Volume 14, 2022
J. Leavitt Pearl
I Can’t: Acute Sexual Impotence and the Flesh
Since Husserl’s phenomenological analyses of the living body (Leib) in Ideas II, the subjective experience of the body, what later French thinkers will name the flesh, has been particularly marked by its capacity for action—its potency. This privileging of the acting flesh, the potent organ, is echoed throughout the subsequent phenomenological tradition. For this tradition, from de Biran and Husserl, to Merleau‑Ponty and Henry, the flesh is distinguished from the mere body (Körper) by its unique capacity to act. For the later French tradition to be flesh is to be will, and to be will is to be action. Impotence (impuissance) appears as external resistance. In the present investigation, I challenge this trajectory of the flesh through a phenomenological investigation of the unique phenomenon of acute sexual impotence. In this way, it will be shown that l’impuissance (impotence) can be located not only in the objectivity of opposition within the world, on the organic or objective body (le corps, Körper), but within the immanence of the flesh (la chair, Leib) itself. Indeed, the experience of incarnate l’impuissance provides a unique phenomenological access to the incomplete synthesis of the carnal flesh—a synthesis that remains, by phenomenological necessity, run through with ruptures and gaps that function as its constitutive excess.