Divergencies of Perception (Pehmeäkantinen kirja)

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Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) has been known as the philosopher of painting. His interest in the theory of perception intertwined with the questions concerning the artist s perception, the experience of an artwork and the possible interpretations of the artwork. For him, aesthetics was not a sub-field of philosophy, and art was not simply a subject matter for the aesthetic experience, but a form of thinking.

This study proposes an opening for a dialogue between Merleau-Pontian phenomenology and contemporary art. The thesis examines his phenomenology through certain works of contemporary art and presents readings of these artworks through his phenomenology. The thesis both shows the potentiality of a method, but also engages in the critical task of finding the possible limitations of his approach.

The first part lays out the methodological and conceptual points of departure of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological approach to perception as well as the features that determined his discussion on encountering art. Merleau-Ponty referred to the experience of perceiving art using the notion of seeing with (voir selon). He stressed a correlative reciprocity described in Eye and Mind (1961) as the switching of the roles of the visible and the painter.

The choice of artworks is motivated by certain restrictions in the phenomenological readings of visual arts. The examined works include paintings by Tiina Mielonen, a photographic work by Christian Mayer, a film by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, and an installation by Monika Sosnowska. These works resonate with, and challenge, his phenomenological approach.

The chapters with case studies take up different themes that are central to Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology: space, movement, time, and touch. All of the themes are interlinked with the examined artworks. There are also topics that reappear in the thesis, such as the notion of écart and the question of encountering the other.

As Merleau-Ponty argued, the sphere of art has a particular capability to address our being in the world. The thesis presents an interpretation that emphasises the notion of ecart, which refers to an experience of divergence or dispossession. The sudden dissociation, surprise or rupture that is needed in order for a meeting between the spectator and the artwork, or between two persons, to be possible. Further, the thesis suggests that through artworks it is possible to take into consideration the ecart, the divergence, that defines our subjectivity.
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