The first study of its kind to appear in English, The Phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty is a sustained ontological reading of Merleau-Ponty which traces the evolution of his philosophy of being from his early work to his late, unfinished manuscripts and working notes. Merleau-Ponty, who contributed greatly to the theoretical foundations of hermeneutics, is here approached hermeneutically.
Most commentators are agreed that towards the end Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy underwent a strange and interesting mutation. The exact nature of this mutation or conceptual shift is what this study seeks to disclose. Thus, although Madison proceeds in a generally progressive, chronological fashion, examining Merleau-Ponty’s major works in the order of their composition, his reading is ultmately regressive in that Merleau-Ponty’s earlier works are viewed in the light of the new and enigmatic ontological orientation which makes its appearance in his later work. The merit of this approach is that, as Paul Ricoeur has remarked, it enables the author to expose the “anticipatory, hollowed-out presence” of Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy “in the difficulties of his early phenomenology,” such that “the unifying intention between his first philosophy of meaning and the body and the late, more ontological philosophy is made manifest.”
This book begins with a detailed study of Merleau-Ponty’s two major early works, The Structure of BehaviorThe Phenomenology of Perception. In the following three chapters, Madison traces the development of Merleau-Ponty’s thought from the beginning to the end of his philosophical career in regard to three topics of special concern to the French phenomenologist: painting, language, philosophy. In the final chapter, he is concerned to articulate, as much as the unfinished state of Merleau-Ponty’s final work allows, the unspoken thought of this work and of The Visible and Invisible in particular. Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “wild being” and his attempt to work out an “indirect” or “negative” ontology are thoroughly analyzed.
In the end the reader will see that through his self-criticism and the development in his own phenomenology Merleau-Ponty has brought phenomenology itself to its limits and to the point where it must transcend itself as a philosophy of consciousness in the Husserlian sense if it is to remain faithful to Husserl’s own goal of bringing “experience to the full expression of its own meaning.” Because Madison submits Merleau-Ponty to the same kind of interpretive retrieval as the latter did with Husserl, Roger Cailloise has said of this “clear and very complete book” that it “goes will beyond a simple exposition and merits being read as an original work.”