and therefore non-causal relation of institution by the written. The
non-causal nature of tradition, as Husserl himself specifies it in "Ursprung
der Geometrie" (HUS 366/354), is a continuous theme in the Notes (HL 16,
20, 24,40,45, 65, 70, 90); Urstiftung, as Husserl himself says, is "spiritual
becoming" (HL 45; HUS 366/355). In fact, Merleau-Ponty entitles a section
of his course notes "The General Problem of Spiritual Mutation" (see HL
11; cf. 89).
The institution of ideal objects is, for Merleau-Ponty, this very problem
of spiritual mutation. So, the book understood as a grimoire obviously is
supposed to make us think ofthe "conjuring up" of spirits. In addition to this
image of the grimoire, Merleau-Ponty in the Notes (but also in other texts
from this period such as "Le Philosophe et son ombre"12), makes use of an
idea from Valery, that the author, an actual person such as a Camus-Camus
is Merleau-Ponty's own example (HL 12)-is "the impostor of the writer"
(HL 71, 16). Unlike the author, that is, the actual person Camus, the writer,
Merleau-Ponty is implying, is at the level ofthe written as providing virtual
idealities. So, the conjuring up of spirits thanks to the incantations found in
the book of spells does not bring back Camus the author but Camus the
writer. In fact, the image of the grimoire implies that the author named
Camus must die. The written for Merleau-Ponty, therefore, implies the
necessity of death.
In order to understand this necessity of death in more detail, let us tum
now to the crystallizing image in Derrida's Introduction. This is the image
of "the silence of prehistoric arcana and buried civilizations, the entomb-
ment of lost intentions and guarded secrets, the illegibility of lapidary
inscription" (LOG 85/88). This image of "the entombment of lost
intentions" "unseals" what Derrida here calls "the transcendental sense of
death. "13 We can understand this phrase, "the transcendental sense of death,"

12. Cf. "Le Philosophe et son ombre," in Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 227; "The
Philosopher and his Shadow," in Signs, trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1964), 180.

13. See Paola Marrati-Guenoun' s excellent La Trace et Ie genese: Derrida lecture de Husser!
et Heidegger (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997),48, for a very illuminating
discussion of this difficult concept in the early Derrida; see also my review of her book in
Husser! Studies 16, no. 1 (1999).

only in light ofHusserl's definition of the transcendental as being different

from empirical or psychological subjectivity; Derrida realizes that, if the
transcendental is not and cannot be restricted to actual subjects, then its
institution requires the, in principle (the en droit), death of every actual
subject (LOG 85/88). In "Ursprung der Geometrie," according to Derrida,
we see that writing is the "agency" that implements this necessary death;
writing is the agency that "unites" death, as Derrida says, "to the absolute
of an intentional right"; without the agency of writing and therefore the
death of the actual author, there would be no virtual communication, that is,
there would be no ego common to us all, no communal ego. And yet, writing
is also the agency that makes this communication fail, when writing
becomes sterile iteration: this failure, we can say, is the very death of the
logos (cf. LOG 165/149). So, writing also requires the life of actual subjects
to make the logos be virtual communication, that is, to make the common
ego be individuated in each of us. In other words, the logos, for both
Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, would not live unless the author died; there
would be no omnitemporality of sense without this liberation from the
spatio-temporal conditions ofinstitution; there would be no communication.
On the other hand, the logos would itself die unless there were humans to
reactivate it; there would be no temporality of sense without this localization
and temporalization of sense in the world; there would be no virtuality.
Of course, throughout his writings Derrida constantly talks about death,
while Merleau-Ponty almost never mentions it. Yet, in these Notes,
Merleau-Ponty mentions death in the context of Husserl's well-known
comment that it is impossible to reactivate everything; this is what Merleau-
Ponty says: "Is there coincidence with the totality of the Urstiftung, if the
tradition is always forgetfulness? ... Wouldn't coincidence be the death of
the logos since forgetfulness makes tradition fruitful?" (HL 23). Merleau-
Ponty is suggesting here that the very life of the logos depends on the factual
author being dead and on someone being alive here and now. So, the logos
itself, for Merleau-Ponty in the Notes and for Derrida in his Introduction, is
a type of sur-vival; indeed, the double necessity of the lack of persisting
existence is focused in this word "sur-viva!." What this double necessity
necessitates, what it commands, is that sense survive: sense must go beyond
or over, "sur," life-that is, that it must die-and sense must be superlife,
"sur" again, that is, it must go beyond or over death. Thus, since this prefix
"sur" means death, it points to a very specific form of negativity, which we
must now investigate.

3. The Necessity of Survival: Negativity

In the Notes, Merleau-Ponty specifies the lack of persisting existence as a

"negativity" (HL 22, 33, 37); here, as in "Philosophieaujourd'hui" in the
Notes de cours, 1959-61,14 Merleau-Ponty quotes Heidegger speaking of
"the nothing that nothings" (HL 64). As Heidegger says in "Was ist
Metaphysik?," the nothing that nothings is not a "nullity."15 If it were a
nullity, it would only be the counter-concept to Being, and therefore itself
would depend on negation. The Heideggerian nothing, however, is not
derived from negation but is the origin of negation. Negation originates in
the nothing insofar as it is an experience, the experience of anxiety, and,
obviously, given what we know about division two of Sein und Zeit, we are
still talking of death. Yet, since this experience of the nothing is an
experience, we must say that the nothing is actually a sort of positivity, a
something, an Etwas, as Heidegger says.16 Thus, for Heidegger, the nothing
is internal to Being; in fact, without this experience of anxiety we would, for
Heidegger, have no access to the Being of beings. Clearly influenced by
Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty engages in a similar discussion of negativity in
Le Visible et I 'invisible, in particular in the chapter entitled "Interrogation
and Dialectic" where Merleau-Ponty is engaging in a debate with Sartre.
What is most clear in this chapter is that Merleau-Ponty is concerned to
distinguish this negativity from a pure nothingness, from what Heidegger
called a nullity: wholly positive being and pure nothingness are at least
solidary if not indiscernible because they both revolve around a negation
which makes them be counter-concepts. 17 As in Heidegger, therefore,
Merleau-Ponty's negativity is a negativity which is within Being; it is the
"true negative," and thus it is, as Merleau-Ponty says frequently in Le
Visible et I 'invisible, "something" (VI 121189, for example).

14. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours, 1959-1961 (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 102-3.

15. Martin Heidegger, "Was ist Metaphysik?" in Wegmarken (Frankfurt am Main:

Klostermann, 1967), 105, 115-6; "What is Metaphysics?" in Basic Writings, trans. David F.
Krell (New York: Harper Collins, 1993),95, 105.

16. See Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours, 1959-1961, 102, where Merleau-Ponty alludes to
Heidegger's discussion of the Etwas in Der Satz yom Grund.

17. Cf. Merleau-Ponty, Signes, 30; Signs, 21.


So, Merleau-Ponty, in Le Visible et I'invisible and in the Notes on

"Ursprung der Geometrie," defines this lack as a "hollow" (HL 22,33,51,
57; VI 196/2811227); unlike the well-known Sartrean "hole of being" which
suggests a void over and against a fullness, which in other words, suggests
counter-concepts and opposition, the Merleau-Pontean hollow suggests an
opening within a something, in a something which is not opposed to the
hollow (VI 249-50/196). In the Notes and in Le Visible et l'invisible,
Merleau-Ponty defines the hollow as Nichturpriisentierbarkeit, "originary
non-presentability" (HL 28, 83, 86; VI 292/238-9). His "originary non-
presentability" is referring to an essential aspect of intersubjective
experience learned from Husserl, that is, that I can never have the interior
life of another present for me. In the Notes, taking up what we see in "Le
Langage indirect et les voix du silence," Merleau-Ponty adds to this
essential aspect of intersubjective experience; for Merleau-Ponty, the non-
presentability of the other to me is a kind of muteness, and this muteness
does not mean that the other is not speaking because he or she is dumb.
There is always, for Merleau-Ponty, a background oflanguage, the ready-
made or spoken language, within which the muteness lies. So, in the Notes,
he says, "before language, a 'mute' experience and an experience which
calls from itself for its 'expression,' but a 'pure' expression, i.e., foundation
and not product oflanguage. Therefore a Vor-sprache, a down-side or' other
side' of language, an Ur-sprung of language" (HL 53). Here, I think it is
important to recall that Merleau-Ponty had defined expression in the Phe-
nomenologie de la perception in terms of the phrase mettre en forme (PhP
220/189, for example). The Merleau-Pontean silence therefore is a thought,
but one which is gestaltlos, as Merleau-Ponty say in the Notes (HL 58),
"formless," and as formless, it is not nothing but rather something which
needs-"which calls from itself'--expression.
With this formless content in mind, let us now turn to Derrida. As in
Merleau-Ponty's later writings, in Derrida's Introduction, there is a
continuous theme of negativity (LOG 17 n. 1/17); the prefix "non" appears
countless times (LOG 112/109, for example). In the Introduction, there are
only fleeting references to Heidegger and no reference to any specific work
by Heidegger; so, we can conclude that in 1962 Derrida has not read
Heidegger profoundly; in fact, his concern with negativity in the Introduc-
tion seems to be inspired by Hegel (cf. LOG 58 n. 1167 n. 62). We can see
the connection to Hegel clearly in Derrida's 1964 "Violence et
metaphysique," where he claims that it is impossible to conceive alterity

without negativity. 18 Thus, a certain concept of negativity will continue to

be important for Derrida, and eventually, very quickly, it will be associated
with Heidegger's nothing. For instance, in the Introduction to La Voix et Ie
phenomene, echoing Heidegger, Derrida uses the word rien as a substantive,
saying "this nothing which distinguishes the parallels," for example (VP
12/12). This substantive use ofrien implies that, here in Derrida (as we saw
in Merleau-Ponty), we do not have a pure nothingness; Derrida, in
"Violence et metaphysique," too refers to a "hollow"; 19 and, as we have
seen, Derrida in the Introduction speaks of "the silence of prehistoric
arcana." And, of course, there is the title of Chapter Six of La Voix et Ie
phenomene, "The Voice that Guards Silence." All ofthese phrases make one
think of Merleau-Ponty.
Nevertheless, in the Introduction, Derrida, unlike Merleau-Ponty,
determines the lack of persisting existence that necessitates survival, and
thus determines this negativity, when he analyzes Husserl's discussion of
idealization in "Ursprung der Geometrie" (HUS 375/365). What is important
for Derrida is that, in "Ursprung der Geometrie," Husserl says that "The
peculiar sort of self-evidence belonging to such idealizations will concern
us later." Husserl, of course, never returns to it. So, for Derrida, the question
is: is there any evidence for such idealizations? The idealization of which
Husserl is speaking is the breakthrough of a sense towards an "indefinite
iteration," "a passage to the limit," "an Idea in the Kantian sense," (LOG
1471135). But, as soon as we understand that an Idea in the Kantian sense
means infinity, we know that the sense cannot be given in an intuition or be
given in evidence (LOG 1471134-5,152/139). Intuition or evidence, being
given in person, is always finite. So, for Derrida, this evidence, if we can
still call it that, is formal; or perhaps better, this experience is the experience
of formality. We can have evidence only of the form of infinity but not of
its content; we have no evidence of infinity itself(LOG 152-31139). In other
words, what is lacking and what then brings about a need for survival in
Derrida is not formless content (as in Merleau-Ponty) but rather contentless
form. In Derrida, the need for survival comes from a formalization without
content. What we have is a finite form which needs indefinitely to become

18. Jacques Derrida, "Violence et metaphysique," 175; "Violence and Metaphysics," 119.

19. Derrida, L 'Ecriture et fa difference, 124; Writing and Difference, 83.


Now, in the Introduction, Derrida speaks of the Idea in the Kantian sense
as having "its own original presence" (LOG 152/139); but, we know that, by
the time of La Voix et Ie phenomene, this "original presence" will be called
"non-presence" (VP 5/6, 71/63). It is especially clear in La Voix et Ie
phenomene that this Derridean non-presence derives from the experience of
the other since Derrida claims that Husserl' s "solitary life of the soul" in the
First Investigation anticipates "the sphere of ownness" in the Fifth Cartesian
Meditation; thus Derrida's "non-presence" resembles Merleau-Ponty's
Nichturprasentierbarkeit, insofar as both concepts derive from the essential
aspect of the experience of the other, that the other's interior life is not
directly present to me, but only appresented to me. Yet, what Derrida is
implying in both the Introduction and in La Voix et Ie phenomene is that,
when I have an appresentation of the other, what I have is the form of the
other and not its content; this lack of content is what makes the other other
for Derrida, and it also keeps the form of the other indefinitely open to
Before we turn to the fourth and last section, let me summarize what we
have seen so far. On the basis of what Husserl says in "Ursprung der
Geometrie" about the institution of ideal objects requiring writing because
the sense structure "lacks" "persisting existence," both Merleau-Ponty and
Derrida assert a double necessity, the necessity of going beyond subjective
experience in order to be objective and the necessity of going beyond ideal
objectivity in order to be available to subjective experience. By focusing on
the crystallizing images of the grimoire in Merleau-Ponty and the entomb-
ment of lost intentions in Derrida, we were able to see that this double
necessity implies a certain concept of sur-vival, beyond life, that is, death;
and beyond death, that is, life. Then we focused only on the first side of this
concept of survival. Going beyond life implies a negativity. Here, in the
discussion of negativity, we first discovered a similarity-Merleau-Ponty's
"originary non-presentability" looks to be the same as Derrida's "non-
presence"-then we discovered a difference-perhaps the difference
between Derrida and Merleau-Ponty-for Merleau-Ponty, the negativity
of writing is a fonnless content, while, for Derrida, the negativity of

writing, is a contentless fonn.20 Nevertheless, we are still able to see

the exact point of continuity between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida
since, for both, the negativity of writing, that the author must die, is,
as Merleau-Ponty says, "a call to reiteration" (HL 66) and, as Derrida
says, "a first posting [un premier envoi]" (LOG 36/50). In other words,
the negativity of writing implies that writing is always, for both
Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, defined by the dative case: it is a sending
to. But, with the dative, we turn now to the other side of the necessity,
that the object must become subjective. We are going to start with

4. The Necessity of Negativity: Faith

In the Notes, Merleau-Ponty indeed defines speech as "speaking to"

(HL 71). He defines speech in this way because he is trying to
understand language that is not "ready-made" but language "in the
making." Here, Merleau-Ponty, of course, is utilizing a distinction that
he developed in earlier works, and I have already referred to it: the
well-known distinction between "speaking speech" and "spoken
speech" (PhP 229/197).21 In fact, he uses these exact terms in the Notes
(HL 53).22 While spoken speech is "ready-made" language-a language
someone has spoken-speaking speech is language in the making (HL 67,
56,52, 49}-a language I am speaking (HL 49). Therefore, speaking speech

20. Probably, this difference accounts for Derrida's criticism of Merleau-Ponty in section 8
of the Introduction (LOG 116-71111-2). Derrida sees that Merleau-Ponty conceives essence
in relation to fact and that a fact for Merleau-Ponty is a formless content. But, in Merleau-
Ponty, we must conceive an essence in relation to "mettre en forme"; essence is Wesen in the
verbal sense, as Heidegger says. Nevertheless, one would have to say that Derrida is more
formalistic than Merleau-Ponty.

21. Merleau-Ponty, Signes, 56; Signs, 44-5. See also Merleau-Ponty, La Prose du monde
(Paris: Gallimard, 1969), 17; The Prose of the World, trans. John O'Neill (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1973), 10.

22. Merleau-Ponty also uses some other terms: "spoken speech" is also called "ready-made
language" (HL 53, 56, 67), "secondary language" (HL 56), or "ontic or empirical speech"
(HL 57), and "speaking speech" is also called "operative language" (HL 63), "full or
originary speech" (HL 56), or "ontological language" (HL 52-3).

is a praxis; Merleau-Ponty says, "Speech is a praxis: the only way to

understand speech is to speak (to speak to ... or be interpellated by ...)"
(HL 67). This being interpellated by-someone is interrogating "to"
me-needs a response. Merleau-Ponty defines the response to interpellation
in terms of what Husserl calls Nachverstehen in "Ursprung der Geometrie"
(HUS 3711360; HL 27; cf. PhP 208 n. 2/179 n. 2). In the dative relation of
hearing-when someone is questioning "to" me-I always encounter the
Nichturpriisentierbarkeit of the other. Because Nachverstehen encounters
the limit of that which cannot be re-animated-the negativity of
death-Nachverstehen is, for Merleau-Ponty, first a kind of passivity or a
receptivity (HL 63). In the Notes, Merleau-Ponty says that geometrical
ideality "calls me to" Nachverstehen (HL 35,66). Thus, in order to hear this
call, I must be quiet; obviously, if someone is interrogating (to) me, I must
listen. So, the passivity of Nachverstehen must be conceived as mute or
silent. But again, this muteness does not, for Merleau-Ponty, mean a lack of
language; it does not mean that I am dumb. In fact, I have the ready-made
forms of spoken speech available to me.
Yet, it is precisely this specific silence of expression that makes Nach-
verstehen be active. Precisely because Nachverstehen encounters the limit
of non-presentability-precisely because it is passive-it must be active. In
Nach-verstehen, there is an activity of repeating-the Nach-which makes
it that hearing is not mere "association" or "receptivity" (HL 55, 63);
Nachverstehen works with passivity, Merleau-Ponty says. This working
with passivity makes Nachverstehen be, for Merleau-Ponty, the experience
ofDeckung, recouvrement, coincidence (HL 65). But here, coincidence does
not mean that all of a sudden I have access to your thoughts. Instead, when
I listen and understand your question, again, Nach, what I am doing is
actualizing virtualities: ideality, as Merleau-Ponty says, "appears at the edge
of speech" (HL 57, 27-8). In other words,

[Husserl places] openness to others and openness to ideality into the law of the
praxical-perceptive, i.e., it consists in turning the others into the other side of my
world and in turning ideality into the Etwas [the something] upon which these
two sides are articulated, the pivot of the speaking to ... , a pivot, that is, to an
invisible through which the visible holds. The vertical Being as the being of
praxis, as the correlate of Speech. (HL 28; Merleau-Ponty's underlining)

This comment means that, when someone is interrogating (to) me, he or she
is expressing an ideality in the ready-made forms of spoken speech. But,
since I do not have access to the soul of the other-his or her soul is not-
presentable, even, so to speak, dead-then the expressed ideality is
separated from this person. It is at the "pivot"-Merleau-Ponty also uses the
word "hinge" (HL 27, 29)23 and "jointure" (HL 77)-between us. Thus,
when I listen and then respond, I repeat the ideality. But also, since I have
only the ideality and not its "soul," I must create an other "side" of the
ideality. The silence of my listening must be put into a form and this form
will be derived from the ready-made forms. But when I put my silence into
the linguistic form, this insertion recreates the sense. For Merleau-Ponty,
Nachverstehen is Nacherzeugung. In other words, with Merleau-Ponty,
every time I understand again, I institute again; in other words, every re-
understanding is a recommencement; every re-understanding is another
In the Notes, Merleau-Ponty distinguishes what Husserl calls Nach-
verstehen from what he calls "reactivation"; reactivation, for Merleau-
Ponty, aims at reactivating everything (HL 29,28,83). This comment means
that reactivation aims at being entirely active; it does not work with the
passivity. The passivity that defines Nachverstehen is why Merleau-Ponty
says that Nachverstehen is not a "survey" (survol) (HL 55). We know this
word "survol" from Le Visible et I 'invisible; to survey (survoler) is to soar
over and thereby dominate (VI 109/177), and Merleau-Ponty even defines
survoler in Le Visible et I'invisible, as "reactivating all the sedimented
thoughts" (VI 1501112). But, if Nachverstehen is not une pensee en survol,
then we know that it is what Merleau-Panty as early as the Phenomenologie
de la perception and as late as Le Visible et I'invisible calls "originary
faith." The word "faith" does not occur in Merleau-Ponty's Notes on
"Ursprung der Geometrie," but it seems to me that Nachverstehen substi-
tutes for it. Indeed, in the Notes, Merleau-Ponty speaks of a "knowledge of
non-knowledge" which suggests faith (HL 21-2, 24, 33). For Merleau-

23. See also Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Notes de lecture et commentaires sur Theorie du
champ de la conscience de Aron Gurwitsch," in Revue de mbaphysique et de morale, no. 3
(1997), 329; "Reading Notes and Comments on Aron Gurwitsch's The Field of
Consciousness," trans. Elizabeth Locey and Ted Toadvine, Husser! Studies 17, no. 3 (2000),
179, where Merleau-Ponty also defines essence as "chamiere."

Ponty, when I respond to the interpellation, or, better, to the interrogation,

I must have faith in the one who is speaking to me; I do not know what the
person is asking of me, since I cannot soar over his or her thoughts; he or
she is a ghostly presence. But also, I must have faith in myself; I do not
know what I am going to say since it lies in silence, formless; I am a ghostly
self-presence. 24
This language of ghosts, of course, refers to Derrida, but it seems
legitimate to introduce it into Merleau-Ponty, because Derrida develops the
concept of specter in conjunction with a concept of faith. Retrospectively,
we can see that Derrida's early writings were going in the direction offaith
even though they do not contain a theme of faith. It is possible to see now
that, in the Introduction, when Derrida is speaking of the "strange presence"
of the Idea in the Kantian sense, this strange presence implies a kind of
ghostly presence and thus calls for faith. Moreover, at the conclusion of La
Voix et Ie phenomene, when Derrida says, "As for what 'begins' then
'beyond' absolute knowledge, unheard-of thoughts are required" (VP
115/102; Derrida's emphasis), we now know that this "beyond absolute
knowledge" is a kind offaith. Most basically, as in Merleau-Ponty, faith in
Derrida is a dative relation. We can see this clearly in the title ofDerrida's
last Levinas book, Adieu, which means not only "good-bye," but also "to
God." But, as we have already noted, in both the Introduction and La Voix
et Ie phenomene, Derrida emphasizes the dative relation: in Husserl,
language or the logos or form, as Derrida says, is always "relation to the
object" (VP 110/98; LOG 153/139). Thus, as in Merleau-Ponty-and we are
still on the second side of the necessity, making the object subjective-in
Derrida the logos interrogates (to) me and "demands" a response (cf. LOG
One of the most remarkable things about Derrida' s Introduction is that it
contains an explicit theme ofresponsibility. Given the necessity of death, we
know that responsibility in Derrida must be defined by "bringing the sense
to life" (LOG 100-1/99). But as soon as we recognize that responsibility is
a kind of conjuring up of ghosts, then we have to see that responsibility is
a kind of faith. When I hear a word or read a text, this logos always indicates
a non-presence, which eliminates the possibility of absolute knowledge; as

24. It is at this point-at the point of ghostly presence-that one could make the transition
to what Merleau-Ponty, in the Notes, calls "vertical being" (HL 61) and "the paradox ofthe
horizon" (HL 43).

in Merleau-Ponty, responsibility in Derrida is not une pensee en survol. But,

while responsibility is a kind of faith in the other that I have resurrected,
responsibility is also a kind offaith in myself. I must be the one who can do
this; as Derrida says, "I restore [the sense's] dependence in regard to my
own act and reproduce it in me" (LOG 100-1/99; my emphasis). I am the
one selected, on whom the sense depends. The dependence of sense on me
is why Derrida in the last section of the Introduction defines responsibility
in the following way: "To make oneselfresponsible is to concern oneself [se
charger] with a heard speech; it is to take upon oneself the exchange of
sense in order to stand guard over its progression" (LOG 166/149). Most
generally, however, in the Introduction, Derrida defines responsibility as
"fulfillment" (LOG 11/31). Clearly, this word means the completion, even
the ending of the sense in presence. But, since the sense is always infinite
as an Idea in the Kantian sense, my response which fulfills the question
asked to me does not and cannot ever completely fulfill it. The sense is
always necessarily open to an indefinite number of fulfillments, completions
or ends. I must always fulfill this request over and over again. I have coined
a word in order to speak about this structure in Derrida that faith always
amounts to doing the end over an indefinite number of times; while
Merleau-Ponty's faith is always a "recommencement" (HL 66), Derrida's
faith is always a "refinition."25

Conclusion: Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology

Both the discourse of the end that we find in Derrida and the discourse of
beginning that we find in Merleau-Ponty, of course, derive from Heidegger.
Indeed, for both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, the limit of Husserlian
phenomenology lies in Heideggerian ontology. For both, this limit is the
Heideggerian conception of negativity. For Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger's
negativity is the limit of phenomenology, insofar as phenomenology seems
to be a positivism (HL 57, 64). (It is here in the concept of negativity that
Merleau-Ponty connects Heidegger to Bergson;26 it seems to me that this

25. I first used this word in "Phenomenology and Bergsonism: The Beginnings of Post-
Modernism," which is forthcoming in the Proceedings of the 1999 Simon Silverman
Phenomenology Center Philosophy Conference, Duquesne University.

26. Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours. 1959-1961, 103, 114-5.


connection may be the most original thing Merleau-Ponty ever did. If this
were our proj ect, we could, in light of this connection between Bergson and
Heidegger, establish a different Merleau-Ponty than the one we are
establishing now; we could establish a Merleau-Ponty that goes not in the
direction ofDerrida, but in the direction of Deleuze). So, for Derrida, as for
Merleau-Ponty, the Heideggerian negativity is the limit of phenomenology.
But, unlike Merleau-Ponty, for whom the negativity was a limit to
phenomenology because phenomenology looks to be a positivism, Derrida
sees a limit of phenomenology because phenomenology is a "a philosophy
of seeing" (LOG 155/141), an "intuitionism" (VP 110/98). But, if the limit
of phenomenology, for both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida, lies in Heidegger' s
negativity, then we must say that what is most important in Heidegger for
both Merleau-Ponty and Derrida is Heidegger's remembrance of the
question of Being.
We must make three points in reference to Heidegger' s famous Introduc-
tion to Sein und Zeit. First, Heidegger shows that the experience of
"perplexity" necessitates that we ask and seek a response to the question of
Being: we do not know or cannot understand the universality of Being; thus
we must seek a response.27 Second, Heidegger establishes that the criterion
for an adequate answer to the question of Being is that "it provide a directive
for concrete ontological research";28 in other words, the answer must not be
one that closes off the investigation but rather keeps it open. And third, the
Introduction to Sein und Zeit implies that, not only are we remembering the
question of Being, but also we are remembering the Being of the question.
In other words, Being itself must be conceived as a question. It is this
conception of Being as a question, of course, that is the guiding idea for
Merleau-Ponty's Le Visible et [,invisible; without Heidegger's conception
of Being as a question we would not have Merleau-Ponty conception of
Being as interrogation. But also, the Being of the question is the guiding
idea for all of Derrida's texts from the 1960s; for instance, "Violence et

27. Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tiibingen: Niemeyer, 1979), untitled preface, and 1,
in which Heidegger discusses the three prejudices about Being, 1-4; "Being and Time:
Introduction," in Basic Writings, 40-4. See also John Sallis, "Where does Being and Time
Begin?", in Delimitations (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986),98-118.

28. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 19; Basic Writings, 62.


metaphysique" begins by speaking of "a community of the question. "29 At

this point, in the 1960s, the confusion between Derrida and Merleau-Ponty
is remarkable. Yet, already in "Violence et metaphysique," Derrida has the
seeds for eliminating this confusion: when he speaks of the community of
the question, Derrida also speaks of an "injunction" of the question. 30 This
injunction implies that a command precedes the question. Eventually,
because of this prior command, Derrida, in his 1987 De l'esprit, will
question Heidegger's priority of the question; for Derrida now, prior to the
question of Being is the command of a promise; it is a deathbed promise:
"promise me that you will survive! "31 The response to this command, which
is no longer an answer to a question, is faith, faith in the one making me
promise and faith in me, the one who must keep the promise sometime in
the future. It seems to me that even here, when Derrida departs from the
Heideggerian question for the promise, Merleau-Ponty's spirit survives in
him. Because Merleau-Ponty takes up the theme of writing in the Notes on
"Ursprung der Geometrie," we can perhaps predict that Merleau-Ponty,
following the logic of death that writing implies, would have eventually
transformed the question into the promise; this prediction seems especially
reliable if we recall that Merleau-Ponty ends his 1952 candidacy abstract for
the College de France by speaking of the establishment of an ethics.32
But, ifMerleau-Ponty's spirit survives in Derrida, then we must say that
Husserl's spirit survives in both. Ifa limit, as in the limit of phenomenology,
is a negativity, then we know that the limit of phenomenology could not
establish ontology as a mere counter-concept. Indeed, both Merleau-Ponty
in his Notes and Derrida in his Introduction point to a "convergence" of
phenomenology and ontology (HL 64). Derrida says, for instance, that "for
both Husserl and Heidegger, the complicity of appearing and dissimulation
seems ... primordial, essential, and definitive" (LOG 151 n. 1/13 8 n. 164),

29. Derrida, L 'Ecriture et la difference, 118; Writing and Difference, 80.

30. Derrida, L 'Ecriture et la difference, 119; Writing and Difference, 80.

31. Jacques Derrida, De I 'esprit (Paris: Galilee, 1987),36,87,59; Of Spirit, trans. Geoff
Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1989), 17,56,35.

32. Merleau-Ponty, "Un Inedit de Maurice Merleau-Ponty," in Revue de metaphysique et de

morale, no. 4 (1962), 409; "An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus
of his Work," trans. Arleen B. Dallery, in The Primacy of Perception, ed. James Edie
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 11.

while Merleau-Ponty claims that, by continuing beyond the fact of

constituting-transcendental consciousness, Husserl "testifies to Seyn" spelt
with a "y" and crossed-out (HL 65). Thus, it seems to me that both Derrida
and Merleau-Ponty are incredibly faithful to Husserl. It is well-known, of
course, that Merleau-Ponty loves to quote this passage from Husserl's
Cartesianische Meditationen ( 16): "It is the experience ... still mute
which we are concerned with leading to the pure expression of its own
meaning" (VI 1711129,203/155; cf. HL 13,60). Similarly-however this is
not well-known-Derrida's concept of non-presence (and thus his famous
critique of the metaphysics of presence) derives from the fact that Husserl' s
conception of the Idea in the Kantian sense necessarily implies a lack of
adequate intuitive fulfillment; in the Introduction, Derrida says: "The idea
[in the Kantian sense] is the pole of a pure intention, empty of every
determinate object. It alone reveals, then, the being of the intention:
intentionality itself' (LOG 153/139). We can say that, even in their most
non-phenomenological positions, Derrida and Merleau-Ponty are still trying
to think through Husserl's discovery of intentionality. Merleau-Ponty is
putting the silence of Husserl's thought into language, while Derrida is
bringing Husserl' s language into an intuition. We must conclude: Husserl' s
spirit is coming to presence in Derrida and Merleau-Ponty, and therefore
Husserl could have no greater legacy.

Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl:

A Chronological Overview

Ted Toadvine
Emporia State University

More pages of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's corpus are devoted to discussion

of Edmund Husserl than is the case with any other, possibly excepting Jean-
Paul Sartre, and Husserl arguably represents the strongest philosophical
influence on Merleau-Ponty' s work. In the interests of setting the stage for
a philosophical discussion ofMerleau-Ponty' s interpretation ofHusserl, this
essay will serve as an overview of Merleau-Ponty's references to and
writings on his primary philosophical source. It will proceed historically and
concentrate on addressing the questions of when Merleau-Ponty was reading
which texts ofHusserl, what topics and issues he was finding of interest, and
how these interpretations contribute to and are guided by Merleau-Ponty's
more general interpretation ofHusserl 's philosophical project and develop-
ment at any particular stage ofMerle au-Ponty' s own writings. Since the task
of evaluating Merleau-Ponty's interpretation of Husserl is left to this
volume's contributors, this essay will strive to avoid such evaluation as far
as this is possible. Therefore, it will not include any direct comparison
between Merleau-Ponty' sand Husserl' s philosophies or methodologies, nor
any discussion ofthe validity or justifiability ofMerleau-Ponty' s appropria-
tions of Husserl's thought. Further, although Merleau-Ponty's discussions
of other figures within the phenomenological movement and of traditional
phenomenological themes may shed light on his interpretation of Husserl
even in cases where Husserl has not been referred to explicitly, such
discussions have not been brought within the compass ofthis essay, both in
the interest of avoiding the necessarily hermeneutic aspects of applying
Merleau-Ponty' s discussion to his reading ofHusserl (a task better left to the
contributors), and in order to set feasible parameters for this overview.
An initial chronological survey of Merleau-Ponty's texts on Husserl
reveals that they divide roughly into three groups of investigations, directing
the division of the present essay into three corresponding sections. The first
encompasses Merleau-Ponty's work prior to his appointment to the
Sorbonne in 1949, including La Structure du comportement,
Phenomenologie de la perception, and the essays collected in Sens et non-
T. Toadvine and L. Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, 227-286.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

sens. The second group of materials, including numerous lecture texts,

several essays collected in Signes, and an unfinished manuscript, La Prose
du monde, originate from the three years Merleau-Ponty taught at the
Sorbonne. The final period, dating from Merleau-Ponty's appointment atthe
College de France in 1953, again includes numerous course notes, "Le
Philosophe et son ombre" (collected in Signes), and the unfinished
manuscript ofLe Visible et I 'invisible. Merleau-Ponty's attention to Husserl
increases rather than diminishes over the course of this progression,
demonstrating both that he has grown more and more familiar with an
increasingly wide range of texts and that he is reading these texts with
increasing rigor and subtlety. While the earlier stages ofMerleau-Ponty's
reading of Husserl can be discussed in more detail since his references to
Husserl are fewer, the profusion of references in the later works will
unfortunately make it necessary for the present study to rely increasingly on
summarizations and general overviews. This limitation will hopefully be
balanced by the essay's main goal of providing a concise chronological
record ofMerleau-Ponty's appropriations of Husserl's thought.

I. Merleau-Ponty's Early Reading of Husserl (1933-1947)

Simone de Beauvoir relates the story, now well-known, of the conversations

between Raymond Aron and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1933 that first directed the
latter to purchase a copy of Levinas's book on HusserP and pack his bags
for Berlin. 2 According to Merleau-Ponty, Sartre was responsible for
disseminating Husserl' s work to his Parisian friends upon his subsequent
return from study in Berlin. 3 Nevertheless, it is likely that Merleau-Ponty's
interest in Husserl developed independently of Sartre, as the latter himself

1. Emmanuel Levinas, Theorie de I'intuition dans la phenomenologie de Husserl (Paris:

Alcan, 1930). A second edition was published by Vrin in 1963 from which the English
translation, The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology, trans. Andre Orianne
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973; 2nd. ed., 1995), was made.

2. Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life, trans. Peter Green (New York: Paragon House,
1992), 112.

3. Merleau-Ponty, "La Philosophie de l'existence," Dialogue 5, no. 3 (1966),315; "The

Philosophy of Existence," trans. Allen S. Weiss, in Merleau-Ponty, Texts and Dialogues, ed.
Hugh Silverman and James Barry, Jr. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992), 134.

suggested. 4 As Theodore Geraets documented in his study of Merleau-

Ponty's early work, it is likely that Merleau-Ponty attended the lectures on
Husserl, Lask, and Heidegger given at the Sorbonne by Georges Gurvitch
starting in 1928. 5 Merleau-Ponty also attended Husserl's "Paris Lectures"
in February of 1929, despite the fact that he did not know German at the
time. 6
The first evidence of a particular interest in Husserl is found in Merleau-
Ponty's 1934 application to the Caisse National des Sciences for a renewal
of his grant to study the nature of perception. The original grant from the
previous year makes no mention of HusserP In the intervening year,
however, Merleau-Ponty had made the acquaintance of Aron Gurwitsch,
whom he assisted with the publication of several articles on the convergence
of phenomenology and Gestalt psychology. 8 The brief discussion ofHusserl
in the 1934 grant proposal refers to Husserl's Ideen I, as well as to several
essays by Fink and to the dissertation of Gurwitsch. A marginal note also

4. J.-P. Sartre, "Merleau-Ponty," in Situations, trans. Benita Eisler (New York: George
Braziller, 1965),230.
5. Theodore F. Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale: La genese de la
philosophie de Maurice Mer!eau-Ponty jusqu 'a la Phenomenologie de la perception (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971),6-7, and n. 17.
6. Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, 7 and n. 18. The text of the Paris
lectures can be found in Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vortriige,
Husserliana, vol. 1, ed. Stephen Strasser (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963), 1-39; The
Paris Lectures, trans. Peter Koestenbaum (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970).
7. Merleau-Ponty, "La Nature de la perception," appendix to Geraets, Vers une nouvelle
philosophie transcendantale, 188-99; "The Nature of Perception: Two Proposals," trans.
Forrest Williams, in Texts and Dialogues, 74-84 [cited hereafter as NP, with French
preceding English pagination].

8. On the influence of Gurwitsch, see my "Phenomenological Method in Merleau-Ponty's

Critique of Gurwitsch," Husser! Studies 17, no. 3 (2000); Lester Embree, "Gurwitsch's
Critique of Merleau-Ponty," Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 12 (May
1981), 151; Embree, "Biographical Sketch of Aron Gurwitsch," in Life-World and
Consciousness, ed. Lester Embree (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972), xxiv;
James Edie, Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Language: Structuralism and Dialectics
(Washington, D.C.: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Presses
of America, 1987), 98-100; Forrest Williams, "Merleau-Ponty's Early Study Project
Concerning Perception," in Texts and Dialogues, 147; and Geraets, Vers une nouvelle
philosophie transcendantale, 13. See also Embree's Preface to the present volume, ix-xi.

mentions Levinas's Theorie de ['intuition dans fa phenomenofogie de

Husserl, his translation (with Gabrielle Pfeiffer) of the Cartesianische
Meditationen,9 the publication of Georges Gurvitch's Sorbonne lectures on
Husser!,10 and Jean Hering's book on phenomenology and religious
philosophy, which has been identified as the first book dealing with
phenomenology published in France. I I In his brief discussion, Mer!eau-
Ponty makes use of Fink's Kantstudien article l2 to claim that Husserlian
phenomenology "gives rise to a theory of knowledge absolutely distinct
from that of critical thought" (NP 190177).13 The majority of the discussion
is devoted however to explaining the relationship between phenomenolog-
ical philosophy and psychology. On the one hand, Husser!

maintains his earlier criticisms of "psychologism" and continues to insist on the

"reduction" whereby one passes from the natural attitude, which is that of
psychology as of all the positive sciences, to the transcendental attitude, which
is that of phenomenological philosophy. This difference of attitude suffices to
establish a very definite line between phenomenological analyses of perception,
for example, and psychological analyses dealing with the same theme. (NP

9. Meditations cartesienIJes, trans. Gabrielle Pfeiffer and Emmanuel Levinas (Paris: Armand
Collin, 1931; reprint, Paris: 1. Yrin, 1996). This text is a revised and expanded version of the
Paris lectures, which Merleau-Ponty had attended. The German text is published as
Cartesianische Meditationen ulld Pariser Vortrdge, Husserliana, vol. I, ed. Stephen Strasser
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1950; 2nd. ed., 1963),41-193; Cartesian Meditations, trans.
Dorion Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1970).

10. Georges Gurvitch, "La Phenomenologie de Husserl," Revue de nuftaphysique (1928).

II. Jean Hering, PhenolJuinologie et philosophie religieuse (Paris: Alcan, 1925). This is
identified as the first French work dealing with phenomenology in Levinas, Theory of
Intuition, liii, n. I.

12. Eugen Fink, "Die phanomenologische philosophie Edmund Husserls in der

gegenwartigen Kritik," Kantstudien 38 (1933): 319-83; "The Phenomenological Philosophy
of Edmund Husser! and Contemporary Criticism," in The Phenomenology of Husserl:
Selected Critical Readings, ed. R. O. Elveton (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), 73-147.

13. Where possible, [ have made use of existing English translations of both French and
German texts, although, when necessary, such translations have been altered for consistency
or accuracy without further note. All translations of texts for which published translations do
not exist are my own unless otherwise noted.

There is no question, then, of finding in HusserI the attempt to replace

psychology with philosophy or to deny psychology its own sphere of
inquiry. On the other hand, this sharp distinction in no way implies that
investigations into the philosophical domain have nothing to offer psychol-
ogy. MerIeau-Ponty refers to Ideen I in pointing out that "HusserI explicitly
compares ... the relations of phenomenology and psychology to those of
mathematics and physics, and looks to the development of his philosophy
for a renewal ofthe principles of psychology" (NP 191177). That phenomen-
ology can work in conjunction with psychology is demonstrated by
reference to the works of Fink, Linke, Gurwitsch, and Pradines, the latter
demonstrating a "psychological application of the theme of 'the intentional-
ity of consciousness' advanced by HusserI" (NP 192178). MerIeau-Ponty's
application for renewal of this grant was denied, and no further record of
these investigations exists.
The points made about HusserI in this brief study are repeated in MerIeau-
Ponty's reviews of Max Scheler's Ressentiment in 1935 14 and Sartre's
L 'Imagination in 1936. 15 With reference to Ideen I and Gurvitch's publica-
tion ofthe collected and revised Sorbonne lectures, 16 MerIeau-Ponty argues
that "it will be necessary for us to describe consciousness without prejudice
as it immediately appears: the 'phenomenon' of consciousness in its
original, manifold diversity" (CR 288/91). The transcendental epoche, he
insists, is more than merely a new form of introspection and should be
understood as "truly an introduction to a new mode of knowledge which
moreover manifests the worId as well as the self' (CR 289/91). This
phenomenological approach can be used to distinguish several regions of
values, "and it is impossible to reduce the one to the other, because they are
apprehended with an evidence which, from the phenomenological view-
point, is the final argument" (CR 290/91).

14. "Christianisme et ressentiment," La Vie intellectuelle 36 (1935); "Christianity and

Ressentiment," trans. Gerald G. Wening, in Texts and Dialogues, 85-100 [cited hereafter as
CR, with French preceding English pagination).

15. "L'Imagination," Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique 33, no. 9-10 (1936);
"On Sartre's Imagination," trans. Michael B. Smith, in Texts and Dialogues, 108-14 [cited
hereafter as SI, with French preceding English pagination).

16. Georges Gurvitch, Les Tendallces actuelles de la philosophie allemande (Paris: J. Vrin,

The Sartre review underscores Sartre' s appropriation ofHusserl' s "eidetic

psychology," and defends the latter against its interpretation by psycholo-
gists as a "new metaphysical flight from reality" by insisting that "[t]he truth
can only be reached via the abandonment ofthe natural attitude, the realism
of knowledge common to all the sciences, in favor of a transcendental
viewpoint from which all things become meanings" (SI 759-60/112).
Invoking once again the relation between mathematics and physics,
Merleau-Ponty commends Sartre's tum toward eidetics since "there is
nothing optional about having recourse to the analysis of essences or even
to the transcendental viewpoint" (SI 760/112). This tum does not eliminate
the need for empirical psychology, but is necessary if such factual inquiry
is to be understood as meaningful. Merleau-Ponty also offers some critical
remarks on Sartre's work that are telling in light of his own later projects:
first, the Bergsonian "image," as discussed in Matiere et memoire, may be
interpreted as an anticipation of the Husserlian noema; and, secondly, Sartre
is "too quick to grant Husserl his distinction between hyl eand morphB----one
of the points of his teaching that has been challenged in Germany itself, and
that does in fact present the most difficulties" (SI 7611113-4)Y
In a discussion ofthe philosophy agregation held in 1938, Merleau-Ponty
recommended redressing the Kantian emphasis within the Lycees by
providing a place for post-Kantian philosophy, namely "Hegel and his
posterity: Marx, Nietzsche, or even Husserl."18 In this same year, he
completed his first maj or work, La Structure du comportement, although this
text would not be published until 1942. 19 While this work contains virtually
no discussion ofHusserl, it includes a number of passing references to him,
occasionally including short quotations or appropriated technical terms.
Merleau-Ponty quotes Ideen I in discussing form as an object of perception

17. Embree recognizes in this remark an allusion to the work of Gurwitsch. See Embree,
"Merleau-Ponty's Examination of Gestalt Psychology," in Merleau-Ponty: Perception,
Structure, Language, ed. John Sallis (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981), 119
n. 11.

18. "L'Agregation de philosophie," Bulletin de la Societefranr;aise de la Philosophie 38

(1939), 132. The session is from March 7, 1938.

19. La Structure du comportement (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1942); The

Structure of Behavior, trans. Alden Fisher (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1983)
[cited hereafter as SB, with French preceding English pagination]. On the date of the text's
completion, see Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, 12.

rather than a physical reality (SB 155/143), the "use-objects" introduced by

human work (SB 176/162), the analysis of the perceived world into
discontinuous regions that correspond to distinct types of conscious acts (SB
186/172), the Abschattungen or "profiles" of the perceived object (SB
2011186), and the intentional "motivations" underlying the existential index
of perceived objects (SB 234-5/218). Brief reference is also made to
Cartesianische Meditationen (SB 175/162) and Vorlesungen zur
Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusztseins (SB 213/198). From Formale
und transzendentale Logik, Merleau-Ponty extracts the distinction between
"original passivity" and "secondary passivity," to which he will return on
many later occasions, raising it here in connection with the distinction
between the "natural" and "cultural" body (SB 227 n. 1/249 n. 50). More
importantly, Merleau-Ponty offers in the course of the text a definition of
the sense of the "phenomenological reduction" in Husserl' slater writings: 20

The philosophy of perception is not ready-made in life: we have just seen that it
is natural for consciousness to misunderstand itself precisely because it is
consciousness of things. The classical discussions centering around perception are
a sufficient testimony to this natural error. The constituted world is confronted
with the perceptual experience of the world and one either tries to engender
perception from the world, as realism does, or else to see in it only a commence-
ment of the science of the world, as critical thought does. To return to perception
as to a type of original experience in which the real world is constituted in its
specificity is to impose upon oneself an inversion of the natural movement of
consciousness. (SB 236/219-20)

Finally, this new characterization of the reduction is placed by Merleau-

Ponty in the service of contributing to a redefinition of transcendental
philosophy "in such a way as to integrate with it the very phenomenon of the

The natural "thing," the organism, the behavior of others and my own behavior
exist only by their meaning; but this meaning which springs forth in them is not
yet a Kantian object; the intentional life which constitutes them is not yet a
representation; and the "comprehension" which gives access to them is not yet an
intellection. (SB 2411224)

20. This is Merleau-Ponty's characterization of the following passage, as described in his own
note at SB 236 n. 1/249 n. 56.

Husserl died in the same year that Merleau-Ponty completed La Structure

du comportement, and a special issue of the Revue internationale de
philosophie dedicated to Husserl and published in January of 1939 came to
Merleau-Ponty's attention soon thereafter. 21 This volume, containing a
version of "Ursprung der Geometrie" edited and introduced by Fink,22 as
well as other important articles by Dessoir, Fink, Landgrebe, Landsberg,
Banfi, Berger, Pos, and Hering, apparently played a decisive role in sparking
Merleau-Ponty's interest in Husserl's later manuscripts and inspiring him
to visit the Husserl Archive in Louvain. In a letter to Father Van Breda from
March of 1939 inquiring about the possibility of visiting the Archive (and
in which Fink's essay in the Revue internationale de philosophie is
mentioned), Merleau-Ponty specifically requests information concerning the
availability of Landgrebe's recently published Urfahrung und Urteil, and
unpublished manuscripts from Ideen II and part III of Die Krisis. As reasons
for his visit, he cites both his researches for Phenomenologie de la
perception and an article in homage to Husserl he had been asked to write
by Alexandre Koyre for a forthcoming volume of Recherches
philosophiques. 23 Merleau-Ponty arrived in Louvain on the first of April,
1939, becoming the first visitor from outside Louvain to visit the Husserl
Archive. According to Father Van Breda,24 over the course of Merleau-
Ponty's five-day stay at Louvain he examined Ludwig Landgrebe's volume
of Urfahrungund Urteil, Landgrebe's typed transcriptions of Edith Stein's

21. See Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendentale, 28-9.

22. "Die Frage nach dem Ursprung der Geometrie als intentional-historisches Problem."
Revue internationale de philosophie 1 (1939),203-25. Geraets notes that this version differs
substantially from that later published as an Appendix to Die Krisis and appearing in French
and English translations (see Vers une nouvelle ph ilosophie transcendantale, 29 n. 129). In
his essay in this volume, Ronald Bruzina attributes these differences to the reconstructive
work of Fink. See Bruzina, "Eugen Fink and Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Philosophical
Lineage in Phenomenology," 176 n. 9.

23. This issue never appeared, cf. Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale,
29 n. 137.

24. The details of Merleau-Ponty's visits and interaction with the Archive on this and later
occasions may be found in H. L. Van Breda, "Maurice Merleau-Ponty et les Archives-Husserl
aLouvain," Revue de metaphysique et de morale 67, no. 4 (1962): 410-30; "Merleau-Ponty
and the Husserl Archives at Louvain," trans. Stephen Michelman, in Texts and Dialogues,
150-61 [cited hereafter as "Archives," with French preceding English pagination).

edition of Ideen Ips and of the text bearing Husserl's title "Umsturz der
Kopemikanischen Lehre in der gewohnlichen weltanshaulichen Interpreta-
tion. Die Ur-Arche Erde bewegt sich nicht ... ",26 and a transcription by
Eugen Fink of sections 28 to 73 of Die Krisis (from Part 111).27 Merleau-
Ponty also had the opportunity to discuss Husserl' s work with Fink, through
Van Breda's mediation as translator. Following this first contact, Merleau-
Ponty continued to interact with the Husserl Archive throughout his career.
In 1942, while working to establish an archive in Paris for copies of
Husserl's manuscripts, Merleau-Ponty received from Van Breda a copy of
the latter's dissertation on Husserl that included a ninety-page appendix of
Husserl's unpublished writings. 28 This appendix, which Merleau-Ponty kept
until 1944, included the following items: the "Phenomenology" article from
the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, a detailed table of
contents from the second part of Husserl' s Studien zur Struktur des

25. This manuscript was used as the basis for the 1954 Husserliana volume edited by Marly
26. This text (manuscript D 17), edited by Alfred Schutz, later appeared in two parts. The
first, entitled "Grundlegende Untersuchungen zum phanomenologischen Ursprung der
Raumlichkeit der Natur," appeared in Philosophical Essays in Memory ofEdmund Husserl,
ed. Marvin Farber (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940),307-25; "Foundational
Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature," trans. Fred
Kersten, in Husserl: Shorter Works, ed. R. McCormick and F. Elliston (Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1981),222-33. The second part of this text appeared as
"Notizen zur Raumkonstitution," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1 (1940):
21-37,217-26. In a footnote to his summary of the 1959-1960 course at the College de
France entitled "Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology," Merleau-Ponty indicates that he
received a copy of this text from Aron Gurwitsch in 1939. See Merleau-Ponty, Resumes de
cours (College de France, 1952-1960) (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), 168 n. 3; "Themes from the
Lectures at the College de France, 1952-1960," trans. John O'Neill, in In Praise of
Philosophy and Other Essays (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 189 n. 6
[cited hereafter as RC, with French preceding English pagination]. See also note 94.

27. Note that Merleau-Ponty mistakenly identifies these sections as belonging to Parts II and
III of Die Krisis in the bibliography of Phenomenologie de la perception. As Van Breda
points out, Part II had already appeared in Philosophia in 1936. Cf. "Archives," 415/153.

28. Since the dissertation itself was written in Dutch, Merleau-Ponty could not read it. For
details concerning these materials, see "Archives," 420-11156.

Bewusstseins,29 the complete list of section titles (from 1 to 73) of Die Krisis
along with the complete text of sections 38 and 53, and a copy of Husserl's
letter to Lucien Levy-Briih1.30 In the same year, Merleau-Ponty mentioned
in a letter to Van Breda that he had consulted Fink's VI Cartesianische
Meditation with Gaston Berger. 31 Two years later, in April of 1944, a
collection ofHusserl's manuscripts were entrusted to the care of Tran Duc
Thao and Merleau-Ponty in Paris. This collection consisted of a copy of the
German text of the Cartesianische Meditationen, a complete transcription
of Part III of Die Krisis, Die Idee der Phiinomenofogie, and 42 shorter
dossiers from group C (dealing mainly with problems of temporality). All
but the dossiers from group C were returned to Louvain in December of
1946, while the latter were held in Paris until the end of 1948 at Thao' s
Given Merleau-Ponty's access to this considerable quantity of materials,
it is not surprising that his Phenomenofogie de fa perception, published in
1945, is laced with references to Husserl's published and unpublished
works. But the only extended discussion ofHusserl appears in the "Preface,"
added later to the main text to satisfy Brunschvicg's request that Merleau-
Ponty explain what he meant by "phenomenology."32 This preface has the
character of a defense of phenomenology against criticisms both implicit
and explicit, e.g., those of Sartre and Jean Wahl, and this defense is carried
out in four stages: first, by distinguishing the descriptive method of the

29. This text, written by Landgrebe in 1925 on the basis ofHusserl' s materials, was probably
incorporated into Die Krisis or Er/ahrung und Urteil. See "Archives," 420-11156, and the
translator's note at 181 n. 26.

30. From March II, 1935. This letter has since been published in French in Gradhiva 4
(1988): 63-72.

31. Merleau-Ponty cites this text by Fink on the first page of the "Preface" to
Phenomenologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), i; Phenomenology o/Perception,
trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962; rev. 1981), vii [cited hereafter
as PhP, with French preceding English pagination]. Unfortunately, the English translation
renders "redigee" as "edited" rather than "composed," giving the misleading impression that
Merleau-Ponty believed the text to be authored by Husserl rather than Fink. On this point, see
Bruzina, "Eugen Fink and Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Philosophical Lineage in
Phenomenology," in the present volume, esp. 178 and n. 16. The VI. Cartesianische
Meditation is not listed in the bibliography of Phenomenologie de la perception.

32. See Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, 3 n. 6.


phenomenological "return to the things themselves" from scientific

explanation and critical reflexive analysis; second, by explicating the
meaning of the phenomenological reduction, which Merleau-Ponty adopts
as the central methodological -insight of phenomenology;33 third, by
understanding the phenomenological concern with essences within the
context of a "phenomenological positivism" that founds the essential on the
factual; and, lastly, by interpreting intentionality as an attempt to grasp the
"existential structure" of reality. In addition to this extended discussion in
the "Preface," the main text of Phenomenologie is strewn with passing
comments and footnotes that clarify Merleau-Ponty's genetic interpretation
of Husserl's oeuvre and introduce themes that are developed more fully in
his later appropriations ofHusserl' s thought. 34 These comments also help us
to gauge the degree to which Merleau-Ponty already separates the letter of
Husserl's philosophy from the spirit in which this philosophy is taken up by
Merleau-Ponty himself.
The contrast Merleau-Ponty offers between phenomenological description
and scientific explanation echoes his earlier discussion of phenomenology
and empirical psychology:

Scientific points of view, according to which my existence is a moment of the

world's, are always both naive and at the same time dishonest, because they take
for granted, without explicitly mentioning it, the other point of view, namely that
of consciousness, through which from the outset a world forms itself round me
and begins to exist for me. To return to things themselves is to return to that
world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in
relation to which every scientific determination is abstract, significative, and
dependent, as is geography in relation to the countryside in which we have learnt
beforehand what a forest, a prairie, or a river is. (PhP iiilix)

33. In so doing, Merleau-Ponty is implicitly distinguishing his interpretation of

phenomenology from that of Sartre, who, by making the notion of intentionality central, is
inevitably led to reject the possibility of the reduction. See the "Translators' Introduction" to
Sartre, The Transcendence ofthe Ego, trans. Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick (New
York: Noonday Press, 1957), 22-7. Sartre may well be the target of Mer!eau-Ponty's
comment that intentionality is "too often cited as the main discovery of phenomenology,
whereas it is understandable only through the reduction" (PhP xii/xvii).
34. Since the many references cannot each be discussed here, only those that either contribute
to Merleau-Ponty's overall interpretation of Husser! or discuss an important theme in
Merleau-Ponty's ongoing appropriation of Husser! will be mentioned.

This description of the relation emphasizes the primordial character of the

phenomenological level of description, which is underscored by Merleau-
Ponty's emphasis on the "I" as the "absolute source" from which all
scientific explanations must derive their validity. While Cartesian and
Kantian thought improve on this approach by treating consciousness as "the
absolute certainty of my existence for myself, as the condition for there
being anything at all; and the act of relating as the basis of relatedness,"
their prioritization swings too far toward the side of the subject, eliminating
the bilateral relationship between consciousness and world (PhP iii-ivlix).
Merleau-Ponty's suggestion is that Husserl's emphasis on noematic
description reinstates this "fundamental unity." The world is not the
construct of my analyses but pre-exists my reflective activity:

When I begin to reflect, my reflection bears upon an unreflective experience;

moreover my reflection cannot be unaware of itself as an event, and so it appears
to itself in the light of a truly creative act, of a changed structure of conscious-
ness, and yet it has to recognize, as having priority over its own operations, the
world which is given to the subject because the subject is given to himself. (PhP

The world as correlative with the acts of consciousness neither determines

consciousness nor is simply constructed by it. It is rather "the background
from which all acts stand out, and is presupposed by them" (PhP v/xi).
Turning to the phenomenological reduction, Merleau-Ponty first indicates
that initially, and even in recent texts, Husserl present this as "the return to
a transcendental consciousness before which the world is spread out and
completely transparent" (phP v/xi). Under this conception, perception

would be the apprehension of a certain hyle, as indicating a phenomenon of a

higher degree, the Sinngebung, or active meaning-giving operation which may
be said to defme consciousness, so that the world is nothing but "world-as-
meaning," and the phenomenological reduction is idealistic. (PhP vi/xi)

The consequence ofthis idealistic tum, on Merleau-Ponty's reading, is that

the world is treated as an "indivisible unity of value" implanted in each
individual as the accomplishment of "pre-personal forms of consciousness"
between which no failure of communication could be conceived:

A logically consistent transcendental idealism rids the world of its opacity and its
transcendence. The world is precisely that thing of which we form a representa-
tion, not as men or as empirical subjects, but in so far as we are all one light and
participate in the One without destroying its unity. (PhP vi/xi-xiii)

Precisely because Husserl finds the constitution ofthe Alter Ego problemati-
cal, his analyses point beyond his explicit characterizations of the reduction.
According to Merlt<au-Ponty,

I must be the exterior that I present to others, and the body of the other must be
the other himself. This paradox and the dialectic of the Ego and the Alter are
possible only provided that the Ego and the Alter Ego are defmed by their
situation and are not freed from all inherence; that is, provided that philosophy
does not culminate in a return to the self, and that I discover by reflection not
only my presence to myself, but also the possibility of an 'outside spectator'; that
is, again, provided that at the very moment when I experience my existence-at
the ultimate extremity of reflection-I fall short of the ultimate density that would
place me outside time, and that I discover within myself a kind of internal
weakness standing in the way of my being totally individualized.... (PhP vii/xii)

The implication of our embodiment that the constitution of the other person
brings to the fore is that consciousness remains essentially tied to a concrete
situation. It is only on this condition, Merleau-Ponty claims, that "transcen-
dental subjectivity can, as Husserl puts it, be an intersubjectivity" (PhP
Once again, Merleau-Ponty has emphasized the attachment of conscious-
ness to a world that cannot be collapsed into a mere meaning for conscious-
ness. But it is precisely this attachment, he argues, that makes possible a
new non-idealistic interpretation of the reduction:

Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unity of consciousness
as the world's basis; it steps back to watch the forms of transcendence fly up like
sparks from a fIre; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world

35. Although here and elsewhere MerIeau-Ponty attributes this quotation to HusserI's Krisis
(part III), Spiegelberg has noted that such a passage does not actuaIIy appear in this work. See
H. Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978),517.
Concerning other possible sources in HusserI's texts for this citation, see Dan Zahavi,
"MerIeau-Ponty on Husserl: A Reappraisal," in the present volume, 24-5.

and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because
it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical. (PhP viii/xiii)

In keeping with his earlier formulations of the reduction, Merleau-Ponty

portrays it here as a radicalized means of neutralizing our naturalizing
prejudices. Rather than a denial of our attachments to a real world, this
methodological procedure is in the service of bringing the assumed and
implicit positing of the world to explicit attention. The misinterpretation of
the reduction by Husserl' s interpreters-and even by himself-arises from
the fact that

in order to see the world and grasp it as paradoxical, we must break with our
familiar acceptance of it and, also, from the fact that from this break we can learn
nothing but the unmotivated upsurge of the world. The most important lesson
which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a complete reduction. (PhP

As evidence of Husserl' s own implicit recognition of this fact, Merleau-

Ponty points to his continual reexamination of the very possibility of the
reduction and his definition of the philosopher as a "perpetual beginner."
This state of continual beginning, of the need for continual reexamination
of the paradoxical foundations of a reflection that attempts to grasp its own
unreflective origins, could be considered the orienting theme of Merleau-
Ponty's own phenomenological method. The quote from Husserl's
Cartesianische Meditationen which Merleau-Ponty cites in this preface and
repeats throughout his career is clearly interpreted along these lines: "It is
that as yet dumb experience ... which we are concerned to lead to the pure
expression of its own meaning" (PhP xJXV).36
Merleau-Ponty explains the necessity of the eidetic reduction by recourse
to the same methodological considerations: that, in order to reflect on our
involvement with the world, which is ultimately the goal of our reflections,
we must do so hy way of a detour through ideality:

36. Cf. PhP 253-41219. The quotation is from Cartesianische Meditationen, 77/Cartesian
Meditations, 38-9lMMitations cartesiennes, 33. For the importance of this phrase for
Merleau-Ponty's work, see Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendantale, 7; and
especially Jacques Taminiaux, Dialectic and Difference, ed. Robert Crease and James T.
Decker (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1985), 131 ff.

The need to proceed by way of essences does not mean that philosophy takes
them as its object, but, on the contrary, that our existence is too tightly held in the
world to be able to know itself as such at the moment of its involvement, and that
it requires the field of ideality in order to become acquainted with and to prevail
over its facticity. (PhP ix/xiv-xv)

That the ascertainment of essences by means of eidetic variation is

undergirded by the world as primordially experienced protects us from the
skeptical doubt that would cast all of our attempts at knowledge into
question. The distinction between illusory and veridical perception is
operative in our perceptual experience from the first, and "[t]o seek the
essence of perception is to declare that perception is not presumed true, but
defined for us as access to the truth" (phP xi/xvi). Hence, the eidetic method
contributes to a "phenomenological positivism," since it "bases the possible
on the real" (PhP xii/xvii).
Merleau-Ponty finds in Husserl's notion of operative intentionality the
basic insight that sets his conception of consciousness apart from Critical
philosophy. As this intentionality is responsible for "the natural and
antepredicative unity ofthe world and our life," the phenomenologist must
now broaden his horizon of concerns to include much more than the "true
and immutable natures" posited in explicit intellectual acts:

Whether we are concerned with a thing perceived, a historical event or a doctrine,

to "understand" is to take in the total intention-not only what these things are
for representation ... but the unique mode of existing expressed in the properties
of the pebble, the glass or the piece of wax, in all the events ofa revolution, in all
the thoughts of a philosopher. (PhP xiii/xviii)

The goal of this broadened conception of intentionality, once applied to

human events, is to grasp the "structure of being" manifest through all
possible relationships by which the events may be explained: economic,
psychological, ideological, etc. At the intersection of each partial approach
to explanation, on Merleau-Ponty's view, lies a "unique core of existential
meaning" (PhP xiv/xix). The transmutation of the contingent into the
rational in the tracing of the "genesis of meaning" of historical events is now
the wider goal set for phenomenology. In this transmutation ofthe facticity
of the world into a meaning and the contingencies of human events into a
rational history accessible to reflection, Merleau-Ponty finds the union of

"extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism" that is the "most important

acquisition" of phenomenology (PhP xv/xix).
Remembering that the "Preface" was written after the main text of the
Phenomenologie, we can find indications in the notes and comments within
the text of how Merleau-Ponty saw these views presaged in Husser!' The
sharp distinction between Husserlian and Critical philosophy, drawn from
Fink's Kantstudien article, is implicit throughout and explicit at several
points. 37 The contact with the world that is lived prior to being captured in
reflection is associated with the Urdoxa and Urglaube of Erfahrung und
Urteil (phP 50/40, 395/343, 419 n/365 n) and with the "logos of the
aesthetic world" of Formale und transzendentale Logik (phP 490/429).
Citations from Ideen II concern the incomplete nature of the constitution of
the body, along with the argument that the incomplete nature of this
constitution rules out a constituting subject (PhP 108/92,465/406). The self-
reflexivity of the body, the relationship of "touching-touched" that becomes
central in Merleau-Ponty's later reflections, is attributed here to Cartesian-
ische Meditationen (phP 109/93).38 Merleau-Ponty also places a great deal
of emphasis throughout on Husserl' s tum toward genetic phenomenology
and his later concern for problems of history, which the "Preface" links with
the broadening of the notion of intentionality. This broadening of
intentionality is indicated when Merleau-Ponty writes that "Husserl's
originality lies beyond the notion of intentionality; it is to be found in the
elaboration ofthis notion and in the discovery, beneath the intentionality of
representations, of a deeper intentionality, which others have called
existence" (PhP 141 n/121 n). Later, "operative intentionality," attributed to
the Vorlesungen zur Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins and
Formale und transzendentale Logik, is equated with Heidegger's
"transcendence" (PhP 478/418), and the "passive synthesis" or "transition
synthesis" (PhP 479/419) involved in the synthesis of time or movement can
be contrasted with a Kantian synthesis, at times also adopted by Husserl,
which "presupposes, at least ideally, a real multiplicity which consciousness

37. Fink's essay is cited at PhP viii nlxiii n, 40 nl31 n, 342 nl295 n.

38. Cf. PhP 404/352. The parallel section of the English translation occurs in Section 44 (97).
Concerning the accuracy of the quotation, see the translator's note to Xavier Tilliette,
"Husserl's Concept ofNature (Merleau-Ponty's 1957-58 Lectures)," in Texts and Dialogues,
185 n. 29.

has to surmount" (phP 320 nl276 n).39 The subject of this passive synthesis
is a "relative and prepersonal I," not a "Transcendental Ego" (phP 320 nl276
These individual points contribute to Merleau-Ponty's over-arching
interpretation ofHusserl' s position and the periods through which it passed.
The Ideen and the "Nachwort" are part of a transitional period, on Merleau-
Ponty's reading, a "second" period between Husserl' s earlier "logicism" and
his later "existentialism" (PhP 317 nl274 n). The Sinngebung of Ideen,
understood as a meaning-giving act, is a typical manifestation of idealism
(PhP 490/428), as is the "classical conception" of intentionality proposed
there (PhP 2811243). Discussing Husserl' s critique of Gestalt psychology,
Merleau-Ponty finds the "Nachwort" representative ofa stage ofHusserl's
thought in which "he was still distinguishing fact and essence, when he had
not yet arrived at the idea of historical constitution, and when, consequently,
he was stressing the break, rather than the parallelism, between psychology
and phenomenology" (PhP 63 niSI n).40 Yet this period is transitional
nonetheless, since the later period is the culmination of concepts already
introduced here, e.g., "motivation":

It was not until his last period that HusserI himself became fully aware of what
the return to phenomena meant, and tacitly broke with the philosophy of essences.
He was in this way merely explicitly laying down analytic procedures which he

39. Merleau-Ponty's only significant reference to Husserl in his presentation of the thesis of
Phenomenologie de la perception to the Societe franc;aise de philosophie in November, 1946,
concerns "transition" synthesis. See "Le Primat de la perception et ses consequences
philosophiques," Bulletin de la Societefran9aise de la philosophie 41 (1947), 123 and 127;
"The Primacy of Perception and its Philosophical Consequences," trans. James Edie, in The
Primacy ofPerception (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 15 and 19. On this
"transition synthesis," see also Xavier Tilliette, "Husserl et la notion de Nature (Notes prises
au cours de Maurice Merleau-Ponty)," Revue de metaphysique et de morale 70, no. 3 (1965),
260; "Husserl's Concept of Nature (Merieau-Ponty's 1957-58 Lectures)," trans. Drew Leder,
in Texts and Dialogues. 164, 184-5 n. 21 [cited hereafter as HNN, with French preceding
English pagination]. Note that the year of this course, 1956-57, has been incorrectly
designated in the title of the English translation. See pp. 266 f. below.

40. Here the suggested antidote to HusserI's thought on these points is Fink's
"Vergegenwiirtigung und Bild," Jahrbuch for Philosophie und phiinomenologische
Forschung 11 (1930). This essay appeared in the same issue of the Jahrbuch as HusserI's

had long been applying, as is precisely shown by the notion of motivation to be

found already in the Ideen. (PhP 61 n149 n)

On the one hand, Merleau-Ponty attributes to the later Husserl a full

understanding of the "return to phenomena," and yet the "break" with the
earlier "philosophy of essences" remains tacit. The methodological
attachments that Merleau-Ponty finds mistaken continue to reappear
throughout Husserl' s last writings, e.g., in the case of Husserl' s presenta-
tions of the reduction. Even there, Husserl writes as if the reduction would
"recognize only one true subject, the thinking Ego ... , would leave nothing
implicit or tacitly accepted in my knowledge .... [and] would enable me to
take complete possession of my experience and realize the adequation of
reflecting to reflected" (PhP 60/73). Yet despite these "throwbacks,"
Merleau-Ponty still sees Husserl moving in a favorable direction:

Husserl in his last period concedes that all reflection should in the first place
return to the description of the world of living experience (Lebenswelt). But he
adds that, by means of a second 'reduction,' the structures of the world of
experience must be reinstated in the transcendental flux of a universal constitution
in which all the world's obscurities are elucidated. It is clear, however, that we
are faced with a dilemma: either the constitution makes the world transparent, in
which case it is not obvious why reflection needs to pass through the lived world,
or else it retains something ofthat world, and neverrids it of its opacity. Husserl' s
thought moves increasingly in the second direction, despite many throwbacks to
the logicist period-as is seen when he makes a problem of rationality, when he
allows significances which are in the last resort 'fluid' ... , when he bases
knowledge on a basic 06~&. (PhP 419 n1365 n)

The indications that Husserl is moving in a new direction in the last phase
of his writing include his "favorite word" Stiftung (PhP 148 nl127 n), the
theory of expression in "Ursprung der Geometrie" (PhP 208-9/179), and the
"transition synthesis" of the Vorlesungen zur Phiinomenologie des inneren
Zeitbewusstseins (PhP 178 nl152 n, 307/265, 320 nl276 n, 475-88/416-26).
Ultimately, Merleau-Ponty sees these indications as pointing toward a single
fundamental insight: that transcendental thought must stop short of an
idealism that would replace the world by its meaning. "I am not a constitut-
ing thought, and my 'I think' is not an 'I am,' unless by thought I can equal
the world's concrete richness, and re-absorb facticity into it" (PhP 431 nl376
n). Manifestly, Merleau-Ponty's view is that I cannot.

Merleau-Ponty makes reference to Husserl on two occasions not long

after the publication ofPhenomenologie de la perception, discussing him for
several pages in "Marxisme et philo sophie" (1946t 1 and briefly again in "Le
Metaphysique dans l'homme" (1947).42 These are his last published
references to Husserl prior to his appointment to the chair of Child
Psychology and Pedagogy at the Sorbonne in 1949. The essay on Marxism
and philosophy finds Merleau-Ponty defending Husserl against an attack, in
the name of dialectical materialism, by Paul Herve. 43 Here, in contrast to the
"philosophy of essences, philosophy as a strict or absolute science,
consciousness as a transcendental and constituting activity" objected to by
Herve, Merleau-Ponty--even while admitting that Husserl maintains these
formulas to the end of his career-paints the picture of Husserl as a
contributor to the "Hegel revival":

He kept getting a clearer and clearer picture of the residue left behind by all
reflexive philosophy and of the fundamental fact that we exist before we reflect;
so that, precisely to attain complete clarity about our situation, he ended by
assigning, as the primary task of phenomenology, the description of the lived
world (Lebenswelt), where Cartesian distinctions have not yet been made. Thus
it was that, just because he began by seeking absolute evidence, he arrived at the
program of a philosophy which describes the subject thrown into a natural and
historical world, the horizon of all his thoughts. Thus it was that, having started
with a "static phenomenology," he ended with a "genetic phenomenology" and
a theory of "intentional history"-in other words, a logic of history. (SNS

But while this passage leans strongly toward the "existential," or perhaps
"dialectical," interpretation of Husserl's last period, attributing to him a
position with which Merleau-Ponty is clearly in sympathy, the footnote

41. "Marxisme et philosophie" first appeared in Revue international de philosophie 1, no. 6

(June-July 1946), and was later collected in Sens et non-sens (paris: Nagel, 1948; reprint,
Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 152-66; "Marxism and Philosophy," in Sense and Non-Sense, trans.
Hubert and Patricia Dreyfus (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 125-36 [cited
hereafter as SNS, with French preceding English pagination].

42. "Le Metaphysique dans I'homme" first appeared in Revue de metaphysique et de morale
52 (1947), and was collected in Sens et non-sens, 102-19; "The Metaphysical in Man," in
Sense and Non-Sense, 83-98.

43. Merleau-Ponty cites Herve's "Conscience et connaissance," Cahiers d'Action 1: 5-6.


mentioning Husserl in "Le Metaphysique dans I'homme" once again reacts

against his treatment of "transcendence in immanence." Whereas Phe-
nomenofogie de fa perception had cited with approval a passage from Die
Krisis linking presence to oneself (Urprasenz) and de-presentation
(Entgegenwartigung),44 Merleau-Ponty now finds the constitution of a
transcendent within the immanent sphere of transcendental consciousness
to be an elimination, rather than a taking-up, of the "fertile contradiction of
human consciousness" (SNS 118 n/96 n).

II. Merleau-Ponty at the Sorbonne (1949-1952)

While at the Sorbonne, Merleau-Ponty's writings on Husserl consisted of

collected notes from his lecture courses, two essays from this period
published later in Signes, and a few passing remarks in his abandoned book
manuscript, La Prose du monde. 45 "La Conscience et l'acquisition du
langage,"46 a lecture course given in 1949-1950, includes a discussion ofthe
theoretical problem of intersubjectivity in which Merleau-Ponty contrasts
HusserI's approach to this problematic in CartesianischeMeditationen with
Scheler's presentation in Wesen und Formen der Sympathie. 47 Among the

44. PhP 417/363. The passage Mer1eau-Ponty had in mind (he cites only Krisis, III) is
perhaps found in 54, section b. See Husser!, Die Krisis der europiiischen Wissenschaflen
und die transzendentale Phiinomenologie, 2nd ed., Husserliana, vol. 6, ed. Walter Biemel (The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976), 189 [cited hereafter as Hua VI]; The Crisis of European
Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1970), 185 [cited hereafter as Crisisl

45. La Prose du monde, ed. Claude Lefort (Paris: Gallimard, 1969); The Prose ofthe World,
trans. John O'Neill.(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973) [cited hereafter as PM,
with French preceding English pagination l

46. "La Conscience et l'acquisition du langage," in Merleau-Ponty a ta Sorbonne: Resume

de cours 1949-1952 (Paris: Cynara, 1988), 9-87 [cited hereafter as Sorbonne];
Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, trans. Hugh Silvennan (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1973) [cited hereafter as CALl These materials consist of
student notes collected and published with Merleau-Ponty's approval.

47. Max Scheler, Wesen und Formen der Sympathie (Bonn: Cohen, 1923); The Nature of
Sympathy, trans. Peter Heath (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954).

courses for the following year, "Les Relations avec autrui chez l'enfant"48
includes merely a reference to the "Intentional transgression" and bodily
"coupling" from the Meditationen, while a significant portion of the course
entitled "Les Sciences de l'homme et la phenomenologie"49 discusses the
relation between Hussed' s phenomenology and psychology, linguistics, and
history as human scientific disciplines. The two essays from Signes were
both completed in 1951: "Sur la phenomenologie du langage"50 and "Le
Philosophe et la sociologie."51 The extant portion of La Prose du monde,
also thought to have been composed mainly in 1951,52 contains a few

48. The course entitled "Les Relations avec autrui chez l'enfant" has been published in
French in two forms. The first, which consists of a complete collection of course notes taken
by students and published with Merleau-Ponty's approval, appeared in Bulletin de
psychologie and has been collected in Merleau-Ponty a la Sorbonne: resume de cours
1949-1952, 303-96. The second version only includes material from the first half of the
course, but was written out more fully by Merleau-Ponty himself (Paris: Centre de
Documentation Universitaire, 1951; reprint, 1975). The latter is translated by William Cobb
as "The Child's Relations with Others," in The Primacy of Perception, 96-155 [the latter
version and English translation will be cited hereafter as CRO, with French preceding English
pagination]. Citations will be to the second version, since the themes under discussion here
receive fuller treatment in this version.

49. "Les Sciences de l'homme et la phenomenologie." As with the previous course, two
different versions of materials from this course have also been published in French. The
complete set of schematic student notes is found in Merleau-Ponty ala Sorbonne, 397-464.
Minor references to Husser! occur in the latter portion of these course notes, which are not
included with the shorter version, but these do not warrant discussion in our synopsis (cf.
433, 449, 450). The fuller version of the first half of the course was again completed by
Merleau-Ponty himself (Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire, 1975). This version
is translated by John Wild as "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," in The Primacy of
Perception, 43-95 [the latter French version and English translation are cited hereafter as
PSM, with French preceding English pagination].
50. "Sur la phenomenologie du langage" was first presented in April, 1951, at the First
International Colloquium of Phenomenology in Brussels and published in the conference
proceedings, Problemes actuels de la phenomenologie (Paris: Desclee-De Brouwer, 1952):
89-109. It is collected in Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 105-22; "On the Phenomenology
of Language" in Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,
1964),84-97 [Signes/Signs is cited hereafter as S, with French preceding English pagination].

51. "Le Philosophe et la sociologie" first appeared in Cahiers internationaux de sociologie

6 (1951): 50-69, and is collected in S 123-42/98-113.

52. See Lefort, "Editor's Preface," in PM vi/xv.


references to Husserl's work. 53 Merleau-Ponty hardly mentions Husserl's

work during the five years that followed the completion of this group of
writings. The breaking of this silence did not occur until after his appoint-
ment to the College de France. 54
The 1949-1950 course on the child's acquisition oflanguage introduces
Husserl's work within the context of a discussion of language as imitation
and the more general problematic of the child's imitation of others'
behavior. In order to clarify the philosophical issues at stake in this
discussion of imitation, Merleau-Ponty introduces the theoretical problem
of the experience of others as discussed by Husserl and Scheler. The
theoretical problem, as Merleau-Ponty presents it here on the basis of the
Cartesianische Meditationen,55 echoes the discussion of others from
Phenomenologie de la perception:

It is repugnant to the other, by definition, to be only the consciousness that I have

of him, since he is for himself [pour soil what I am for me [pour moil, and for
this reason I cannot have access to him. Since others are not for me what they are
for themselves, I have no experience of others. Even if I wanted, by a kind of
spiritual sacrifice, to renounce my cogito in order to posit that of others, it would
still be from me that he would have this existence, and by which he would still
be my phenomenon. (Sorbonne, 38/CAL 41)

From the theoretical perspective, a true experience of the other person

appears impossible, since consciousness is defined by self-contact. Self and
other are mutually exclusive. At the same time, Merleau-Ponty points out,
the experience of other people is undeniable. Since, from a practical
standpoint, the existence of others must be admitted, what appears to be a
logical impossibility must nevertheless be accepted. Merleau-Ponty's
solution, then, is to "transform this relation of exclusion into a living

53. References to Husserl in La Prose du monde concern "coupling" (21/13), language

(24/16, 37-8/25-6, 44/30-1), style (79/56), and Stiftung (95-6/68). The version of Chapter
3, "Le Langage indirect," that appeared in Les Temps modernes as "Le Langage indirect et
les voix du silence" (collected in S 49-104/39-83), eliminates the reference to Husserl in the
passage introducing "style" (S 65/52), though the reference to Stiftung remains (S 73-4/59).

54. See Section III below.

55. The Husserliana edition of Cartesianische Meditationen was published in 1950, while
this course was in progress.

relation" (Sorbonne, 391CAL 41). Even so, MerIeau-Ponty adopts from

HusserI the claim that "a certain solipsism is insurmountable," interpreted
to mean that, while only the cogito is indubitably present to itself, others
may be granted a certain "indirect presence" (Sorbonne, 391CAL 41).
MerIeau-Ponty identifies four aspects of the constitution of the other in
HusserI's fifth meditation as salient. First, others are perceived laterally,
rather than frontally as is the case with objects. This entails that others
always have a certain "orientation"; they imply a reference to or reflection
of the self, which is precisely why they are alter egos. Therefore, "[0 ]thers
draw their origin, in a certain sense, from me" (Sorbonne, 391CAL 42).
Secondly, in the case of "lacunary" perception, the other appears as a
"forbidden zone" in our experience since, unlike objects, his presence
includes an aspect that can never, in principle, be verified. These two forms
of perception are not sufficient to posit a true other. Third, in the perception
of the behavior of others, "my corporeality becomes a comprehending
power oftheir corporeality .... [B]ecause the style of my gestures and the
gestures of others is the same, this amounts to the fact that what is true for
me is also true for others" (Sorbonne, 39-401CAL 42-3). Fourth, this
perception of style in behavior must be supplemented with an "intentional
transfer" or "pairing":56

a body encountering its counterpart in another body which itself realizes its own
intentions and suggests new intentions to the self [moi]. The perception of others
is the assumption of one organism by another. HusserI gives a number of names
to this vital operation which gives us the experience of others while transcending
our own self. He calls it "intentional transfer" or "apperceptive transfer" while

56. In a translator's note (CAL 43 n), Silverman suggests that transgression intentionelle
("intentional transfer") may be a translation of intentionale Modifikation ("intentional
modification") in 52 of Cartesianische Meditationen. Accouplement ("pairing") translates
Paarung. Later in the section, Merleau-Ponty attributes to Husserl the term transposition
apperceptive, which Silverman equates with Husserl's apperzeptive Obertragung
("apperceptive transfer") from 50. The first attribution is complicated by Merleau-Ponty's
later claim that empietement intentionelle ("intentional encroachment") translates HusserI's
intentionale Oberschreiten from Cartesianische Meditationen (S 214/169), and the
interchangeable use Merleau-Ponty makes of empietement and transgression (cf. "Possibilite
de la philosophie," RC 1511175). I have not succeeded in finding the phrase intention ale
Oberschreiten in the Husserliana edition of Cartesianische Meditationen.

always insisting on the fact that it is not a logical operation that is in question
(kein Schluss, kein Denkakt), but rather a vital one. (Sorbonne, 40lCAL 43)57

The 1950-1951 course on "Les Relations avec autrui chez l'enfant" takes
up this theme of "intentional transfer" or "intentional transgression" in
similar fashion:

since ... the other who is to be perceived is not himself a "psyche" closed in on
himself but rather a conduct, a system of behavior that aims at the world, he
offers himself to the grasp of my motor intentions and to that "intentional
transgression" (Husserl) by which I animate and transport myself into him.
Husserl said that the perception of others is like a "phenomenon of coupling"
[accouplement]. The term is anything but a metaphor. In perceiving the other, my
body and his are coupled, resulting in a sort of action adeux. This conduct which
I am able only to see, I live somehow from a distance. I make it mine; I take it up
or comprehend it. ... It is this transfer of my intentions to the other's body and
of his intentions to my own, this alienation ofthe other by me and of me by him,
that makes possible the perception of others. (CRO 32/118)

Despite these analyses, Merleau-Ponty finds Husserl unable to account for

the experience of others due to the Cartesian conception of the cogito to
which he remains committed. Nevertheless, in pointing out that the problem
of others is poorly posed, Husserl implies that one might approach the entire
problematic from a starting point other than that of the undubitable cogito.
Merleau-Ponty therefore sees Husserl pulled in two directions:

(a) the attempts to gain access to others by starting with the cogito, with the
"sphere of ownness";
(b) the denial of this problem and an orientation toward "intersubjectivity,"
that is, the possibility of starting without positing the primordial cogito, starting
with a consciousness which is neither self nor others.
But while envisaging this second possibility, Husserl effectively shows that,
even though it would be satisfactory, it does not hide the difficulties of the
problem which remain intact for him. Thus at the frontier of an intersubjective
conception, Husserl finally maintains an integral transcendental subjectivity.
(Sorbonne, 411CAL 44-5)

57. Silvennan notes (CAL 43 n) that the Gennan phrase may be found in 50 of
Cartesianische Meditationen and is rendered by Cairns as "apperception is not inference, not
a thinking act."

Husserl's later, unpublished writings reach the point of affirming both

requirements simultaneously, Merleau-Ponty claims, citing once again as
support the notion that "transcendental subjectivity is intersubjectivity,"
with the gloss that "the experience that other people have of me validly
teaches me that which I am" (Sorbonne, 411CAL 45). In the final analysis,
though, Husserl is unable to reconcile the two contradictory demands of the
logical problem of intersubjectivity.58
Although these courses contain Merleau-Ponty's first explicit discussion
of Husserl' s treatment of intersubjectivity in the Cartesianische Meditat-
ionen, he was clearly familiar with this account earlier. 59 There is no
indication in these lectures that Merleau-Ponty was examining new themes
in Husserl' s work or had examined new texts by Husser!' The themes treated
in Merleau-Ponty's other course from 1950-1951, "Les Sciences de
l'homme et la phenomenologie," do correspond to manuscripts Merleau-
Ponty borrowed from Louvain in January, 1950, dealing with "problems
related to ideation and with the relationship between phenomenology and
psychology."6o This loan consisted of transcriptions of Die Idee der
Phiinomen%gie, written in Gottingen in 1909 (F I 17), EinjUhrung in die
Phiinomen%gie from the 1912 course at Gottingen (F I 4), and large
sections from the 1926-27 course at Freiburg-im-Brisgau on the possibility

58. Merleau-Ponty does offer his own "existential" resolution of the dilemma, by considering
Scheler and Husserl as opposite poles of the insurmountable theoretical problem. See
Sorbonne, 44-5/CAL 48-9.

59. The dialectical relation between Husserl's and Scheler's conceptions of intersUbjectivity
suggested by Merleau-Ponty here also motivates the analysis of intersubjectivity in
Phenomenofogie de fa perception. See T. Toadvine, "The Cogito in Merleau-Ponty's Theory
of Intersubjectivity," Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 31 (May, 2000):

60. The following list is drawn from Van Breda's account, according to which these
transcriptions by Stephen Strasser were loaned to Merleau-Ponty for use at his home in Paris,
not being returned by him until January, 1955. See "Archives," 426/159.

of intentional psychology (F I 33).61 According to Van Breda, these were the

last unpublished manuscripts consulted by Merleau-Ponty prior to 1959.
The first half of the 1950-1951 course on "Les Sciences de l'homme et
la phenomenologie" offers a sustained investigation into the relation
between phenomenology and psychology, along with brief discussions of
linguistics and history, and focuses mainly on Husserl, while including
discussion of Sartre, Heidegger, and Scheler. 62 The problematic to be
addressed by the course is introduced as the crisis of philosophy, science,
and the human sciences:

To the extent that it was really advancing, research in [the fields of psychology,
sociology, and history] tended to show that all opinion, and in particular, all
philosophy, was the result of external psychological, social, and historical
conditions working in combination .... But in the process they were undermining
their own foundations. If, indeed, the guiding thoughts and principles of the mind
at each moment are only the result of external causes which act upon it, then the
reasons for my affIrmation are not the true reasons for this affIrmation. (PSM

Husserl's task is then described by Merleau-Ponty as that of showing how

all three-natural science, the human sciences, and philosophy-can exist
together, each with its own proper sphere of application. It is this question
that, on Merleau-Ponty's reading, spans Husserl's oeuvre as a guiding
concern from his first published writings on the Phi!osophie der Arithmetik
to Die Krisis.
But Merleau-Ponty's methodological statements carefully guard against
taking this examination as a simple historical report of the views of either
phenomenologists (discussed in the first half of the course), or psychologists
(discussed in the second). Merleau-Ponty proposes, on the contrary, to
undertake an historical analysis, but one directed by a "dialectical history":

61. This course is included as an appendix in Husserl, Phiinomenologische Psychologie.

Vorlesungen Sommersomeser 1925. Husserliana, vol. 9, ed. Walter Biemel (The Hague:
Martinus Nijhoff, 1968). Although this course is not included in the English translation, see
John Scanlon's "Translator's Introduction" in Husserl, Phenomenological Psychology, trans.
John Scanlon (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977), ix-x.

62. 1950 also marks the date of Paul Ricoeur's translation into French of Husserl's Ideen I,
published in the Gallimard series directed by Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, and from which
Merleau-Ponty quotes several times throughout the course.

we shall not develop the ideas of the phenomenologists merely according to the
texts but according to their intentions. It is a question here not of an empirical
history ... , but rather of an "intentional history," as HusserI called it, which in
a given assemblage of texts and works tries to discover their legitimate sense. We
shall not restrain ourselves from explaining the phenomenological texts by
considerations which are not found there in writing. (PSM 4/45)

As justification for this methodological approach, Merleau-Ponty points out

that "the history of philosophy cannot be separated from philosophy," as the
activity of interpreting any philosopher's writings inevitably involves the
reader or interpreter in the task of separating the essential from the
inessential-a task that, while going beyond the mere reporting of facts, is
nonetheless far from arbitrary. Hence, in Merleau-Ponty's words, "we do
not exceed the ordinary rights of the historian if we distinguish what our
author has said from what we think he should have said" (PSM 5/46). This
proviso must be borne in mind in considering Merleau-Ponty's interpreta-
tion of Husserl in this course, and perhaps elsewhere as well.
On Merleau-Ponty' s interpretation, Husserl' s phenomenological reduction
and eidetic method allow us to "think at the same time of the externality
which is the principle of the sciences of man and of the internality which is
the condition of philosophy" (PSM 14/52). While too great an emphasis on
the contingent "determinations" of thought leads to irrationalism and
skepticism, the over-emphasis on autonomous rationality labeled "logicism"
denies the roots of reflection in an implicit Weltthesis, the physical, cultural,
and social situation that precedes and grounds reflection. The
phenomenological reduction, according to Merleau-Ponty, splits the horns
of this dilemma by recognizing our inherence in a physical and human world
while, at the same moment, suspending the affirmations this inherence
entails in order to bring them to consciousness and reflect upon them.
Husserl's method discloses omni-temporal truths rather than the eternal
truths sought by logicism, and need not therefore deny the perspectival and
historically contingent nature of our access to truth. Since the laws of human
thought are grounded in actual human experience, their justification lies in
the fact that they are coextensive with our possible experience: "In order to
be sure that a certain thought is a rule for all men and for all being, it is
sufficient if I find that it concerns something truly essential, something
which cannot be separated from me even in thought" (PSM 12/50). To make
this determination, I need not have access to any truths beyond those that

may be extracted from my own possible experience. This conception, then,

leads once again to a "phenomenological positivism" that "refuses to found
rationality, the agreement of minds, and universal logic on any right that is
prior to fact" (PSM 12/50). This conception of philosophy as the search for
laws of thought through descriptive analysis of our actual experience is
essentially open-ended, an Idea in the Kantian sense, since our individuated
and situated perspectives make intersubjective corroboration and future
reexamination an essential component of the emergence of truth.
The phenomenological approach so understood bears fruitful comparison,
Merleau-Ponty suggests, with Hegel's Phiinomenologie des Geistes, in that
it relies upon the spontaneous emergence of order and meaning within the
events of life and history, a meaning that is not the result of the imposition
of form onto disorganized matter by consciousness:

For a conception of this kind one comes to the spirit only by "the spirit of the
phenomenon"-that is, the visible spirit before us, not just the internal spirit
which we grasp by reflection or by the cogito. This spirit is not only in us but
spread far and wide in the events of history and in the human milieu. (PSM

Access to this spontaneous order, as important to psychology as philosophy,

is by means of Husserl's Wesenschau, the intuition of essences. Since the
intuition of essences manifests the dual character of concreteness and
universality, it provides a way of knowing that is neither deductive nor
purely empirical. For example, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as an object
of consciousness is neither an eternal essence nor reducible to the experi-
ence of a particular performance. "Intentionality" is precisely the orientation
of consciousness toward such "intentional objects" that are open to "eidetic
intuition," that is, to a descriptive analysis that separates essential from non-
essential characteristics. The possibility of such a determination of the
essential rests simply on distinguishing the fact that we are experiencing
something from what it is that we are experiencing. Insofar as my experi-
ence confronts me with a repeatable and intelligible structure, a new form
of knowledge ignored by both psychologism and logicism is opened to me:

63. The claim that Husserl's phenomenology rejoins that of Hegel is made again in the
discussion of history at the end of the phenomenology segment of the course (Sorbonne,
71IPSM 92).

in so far as I grasp something through this experience which is more than a

contingent fact, an intelligible structure that imposes itself on me whenever I
think of the intentional object in question, I gain another kind of knowledge. I am
then not enclosed in the particularity of my individual life, and I attain an insight
which holds for all men. (PSM 19/54-5)

On the basis of this reconciliation of concreteness and universality, Merleau-

Ponty argues, a reconciliation of phenomenological philosophy with the
sciences of man becomes possible. It is this position that the main body of
Merleau-Ponty's course defends.
On Merleau-Ponty's reading, prior to the formulation of the
phenomenological reduction at the time of Ideen I, Husserl's views on
consciousness alternated between psychologism and logicism. The
Philosophie der Arithmetik, by treating psychological acts as the basis for
arithmetical operations, merely reduced consciousness to one region of the
world and failed to recognize the intentional correlation of consciousness
with its object. Later these limitations led Husserl toward the opposite pole:
consciousness is "the source from which all being can receive its sense and
its value of being for us" (PSM 20/55). Since consciousness as thus
conceived is coextensive with all knowable being, this philosophy skirts
idealism. The "phenomenological reduction" of Ideen I breaks through this
alternation of psychologism and logicism since it places in suspense without
denying the spontaneous affirmations of our lives. Here Merleau-Ponty
emphasizes the distinction between the empirical ego of psychologism and
the transcendental ego as that "pure source of all the meanings which
constitute the world around me and my empirical self' (PSM 21/56).
At this stage, Husserl distinguishes psychology and phenomenology by
insisting on the need for a break with the natural attitude and the limitations
of a purely empirical psychology. Even Gestalt psychology, despite its break
with atomism and emphasis on consciousness as an integrated totality,
remains tied to a naturalistic interpretation of this consciousness by ultimate
recourse to causal, physiological explanation. Further, the cataloging of
psychological facts cannot be elevated to the status of a true science without
the philosophical correction added by an analysis of.essences.

To psychology is allotted the investigation of facts, and the relations of these

facts. But the ultimate meaning of these facts and relations will be worked out

only by an eidetic phenomenology in which I derive the sense or the essence of

perception, of image, and of consciousness. (PSM 25/59)

The resulting method, illustrated with analyses from Sartre's first works on
imagination and emotion, "gathers together the lived facts ... and tries to
subsume them under one essential meaning" (PSM 29/62), a method,
Merleau-Ponty notes, that leads toward an "analysis of existence" in that
"the essence of an experience is always a certain modality of our relation to
the world" (PSM 29 n/62 n). The relation between psychology and
phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty notes once again, parallels that between
physics and geometry, with the former requiring the latter as its foundation
without being reducible to it. In any factual investigation, the separation of
essential from accidental and the definition of central concepts (e.g., the
concept of "man" in psychology) requires eidetic and not merely factual
This view of the relationship between psychology and phenomenology
gives rise to two criticisms. The first, that phenomenology is no more than
introspection, is easily refuted by noting that the transcendental level of
inquiry is neutral with respect to the distinction between internal and
external perception and the division between self and other. The second,
more penetrating objection, that Husserl' s division oflabor reduces the role
of psychology to a mere study of details within a framework constructed
wholly by phenomenology, indicates the need for reformulation of the
psychology/phenomenologyrelationship. Merleau-Pontynotes that, in other
texts, Husserl conceived the role of psychology as concerned with the laws
of fact that apply to consciousness once naturalized through its embodiment.
On either view, the Wesenschau fails to perform the function of reconciling
the concrete with the universal, fact with essence, in an acceptable fashion.
Merleau-Ponty finds Husserl' s work after Ideen I pointing in directions that
eliminate these difficulties. Indications of this new direction include the
possibility of a genetic phenomenology, indicating that psychological
genesis is no longer immediately relegated to secondary status, and the
recognition that essences within the psychological realm are morphological
by way of contrast with the exact essences of mathematics and physics.
Further, all empirical research entails an understanding of essences at least
implicitly, and the Wesenschau itself is involved in a Fundierung relation
with a concrete perception:

[I]nsight into essence is an intellectual taking over, a making explicit and

clarifying of something concretely experienced, and a recognition that it comes
after something else, from which it starts, is essential to its nature. It also knows
itself to be retrospective. The idea that it succeeds a more direct contact with the
thing itself is enclosed within its very meaning. (PSM 38/68)

The introduction of these more complex relations between factual and

eidetic investigation point toward what Merleau-Ponty terms a "double
envelopment" between the two levels. This envelopment is made more
explicit by conceiving Wesenschau as a form of "induction" on the basis of
imaginary "free variation" from a single concrete case. While empirical
induction operates on the basis of actual cases, the distance between the two
is only one of degree, since even empirical induction requires interpolation.
Although Husserl continues to speak of a parallelism between psychology
and phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty sees an "inevitable dialectic of the
concept of essence" that leads to a "reciprocal envelopment" between the
two. Thus, there cannot be any basic discord between the point of view of
psychology and that of phenomenology" (pSM 45/73).
This interpenetration of eidetic intuition with empirical investigation
separates the former from the word-games of scholasticism. The validity of
an essence cannot be determined a priori, which would leave open the
possibility that what appears essential is merely a prejudice or habit rooted
in the use of language. This possibility is avoided by confronting an
intuition of essence with the known facts. It is therefore necessary to correct
eidetic phenomenology with the findings of empirical investigation. On this
basis, MerIeau-Ponty argues that Gestalt theory, once stripped of its
physiological hypotheses, can extend HusserI' s attempt to avoid
psychologism and logicism. The "notion of an order of meaning that does
not result from the application of spiritual activity to an external matter" but
rather from a "spontaneous organization beyond the distinction between
activity and passivity" (PSM 51177) fulfills the demand of the Wesenschau
to disclose essences while remaining in contact with the concrete facts of
The remainder of Merleau-Ponty's discussion of Husserl in this course
concerns the development of his thought in linguistics and history. In both
cases, Merleau-Ponty finds a progression parallel to that demonstrated in the
case of psychology: a rigid logicism gives way to a spontaneous organiza-
tion of the rational within the sensible. In linguistics, Merleau-Ponty cites
the call for the construction of an apriori universal grammar in Logische

Untersuchungen as evidence of the logicist phase. For evidence ofHusserl' s

later tum away from the logicist approach to language, Merleau-Ponty relies
on Pos's "Phenomenologie et linguistique,"64 which attributes to Husserl's
last writings a call for the return to the speaking subject "who has no access
to any truth nor to any thought with a claim to universality except through
the practice of his language in a definite linguistic situation" (PSM 57/82).
Further, the notion that a verbal intention fuses with rather than precedes the
word, as expressed in Formale und transzendentale Logik, and the
inextricable relation between mind and body demonstrated by the discussion
of intersubjectivity in Cartesianische Meditationen-here taken as an
analogue for the relation between signifier and sense-both point toward the
elimination oflogicism. The reversal is shown to be complete by Husserl's
final remarks in writings like "Ursprung der Geometrie," in which putatively
eternal ideas are sustained in their existence by their own instruments of
expression. 65

There is no longer any question of starting with a universal language which

would furnish the invariable plan of any possible mode of speech, and of then
proceeding to the analysis of particular languages. It is exactly the reverse .... It
is in our experience of the speaking subject that we must find the germ of
universality which will enable us to understand other languages. (PSM 60/84)

This reversal of procedure is evidence, on Merleau-Ponty's interpretation,

of a convergence between the later Husserl and Saussure-a further instance
of phenomenology's convergence with the human sciences.
The same progression is traced with respect to Husserl's account of
history, which begins with an insistence that factual history take a
"phenomenology of history" arrived at within the "ideal sphere" as the guide

64. In Revue internationale de philosophie (1939), the issue we have noted previously for its
influence on Merleau-Ponty's introduction to the later Husserl (see p. 234).

65. Jacques Derrida takes issue with precisely this claim by Merleau-Ponty, i.e., that
"Ursprung der Geometrie" introduces a radically different view oflanguage and writing than
that Husserl had presented in Logical Investigations. See Derrida, Introduction HL 'Origine
de la geometrie" de Husser! (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962), 71 ff.; Edmund
Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey (Lincoln: University
of Nebraska, 1978),77 ff. As noted above, Merleau-Ponty discusses the version of this text
edited by Fink rather than that later included in the Krisis (Hua VI) on which Derrida's own
translation is based (cf. note 22 above).

for its empirical research. But Husserl's discussion of Dilthey's Weltan-

schauung philosophy in "Philo sophie als strenge Wissenschaft" indicates
that a perennial philosophy must equally be a philosophy of the present, that
despite philosophy's attempt to supersede the limitations of a present
perspective, it cannot do so by immediately installing itself in an infinite
perspective. To Merleau-Ponty, Husserl's later interest in historicity,
Sinngenesis, and the role of sedimentation in the constitution of ideality .all
point toward a "coefficient of contingency" within the ideal essence itself.
The development of an "intentional history"-a phrase that Merleau-Ponty
considers synonymous with "dialectic"-requires the acceptance of an
"intemallink" between ourselves and the past culture we seek to compre-
hend. This link, Merleau-Ponty suggests, is the "living present": "the present
in which the whole past, everything foreign, and the whole of the thinkable
future are reanimated" (PSM 68/90). In Husserl's letter to Levy-Bruhl,
Merleau-Ponty finds Husserl calling into question the autonomy of
imaginative variation, since actual contact with and reanimation ofthe sense
of another factual culture may be required to recognize the limitations of
one's own cultural commitments, in this case a cultural commitment to the
very notion of history that Levy-Bruhl finds lacking in certain "primitive"
societies. While philosophical inquiry remains essential to the classification,
evaluation, and interpretation of facts, it can proceed only on the basis of the
lived experiences from which these facts derive their originary sense.
Through the examples of psychology, linguistics, and history, Merleau-
Ponty finds Husserl' s philosophy maturing in a single direction that carries
it beyond the attempts of either Scheler or Heidegger:

We must ... become aware of this paradox-that we never free ourselves from
the particular except by taking over a situation that is all at once, and inseparably,
both limitation and access to the universal. . . . [T]he most profound reflection
consists in rediscovering a basic faith, or opinion [Urglaube, Urdoxa ]-that is,
a reason which is already incorporated in sensible phenomena. (PSM 57/82)

On the basis of this autochthonous logos of the factual or sensible realm,

reflection can proceed to extract the sense or essence proper to the
philosophical level of analysis. Hence, with respect to the question orienting
the course from the outset, Merleau-Ponty can conclude the following with
respect to the development of Husserl's thought:

[W]e can say that the problem with which we were concerned at the begin-
ning-must we be for fact or for essence, for time or eternity, for the positive
science of man or for philosophy?-was bypassed in the later thought of Husserl.
Here he no longer considers essence as separated from fact, eternity from time,
or philosophic thought from history. (PSM 74/93)

Two essays dating from 1951 and published in Signes, "Sur la phe-
nomenologie du langage" and "Le Philosophe et la sociologie," extend the
analyses of this lecture course on phenomenology and the human sciences.
Merleau-Ponty begins his essay on language with a brief review of the
stages ofHusserl's thought as previously catalogued: the call for an eidetics
of language culminating in a universal grammar as set out in Logische
Untersuchungen is superseded by the analyses ofFormale und transzenden-
tale Logik and "Ursprung der Geometrie," which treat language as "an
original way of intending certain objects" or even "as the operation through
which thoughts ... acquire intersubjective value and, ultimately, ideal
existence" (S 106/84-5). Pos's emphasis on the speaking subject serves to
introduce a discussion of the relation between the phenomenological
approach to language and recent work in linguistics. Returning to Husserl
at the end of his essay, Merleau-Ponty raises the question of the relation
between phenomenology and philosophy, i.e., metaphysics.
Phenomenological description, he argues, cannot be limited to a merely
propaedeutic role in relationship to philosophy more broadly conceived, nor
can it be treated merely as a psychological description resulting from the de
facto embodiment of a consciousness that is, de jure, radically autonomous.
The signifying power of speech brought to light by phenomenology parallels
the body's role as mediator of our relationship with the world, and this
"phenomenon of incarnation" has metaphysical import.
As example, Merleau-Ponty turns once more to the problem of inter-
subjectivity, which, he again argues, remains theoretically insoluble from
the starting point of consciousness:

To be conscious is to constitute, so that I cannot be conscious of another person,

since that would involve constituting him as constituting, and as constituting in
respect to the very act through which I constitute him. This difficulty of principle,
posited as a limit at the beginning of the fifth Cartesian Meditation, is nowhere
eliminated. HusserI disregards it: since I have the idea of others, it follows that
in some way the difficulty mentioned has in fact been overcome. (S 117/93-4)

The subject that perceives others does so by living the "radical contradic-
tion" that the theoretical examination cannot resolve "as the very definition
of the presence of others" (S 117/94). This subject is none other than my
body, which opens itself to the other by way of "pairing" and "intentional
transgression" and makes possible a paradoxical reversal of intentionality.
Speech, Merleau-Ponty continues, is an example ofthe bodily conduct that
allows for such an intentional reversal. The implication is that incarnation
requires a complete overhaul ofthe notion of "consciousness"; situatedness
and incarnation must be treated as essential aspects of the cogito. In like
manner, Husserl' s descriptions oflanguage lead inevitably toward a "circuit
of reflection" within which what at first appears as a non-localized,
atemporal ideality shows itself ultimately to depend on the document, that
is, the site of an "intentional transgression" that institutes a '" Logos' of the
cultural world" (S 121/97).
"Le Philosophe et la sociologie," which immediately follows the essay on
language in Signes, repeats the same points while adhering more closely to
the theme of the lecture course on the human sciences. Husserl's efforts not
only to eliminate the segregation of philosophy and science but even to
insist on their mutual interdependency are taken as exemplary. Imaginative
variation is required to extract the essential import from sociological facts,
just as Galileo, in Husserl' s example, instituted the eidetics of the physical
object. Again, the discussion presents a developmental view according to
which Husserl's analyses gradually point in a direction at variance with his
methodological claims: "We know that he began by affirming, and
continued to maintain, a rigorous distinction between [philosophy and
effective knowledge]. Nevertheless, it seems to us that his idea of a psycho-
phenomenological parallelism ... leads him in truth to the idea of recipro-
cal envelopment" (S 128/102). The essay is devoted to explicating this
progression in Husserl' s thought, making use of almost exactly the same
examples and citations that appear in the lecture course and the previous
essay, and to examining the implications of the final view for the relation
between philosophy and science. The first stage ofHusserl' s thought is once
again associated with the call for a pure grammar in the fourth of the
Logische Untersuchungen and the critique of Weltanschauung philosophy
in "Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft." The concern with history and the
speaking subject of language in Husserl's second stage indicate that
"[r]eflection is no longer the passage to a different order which reabsorbs
the order of present things; it is first and foremost a more acute conscious-

ness of our rootedness in them" (S 1311105). Stressing the continuity of

Husserl's thought, Merleau-Ponty finds the later writings on the Lebenswelt
already portended in the treatment of phenomenology as an "experience" in
Ideen I:

It is just that the ascending movement was not stressed .... When the recognition
of the life-world, and thus too of language as we live it, becomes characteristic
of phenomenology (as it does in the last writings), this is only a more resolute
way of saying that philosophy does not possess the truth about language and the
world from the start, but is rather the recuperation and reformulation of a Logos
scattered out in our world and our life and bound to their concrete struc-
tures-that "Logos of the aesthetic world" already spoken of in the F ormale und
transzendentale Logik. (S 132/105)

To stress the continuity further, Merleau-Ponty argues that, even in

"Philo sophie als strenge Wissenschaft," Husserl's analysis indicates an
overlapping of the natural and transcendental attitudes, since historical
analysis must begin with the "confused intuitions" found within the
empirical facts of history. It is only a small step, he suggests, from this
admission to Die Krisis's claim that transcendental subjectivity is an
intersubjectivity. The culmination ofthis development is again found in the
Sinngenesis of the unpublished manuscripts and the limitations of imagina-
tive variation noted in Husserl's letter to Levy-Bruhl.
The remainder of the essay on sociology develops a definition of
philosophy as "consciousness of rationality in contingency" (S 1401111) on
the basis of the position attributed to the later Husserl-though Merleau-
Ponty is careful to note that Husserl would have resisted this definition,
since he continued to view the return to the Lebenswelt as a "preparatory
step which should be followed by the properly philosophical task of
universal constitution" (S 138-9/110). On Merleau-Ponty's reading, the
implication of Husserl' s work is to call into question both the attempt to
derive meaning from pure fact, and the correlative relativism that devalues
as subjective any knowledge originating within the bounds of a particular
cultural situation. "Superficially considered, our inherence destroys all truth;
considered radically, it founds a new idea of truth" (S 13711 09). Philoso-
phy's autonomy with respect to science is maintained through its non-
objective disclosure of the social fact as "a variant ofa single life of which
ours is also a part" and of every other as "another ourself for us" (S
1411112). At this stage of his career, the guiding motif of Merleau-Ponty's

reading of Husserl is the development of this new idea of truth linking the
universal with the particular, the essential with the contingent-an idea of
truth that Merleau-Ponty extracts from the spirit, ifnot quite the letter, of
Husserl's own phenomenological investigations.

III. Merleau-Ponty at the College de France (1952-1961)

The material on Husserl from Merleau-Ponty' s last years presents particular

problems of interpretation, since many of these materials include course
notes and writings that had not been polished for publication. Apart from a
passing reference in the summary of his 1954-1955 course on "L"Institu-
tion' dans 1'histoire personelle et publique,"66 Merleau-Ponty next discusses
Husserl in 1956. Published in this year, Merleau-Ponty's preface to Les
Philosophes celebres, a collection of essays on major figures in the history
of philosophy, devotes several pages to Husser1. 67 1956 also marks the
beginning of a series of courses that allot considerable attention to Husserl:
"Le Concept du nature, I" (1956-1957),68 "Possibilite de la philosophie"
(1958-1959),69 and "Husserl aux limites de la phenomenologie" (1959-

66. This reference is at RC 5911 07.

67. Merleau-Ponty, ed., Les Philosophes celebres (Paris: Lucien Mazenod, 1956). Our
citations are from an edited version of Merleau-Ponty's preface reprinted in S

68. Sources that document the material covered in this course include the following: First,
Merleau-Ponty's summary ofthe course appears inResumesdecours (RC 91-121/130-55).
Second, Xavier Tilliette has published an essay reconstructing notes from the segment of this
course that discusses Husserl, cited previously as HNN (see note 39 above). Lastly, a
complete set of student notes from the course appears in Merleau-Ponty, La Nature, notes,
cours du College de France, ed. Dominique Seglard (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1995), 19-165
[cited hereafter as N). I would like to thank Robert Vallier for making available to me a draft
of his translation of the latter work, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press,
although the published version has not appeared in time for cross-references to be included.

69. Sources for the material covered in this course include the following: First, a summary
ofthe course is included in Resumes de cours (RC 141-56/167-80). Second, Merleau-Ponty's
notes for this course appear in Merleau-Ponty, Notes de cours, 1959-1961, ed. Stephanie
Menase (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 33-157 [cited hereafter as NC]. Concerning the title ofthis
course, see note 82 below.

1960).70 The sole essay devoted to Husserl during this period, "Le Philo-
sophe et son ombre," appeared in a collection commemorating the
centennial anniversary of Husser1, s birth in 1959. 71 Merleau-Ponty' s reading
notes on Aron Gurwitsch's The Field o/Consciousness, probably drafted in
1959-60, include numerous references to Husserl,n and significant
references and discussion occur throughout the text and working notes of
Merleau-Ponty's final incomplete manuscript, published posthumously as
Le Visible et I 'invisible, on which he worked from 1959 to 1961. 73
The brief references to Husserl in Merleau-Ponty's preface to Les
Philosophes celebres, partially reprinted in Signes as "Partout et nulle part,"
occur in the sections devoted to "L'Orient et la philosophie" and "Existence
et dialectique." The first invokes Husserl's Krisis as an antidote to Hegel's
philosophy of history, within which "Oriental" thought is best conceived as

70. Sources for the material covered in this course include the following: First, Merleau-
Ponty's summary ofthis course appears in Resumes de cours (RC 159-701181-91). Second,
Merleau-Ponty's notes for this course have been published as Merleau-Ponty, "Notes de cours
sur L 'Origine de la geometrie de Husserl," transcribed by Franck Robert, in Notes de cours
sur L'Origine de 1a geometrie de Husserl suivi de Recherches sur la phenomenologie de
Mer!eau-Ponty, ed. Renaud Barbaras (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998),5-92.
An English translation incorporating corrections to the text is forthcoming as Husser! at the
Limits of Phenomenology, trans. Leonard Lawlor with Bettina Bergo (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press). I would like to thank Professor Lawlor for making a draft
of this translation available to me, although the published version has not appeared in time
for cross-references to be included.
Some minor references to Husserl also occur in the student notes from Merleau-Ponty's
1959-1960 course, "Le Concept de nature-Nature et logos: Le Corps humain" collected in
La Nature (N 263-352). These references are to Husserl' s discussions of "pre-being" (268),
Einfiihlung (288), and "rays of the world" (291).

71. "Le Philosophe et son ombre" first appeared in Edmund Husser!, 1859-1959,
Phaenomenologica 4 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff), 195-220. We will cite the version
collected in Signes (S 201-281159-81).
72. Merleau-Ponty, "Notes de lecture et commentaires sur Theorie du champ de la conscience
de Aron Gurwitsch," ed. Stephanie Menase, Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale, no. 3
(1997): 321-42; "Reading Notes and Comments on Aron Gurwitsch's The Field of
Consciousness," trans. Elizabeth Locey and Ted Toadvine, Husser! Studies 17, no. 3 (2000):
173-93 [cited hereafter as NG, with French preceding English pagination].

73. Le Visible et ['invisible, ed. Claude Lefort (Paris: Gallimard, 1964); The Visible and the
Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968) [cited
hereafter as VI, with French preceding English pagination].

"a distant approximation of conceptual understanding" and can only be

incorporated into "the true development of mind" as "aberrant or atypical
thought" (S 172/137). While Husserl' s Krisis also suggests that Chinese and
Indian thought be treated as "anthropological specimens,"74 Merleau-Ponty
argues that, for Husserl, "all philosophies are' anthropological specimens,'
and none has any special rights" (S 173/137). Western thought has a certain
priority, but this is not a priority of right; it is due only to the fact that "the
West has invented an idea of truth which requires and authorizes it to
understand other cultures" (S 173/138). The West's presumption and goal
of universality is itself rooted in a particular historicallifeworld-though
this contextualization and relativization does not necessarily imply the
abandonment or futility of the Western enterprise. To fulfill the intention
that defines it, Western thought must comprehend other "lifeworlds," and
thereby "bear witness to itself beyond 'anthropological specimens'" (S
173-41138). Western thought retains a certain exemplary status, but can do
so only by relativizing its own foundations:

So the idea of philosophy as a "rigorous science"-or as absolute knowl-

edge-does reappear here, but from this point on with a question mark. Husserl
said in his last years: "Philosophy as a rigorous science? The dream is all dreamed
OUt."75 The philosopher can no longer avail himself of an absolutely radical way
of thinking or presumptuously claim for himself intellectual possession of the
world and conceptual rigor. His task is still to test himself and all things, but he
is never done with it; because from now on he must pursue it through the

74. Merleau-Ponty cites the French translation of the first part of Krisis, "La Crise des
sciences europeenes et la phenomenologie transcendantale.-Une Introduction a la
philosophie phenomenologique," translated by Edmond Gerrer from the Philosophia version
ofthe text (Les Etudes philosophiques 4, no. 2 [April-June, 1949]), 140). This passage occurs
in 6 (Hua VI 14/Crisis, 16). It should be noted that the first Husserliana edition of the Krisis
had appeared in 1954.

75. This is the first appearance in Merleau-Ponty's oeuvre of this famous quotation, from
Beilage XXVIII in Husserl's Krisis entitled "Bestreitung der wissenschaftlichen
Philosophie-Notwendigkeit der Besinnung-die Besinnung historisch-wie bedarf es dar
Geschichte?" ("Denial of Scientific Philosophy. Necessity of Reflection. The Reflection
[must be] Historical. How is History Required?"). Merleau-Ponty cites the Husserliana
version, providing a quotation from the German (Hua VI 508). The English may be found at
Crisis, 389. Note David Carr's discussion of the appropriation of this quotation in his
"Translator's Introduction" to Crisis, xxxi, n. 21.

phenomenal field, which no formal a priori assures him mastery of in advance.

(S 174/138)

Husserl implicitly develops a philosophy of history according to which the

crisis of western reason and the recognition that no absolute boundary can
be drawn between philosophy and non-philosophy are linked. In the
"Existence et dialectique" section of his preface, Merleau-Ponty makes a
more general claim about the concordance of Husserl's thought with the
general current of the first half of the Twentieth Century: on the one hand,
a reaction against the "narcissism of self-consciousness" in favor of
"existence" (S 195/155), and, on the other hand, a demonstration of dialectic
at work-Husserl's own reservations notwithstanding-through the very
development of the latter's oeuvre (S 1961156).
In the 1956-1957 course on nature,76 the first in a series on this topic,
Husserl's thought is placed at the culmination of a historical development
(including Kant, Schelling, and Bergson), before Merleau-Ponty turns to the
elaboration ofthe idea of nature in modem science. Merleau-Ponty finds in
Husserl an oscillation between breaking contact with nature, reducing nature
to the status of a noema through a phenomenological reduction ofthe natural
attitude, and recognizing a continuity with the natural and pre-reflexive as
the foundation for scientific and philosophical thought-a foundation that
it would be philosophy's task to explicate, rather than to leave behind. To
MerIeau-Ponty, HusserI is increasingly conscious of an identity between
these two directions, as evidenced by certain passages from Ideen II that are
the focus of this course. But denying that coherent explication ofthis text is
possible, MerIeau-Ponty does not claim to follow the letter of Husserl's
discussion; rather, the task is to bring to light Husserl's "strabismus,"
supporting this reading of Ideen II also with the more recent fragment,
"Umsturz der Kopernikanischen Lehre ... " (N 104).
Initially Husserl treats nature in terms of the blosse Sachen, as a
collection of "objective" things purified of value predicates, that have as
their correlate apurely theoretical subjectivity.77 This conception seems to

76. According to Tilliette's notes, the two sessions devoted to Husser! were held on March
14 and 25, 1957 (HNN 257/162).

77. Starting from this segment ofthe course, Tilliette's notes (HNN) provide excellent cross-
references to the applicable passages from Ideen II, as well as to other relevant passages in
both Husser! and Mer!eau-Ponty.

be the inevitable result of the attempt to separate the true from the apparent
and is grounded in the very structure of human perception. But the
legitimacy of this development is open to question once we see that it is not
inevitable, as evidenced by the equally natural personalistic attitude. The
naturalistic world refers back to a more primordial universe of experience
that provides its foundation. The "reference" to this pre-theoretical,
corporeally-given universe is inscribed in the very notion of the "pure thing"
adopted by Cartesian thought. Following these references requires a genetic
reconstruction of the constitution of the "objective" natural world,
considering the role of both the body and others in this constitution.
Considering the body, it must first be recognized as an "incarnate subject,
the Subjectleib, organ ofthe I can" (HNN 260/164). Experienced as a power
rather than as a pure consciousness, the peculiar subjectivity of the body
organizes a "transition synthesis" according to which the thing appears "as
a moment of the carnal unity of my body" (N 107). The peculiar reflexivity
manifest in the example of the two hands touching "realizes a sort of
reflection, of cogito" (N 107), but this reflection occupies space and is
therefore co-present with things. Finally, the body is a standard or measure,
the "zero of orientation" providing the background for perception. By way
of its teleological directedness toward optimal form "the idea of a Recht-
grund is established in us, starting from which all knowledge would be
formed" (N 108). The very notion of a norm, necessary even for the
distinction of true from apparent, thus has its foundation in bodily subjectiv-
ity. But my body alone is insufficient for the production of objectivity, since
it leaves me within the egocentrism of solitary experience. The corporeal
operation of Einjiihlung, understood along the same lines as the two hands
touching, originally grasps another sensibility, not another soul or mind,
which occurs secondarily. Once my placement within a group of perceivers
becomes possible, I am enclosed within the space and time of my body; I
become a spatial thing, enclosed in the homogeneous universe of things.
Thus, "[t]he blosse Sachen are possible, but as the correlative of an ideal
community of embodied subjects, of an intercorporea1ity" (RC 115/150).
While Ideen II emphasizes the subjective side of the reformulation made
possible by an "archeology" of the pure thing, the fragment entitled
"Umsturz der Kopernikanischen Lehre ..." emphasizes the correlative
reconception of the "object" side. In this text, the earth is considered prior
to its constitution as one planetary body, in its originary state as ground of
all experience-on this side of rest or movement, as the Offenheit that

provides an "ontological relief' distinct from the "infinity" of science (HNN

264-51166). As Husserl's example of space travel shows, this Boden may
enlarge but cannot ultimately split into two.
In responding to the possible objection that the extinction of life on the
planet would not affect the factual existence of the earth as a thing, Husserl
distinguishes his own project from that of Kant: the founding of physical
reality on a more primordial carnal relation appears paradoxical only within
a certain conception of subjectivity and of the transcendental (N 111). On
the basis of Husserl' s remarks, one may take up as another direction the
rehabilitation of nature on the basis of the perceived world.

Thus a philosophy which seemed, more than any other, bent upon understanding
natural being as the object and pure correlate of consciousness rediscovers
through the very exercise of reflexive rigor a natural stratum in which the spirit
is virtually buried in the concordant functioning of bodies at the level of brute
being. (Re 116/151)

But Husserl himself resisted moving in this direction. Once the reciprocity
between noesis and noema is no longer linear, more complex solutions must
be sought, for instance in the distinction between act and operative
intentionality. But if, as a result, the explicit activity of constituting
consciousness is ultimately prioritized, what is fecund in this analysis is lost
in the return to transcendental idealism (HNN 268/168). Husserl himself
gives such indications in Ideen II by treating the foregoing analyses as
preparatory, requiring a phenomenological explication that avoids the
naivete of the natural attitude (N 112). In response, Merleau-Ponty insists

the task of reflective philosophy is impossible, because it brings with it all that is
umeflected. The natural attitude is not false, and through it philosophy begins.
Husserl's hesitations only underline the necessity and difficulty a philosophy of
nature presents for the school of transcendental idealism. (HNN 268-9/168)

In April of 1957, the month following Merleau-Ponty's presentation of

the above lectures, he attended the Third Philosophical Colloquium of

Royaumont dedicated to "UEuvre et la pensee de Husserl."78 Van Breda

reports that it was at this conference on Husserl that plans for the Center for
Husserl Archives at the Sorbonne were resumed, with Merleau-Ponty
playing a leading role and agreeing to be on the center's directorial
committee. As a result, over one hundred of Husserl's unpublished
manuscripts were sent to Paris a few months later and were made available
to researchers in May of 1958 ("Archives," 4261159). At the colloquium on
Husserl, Merleau-Ponty's remarks opening the discussion of de Waelhens
commentary on Die Idee der Phanomen%gie illuminate his view of the
natural attitude and the role of the reduction. According to de Waelhens, on
Merleau-Ponty's summarization, "the reduction loses nothing for us,
nothing becomes interior, the contact with the world simply becomes
indirect discourse ... everything is preserved, nothing is lost, and all goes
well" (H 157). In contrast to this "slightly quietist position," for Merleau-
Ponty, "what seems ... to be lasting, interesting, fecund, living even now,
are the places where Husserl himself has rightly underlined the tension
between the natural attitude and the results of reflection" (H 157). Citing
CartesianischeMeditationen from memory,79 he stresses the "difficulty and
tension" that necessarily accompanies the passage from "the silence of
things" to "philosophical speech" (H 158). The difficulties, for instance
owing to the fact that every transcendental reduction is necessarily eidetic,
serve to distinguish Husserl from the efforts ofpre-Husserlian transcenden-
tal idealism. It is necessary to account for the paradoxical, enigmatic
character of the reduction:

It is not simply a question of a difficulty in fact; it is a problem in principle. From

whence comes this resistance of the non-reflective to reflection? One cannot
simply consider this resistance as an adversity without name; it is the index of an
experience that is not the experience of reduced consciousness, that has value and
truth in itself and of which it would also therefore be necessary to take account.
(H 158)

78. The proceedings from this colIoquium are published as Husser!. Cahiers de Royaumont,
Philosophie N III (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1959) [cited hereafter as H]. Merleau-
Ponty's only intervention occurs on pages 157-9.

79. The passage cited is that referred to in note 36 above.


For Merleau-Ponty, the limits of the reduction are further emphasized by the
development of texts like Ideen II, which begin with long analyses in the
natural attitude before turning to a transcendental analysis. The methodolog-
ical necessity of these introductory analyses signify that transcendental
consciousness is "the termination of an historical process of the growth of
consciousness. And it is not, consequently, a position in which one can find
a solution properly speaking" (H 159).
These remarks are amplified by the discussion of Husserl in the only
published essay devoted to him by Merleau-Ponty during this period, "Le
Philosophe et son ombre," which appeared in 1959. It has also been noted
that certain passages from this essay closely parallel the lecture course from
1957. 80 Here, as elsewhere, Merleau-Ponty prefaces his remarks by
differentiating them from either "objective" reporting or arbitrary interpreta-
tion: "there must be a middle-ground on which the philosopher we are
speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together,
although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment
just what belongs to each" (S 202/159). The dilemma is a false one, since
thoughts are not objects to be revealed, but rather the occasion for new
thinking-especially for thinking the "unthought-of element" that, in
Husserl, "is wholly his, and yet opens out on something else" (S 202/160).
Faithfulness to Husserl' s thought, therefore, does not entail repetition of
things said, but rather a new thinking of "certain articulations between
things said" (S 202/160). Here Merleau-Ponty focuses on three areas in
which Husserl' s "unthought" becomes manifest, devoting a section of the
essay to each: the phenomenological reduction, the body and intersubjec-
tivity, and constitution.
Merleau-Ponty again asserts that the problems of the reduction become
coextensive with phenomenology, for Husserl, since the very meaning of the
philosopher's task is the location of obstacles, the disclosure of problems
and paradoxes. Through the phenomenological reduction, Merleau-Ponty
maintains, Husserl rejoins the Hegelian notion of an identity between
leaving oneself and retiring into oneself. This inverse movement character-
izes the reflection that denies itself in principle the means to attain its goal,
i.e. the capture of the unreflective as such, while at the same time is
cognizant that this goal must in some sense already have been reached in

80. Tilliette notes thatthe "correspondence [is] sometimes literal" (HNN 258/163), and this
similarity is also noted by the editor of La Nature (N 104 n. 1).

order to have been posited as a goal. Husserl's contradictory fonnulations

of the reduction are not accidental, as is seen in the case of the relationship
with the natural attitude. On the one hand, reduced consciousness concerns
the "opposite of nature," since for it nature "becomes once more the noema
it has always been" (S 2041162); on the other hand, the natural world is
maintained, including its very sense as transcendent. After the time of Ideen
II, on Merleau-Ponty's interpretation, the reduction must cut deeper than the
segregation of subject and object typical of the naturalistic attitude,
returning to a "third dimension" that founds the theoretical attitude-both
for naturalistic thought and, mutatis mutandis, transcendental idealism. The
"natural attitude," as distinct from the theoretical attitude of naturalism, is
"prior to any thesis," the "primordial faith" that gives us "not a representa-
tion of the world but the world itself' (S 2071163). There is no passing
beyond this realm of existence in favor of reflection, since "its rights of
priority are definitive, and reduced consciousness must take them into
account" (S 2071164). But, returning to the Hegelian fonnulation to
complicate the relationship further, Merleau-Ponty suggests that the
relationship between the natural and reduced attitudes is not sequential but

There is a preparation for phenomenology in the natural attitude. It is the natural

attitude which, by reiterating its own procedures, seesaws in phenomenology. It
is the natural attitude itself which goes beyond itself in phenomenology-and so
it does not go beyond itself. Reciprocally, the transcendental attitude is still and
in spite of everything "natural" (naturlich). (S 207/164)

This "archeology" of the natural attitude has ontological implications that

require a revision of the basic phenomenological concepts, e.g., noesis,
noema, and intentionality. But Husserl' s own remarks provide no more than
hints in this direction, invitations to think the unthought, e.g., the notion of
"pre-theoretical constitution" and operative intentionality, both of which aim
at those "pre-givens" about which one might say that "consciousness is
always behind or ahead of them, never contemporaneous" (S 208-91165).
In the interest of examining such "pre-givens," Merleau-Ponty turns his
attention toward the body, intersubjective relations, and the sensible world,
drawing extensively on Ideen II, but also on Ideen III. From the latter he
cites again Husserl's example of the locomotive, as a contrast with the
body's "I can" and its role as standard or measure. As a power in the visible
world, the body "is a thing, but a thing I dwell in. It is, if you wish, on the

side of the subject; but it is not a stranger to the locality of things" (S

210/166). The "sort of reflection" accomplished by one hand touching
another is indicative of the body's role as a "perceiving thing," a "subject-
object" (S 210/166). This blurring of the distinction between subject and
object in my body leads to an "ontological rehabilitation of the sensible,"
since a correlative blurring must occur in the thing-and, Merleau-Ponty
notes, between noesis and noema (S 210-111167). It is in this context that
Merleau-Ponty introduces his famous technical term for this new ontological
medium, suggesting that Husserl' s "in the flesh" [leibhaft] be taken literally
to signify "the flesh of the sensible" (S 2111167). In this milieu,
"intentionality" can be relegated neither to "the mind's grasping of an aspect
of sensible matter as the exemplification of an essence" nor to a teleology
of nature "which works in us without us" (S 211/167).
Between this "solipsistic" world and the constitution of the thing in itself
lies the constitution of others, modeled on the "sort of reflection" found in
the body itself. Prior to my perception of the other as another man, he
appears in my world as another sensibility:

The reason why I have evidence of the other man's being-there [etre-fa] when I
shake his hand is that his hand is substituted for my left hand, and my body
annexes the body of another person in that "sort of reflection" which it is
paradoxically the seat of. My two hands "coexist" or are "compresent" because
they are one single body's hands. The other person appears through an extension
of that compresence; he and I are like organs of one single intercorporeality. (S

The objection that this compresence of sensibilities does not yet produce
another mind is not to the point for three reasons: first, the other's mind is
never given to me in the same sense as my own; second, the constituting
"agent" is as yet not itself a mind; and, most importantly, the constitution at
issue here is not "of a mind for a mind, but of a man for a man," and
therefore grants to the other all the possibilities of my own incarnate
sensibility (S 213/169). Theories of analogy and introjection, by operating
on the level of thought, presuppose the certainty of the other's appearance
that they seek to explain. At the level of sensibility, "my perceptual opening
to the world . . . claims no monopoly of being and institutes no death
struggle of consciousnesses" (S 215/170), since "[w]hen a comportement is
sketched out in this world which already goes beyond me, this is only one
more dimension in primordial being, which comprises them all" (S

2151170). Like the problem of incarnation, that of Einfiihlung returns us to

the "meditation of the sensible" and demonstrates the "dual direction" of
Hussed's thought. The analysis of essences cannot ignore an "analytics of
essences," since "it is from the 'fundamental and original presence' of
sensible being that the obviousness and universality which are conveyed by
these relationships of essences come" (S 2161171). Even absolute mind, if
we are to have any recognition of it, requires corporeal incarnation.
Incarnation and intercorporeality are therefore examples of Hussed's
disclosure of "brute being" (S 217/172).
These analyses call for a new notion of constitution, one that resembles
the Fundierung relationship Hussed applied in other connections:

The pre-objective order is not primary, since it is established (and to tell the truth
fully begins to exist) only by being fulfilled in the founding oflogical objectivity.
Yet logical objectivity is not self-sufficient; it is limited to consecrating the labors
of the pre-objective layer, existing only as the outcome of the "Logos of the
esthetic world" and having value only under its supervision. (S 218/173)

The motor of this ,tdialectical" constitution is Selbstvergessenheit, the self-

forgetfulness of carnal intersubjectivity that makes logical objectivity
possible, and that reappears at each level of constitution-from body to
thing, self to other, and solipsist thing to blosse Sachen. The "primacy" of
the founding term, e.g., solus ipse or "solipsist" thing, cannot truly be
primary in either the genetic or the logical sense, since neither term can be
isolated de Jacto or de jure. The solus ipse is no more than a thought-
experiment, a fiction, since no ego exists at the level of intercorporeity:

The "layer" or "sphere" which is called solipsist is without ego and without ipse.
The solitude from which we emerge to intersubjective life is not that of the
monad. It is only the haze of an anonymous life that separates us from being; and
the barrier between us and others is impalpable. If there is a break, it is not
between me and the other person; it is between a primordial generality we are
intermingled in and the precise system, myself-the others. (S 2201174)

To reinstate pronouns in describing such a "solipsism," e.g., by insisting that

it is still my pre-personal life which is in question, is to fall prey to a
retrospective interpretation of the pre-objective in terms of categories
foreign to it. The "primordial 'we' [On]" that continues to undergird "the

greatest passions of our adult life," has its own authenticity that can only be
brought to light through a complication of the constitutional structure.
Priority, genetic or logical, must henceforth be replaced by "simultane-
ity," not only of self and other, but equally of body and nature. The
"originary" and its "modification" are given together, incompossible but
compresent "variations" based in carnal existence. The relation between
"layers" of constitution is neither continuous nor discontinuous, following
rather a Hegelian model of internalization: "From its position, each layer
takes up the preceding ones again and encroaches upon those that follow;
each is prior and posterior to the others, and thus to itself' (S 2221176). Such
an expanded view of constitution need not trouble Husserl, Merleau-Ponty
suggests, if we follow certain indications that "experience," rather than
thought, counts as the ultimate court of appeal, since "experience" names a
transcendental field broad enough to encompass both thought and nature.
Following Husserl's impense leads Merleau-Ponty, by this path, to
reinterpret phenomenology's ultimate task. The "phenomenology of
phenomenology," rather than a propaedeutic to concrete analysis, becomes
the philosopher's central office, since only such a phenomenology discloses
the relationship with non-phenomenology, the "barbarous" source that
resists phenomenological analysis (S 2251178). The reduction to a transcen-
dental ego, however necessary as a stage of thought, must be recognized as
a philosophical stage persona with which the concrete human being that the
philosopher ultimately knows herself to be has never managed to truly
coincide. A true "phenomenology of phenomenology" is just as much a
phenomenology of non-phenomenology, of that "which responds to our
reconstitution from (if these words have a meaning) the other side of things"
(S 226/179).81 It is "the means of unveiling a back side of things that we
have not constituted" (S 2271180). But this tum toward that which resists
constitutive analysis, on Merleau-Ponty's view, is not a return to pre-
phenomenological naivete: "This senseless effort to submit everything to the
properties of 'consciousness' ... was necessary-the picture of a well-
behaved world left to us by classical philosophy had to be pushed to the

81. This reversibility or bi-directionality of intentionality is also explicitly linked with a

Hegelian interpretation of Husser/'s thought in Merleau-Ponty's 1960-61 course,
"Philosophie et non-philosophie depuis Hegel" (NC 298); "Philosophy and Non-Philosophy
Since Hegel," trans. Hugh Silverman, in Philosophy and Non-Philosophy since Merleau-
Ponty (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1997),32-3.

limit-in order to reveal all that was left over" (S 227/180). An analysis of
what resists phenomenology reveals, by contrast with the docile being of
classical philosophy, a "savage" world and mind, e.g., the Earth ofHusserl 's
"Umsturz ... " and that "brute mind which, untamed by any culture, is asked
to create culture anew" (S 228/181).
The redefinition of phenomenology as an interrogation of its own
possibility and limits becomes increasingly central to Merleau-Ponty's
interpretation of Husserl. The 1958-1959 course at the College de France,
originally announced as a continuation of the previous two courses on
nature, was instead devoted to an examination of the state of contemporary
philosophy.82 After a brief canvassing of the age of non-philosophy
following Hegel,83 Merleau-Ponty turns to Husserl and Heidegger as two
examples of philosophy defined "as the interrogation of its very own
meaning and possibility" (RC 1471172). Even in Husserl' s early philosophy,
essences are considered "as they are experienced by us, as they emerge from
our intentional life" (RC 1491173), and this grounding in our experience
should have been the guiding motif of the reduction and phenomenological
idealism of his middle period.
But, under closer examination, the reduction appears paradoxical: First,
the analyses of Ideen II, as we have just seen from the course on nature,
attempt a return to constituting consciousness even after disclosing the

82. The topic for the course was changed to allow Merleau-Ponty more time to work on the
manuscript of Le Visible et I 'invisible, cf. the translator's note in Resumes de cours (RC 167
n. 2). The original topic for the course was announced as "Symbolism and the Human Body,"
and was presumably retitled "Nature and Logos: The Human Body" when taught the
following year. Since the resulting course had no official title, Claude Lefort entitled it
"Possibilite de la philosophie" in the French edition of Resumes de cours, while it is entitled
"Philosophy as Interrogation" in the English translation. The editor of Notes de cours,
1959-1961 indudesMerieau-Ponty's own notes for the course under the title "LaPhilosophie
aujourd'hui" (NC 33).

83. While the summary ofthis section ofthe course that appears in Resumes de cours focuses
mainly on Nietzsche and Marx, Merleau-Ponty's own notes devote significantly more
coverage to the arts (literature, painting, and music), as well as to the study of nature,
technology, and psychoanalysis.
It should also be mentioned that my summary of this course in particular does little justice
to Merleau-Ponty's own extensive notes, due to their quantity and detail, as well as to their
often fragmentary and incomplete character. Especially noteworthy are Merleau-Ponty'