Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception

New translation reviewed by Eran Dorfman

Sixty-seven years after its publication in French and fifty years after its first translation into English, the long-awaited new translation of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception has finally come out. This classical work famously grounds experience in the body, showing how the latter conditions perception and action in various domains such as spatiality, temporality, language and otherness. Merleau-Ponty’s work, however, has been accused of many flaws in the last half-century: it would alternately be called a dull imitation of Husserl and/or Heidegger, a symmetrically opposed reproduction of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, a conservative philosophy of the “subject” or finally an outdated attempt to deal with contemporary science. Nonetheless,Phenomenology of Perception has survived all these accusations, and this new translation proves its contemporary relevance, which continues to grow. The work seems to have a discrete yet long-lasting power that keeps inspiring new generations of scholars and practitioners from various and sometimes opposed traditions and disciplines. What is the secret of Phenomenology of Perception which attracts its reader despite the efforts it demands?

It was about a year ago that I visited Ponty’s grave at Père Lachaise.