Marine Kneubühler / The encounter (or the reunification) of the Social and the Experiential Body

I do social sciences. By “social” we usually mean a kind of commonplace, something obvious, a premise to think about humans (who are always culturally and socially in-formed) and the (social and cultural) world. Consequently, the “Social” is taken for granted, considered as something very powerful that lays on somewhere in-between individual minds, or that is graspable through the observation of (inter)actions and discourses. Even within subfields that are based on the micro-description of experiences (for instance, according to the work of Goffman or that of Garfinkel), the aim is always already to hunt for some networks of relationships. Inspired by Laurence Kaufmann’s program and interested in the Nature of the We, I have decided to turn the “Social” into an issue by bracketing the assumption of my field and by coming to philosophy, and more specifically to phenomenology, where “social” and, in a minimal way, “intersubjectivity”, are still debated. In other words, my aim was to reconnect with a way of thinking that takes the social dimension of everyone’s life as an enigmatic phenomenon to be explained in order to shed light on the very nature of collective beings. Hence, the Center for Subjectivity Research was undoubtedly the place to visit in order to carry out my project.  

I have started my inquiry by collaborating closely with LK, a rapper from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, who agreed to film himself, alone, during a moment of creation. The rap music is a very interesting starting point considering what I want to look at. On the one hand, because it entails a musical dimension that might stimulate the body which clearly becomes a moving and expressing body and, on the other hand, because it encompasses lots of speeches tied to the social sciences’ interest in discourse analysis. Driven by the descriptive task order concurrently elaborated by phenomenology and some other schools of thought in social sciences that take experience seriously, I began to produce a long description of LK writing a text, sitting on a red sofa, very focus, his head above an unwritten page, while the instrumental’s beat resonating relentless in the room. Insofar as LK was speechless except when he was trying to chant the words he had written, I had to find a manner to sketch through my description the silent dimension of his movements and a means to link this silent dimension to the words expressed through his mouth.

From Merleau-Ponty’s point of view, this experience of creation led me to consider the connections which bind the “Speaking language” that reveals the production of sense and the advent of thought at a pre-reflective level and the “Spoken language” that holds inherited backgrounds and a linguistic and reflexive dimension (The Prose of the World). Thus, I have been inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s reflection in Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence about the act of painting where he underlines the necessity to “consider speech before it is spoken, the background of silence which does not cease to surround it and without which it would say nothing” (Signs). As Merleau-Ponty tried to understand how Matisse, from a recorded slow motion video of his painting in the making, reached “this painting which did not yet exist”, I have tried to demonstrate, through my description, how LK reached this text for a song which did not yet exist when the camera started its capture.

I achieved a very meticulous analysis of this multimodal description, helped by an elicitation interview with LK watching himself on the video, mostly made of postures, gestures, movements, and emotions. One of my most interesting observations is that, when LK is fully committed to his act of writing, he is never ever static. While he is reading what he just had been written, he nods following the rhythm of the beat around, as if he were listening himself from a public standpoint. Moreover, when he is chanting his text, his body moves exactly as if he were on stage, flailing his arms and his bust, as if he were performing in front of a virtual audience. This observation shows that the act of creation is senseless without others, at least imagined others. As Merleau-Ponty told us: “It is in others that the expression takes on its relief and really become signification”. I argue that this empty projection of oneself in front of others, this anticipation of what we are trying to express to potential others, could constitute an observable trace of a pre-reflective (LK noticed how much he was moving during the elicitation interview and was not aware of that physical incorporation before) and embodied We.

Furthermore, what is noteworthy here is that this “incorporated projection” does not lead to a peaceful and untroubled experience for LK. This claim is provided by the observation of his specific way of doing and living the creation – a specific way marked by physical contractions and sudden movements, which show nervousness and anxiety. These also appeared consciously during our discussions. He indeed insisted a lot about his fear regarding what people might do with his texts, about what would be the consequences of a false interpretation, knowing that he also stressed the fact whereby to leave a trace of himself via his songs in the world is lived as an absolute requirement to move forward.

Merleau-Ponty argues that through the movement of creation “I submit myself to the judgment of another who is himself worthy of that which I have attempted”; obviously, the LK’s fear about the possibility of not finding that kind of “other” is constitutive of what he is passing through. Interestingly, these worries and fears are closely related to the title, which is also the theme, of the verse written for a collective’s song during the filmed creation, namely “Scared of Me” (Peur de moi). Most of his texts and those of the members of his Hip Hop’s collective – rapped in songs untitled, for instance, “Schyzo”, “In Our Heads”, “The First Person” – deal with the self-alterity that everyone is able to live at a reflexive and conscious level. In short, from this single moment of creation, we are in front of different levels of We interconnected that have in common a kind of “ordinary vulnerability” that could allow us to think from another background the constitutive conditions of intersubjectivity than those depicted by the social sciences. This is precisely what I would like to untangle during my stay at the Center for Subjectivity Research: an ordinary vulnerability that affects our bodies and could constitute the key to shed specific new lights on the nature of sociality.



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