The rhythm of embodied encounters: intersubjectivity in Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology

Florentien Verhage
Washington and Lee University
This thesis takes its starting point from Maurice Merleau-Ponty's insight that in order to make sense of the experience of others, one needs to describe how differences are perceived from the perspective of the subject's own body. This study of intersubjective interactions is approached from what I call a 'broad phenomenological' point of view. 'Broad phenomenology' encompasses a more traditional and ontological notion of phenomenology, a rereading of this phenomenology through a feminist lens, and a contemporary cognitive scientific notion of embodied cognition. These three approaches have in common that they are concerned with the lived experience of particular, embodied persons who are dynamically related to the world and to other persons within this world. I present a phenomenology of difference that is also a phenomenology of birth, volatility, and implication. Taking my lead from Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and contemporary feminist thought, I argue that through encountering others we are both actively shaping and passively undergoing a continual transformation. In addition, by analysing Merleau-Pony's notions of 'flesh' [chair] and 'divergence' [écart] together with Heidegger's 'abyss' [Abgrund], I uncover an ontological birthplace of intersubjectivity that can no longer be characterised by categories and oppositions. Instead it is a place of radical openness and interbeing [interêtre]. This does not imply that the intersubjective relation is always friendly and safe. On the contrary, the exchange between subjects is volatile and thus it is always open to re-volution.
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