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Conclusion: Between Phenomenology and Structuralism

  • James Schmidt
Chapter
Part of the Theoretical Traditions in the Social Sciences book series (TTSS)

Abstract

What, then, are we to make of Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on the relation between philosophy and the human sciences, the problem of our knowledge of others, and the implications of the phenomena of speech and expression for the philosophy of history? In wrestling with these and kindred problems, was he deepening Husserl’s analyses and applying an existential phenomenology to certain of crucial dimensions of social life? Or was he staking out a position beyond phenomenology, a position whose full implications would become clearer only in the decade after his death? We have seen how he became uncomfortable with such notions as ‘lived experience’, ‘constitution’, ‘intentionality’, and the ‘tacit cogito’ Yet we have also seen that his reading of Saussure, his use of Lacan, and his response to Lévi-Strauss betray a continued commitment to certain fundamental concerns of the phenomenological project. Where, then, are we to place this most elusive of thinkers?

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s continued reliance on certain phrases and examples from Husserl’s writings, Jacques Taminiaux has argued that claims that he abandoned phenomenology towards the end of his life are overstated; see ‘Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty’s Late Work’, in Embree (ed.), Life-World and Consciousness, pp. 307–22. Frederic L. Bender, ‘Merleau-Ponty and Method: Toward a Critique of Husserlian Phenomenology and Reflective Philosophy in General’, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 14:2 (May 1983) pp. 176–95, argues in contrast that the repudiation of the ‘philosophy of reflection’, The Visible and the Invisible must be read as a critique of Husserl as well.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    VI, pp. 181–2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
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  4. 4.
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  11. 11.
    VI, pp. 35, 107, 112.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    VI, p. 244; see also VI, p. 165.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Husserl, Experience and Judgement, p. 50.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    VI, p. 244.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    For a thoughtful analysis of the ambiguities which plague Merleau-Ponty’s handling of the notion of intentionality, see Madison, pp. 32, 170–1, 186–7.Google Scholar
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  24. 24.
    VI, p. 45; there is an interesting parallel here to Jacques Derrida’s otherwise quite different discussion of Husserl in his introduction to The Origin of Geometry, pp. 152–3; see also the discussion of his notion of ‘ordinary delay’ in Descombes, pp. 145–52.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Descombes provides a helpful overview and typology of different orientations within ‘structuralism’; see pp. 75–109. The most rigorous attempt to formulate a coherent sense of what is involved in a ‘structuralist’ analysis is Philip Pettit’s brilliant little book The Concept of Structuralism: A Critical Analysis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975). For other helpful discussions see the essays in John Sturrock (ed.), Structuralism and Since: From Lévi-Strauss to Derrida (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), and Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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    Eugenio Donato, ‘Structuralism: The Aftermath’, Substance, no.7 (Fall 1973) pp. 9–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    For other discussions of Merleau-Ponty’s relationship to structuralism, see James M. Edie, ‘Was Merleau-Ponty a Structuralist?, Semiotica, 4 (1971) pp. 297–323 (subsequently rewritten in Edie, Speaking and Meaning, pp. 72–123); James M. Edie, ‘The Meaning and Development of Merleau-Ponty’s Concept of Structure’, in Sallis (ed.), Merleau-Ponty: Perception, Structure, Language, pp. 39–57; Colin Smith, ‘Merleau-Ponty and Structuralism’, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 11:3 (October 1971) pp. 53–8; William C. Gay, ‘Merleau-Ponty on Language and Social Science: The Dialectic of Phenomenology and Structuralism’, Man and World, 12 (1979) pp. 322–38; Jonathan Culler, ‘Phenomenology and Structuralism’, The Human Context, 5 (1973) pp. 35–42; and John Mepham, ‘The Structuralist Sciences and Philosophy’, in David Robey (ed.), Structuralism: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973) pp. 104–37. The Culler and Mepham essays are the best of the lot. There is also a rather esoteric German work on the subject: Klaus Boer, Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Die Entwicklung seines Struktur denken (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1978), which is concerned with interpreting Merleau-Ponty’s work in the light of the Strukturontologie of Heinrich Rombach.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Benveniste, p. 44.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid; for a discussion of the implications of Benveniste’s critique for the social sciences, see Anthony Giddens, Central Problems in Social Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) pp. 14–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Saussure, Course, p. 113.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    This point has been stressed by Giddens, see pp. 15–16.Google Scholar
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  34. 34.
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  35. 35.
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  38. 38.
    Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1973) p. 387.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
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  40. 40.
    Bourdieu and Passeron, p. 168.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    See Charles Lemert’s introduction to his collection of essays, French Sociology: Rupture and Renewal Since 1968 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) esp. pp. 24–6. One thinker who comes most readily to mind in this context is Pierre Bourdieu. See his Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) esp. pp. 25–7, 72–3, 80, 84. Bourdieu’s work has been compared with Merleau-Ponty’s by James M. Ostrow, ‘Culture as a Fundamental Dimension of Experience: A Discussion of Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory of Human Habitus’, Human Studies, 4 (1981) pp. 279–97.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    See Roland Barthes’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France trans. by R. Howard in S. Sontag (ed.), A Barthes Reader (New York: Hill & Wang, 1982) pp. 457–78 and his comments in Prétexte: Roland Barthes (Colloques de Cerisy, 1979) pp. 29–30. The parallels to Merleau-Ponty have been noted in Watson, ‘Merleau-Ponty’s Involvement with Saussure’, p. 219.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    See Pettit, pp. 40–2, 70–2, and Culler, Structuralist Poetics, pp. 45, 47–9, 51. From a different perspective Jacques Derrida has noted the tension in Lévi-Strauss’s work between interpretations which could go on without the restraint of a ‘center’ which limits the ‘play’ of structures, and his often quite arbitrary recourses to the categories of ‘mind’ and ‘nature’ as ways of ending the ‘play’ of his structures; see ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’, in Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. A. Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) pp. 278–93.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    This point has been stressed in Culler, ‘Phenomenology and Structuralism’, and developed in his discussion of literary competence in Structuralist Poetics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James Schmidt 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Schmidt
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston UniversityUSA

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