Art and aesthetics
Unlike his erstwhile friend Jean-Paul Sartre, Merleau-Ponty was neither a playwright nor a novelist. However, as a philosopher of perception, he would often comment on the various arts, especially poetry, painting, music and film, the artists who created them, and the experience of understanding them. Sartre had already written about the imagination as distinct from perception and expression in Imagination (1936) and The Psychology of Imagination (1940), but also in Being and Nothingness (1943). Sartre had already published his first novel Nausea (1938) and, during the war, several plays: No Exit, The Flies, Dirty Hands. Meanwhile in 1939, Merleau-Ponty completed The Structure of Behavior (1942), in which there is hardly a mention of aesthetic matters. By contrast, his Phenomenology of Perception (1945) is interfused with passing references to Cézanne and Van Gogh, to Proust, Balzac, Valéry and Stendhal, and to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and its musical performance.