Estranged Kinship: Empathy and Animal Desire in Merleau-Ponty

Research in Phenomenology 54 (2):213-227 (2024)
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Abstract

Merleau-Ponty suggests in his Nature lectures that myth provides the best way into thinking the relation of strange kinship between humanity and animality. He goes on to refigure Husserl’s paradigm of the two hands touching to extend beyond merely human-to-human relations, invoking in the process the myth of Narcissus. By carefully examining Merleau-Ponty’s late refiguration of that paradigm, alongside the revised conception of narcissism that it helps him to develop, we find that while human-animal empathy is made possible by a ground of intercorporeal kinship, human-animal estrangement makes possible the emergence of an ethical relation to other animals, contingent upon the sublimation of animal desire. Holding human-animal kinship and estrangement in tension reveals a nascent ideal present implicitly in the early stages of childhood development: a vision of the possibility of interspecies harmony, rooted in the bodily reciprocity that drives the process of self-maturation.

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Chandler D. Rogers
Gonzaga University

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