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The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty versus the Being Layered of Deleuze.

Judith Wambacq (UGent)
Author
Organization
Abstract
In his book Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty characterizes language as behavior and words as gestures. This comparison does not so much imply that language is an external, observable feature that can be used to distinguish man from other living creatures, nor does it refer to the extra-linguistic signs, the body language, that accompany every communication of meaning. This comparison does not have to be understood metaphorically but literally: words are not like gestures, they are gestures. Words do not refer to a preexisting meaning that is subsequently expressed, but the meaning is the word itself. Instead of placing the origin of the word beyond the word or on a level deeper than the word, Merleau-Ponty locates it in the word itself, on the surface of the sounds and letters themselves. This superficiality explains among other things the non-arbitrary relation which Merleau-Ponty discerns between meaning and word. Although Merleau-Ponty - in a structuralist style - considers language to be a closed self-referring system – which is an implication of this superficiality or absence of a meaningful depth - , he must recognize that man is not born speaking. He has to grow up into this language system and this is only possible on the condition that this language system somehow fits his natural being-in-the-world. Formulated this way, Merleau-Ponty does presuppose a non-linguistic origin of language: the mute, wild Being. In order to connect this idea of the outside of language with the previous idea of an autonomous language, Merleau-Ponty introduces the idea of a layered Being. There’s no outside to this Being but the outside is inside the Being. Concepts as “écart”, “invisibilité”, “déhiscence”, “fission”, etc. do not refer to something that is at the border of the full and visible being but to a non-threatening division from within being. When we compare this conception of language and being with the philosophy of language and the ontology of the philosopher of layers par excellence, Gilles Deleuze, we might have to conclude that Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze have more in common than is generally accepted. To mention only a few similarities: Deleuze also situates meaning on the surface of words (cfr. Logique du sens) and considers it to be external to the inside of language. Remarkable in this context is that both philosophers use the image of the fold to describe this non-external inside or non-internal outside. However, Deleuze seems to be more consequent in thinking through the implications of this ambiguous, non-coincident, layered Being. The violence, the force and the agitation that goes with this being layered is often underestimated or neglected by Merleau-Ponty. In my paper I would like to examine in more detail the function of the layer in the ontology and language conception of both authors.
Keywords
fold, language, layer, difference, immanence, behavior

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Wambacq, Judith. “The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty Versus the Being Layered of Deleuze.” Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities. Nicosia, Cyprus: University of Cyprus, 2011. Print.
APA
Wambacq, J. (2011). The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty versus the Being Layered of Deleuze. Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities. Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature, Nicosia, Cyprus: University of Cyprus.
Chicago author-date
Wambacq, Judith. 2011. “The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty Versus the Being Layered of Deleuze.” In Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities. Nicosia, Cyprus: University of Cyprus.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Wambacq, Judith. 2011. “The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty Versus the Being Layered of Deleuze.” In Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities. Nicosia, Cyprus: University of Cyprus.
Vancouver
1.
Wambacq J. The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty versus the Being Layered of Deleuze. Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities. Nicosia, Cyprus: University of Cyprus; 2011.
IEEE
[1]
J. Wambacq, “The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty versus the Being Layered of Deleuze.,” in Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities, Nicosia, 2011.
@inproceedings{941199,
  abstract     = {In his book Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty characterizes language as behavior and words as gestures. This comparison does not so much imply that language is an external, observable feature that can be used to distinguish man from other living creatures, nor does it refer to the extra-linguistic signs, the body language, that accompany every communication of meaning. This comparison does not have to be understood metaphorically but literally: words are not like gestures, they are gestures. Words do not refer to a preexisting meaning that is subsequently expressed, but the meaning is the word itself. Instead of placing the origin of the word beyond the word or on a level deeper than the word, Merleau-Ponty locates it in the word itself, on the surface of the sounds and letters themselves. This superficiality explains among other things the non-arbitrary relation which Merleau-Ponty discerns between meaning and word. 
Although Merleau-Ponty - in a structuralist style - considers language to be a closed self-referring system – which is an implication of this superficiality or absence of a meaningful depth - , he must recognize that man is not born speaking. He has to grow up into this language system and this is only possible on the condition that this language system somehow fits his natural being-in-the-world. Formulated this way, Merleau-Ponty does presuppose a non-linguistic origin of language: the mute, wild Being. In order to connect this idea of the outside of language with the previous idea of an autonomous language, Merleau-Ponty introduces the idea of a layered Being.  There’s no outside to this Being but the outside is inside the Being. Concepts as “écart”, “invisibilité”, “déhiscence”, “fission”, etc. do not refer to something that is at the border of the full and visible being but to a non-threatening division from within being. 

   When we compare this conception of language and being with the philosophy of language and the ontology of the philosopher of layers par excellence, Gilles Deleuze, we might have to conclude that Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze have more in common than is generally accepted. To mention only a few similarities: Deleuze also situates meaning on the surface of words (cfr. Logique du sens) and considers it to be external to the inside of language. Remarkable in this context is that both philosophers use the image of the fold to describe this non-external inside or non-internal outside. However, Deleuze seems to be more consequent in thinking through the implications of this ambiguous, non-coincident, layered Being. The violence, the force and the agitation that goes with this being layered is often underestimated or neglected by Merleau-Ponty. In my paper I would like to examine in more detail the function of the layer in the ontology and language conception of both authors.},
  author       = {Wambacq, Judith},
  booktitle    = {Layering. Rethinking Contact, Historicity and Critique Across the Humanities},
  keywords     = {fold,language,layer,difference,immanence,behavior},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Nicosia},
  publisher    = {University of Cyprus},
  title        = {The Layered Being of Merleau-Ponty versus the Being Layered of Deleuze.},
  year         = {2011},
}