Post-Dualist Embodiment, with Some Theses on Sensation

Tom Sparrow, ‘Post-Dualist Embodiment, with Some Theses on Sensation’, pp. 25-66, in:

Sparrow, T., Malabou, C., 2015. Plastic bodies: rebuilding sensation after phenomenology. Open Humanities Press, London.


Certain bodily transformations never present themselves phenomenally. Or they do, but only after they have happened, like an afterimage whose original image is forever lost. They affect us unwittingly, spontaneously causing a malfunction or disablement of the body that consciousness never directly witnesses.

Sensation, I will claim, is something undergone by animate and inanimate bodies alike, but it is undergone in such a way that we tend to forget it ever happened or that it is happening at every moment.


The present book provides a response to this question by investigating the promises and limits of phenomenology for conceptualizing the nature of bodies and their relation to the environment. Principally it asks: What individuates a body? What constitutes its structural integrity? Of what is the body capable?


Since sensation is not often featured in phenomenological discussions, and because sensation, I contend, is necessary for conceiving both the activity and passivity of the body, its legitimacy as a philosophical concept is also defended.The turn to sensation in Merleau-Ponty and Levinas marks a significant departure from the residual idealism of Husserlian phenomenology—indeed, from the history of philosophy after Kant. In a sense, then, what I attempt here is a rescue of sensation from its devastation at the hands of the Critical philosophy.

The movement beyond phenomenology raises ethical and political questions about how we should and should not comport our bodies toward others; it also poses questions about how we impact and structure our environments. But these derive from the more fundamental question of bodily relations.

The problem of how we as individuals actually relate to other individuals, or how it is possible for one person to interact with, act upon, or know another individual must be addressed before we can draw up prescriptions.The relation question is epistemological and ontological; traditionally it has manifested as the problem of other minds or, more recently, the problem of intersubjectivity. These problems underliethe ongoing discussion of corporeal difference and its ethico-political consequences in contemporary continental philosophy. The saliency of these specific problems, however, only makes obvious sense in a dualist’s metaphysical framework.


Non-dualists like Spinoza must first explain how individuals emerge as individuals. Only then can they trouble themselves with how individuals can and should interact.The problem of individuation fascinated early modern philosophers as much as it is resurgent in contemporary thinkers like Simondon, Deleuze, DeLanda, Badiou and others.


Of course, the monist and materialist traditions, from Democritus to Hobbes, Spinoza, Marx and beyond have always contested the dualist’s ontology and resolved the intersubjective problem in various ways. But, at least since Hegel, the dualist framework has been under attack from a perspective that can generally be called non-dualism or, perhaps, post-dualism.

The Phenomenology of Spirit effectively demonstrates that the noumenal realm is unnecessary for explaining the movement of thought or history, and cannot be legitimately garnered from the Kantian critical project.Yet it would seem odd to apply the monist label to Hegel’s philosophy. Likewise, it is not necessarily a materialism because it allows for the existence of forces (Spirit, Concept) that are neither physical in nature nor subject to causal laws.

Bergson’s élan vital would be an analogous force, one which shifts his non-dualist philosophy away from materialism and into vitalism. Nietzsche, too, could also be considered a non-dualist, yet non-materialist, philosopher.

A central challenge for post-dualism is to overcome dualism without arresting motion, that is, without reducing animation to mechanism. The attempt at a non-reductive post-dualist ontology is alive in both Merleau-Ponty and Levinas.


I contend that it is their [Merleau-Ponty and Levinas] phenomenological ontology of the body and its tendency to draw conclusions that transgress the bounds of phenomenological method that make the French phenomenologists allies of post-dualism.


Corporeal ontology signifies a view of the subject as embedded in, immanent to, extended throughout, continuous with, and generated by its material environment and every one of the other bodies that populate it.

In short, the phenomenology of the body requires a non-phenomenological supplement in order to provide a comprehensive account of embodiment. I provide this supplement by attending to the sensitive/sensory life of the body, by reworking the concept of sensation, and by enlisting a number of critics of phenomenology to build a theory of embodiment that remains forever nascent in Merleau-Ponty and Levinas.

The corporeal turn constitutes one of the most recent attempts to develop the post-dualist project and complicate our pictures of subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and community. This is because the body is now largely regarded as the locus of all aspects of subjectivity, not just the practical. The mind is no longer conceived as independent from, and thus invulnerable to, the operations of its material environment.


But the post-dualist framework also raises a number of new questions, particularly about the nature of the subject and the workings of its mind, its will, and its freedom to act.

Intercorporeity, rather than intersubjectivity, more accurately describes the new problematic. Now, instead of asking how we know other beings, we are led to ask how it is possible for other beings to be other. What constitutes their difference and what makes possible our interaction with them?

The interrogation of the body has produced a fertile variety of approaches, which have in turn yielded a range of unforeseeable problems and possibilities for rethinking the constitution of the body, its relations, and its place in the order of things, concepts, and meanings.


Many of these approaches can be called materialist, but we must be careful not to assume that the embodied perspective always implies // physicalism or positivism.


Given that the post-dualist perspective undermines the basic distinction between internal psychic life and external corporeal life, theories of subjectivity are forced to acknowledge the essentially liminal nature of experience: all experience is a // product of the body’s transactions with environmental infrastructure and the other bodies that populate it.


At least since Heidegger phenomenology has defended a non-dualist thesis as it struggles against the prejudices of objectivism and dualism.There are, of course, countless non-phenomenological precursors to this general perspective: Parmenides and Anaximander; the atomists Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius; Hobbes and Spinoza; Marx and Nietzsche; the American pragmatists.

While the philosophers working on embodied mind acknowledge and cite from some of these historical resources, the fruits of their labors are often attributed to the latest research in cognitive science, cognitive linguistics, or emotion research.


This not only obscures the history of the problem of embodiment, it also passes over a rich and conflicted body of literature which has much to contribute to the contemporary scientific debate.


While I do feel that phenomenology is best practiced synthetically, that is, in conjunction with the human and natural sciences, I think we need to be careful not to place it in the role of science’s servant, or to underestimate/reduce its contribution to embodiment research.

A promising route opened up by the corporeal turn in philosophy offers the chance to rethink concepts that have been criticized right out of theoretical discourse. One of these concepts is sensation.

Sensation is a concept with a confused history and a shifting, equivocal identity. It is often conflated with or subsumed by perception, as exemplified in the term “sense-perception.” It is often relegated to the realm of internal, mental states or reduced to physical stimulation. It is a concept that has been left behind because it belongs to a surpassed ontological and epistemological model, a simplistic causal theory of perception.


If sensation cannot be comprehended adequately by dualism, the possibilities for revitalizing sensation in the post-dualist landscape are multiple.

The narrative I will weave about sensation tells how the return of the body has enabled the retrieval of sensation as a philosophically rich concept.

Claiming Levinas and Merleau-Ponty as allies, I defend the thesis that sensation forms the basis of our intentional and intercorporeal experience. It immanently orients and integrates our bodies. It is pre-perceptual, pre-conceptual, and pre- personal, and its diachrony introduces a fundamental instability into the world of perception.

Phenomenology relies on a certain distance between perceiver and perceived, a distance which posits “phenomena” as the objects intended by subjects. Consciousness, for phenomenology, is always already polarized in this way; it is the point of departure for any phenomenological analysis. But if the body is constituted immanently, which is to say, generated by the material world, then the polarization of consciousness must itself be explained.


Without the distance afforded by intentionality, which opens up and sutures the gap between perceiver and perceived, it is impossible for sensory phenomena to be apprehended as proper objects of intuition. Given the radical immanence of sensation, I contend that it never enters, as it were, the intentional gap, and therefore evades any possible phenomenological intuition.

Sensation lacks the transcendence necessary for the phenomenological observer to figure it against a background; it thus never rises, as such, to the level of explicit attention. As soon as it does it becomes perception, an afterimage of itself.

Kant carries out an analysis of the aesthetic capacity of the subject in the early parts of the Critique of Pure Reason. His analysis marks a turning point in the history of the concept of sensation and exemplifies an attitude which still holds considerable influence today.

To summarize Kant’s impact it is fair to say that after him the legitimacy of sensation—as a unit of experience—becomes suspect; today it is permissible to lay claim to perceptions (composed, understood sensations), but sensations themselves are relegated to an amorphous, inaccessible, and ultimately unspeakable ontological plane that is never accessed by perception or cognition.


In his account of the subject-object relation, as well as his understanding of the subject as agent of thought and action, Kant is Cartesian in spirit; but he decisively advances beyond the Cartesian view by endowing the subject with the power to constitute the form of its world. Following Kant, Hegel deploys a brand of phenomenology that criticizes Kant’s residual dualism, but Hegel also sacrifices the autonomy of objects along with the reality of sensations.

What is missing in all three of these views (Descartes, Kant, Hegel) is the practical or embodied dimension of sensation, or affirmation that it is sensation that delivers the materiality of the world to sensibility. Such affirmation can be found in the ancient atomists as well as Aristotle and later empiricists.

It seems that Kant and Hegel, and to a lesser degree Descartes, are concerned only with the epistemological or logical value of sensation, a fact which leads them to minimize the ontological consequences of the sensory encounter that takes place between the world and the body of the observer. Put otherwise, what they lack is a sense of the volatility attending sensibility and its function as immanent interface between sensing subject and aesthetic environment.


Much contemporary philosophy regards Kant’s suturing together of subject and object as nearly incontestable. Subject and object are codependent terms; their real distinction has collapsed. Against this claim I submit evidence that subjects and objects retain a kind of autonomy even if this autonomy is always caught up in relations.

The power and impact of Kant’s irrevocable fusion of subject and object institutes our contemporary episteme, the era of what Quentin Meillassoux calls “correlationism.” Correlationism is shorthand for the entrenched post-critical viewpoint which “consists in disqualifying the claim that it is possible to consider the realms of subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another.” On this account, it may be legitimate to speculate about objects in themselves, but it is impossible to either think or know them.


Phenomenology, as the philosophy/science which studies phenomena as they appear to consciousness, is by definition correlationism. One might even say that the subject-object correlation is the proper object of phenomenological analysis.This does not mean, however, that everything a phenomenologist writes reinforces or supports correlationism.

I will try to make the correlationism of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas clear, as well as highlight the points at which their philosophies contest the primacy of the correlation.The remarkable tenacity of correlationism poses an obstacle to any metaphysical realism, including the one I espouse here.


Kant maintains that there is an objective (noumenal) world in itself beyond the (phenomenal) reach of perception, but that this noumenal world is unknowable. Merleau-Ponty eschews the notion of an objective realm that exists apart from the phenomenal, in favor of a theory which posits that the objects we perceive just are the objects of the noumenal world. These objects are constituted and individuated in perception, our only means of knowing them.


The act of synthesis, or the individuation of objects, is said to occur through the body’s commerce with things (Merleau-Ponty) rather than in the understanding or imagination (Kant).

Kant’s epistemological treatment of sensation has a clear ontological significance which contrasts with the view that sensations are purely internal events. Sensation denotes the material to be processed into experience by the understanding, and in this respect it is external or objective content. They are what instigate the production of experience.

In either case, Kant undermines the volatility of sensation by situating it in a space inaccessible to the cognitive machinery of the transcendental subject—the noumenal.


In her book Ideal Embodiment Nuzzo contends that Kant’s theory of sensibility is actually a theory of embodied sensibility […]


Specifically, for Kant, the transcendental field is governed by a left/right asymmetry that corresponds to the asymmetry of our hands, and thus the a priori form of space (the formal aspect of sensible intuition) has the comportment of the body built right into it. More than an empirical fact, this asymmetry is a transcendental condition of any possible experience.

Nuzzo’s attempt to display the embodied element of Kantian cognition is emblematic of the broader concern with embodiment in contemporary philosophy. One of a plethora of recent attempts to retrieve the body, it testifies to the inadequacy of the now-familiar narrative which laments the Western philosophical tradition’s neglect of the body.

The question of Kantian embodiment is instead a matter of degree. Despite the embodied elements of Kantian cognition pinpointed by Nuzzo, the receptive function of sensibility must remain subservient to sensibility’s formal aspect, as well as the activity of the understanding, in his philosophy. Consequently, Kant provides us with an account of sensing that tames sensation by reducing it to a logical placeholder in his diagram of aesthetic experience.


If Kant’s epistemology cannot actually establish that sensation has a material reality, this means that sensation, on his view, cannot be objectively given to sensibility, cannot instigate sensing, and cannot give form to the subject.

While the first Critique excludes sensation from the transcendental to affirm its non-ideal materiality, the third Critique opens up the embodied dimension of sensibility through an analysis of the feelings of pleasure and displeasure.

Without establishing the corporeality of sensation it is difficult to conceive aesthetic experience as an embodied, not just intellectual, response. What prevents Kant from achieving this, I suggest, is a wavering commitment to correlationism.


Hegel’s refusal to infer the existence of pure sensory content eliminates the objectivity of sensation altogether, for it situates this content exclusively in subjective representations.

Hegel sees sensation as a prejudicial empiricist concept, one we use to explain the phenomena of experience without really comprehending the rationality of these phenomena.

Hegel’s phenomenology tracks the transformation and interplay between these shapes. In the process, the sensible world becomes a fable for Hegel.The Phenomenology quickly sublates the empiricist prejudice of sense-certainty in its dialectic, replacing it with perception as a more advanced order of rationality.


Phenomenology of all stripes begins from the premise that we do not first experience sense impressions, formless qualities, but perceptual objects. The difference is that Hegel does not allow for the transcendence of the object; the object is a concept, not a substance existing in the material world.

Hegel’s critique of Kant’s ontological dualism targets sensation as a source of knowledge, specifically, as the origin of our representations. This is a reformulation of the Cartesian criticism of empiricism, demonstrated by the wax example in the Meditations, where Descartes shows that what we actually perceive in an object as it undergoes myriad qualitative changes is nothing sensible—which would only lead to skepticism—but an idea or representation.


If we turn aside from Hegel’s explicitly epistemological criticism, however, it becomes possible to see sensation as something other than a means to certainty.What we find in the empiricists, as well as Kant, is the idea that sensation is the instigator of experience. As such it possesses a certain kind of agency, one that eludes the subject’s power of representation and which occasionally threatens its representational capacity.

Sensation also eludes and disrupts any attempt to fix it in a system of representation.

At stake when breaking with the idealist model that culminates in Hegel is not only an embodied conception of the subject, but also a rehabilitation of the concept of sensation and a practical philosophy that is founded in the aesthetic life of the body, not rooted at the intellectual level, like the Kantian imperative. An embodied imperative issues from the site where bodies interact with other bodies, where bodily transactions, yields, absorptions, resistances, and collisions occur. This is the place where sensations give and receive their form. Sensation is at the heart of all encounters, constituting and reconstituting the bodies involved.


The concept of plasticity, developed // as much by the American pragmatists as Catherine Malabou, will be the key to understanding this process.


The famous bracketing of the natural attitude which initiates the phenomenological method remains neutral about the things themselves and focuses the phenomenologist’s attention solely on the given as it is given. This means that Husserl—in a gesture of realist solidarity— does not discard the thing in itself, like Hegel, but, as a committed phenomenologist and with more restraint than Kant, refuses to speak about it.


The given for Husserl, then, is not what comes from “outside” us. It is what is presented to intentional consciousness within the subject- object correlation.This includes the sensory material which, for Kant, remains a formal abstraction about the external world.

We saw that Kant’s relegation of the material of sensation to the noumenal realm, oddly enough, disqualified him from claiming its objectivity. Consequently, his dualism has the effect of immunizing the subject from the instigation of sensation. Husserl’s idealism, at least in Ideas I, has a similar effect: he once again domesticates sensation and mitigates its material dimension by subjectivizing it. Like Kant and Hegel before him, he sees the subject as animating sensory content, whereas I would argue, alongside Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, that it is sensory content (sensations) that animates us.

We might pose this point of contrast in terms of what could be called the “principle of animation:” against the view which holds that the principle of animation is ideal or mental I offer the view that the principle of animation originates in the material environment, which means that subjects are constituted, practitioners are made, as corporeal events.


Primary contents no longer works as a concept in Ideas I so Husserl decides there to speak of “hyle” instead. In both cases Husserl is reconstituting what would otherwise be referred to as sensation: “sensation is hyle, that is, matter waiting to be charged with animating sense, awaiting an apprehension that will give it meaning.”


Husserl locates hyle in something posited as non-subjective, the noematic nucleus (object essence), which provides the ideal limit of phenomenological intuition.The noematic nucleus is what persists throughout all of the adumbrations of any given intentional object.

A tension similar to the one we noted in Kant is now apparent. If the hyletic layer is situated on the side of the subject, a layer of human consciousness, but is supposed to provide the non-subjective, non-ideal ground of noetic acts, what are we to make of the ontological status of the hyletic layer?

Ideas I is then not the best place to find Husserl engaged with the corporeality of sensation, even if it is representative of his nascent philosophical perspective. It is better to look at Ideas II, where sensation (Empfindung) is dealt with explicitly with respect to the body and where the hylomorphic structure of consciousness—which regards sensation as amorphous and innocuous—is contested.

As Alia Al-Saji reads it, the second book of Ideas shows Husserl focusing “on the way the lived Body is constituted through the localization of … sensings [Empfindnisse], i.e., the particular lived spatiality of the Body.” This is the prototypical concept of sensation I will try to elicit from the works of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas, as well as defend as the concept most faithful to the aesthetic life of our bodies. It is one which attends to the affective and kinaesthetic life of the body and, perhaps most importantly, reveals the materiality of sensation and the subject’s reliance on this materiality.


We have sketched some of the problematic aspects of the idealist and/or constructivist treatment of sensation, focusing specifically on where it locates sensation vis-à-vis the subject. In the case of Kant, sensation is found on the far side of cognition among the things in themselves. For the Husserl of Ideas I, sensation as hyle appears within consciousness, and merely functions as the “external” layer of intentional acts. In both cases, sensation is cut off from the body, allowed to neither enable nor threaten the constitution of the subject as such.

By contrast, classical analytic philosophers sympathetic to empirical realism, Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer, for example, often speak of sensations (as opposed to sense data) as internal or subjective signs for something objectively given.

This view of sensation is articulated within a realist ontology that posits discrete, fully formed objects existing outside the mind. Epistemologically speaking, these objects are made known to us through the sense data they transmit to consciousness. The process of perceiving and knowing thus begins in the object.

Merleau-Ponty thoroughly criticizes this model under the name of the “constancy hypothesis” (PP 7-12/13-19) and in so doing steps through the door, opened by Husserl’s Ideas II, to an embodied view of sensation.


Despite its epistemological difficulties, the metaphysical realist in me likes that empiricism affirms the autonomous existence and qualitative unity of objects. Russell’s sense data hypothesis, however, is problematic for at least a couple reasons. I think it is wrong to conceive sensation as internal, or as some kind of epiphenomenon of the mind. It is more than just a feeling or the subjective correlate of a physiological stimulus. Sensation provides a direct link to the world of objects, animals, people, and qualities.

Sensations travel. Every object possesses a unified sensory identity that can be apprehended or received by other objects. Its identity is transmittable, which is why it is possible to sense objects. Since sensing

is not the literal consumption of an object, we might say that sensing is the reception, or taking in, of the object’s sensory identity.

There must be some way, then, that the object’s qualities are detached and dispatched to our sensibility. There is, of course, a physical explanation for how this happens. Instead, what I am interested in exploring is the metaphysical aspect of sensation, for there are elements of sensation and sensing that are not accounted for by causal, mechanical, or even phenomenological models.

So, while it has much to say about the dynamics of sensation and perception, my account is philosophical and speculative. This is why a thorough discussion of the latest cognitive science and embodied mind research is absent from this book.


The materiality of the subject, that is, its corporeal engagement with a world of autonomous bodies, as well as its means of communication with this world, must be accounted for at both the physical and metaphysical levels. I think a revitalized realism about sensation, one which risks some speculative remarks, can do this.


We should avoid posing the question of sensation in terms of a false dichotomy: it is not the case that sensation is either a representational content, like Husserl’s hyle, or an amorphous, discrete datum about which nothing meaningful can be said. Instead, sensation should be seen as a complex meaningful content composed of no less than six dimensions, enumerated here as theses to be elaborated throughout the remainder of this book and expanded in future work.

1. Sensations are objective, real. Sensations belong to independent bodies, animate as well inanimate, and make up the singular qualitative constitution of these bodies.

Sensations are effective insofar as they can bring about changes or engender responses in other bodies. For example, sandpaper can smooth wood because it has abrasion as a property. Or rather: its abrasive identity just is its capacity to affect wood abrasively.

Sensations should not be restricted to their familiar role as qualitative or stimulating manifestations, for they are virtual capacities inhabiting objects and not mere potentialities; or, if we insist on calling them properties, they must be conceived as transmittable rather than fixed to the substance in which they inhere.

Throughout this book I will use the terms capacity, disposition, and power as synonyms that denote a formal structure (or property) of bodies.These terms denote real properties that entail determinate, although conditional, effects and/or affects. Dispositions are not merely possible or conditional, but virtual. They are real, but not actual, as Deleuze says.


2. Sensations are actualized relationally. Relationality must be understood alongside, not in opposition to, objectivity. It is in their relations that objects exhibit their capacities, or deploy themselves.

Human perception is not a necessary condition for the manifestation of sensations. Abrasion makes sense to any surface that is susceptible to scratching. Sensations therefore display a liminal and diacritical aspect: they always express themselves in relations between objects (liminal) and are effective in different ways which are determined by the sensory capacity and susceptibility of the objects encountered (diacritical).


It should be noted here that I insist on the relationality of sensation to acknowledge what Timothy Morton has called “the ecological thought,” roughly the idea that every living and nonliving thing in the universe is interconnected, at all times.

But as I have indicated, sensation is not purely relational, nor are bodies reducible to the sets of relations entangling them. Bodies, even when deployed in multiple relations, always hold something

in reserve. Otherwise, how could they ever forge new relations?

Sensation is best regarded as the precondition of relation; it is what enables bodies to enter into and exit alliances. It is the body’s disposition/power which houses the architecture that allows it to shift allegiances.

3. The practical value of sensation is ambivalent. Sensations can enable and disable bodies, stimulate or violate them.

Neither Merleau-Ponty nor Levinas adequately addresses this dimension of sensation. Sensory ambivalence provides the chance to build an ethics of embodiment which is based on our vulnerability to and nourishment by sensations.

4. Sensations are a source of alimentation.

Sensation just is nutrition, alimentation. Without alimentation our bodies are left to languish in their habitual sensory circuits. Alimentation and nourishment are two of the most significant elements I take from Levinas’s corporeal ontology.


5. Sensations are basically anonymous. The anonymity of sensation is what prevents it from becoming an anthropocentric concept, one which would drive a wedge between the human and nonhuman worlds.

Contra Aristotle, sensations do not rely on humans for their effectiveness; humans may feel the abrasiveness of sandpaper in ways that a piece of wood cannot, but this is only because humans (and some nonhumans) possess the power to translate sensations into affections or to process sensations into perceptions or cognitions or linguistic expressions, thus personalizing them. This is why I would say that perception is personal while sensation is not.

I will argue that our identity is constituted by the sensations we receive as well as the sensations we give off, but I

will insist that these sensations do not belong to us, but rather we belong to them. Subjects, then, need sensations in a way that sensations do not need subjects.

6. The time of sensation belongs to the past. Sensations are almost universally regarded as phenomena of presence and equated with how they immediately manifest themselves to the senses. But the actualization of sensations requires a different temporal signature.Without the duration involved in the movement of my hand across a pane of glass, I cannot sense its smoothness. Over time sensations accumulate in the body (as habits, for instance) and leave a unique footprint on our body schema.

In a sense, then, the reality of sensation remains forever past, shattered as it is when it manifests its efficacy at the level of present attention, perception, or reflection. It therefore challenges the priority given by Heidegger and others to future-oriented human projects. Again, sensation is the precondition of these projects.


These six theses arise out of a rereading of the corporeal ontologies of Merleau-Ponty and Levinas. But neither Merleau-Ponty nor Levinas subscribes to all six of sensation’s dimensions.

Complete adherence to these theses requires that we formulate an independent position which is in some respects at odds with the French phenomenologists.

My cursory history of the fate of sensation in the post-Kantian milieu serves not as an indictment of modern idealism tout court, but rather as an heuristic with which to understand the corporeal phenomenologist’s desire to inject sensation with new life. The problem now is to give an account that adheres to the volatility of sensation and captures the aspects of experience left out of the Kantian/Husserlian model.

The resolution of this problem reveals not only a more complex picture of sensation itself, but also demonstrates the central function of sensation in the processes of corporeal individuation, the constitution of bodily identity, and intercorporeal commerce.


Merleau-Ponty’s reversible body, which is developed in response to the modern theory of sensation and really begins to take form in the chapter on “Sense Experience” (le sentir) in Phenomenology of Perception, is treated first.

Partly in response to an apparent ethical defect in Merleau-Ponty’s own philosophy, Levinas deploys what I call the susceptible body. If Merleau- Ponty’s body downplays its passivity in favor of its competence or grasp (prise) of things, consequently misrepresenting the volatility of sensitive life and posing an obstacle to the solicitations of other bodies, then Levinas provides an account of the body which overstates the vulnerability of the body and obscures the enabling effects of sensation.

The plastic body I eventually endorse against the phenomenologists (Chapter 5) is a reconstruction built from components found in both Merleau-Ponty’s and Levinas’s texts, most important of which is the carnal sensibility they offer as a replacement for the Kantian model.

Following James, Dewey, and Malabou, among others, the plastic body balances what I see as two extreme yet opposing descriptions of the body-world relation. Once this balance is struck we then have an account of embodiment that provides an alternative to the correlationist view of sensation and subjectivity, narrows the gap between phenomenology and non- phenomenology, and provides the basis for a practical philosophy grounded in the aesthetic life of the body (Conclusion).