Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"dissolute and lustful substance"

[T]he body as the power of Einfühlung is already desire, libido, projection-introjection, identification. The esthesiological structure of the human body is thus a libidinal structure, the perception a mode of desire, a relation of being and not of knowledge. (Nature, 210)

In the conclusion of the Nature lecture courses, Merleau-Ponty discusses libidinal desire. There is, in addition, a direct reference back to the language of the chapter “The Body in its Sexual Being” (“Le corps comme être sexue”) in the Phenomenology of Perception. I think those discussions provide reasonable textual support to the position that desire, libido, and the erotic are central to Merleau-Ponty’s account of ontology, in particular, his account of wild Being and wild meaning.

I take the position that an account of wild Being and wild meaning that starts from desire and the erotic, should dwell there for some time, should account for desire and the erotic, or evoke them. But the erotic, as I’m developing it, is not restricted to phenomena of love or sex. Libidinal desire is primary, primal, orientating, activating, provoking – but is far more interestingly seducing, enflaming. Slipping past the erotic without giving it its due, without focusing attention on it, leaves our account half-complete, or, if you like, flaccid. (You probably don't like. I understand. I promise to be as - let's say, robust - as possible.)

The lecture notes are, naturally, sketchy. But from the bits and pieces, we can draw some helpful directions.

Thus there is an indivision of my body, of my body and the world, of my body and other bodies, and of other bodies between them... Indivision of my body and of other bodies; of its cavities, reliefs, and those of other bodies, and of these between them. (Nature, 279)

... the libido precisely is not a univocal orientation toward a sexual organ, but a fantastic polymorphism, a possibility of diverse ‘sexual positions.’... Thus the sexual is coextensive with the human not as a unique cause, but as a dimension outside of which nothing remains. (Nature, 282)

What Alphonso Lingis criticizes in Merleau-Ponty's account is that it deals exclusively with the projected world of "competence" - the world we constitute about us, containing things we then make use of for our projects. Lingis suggests the need for (and then pursues) describing those times when there is not this projected world, but something less "real," and more "phantasmal." For instance:

In slackening its hold on the levels and layout of objectives, wandering among the obsessive presences and haunting absences of erotic space, [our body] materializes for itself as a dissolute and lustful substance. (Foreign Bodies, 24

Oh, do I love the phrase "dissolute and lustful substance." It strikes me as totally accurate. This is how we undergo being captured by the erotic. Drawn up, spread out, stretched, as by hands, my body tingles in erotic space, touched everywhere by a fog of delectation and desire. A fog of heat, a heat like an open fire that is somehow miraculously inside me, burning to get out. My vision unfocuses, goes slightly numb, slightly stupid. I hear less, but louder – your breath, my breath, my heart beating up my neck and down my throat, inhaling us, inhaling the heat rising from us and the smoke of its fuel. My throat thickens, smoky, hot.

I feel feint, slack, aching, derealized, liquid, steam, impossible to be solid and fluid and ether at once, but impossibly it is so. A hazy recognition this can’t go on forever, and that there is still some way to move this liquid body and its skin of fire, shuddering some way with, toward, entangled. Where? There, anywhere, there. A there that is everywhere at once, whole bodies reached, impossibly, instantly, in one touch that is here and there and there, and everywhere, and nowhere. Liquid, fire, the aching elements fitting the shape of the body they fill, filling the body they shape.

Of course we ache. Our bodies transubstantiate and dissolve in the erotic, are borne along in its liquid fire, floating, thrashing, drowning. We ache to touch, to be touched; we ache not touching, not touched. The fire either way.

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