Recasting Objective Thought : The Venture of Expression in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy

Sammanfattning: This thesis is about meaning, expression and language in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, and their role in the phenomenological project as a whole. For Merleau-Ponty, expression is the taking up of a meaning given either in perception or in already acquired forms of expression, thereby repeating, transforming or congealing meaning into gestures, utterances, artworks, ideas or theories. Contrary to the predominant view in the literature, the relation of expression to meaning, and in particular the problem of expressing new meanings, was of fundamental importance to Merleau-Ponty from the very beginning, in that it was intrinsically related to the overcoming of what he termed “objective thought”. Admittedly, there is an evolution of his philosophy in this respect: from the early stance where the recasting of certain basic categories is taken as pivotal for the development of a new form of thinking, with arguments drawn also from various empirical and social sciences, to what appears to be an effort at an all-pervading reformulation of philosophical language during his last years. But the remoulding of categories was never for Merleau-Ponty a matter simply of finding a few, better adapted concepts, but from the outset an endeavour to think philosophical arguments through to a point where they reveal their inherent inconsistencies. Recasting philosophical expression is thus a risky enterprise, and this is a point I explore further in Essay 1, that focuses especially upon creative expression in painting and to some extent in literature. In Essay 2 I discuss the notion of Gestalt and how it serves this general project, whereas Essay 3 deals with verbal language, on the basis of Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Saussure’s linguistics. Essay 4 examines bodily expression from the point of view of feminist phenomenology and in particular Judith Butler’s early reading of Merleau-Ponty, and finally Essay 5 discusses expression in the art of dance.