A Phenomenology of Critical-Ethical Vision: Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, and the question of seeing differently

Chiasmi International 11:375-398 (2009)
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Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” and Bergson’s Matière et mémoire and “La perception du changement,” I ask what resources are available in vision for interrupting objectifying habits of seeing. While both Bergson and Merleau-Ponty locate the possibility of seeing differently in the figure of the painter, I develop by means of their texts, and in dialogue with Iris Marion Young’s work, a more general phenomenology of hesitation that grounds what I am calling “critical-ethical vision.” Hesitation, I argue, stems from affect and leads to critical memory. In hesitation, the seeming coincidence between my habits of seeing and the visible is decentered, revealing these habits and their social reference as the constitutive horizon of my field of vision. Hesitation, then, provides the phenomenological moment within which vision may become at once critically watchful, destabilizing its objectifying habits, and ethically responsive, recollecting its affective grounds. The critical and the ethical are here inseparable. Critically, this vision is an awareness of the structures of invisibility, diacritical and habitual, social and historical, to which my vision owes—dimensions which institute particular ways of seeing and being as norm while eliding others. Ethically, this is the recognition of how seeing is already seeing with others—others whose affective influence is operative within vision, even as their existence is reductively represented or denied.
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