Affects, Images and Childlike Perception: Self-Other Difference in Merleau-Ponty’s Sorbonne Lectures

PhaenEx 7 (2):185-211 (2012)
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I begin by reviewing recent research by Merleau-Ponty scholars opposing aspects of the critique of Merleau-Ponty made by Meltzoff and colleagues based on their studies of neonate imitation. I conclude the need for reopening the case for infant self-other indistinction, starting with a re-examination of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of indistinction in the Sorbonne lectures, and attending especially to the role of affect and to the non-exclusivity of self-other distinction and indistinction. In undertaking that study, I discover the importance of understanding self-other distinction and indistinction in terms of their affective significance. For Merleau-Ponty, self-other indistinction is a virtual or imaginary participation in others’ orientations that he defines as an affective phenomenon. Further, Merleau-Ponty’s account of the advent of the body proper—the aspect of the body image that circumscribes the body as a distinct and private space—theorizes it as an affective innovation. Rather than being a fact of which we at first are ignorant and gradually grow to recognize, distinction from others in the sense that is important to Merleau-Ponty is a situation that must be cultivated and maintained through the negotiation of affective intimacy. Understanding indistinction and distinction in terms of the affective forces that sustain them explains how it is possible for them to coexist.
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