From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (March 14, 1908 – May 4, 1961) was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl. Merleau-Ponty was closely associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and influenced by Martin Heidegger, but his philosophy tended to focus on the phenomenological and corporeal foundations of perception.
The highlighting of the fact that corporeity intrinsically has a dimension of expressivity which proves to be fundamental to the constitution of the ego is one of the conclusions of The Structure of Behavior that is constantly reiterated in Merleau-Ponty's later works. Following this theme of expressivity, he goes on to examine how an incarnate subject is in a position to undertake actions that transcend the organic level of the body, such as in intellectual operations and the products of one's cultural life.
He carefully considers language, then, as the core of culture, by examining in particular the connections between the unfolding of thought and sense - enriching his perspective not only by an analysis of the acquisition of language and the expressivity of the body, but also by taking into account pathologies of language, painting, cinema, literature, poetry and song.
This work deals mainly with language, beginning with the reflection on artistic expression in The Structure of Behavior - which contains a passage on El Greco (p. 203ff) that prefigures the remarks that he develops in "Cézanne's Doubt" (1945) and follows the discussion in Phenomenology of Perception. The work undertaken while serving as the Chair of Child Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of the Sorbonne is not a departure from his philosophical and phenomenological works, but are an important continuation in the development of his thought.
As the course outlines of his Sorbonne lectures indicate, during this period he continues a dialogue between phenomenology and the diverse work carried out in psychology, all in order to return to the study of the acquisition of language in children, as well as to broadly take advantage of the contribution of Ferdinand de Saussure to linguistics, and to work on the notion of structure through a discussion of work in psychology, linguistics and social anthropology.