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A Phenomenology of ‘The Other World’: On Irigaray’s ‘To Paint the Invisible'
Chiasmi International (2008)
  • Helen A Fielding

As we know, Merleau-Ponty was struggling with a dynamic shift in his thinking at the premature end of his life.  In those last notes he raises the question of how to elaborate a phenomenology of “’the other world’, as the limit of a phenomenology of the imaginary and the ‘hidden’”—a phenomenology that would open onto an invisible life, community, other and culture (VI, Jan. 1960).  In her essay on “Eye and Mind”, “To Paint the Invisible”, Luce Irigaray shows why Merleau-Ponty was not yet ready to address this question, why he was not yet ready to engage the limits of his vision posed by the presence of an other. Against Merleau-Ponty’s assertion that the artist has no other task than to bring to appearance the world in the way he corporeally encounters it employing no “other technique than what his eyes and hands discover in seeing and painting”, Irigaray argues that the painter as phenomenologist then appropriates what is other to his vision without reflecting upon a limit to vision, as well as the limit provided by the invisible of an other, an other world. This is not to say that there are no intertwinings with this other, for there are other metabolisms with which we engage the world. Moreover, the sharing of vision with an other can alter the ways I see, challenging cultural complicity, rather than providing evidence that we share the same world. Irigaray is of course not the first to challenge a phenomenological approach to art and to vision—and here I turn specifically to Gilles Deleuze—who is critical of the phenomenological tendency to take on a world given to us by others. His artist, Francis Bacon, focuses on the sensation, which remains unmediated by narration or the feelings of others. Finally, the artworks of abstract expressionist artist Joan Mitchell are considered in the ways that they open up a different time-space; they suggest an other world with which we intertwine without appropriation. Her works, I argue, defy reduction to essences, but also do not rely merely on sensation—for this reason they point in the direction of how to think phenomenology anew. For I do think Merleau-Ponty would be open to these conversations, to these other worlds and other visions.
  • Merleau-Ponty,
  • Irigaray,
  • Joan Mitchell,
  • Deleuze,
  • Painting,
  • invisible
Publication Date
Publisher Statement
author's postprint can be posted
Citation Information
Helen A. Fielding, “A Phenomenology of the Other World’: On Irigaray’s ‘To Paint the Invisible’, Chiasmi International: Trilingual Studies Concerning Merleau-Ponty’s Thought. Volume title: Architecture and other institutions of Life. Vol. 9 (2008): 233-248.