Kirby, Merleau-Ponty, and the Question of an Embodied Deconstruction

Contretemps (3):133-47 (2002)
In Telling Flesh: the Substance 0f the C0rporeul, Vicki Kirby suggests, among other things, that it is not in the interests of feminism to propound what she describes as an ‘inessentialist’ position in regards to embodiment. While she objects to undifferentiating biological givens that might, for example, attempt to construe women as confined to a nurturing role, she also does not want to simplistically insist that embodiment has nothing to do with subjectivity. To pose the problem in terms more closely aligned with her own, Kirby is wary of the tendency to simply reverse binary oppositions, to swap nature for culture, reality for representation, and originary cause for interpretive effect. According to her, themes like ‘textuality’, and linguistic ideality have all but replaced the notion of ‘reality’. As arguably the pre-eminent ‘continental’ philosopher of our generation, the work of Derrida is invariably associated with this reversal of binary oppositions that seem to prohibit recourse to questions concerning embodiment. Several critics have even suggested that deconstruction is nothing but semiological reductionism in disguise. However, Kirby’s thesis, via an extended meditation upon Derrida’s claim that "there is nothing outside of the text," constitutes an important attempt to redeem him from such criticism. Rather than eschewing any and every reference to the body, she wants to insist that deconstruction cannot be contained within such a framework, and that it makes sense, within the logic of Of Grummutology (and she also pays cursory attention to Derrida’s ""Eating Well," or the Calculation of the Subject"), to conceive of embodiment in deconstructive terms. Examining the coherence of this claim will be the main focus of this paper, though in order to facilitate this task, this paper will also compare the notion of embodiment that Kirby espouses, to a curiously similar conception of the body that Merleau-Ponty theorizes in his unfinished text The Wsible und the Invisible..
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