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Ida Djursaa

Research project: Alterity and Plasticity: An Exploration of Transcendence in Husserl, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty

Abstract

My research investigates the role of transcendence in the three philosophies of Husserl, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty. The thesis traces the gradual movement of phenomenology from Husserl in two directions: 1) Merleau-Ponty's notion of the transcendence of the body in relation to subjectivity, and 2) the possibility of thinking the transcendence of the Other in Levinas as socio-political resistance. Present throughout is the possibility of re-thinking phenomenology in terms of plasticity, a concept which Merleau-Ponty conceptualises in his Phenomenology of Perception, but which is made explicit in the philosophy of Catherine Malabou.

In the first moment of the thesis, I critically examine Merleau-Ponty's development of Husserl's notion of consciousness as being at once transcendental, in the pure Ego, and transcendent, as embodied consciousness. I investigate how Merleau-Ponty's concepts of the body schema and ‘the flesh' shape a notion of subjectivity as either possession or dispossession. How should we understand this consciousness, this subjectivity, this body, which is at once immanent and transcendent, at once self-identical and other than itself? In the second moment, I investigate Levinas's critique of, and move away from, Husserl. For Husserl, it is not the idea of a thing which makes it transcendent; rather, transcendence is located in the very spatiality of an appearance. Yet for Levinas, transcendence is necessarily outside of spatiality and temporality, it is ‘a past that has never been present,' the trace. Thus, I assess the possibility for thinking the transcendence of the Other as resistance in Levinas. Plasticity appears as at once a challenge and an ally to the notion of transcendence; a challenge because plasticity operates by making transcendence ‘immanent'; and an ally because plasticity nonetheless contains an essential resistance to all structures of identity, as it is ever metamorphic, constantly changing. Thus, I explore the possibility for a ‘plastic transcendence' as socio-political resistance. Overall, then, my research is motivated by the possibility of displacing the traditional understanding of transcendence as being an immutable horizon, and instead explore the possibility for a transcendence that is the very process of change and transformation. Ultimately, I hope that this displacement of the concept of transcendence will be able to provide a critical framework for thinking about current political (global capitalism), environmental (climate change) and technological (AI) mutations which are at once plastic, that is, changeable, and produce an arguably alienating, othering, or ‘transcendent' effect.  

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Alterity and Plasticity: An Exploration of Transcendence in Husserl, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty
  • Research supervisor: Ms Catherine Malabou
  • Other research supervisor: Professor Stella Sandford

Biography

I am a PhD candidate at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. My research investigates the concept of transcendence in Husserl, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty, with a focus on the possibility of thinking transcendence and plasticity together. 

Areas of research interest

  • Modern European Philosophy
  • Phenomenology
  • Philosophy of Plasticity
  • Metaphysics

Qualifications

  • MA in Modern European Philosophy, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy
  • BA in English Literature, Queen Mary University of London

Funding or awards received

  • Kingston University Studentship
  • Knud Højgaards fond
  • Augustinusfonden
  • Torben & Alice Frimodts Fond

Publications

New Formations 93, Summer 2018, Book review of Brenna Bhandar and Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller (eds.), Plastic Materialities: Politics, Legality, and Metamorphosis in the Work of Catherine Malabou, Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2015

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