Protocol #4

Seminar – 22 February 2005

PHI 610: Philosophy and the Arts after Derrida

Professor Silverman

William Martin



***Please Note Class Change for the Semester: 3:30 – 6:30***


Early Aesthetics:


The word originally derives from the Greek word for sensory perception, “aesthesis.”  Aristotle had dealt with early aesthetic concepts in two of his branches of philosophy: Poetics (from “poesis” = “making”) and Rhetoric.  Rhetoric is concerned with figures of speech while Poetics deals with “making.”  The word “aesthetic” first came into usage in Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten’s Aesthetik as first work on aesthetics and is first conceptualized through the 18th century ideas of beauty and taste, prior to the eighteenth century the question involved craft, art and creation. 


Below are two models.  The model on the left is that of Husserl, the “father of phenomenology.”  Note how and where the noetic and the noema are designated on both models.  In Husserl’s model, the noema is found in the meaning, while in Sartre’s model, displayed on the right, the noema becomes an object “out there,” outside of consciousness, in the noematic “thing.”  For Sartre, even the perception of self is in the noematic, thus Sartre objectifies everything to set one free.  If we were to look at the two arrows coming from consciousness in Sartre’s model as the past and future, Sartre would hold that there is an impossibility of conceiving of a present self through a gap in temporal existence.  For Sartre, consciousness is the nothingness that is now.  For Husserl, the noema is both “apodictic (true) and necessary (has to be).”  Where the noetic is the act of expressing, the noematic is the expressed. A combination of the two forms expression, a feature of the broader concept of intentionality.  The noema, combined with the object of consciousness, is the aesthetic object.


     HUSSERL’S MODEL                                                         SARTRE’S MODEL*




Merleau-Ponty and the Concept of Embodiment


Maurice Merleau-Ponty, (1908 – 1961), French phenomenologist, heavily influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology.  Merleau-Ponty initially studied under neo-Kantians and Cartesians, among whom the most notable was Alain.


In 1942, Merleau-Ponty produced his thesis, Structure of Behavior, which deals with the relationship between the body and the soul (French: l’âme, German: Seele).  In the final chapter, the union of the body and soul is discussed (l’âme et le corps).


With this body and soul relationship in mind, Merleau-Ponty encountered the problematics of subjectivity and objectivity – these two opposing elements created a Dualism – i.e., there is a split between subjectivity and objectivity, as in the subject of the body and soul.  To reconcile this dualism, Merleau-Ponty addresses the problem and answers it in 1945 with The Phenomenology of Expression through the notion of “embodiment.”  Embodiment is the answer to this dualism: according to it, we are neither purely mind/soul/spirit nor are we body/object/thing – embodiment is the essential link between these two seemingly separate entities.  Additionally, Dufrenne’s term “affective a priori” is another way of discussing embodiment within the realm of aesthetics.  Where Sartre is existential, Dufrenne is sensuous.  Dufrenne adds the notion of sensuousness to the aesthetic object.


Merleau-Ponty’s answer to dualism with embodiment is a vast departure from Jean-Paul Sartre, who treats the body as an object/thing.  For Merleau-Ponty, embodiment is the answer to this phenomenology.  To explain this embodiment, Merleau-Ponty incorporated the early 20th century French philosopher, Henri Bergson’s concept of “le vécu,” or “the lived.” Taking this, Merleau-Ponty added “body,” to create “the lived body.”


In addition to Bergson, Merleau-Ponty looked to Husserl, who saw the relationship as a tripartide one: (1) the empirical ego, (2) the physical body, (3) the physical world – this leads to a world that is experienced phenomenologically.  Below is a diagram of Merleau-Ponty’s fusion of Husserl and Bergson’s concepts. 


As shown in the diagram above, Merleau-Ponty combines Husserl’s “lived body” and Bergson’s “le vécu” to create this notion of “embodiment.”  As a result of embodiment, we experience the world perceptually and in an embodied way.



Merleau-Ponty and Language


For Merleau-Ponty, the relationship between the subject and the object is experiential, perceptual and meaningful through a multiplicity of meanings.  To complement this, Merleau-Ponty puts forth the idea of ambiguity, thereby proposing a multiplicity of meanings that are perceptual, embodied and have to do with the subject’s relationship to objects and the world and is “always already embodied.”


Merleau-Ponty begins to explore the philosophical implementation of Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure’s langue (a spoken language, like French), parole (the act of speaking/speech), langage (system of language).


In 1945, Merleau-Ponty puts forth his work, The Phenomenology of Perception.  With this notion of ambiguity, Merleau-Ponty theorizes that we experience the world in an embodied, gestural, ambiguous and meaningful way. 


The key chapter of this work is entitled “Body as Speech and Expression,” which discusses to the extent that we are embodied in the world as subjects.  In addition to this, we are also speaking (gestural speech is regarded as language here) through our own embodiment.  Additionally, this speech is expressive.  As a result, embodiment is both meaningful and expressive


From Language to Art as an Expressive Form


In Sense and Nonsense (1948), Merleau-Ponty suggests in the chapter entitled, “Cezanne’s Doubt” that Cezanne is “tending toward” the mountain (Mont Sainte-Victoire, the subject of some of Cezanne’s most notable paintings) and the expression of the mountain on the canvas, and, in turn, Cezanne is tending toward expression by producing the mountain on the canvas. 


The main point of this is that the doubt that Cezanne would have in bringing himself to paint is Merleau-Ponty’s way of bringing this back to his roots through Cartesian doubt.  For Cezanne, doubt was an embodied thing, manifesting itself in shakes, sweats and the fear that he will never be able to accomplish what he wants.  Unsure as to whether he can “pull off” the expression of the mountain on the canvas, embodiment, a physical experience, results.


Merleau-Ponty follows up “Cezanne’s Doubt” with his work, Prose of the World, a reference to Hegel’s work on the Roman Empire – here, Merleau-Ponty puts forth the notion of indirect language in 1952, a concept hinted at in “Cezanne’s Doubt.”  This is a complement to Bertrand Russell’s notion of “direct language,” a “knowing that” which doesn’t involve the gestural, expressive, experiential or embodied forms of language.  That is to say that there is an indirect language that speaks for itself through the very notion of Cezanne’s doubt, in addition to the indirect language transmitted through expression and gesture.  With the notion of multiple senses coming together, Merleau-Ponty develops the concept of the “synesthetic.”