Tuesday, June 15, 2010

more on flesh from Merleau-Ponty

Attempting an entirely novel account of perception, meaning, and truth, Merleau-Ponty begins to work up this notion of flesh. Only it's not a notion, it's more like an "element" in the ancient Greek sense, he says. Anyway, a key part of his discussion is that to be capable of vision we must be of the visible, as a common flesh. Our individual vision, our capacity to see things, arises by way of our being among those visible things. So while to us, at least before we reflect on it, our vision may seem sovereign, totally within our control, Merleau-Ponty attempts to evoke this implication of ourselves in the visible.

Vision, he says, in the first place is narcissistic for me individually. It opens to a world that addresses and seems to be about and for my vision. However, there's another side to it:

as many painters have said, I feel myself looked at by thing things, my activity equally is passivity – which is the second and more profound sense of the narcissism: not to see in the outside, as the others see it, the contour of a body one inhabits, but especially to be seen by the outside, to exist within it, to emigrate into it, to be seduced, captivated, alienated by the phantom, so that the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen. (The Visible and the Invisible, 139)

I'm hooked. Seduction is perfect for describing this.

Double narcissism: to see and to be seen -- to approach the world with my abrupt, overly frank look, to look right into and upon things, to make things show themselves to me, naked; and to be looked upon, to have my seeing seduced by the things, by their nakedness. Seduction is, after all, reciprocal. The seducer draws me in, tugs upon me and reveals me naked, and my naked repose in the seducer’s sight of me seduces the seducer. In seduction there is that moment, that “element” of intertwining flesh, flesh that moves flesh through traversing the distance between us, pulling us by our flesh to one another’s, to the flesh of the seduction itself.

What this wants is not an aesthetics of perception, but an erotics – an account of perception, sensation, of flesh awake, sentient and captivated through flesh, by flesh. Any flesh, all flesh. So I wasn't merely being provocative in Montreal. And when I wrote my old erotic poem about blood fruit, I was really on to something. (I wonder if I was reading Merleau-Ponty then, too?)

This may seem weird at first, but consider some instances.

I scan for beauty, searching out something to please my eyes. I set this direction, I set out into this constituted beauty-world. If I come across a stand of scarlet lilies, I'm stopped in my tracks. This is a flower I'm particularly enamored of, one I fixate on, dream about even. And there they are! My quest for beauty has led me to be stunned, done in, entangled. The lilies have me in their petals, and I feel held fast in place, drawn and unable to pull away.

I really love white peaches. I'm stupid for white peaches. I grab a peach, intending to violate it utterly, you know, eating it, and as I bring the peach close to my mouth, its perfume, the velvet skin soft in my hand, reclined in my fingertips, and as I lay my lips upon it, I give myself over to the peach. It fills my mouth, it drips sweetly over my tongue, drenches my chin, my fingers, and I'm transfixed, mad with desire. There is nothing else in the world for me in that moment but the flesh of the peach, this flesh becoming my flesh.

(Man oh man oh man, do I love white peaches.)

So I'm going to work further on an erotics of perception and see where that goes. Fleshly, I suppose!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How true?: The body is that which Understands the world. All meaning, all language constructs, all expression, stand-upon and ultimately derive-from and refer-back-to the body.