Dear Members of the Merleau-Ponty Circle,
We are very sad to share news of the passing of Véronique Fóti, a dedicated scholar of Merleau-Ponty, art, life, and beauty who was a longstanding and influential participant in the Merleau-Ponty Circle. Members of the Circle who attended the 2016 conference at Brock will recall that she offered us insights on art both through her paper and an exhibit of her artworks, as ways of “Doing Philosophy from the Outside.” Those of you who did not have the chance to encounter in her person or hear her voice can watch her in the video Art and Aesthetics in and After Phenomenology of Perception (A Conversation in Five Parts), by Rajiv Kaushik, who hosted the conference above, and offers a moving memoriam of Véronique below. We post here also an announcement of her passing from Len Lawlor, head of her department—and we are working to gather online a gallery of images of her paintings as part of her way of thinking and living.
We will be remembering Véronique at the meeting of the Circle in Melbourne, if you would like to say some words or have thoughts to send us, please let us know.
David Morris & Kym Maclaren
Announcement from Len Lawlor
It is with great sadness that I share with you the news that our former colleague, Véronique Fóti, passed away recently. Véronique joined the Penn State Philosophy Department in 1985. She retired in 2013. Véronique is the author of many well-known books such as Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery (SUNY, 2021); Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty (Northwestern, 2013); Epochal Discord (SUNY, 2012); Vision’s Invisibles (SUNY, 2003), and Heidegger and the Poets (Humanities, 1992). Véronique received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston College in 1979, writing a dissertation on Descartes under the supervision of Jacques Taminiaux. She routinely taught graduate seminars on Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and aesthetics. Véronique was also a much-admired painter. For those of us who knew Véronique, her passing is a great loss.
Véronique Fóti: In Memoriam
by Rajiv Kaushik
One of the best years of my life was 2010. That year, at the Merleau-Ponty Circle, I met, among others, Galen Johnson, Mauro Carbone, and Véronique Fóti – three titans working on Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetical writings. I became friends with all of them, immediate friends with Véronique, and I think of my own thinking as intertwined with hers, almost impossible without hers. So it’s especially difficult to take in the news of her death.
What first comes to mind about Véronique is a comment my friend, Joe Sorbara, made about her. Joe made the music for our Phenomenology of Perception Around the World video, and at one point recorded himself playing underneath her speech. That was very easy to do, he said, because her speech was already so rhythmic, pulsing, on beat. To hear that, though, you’d have to listen close. You couldn’t be fooled by her apparent frailty or her overly soft voice. When she had something to say, she simply said it straightforwardly and pointedly. She was witty and searingly brilliant. I heard her complaints, of course – and lately there were many about life post-retirement – and she, in turn, heard and loved stories about my children. Her eyes would go wide when I told them.
I learned about the “fiery eye thesis” through her – the Greek idea that the eye is itself a light source which makes vision possible. In 2016, I asked Véronique and Ed Casey to give talks at the Merleau-Ponty Circle about their painting, and they even showed their work. Véronique’s talk was titled “On Strong Beauty” and it became a chapter in her book, the wonderful Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery. She meant by “strong beauty” a beauty that’s “refractory to possession” – a beauty that’s neither to behold nor anti-aesthetic – but “enigmatic elementality.” Her paintings turned out to be perfect examples. They’re mostly watercolours applied to Japanese paper, which is literally warmer to the touch than wood pulp paper. It’s also more fibrous, so it absorbs colour and transmits light better. Some of these paintings, like her Ginger Flowers, were not so much of the flowers themselves but oneiric and memorial. She told me:
“for instance, as no doubt you know, in South India women selling flowers for the hair lay them out on the sidewalks early morning – both jasmine and ginger… and I remember haggling with a seller of ginger flowers although I didn’t really care about the price and almost missing the bus taking me out of Mysore – and ultimately, by other means of transport, out of India – I did not want to leave.”
She didn’t want to leave what she saw but, lucky for us, she was able to write it, again straightforwardly and pointedly. She drew the details of leaves, flowers, and stems and wrote about their expressive capacities in Tracing Expression. During the pandemic she sent me yoga instructions to excercise my eyes, which were of course strained from the screen. Just another lesson in vision.