Merleau-Ponty’s Ocular Body (Poem)

Another in my series (?) of poems about phenomenologists.







Merleau-Ponty’s Ocular Body

Aristotle’s illustration

In the De Anima:

Imagine that the eye were a whole organism—

Then sight would be its soul.

A good enough illustration, I suppose,

In context.

But then you read Merleau-Ponty,

You watch him strain to see, see,

To see with his entire body, his integral being,

And you do not have to imagine anything:

Sight is his soul.

3 responses

  1. Your poem sent my mind darting in different directions, starting with Aristotle’s amazing analogy. It reminded me immediately of Emerson’s transparent eyeball! Of course, the transformation of an organ into a whole organism (Aristotle) is not quite the same as the transformation of a whole organism into an organ (Emerson), but the effect is the same: a body whose entire function and telos is to SEE. With Merleau-Ponty, the seeing is more like synesthesia, perhaps. It’s like that with Emerson, too, but with a significant difference in tone, obviously. Emerson’s trope refers to a sensory involvement so integral that the body itself paradoxically seems to fall away, leaving in its place “a perfect exhilaration.” His seeing is nothing less than supervenient bliss. Merleau-Ponty’s seeing, by contrast, seems to involve strain, strain, strain in order to see, see, see. Naturally, if Aristotle heard any of this, he’d say, “Calm down, gentlemen, calm down; it’s only an analogy.” –Are you so sure, Mr. stuffy Stagirite?

  2. It makes me think of Emerson, too. But I wasn’t sure I could control both his image and A’s all at once. Your comments on Emerson now give me a better sense of why I was unsure of that.

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