The Sensible World and the World of Expression
Course Notes from the Collège de France, 1953
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
The Sensible World and the World of Expression was a course of lectures that Merleau-Ponty gave at the Collège de France after his election to the chair of philosophy in 1952. The publication and translation of Merleau-Ponty’s notes from this course provide an exceptional view into the evolution of his thought at an important point in his career.
In these notes, we see that Merleau-Ponty’s consideration of the problem of the perception of movement leads him to make a self-critical return to Phenomenology of Perception in order to rethink the perceptual encounter with the sensible world as essentially expressive, and hence to revise his understanding of the body schema accordingly in terms of praxical motor possibilities. Sketching out an embodied dialectic of expressive praxis that would link perception with art, language, and other cultural and intersubjective phenomena, up to and including truth, Merleau-Ponty’s notes for these lectures thus afford an exciting glimpse of how he aspired to overcome the impasse of ontological dualism.
Situated midway between Phenomenology of Perception and The Visible and the Invisible, these notes mark a juncture of crucial importance with regard to Merleau-Ponty’s later efforts to work out the ontological underpinnings of phenomenology in terms of a new dialectical conception of nature and history.
“The Sensible World and the World of Expression reveals Merleau-Ponty at the pivot point of his entire philosophy, where his phenomenology of movement, expression, and the body schema begins deepening into his later themes of language, art, institutions, and history—and leading him toward an ontology that would grasp meaning at work in the visible world, nature, and being itself. Bryan Smyth’s careful translation, introduction, and notes provide an invaluable entry into a key moment of Merleau-Ponty’s thought.” —David Morris, author of Merleau-Ponty’s Developmental Ontology
“To Merleau-Ponty, lecturing at the Collège de France represented a remarkable opportunity to pursue philosophical research. And yet, given his sudden death, this research never developed into a polished manuscript, transforming these lecture courses into the traces of his nascent phenomenological ontology. Thanks to this lucid and scholarly translation of the first course, Bryan Smyth has made a lasting contribution to Merleau-Ponty scholarship that provides new insights into Merleau-Ponty’s unfinished work on perception and expression.” —Donald A. Landes, author of Merleau-Ponty and the Paradoxes of Expression and translator of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception