“Under the masks, there are no faces: historical man has never been man, and yet, no man is alone.” This article questions the meaning and the ethical stakes of this Merleau-Pontian affirmation articulated in the preface of Signs. Beginning with the enigmatic and very worrisome character of this thesis, and while noticing its resonance with Deleuzian affirmations in Difference and Repetition—“masks recover nothing apart from other masks”—we wanted to explore the possibility of taking seriously the Merleau-Pontian formula and to give it meaning as a theory of ethically productive simulacra. The context, a dialogue between Sartre and Nizan regarding disenchantment, despondency and new ethical as well as political perspectives, immediately projects us toward the thought of adversity and the inseparable aporias in the encounter with the Other. Equally, it permits us to enter with Merleau-Ponty into a search for a political and ethical theory of the community that is not exclusive to radical alterity. Starting from an analysis of the concept of masks and its occurrences in the works of Merleau-Ponty, we show that all image is essentially first an ontological mask; that is to say, one that does not copy nor recovers a more authentic reality. The formulation in Signs which interests us immediately reveals the dramatic ethical dimension of this ontology. That which is a cause is a hyper-crisis, a thought of the damage and the rupture of meaning. How does one act when all being is evasive and other than oneself? We would like to show that what surfaces in Merleau-Ponty’s work is a tension between a primary practical solution centered on faith and a second path “centered”, if we can say this, on the turbulent temporality of the institution. These two practical issues, which are not so explicitly circumscribed by Merleau-Ponty, but which rather reveal themselves from text to text in somewhat intermingled and sometimes incompatible forms must be carefully distinguished. The first, the solution of faith, makes too little of the falsifying character of the Urdoxa and the dangers of an action that is not concerned with the mystification and biases on which, perhaps, it rests. The second, the path of the institution, does not attempt to surmount the vertigo, but nevertheless manages to hold the advantage. The masks, understood essentially as “instituted”, which at the same time clarify the meaning of the Merleau-Pontian notion of the institution, are able to rediscover an ethical role: passing from mask to mask without ever uncovering a face or, stated otherwise, responding side by side, is nevertheless a response. Moreover, this might provide an even better response and possible understanding since the masks themselves, as institutions, are proximate viewfinders which indefinitely reclaim new recoveries and which have the ability to link up with each other in a never-ending structure of dialogue regarding “reinstitutions” (Nachstiftungen) despite being undermined by the opacity of self and other. The simulacra can also become as they are in themselves a greatest chance: vehicles of radical alterity and communication, but uninterrupted. This theory, elaborated from the theses and analyses of Merleau-Ponty, gives way to experiences of shock, but, at the same time and without contradiction, to the right to insist further, without tenderness, on the happy nature of being instead of opening itself up to the misosophie that Deleuze will develop.

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