Volume 16, 2014
Between Yesterday and Tomorrow
The Phantom Organic: Merleau-Ponty and the “Psychoanalysis of Nature”
In a working note to The Visible and the Invisible (1964), Maurice Merleau-Ponty makes an enigmatic call for “a psychoanalysis of Nature.” This paper argues that there are two interrelated ways in which this call might be taken up. First, it might be taken as the demand to give voice to the deep sense of a nature, conceived in terms of unconscious desire rather than scientific rationality, that precedes and exceeds human life. Second, we might do a psychoanalysis of our relationship to nature, of the ways in which modern thought tends to deny and repress the unconscious, organic desire at its heart. This paper addresses the psychoanalysis of nature in both these senses. The first part of this paper takes up Merleau-Ponty’s well-known discussion of the phantom limb in Phenomenology of Perception (1945) in order to give a critique the mind-body dualism implicit in traditional attempts to account for this and related phenomena, and in order to present Merleau-Ponty’s own account of the phantom limb in terms of being in the world. Second, I argue that being in the world requires that we repress not only aspects of our personal pasts, but also our organic nature itself. Third, I argue that much of modern scientific thinking tends to deny the bodily and unconscious dimensions of conscious life—it is this denial that calls for a psychoanalysis in the second sense of studying our troubled and repressive relationship to nature. This denial of our own naturalness is accompanied by a denial of the unconscious and irrational nature of nature itself; finally, I will speak to the ways in which psychoanalysis might go further back than we might expect—beyond our childhoods and to the organic heartbeat of life itself.