James Rakoczi (KCL) - 2016-17 Students

Conditions of Possibility: Merleau-Ponty and the Medical Humanities

My research explores the relationship between Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (1908-1961) phenomenology of the body and recent critical, clinical and cultural trends, particularly in literary criticism and medical humanities, which puts this phenomenology to work. I am interested in the ways that Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical arguments use illness. Merleau-Ponty posited an innovative solution to questions of selfhood, meaningfulness and agency: that an “I can” – a bodied perception and motility – lies at the heart of what it is to be in the world. The ill body figures in and complicates this solution. I want to work out the ways this “I can” carries metaphysical and medical heft into various applications of Merleau-Ponty’s work (from illness narrative to ethnomethodology). Phenomenology aspires to be a non-assumptive method for the analysis of experience. Yet since its inception, phenomenology has been drawn inexorably towards a therapeutics and incorporated into various discourses of biomedical health. This is one context in which my project is framed. I am also interested in the constitutive possibilities of Merleau-Ponty’s work: how it opens a space for dialogue between multiple disciplines (in my case, philosophy, medicine and literature) and how it could contribute towards a critical language for talking about illness in texts.

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