Merleau-Ponty: Institution – Ontology – Politics

September 26-27, 2022 | UNIVERSIDADE DE LISBOA

Over the past three decades, Merleau-Ponty´s canonical texts, such as the Structure of Behaviour and Phenomenology of Perception, have been profoundly revisited and have been erected as example of Merleau-Ponty´s original and decisive influence on contemporary philosophy. This has been felt not only within the phenomenological tradition, but it has also provided a solid philosophical groundwork for the development of cognitive sciences (4E’s, situated and embodied cognition) and for other disciplines within the social sciences and humanities (psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, cultural studies, etc.). However, less has been said about the unity and purpose of his ongoing philosophical project started in the mid-1950s and suddenly interrupted in 1961 at the time of Merleau-Ponty’s death. 
Until only recently, with his unedited courses in the process of publication, alongside his treatise dedicated to painting, The Eye and the Spirit, the only other available source to assess the state of his research was the unfinished book project The Visible and the Invisible. In spite of the unsystematic nature of the notes, as well as being an incomplete draft, this text allowed us to prefigure the development of his thought. It is generally accepted among scholars that Merleau-Ponty’s work experienced an important reorientation in the early 1950s, after his appointment at the Collège de France. Testimony of this transformation can be identified in the abandoned project of The Prose of the World, which remained unfinished and unpublished. The seminars also show an increasing and steady transformation of his philosophy, pushing forward the limits of Husserlian phenomenology and engaging in deep debates with the philosophies of Schelling, Sartre, Marx and Freud, among others. Yet, this was not a rupture, but an expansion of the scope of previous ontological problems, which resulted in a radical inscription of dialectics within phenomenology. Among these profound re-elaborations, we can identify: the historicity and political depth of the advent of meaning in his appropriation of the Husserlian notion of Stiftung (relabeled as ‘Institution’); or the increasing consideration of animality, passivity and feeling that highlights a displacement from his previous emphasis on the body-subject in Phenomenology of Perception and opens up the path toward his later notion of “flesh” in The Visible and the Invisible.

Originally conceived to mark the 60th anniversary of Merleau-Ponty´s death, this event had to be postponed due to the pandemic. The international conference Merleau-Ponty: Institution-Ontology-Politics aims at launching a fresh view on Merleau-Ponty’s late works, courses and published and unpublished materials, in order to assess his legacy and potentiality beyond the frontiers of phenomenology and to broaden the scope of his philosophical influence. Thus, the conference seeks to bring scholars together to explore the not-always-obvious connections of his late work with other disciplines such us political philosophy, social ontology, aesthetics, critical theory or cultural studies. We are particularly interested in contributions that engage with Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy. Given this, suitable topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Merleau-Ponty’s notion of ‘Institution‘ and Husserl’s ‘Stiftung
  • Philosophical and phenomenological considerations of Merleau-Ponty’s unfinished project
  • The late works of Merleau-Ponty and its potential for aesthetics, the arts and artistic research
  • Institution and politics
  • Imagination and institution
  • The political resonance of the late works of Merleau-Ponty
  • Reception and influence of Merleau-Ponty’s late works in contemporary social and political philosophy
  • Aesthetics, politics, and ontology in Merleau-Pontian key
  • Ontology of nature and political thought
  • Merleau-Ponty and Marxism
  • The importance of dialectics in Merleau-Ponty’s late works
  • History, historicity, and freedom
  • Institution, (in)visibility and politics
  • Passivity and the unconscious
  • Ontology and politics from a Merleau-Pontian standpoint
  • The late Merleau-Ponty and critical phenomenology
  • Explorations and contrasts of Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy with the notion of “ontogenesis”

We welcome proposals for academic contributions that speak to the concerns of the conference as outlined above. Each speaker will have 25 min. for presentation, followed by 15 min. of questions and discussion. Interested speakers should submit a 400-words abstract, accompanied by a short biographical note (max. 150 words), to by the 31st of May. Selected submissions will be confirmed before mid-June. The conference has been conceived as a two-day in-person event, but if the number of quality submissions exceeds expectations, a third day may be added. The conference will be held in English and both register and attendance are free.