(2010) Human Studies 33 (4).

A respectful world

Merleau-Ponty and the experience of depth

Susan Bredlau

pp. 411-423

The everyday experience of someone, or something, getting in one's face reveals a depth that is the difference between a world that is intrusive and a world that is respectful. This depth, I argue, should be conceived, not in feet and inches, but in terms of violation and honor. I explore three factors that contribute to this depth's emergence. First, I examine our body's capacity, at the level of sense experience, for giving the world a figure/ground structure; this structure insures that most of the world we are in constant contact with, nonetheless, keeps its distance as background. I demonstrate the importance of this figure/ground structure to the depth of our world by considering the experience of people with autism; for those with autism, this structure seems to be, if not entirely missing, at least substantially less robust than our own. Next, I examine our body's ability, at the level of more personal experience, to handle the world; our handling of the world, which rests on the acquisition of specific skills, transforms things that could easily assault us into the usually motionless objects we tend to take for granted. I demonstrate the importance of these skills to the depth of our world by considering the experience of Gregg Mozgalla; until recently, Mozgalla, who has cerebral palsy, could only "lurch," rather than walk, through the world. Finally, I draw on the work of the artist Mierle Ukeles to examine the maintenance work that other people, at a broader social level, perform; other's maintenance work keeps in good condition a world that, by falling into bad condition, could easily intrude on us.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s10746-011-9173-1

Full citation:

Bredlau, S. (2010). A respectful world: Merleau-Ponty and the experience of depth. Human Studies 33 (4), pp. 411-423.

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