If Merleau-Pontian analyses – notably the analyses of the body – are, today, frequently used in post-colonial studies, sufficient attention was not always paid to the importance that the confrontation with the reality of colonialism had for his thought in the course of various travels during the mid-1950’s. This article is concerned, in particular, with shedding light on the exemplary role that the confrontation with the reality of Madagascar in 1957 could have had, and its effects in return on quite a number of philosophical and political categories. More than a historical reconstruction of the circumstances of that journey, the article focuses on three central notions whose dialectical nature is made apparent by this “experience of the foreign”: the notions of alterity, universality, and self-determination. Alterity is no longer a frontal relation, but results from an experience of “decentering,” universality must be problematized in the direction of a “lateral universality,” and the very idea of self-determination raises questions as much political as ontological. In the struggle for an immediate independence for the colonies, Merleau-Ponty senses the specter of a liberal thought that conceals the relations of dependence that persist in other forms.

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