Today there is an urgent need to reevaluate the human place in the world in relation to other animals. The Logos of the Living World explores complementary developments in a number of related disciplines, putting Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophy into dialogue with literature, evolutionary biology and animal studies. In a radical departure from most critical animal studies, it argues for evolutionary continuity between human cultural and linguistic behaviors and the semiotic activities of other animals.
In his late work, Derrida complained of philosophers who denied that animals possessed such faculties but never bothered to investigate the wealth of scientific studies of actual animal behavior. Most animal studies theorists still fail to do this. Yet more than fifty years ago, Merleau-Ponty carefully examined the philosophical consequences of scientific animal studies, with profound implications for human language and culture. For him, "animality is the logos of the sensible world: an incorporated meaning." Human being is inseparable from animality.
The Logos of the Living World differs from other studies of Merleau-Ponty's work by emphasizing his lifelong attention to science and shows how his attention to evolutionary biology and ethology anticipated recent studies of animal cognition, culture and communication. It also explores literary questioning of human-animal relations from The Epic of Gilgamesh and Euripides' Bacchae to Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Merleau-Ponty saw literature and art as part of a continuum including communicative and aesthetic behaviors of many other organisms. His thinking about language anticipated recent scientific studies of animal semiotic behavior, cognitive neuroscience, and research on the evolution of language.
His work contributes new philosophical and scientific emphasis to cultural studies of the animal question by previous writers such as Donna Haraway and Cary Wolfe and to literary criticism such as Philip Armstrong's What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity and Susan McHugh's Animal Stories: Narrating Across Species Lines.
"We are in the midst of a profound change, affecting both science and philosophy, in our ways of understanding the natural and cultural worlds. Louise Westling's important new book The Logos of the Living World shows us a part of the intertwining history of that change as it emerges not only in the natural history of our mythic life but also in the scientifically-informed work of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. What may appear retrospectively as Kuhnian "paradigm shifts" in the history of knowledge always have also an often semi-hidden history of continuities. Westling shows how those continuities appearing in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty are an important part of the path of inquiry which leads also to an understanding of the intelligence of the living world which finds its scientific expression in the development of biosemiotics. The Logos of the Living World is essential reading for all those interested in the science and philosophy which will emerge from the wreckage of the dominant but exhausted assumptions of Western modernity."
– Wendy Wheeler, author of The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics, and the Evolution of Culture
"A luminous and wide-ranging inquiry into biosemiotic expression as the distinguishing mark of cross-species affinity, informed by a searching interpretation of the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty as a model for conceiving that affinity. At both levels, The Logos of the Living World delivers significant fresh insights potentially of great significance for the future of ecocritcism."
– Lawrence Buell, Harvard University
"For the first time, I believe, this book supplies the proper larger context of interdisciplinary work where Merleau-Ponty's insights take on their full meaning."
– Glen Mazis, Pennsylvania State University
"A central thesis of Louise Westling's highly accomplished and provocative The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language is that 'human language and aesthetic behaviors emerge from our animality.' What is perhaps most compelling about her thesis is that she supports it by exploring how an evolutionary continuity between an always already languaged world and human being-in-the-world can be understood without having to employ dangerous (il) logic of social Darwinism or some schools of evolutionary psychology and without having to serve as yet another iteration of a naive 'metaphysical of presence'."
1. A Philosophy of Life
2. Animal Kin
3. Language Is Everywhere
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Louise Westling is Professor of English and Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon.