A Sensuous Ethics of Difference

September 2nd, 2011 Comments Off on A Sensuous Ethics of Difference

Rachel McCann

Article first published online: 17 JUN 2011

HYPATIA, an International Journal of Feminist Philosophy
Special Issue: Ethics of Embodiment
Volume 26, Issue 3,  ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hypa.2011.26.issue-3/issuetoc ) pages 497–517, Summer 2011

ABSTRACT:  This essay outlines how Western culture, and in particular the practice of architecture, has failed to develop a nuanced and ethical approach to alterity. It examines Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the flesh as a process of continual self-interrogation through perceptual acts that intertwine communality and difference, establishing a shared world through interlocution, and explores how the work of Merleau-Ponty and Luce Irigaray augment each other to deepen our understanding of alterity. It then examines architectural design as an intercorporeal and intersubjective act that creatively refigures sedimented spatial and social habits. Using the example of an architectural design studio, it demonstrates how designers can critically confront nuances of alterity through investigating the corporeal and social depths of architecture.

Ethical encounter with the other requires a nuanced consideration of both sameness and difference. Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the flesh configures the structure of being as continually in touch with itself through a process of differentiation, as the flesh seeks to experience itself through the relational act of perception. The flesh’s paradoxical intertwining of sameness and difference constitutes our very humanity as well as our relations with human others and the sensuous world, making it impossible to separate an ethics of sexual or social difference from an ethics of the sensuous. Through perceptually based creative acts such as architectural design, we can bring to light existing frameworks of social injustice as we participate in the flesh’s continual self-discovery. Far from being a nostalgic act, as Fredric Jameson charges, designing in the flesh can intertwine an ethics of care based in communality with a sense of wonder at the other’s irreducible alterity to open a way toward shared systems of power.

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