© Leonard Lawlor and Figure/Ground
Dr. Lawlor was interviewed by Laureano Ralón. Figure/Ground, December 11th, 2017
I think there is something to be said – a clarification at least – with regards to that comment by Foucault, which says something along the lines that The Logic of Sense and Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception are as unlikely as they can be. I’m thinking it may be useful to address Foucault’s comment in the context of your attempt to build bridges between phenomenology and Deleuzian thinking…
This is an important point. Foucault’s comment, in “Theatrum Philosophicum,” supports the belief that Deleuze is not a phenomenologist. However, we should notice that Foucault compares Deleuze’s works to Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. By the time he was writing The Visible and the Invisible in the late 1950s, Merleau-Ponty was already distancing himself from the Phenomenology of Perception. There several famous working notes to The Visible and the Invisible where Merleau-Ponty criticizes his earlier work. The criticisms basically amount to saying the Phenomenology of Perception is too subjectivist, especially when the book speaks of the tacit cogito. What distinguishes Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense from the Phenomenology of Perception is their anti-subjectivist positions. I’m relatively confident that it is this opposition between subjectivism and anti-subjectivism that Foucault has in mind when he makes his statement. More precisely, what we see in Deleuze’s important early works is, first, that the “I” (“the cogito,” whether tacit or not) is based on a more fundamental process of time, the three syntheses, the first two of which are unconscious (Chapter Two of Difference and Repetition contains a long discussion of Freud); and then, second, in Logic of Sense, that the agency of sense is based in a prior agency called non-sense. In his early works, Merleau-Ponty speaks a lot about non-sense, but he seems to mean something like the absurd (as in Camus). Non-sense in Deleuze is a structure that generates sense. The point I want to make, however, is that the later Merleau-Ponty – the one who works at the limits of phenomenology – is close to these Deleuzian positions. The final Merleau-Ponty is the thinker of silence, which resembles non-sense, and he is the thinker of institution, meaning a historical process or structure (Merleau-Ponty of course loves the cave paintings at Lascaux) that opens up a tradition, in other words, that opens up a sense or direction for thought. Therefore, I think Merleau-Ponty himself would agree with Foucault’s statement. But I think he would be more resistant to seeing a vast distance between the final form of his thought and Deleuze’s thought. There is no question in my mind that Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” influences Deleuze in Difference and Repetition when Deleuze speaks of depth.