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Chiasmi International

Volume 21, 2019

Merleau-Ponty, Literature, and Literary Language

Daniel Rosenberg
Pages 225-238

Eliciting Deviation
Merleau-Ponty and Valéry on Literary Language

In his discussions on literature, Merleau-Ponty often turns to the notion of deviation as a constitutive principle of literary language. Deviation indicates the capacity of a literary work (and other aesthetic objects) to transgress against its own limits and to offer an experience of otherness, or alterity. This alterity is not given in the work, but is constituted by the recipient through the more visceral and physical aspects of literary language. The recipient of the work thus adopts a second voice: that of the author or creator of the work, which is absent from the text yet is reconstructed by the reader in a post hoc manner. The analysis of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas is complemented using the aesthetic insights of Paul Valéry, from which the philosopher was greatly inspired. The essay further explores the way in which the notion of literature as deviation illuminates other aspects in Merleau-Ponty’s theory of language.