Alphonso Lingis on Merleau-Ponty: consciousness as movement-directed

Bikini_mosaicA special issue of the rather fantastic Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature [disclosure: I have an article coming out in the next issue] devoted to Alphonso Lingis has material including an interview a short original article, and the text of a public address. The article, ‘The Weight of Reality’, has his usual mixture of prose and philosophy, but in engaging with Merleau-Ponty he unusually critiques Husserl’s emphasis on the ocular in terms of explanations for perception. Instead, much of the ideas of ‘weight’ deal with a non-optical awareness of the muscular body, and (of course) M-P’s idea of the ‘body schema’. But Lingis (well, I am going to call him ‘Al’ since I’ve met him numerous times and also stayed in his beautiful house!) underlines the kinesthetic basis for perception in M-P’s “postural schema”. This is a nice summary then of what M-P is trying to do:

Yet my intentional consciousness, Merleau-Ponty argues, is first a body movement. To see my eyes have to turn, focus, and circle the contours of an object. To perceive things I have to advance into the environment, approach and turn around them. My body’s postural schema, which I perceive kinesthetically, is each time oriented upon a task outside. The postural schema is the corporeal reality of intentionality. And it is the fundamental structure in my experience of my body. (Lingis 2012:44)

Many explanations for intentionality acknowledge the outward-directedness of this, i.e. that consciousness is always directed towards an ‘outside’. Here there is the acknowledgement of an intentionality that is movement-directed. Here, in the following paragraph, Al integrates this observation into another theme of the article, that of the touch and of hands, a kind of sensuous awareness of the weight of things:

Merleau-Ponty explains that the body’s posture and movements generate a primary self-consciousness. A movement reaches for its goal from the first and diagrams itself, aligning the past, present, and future phases of itself. The hand that touches is touched by the other hand, which locates touch in the bulk of the hand. In addition, the postural axis generates a quasi-vision of itself as it would be seen from the out- side. It can then identify itself with the visible form that others perceive of it. (Lingis 2012:44)

A “movement of the sensory-motor body that goes forth into the world”, says Lingis; that goes forth or projects itself into the (sensuous) world yet which at the same time, as a material body, takes its place in the world as given; but which is also capable of illusions, dreams, fantasy, wishes, desire.

The timing is good to re-examine M-P’s chapter on ‘the spatiality and motility of one’s own body’ in Phenomenology of Perception, since the new Landes translation is now on my bookshelf and I’ll be interested on the implications for re-translating ‘motility’ in the Smith version to ‘motricity’ in the Landes one. Stay tuned!


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