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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Maybe the best...11 Oct. 2010
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This is a really excellent book. I have read four major works on Merleau-Ponty's philosophy. I read Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy (Studies in Continental Thought) by Lawrence Hass, Merleau-Ponty's Ontology, 2nd Edition by M.C. Dillon, The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty's Ontology (Studies in Continental Thought) by Renaud Barbaras and this book by Gary Madison. They were all excellent books and I would recommend them all but in my opinion this book by Gary Madison was the best.
Gary Madison traces the entire trajectory of Merleau-Ponty's thought always with an eye on ontological questions. In The Structure of Behavior, according to Madison, Merleau-Ponty replaced the notion of a transcendental subjectivity organizing the world based on essences in the Husserlian fashion with the notion of the autochtonous meaning engendered by the lived body and the various structures of the physical, vital, and human orders. Merleau-Ponty was already moving towards a new ontology since he no longer conceived of nature as a pure in-itself existing partes extra partes or of the subject as pure, transparent, self-presence but he still conceived of his project as an attempt to articulate the relation between nature and consciousness. This project was carried over into the Phenomenology of Perception. The world and the subject were conceived as being in a circular or dialectical relation in the Phenomenology of Perception, neither one could be defined without the other, but Merleau-Ponty still began from the subject-object relation and took it as fundamental.
This finally changed with The Visible and the Invisible. Actually the change took place before The Visible and the Invisible in a few of the late essays collected in Signs and in Eye and Mind. But the new starting point reached its fullest articulation in The Visible and the Invisible despite the fact that the work remained unfinished at the time of Merleau-Ponty's untimely death. Gary Madison does an excellent job of explaining precisely what the shift in Merleau-Ponty's thinking that took place between Phenomenology of Perception and The Visible and the Invisible entailed. Basically Merleau-Ponty no longer took the subject-object split as fundamental but attempted to find the origin of this split in the dehiscence within Being that opened up a chiasm between sensing and the sensible. This is a radically new ontology of the subject which no longer views the subjective as something positive in-itself which would stand between the mind and external reality but as a hollow within being itself and as carnal presence (reversibility). This also leads to a new notion of Being which is no longer brute, meaningless facticity, but is dimensionality or depth. Madison devotes almost half of the book to Merleau-Ponty's late ontology so anyone who is interested in that aspect of Merleau-Ponty's thought cannot afford to miss this work.
I have presented merely the barest skeleton of an outline of this fabulous book. Gary Madison develops all of these thoughts in much more depth and with greater clarity than I have been able to. The ideas literally fly from this book. Madison's examination of Merleau-Ponty's essay Cezanne's Doubt is worth the price of the book alone. This probably should not be the first book you read on Merleau-Ponty. I would say the difficulty level is intermediate. It is more challenging than Lawrence Hass's book but not nearly as challenging as Renaud Barbaras. When I have time I intend to provide a fuller summary of this work but for now I will simply say that if you have any interest in phenomenology or Merleau-Ponty this book is a must have. It simply isn't optional.