Desire and Invisibility in “Eye and Mind”: Some Remarks on Merleau-Ponty’s Spirituality

  • Galen A. Johnson
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 129)


René Magritte probably unwittingly wrote one of the most telling appraisals of “Eye and Mind”: “Merleau-Ponty’s very brilliant thesis is very pleasant to read, but it hardly makes one think of painting — which he nevertheless appears to be dealing with.”’ Indeed, “Eye and Mind” is not a straightforward study of painting, rather it is a metaphysical experiment in fashioning a new philosophy of nature that privileges the eye of the painter over the mind of the scientist. “Eye and Mind” condenses what it seems would have been the continuation of The Visible and the Invisible according to MerleauPonty’s last plan for his new ontology: I. Visible and Invisible; II. Nature; III. Logos. “Eye and Mind” corresponds to Part II: Nature, and lays down telling hints regarding Part III: Logos.


Spatial Depth Mirror Stage German Ideology John Wild Platonic Theory 
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  1. 2.
    René Magritte, “Letter to Alphonse de Waehlens, April 28, 1962,” in Magritte: Ideas and Images, Harry Torczyner, ed., Richard Miller, trans. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1977), p. 55.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    In “Eye and Mind”, Merleau-Ponty cites Klee’s Journal translated by P. Klossowski in 1959. The German edition that appeared in 1956 was edited by Ralph Mannheim and subsequently translated into English in 1961 as Paul Klee: The Thinking Eye (New York: George Wittenhorn).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Cf. Robert Delaunay, “Light” (1912), in The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, ed. Arthur A. Cohen, trans. David Shapiro and Arthur A. Cohen (New York: The Viking Press), pp. 81–86.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Cf. Edward Casey, “The Element of Voluminousness,” in Merleau-Ponty Vivant (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 1–29. I have benefited greatly from Professor Casey’s essay, as well as from Anthony Steinbock’s, “Merleau-Ponty’s Concept of Depth”, Philosophy Today, (Winter, 1987), pp. 336–351.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Here is the reply to Levinas’s criticisms of Merleau-Ponty’s views on alterity. See Levinas’s essays titled “Intersubjectivity: Notes on Merleau-Ponty” and “Sensibility,” recently translated by Michael B. Smith in Ontology and Alterity in Merleau-Ponry, ed. Galen A. Johnson and Michael B. Smith (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990), pp. 53–66.Google Scholar
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    Plato,Timaeus(53b-67d), trans. Benjamin Jowett in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961).Google Scholar
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    This point is developed with great care by Martin Dillon, Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), Chapter Nine: “The Reversibility Thesis.”Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Jean-François Lyotard’s insightful discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s late work, including the development of these criticisms, may be found in Discours, Figure, 4th edition (Paris: Editions Klincksieck, 1971, 1985), especially pp. 18–23 and 53–59.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Charles Baudelaire, “The Desire to Paint”, from Prose Poems, translated in Baudelaire, Rimbaud,Verlaine: Selected Verse and Poems, ed. Joseph M. Bernstein (New York: Citadel Press), p. 147.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    For an account of Merleau-Ponty’s involvement with the “friends of Esprit, cf. Theodore F. Geraets, Vers une nouvelle philosophie transcendentale: La genèse de la philosophie de Maurice Merleau-Ponty jusqu à la ”Phénoménologie de la perception“ (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971), pp. 25–27.Google Scholar
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    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Section A, in The Marx—Engels Reader, Robert C. Tucker, ed. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1972), p. 154.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Samuel B. Mallin, “Chiasm, Line and Art,” in Merleau-Ponty: Critical Essays (The Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology, University Press of America, 1989), pp. 219–50. I have also been aided by an advance copy of Michael Munchow’s paper, “Painting and Invisibility — Merleau-Ponty’s Line,” forthcoming in The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology. Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Cf. Henri Michaux, Aventures de lignes. Cited by Merleau-Ponty in “Eye and Mind,” translated by Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 183.Google Scholar
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    On reversibility in self-portraits, cf. Hugh Silverman, “Cézanne’s Mirror Stage,” in British Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 40, 4 (Summer, 1982), pp. 369–379.Google Scholar
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    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Phenomenology and Analytic Philosophy (1960),” in Texts and Dialogues: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hugh Silverman and James Barry, eds. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1991), p. 66. This item originally appeared in French as “Phénoménologie contre The Concept of Mind” in La philosophie analytique (Paris: Minuit, 1960).Google Scholar
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    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “The Discovery of History (1956),” in Texts and Dialogues: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, p. 128. This item originally appeared as “La découverte de l’histoire” in Les Philosophes célèbres (Paris: Lucien Mazenod, 1956).Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

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  • Galen A. Johnson

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