The intercorporeal self: merleau-Ponty on subjectivity

Marratto, Scott L.
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University of Guelph

In this thesis, I develop an interpretation of Merleau-Ponty's notion of subjectivity with particular reference to the 'Phenomenology of Perception'. Merleau-Ponty criticizes a certain Cartesian inheritance in the modern philosophical tradition, while at the same time criticizing the naturalistic reductionism prevalent in many contemporary approaches to the philosophy of mind. That is to say, he claims, at once, that the thinking subject is necessarily an incarnate subject 'and' that the body (or bodily behavior) is the very matrix of intelligence and meaning. In this sense, Merleau-Ponty's philosophy seems to assert the primacy of the ' relation' between a perceiving body and its surrounding world. Merleau-Ponty's philosophy pointedly aims to avoid any kind of reification of the subject, either as a mind 'or' as a body, and, instead, seeks to understand subjectivity as a dynamic and open-ended process of emergence. I pay particular concern to Merleau-Ponty's analyses of movement, sensation, and expression. Subjectivity emerges with the emergence of meaning in the world on the basis of the self-articulating character of living movement. Meaning emerges in living, expressive, movement, but the order of meaning ('sens') that movement inaugurates cannot fully absorb the facticity of the movement's own contingent beginnings. Thus, what Merleau-Ponty calls 'perceptual meaning' arises on the basis of a dynamic that is, as it were, older than subjective 'consciousness'. As a reflectively self-conscious subject, then, I am always haunted by a pre-history that both is, and is not, mine. This pre-history is, for consciousness, an absent origin that haunts it in its present experience; it is the original past of the sentient body. Thus, the concept of subjectivity, in 'Phenomenology of Perception ', anticipates the project that Merleau-Ponty later describes as 'the ontological rehabilitation of the sensible.' As a sentient subject, I ceaselessly take up a responsive activity that is older than my consciousness. And because the movement whereby the sensible reveals itself is, according to Merleau-Ponty, fundamentally 'expressive' movement, the manifestation of the sensible is, at the same time, expression, language, and the emergence of self-consciousness.

Merleau-Ponty, Phemomenology of Perception, Intercorporeal self, Subjectivity, Naturalistic reductionism