Accepted paper:

Dynamics of embodiment, material culture, and the flesh of the world


Tailer Ransom (University of Memphis)

Paper short abstract:

I will be giving an account of how Merleau-Ponty's later works and its emphasis of the reversible structure between the flesh of the body and the flesh of the world can both enrich, and be enriched by Material Engagement Theory's entangled account of cognition.

Paper long abstract:

The later works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty are marked by a transition to move beyond thinking about phenomenology in terms of the visible, and to further blur the ambiguous boundaries between subject and object/world. In his later works he introduces the concept of flesh and the structure of reversibility that describes the entangled, push-pull dialectical construction of the embodied phenomenological subject. This relation between the flesh of the body and the flesh of the world is understood as a transaction where, "my hand, while it is felt from within, is also accessible from without…if it takes its place among the things it touches, [it] is in a sense one of them, [and] opens finally upon a tangible being of which it is also a part" (1968, 133). This approach to understanding phenomenology, I claim, can better serve as a framework for phenomenological approaches to investigating material culture. This approach neither (1) falls into the trappings of an internalist understanding of how embodied cognition is externally shaped by the artefactual environment, nor (2) consigns us to a 'high altitude' view of human-thing transactions that analyzes material culture from a dis-located 'view from nowhere'. Drawing on resources from Lambros Malafouris' (2013) Material Engagement Theory, we can lead phenomenology (and embodied approaches to understanding cognition more generally) into a richer understanding of how cognition is shaped by material culture. A dialogue between the late Merleau-Ponty and Material Engagement should serve to enrich both positions and lead to a deeper understanding of human becoming.

panel Cog02
Creative environments, social minds