Phenomenology or Deconstruction?

Phenomenology or Deconstruction?: The Question of Ontology in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Luc Nancy

Christopher Watkin
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r29kp
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  • Book Info
    Phenomenology or Deconstruction?
    Book Description:

    Phenomenology or Deconstruction? challenges traditional understandings of the relationship between phenomenology and deconstruction through new readings of the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricœur and Jean-Luc Nancy. A constant dialogue with Jacques Derrida's engagement with phenomenological themes provides the impetus to establishing a new understanding of 'being' and 'presence' that exposes significant blindspots inherent in traditional readings of both phenomenology and deconstruction.In reproducing neither a stock phenomenological reaction to deconstruction nor the routine deconstructive reading of phenomenology, Christopher Watkin provides a fresh assessment of the possibilities for the future of phenomenology, along with a new reading of the deconstructive legacy. Through detailed studies of the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, Ricœur and Nancy, he shows how a phenomenological tradition much wider and richer than Husserlian or Heideggerean thought alone can take account of Derrida's critique of ontology and yet still hold a commitment to the ontological. This new reading of being and presence fundamentally re-draws our understanding of the relation of deconstruction and phenomenology, and provides the first sustained discussion of the possibilities and problems for any future 'deconstructive phenomenology'.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3760-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    As a philosophical movement at the forefront of contemporary thought, phenomenology might be thought to have had its day. Since Edmund Husserl recast the term in his 1901 Logische Untersuchungen from earlier Hegelian and Kantian usage,¹ it has come to be employed mainly as a yardstick against which to size up other features in the contemporary philosophical landscape, features that are themselves considered to be post-phenomenological. Terms such as ‘intuition’ and ‘reduction’ retain the faint nostalgic glow of a simpler age, when meaning was given to consciousness and the philosopher could go about her business secure in the knowledge that,...

  6. 1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Perception
    (pp. 13-44)

    In recent years, two trends have coincided in French thought. First, a number of authors have taken it upon themselves to assess the relation of deconstruction and phenomenology, and secondly in the same period a renewed and growing interest has been shown in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty.² The two tendencies are by no means independent, for Merleau-Ponty’s work is often cited in relation to deconstructive concerns, either as a precursor³ or as an antagonist.⁴ It appears that the moment has come to assess, if not settle, the ontological accounts between Merleau-Ponty and deconstruction.

    text which by any reckoning constitutes...

  7. 2. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Language
    (pp. 45-75)

    In the first chapter we asked if, in the light of the questions Derrida raises in Le Toucher, we can still speak, phenomenologically, about a worldly meaningfulness. We saw that, although Derrida’s worries about what Merleau-Ponty means by ‘presence’ and ‘intuitionism’ do provide cause for concern, there is ‘another’ Merleau-Ponty (to whom Derrida alludes but does not explore at any length) who is not prey to the same accusations. We also began to see that Derrida’s reading rests substantially on a particular understanding of the notion of ‘contact’ as immediate proximity, which it is by no means clear that Merleau-Ponty...

  8. 3. Paul Ricoeur: Selfhood
    (pp. 76-105)

    In the previous two chapters we began to explore how phenomenology might respond to the questions put to it by deconstruction in a way which neither rebuts nor embraces them, but searches within itself for the means to think beyond itself, or at least beyond its hitherto perceived limits and shortcomings. Specifically, we have seen that Merleau-Ponty’s ontology, whether elaborated in terms of perception or language, is interrogative and indirect, and as such does not fully fall under the Derridean umbrella of ‘le plein de présence immédiate requis par toute ontologie ou par toute métaphysique.’¹ Meaning is not given in...

  9. 4. Paul Ricoeur: Justice
    (pp. 106-135)

    In the previous chapter we explored the relationship between Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology and Derrida’s deconstruction by moving the ontological question from a focus on ‘what?’ to ‘who?’ While allowing us to make progress in understanding how the question of alterity in Derrida must be reconsidered when we are coming to grips with Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of the self and narrative identity, the investigation also opened, without satisfactorily resolving, the issue of coherence and multiplicity. In stating that the various discourses of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of the self cohere, we left hanging the question as to how they cohere, which is precisely what...

  10. 5. Jean-Luc Nancy: Sense
    (pp. 136-168)

    A consideration of Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology has allowed us to trace points of (more usually) proximity and (occasionally) divergence between Derrida and Ricoeur on questions of alterity and coherence. In terms of alterity, ‘life’ and ‘narrative’ for Ricoeur are inextricably intertwined, and the meaning of prefigured action is not posited but attested in the context of a hermeneutic wager: it is a ‘broken attestation’. Similarly, Derrida cannot justify the ‘good’ of alterity, but assumes it. As regards the question of coherence, Ricoeur’s thought deals with a constant tension between chaos and cosmos: narrative is a ‘discordant concordance’ and justice...

  11. 6. Jean-Luc Nancy: Plurality
    (pp. 169-202)

    The previous chapter dealt with the question of alterity in Nancy’s work. Now we turn to the problem of commensurability. Chapter 5 considered the possibility of contact with a meaningful world, while this chapter pursues the issue of the conflict of meaning(s) in the world: what is to be done when a number of incommensurable values must be measured against each other or, in other words, how are we to calculate the incalculable? It is the problem we have been posing to Derrida’s deconstruction; it is also the question at the heart of the cosmological motif we have been tracing...

  12. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 203-210)

    We began this book by opening three sets of questions: (1) What is the relation ‘between’ phenomenology and deconstruction? (2) How can contemporary French thought develop responses to the problems of alterity and coherence? (3) In the light of these concerns, what resources are there in the thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Luc Nancy for thinking ontology otherwise? We have, of course, not been able exhaustively to investigate each of these questions, but that has not been our aim. Rather we have sought to show that the three sets of questions are each enhanced by treatment in relation...

  13. Bibliography and Further Reading
    (pp. 211-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-268)