Anonymity and personhood

Merleau-Ponty's account of the subject of perception

Sara Heinämaa

pp. 123-142

Several commentators have argued that with his concept of anonymity Merleau-Ponty breaks away from classical Husserlian phenomenology that is methodologically tied to the first person perspective. Many contemporary commentators see Merleau-Ponty's discourse on anonymity as a break away from Husserl's framework that is seen as hopelessly subjectivistic and solipsistic. Some judge and reproach it as a disastrous misunderstanding that leads to a confusion of philosophical and empirical concerns. Both parties agree that Merleau-Ponty's concepts of anonymity mark a divergence from classical Husserlian phenomenology. I will question this view and demonstrate that Merleau-Ponty's discourse on anonymity remains Husserlian in two important senses: (1) it analyses senses in terms of constituting selves and communities of such selves, and (2) it accounts for the formation of experience by the temporal sedimentation of intentional activity. The argument proceeds in four steps. The first section argues against the widely spread notion according to which Merleau-Ponty's anonymous subject is collective. In the second section, I offer an alternative reading by demonstrating that Merleau-Ponty uses the term "anonymous" primarily to characterize the lived body of a personal subject. In section three, I introduce Merleau-Ponty's idea of trace and show that for him both the perceived thing and the perceiving body are traces and as such refer to earlier constitutive acts of alien subjects. I then argue that Husserl's concepts of sedimentation are crucial for the understanding of this idea. Finally, in section four, I show how Husserl's theory of depresentation informs Merleau-Ponty's discourse on anonymity.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-015-9329-1

Full citation:

Heinämaa, S. (2015). Anonymity and personhood: Merleau-Ponty's account of the subject of perception. Continental Philosophy Review 48 (2), pp. 123-142.

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