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French Thought


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Merleau-ponty and the Possibilities of Philosophy: Transforming the Tradition  by Bernard Flynn, Wayne J. Froman, and Robert Vallier (SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought: State University of New York Press) Maurice Merleau-Ponty is arguably the preeminent French philosopher of the last century, and interest in his thought is growing exponentially. This volume celebrates and interrogates the thought of Merleau-Ponty by drawing upon both classic and state-of-the-art assessments, some available in English here for the first time. The result is an essential collection of essays that explore Merleau-Ponty’s importance in terms of his originality vis-à-vis the philosophical tradition, and examine his major insights about such contemporary concerns as subjectivity, the question of the other and sociality, the natural and the human, art, the sensible and the intelligible, and the philosophical study of language. Penetrating and illuminating, these essays firmly install Merleau-Ponty among the most innovative and critically debated thinkers of the past half century.

Bernard Flynn is Professor of Philosophy at Empire State College, State University of New York, and he also teaches philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His books include The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political and Political Philosophy at the Closure of Metaphysics. Wayne J. Froman is Professor of Philosophy at George Mason University and the author of Merleau-Ponty: Language and the Act of Speech. Robert Vallier is Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Assistant Director of the Honors Program at DePaul University. He is the translator of Merleau-Ponty’s Nature: Course Notes from the Collège de France. review pending

Table Of Contents

3. MERLEAU-PONTY: Beyond Husserl and Heidegger (1989) by Paul Ricoeur
4. THE TURN OF EXPERIENCE: Merleau-Ponty and Bergson by Renaud Barbaras
6. TRACEWORK: Experience and Description in the Moral Phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas by David Michael Kleinberg-Levin
8. THE ELEMENTAL FLESH: Nature, Life, and Difference in Merleau-Ponty and Plato’s Timaeus by Robert Vallier
9. THE BLIND SPOT by Wayne J. Froman
10. PROXIMITY AND DISTANCE: With Regard to Heidegger in the Later Merleau-Ponty by Michel Haar
11. CHIASM, FLESH, FIGURATION: Toward a Non-Positive Ontology by Véronique M. Fóti
13. ON THE “FUNDAMENTAL OF PAINTING”: Chinese Counterpoint by Jacques Taminiaux
14. VARIATIONS OF THE SENSIBLE: The Truth of Ideas and Idea of Philosophy in the Later Merleau-Ponty by Mauro Carbone
15. THE BODY OF SPEECH by Françoise Dastur
16. BODY, FLESH by Claude Lefort


The Incarnate Subject: Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson on the Union of Body and Soul by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, edited by Andrew G. Bjelland, Patrick Burke, translated by Paul B. Milan (Contemporary Studies in Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Humanity Books) is the first English translation of sixteen lectures by Maurice Merleau-Ponty given at the Ecole Normale Superieure in 1947-48 and reconstituted on the basis of notes taken by some of his most outstanding students. Devoted to three of the great names in the French philosophical tradition, Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Bergson, these lectures center on a classic problem: the union of the soul and the body.
In these lectures Merleau-Ponty demonstrates how Malebranche had articulated an early phenomenology of the human condition, how Maine de Biran had anticipated the central project and related themes of the "Phenomenology of Perception", and how certain featuers of Bergson's method announce key elements of the philosophical methodology expressed in Merleau-Ponty's later works. This volume contains one of Merleau-Ponty's most sustained explications and critiques of Bergson's "Matter and Memory", and, more important, his only major presentation and critique of the thought of Maine de Biran.
This volume is indispensable for students of Merleau-Ponty and for those interested in French philosophy in general.

During the academic year 1947-48, Maurice Merleau-Ponty offered at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris and at the University of Lyon a series of lectures to prepare students for the qualifying examination for the agregation in philosophy. From among the classics included in the required curriculum, Merleau-Ponty focused his lectures on selected works of Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson relative to the problem of the union of the soul and the body, a problem to which he had already devoted considerable attention in his first two major works and which would concern him even to his last writings. Jean Deprun, who attended the Paris course, collated, edited, and published in 1968 the students' notes of these lectures, which are now presented here for the first time in English.

In his preface to this translation, Professor Taminiaux describes the constraints placed upon Merleau-Ponty by the program for the agregation which required explication of texts rather than a fresh and provocative reading. The impression that Merleau-Ponty's own creative voice is absent from these lectures is evidenced by the often repeated claim (as reported to me by Hugh J. Silverman) that James M. Edie, editor of the Northwestern University Press distinguished "Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy" and devoted scholar of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, could not justify publishing a translation of Deprun's volume due to the less than explicit Merleau-Pontean style of the work. Yet Taminiaux writes a promissory note to the readers of this edition when he points out that Merleau-Ponty, because he was a philosopher, could not but help to introduce a "breath of fresh air" into these lectures, air fresh enough that his students, including Michel Foucault, wanted to keep their notes.

This "breath of fresh air" becomes evident early on in the lecture course when Merleau-Ponty reveals how he reads the history of philosophy and his own method as a historian of philosophy. He calls into question the "purely objective method" which, lacking a principle of selection, would produce no more than a catalogue or concatenation of theories or points of view, a mere chronicle but not a real history. In a highly subtle manner, he is hereby calling into question the very program of the agregation. For Merleau-Ponty "the objectivity of the history of philosophy is only found in the practice of subjectivity" (31). His principle of selection, he tells us, is a question or a problem with which he is personally concerned relative to which the classical texts reveal themselves by differentiation, by their respective manner of posing, taking up, and resolving the question, which places them in tension with each other and with the contemporary standpoint from which the historian poses the problem. With the specific needs of the agr6gation students in mind, Merleau-Ponty summarizes, analyzes, and explicates the texts of Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson from the perspective opened by his privileged question, but then goes beyond the kind of explication required by the program, or that exercised by a traditional historian of philosophy, by including a critique of contemporary readings of these classical thinkers by Leon Brunschvicg, Jean Laporte, and Emile Brehier, whose texts were the standard university fare of his time.

In addition he inaugurates another subjective practice, a certain way of inviting the students to interrogatively inhabit with him the margins of these texts, of looking at what their authors overlooked because of methodological strictures, and thereby yielding the intuition of a truth which these masters sought but were unable to express: "the historical situation of a philosopher delimits what he can think about with certitude, but not what he can try to think about.” This is the method Merleau-Ponty employs a decade later in his homage to Husserl, namely, "to evoke the unthought of element (l'impense) in Husserl's thought in the margin of some old pages" (Signs, 160), a "never yet thought of," at least in the formal sense, which we can think only by attending to the emerging outlaw subtexts of a different history with its yet‑to‑be‑expressed horizons. We see these subtexts and horizons come to life through Merleau-­Ponty's use of the conditional and subjunctive cases, for example when he says of Biran that "he would have abandoned psychology only if he had discovered corporeality.” The poignant demonstration of Merleau-Ponty's method of reading the history of philosophy at once accounts for the importance of these lectures in their own right as well as for an understanding of the development of his thought. On this basis alone, not only the serious student of Merleau-Ponty, but also of the history of philosophy, will be rewarded by giving these lectures the careful attention they deserve.
Contents: Acknowledgments Preface to the English Translation by Jacques Taminiaux Introduction by Patrick Burke French Editor's Foreword by Jean Deprun First Lecture: Note on the History of Philosophy in Relation to Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson Second Lecture: The Union of the Soul and the Body in Descartes Third Lecture: Consciousness of Self in Malebranche Fourth Lecture: Natural Judgments and Perception Fifth Lecture: Perceptible Extension and Intelligible Extension Sixth Lecture: Causality in the Relationships between the Soul and the Body Seventh Lecture: Theology and the Union of the Soul and the Body Eighth Lecture: From Malebranche to Maine de Biran Ninth Lecture: Biran and the Philosophers of the Cogito Tenth Lecture: Biran and the Philosophers of the Cogito (Conclusion) Eleventh Lecture: "Matter and Memory": The New and the Positive in the Analysis of the First Chapter Twelfth Lecture: The Second Chapter of "Matter and Memory" Thirteenth Lecture: Commentary on Text: The Unconscious Fourteenth Lecture: Commentary of Text: The Definition of Existence  Fifteenth Lecture: Commentary on Text: "Seek Experience at Its Source"  Sixteenth Lecture: The Relationships between Intuition and Construction in Bergson's Metaphysics  Complementary Note by Jean Deprun Chapter Notes Bibliography Index of Authors Cited by Maurice Merleau-Ponty Subject Index  


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