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The Prose of the World (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy) Paperback – December 1, 1973
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From the Back Cover
The work which this author planned to call The Prose of the World, or Introduction to the Prose of the World, is unfinished. There is good reason to believe that he deliberately abandoned it and that, he had lived, he would not have completed it, at least in the form that he first outlined. Once finished, the book was to constitute the first section of a two-part work--the second would have had a more distinct metaphysical nature--whose aim was to offer us, as an extension of the Phenomenology of Perception, a theory of truth.
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The Editor’s Preface states, “The work which Maurice Merleau-Ponty planned to call ‘The Prose of the World,’ or ‘Introduction to the Prose of the World,’ is unfinished. There is good reason to believe that the author deliberately abandoned it and that, had he lived, he would not have completed it, at least in the form that he first outlined. Once finished, the book was to constitute the first section of a two-part work---the second would have had a more distinctly metaphysical nature---whose aim was to offer us, as an extension of the ‘Phenomenology of Perception,’ a theory of truth.”
He says, “Speaking and listening, action and perception, are quite distinct operations for me only when I reflect upon them. Then I analyze the spoken words into ‘motor impulses’ or ‘articulated elements’ understanding them as auditory ‘sensations and perceptions.’ When I am actually speaking I do not first FIGURE the MOVEMENTS involved. My whole bodily system concentrates on finding and saying the word, in the same way that my hand moves toward what is offered to me. Furthermore, it is not even the word or phrase that I have in mind but the person.” (Pg. 18-19)
He suggests, “There is an ‘I speak’ which ends doubt about language in the same way that the ‘I think’ terminated universal doubt about language in the same way that the ‘I think’ terminated universal doubt. Everything I say about language presupposes it, but that does not validate what I say; it only shows that language is not an object, that it is capable of repetition, that it is accessible from the inside.” (Pg. 24)
He states, “The marvel that a finite number of signs, forms, and words should give rise to an indefinite number of uses, or that other and identical marvel that linguistic meaning, directs toward something beyond language, is the very prodigy of speech, and anyone who tries to explain it in terms of its ‘beginning’ or its ‘end’ would lose sight of its ‘doing.’ In the living exercise of speech there is really a repetition of all preceding experience, an appeal to the fulfillment of language, a presumptive eternity… In sum, we have found that signs, morphemes, and words, taken one by one, signify nothing, they succeed in conveying signification only through their assembly, just as communication passes from the whole of spoken language to the whole of understood language. Speaking is spelling out at each point a communication whose principle is already established.” (Pg. 41-42)
He observes, ”History is the judge---not History as the Power of a moment or of a century, but history as the space of inscription and accumulation beyond the limits of countries and epochs of what was have said and done that is most true and valuable, taking into account the circumstances in which we had to speak… True history thus gets it life entirely from us. It is in our present that true history gets the force to refer everything else in the present. The OTHER whom I respect gets his life from me as I get my life from him. A philosophy of history does not deprive me of any rights and privileges. It simply adds to my personal obligations the obligation to understand situations other than my own and to create a path between my life and the lives of others, that is, to express myself.” (Pg. 86)
He states, “Between myself as speech and the other as speech, or more generally myself as expression and the other as speech, or more generally myself as expression and the other as expression, there is no longer that alternation which makes a rivalry of the relation between minds. I am not active only when speaking; rather, I precede my thought in the listener. I am not passive while I am listening; rather, I speak according to… what the other is saying. Speaking is not just my own initiative, listening is not submitting to the initiative of the other, because as speaking subjects we are CONTINUING, we are resuming a common effort more ancient than we, upon which we are grafted to one another and which is the manifestation, the growth of truth… What we call speech is nothing but such anticipation and repetition, this touching from a distance, which cannot be grasped in terms of contemplation.” (Pg. 143-144)
Obviously, this is not one of Merleau-Ponty’s “major works”; but it will interest serious students of his philosophy.