Jyoti Raghu, DPhil student, Faculty of Theology and Religion, Wolfson College
The Self as Embodied Affect: Merleau-Ponty, Michel Henry, and the redemption of the body
Abstract: In my paper I explore the nature of the self as embodied. In order to shed light on the nature of the self as embodied, I analyze the work of two French phenomenologists of the body, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Henry. Looking at Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception and Michel Henry's Incarnation, I argue that the primary mode of being of this embodied self is affective, non-conscious and precognitive. Furthermore, I claim that the body itself is affect, and phenomenal, arising or coming to be in its appearing or manifestation. Finally, I maintain not only that mental self-consciousness arises from and is dependent on the more primal affective, embodied self, but that the notion of the self as a cogito or res cogitans, as primarily a rational will and intellect, is itself a deception, concealing the embodied self and its being in the world. In order to support and substantiate my argument, I draw upon the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and his research on body, brain and affect, philosopher Catherine Malabou's work on the intersection of neuroscience, affect, and psychoanalysis, and the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Lacan in relation to affectivity. In the final part of my paper I reflect on the implications of the body as affect, and what affective phenomenal experiences may entail, particularly as regards experiences of divine encounter and the redemption of the body. I start first with a discussion of Merleau-Ponty. I then move on to treating Michel Henry. I follow this by an explanation of how neuroscience research and psychoanalytic theory can help illuminate a phenomenology of the body in Merleau-Ponty and Henry. I finally conclude with a theoretical reflection on the recovery of this affective body, and its implications, particularly for theology.