Phenomenology and the Imagination of Modernism

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Modernist isual art and literature are charged with reflection on the processes of perception highly relevant to the project of phenomenology. In this essay I will demonstrate how phenomenology as developed by Merleau-Ponty can contribute to a novel understanding of imagination as reflectively manifest in modernist art. Merleau-Ponty’s involvement with modernism includes Cézanne and other painters who afford phenomenological examination of the relations between perception and expression. An analysis of these relations demonstrate Merleau-Ponty’s radical, if often implicit, revision of traditional conceptions of imagination, both borrowing and diverging from his phenomenological predecessor Husserl, and offering a striking alternative to Sartre’s account. Offered here is a reconception of imagination in light of Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodied and expressive perception. To what extent Merleau-Ponty’s modernist imagination can relate forms of abstraction that predominate in the wake of Cézanne will be addressed in conclusion.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding Merleau-Ponty, Understanding Modernism
EditorsAriane Mildenberg
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2018

Publication series

NameUnderstanding Philosophy, Understanding Modernism


  • Merleau-Ponty, Modernism, modernism, Imagination, imagination, phenomenology, Phenomenology, Cézanne, Cezanne, Husserl, visual art, literature, painting, Literature