Normativity and the Sick Body
Phenomenologists have given considerable attention to questions of human embodiment and the experience of being enmeshed within the immanent world, most notably in the thought of Merleau-Ponty. This focus on incarnation has, in turn, heavily influenced contemporary philosophy of religion and post-theological turn phenomenology. Yet when speaking of the human experience of embodiment, philosophers run the risk of adopting a normative perspective that universalizes a particular type of human body while excluding or marginalizing different forms as deviant, defective, or deficient. This paper considers numerous critiques against the perceived normativity in Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodiment in the Phenomenology of Perception (feminist, gender studies, post-colonial critiques) before positing disability studies as an even more radical – and privileged – means to dispense with phenomenological normativity. In doing so, this paper attempts to open a space for multiple phenomenological perspectives for experiencing the world as a body, yet without lapsing into an entirely relativistic individualism that precludes phenomenology from making meaningful claims about the experience of human embodiment as such.
Keywords: Merleau-Ponty, Gayle Salamon, Disability Studies, normativity, defective embodiment, handicap, pluralistic perspectives, incarnation