Merleau-ponty and the advent of meaning: From consummate reciprocity to ambiguous reversibility [Book Review]

Continental Philosophy Review 34 (2):203-224 (2001)
The three themes of perception, expression, and history proved to be significant and consistent concerns of Merleau-Ponty from his earliest to his latest writings. In turn, Merleau-Ponty was concerned to discover and show how meaning emerged within the context of each of these themes. My main goal in this essay will be to trace ways that Merleau-Ponty conceived of this emergence, and to how his conceptions underwent increasing sophistication from his earlier to later writings. In section I, I show how a kind of perceptual meaning arises out of an exchange between subject and object, perceived and perceived, and the visible and invisible. In section II, I show how expressive meaning arises out of an exchange between the spoken and speaking word, and the synchronic and diachronic registers of language. In these sections, I also point out that what starts roughly as binary dialogue (characterized by consummate reciprocity) between these matrices of meaning evolves into a more ambiguous interplay (characterized by such later ontological notions as invisibility, reversibility, and the flesh). In section III, I show how meaning arises in history out of an ambiguous interplay between past and present, ideas and institutions, the collective and individual, and the pre-determined and the free; and I suggest ways Merleau-Ponty might have integrated earlier scattered thoughts about meaning's emergence in history with his later ontology, had his work in these directions not been cut short
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