Affective Incarnations: Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Challenge to Bodily Theories of Emotion

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In this article, we outline and discuss Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s description of affective and emotional life as found in Phenomenology of Perception, including his portrayal of the affective body-subject. By relating his central phenomenological claims to bodily theories of emotion, exemplified primarily by Antonio Damasio’s theory, we demonstrate Merleau-Ponty’s continued relevance. Merleau-Ponty’s challenge to bodily theories of emotion mirrors the (dis)connection between one’s own body and the mechanical body. He shows that affect and emotion cannot be understood fully without taking the experiential, existential, and intersubjective situation into account and thereby challenges traditional bodily theories of emotion by exposing the affective incarnated body-subject as a fundamental capacity to feel and perceive meaning through incarnate, constitutive, and intersubjective relations.

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