Volume 22, 2022
The Primal Scenes of Language and the Gesture
Some Hermeneutical Musings on Merleau-Ponty’s Last Ontology
This paper seeks to develop the connection in Merleau‑Ponty’s later ontology between the gesture and language. There is a concerted effort in Merleau‑Ponty’s “middle period” to illustrate that a linguistic system of signs is internally constellated by the body and its movement. This effort seems to give way to an ontology of flesh in the later period. On closer consideration, however, this ontology and the linguistic system of signs—both “diacritical”—are mutually imbricated. This highlights the crucial importance of separation, deviation, and difference in Merleau‑Ponty’s ontology. A question remains, however: how can the body, and in particular the gesture, be the very site of separation rather than of an initiation or identification? I argue that, for Merleau‑Ponty, every gesture contains something internally antagonistic to it, something that cannot be grasped or moved. In this sense, the gesture is an “implex,” both internally resistant to and productive of signification. It is, in short, the site of a symbolization. In light of this, in the conclusion I reconsider the final passages from “Cézanne’s Doubt” where Merleau‑Ponty discusses Freud’s “hermeneutical musings” on Leonardo, and the passages from “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence” and the nature lectures where he discusses the painter’s brushwork.