Remember Episode 51, when we made our way, blindfolded, around a room with nothing more than a cardboard tube to guide us? We delve deeper into the depths of phenomenology this week – almost literally – taking seriously Sara Ahmed’s description in her Queer Phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty’s perspective, in which ‘bodies are submerged, such that they become the space they inhabit’ (Ahmed 2006, p. 53). Ahmed’s critique encourages us to reorient our phenomenologies, to understand the spaces in terms not only of what is oriented to, but also in terms of what is backgrounded, what is beyond reach for certain bodies.
My own perspective on phenomenology is this: yes, consciousness is always embodied, and bodies are always submerged. But let us not assume that consciousness is embodied in human bodies and that these bodies are submerged in the material world. My take on human bodies and the material world is that these are always just beyond our reach – that consciousness rarely attaches itself to the human body, and that the human body and the material world are both inevitably other.
My idea is that consciousness instead attaches itself to a social body. Whether we navigate a room blindfolded with a cardboard tube to guide us or manipulate the perceptual field with our gaze, it is almost always a social world we are submerged in, and it is almost always a social body that our consciousness affixes itself to.