Touched by time: Some critical reflections on Derrida's engagement with Merleau-ponty in le toucher

Sophia 47 (3):311-25 (2008)
Abstract
The philosophical relationship that obtains between the work of Merleau-Ponty and Derrida has continued to intrigue and preoccupy many of us despite, or perhaps even partly because of, the fact that Derrida did not accord the work of Merleau-Ponty much attention during his remarkably prolific career. Two relatively recent books of Derrida’s have addressed this gap: Memoirs of the Blind and, more recently, On Touching. However, although Derrida proposes an “entire re-reading” of the later Merleau-Ponty in Memoirs of the Blind, with the clear implication that there are hitherto unaccessed and invaluable resources to be mined in this body of work, I will suggest that the actual reading of Merleau-Ponty propounded in On Touching falls well short of this ambition. While this chapter will raise some critical questions about the interpretation that Derrida offers of Merleau-Ponty in ‘Exemplary Stories of the Flesh: Tangent 3’, including the implication that his work on the senses and intersubjectivity remains mired in theological prejudices, it will also be concerned to examine the transcendental philosophy of time (or philosophy of the contretemps that breaks open time but nonetheless pertains to it) that undergirds and motivates Derrida’s engagement with the philosophies of touch. In this latter respect, I will argue that Derrida’s philosophy is itself ‘touched’ by time, in the peculiar sense of ‘touched’ that connotes affected and wounded. On my reading, his work instantiates an ethics of non-presentist time, an ethics of that time which is the transcendental condition of the present and any event of touch. I ask whether this prevarication on the issue of the transcendental and the ethical is reason to look for a different understanding of both time and the transcendental to Derrida’s, and I end this chapter by once more proposing a dialectic between the disjunctive and conjunctive aspects of time that does not accord any kind of a priori privilege to the one over the other.
Keywords Derrida  Merleau-Ponty  phenomenology  perception  intersubjectivity  touch  time
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