Volume 16, 2014
Between Yesterday and Tomorrow
Raw Being and the Darkness of Nature. On Merleau-Ponty’s Appropriation of Schelling
In this article, we will reflect on the theoretical strategy implemented by Merleau-Ponty in his reading of Schelling. The purpose is not to verify the philological accuracy of his reading, but rather to examine two different yet interconnected questions: on the one hand, to study the sense Schelling’s concept of Nature takes in Merleau-Ponty’s ontological project; on the other, to discuss the role that Schelling’s philosophy effectively plays in the way that Merleau-Ponty approaches the problem of Nature. These two questions should not be equated, since the first aspect concerns the evaluation of Merleau-Ponty’s project and thus of the specific function played by his reading of Schelling in the ontology of the flesh. The second, however, concerns the problems raised by this very project, which will appear more clearly if we consider Schelling’s philosophy in its general development, over and above what is said by Merleau-Ponty. In fact, he has a tendency to privilege the early Schelling, closer to Hegel and to speculative idealism, but he only makes a few allusions to the more mature ideas, which Schelling mainly explains in the unfinished treatise on the ages of the world, from which Merleau-Ponty draws, nevertheless, the theme of the barbarous principle. The task, consequently, is to understand the extent to which Merleau-Ponty was able to incorporate the “abyssal” value of this notion, developed by Schelling especially when he sought to distance himself from his own transcendental idealist philosophy.
We will thus ask whether Merleau-Ponty’s reading is partial, and if we can find, nonetheless, certain indications that show at which point he was able to take up the direction in which Schelling addressed the theme of Nature as barbarous principle. At stake is the question of the negativity, the latency, the opacity of Nature. In the first part of the essay, we briefly explain Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of Schelling in his course on Nature at the Collège de France in 1956-1957. In the second part, we present an interpretation of Schelling’s notion of the barbarous principle in light of the treatise on the ages of the world, and in particular the second draft, which is more speculative and audacious. In the third part, finally, we propose an interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s position which can show us, at least indirectly, how the notion of flesh can recognize Schelling’s theoretical indications in their more pessimistic and radical valence, centered on the notion of de-cision (Ent-Scheidung) as ontological divide. While not clearly argued, in part due to the nature of the unfinished manuscript of The Visible and the Invisible, this notion is given an implicit treatment in this work that helps deepen the interpretation of the ontology of the flesh in the sense of a renewed mediation on negativity.