Bodily Self-Awareness in French Phenomenology

In Adrian J. T. Alsmith & Andrea Serino (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Bodily Awareness. Routledge (2022)
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Despite all controversies that might otherwise divide them, most phenomenologists agree that consciousness entails some form of self-consciousness. In fact, they go even further, as they virtually all agree on the necessity of fleshing out this insight in bodily terms: from the phenomenological point of view, self-consciousness is primarily experienced as a form of bodily self-consciousness (or self-awareness). Following Edmund Husserl's insight that the lived body (Leib), i.e. the body as it is subjectively felt or experienced, must necessarily be presupposed by all object consciousness, including the thematic consciousness of me as a body, there is a long-standing discussion within the phenomenological movement on how to conceive of this self-relation. This entry focuses on the French reception of Husserl and highlights the distinctive ways in which French phenomenologists such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Henry, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida have elaborated on and disputed this key insight. It will be shown that discussions on this question have open onto two further debates: one revolves around the paradigmatic role Husserl grants to touch in the analysis of consciousness, while the other concerns the differences between the experience of one's own body and the experience of the body of others. Finally, we point to the fact that one's body can be experienced and evaluated as other, as is shown in the critical analyses of Frantz Fanon, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, and recent critical phenomenology. Here, it becomes clear that the bodily self-awareness of concrete subjects is shaped by the material conditions, norms, and discourses of their respective situation.

Author Profiles

Maxime Doyon
Université de Montréal
Maren Wehrle
Erasmus University Rotterdam


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