Subjectivity, Embodiment, and Meaning in Merleau-Ponty and Irigaray

Dissertation, The University of Memphis (2003)

Athena V. Colman
Brock University
Although much recent political thought, particularly that issuing from feminism and race theory, starts from the notion of embodiment, it leaves that notion uninvestigated. As a result, it tends to fall back into the very abstraction of 'the body' that it attempts to leave behind. In this thesis, I enrich existing accounts of the socio-historical situatedness of different bodies as subjects through a philosophical examination of the role of embodiment in the constitution of subjectivity. Turning to the thought of Merleau-Ponty, I argue that his philosophy avoids the residual mind-body dualism of early phenomenological thought, and offers a deeper understanding of the relation of meaning and embodiment. In particular, I argue for a distinction between two often-conflated notions in his thought: the 'corporeal schema' and the 'body image'. I then consider the thought of Luce Irigaray and her elaboration of difference and embodiment through the project of sexual difference. Following this examination, I consider Irigaray's contention that Merleau-Ponty's thought on embodiment, elaborated in his later notion of the flesh, is forged on the basis of an unjust ontology, which eclipses difference. I then argue that, although her political criticism is vital to a rich account of embodiment, her criticism of Merleau-Ponty has not sufficiently considered his corpus. I suggest that such a consideration would ultimately offer resources for her own project-particularly an examination of the distinction between the corporeal schema and the body image. Additionally, I propose that 'gesture' is an exemplar of Irigaray's central notion of the sensible transcendental and, moreover, is another site of possible engagement between her psychoanalytical thought and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological approach. I contend that both thinkers and both traditions offer us valuable resources for deepening our understanding of the role of embodiment in the constitution of subjectivity
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