Frantz Fanon's Critique of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Corporeal Schema
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Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 1908-1961
AbstractThere is something quite natural in the way a young woman ties up her hair. She closes her eyes. With her right hand, she reaches for her hair tie. She tilts her head backward. Grabbing from the bottommost layer, she collects her beauty, pulling it upward and together. She shifts the tie: from her right wrist to the fingers in her left hand and then, after a simple twist, back to the right hand. Her hair is removed from her shoulders. She opens her eyes. Now, ask any woman to describe, without acting out the process, the sequence of motions needed to complete this task. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his Phenomenology of Perception, argues that this type of body movement is made possible due to a person's representation of their body parts to space, which he refers to as a body schema. In addition to the body schema, Merleau-Ponty insists that all human beings have a corporeal schema, which determines how a person is able to posture and conduct themselves in accordance to the world and objects within it. It is not a series of calculations that allows for the woman to tie up her hair. She simply knows where her hair tie is and therefore she knows where her hair and her arms are. There is no need for measurement or precise dimensions; the body instead moves freely. There is a "harmony between what we aim at and what is given, between the intention and the performance - and the body is our anchorage in the world" (Merleau-Ponty, 144). But this anchor does not hold us in position. It simply secures belonging. Upon movement the body establishes its own space in the world, and this is not static, occupied space. By this understanding, a person is able to not only adapt to their surroundings, but also change them [by simply changing their position]. It is Merleau-Ponty's argument that this corporeal schema is a fundamental part of human biology and therefore cannot be hindered by society. It is Franz Fanon's argument that Merleau-Ponty failed to consider the black experience.
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