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Man and World26: 389-401, 1993.

1993 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


Wild being, the prepredicative and expression: How
Merleau-Ponty uses phenomenology to develop an
ontology *
ELEANOR M. GODWAY
Department of Philosophy, Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley
Street, New Britain, CT06050
One of the features of phenomenol ogy that Merl eau-Pont y takes over f r om
Husserl is the reduction, whi ch enables us to overcome taken-for-granted
categories. While Merl eau-Pont y begins by finding that the reduction
cannot be fully carried out, in t he end he follows this horizon of pheno-
menol ogy into ontology, as it uncovers, not eidetic essences, but Wi l d
Being.
The "wildness" is that of wildflowers, as opposed to cultivated, garden
varieties: what being is, as distinct f r om humanized, categorized versions of
it. This is an unusual ontology because, Merl eau-Pont y emphasizes, one
cannot make a direct ontology; reference to it calls for a negative
philosophy, like negative theology. Phi l osophy' s role in revealing Bei ng
cannot be that of telling us what Bei ng is, and as we shall see, literal
descriptive speech will not help us at these frontiers of consciousness and
reality, where words in their ordinary usage will, by nature of the case,
prove inadequate. For Merleau-Ponty:
Philosophy ... is not concerned with "word meani ngs, " it does not seek a
verbal substitute for the world we see, it does not t ransform it into
something said, it does not install itself in the order of the said or of the
written, as does the logician in the proposition, the poet in the wor d
[parole], or the musician in the music. It is the things themselves, f r om
the depths of their silence, that it wishes to bring to expression. (V. L 18,
E 4)
* This paper was originally presented to the Merleau-Ponty Circle, at Colorado
Springs, September, 1991.
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This moment of comi ng to expression is what Merl eau-Pont y calls
l' originaire, and it occurs as explosion, break-through, or dislocation
(~clatement):
. . . The originary [or, originating] breaks up [or, breaks out] and
philosophy must accompany this break-up, this non-coi nci dence (V.L
165, E 124).
It is by this "accompanyi ng" that philosophy lets the very things speak out
of their silence. The things themselves, at the moment of their comi ng to
expression, are reveal ed to us at the level of pre-predicative experience; this
paper will look at the relations bet ween pre-predicative experience, wild
being, and non-literal speech, such as metaphor.
Medeau- Pont y shows us the possibility of f r eedom from the natural
attitude, a level of awareness in whi ch experience takes precedence over
categories and predicates - even essences as ultimate forms. For in t he
natural attitude we are concerned with So-Sein, ontic being, i.e., the being
this or that, such as extended, visible, edible, or i f expressible in words,
translatable into another language, etc. etc. - So Sein as opposed to Sei n -
Bei ng itself, (V.I. 147, E 109), whi ch Mefl eau-Pont y calls the ground of
predicative Being (V.L 148, E 110). It is to this ground, to "wi l d bei ng" or
"vertical" being that the reductions eventually lead us (V.I. 222, E 169). The
world cannot be exhaustively described in our or any language because the
Sein is not used up, one might say, by any amount of So-Sein, and all our
articulations still leave a residue of pre-predicative experience: that is, of
brute being. To bring to light what is happening at this level and be true to
this being:
We will not admit a pre-constituted world, a logic, except for having
seen t hem arise f r om our experience of brute being, whi ch is, as it were,
the umbilical cord of our knowl edge and the source of meani ng for us.
(V.I. 209, E 157) 1
What is this "is," this dtre, the being of whi ch is not predication, and whi ch
does not fit in any categories? And does it not somehow have us, as much
as we have it, i f it is the umbilical cord of our knowl edge? Consciousness
itself can no l onger be taken for granted as easily identifiable. For this
encount er is experi enced as a surprise that amounts to an opening, a
questioning, not a specific set of questions, but more like an admitting we
are out of our depth (cf. the "vertical"). We are not only puzzled but, in our
turn, questioned by "things" and we cannot pin down their status, or our
relationship to them.
I f philosophy is not to remai n silent in its witness to "things t hemsel ves"
and to their being as theirs, and not as attributed to t hem by us, how is it to
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s peak? Wh a t l a ngua ge is t her e t hat can e s c he w pr edi cat es ? Yet we are
s o me h o w "t o ma k e Be i n g pas s i nt o t he or de r o f t he e xpr e s s e d" (58, E 36)
by ma k i n g t he t hi ngs t he ms e l ve s s peak (167, E 125). Thi s is not a mys -
t i c i s m l i ke t hat s o me t i me s at t r i but ed t o Ma r t i n Buber , n o r a sor t o f pan-
a ni mi s m; i ndeed, i t wi l l t ur n out t o be mo r e l i ke t he t heor i es o f t he st ruc-
t ural i st s, wh o wo u l d be mo s t i mpa t i e nt wi t h mys t i c i s m. But , h o w t he t hi ngs
are t o s peak i s not a ma t t e r f or whi c h t he p h i l o s o p h e r can t ake r es pon-
si bi l i t y:
It wo u l d be a l a ngua ge o f wh i c h he wo u l d not be t he or gani zer , o f wor ds
he wo u l d not put t oget her , whi c h wo u l d c o mb i n e t hr ough [~t t ravers] h i m
by a nat ur al i nt er t wi ni ng o f t hei r me a ni ngs , by t he s ecr et i nt er change o f
me t a p h o r (i bi d. ).
Wh a t Me r l e a n- Pont y gi ves up is t he a t t e mpt t o est abl i sh l i t eral pr os ai c
k n o wl e d g e , once and f or all c ondi t i ons o f t he des cr i pt i on; ei t her har d f act s,
or i ndi s put abl e es s ences . 2 Ther e is no non- me t a phor i c a l a c c ount whi c h i s
adequat e t o t he r eal wor l d, t he wor l d on t o whi c h we have an ope ni ng, i nt o
whi c h we are i nser t ed, o f whi c h we are a part .
2
I n t he Phenomenology of Perception Me r l e a u- Pont y ha d al r eady ma d e a
di s t i nct i on be t we e n pr i ma r y s peech (parole originaire) and s e c onda r y or
empi r i cal s peech; wha t we wo u l d cal l l i t eral s peech i s def i ni t el y s econdar y,
as we shal l see. Th e f i r st c ont e xt whe r e t hi s ari ses, i n t he c ha pt e r " On t he
Bo d y as Expr es s i on, and Spe e c h, " was i nt e nde d t o i l l ust rat e s peech as
or i gi nal l y gest ur al , par t o f e mb o d i me n t , and i t de ve l ops t he i dea t hat wor ds
are l i ke s ens e or gans. One poi nt was t hat as i n t he cas e o f s ens e or gans, we
r el y on wor ds as st abl e ci r cui t s t o c onne c t us wi t h t he wor l d i n f a mi l i a r
wa y s # We can bui l d on t he s e di me nt a t i on o f habi t s wh i c h f o r m t he back-
g r o u n d or s uppor t f or n e w act i ons and n e w me a ni ngs , as n e w f i gur es
agai ns t a gr ound. Parole originaire is a ges t ur e whi c h cr eat es me a ni ng,
f ounds an i nst i t ut i on, ope ns a f ut ur e, or i ni t i at es a c o mmi t me n t . 4 Ex a mp l e s
are t he ar t i s t ' s or t hi nke r ' s cr eat i ve expr es s i on, t he wor ds o f an aut hent i c
pol i t i cal l eader , t he decl ar at i on o f a l over , t he fi rst wor ds o f a chi l d (cf. P.P.
207, E 179; 214, E 184; 446, E 384; et c. ). Se c onda r y s pe e c h r ef l ect s t he
s e di me nt a t i on o f s uch or i gi nat i ng act s, but suf f er s f r o m a g r o wi n g l ack o f
e xpr e s s i ve ne s s as wor ds are us e d a c c or di ng t o r e a dy- ma de c onve nt i ons ; f or
t hen t he y l ose t he ges t ur al e l e me nt t hr ough whi c h t he wor l d- c ont e xt
b e c a me pr e s e nt t o us. Th e f i gur e - gr ound t ens i on di sappear s, a nd t he sense-
or gan par al l el is mi s s i ng.
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I n a l at er t ext , he expl ai ns h o w empi r i cal , s e c onda r y speech, wh i c h
ma ke s us e o f al r eady es t abl i s hed l anguage, gi ves t he i mpr e s s i on o f put t i ng
a wor d unde r each t hought ; wher eas i n aut hent i c and cr eat i ve s peech,
t hought and wor d c o me al i ve i n an i nt egr at ed whol e. (Signes 55- 56,
E 44). 5 A poet i c phr as e ma y gi ve us a ne w sense or gan by s haki ng up t he
appar at us o f l i t eral t aken- f or - gr ant ed l anguage, so as t o c onne c t us wi t h t he
wor l d i n a n e w way. Ta ke f or e xa mpl e Ma y Swe n s o n ' s l i nes:
hi dde n i n t he hai r
t he spi ral Ear
wai t s t o Suc k s ound. 6
Her e a ne w associ at i on r ever ber at es t hr ough f ami l i ar wor ds ; i t ma y r eac-
t i vat e me t a phor s whi c h ha d b e c o me " de a d" or cl i chr s , s uch as " dr i nki ng i n
a p e r s o n ' s wor ds . " The r e is a shi ft , a di s l ocat i on, a j u mp we are r equi r ed t o
make, and we mo v e f r o m mo me n t a r y puz z l e me nt t o " Aha, I get i t , " as t he
ne w i ma ge c o me s i nt o f ocus. We are enabl ed t o r e c ove r an e xpe r i e nc e o f
l i s t eni ng whi c h br i ngs us i nt o cont act wi t h our s ens es - and our wor l d - i n a
f r esh i l l umi nat i ng way. 7 We do not "i nt er pr et " t he me t a phor , we are
mome nt a r i l y j ol t e d by its ~clatement: we gr asp it as t he habi t ual f i el d o f
e xpe c t e d me a ni ngs and associ at i ons fal l s ba c k t o al l ow a n e w c onf i gur a t i on
t o br eak t hr ough. La n g u a g e speaks, (signifie), says Me r l e a u- Pont y, wh e n
i ns t ead of c opyi ng t hought , it l et s i t s el f be t aken apar t and r e ma de by
t hought (ddfaire et refaire, Signes 55, E 44). Wh a t s e e ms t o be s peech i n
empi r i cal l anguage, whi c h rel i es on t he us e o f " an i ndi f f er ent and pr edes -
t i ned si gn" (i bi d. ) t o c o mmu n i c a t e a l i t eral or pr osai c me a ni ng, does not say
a nyt hi ng i n t hi s ot her sense, it does not r each us whe r e we l i ve, it does not
br eak t hr ough. Be i ng t he oppor t une r ecol l ect i on of a pr e- es t abl i s hed si gn, i t
is l i ke a wor n coi n pl a c e d si l ent l y i n our ha nd ( an i ma ge Me r l e a u- Pont y
t akes f r o m Ma l l a r mr , Oeuvres Complktes, p. 368). I n Prose du Monde,
whe r e t he l ack o f vi t al i t y i n t he pr osai c i s e xpl or e d i n ot he r cont ext s
( i ncl udi ng hi st ory), he is e ve n mor e expl i ci t - " [ . . . t o be] s at i s f i ed. . , wi t h
t he es t abl i s hed l a ngua ge . . , is i n f act a way o f s t ayi ng si l ent [mire] (P.M.
30, E 20).
Thi s di s t i nct i on be t we e n pr i mar y and s econdar y s peech wo u l d not
neces s ar i l y l ead t o a ne w unde r s t a ndi ng of phi l os ophy s uch as t hat s ke t c he d
in Sect i on 1. I t mi ght s i mpl y under s cor e t he d y n a mi c s o f " ma k i n g st r ange"
s uch as wer e i dent i f i ed by t he Rus s i an For mal i s t s (cf. The Prison House of
Language, Cha pt e r II) and s e e m no mor e t han an aest het i c or l i t erary
p h e n o me n o n l eadi ng t o i ns i ght i nt o t he hi s t or y o f expr es s i ve f or ms . On t he
ot her hand, i t mi g h t s uppor t t he val ue of de c ons t r uc t i on as pr act i s ed by
Jacques Der r i da: it c oul d be ar gued, Me r l e a u - Po n t y ' s c l a i m t hat t he be i ng
o f t he es s ence is not pr i mar y cons t i t ut es a si mi l ar at t ack on l ogo- c e nt r i s m,
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and the point of deconstruction maybe to break down reliance on the false
security of predication. However, both the poetic or literary view, and a
Derrida-ian reading are liable to render us subject to the danger of bei ng
"shut up in an i mmanent exploration of the meani ngs [significations] of
words" (V.L 210, E 159) - even i f we are careful to restrict ourselves to
treating those significations diacritically (that is, in terms onl y of internal
differences, rather than from the point of view of experience). So as my first
quotation f r om Merl eau-Pont y implied, our attention will be focused less on
speech and its powers or lack thereof, but rather on Being, and how it may
be brought to expression.
.
Al t hough some of what Ricoeur says in La M~taphore Vive supports what I
am saying, he evaluates Merl eau-Pont y' s philosophy of l anguage as a
(partial) failure (Conflit des Interpretations 244, E 247). Merl eau-Pont y
hi msel f does not say much about met aphor as such, he makes reference to
indirect expression 8 and the inadequacies of secondary speech. I think this
may be because "met aphor" is a t erm in rhetoric, and its use ordinarily
depends on a contrast with the literal, given meani ng, whereas he wants to
reverse the usual standards, whereby the literal is what we trust and the
metaphorical is fictitious or only a manner of speaking. (Cf. his remark that
philosophy reverses the roles of the clear and the obscure - V.L 18, E 4.)
Thus he regards the literal use of language as secondary, parole parlde
("spoken speech"), a derivative, second-hand use of speech once born alive,
parlante ("speaking") and originaire.
Now we pick up again the t heme of sense experience. Perception is itself
originaire. Originating, because it allows a Gestalt, a focus of meaning, to
emerge (out of wild being), whi ch addresses us, whi ch answers a question
we seem to have posed, (P.P. 248, E 216) (or confronts us with a question.)
(In V.L he goes further, saying that perception is dcart, non-coi nci dence,
deviation or separation, focusing as he does in his later work, on the
differentiation whi ch allows the dehiscence. 9 The tensions bet ween the
el ement s in the field, and bet ween intersecting fields, bet ween our sense
organs and what interacts with them, and especially the tension bet ween the
right eye and the left eye in binocular vision, all pull against each ot her in
such a way as to allow perceptual bei ng to be born, to be incarnate. 1 To
take this back to metaphor: the power of such use of words in poetic
discourse also comes f r om a dynami c tension, generat ed by the disruption
of the flat field of taken-for-granted meaning. The literal meani ng is
exploded, as we saw in our earlier example. Ri coeur also notes this feature
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of metaphor, and refers to the stereoscopic effect of superimposing t wo
images whi ch are at first glance disparate (M. V. E 256). But as not j ust any
perceptual being is born, only the one whi ch these conditions can elicit, so
t he literal is taken apart by implicit powers of these words whi ch have lain
dormant during their service to prose, but whi ch can now spring back to
life, to bring to birth what has been waiting to be said.
Take a familiar example whi ch Ri coeur used in lectures in Toront o a f ew
years ago: "Juliet is the sun." As a statement (a purported fact), it is ei t her
false or meaningless - taken that is to say, in the usual indicative sense
according to the conventional meanings of each sign. Thus it i mmedi at el y
belies the literal or prosaic meaning, whi ch lets a sign stand for a thing,
because it cannot be read that way. How does it mean, i f we know it is
literally nonsense? Ri coeur' s analysis concentrates not on the subject or the
predicate but on the copula (M. V. 313, E. 249); it is the is in "Juliet is the
sun" that we have to recogni ze as not meant literally. It was not Ri coeur' s
intention to introduce an ontology, a way to handle Being: rather t he
reverse, probably, because he seems to regard philosophy as a prosaic rather
than a poetic discipline. But it is the is whi ch has the impact, and restores
the capacity of the words to communi cat e something fresh, to say some-
thing, and not merel y form part of a routine utterance of convent i onal signs
whi ch have common currency. Thus, i f we let that met aphor strike us
afresh, and respond to the superimposition of the t wo images, so that Juliet,
this young human girl, is "identified" with that great celestial body, distant
source of all light and life and the fi xed point our circling earth etc., what
happens? In trying to take it seriously, I suggest a situation of emotional,
even visceral tension is evoked, and we are caught up in Romeo' s world, as
Shakespeare means us to be, in the originating moment of expression. What
Juliet is to Romeo is more vivid than a merel y literal "accurat e" account of
objective fact coul d make her. At a level whi ch matters mor e than facts,
what Romeo says is true. It is not a rhetorical figure of speech, or a "trope, "
it is the only f or m of words whi ch will do justice to the situation.
Ricoeur says that the falsity of the statement - its "i mpert i nence" (M. V.
195, E 152) must be recognized before it can be underst ood at all. This
means, he takes the "is" of predication (which puts things in their ap-
propriate categories - the So-sein) as the norm, by whi ch to j udge the
deviant case; in fact he suggests that met aphor is like a pl anned cat egory
mistake (M. V. 246, E 197). Up to a point, this is right, of course, as "Juliet"
and "the sun" must mean what t hey ordinarily do, for the ~cl at ement to
occur. Questions come up, however, with respect to reference and truth.
Thus he values met aphor as originary, as a source of concepts; he is
concerned to explain and j ust i fy its existence and power and he celebrates
its capacity to invent what it discovers (M. V. 301, 310, E 246). In order to
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be f ai r t o me t a phor , and t o a c c ount f or its me a ni ngf ul ne s s , he wi s hes t o
s how t hat it i s a mi s t ake t o r est r i ct r ef er ence t o sci ent i f i c s t at ement s (E 221)
and so, he expl ai ns t hat t he me t a phor i c a l "i s " mu s t be unde r s t ood as an
a mbi guous a nd us ef ul s upe r i mpos i t i on o f "i s " and "i s not " (313, E 249)
whi c h can gi ve us a n e w c onc e pt whi c h wi l l be o f ser vi ce t o pr os e, t o l i t eral
speech. Thus hi s a r g u me n t is t hat me t a p h o r can r ef er t o t he r eal wor l d, and
is not s i mpl y an ove r f l ow o f s ubj ect i ve f eel i ng. Me r l e a u - Po n t y ' s s t a ndpoi nt
is at cr os s - pur pos es wi t h Ri c oe ur ' s : be c a us e he i s wor ki ng out an o n t o l o g y
(al bei t an i ndi r ect one) , it wi l l be mo o t j us t wha t sci ent i f i c s t at ement s
t he ms e l ve s r ef er t o. He wi l l be que s t i oni ng whe t he r i n f act t hey are r ef er en-
tial i n any but t he mo s t l i mi t e d s ens e (as parole parl~e) be c a us e t hei r
cat egor i es can so qui ckl y c ove r over t he l i fe and p o we r o f wi l d bei ng.
The c onc e pt i on of s ci ence t hat Me r l e a u- Pont y cr i t i ci zes i s one t hat
i mpl i es t hat " wha t i s " i s t hat on whi c h we oper at e, as o p p o s e d t o one whi c h
r ecogni zes " wha t i s" as t hat ont o whi c h we have an ope ni ng (V.L 35, E 19).
I t is f r o m t he f or me r per s pect i ve, t hat Ri c oe ur can cr i t i ci ze Me r l e a u- Pont y
f or not a c knowl e dgi ng t he "f act s" di s c ove r e d by st r uct ur al l i ngui st i cs, and
f or not t aki ng s ci ence and t he obj ect i ve wor l d ser i ousl y. 11 St r uc t ur a l i s m' s
" s e mi ol ogi c a l c ha l l e nge " (Conflit des Interpretations 247, E 251) r eveal s a
s ys t e m wi t hout a subj ect , whi c h f or Ri c oe ur wo u l d des t r oy p h e n o me n o l o g y .
He ar gues (loc. cit. 86, E 85) t hat t he da nge r i n Me r l e a u- Pont y i s t hat he has
set up hi s p h e n o me n o l o g y o f s peech i n oppos i t i on t o t he s ci ence o f l an-
guage, and so r i sks f al l i ng agai n i nt o p s y c h o l o g i s m or me nt a l i s m, f r o m
whi c h st r uct ur al l i ngui st i cs has r e s c ue d us. He c ompl a i ns t hat " The sci ent i st
is gi ve n l i t t l e pl ace i n t he di a l ogue - i nde e d he i s gi ve n n o n e at al l " ( 1967,
p. 11), be c a us e he want s s t r uct ur al i s m t o be c onf r ont e d - deal t wi t h on its
o wn t er ms , so he can ma k e a case whi c h wi l l save t he subj ect , whe r e a s
Me f l e a u- Pont y i n f act accept s st r uct ur al i sm, 12 a nd by appr opr i at i ng its
i nsi ght s i nt o hi s o wn wor k, us es t h e m t o poi nt b e y o n d t he s ubj ect - obj ect
di c hot omy. 13 Her e we have an e xa mpl e o f h o w sci ent i f i c i ns i ght can
b e c o me an o p e n i n g ont o wha t is, and can par t i ci pat e i n l'originaire. The
wor k of Saus s ur e and ot her l i ngui st s i l l umi nat es unc a t e gor i z e d u n - t a me d
Be i ng and o u r r el at i ons hi p t o i t be c a us e i t s hows up c ondi t i ons whi c h bear
on t he a c hi e ve me nt o f expr es s i on and t he ver y e me r g e n c e of cat egor i es.
Ther e are not onl y t he n e w i nsi ght s i nt o t he me c ha ni c s of me a n i n g - d e v e l o p -
me n t and t he f act s whi c h can be subst ant i at ed; t her e is al so, and f or
Me r l e a u- Pont y t hi s is t he mor e f e c und cont r i but i on, t he e l e me nt of t he
" unt hought " on t he hor i zon o f t hei r expl i ci t s t at ement s , t hat is, t he unas s i mi -
l at ed a mbi guous i mpl i cat i ons l at ent i n wha t t hey say whi c h p u s h us t o t hi nk
f ur t her . Be c a us e he sees i n Saus s ur i an l i ngui st i cs s ome t hi ng par adoxi cal
and r evol ut i onar y, d e ma n d i n g a r e - a s s e s s me nt o f t he r ol e o f t he subj ect , and
t hus o f t he sci ent i f i c mi n d i t sel f, he has a sense o f i t s di s r upt i ve pot ent i al . I t
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contains an antidote to the congealing of expression into a reliable, secon-
dary form; it bears witness to our cont i ngency. But for those who place
their trust in objectification and prosaic categories to make the worl d tidy
and predictable, the breaking up of accepted patterns will let in an el ement
of wildness: wild being is a threat to the t ame bei ng whi ch so takes itself for
granted that it has almost forgotten that it is being.
.
And what about Romeo? Romeo is not maki ng an ordinary statement, his
words are the expression of espri t sauvage, wild mi nd (like the dr eamer ' s
mi nd in some ways) whi ch recognizes that Juliet is the sun. This is not
because he is mad, or deluded, or even a poet, but because, he is in love.
The expression of esprit sauvage is praxi s, being passionate and not purel y
intellectual. What he says is understood at an intuitive level because it is
originaire, it arises spontaneously f r om the depths of feeling. When
Merl eau-Pont y gave exampl es of parol e originaire, he included the
declaration of the lover. Romeo' s words could be such a declaration
because t hey may be a self-revelation whi ch will open a future by initiating
a commi t ment to a new relationship, and give his actions meani ng in
relation to a new truth. The wild "is" of "Juliet is the Sun" woul d have to be
felt as an echo of the real m of the unt amed in human experience, as more
primordial than the "is" of predication. Merl eau-Pont y characterizes the
(grammatical) mood of wild bei ng as interrogative. This is both a resistance
to the idea of the indicative as primary, and an allusion, I woul d say, to how
we must approach it. Our questioning (in the sense I not ed above) he calls
an organ of ontology, whi ch is to connect us with Being. And it must be a
reversible questioning: we question and are questioned. TM
The allusion to the dr eamer ' s mi nd makes it clear that we are touching
on the unconscious. We need not go very far with this here, although
Merl eau-Pont y has some illuminating discussion of Freud and
psychoanalysis; 15 it is also interesting to note that Lacan refers to the
unconscious as a dialogue with the Ot her (that is how the sel f recognizes
itself) and it is out of this relationship that Desire is t ransformed into
Question. Although Merl eau-Pont y quotes Lacan that "the unconscious is
structured like a language;" I suspect but Lacan woul d be on the side of the
t ami ng of wild being, so as to vindicate the Super-ego and the Law of the
Father. For Lacan knows as well as Merleau-Ponty, wild bei ng (or the Real)
is beyond the law. When we have had this dialogue, and have allowed
ourselves to be affect ed by the Other, we must come to terms with the
problems it raises, in order to return to the orderly world of t he conscious.
397
Me r l e a u - Po n t y ' s ef f or t is r at her t o r el ease t he e ne r gy o f esprit sauvage and
l et i t enr i ch a nd e mp o we r c ons c i ous l i fe as i t c o me s t o expr es s i on, so t hat
we r et ai n t he hor i zons o f not - yet c ons c i ous l i fe, as we al l ow it t o be
i nt egr at ed wi t hi n our c ons c i ous ne s s . Th e pr obl e ma t i c st at us o f e xpr e s s i ons
whi c h r ef l ect dtre sauvage does not di s cr edi t t he m, but hel ps t o cr eat e t he
epoche wh i c h wi l l al l ow us t o r e c ons i de r t he s uppos e dl y unpr obl e ma t i c
s t at ement s a bout ~tre apprivois~. 16
To r et ur n t o t he p r o b l e m o f p h i l o s o p h y i t sel f, and its c onne c t i on wi t h
wi l d bei ng, we can see t hat Me d e a u - P o n t y ' s " non l i t er al " phi l os ophy is not
t o be t a ke n as me t a phor i c a l i n any us ual sense. He s peaks o f t he phi l os ophi -
cal vi s i on as a ma x i mu m o f t r ue pr oxi mi t y t o a Be i n g i n dehi s cence. (V.L
170, E 138). Agai n:
. . . Th e or i gi nar y e xpl ode s and phi l os ophy mu s t a c c o mp a n y t hi s expl o-
si on (gclatement), non- c oi nc i de nc e (V.I. 165, E 124).
Der r i da r ej ect s t he me t a phys i c s o f pr es ence, wh i c h he sees as t he p r o b l e m
o f all phi l os ophy; it ma y have s e e me d t hat Me r l e a u - Po n t y ' s c l a i m t hat t her e
is pr e s e nc e woul d set h i m i n t he oppos i t e c a mp. 17 But t he pr e s e nc e o f
Me r l e a u - Po n t y ' s phi l os ophy is not t hat o f obj ect s l ai d bef or e us whi c h we
can domi na t e . It is t he ha unt i ng pr e s e nc e whi c h i s i nel uct abl y t her e, not o f
speci f i c t hi ngs, b u t o f " s o me t h i n g " whi c h es capes us, exi st s as a ques t i on,
as t he hi nt of t he abyss. As pr esent , it i s al so absent . Our k n o wl e d g e , our
t h o u g h t a bout it, is neces s ar i l y f ul l o f gaps. The eye o f t he mi n d has its
bl i nd s pot and t hi s is not a def ect ; l i ke t he l i mpi ng of p h i l o s o p h y Me d e a u -
Pont y di s cus s es i n Eloge (68, E 58 and 71, E 61), it is a vi rt ue. Th i n k i n g
t hat is al i ve, he says, pens~e pensante, i s cr eat i ve, a nd i n s uch t hi nki ng we
par t i ci pat e i n be i ng i n dehi s cence, i n dtre sauvage. It s ope n- e nde dne s s i s
i nt r i nsi c t o i t s l i fe, its f ecundi t y. He says, i f a t h o u g h t has a f ut ur e, a nd
br eaks t hr ough t he space o f my c ons c i ous ne s s , and has a f ut ur e wi t h ot her s,
i t is be c a us e t hat t h o u g h t l eaves me wi t h my hunger , and l eaves t h e m wi t h
t hei r hunger . It s hows up a gener al buc kl i ng o f my l ands cape, t hat ope ns it
up t o t he uni ver s al , be c a us e it i s an unthought (impense') (V.L 158- 159) , E
118- 119) . "I deas t oo mu c h pos s e s s e d are no l onge r i deas, I a m no l onge r
t hi nki ng wh e n I t al k about t h e m" (i bi d). (Cf. Signes 202, E 160.)
I t s houl d be cl ear t hat wi l d be i ng i s not acces s i bl e t o an anal ysi s i n t e r ms
of c onc e pt s and c a nnot be ma d e par t of a s ys t em. Li ke He i d e g g e r ' s Bei ng,
it is not ont i cal . But unl i ke He i d e g g e r ' s Be i ng i t is not r e mot e f r o m our
or di nar y l i ves. Al t hough, l i ke t he umbi l i cal cor d me n t i o n e d above, i t s e e ms
t o " have us , " we al so " have i t , " so t her e is not t he de pe nde nc e , a l mos t
obedi ence, i mpl i ci t i n He i d e g g e r ' s i nj unct i on t o "l i s t en" t o Bei ng, t o l et it
s peak t hr ough us. Ri c oe ur al so cr i t i ci zes He i de gge r , es peci al l y i n hi s l at er
phi l os ophy, f or "[ gi vi ng] n e w l i f e t o t he s educt i ons o f t he unar t i cul at ed and
398
the unexpressed, even to a kind of despair of language, resembling that
found in the next to last proposition in Wi t t genst ei n" (M.V. (E 313) The
point Wittgenstein made is that what he says must be finally underst ood to
be useless, before it can elucidate, and then the l adder is to be t hrown away
(Tractatus 6.54). And he concludes: "wher eof one cannot speak, t her eof
one must be silent." It is parole parl~e which is despaired of in these cases,
and not the creativity of parole originaire. The unarticulated and the
unexpressed do not, for Merl eau-Pont y, seduce us; they have a cl ai m on us
because t hey accord with what he calls our secret knowl edge, whi ch is of a
piece with the hunger implied in the "unthought. " The secret knowl edge is
of interrogation as the ultimate relation to Being, and so, as we have said, it
is an ontological organ (V.L 162, E 121). The "answer" it seeks and will
recognize is higher than the "facts" and deeper than the "essences" (see n.
2) where t hey were, and - behi nd or beneath the cl eavages of our acquired
culture - continue to be, undi vi ded (ibid). For Merl eau-Pont y, as we re-
connect with wild being, we become more fully ourselves; bei ngs with the
capacity to affect and be affected, capabl e of envisaging a future and a past,
having insight into our inheritance without being bound by it. Wi l d bei ng is
not some august and secretive force, a hidden Power or Spirit whi ch holds
our destiny; it is as close as our heart-beat, as common as the wi l dfl owers to
which its name alludes. Recogni t i on of wi l d bei ng is available to us as we
oursel ves participate in creative thought, through a relationship of open-
ness rather than domination. Articulation of it can onl y be indirect because
we already know it, being of it; it is the irreducible horizon of our own
being.
No ~ s
1. Cf. Husserl, Ideas III, p. 69: "Phenomenology in our sense is the source of
'origins', of the 'mothers' of all cognition; and it is the maternal ground of all
philosophical method: to this ground and the work in it, everything leads
back." I wish to thank Marilyn Nissim-Sabat for drawing my attention to this
passage.
2. Cf. V.L "161, E 121 "The dimension of philosophy cuts across that of essence
and of fact."
3. Cf. The use of colour words, and the consequence of colour-word-aphasia, that
the patient can no longer distinguish the colours (P.P. 206, E 176).
4. Cf. performatives, as described by J.L. Austin, especially in "Other Minds," (in
Philosophical Papers).
5. Cf. Signes 55, E 44: "We sometimes have the feeling that a thought has been
spoken, not replaced by verbal counters but incorporated into words and made
available in them."
6. From To Mix With Time, p. 149.
7. Cf. Merleau-Ponty's comment that the tendency to separate the functions of
399
the senses is due to the imposition of a theoretical framework which distorts
the primordial experience (P.P. 137, E 118-120).
8. Especially in "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence" in Signes, from
which I have already quoted. The paradigm of the "voices of silence" is
creative expression in the arts and the non-verbal arts in particular illustrate the
inadequacy of taking literal reference as primary. (That essay grew out of a
review of Malraux' s book The Voices of Silence, a major work on the world
history of art.)
9. Dehiscence is a significant image of Merleau-Ponty in the Visible and The
Invisible. It refers to the splitting open of a seed-pod which brings about an
irreversible change as the seeds and the seed-carriers are forcibly scattered by
the explosion. . . He uses it to elucidate "flesh": "Flesh is the dehiscence of the
seeing, [or, the one seeing] into the visible, and of the visible into the seeing"
(V.L 201, E 153).
10. I.e., The chiasm, as defined in optics.
11. Cf. Ihde' s account of Ricoeur' s position (Hermeneutic Phenomenology, pp.
170-171).
12. In a manner of speaking. His reading of Saussure is admittedly idiosyncratic
and some scholars believe he did not understand. Cf. Madison, p. 126; and
Schmidt, pp. 105-111 on "Reading (and misreading) Saussure." But see
below, on the "unthought."
13. Signes 155, E 123; Eloge 63, E 54.
14. Another feature of the pre-predicative noted by Husserl in Experience and
Judgment (pp. 15-16) is that it will not give privilege to the form of the third
person (the impersonal). (The first and second forms would anyway be more
likely to reflect the relationship of questioning and being questioned, as they
are the only forms in which the addressive dimension is clear.)
15. E.g., P.P. 98, E 82 f., and see also his preface to Hesnard' s L'Oeuvre de
Freud, included in the Essential Writings of Merleau-Ponty (pp. 81-88).
16. "Tamed being" (but this phrase does not in fact occur in Merleau-Ponty as far
as I know although he does elsewhere refer to ~tre docile-docile being). The
question of sanity and insanity cannot be settled by a dogmatic definition of
reason (cf. the work of R.D. Laing).
17. Derrida' s fear of a congealed presence could be laid to rest by Merleau-
Pont y' s philosophy, but Derrida, like Lacan, somehow does not let the
resources of ~tre sauvage educate and nourish him. The natural world which
we first meet as the pre-predicative seems to him as to Lacan, somehow alien.
Nevertheless, as I have been suggesting throughout, Derrida' s effort seems to
be effective in opening gaps in our accepted world of tamed (inscribed) being,
as he tries to cast doubt on the achievements of predication.
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