SINGING THE BODY ELECTRIC:
Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Literary Language
Singing the Body Electric: Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Literary Language seeks to bring to light a nascent possibility left undeveloped in Merleau-Ponty’s thought, namely, a robust philosophy of literary language and writing. As such, this essay orbits around an incomplete gesture that, I maintain, lies at the very heart of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of language (and his broader philosophical project). Undertaken on the heels of the November 2013 French publication of Merleau-Ponty’s Collège de France lecture course Recherches sur l’usage littéraire du langage, this dissertation will serve as an important introduction to a significant part of Merleau-Ponty’s oeuvre that has until now remained unrecognized.
Singing the Body Electric serves two purposes, one which aims for a significant expansion in Merleau-Ponty studies and another which concerns the study of Continental thought more broadly construed. In composing this essay, I intend to show how Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of literary language and writing fills out and, in a sense, completes his account of language and expression, extending the scholarship in this area by showing how significant the act of writing and literary utterances are for Merleau-Ponty, and thereby adding a new and much needed dimension to an already established body of scholarship. Secondly, this essay introduces and endorses Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of literature as an alternative to Continental theories of literary language dominated by the likes of Martin Heidegger’s poetics of Being, Jean-Paul Sartre’s engaged literature, and Maurice Blanchot’s conception of the literary space. In calling each of these philosopher’s to task, I show how Merleau-Ponty’s entrance into the arena of philosophy of literature will bring about two significant contributions which are missing from the works of the aforementioned three: namely, a robust phenomenology of writing and a discussion of the body’s role in both the creation and experience of the literary.