Uncanny Errors, Productive Contresens. Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenological Appropriation of Ferdinand de Saussure’s General Linguistics

Chiasmi International 15:151-165 (2013)
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Abstract
Stawarska considers the ambiguities surrounding the antagonism between the phenomenological and the structuralist traditions by pointing out that the supposed foundation of structuralism, the Course in General Linguistics, was ghostwritten posthumously by two editors who projected a dogmatic doctrine onto Saussure’s lectures, while the authentic materials related to Saussure’s linguistics are teeming with phenomenological references. She then narrows the focus to Merleau-Ponty’s engagement with Saussure’s linguistics and argues that it offers an unusual, if not an uncanny, reading of the Course, in that it identifies a phenomenological dimension within the text, against the grain of the dominant structuralist claim. This phenomenological dimension is corroborated by the authentic sources of Saussure’s linguistics, even though the latter were beyond the philosopher’s own power to know. Merleau-Ponty’s unorthodox reading of the Course as being broadly compatible with the tradition of Husserlian phenomenology has been dismissed as an error and a contresens , but Stawarska proposes that such deviant appropriations of foundational texts are the ones to cherish the most, since they effectively dismantle the received dogmas and official doctrines stuffing the cabinets of canonical philosophy. She argues specifically that Merleau-Ponty’s contested distinction between “a synchronic linguistics of speech ” and “a diachronic linguistics of language ” , which gives primacy to la parole over la langue, and raises the possibility of a systematic study of la parole, contains a more faithful response to Saussure’s own project than the received structuralist view that la langue alone constitutes the proper object of linguistic study
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