The Question of Painting by Jorella Andrews

The Question of Painting by Jorella Andrews

Author:Jorella Andrews
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK

Merleau-Ponty and the priority of expression

In the Phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty’s investigations into the nature of our inescapably embodied, perceptual relationship with the world led him to observe its primordially communicative nature. In making this connection it became apparent to him that language and perception have important characteristics in common. In the first place, not only the world of perception but also that of language is apprehended by us as ‘pregnant’ with meaning. In the second place, like perception, language has an instituting62 role which has implications for philosophical research into relationships between language and human agency, intersubjectivity and truth.

In the chapter of the Phenomenology entitled ‘The Body as Expression and Speech’, Merleau-Ponty had explored how embodied beings experience themselves as inhering in space and maintaining a sense of cohesiveness within change. He then proposed that another, related way of revealing what the body is, and is like, would be through a phenomenological investigation of the body’s capacity to express itself gesturally and in speech: ‘The analysis of speech and expression’, he wrote, ‘brings home to us the enigmatic nature of our own body even more effectively than did our remarks on bodily space and unity.’63

His argument had a doubled aspect. First, he believed that through such an analysis he could most effectively challenge the view of the body as an object in the traditional sense – also evidenced by Grosse’s gestural work with spray paint – and illuminate its status as a mode of conscious, intentional being inhering in a world of which it is irreducibly a part and in relation to which it perceives itself simultaneously as an active, instituting entity and a responsive, instituted entity. Secondly, given his view that important affinities exist between the expressiveness of the gesturing, speaking body-subject and that of language in its various manifestations, he proposed that to examine the nature of the latter – language as he would reconceptualize it – would be to gain insight into the nature of the former, that is, embodied being and thought.

Although, as noted, a deep engagement with the writing of Saussure was of crucial importance to Merleau-Ponty at this stage, in ‘On the Phenomenology of Language’, he stated that he was following Husserl in making the study of language a central philosophical concern:

In the philosophical tradition the problem of language does not pertain to ‘first philosophy’. … [Husserl] moves it to a central position, and what little he says about it is both original and enigmatic. Consequently, this problem provides us with our best basis for questioning phenomenology and recommencing Husserl’s efforts. … It allows us to resume, instead of his theses, the very movement of his thought.64

As Merleau-Ponty saw it, traditional philosophers tended to regard language as they used it as having the primary aim of merely re-present ing or reproducing, with transparency, a ‘language of things themselves’ using terms that had already been established for this purpose. In this way, a supposed world of reality as it exists in-itself, an objective, universal reality, was


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