In 1949, four years after the publication of his great work Phenomenology of Perception and the cofounding, with Jean-Paul Sartre, of the influential journal Les temps modemes, Maurice Merleau-Ponty left his position as a professor of philosophy at the University of Lyon and moved to the chair of psychology and pedagogy at the Sorbonne. He remained in this position until 1952, when he took up a chair at the College de France, which he held until his premature death in 1961.
Student notes of the lectures Merleau-Ponty delivered at the Sorbonne were compiled and given to him to review. Subsequently they were published in the Bulletin de psychologie (formerly called Bulletin du Groupe deludes de psychologie de Vuniversite de Paris) every few weeks from 1949 to 1952. In 1964 the Bulletin de psychologie gathered the first seven sets of course lecture notes and published them in full as “Maurice Merleau-Ponty a la Sorbonne: Resume de se cours etabli par des etudiants et approuvc par lui-memc.” In 1988 Cynara published a complete edition of all eight lectures as Meileau-Ponty a la Sorbonne: Resume de cours 1949-1952, and in 2001 Editions Verdier again published the lectures under the title Psychologie et pedagogic de Venfant: Cours de Sorbonne 1949-1952. It is this last text that appears in translation here.
Complete English editions of the first and last lectures have previously appeared as Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, translated by Hugh J. Silverman, and “The Experience of Others,” translated by Fred Evans and Hugh J. Silverman. In addition, the text The Primacy of Perception contains two of the Sorbonne lectures, “The Child’s Relation with Others,” translated by William Cobb, and “Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man,” translated byjohn Wild. The reader will note substantial differences between the lectures in The Primacy of Perception and those contained herein as “The Child’s Relations with Others” and “Human Sciences and Phenomenology.” Cobb and Wild based their translations on material provided by the Center of University Documentation and not the material that appeared in the post-1964 French editions.
The first lecture and the last pages of the last lecture in Child Psychology and Pedagogy: The Sorbonne Lectures 1949-1952 discuss childhood language acquisition. But in between, we find discussions of an extraordinary range of topics, including acting and the role of the stage, Lacanian psychoanalysis, the anthropology of South Sea island peoples, Husserlian phenomenology, the impact of institutionalization on children, aphasia, Piaget’s child psychology, children’s interpretation of magic, and scxual development. Merleau-Ponty refers to hundreds of psychological, philosophical, and anthropological texts. Since these lectures were designed to teach students material needed for exams, the content in large part consists of detailed discussions of various texts.
At times Merleau-Ponty appears to be simply providing a summary of these works for the students, and at other times he analyzes these texts critically, advancing one author’s work over another’s and presenting his own interpretation. Given the length and scope of the lectures, this introduction will not serve as a comprehensive synopsis of the lectures themselves, but will instead serve to highlight some of the points where Merlcau-Ponty provides us with a unique perspective not only on child psychology’ but on the human condition itself.
Merleau-Ponty writes extensively about psychoanalysis in the Sor-bonne lectures. Alongside Gestalt theory, psychoanalysis provides us with significant insight in replying to reductionist accounts of child development. Properly conceived, psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology’ investigate the full complexity of the child-adult relationship. Merleau-Ponty distinguishes a “broad” conception of psychoanalysis versus a “narrow” one and, while acknowledging that Freud’s theory supports both, sides with the former.
Broad psychoanalysis agrees that infantile traumas might never be overcome but nonetheless infantile history does not determine all future behavior. Psychoanalysis in the narrow sense is Freudian theory that assumes all pathological behavior is caused by infantile traumas that have become repressed and buried in the adult’s unconscious. Merleau-Ponty argues against the theory that the Oedipus complex is a universal stage of childhood experience and that it universally determines adult experience. Instead, he draws upon anthropological studies that suggest that some societies, given their radically different styles of child-rearing, do not have Oedipal tensions in their populace…
1. Consciousness and Language Acquisition (1949-1950)
2. The Adult’s View of the Child (1949-1950)
3. Structure and Conflicts in Child Consciousness (1949-1950)
4. Child Psycho-Sociology (1950-1951)
5. The Child’s Relations with Others (1950-1951)
6. Human Sciences and Phenomenology (1950-1952)
7. Method in Child Psychology (1951-1952)
8. The Experience of Others (1951-1952)
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