If flesh is primal, originary subjection, embodiment of affective, erotic sensitivity, sensibility, sentience, and sense-ability, then what emerges from this thick depth, enacting, moving, and projecting this flesh, is the subject, the “I can.” What Merleau-Ponty is fond of pointing out is that traditional philosophy and the psychology contemporary to his time forget this subject’s inherence in subjection – either focusing on subjection as a matter of external forces, internal forces and drives, or on the subject as sovereign, prime mover. In a note to VI, describing the emergence (dehiscence) of subject from subjection as a “chiasm,” he says, “every relation with being is simultaneously a taking and a being taken, the hold is held, it is inscribed and inscribed in the same being that it takes hold of” (266).
When I say flesh is primal and originary, I do not mean to say that it is beyond or beneath perception and consciousness as acts, to the point that it is not subjected to those acts. We act upon our flesh when we act upon the world – to perceive is also to subject oneself to sensation. Not only my body, but my flesh as well, undergoes its own history. The pleasures and pains I have undergone over the course of my projective, wide-awake life are also the pleasures and pains of my flesh, “inscribed,” or embedded, scratched into, my flesh.
We learn pleasures and pains as well as undergo them. A certain sexual pleasure, a certain delicious taste, a certain delight at being held or petted this way – these are upsurges of desire that are not under the sovereign command of the subject, but that a prudent sovereign will take up and dedicate action and resources to. I can never say wherefrom this pleasure arose, other than to say it must have been latent in the flesh. And now that this pleasure has been carried out as a practice, habituating desire into an institution, an orientation, it is more difficult to comprehend or remember that initial, surprising upsurge. But that upsurge is still there in the flesh.
How do I know? Because tastes change, pleasures shift or wane, habituation works upon the flesh and heightens or lessens its particular sensibilities for this or that. There is no determined or definite parallelism, no perfect ratio between the disciplined subject and the habituated flesh. I roam about in search of what pleases me; meanwhile my flesh is ready or not for it. To be habituated just means: the flesh is more often ready than not.
(I realize I should also write something about pain. In fact, when I got started along this route in late May, I intended to read and write about pain. But isn't it much nicer to consider pleasure? The erotics of pain can wait...)
(I also intended to write more of the history of my body, in particular my history of pleasure and pain, habituation, and movement. For instance, I still may write about my experience of remedial gym class, playing hockey and tennis, getting into fist fights in 4th and 5th grade, about how badly I walk, how gracefully I cook... Instead, I seem to be spending all of my time writing about how voracious my body is for peaches and sex!)
(Still, you can't beat my low, low prices!)