The Normate: On Disability, Critical Phenomenology, and Merleau-Ponty’s Cézanne

Chiasmi International: Trilingual Studies Concerning Merleau-Ponty's Thought 24:199-218 (2022)
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In the essay “Cézanne’s Doubt,” Merleau-Ponty explores the relationship between Paul Cézanne’s art and his embodiment. The doubt in question is ultimately about the meaning of his disabilities. Should Cézanne’s disabilities or impairments shape how we interpret his art or should they instead be treated as incidental, as mere biographical data? Although Merleau-Ponty's essay isn’t intended to be phenomenological, its line of questioning is as much about lived experience as it is about art criticism, art history, and aesthetics. I here offer a reading of “Cézanne’s Doubt” as an exploration of one of the more fundamental issues for phenomenological methodology: the relationship between normality and the normate. I first defend this phenomenological and disability-centric or crip reading of the essay. I then argue that insofar as one takes oneself to be “normal” and insofar as doing so underwrites phenomenological inquiry, the problematic of the normate, not just that of normality, is central to phenomenology.

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Joel Michael Reynolds
Georgetown University


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