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  • The Sense of Space
  • John Duncan (bio)
David Morris . The Sense of Space State University of New York Press. xii, 220. US $45.00

If the gods annihilated potable water, the air we breathe, the earth's bounty, or the sun's fiery energy, we would be destroyed because we depend on the worldly elements to be the living beings we are. In interesting ways, then, we are the world. However, it has often been argued that we are more than the world. If the worldly elements are merely mechanical in nature, then although they might explain how Socrates ' muscles contracted when he walked, for example, they will not explain the reason why he walked into jail to accept his death sentence. Perhaps we are not merely the world, but rather something differentiated from it as well. Perhaps we are also psyches that transcend the world. Philosophers have meandered back and forth across this theoretical landscape for more than two thousand years, and they have reached a variety of interesting impasses, one of the most extreme being substance dualism, according to which our bodies are spatially extended substances of the world, our psyches are incorporeal or unextended substances that transcend the world, and each of us consists of both. Alternatively, it has been argued that we are nothing but body, or nothing but psyche, or even the identity of body and psyche.

In The Sense of Space, David Morris follows the lead of the twentieth-century phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, for whom the lived body was a primordial and indivisible unity of body and psyche. For Merleau-Ponty, attempts to account for our embodiment not grounded in this unity were built on mere abstractions, not on the concrete experience of the lived body. Morris does not reply to the philosophical tradition so much as construct a theory of the lived body as explicitly interrelated with [End Page 169] the world, a theory in which this interrelation necessarily involves a 'sense of space.' For Morris, the perceiving, moving, developing, social, and ethical body is always already involved in a spatial world. Thus he is much less concerned with body-world interrelations regarding our mere existence than with body-world interrelations regarding our various activities in the world, given our existence. When I walk with a friend in the quad, or drive a car on the street, for example, I am operating in specific spatial contexts. Without having become adapted to the features of such contexts - without having internalized them in myself as a perceiving, moving, developing, social, and ethical body - I would not be able to act in them. In contrast to the newborn infant, who is not yet appropriately adapted, in the course of time I have become a driver and a walking friend fitted to the world. Being acting bodies in the world, we have internalized the world. Body and world are 'crossed.'

But what is the sense of space involved in our activity? In the empirical tradition, we would argue that space is a perceivable feature of the external world. Immanuel Kant, the father of German Idealism, argued that our experience of the external world is necessarily spatial because of formal contributions made to experience by our own mental faculties. Morris argues that our sense of space is not preconstituted in either of these ways, originating neither 'out there' in the world, nor 'in here' in the mind. Rather, the fundamental crossing of world and body over time develops a sense of space together with the development of perception, motion, sociality, and morality.

To elicit the sense of space, its grounds, and its features, Morris makes generous use of analogies, examples, and studies, but the book does meander through some rough country, straining the reader sometimes by failing fully to elaborate the analogies, examples, and studies, and other times by aggregating invented usages in infelicitous phrases. Nevertheless, to the extent that Morris sticks to the interpretation of lived experience, it is difficult to disagree with what he is trying to do. Readers interested in embodiment should find the book interesting. [End Page 170]

John Duncan

John Duncan, University of King's College, Halifax


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