Silence and phenomenology: The movement between nature and language in Merleau-Ponty, Proust, and Schelling
Williams, Sean, 1980-
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Williams, Sean, 1980-
The question of the present study concerns the relationship between language and nature as it has been taken up in the history of Western philosophy. The goal of this study is to show how language and nature are held together by thinking the transition between them, through the figure of silence. I will show this by drawing primarily on the work of Merleau-Ponty, who, as a phenomenologist expressly concerned with the senses, the body, and language, attempted to describe and understand the passage between language and nature in a manner that could maintain their ontological continuity. Silence was the hinge of this passage, in which language, in its emergence from the silence of nature, turns back to disclose nature as already expression. Merleau-Ponty's late interrogation into how philosophical language might both emerge from and return to silence turned on the example of Proust's literary language. This study will also draw on Proust's meta-novelistic awakening to his literary calling, as it is recounted near the end of Le Temps Retrouvé, which discusses explicitly how Proust's language makes a turn through silence in order to emerge as literature. This provides an example of the emergence which Merleau-Ponty describes. I will then make the case that Merleau-Ponty's late philosophy can be read as the thinking of being as nature, and that it begins to think how language roots human beings in nature as it blossoms out of nature's soil. I will show how Merleau-Ponty repeats a structure of thought traversed by Schelling in his essay on freedom, which will further show how philosophical attention to language discloses nature as a radical excess. Finally, I will discuss how the negotiation between language, nature, and silence, as it is practiced by Merleau-Ponty, Proust, and Schelling, is another turn in a long story of the human place in language and in nature, a story which is at least as old as the mythical thought of ancient Greece.