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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: February 2013

14 - Expression

from PART III - INVENTIONS

Summary

Merleau-Ponty's view of expression should be understood, first, in marked contrast to more traditional and intellectualist views. According to these, expression consists primarily of verbal and written acts and the results of such acts, where one subject uses language to convey certain thoughts s/he has “in mind” to listeners and readers whose job is to interpret these as faithfully as possible. When expression occurs successfully in this context, the subject will use proper verbal signs to accurately express his/her intended meaning; and the propriety and accuracy of these signs will be revealed when no ambiguities obscure the intended meaning, and the recipient consciously interprets the thought without distortion. Similarly, according to what might be called the Cartesian dream of ideal expression, disembodied minds or transcendental egos are invoked – whereby these minds and egos struggle through stutters and stammers, lips and bodies, emotions, obscure circumstances and personal backgrounds, to try to express themselves in semantically pure or intellectually aseptic ways. Merleau-Ponty is radically opposed to such views, which to him represent the death and sterility, rather than preservation or invigoration, of meaning and expression. “There can be no question of making language rest upon pure thought… ‘Language is not an external accompaniment to intellectual processes’” (PP: 192–3). In what follows, then, I shall consider some of the salient ways he reacted against such views and, especially, some of the most striking and fertile innovations he introduced to the concept of expression.

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