The Flesh of History: Intersubjectivity, Experience and Utopia in Merleau-Ponty and Benjamin
Mazzocchi, Paul Anthony
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This dissertation explores the connection between intersubjectivity, experience and utopia in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Walter Benjamin. The project utilizes a constellative approach, reading Merleau-Ponty and Benjamin through and against one another, in a manner in which each draws out latent ideas or problems in the other's work. In these respects, the project begins by drawing on a political reading of Merleau-Ponty's late ontology of the flesh in the context of his earlier phenomenology of the body and his political engagements. The ontology of the flesh transcends the various dualisms that have marred Western thought, in viewing being as in and of the world, and in asserting the very relational character of the body-as-flesh. Here, Merleau-Ponty provides a rich, multifaceted understanding of intersubjectivity. Yet, the ontological contours of Merleau-Ponty's work often operate at a level of abstraction that ignores or fails to theorize the contours of embodied experience under the particular historical conditions of capitalist modernity. In theorizing the primacy to the historical, Benjamin's work provides such a phenomenology. In this vein, Benjamin's work suggests that under modern conditions the sensuous capacities of the body take on an anaesthetic character, which ultimately elides the very relations of alterity that are central to intersubjectivity and political possibilities. At the same time, in deconstructing the "object" of history, Benjamin sees potentially utopian possibilities in the ontological and ethical conditions and structures of history. While this offers only a minor gesture in the direction of providing a positive political or ethical optic, these insights provide a means for re-reading Merleau-Ponty's account of the body as a site of the utopian/dystopian. In this context, the project turns to theorizing embodied capacities as providing the conditions of possibility for both relations of solidarity/emancipation and domination. Consequently, it explores the manner in which the corporeal capacities of embodied subjects can be transformed, as well as the problem of the particular forms of institution and intersubjectification that are rooted in this transformability.