Tom Sparrow on Sensation and Vulnerability

If you haven’t read Tom Sparrow’s work on carnal phenomenology and sensation yet you should do so immediately. Sparrow’s lucid explications of the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, Alphonso Lingis, Merleau-Ponty and others dealing in theories of embodiment and aesthetics are razor sharp and provocative - and his prose is pure a joy take in. Do yourself a favor: read him.

I recently returned to an article of Tom's called ‘Bodies in Transit: The Plastic Subject of Alphonso Lingis’, in which Tom clarifies Lingis’ substantial (if currently underrated) contribution to understanding both the primacy of sensation and what I refer to as ‘ontological vulnerability’ or the fundamental openness of things. Tom compares and contrasts Lingis’ views on embodied subjectivity and the flesh of the world with those who Lingis draws upon most – his predecessors in every sense – on the way to suggesting what could easily be held up as a radical philosophy of corporeality. The paper is substantial.

Below are some of the more interesting passages from the text:
Sensation intervenes in our practice and lets slip our hold on things and on ourselves. To deny its interruptive power is to deny the subordination of consciousness to the world of corporeal experience, to assert the primacy of human access to the sensuous world which we live from. It is to pretend that the phenomenal world has never once collapsed its appearance and asserted its fantastic weight upon our bodies…

There is a type of intelligibility nascent in sensibility, an intelligibility that is affective before it is intelligible and vital before it is rational. We might call this, following Straus, an alingual animal intelligibility. It is a pre-rational intelligence that we humans share with the other fleshy beings. We, as human-animal subjects, are already subjected to a sensuous medium that preempts the judgments and rational discourses we have either invented or acquired in order to master this medium and attempt to break off from the animal kingdom.

The circuit of rational discourse which is developed and deployed, the technological and sociocultural manufacture that we toil over to wrest ourselves free from the demands of our biological composition, and the community of modern individuals that each one of us is born into—all of this is preempted by our encounter with other bodies, intruder or seducer bodies, and the appeals they make on our own. This singular community of sustenance and separation is a community which is marked by the exposure of oneself to another in the sensuous medium. My flesh is nothing other than your flesh. But my body is at the same time exposed to your body, the body of some animal, and the totality of objects which are folded into the levels of the world.
Read More: Here

Tom Sparrow is a philosopher currently teaching at Slippery Rock University. His forthcoming book, Plastic Bodies: Rebuilding Sensation After Phenomenology is highly anticipated, and he blogs at Plastic Bodies. I have also discussed his work previously here, here and here.

UPDATE: Tom just announced he will be publishing a new collection of essays called Levinas Unhinged with Zero Books. The book will explore what Tom describes as “the darker side” of Levinas’ philosophy, and will attempt to reach out to a new Levinas readership "by downplaying the usual slogans and paying more attention to aspects of Levinas that are typically overshadowed by his ethics, the face, the other, etc." Learn more: here.


noir-realism said...

Interesting! I've been rereading Lingis's Deathbound Subjectivity of late which delves deeply into Nietzsche and Levinas and traces the transitory moments of each natural things vulnerability:

"... the distress that goes to the assistance of their vulnerability, the affliction with which one exposes one's own substance to the dying that besets them, proceed from the passion with which one goes to be with another in his or her dying."

Anonymous said...

Lingis' move away from abstracted rhetorics of lack to that of fleshy excesses is always a welcome corrective and looking forward to seeing Tom's new work.


Anonymous said...

jesse prinz- beyond reference:

Related Posts with Thumbnails