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The Dialogue of Creative Expression: Of Rhythm and Flesh

Shanna Mumm


Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Léopold Sédar Senghor present philosophies that expose a similar underlying intention: that of promoting an alternative to the Cartesian “I think therefore I am†way of being-in-the-world (to use Heidegger’s term). The cultural contexts from which the two were interpreting the world differ greatly, yet for both philosophers the manner in which humans exist in the world informs particular creative expression. Both philosophers posit that the act of creation—African masks of Senghor and painting for Merleau-Ponty—captures and presents a deeper, truer version of reality. For these scholars, the artist has a particular ability to reach the underlying force that makes Being appear. For Senghor this vital force is made up of rhythm. Merleau-Ponty calls the intertwining element that interconnects all of existence the Flesh. In this article, I will examine the similarities and differences between the two terms used by each philosopher to describe the underlying unifying element, an element that intertwines, links, unites humans with the world: rhythm or vital force and the flesh. Though these two thinkers do not directly state the reason for this gift, based on the fact that they both, at the very core of their thought, critique an over-emphasis of Cartesian reason, we can surmise that relying too heavily on analytic and/or scientific methods of understanding will lead to nothing more than an incomplete, surface understanding of being-in-the-world. Philosophy, like art, can bring about this actualization of truth. The ultimate goal, I propose, should be for the actualization of truth, through art and philosophy, to be possible for all people as it entails an awareness of being-in-the-world that is deeper, fuller and less antagonistic than the way in which many humans currently exist.


Philosophy; Epistemology; Universalism; Art; Painting; Vitalism; Rhythm

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Journal on African Philosophy. ISSN: 1533-1067 (online).
Editor: Olufemi Taiwo.

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