Living in the Flesh: Technologically Mediated Chiasmic Relationships

Human Studies 45 (2):189-208 (2022)
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During the Corona pandemic, it became clear that people are vulnerable to potentially harmful nonhuman agents, as well as that our own biological existence potentially poses a threat to others, and vice versa. This suggests a certain reciprocity in our relations with both humans and nonhumans. In his The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty introduces the notion of the flesh to capture this reciprocity. Building on this idea, he proposes to understand our relationships with other humans, as well as those with nonhuman beings as having a chiasmic structure: to sense, or perceive another entity in a particular way simultaneously implies to be sensed or perceived in a particular way by this other entity. In this paper, we show how a postphenomenological perspective expands on Merleau-Ponty: first, it more radically interprets Merleau-Ponty’s notion of flesh by not only considering it to be a medium that is the condition of possibility for vision but as pointing to the constitution of an intercorporeal field in which entities—both human and nonhuman—mutually sense one another. Second, it augments Merleau-Ponty’s thought by drawing attention to how technologies mediate chiasmic relations. This is clarified through the example of the facemask, which reveals the chiasmic structure of our relation with nonhuman entities, and shows that technologies co-constitute interpersonal relationships by making humans present to one another in a particular way. We suggest that these aspects are not unique to the facemask, but point to a general technologically mediated chiasmic structure of human-world relations.



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Author Profiles

Bas de Boer
University of Twente
Peter-Paul Verbeek
University of Twente