Volume 15, 2013
Existence, Diacritics, Animality
Anna Petronella Foultier
Merleau-Ponty’s Encounter with Saussure’s Linguistics
Misreading, Reinterpretation or Prolongation?
The prevailing judgement concerning Merleau-Ponty’s encounter with Saussure’s linguistics is that, although important for the evolution of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of language, it was based on a mistaken or at least highly idiosyncratic interpretation of Saussure’s ideas. Significantly, the rendering of Saussure that has been common both in Merleau-Ponty scholarship and in linguistics hinges on the structuralist development of the Genevan linguist’s ideas. This article argues that another reading of Saussure, in the light of certain passages of the Course of General Linguistics forgotten by the structuralists, and of the manuscripts related to the published works, shows to the contrary that Merleau-Ponty’s account was sustainable. An understanding of Saussure’s ideas that does not flinch from their paradoxical features can elucidate the French phenomenologist’s views on language and expression. Moreover, the “linguistic turn” in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical development, identified by James Edie for example, does not seem to have been so clear-cut as has previously been believed; the influence of Saussure’s thought had certainly begun before Merleau-Ponty wrote Phenomenology of Perception.