Volume 15, 2013
Existence, Diacritics, Animality
The Experience of Freedom at the Limits of Reflection in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology
The paper revisits the discussion of freedom in the Phenomenology of Perception and considers how according to Merleau-Ponty a phenomenology of freedom must challenge the tradition that attempts to account for experience and appearance through the filter of reflective consciousness. The paper begins by posing this problem in broad historical terms, as a distinctly modern predicament, and briefly considers Schelling’s philosophical engagement with negative philosophy as a provocation and historical precedent for reading the phenomenological work of Merleau-Ponty. It is noted that Schelling’s criticism of the formal freedom of Kant prefi gures Merleau-Ponty’s polemic against Sartrean freedom, although the claim is also made that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological account of freedom remains irreducible to the terms established by this polemic, since what appears is a freedom no longer determined by consciousness and reflection. Before turning to the reading of the Phenomenology of Perception, a single passage is also adduced from The Visible and Invisible in order to demonstrate how the concern elaborated in the Phenomenology runs throughout Merleau-Ponty’s work, namely, that a phenomenological interrogation of experience must break down the boundaries of what is properly one’s own as this would be defined in and by the reflective act. The reading of the Phenomenology then proceeds by showing how the entire work is framed by the possibility of transforming philosophical practice through an overturning of the dominant paradigm of reflection. The paper interrogates in this light the Preface, the chapter on Descartes’ cogito and the concluding chapter on freedom. A connection is drawn between the appearance of the “tacit” cogito and the elaboration of freedom that ends by insisting upon the necessity of silence.