Possible and Impossible, Self and Other, and the Reversibility of Merleau-Ponty and Derrida

Philosophy Today 48 (1):35-49 (2004)
Abstract
This essay examines some of Derrida’s most famous ‘possible-impossible’ aporias, including his discussions of giving, hospitality, forgiveness, and mourning. He argues that the condition of the possibility of such themes is also, and at once, the condition of their impossibility. In order to reveal the shared logic upon which these aporias rely, and also to raise some questions about their persuasive efficacy, it will be argued that of the two polarities evoked by each of his possible-impossible aporias, the ‘impossible’ term of the opposition invariably posits a separation between “two radical singularities”, or in somewhat more controversial terms, between a self and an other. While Derrida emphasises this ‘impossible’ aspect of giving, hospitality, forgiveness, etc., Merleau-Ponty’s abiding emphasis upon the chiasmic intertwining of self and other provides the resources to challenge this emphasis, and even to reverse it. While Merleau-Ponty rarely directly addresses the kind of aporias that concern Derrida, his chiasmic account of embodiment, and his emphasis upon the body-subject’s propensity to seek an equilibrium with its environment, better accounts for the ‘possible’ side of the aporias that Derrida describes. In the process, it will be argued that Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy also allows for a more politically efficacious idea of responsibility towards the other than the position to which Derrida is tacitly committed.
Keywords aporia  self-other  intersubjectivity  Merleau-Ponty  Derrida  embodiment
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