BSP Podcast: Ida Djursaa – A Critical Phenomenology of the Erotic

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Ida Djursaa presenting a paper from our 2022 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology II’.

Season 6 episode 136: 10 May 2024

Season 6 continues with another presentation from our 2022 annual conference, Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Spatiality. This episode features a presentation from Ida Djursaa, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, London.

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Ida Djursaa
‘Towards a Critical Phenomenology of the Erotic’

This paper seeks to advance a phenomenological notion of sexuality as a modality of bodily sensibility through the lens of Merleau-Ponty. Feminist philosophers such as Judith Butler (1989) and Elizabeth Grosz (1994) have critiqued Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of sexuality in the Phenomenology of Perception for presenting sexuality in a universalist (hence masculinist) way, abstracted from the reality of gender difference and non-heterosexual identities. Drawing on Alia Al-Saji’s (2008) and Tom Sparrow’s (2015) work on sensibility, however, this paper argues that Merleau-Ponty’s notion of sexuality should be understood as a modality of sensibility that operates prior to, and as generative of, categorisations into sexual identities. I show how Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of sexuality, rather than making a claim about the universalist character of desire such as it must be for everyone, in fact makes a more basic claim about the strictly bodily, that is, the sensible dimension of our most intimate intercorporeal relations.    Insofar as sensibility designates the pre-reflective and pre-perceptual binding of bodies, then, understanding sexuality as a modality of sensibility, this paper argues, allows us to investigate the ways in which bodies live desire prior to perception and reflection. In this respect, Merleau-Ponty’s description of sexuality as the ‘blind linking of bodies’ (Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception, p159) is thus not reducible to sexual identity but is rather descriptive of the erotic as the life force that motivates attractions and repulsions – affective ‘pulls’ – between bodies.   Finally, the paper asks how this erotic life force itself, and hence our bodies’ (in)capacity for intimacy, is structured by our socio-politico-historical contexts, including the reality of gender norms? Can a critical phenomenology of sexuality help us to not only understand but also empower the erotic lives of bodies?

Biography: I am a PhD candidate at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, London. My research project critically traces the phenomenological notion of transcendence such as it operates in Husserl, Levinas, and Merleau-Ponty. It argues that transcendence works, most basically, at the level of bodily sensibility rather than consciousness or perception. Ultimately, I employ this notion of sensibility to investigate how the particular ways in which our bodies move are structured by our individual history as well as the socio-cultural-historical contexts which invisibly prescribe normative ways of moving and acting based on gender, race, class.

Further Information:

This recording is taken from our Annual UK Conference 2022: Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Sociality (Exeter, UK / Hybrid) with the University of Exeter. Sponsored by the Wellcome Centre, Egenis, and the Shame and Medicine project. For the conference our speakers either presented in person at Exeter or remotely to people online and in-room, and the podcast episodes are recorded from the live broadcast feeds.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?