Archives for posts with tag: Merleau-Ponty

by Victoria Grace Walden

Embodiment and actuality sites of a traumatic past

I am standing in the Podgórze district of Kraków, Poland. In 1941, this region, which was designed to house 3,000 residents, was transformed into a Jewish Ghetto which imprisoned 15,000 Polish Jews. Two segments of the Ghetto wall remind today’s visitors of this district’s traumatic past. One of these segments overlooks a children’s playground. How do I relate to the tragic past of this site as I stand here?

Phenomenologists from Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Vivian Sobchack to Jenny Chamarette, all consider subjectivity to arise from the space in-between the different bodies of experience. The space in-between suggests that meaning arises from the intertwining of the different bodies, rather than belonging to one particular subject. Usually phenomenology focuses on the embodied (sometimes human) subject and their relationship with objects or other people. However, at this particular site, I feel like an intruder -a tourist- observing an interaction between two inanimate objects which seem to be communicating with each other. Here, I begin to realise the significance of the space in-between. In front of me stands a grey wall, its three-foot panels designed to represent Jewish gravestones. These are fragments of the remaining Ghetto wall. I reach out to touch this wall, but I feel uncomfortable doing so. It’s darkness, size and shape seems to cast a shadow over the space where I stand. I am saddened by the past that once inhabited the other side of this wall.

However, in front of this wall I see children’s play equipment. It is brightly coloured and on springs – there is a vibrancy and vitality to its presence. The equipment reminds me of being young and the joy and freedom of the imagination of play. 


What is most striking for me, though, is the space in-between these two objects. Both the wall and the equipment conjure strong, but contrasting emotions. The space between them expresses an absence and a distance. It is here that I fix my gaze – are people that come here to enjoy the present use of this site aware of its tragic past? Could the inhabitants once trapped behind this wall ever have imagined a time when vitality and freedom might return to this site? This space in-between signifies the distance between then and now, and the absence of those who were once imprisoned here and yet who, in the majority, never returned.

My attention, or my intentionality, is drawn to the absence- the space in-between the two objects and I feel an uncanny relationship to the different temporal dimensions I encounter here – it is neither the past nor the present which becomes the subject of my attention. Rather, it is the space in-between these different eras – for a moment, I feel as if I am embodied in an ahistoric moment – one where my intentionality is drawn to the relationality between temporal dimensions, rather than directed towards any one time. Is it possible to consider experiences as moments outside history? I am now historicising my experience at the site by recording it for the future in this blog.  It is now part of my history. Perhaps, it is not that the experience is ahistoric, but rather that this site has drawn my attention to the fact meaning can arises from spatial and temporal relationships. It is here, that I realise turning to the embodied moment allows me to identify embodiment not only as an experience of the now, but as a relationship with different temporal dimensions.


By Mona Sakr

Getting to grips with the philosophical approach of phenomenology

When you work with/in embodiment, you come across so many concepts that feel almost impossible to get a true grip on. Beautiful ideas, like phenomenology, roam free and can be intimidating as a result. In my role at MODE, I am currently contributing towards a glossary of terms that are used in embodiment research. It’s a fantastic way of working out what’s really important when you’re first engaging with a new concept or approach. After writing the first draft of the glossary entry for ‘Phenomenology’, I decided to test myself. Without looking at a single book, paper or webpage, what could I say that I knew about phenomenology? The result was the following:

10 things I know about phenomenology

  1. Phenomenology is the study of lived experience.
  2. The founder of phenomenology was the German philosopher Husserl, who lived and wrote at the turn of the twentieth century.
  3. Heidegger, Husserl’s student, was fundamental in developing the field of existential phenomenology.
  4. In 1927, Heidegger wrote Being and Time, a central text in phenomenology.
  5. In Being and Time Heidegger made the distinction between tools that are ‘present-at-hand’ and ‘ready-to-hand’. Tools that are ‘ready-to-hand’ can be used without thinking, without awareness. Although familiarity usually leads to tools becoming ‘ready-to-hand’, our awareness of them may be drawn back to them if they suddenly stop working (Heidegger uses the example of the pen that breaks while you are writing).
  6. In 1945, Merleau-Ponty wrote a book called Phenomenology of Perception. It is another central text in phenomenology.
  7. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty presents the body as the hub of all meaning-making. Physical touch represents a ‘chiasm’ (a crossing-over) between subjectivity and objectivity. Bodies are both capable of touching and are tangible.
  8. Dreyfus (1992) built on Heidegger’s ideas towards technology use in his critiques of artificial intelligence. He has argued that AI algorithms and devices only make sense through the implicit and tacit knowledge that a user brings to them. Studying interactions with technology are therefore as much about studying the user as they are about studying the object.
  9. How do you collect data as a phenomenologist? Phenomenologists typically access lived experience through interviews and participant reflections (either written or oral). An interview approach called Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is one example of a methodological framework that uses phenomenology as its starting point.
  10. Phenomenological enquiries are likely to foreground the lived experience through four ‘lifeworld existentials’ (Veletsianos and Miller, 2008): body, time, space, relations with others.

At the end of this exercise, the questions I’m left asking are:

What are the glaring gaps in my breakdown of phenomenology?

Is this a positive exercise or does it lead to the reduction of ideas?

What concepts/approaches in embodiment would I struggle to do this exercise for?

By Mona Sakr

A discussion of the term ‘intercorporeality’ and its relevance to embodiment in digital environments.

 The term ‘intercorporeality’ simultaneously foregrounds the social nature of the body and the bodily nature of social relationships. As a concept, it emphasizes the role of social interactions in the construction and behaviours of the body: ‘the experience of being embodied is never a private affair, but is always mediated by our continual interactions with other human and nonhuman bodies’ (Weiss, 1999, p. 5). At the same time, it suggests that our existence in relation to others – our intersubjectivity – is something tangible and bodily (Csordas, 2008).

 Intercorporeality is a relevant concept for understanding embodied experiences in digital environments because as Kim (2001) suggests, digital environments open up new opportunities for intercorporeal practices. Through bodies, we can share and extend our ‘bodily experiences’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1962).

Consider the following examples:

  • Through a webcam, I can see into locations that go beyond those that immediately surround me in physical space,
  • Through social media, I can extend my grip on others and touch the lives of others though they are not physically close to me (see Springgay, 2005),
  • Through my phone, I can audio record others’ voices and hear again the past and the interactions it comprised.

The words ‘see’, ‘touch’ and ‘hear’ demonstrate the extent to which social interactions are bodily. The examples above suggest that digital environments can impact on the body’s perceptions and sensations and this will, in turn, affect the way we interact with others – our intercorporeal practices.

Csordas, T. J. (2008) Intersubjectivity and intercorporeality. Subjectivity, 22(1), 110-121.

Kim, J. (2001) Phenomenology of digital-being. Human studies, 24(1-2), 87-111.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Springgay, S. (2005) Thinking through bodies: Bodied encounters and the process of meaning making in an e-mail generated art project. Studies in Art Education, 47 (1), 34-50.

Weiss, G. (1999) Body images: Embodiment as intercorporeality. New York: Routledge.