Research I have two main areas of research. The first concerns the relationship between classical phenomenology (esp. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty) and the human sciences. In this area, I've published two papers that—to different ends—try to establish the historical and philosophical relationship between Merleau-Ponty and Gestalt psychology. You can access these below. I'm also currently working on two more projects in this area. One reconstructs the criticism of Heidegger offered by the phenomenological psychologist Erwin Straus', showing how that criticism might lead us to reassess the so-called "body problem" in Being and Time; the second is an overview of what I understand to be Merleau-Ponty's position on the ontogeny of the mind, which ultimately places Merleau-Ponty in conversation with some recent developments in cognitive archaeology.
My second main area of research interest has to do, broadly speaking, with the philosophy of race. I'm interested specifically in racial oppression as a bodily phenomenon, and my work in this area falls more or less under the heading of "critical phenomenology." A short paper on the philosophical significance of slave narratives was recently awarded the Junior Scholar Award by the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. As part of the award, that paper will be published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. I have another paper in progress on the phenomenology of enslaved embodiment, which uses 19th-century slave narratives to try to outline how conditions of chattel slavery impact the development of a bodily self. That paper is available upon request in its conference version. As part of this research cluster, I am also working on a paper thinking anti-blackness through the lens of the phenomenology of lived space.
Published Work "Merleau-Ponty and the Radical Sciences of Mind," Synthese (2019) [access here].
Abstract: In this paper, I critically reconstruct the development of Merleau-Pontyan phenomenology and “radical embodied cognitive science” out of Berlin-School Gestalt theory. I first lay out the basic principles of Gestalt theory and then identify two ways of revising that theory: one route, followed by enactivism and ecological psychology, borrows Gestaltist resources to defend a pragmatic ontology. I argue, however, that Merleau-Ponty never endorses this kind of ontology. Instead, I track his second route toward an ontology of “flesh.” I show how Merleau-Ponty’s arguments for this ontology depend upon criticisms of Gestalt Psychology to which radical embodied cognitive science remains vulnerable, and show that it leads him to a romantic philosophy of nature.
"The Logic of the Chiasm in Merleau-Ponty's Early Philosophy," Ergo 4 (2017) [access here]
Abstract: The trajectory of Merleau-Ponty’s career is often seen as a progressive development: He begins by analyzing scientific consciousness in The Structure of Behavior, complements that account with a phenomenological analysis of behavior as lived in Phenomenology of Perception, and then overcomes the “philosophy of consciousness” to which the earlier texts are committed in the turn toward an ontology of flesh in The Visible and the Invisible. Through close readings of Merleau-Ponty’s engagements with Gestalt psychology in The Structure of Behavior, I argue that the immanent critique of Gestalt theory in that text already anticipates the ‘chiasmic’ logic of flesh. This challenges the idea of a turn in Merleau-Ponty’s thinking. I begin by outlining the elemental, carnal, and reversible status of flesh. With careful attention to his source materials, I then distinguish Merleau-Ponty’s appropriations of Gestalt theoretical insights from his critical adaptations, defending three claims: (1) The Structure of Behavior borrows insights from Gestalt theorists that are undermined by their own, realistic ontology; (2) it modifies those insights to explicitly acknowledge the ‘elemental’ status of nature; and (3) those modifications enable Merleau-Ponty to re-interpret Gestalt psychologists’ empirical findings, outlining how consciousness must emerge from nature as both carnal and reversible.
"The Dred Scott Ontology and the Philosophical Significance of the Slave Narrative," forthcoming in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy: SPEP Supp. [access here]
In this paper, I offer a reading of the ‘harm’ of slavery as a species of ontological harm. Framed by a critical assessment of RM Hare’s classic paper “What Is Wrong With Slavery?,” I argue that traditional forms of analysis cannot make sense of slavery as a racialized harm. A crucial reason is the failure to conceptualize slavery from the position of the enslaved. To remedy this neglect, and adapting Calvin Warren’s reading of the Dred Scott decision, I then articulate what I call the Dred Scott ontology and show how this is vividly described already in slave narratives. These narratives, I argue, are thus rich philosophical resources for thinking about the existential reality of enslavement, and anticipate later insights from thinkers like Frantz Fanon. I also show how these resources prove essential for properly conceptualizing, as Hare wants to conceptualize, chattel slavery’s specific moral harm.
"The Landscape of Merleau-Pontyan Thought," in Horizons of Phenomenology (Springer) [Under contract] [access here]
This chapter provides an overview of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological methodology, centering the role of ambiguity in his work. It locates Merleau-Ponty within the field of classical phenomenology and introduces the reader to key themes and disputes within contemporary Merleau-Ponty scholarship.
"Being and Being-Owned: A Phenomenology of Enslaved Embodiment"
This paper conceptualizes slavery as an ontological phenomenon whose constitutive structure is the disruption of the process of achieving bodily unity. Drawing from both American slave narratives and antebellum agricultural writings, I argue that racialized chattel slavery does not only intercede in the formation of bodily subjectivity, but ensures that the enslaved body cannot achieve the self-same stability of the object. Drawing out thematic continuities between slave testimonies and 20th-century Critical phenomenologies of race, I defend this reading through a phenomenological engagement with the "sleight of cotton-picking," as described by enslaved persons in American South.
"Humanism and Existentialism in Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Poe" [invited chapter for edited collection on Humanism in Literature]
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