Body schema dynamics in Merleau-Ponty

In Yochai Ataria, Shogo Tanaka & Shaun Gallagher (eds.), Body Schema and Body Image: New Directions. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. 33-51 (2021)
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This chapter presents an account of Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of the body schema as an operative intentionality that is not only opposed to, but also complexly intermingled with, the representation-like grasp of the world and one’s own body, or the body image. The chapter reconstructs Merleau-Ponty’s position primarily based on his preparatory notes for his 1953 lecture ‘The Sensible World and the World of Expression’. Here, Merleau-Ponty elaborates his earlier efforts to show that the body schema is a perceptual ground against which the perceived world stands out as a complex of perceptual figures. The chapter clarifies how Merleau-Ponty’s renewed interpretation of the figure-ground structure makes it possible for him to describe the relationship between body schema and perceptual (body) image as a strictly systematic phenomenon. Subsequently, the chapter shows how Merleau-Ponty understands apraxia, sleep, and perceptual orientation as examples of dedifferentiation and subtler differentiation of the body-schematic system. The last section clarifies how such body-schematic differentiating processes give rise to relatively independent superstructures of vision and symbolic cognition which constitute our body image. It, moreover, explains how, according to Merleau-Ponty, the cognitive superstructures always need to be supported by praxic operative intentionality to maintain their full sense, even though, in some cases, they have the power to compensate for praxic deficiencies.

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Jan Halák
Palacky University


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