Merleau-Ponty and the Face of the World

Silence, Ethics, Imagination, and Poetic Ontology

By Glen A. Mazis

Subjects: Continental Philosophy, Philosophy, Ethics, Aesthetics
Paperback : 9781438462301, 414 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438462318, 414 pages, October 2016

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Table of contents

Preface: From Silence to Depth
Abbreviations for Works by Merleau-Ponty

Introduction: Merleau-Ponty’s Warning of an “Endless Nightmare”

Part I. Entering the World of Expressive Silence

I. Hearkening to Silence: Merleau-Ponty beyond Postmodernism
II. Language as a Power for Error and Violence
III. A Different Silence and the World’s Gesture
IV. Silence, the Depth of the Flesh and Its Movement
V. Silence Sings as We Do When Happy: Charged Evanescence
VI. Language Can Live Only from its Roots in Silence
VII. Indirect Expression as Silence Entering Language
VIII. Silence, Duration, and Vertical Time
IX. Silence Arrives at the First Day

Part II. Faces of the World—Desiring Sensibility and Ethics

I. Physiognomic Sense and Faces within the World
II. The Face of Desire
III. Merleau-Ponty’s Face of this World and Levinas’s Face of the Other World
IV. Perceptual Otherness, Not Absolute Otherness
V. An Ethics of Flesh: Saint-Exupéry, Merleau-Ponty, and Felt Solidarity
VI. Lateral Unity versus Vertical Identity: Kinship versus Substitution
VII. The Ethical Alterity of Depth of this World Rather than Absolute Height

Part III. The Imaginal, Oneiric Materiality, and Poetic Language

I. Early Implied Physiognomic Imagination
II. Sketches of the Imaginal in Myth, Film, and Children
III. Imaginal of Institution, Sensible Ideas, and Proustian Sensitivity
IV. Later Writings: Toward an Imaginal Ontology
V. Bachelard’s Material Imagination and Flesh of the World
VI. Toward a Poetic Ontology
VII. A Poetics of Philosophy

Conclusion: Sense and Solidarity at the Depths of World

Works Cited

Assesses Merleau-Ponty’s contribution to ethics as calling for a poetic interplay between perception and imagination, and between silence and solidarity, that reveals our place in the world, and our obligations to ourselves and others.


Before his death in 1961, Merleau-Ponty worried about what he saw as humanity's increasingly self-enclosed and manipulative way of experiencing self, others, and the world—the consequences of which remain apparent in our destructive inability to connect with others within and across cultures. In Merleau-Ponty and the Face of the World, Glen A. Mazis provides an overall consideration of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy that brings out what he sees as a corrective prescription for ethical reorientation that is fundamental to Merleau-Ponty's thought. Mazis begins by analyzing the key role that silence plays for Merleau-Ponty as a positive, powerful presence rather than a lack or emptiness, and then builds on this to explore the ethical significance of the face-to-face encounter in his thought as one of solidarity rather than obligation. In the last part of the book, Mazis traces the development of what he calls "physiognomic imagination" in Merleau-Ponty's work. This understanding of imagination is not fancy or make-believe, but rather brings out the depths of perceptual meaning and leads to an appreciation of poetic language as the key to revitalizing both ethics and ontology. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty's published works, lecture notes, unpublished writings, and the work of many phenomenologists and Merleau-Ponty scholars, Mazis also offers incisive readings of Merleau-Ponty's work as it relates to that of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Gaston Bachelard, and Emmanuel Levinas.

Glen A. Mazis is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Penn State Harrisburg. He is the author of Earthbodies: Rediscovering Our Planetary Senses and Humans, Animals, Machines: Blurring Boundaries, both also published by SUNY Press.


"Mazis has written an ambitious, highly interesting, and cohesive book that introduces an often-missed element of the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty in an easily readable form. " — Journal of Phenomenological Psychology