The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language

The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language

The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language

The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language

Synopsis

Today we urgently need to reevaluate the human place in the world in relation to other animals. This book puts Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophy into dialogue with literature, evolutionary biology, and animal studies. In a radical departure from most critical animal studies, it argues for evolutionary continuity between human cultural and linguistic behaviors and the semiotic activities of other animals. In his late work, Derrida complained of philosophers who denied that animals possessed such faculties, but he never investigated the wealth of scientific studies of actual animal behavior. Most animal studies theorists still fail to do this. Yet more than fifty years ago, Merleau-Ponty carefully examined the philosophical consequences of scientific animal studies, with profound implications for human language and culture. For him, "animality is the logos of the sensible world: an incorporated meaning." Human being is inseparable from animality. This book differs from other studies of Merleau-Ponty by emphasizing his lifelong attention to science. It shows how his attention to evolutionary biology and ethology anticipated recent studies of animal cognition, culture, and communication.

Excerpt

Playwright Eugene Ionesco described archaic humans as living in “a time, long, long ago, when the world seemed to man to be so charged with meanings that he didn’t have time to ask himself questions, the manifestation was so spectacular.” He claimed that at some point closer to our own era, a break occurred and we lost that sense of plenitude. “We were abandoned to ourselves, to our solitude, to our fear, and the problem was born. What is the world? Who are we?” Similarly, Jacques Derrida asked at the end of his career, “Who am I?” and thus recast Montaigne’s famous question of “What do I know?” Derrida’s skepticism reaches into the center of humanist confidence in the grand place of Homo sapiens at the top of creation. Why did Derrida suddenly devote the last years of his philosophical life to the question of our place among all the other animals? Humanity now covers the earth and seems to dominate its being, but growing awareness of ecological devastation of landscapes and species, even of the vast seas, ice-bound poles, and the climate, lends urgency to the reevaluation of human status that twentiethcentury philosophers and environmentalists have demanded. Cary Wolfe sees the humanities as having been left behind in a radical reevaluation of our relation to nonhuman animals that has taken place in popular culture and indeed in many scientific disciplines. The present work offers an interdisciplinary ecocritical argument that phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty actually began such . . .

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