Meditating on Husserl’s theory of intersubjectivity in The Visible and the Invisible, Maurice Merleau-Ponty sketched unique insights into the problems of human community and history as key concepts for the phenomenological investigation. Marc Richir attentively explored these philosophical insights over several decades, and remained deeply influenced in the development of his own phenomenological theory by Merleau-Ponty’s subtle reading of Husserl. In my paper, I will examine Richir’s reading of Merleau-Ponty in the 1990’s, in order to clarify his understanding of the problem of the phenomenological community and of its history. I will start by discussing Richir’s paper “The Meaning of Phenomenology in The Visible and the Invisible” with the scope of highlighting the general direction of Richir’s reading of Merleau-Ponty. I will focus next on Richir’s study “Community, Society and History in the later Merleau-Ponty,” in order to compare Merleau-Ponty’s and Richir’s viewpoints on the problem of the phenomenological community. I will end by returning to The Visible and the Invisible to discuss the problem of sense-sedimentation in a savage history.
For Richir, Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy offers unique elaborations of this historicity of meaning revealed for the first time in Husserl’s theory of passivity. While Husserl’s late phenomenology speaks about the plurality of horizons involved in every perception, Richir highlights the uncontrollable character of this plurality, ultimately related to a plurality of different worlds, which are contingently intertwined in their manifestation. Merleau-Ponty’s late phenomenology is, thus, a guide in thinking the contingent character of human encounter and the cosmic historicity of its phenomenological meaning, exploring the chiasm as the core of an experience whose ownership is ever disputable, as the sense of my experience can only be discovered by the other, while their own take on experience starts to make sense only when I participate in it as well. The “communitization” (Urgemeinshaftung) of experiences captures the ever-reversible process of sense-making, in which I cannot possibly understand myself without the other. Yet, the reversibility of the human encounter depends on the substitutability of its meaning, in its uncontrollable propagation and mutation, made possible by the hollows that are articulating the connection of my life to the life of the other, by an inner lacuna that never perfectly corresponds to the lacunae of the other. What we are lacking, thus, creates a contrast with what the other is lacking, generating a “perspective multiplicity,” motivated by the way, in which the hollows of my life—zones of lack, of self-ignorance, or of neglect—get projected into the hollows of the life of the other, making possible movements of mutual curiosity articulated in the “connective tissue” contingently created by each human encounter from the shreds of absence we passively gather and confront.