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Imagining Bodies

Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Imagination

By James B. Steeves

Publication Year: 2004

Imagining Bodies demonstrates how Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the body has broad implications for philosophy, aesthetics and the social sciences. By examining Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of the body as a dialectic of habituation and creativity, Steeves unveils a deeper relation between self and world that is mediated by images of embodiment. Imagining Bodies is a testament to the importance of the body and the imagination in our perception of reality at a time when the philosophy of the body is associated with metaphysical presence.

The book also amends traditional theories of imagination by suggesting a new approach to determining what it is and how it functions. The imagination is not only extended beyond the realm of fanciful thinking but is restored as being essentially spatial and embodied; there is a primacy of the imaginary within perceptual experience. Further, Steeves demonstrates a stronger connection between Merleau-Ponty’s early works on the body and perception and his later works on aesthetic and social theory and on the ontology of the ‘flesh.’ He also provides a fresh and concrete interpretation of the later philosophy, and explains in what ways the imagining body relates to Being and to the natural environment. Finally, Steeves answers to recent criticisms of Merleau-Ponty’s work from postmodernism, deconstructionism, and feminism, paving the way toward a new understanding of perception and ontology.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Front Matter

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

It is a most fortunate circumstance that when philosophers in France were beginning to focus on the body as a philosophical problem, the art of mime was undergoing a revolution in Paris. Under the direction of Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Verry and Marcel Marceau, students of mime became increasingly concerned with the purity of embodied expression. The renewed interest in mime also allowed it to emerge as an art form in ...

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pp. xv-xvii

The following abbreviations refer to Merleau-Ponty’s texts. Wherever possible, I have used the same abbreviations for both the original French texts and the standard English translations. References to Merleau- Ponty’s French texts always end with an “F.” All italics and quotation marks found in quotations are from the original source unless otherwise ...

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pp. 1-12

Every year on one of the hottest weekends of the summer, a small town is transformed into a festival of sound and light. The usually quiet main street of shops and caf

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ONE. Imagining Bodies

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pp. 13-32

The performance marked the beginning of a new direction in mime and dance. Having grown tired of the flamboyance of the French stage he had observed as a theater critic, Copeau began his own school of mime, which he hoped would emphasize the purity of bodily expression. The success with which he and his students ...

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TWO. Perceptual Imagining

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pp. 33-50

... seashore is the site for a festival of the senses. The dark, purple waves betray hints of red, green and yellow, a palette that changes each moment as the waves roll into shore. Their translucent surfaces communicate to the eye their syrupy texture and the warmth of the sun that dances in their wake. From the crests of the waves, a dense spray of salt and foam is thrown into the air, ...

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THREE. Aesthetic Imagining

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pp. 51-66

... with wonder before the waves of the seashore, I decide to take out my pad and charcoal to draw. I trace with my hand the sweeping curves and the movements of the waves to express their impact on my body and my imagination. When I am done, I place the sketchbook before me, and I trace the curves on the page with my eyes instead of my hand. The finished sketch becomes the ...

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FOUR. Fanciful Imagining

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pp. 67-88

... a conference brochure for the American Association for the Study of Mental Imagery, Jerome Singer provides a convincing definition of mental imagery: “Mental imagery, in general, is a sensation- like or perception-like experience that occurs in the absence of the stimuli that would ordinarily be present to elicit it. It is a ...

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FIVE. Pathological Imagining

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pp. 89-102

... as they are in ordinary experience, flights of fancy can lead to neurosis. While walking along a beach I become moved by the expanse of the ocean and the darkness of the water and sense a cosmic calling to become absorbed by the massive ocean. I translate the resounding sound of waves into the song of Sirens, or I mistake the waves caressing my feet to be the tentacles ...

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SIX. Self-Imagining

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pp. 103-120

... the clear surface of the pool, surrounded by the reflection of cypress trees and distant clouds, I see my reflection: my face, both familiar and strange to me, provides a sameness by which I can identify myself, a sameness that nevertheless involves a strangeness, a reversal of right to left, of front to back, of reality to image. On the basis of this image I build a sense of self; it is this body, this ...

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SEVEN. Elemental Imagining

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pp. 121-136

... studying at college I often found myself on the weekend peering out the window of a Greyhound bus as it drove through the countryside toward home. The route followed a beautiful river valley lined by ancient elms and closed in by colorful rolling hills of hay and cattle. About halfway down the valley the bus would take a sharp turn toward the river and ascend the tall ...

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EIGHT. Imagining Being

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pp. 137-160

... the elements, the lofty spaces of the air, the all-consuming energy of fire, can be found the traces of the meaning of Being as it allows itself to appear in the sensible world. Although they wait to be developed and articulated by the imagining body, the elements possess a brute and wild nature that already gives shape to our experience. To perform a psychoanalysis of ...


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pp. 161-188


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pp. 189-200


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pp. 201-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705521
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703428
Print-ISBN-10: 820703427

Page Count: 223
Publication Year: 2004