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published on April 15, 2020

Hans-Georg Eilenberger

Freud and Merleau-Ponty on the (Sexual) Experience of the Child

In this essay, I read Freud and Merleau-Ponty as voices for a more perceptive and nuanced discourse on the child. Their works, I suggest, contain two complementary approaches in this direction. The first approach concerns the structural asymmetry of child and adult. In his early writings, Freud assumes a radical break between the child’s and the adult’s sexualities. Taking seriously this assumption of asymmetry cautions us against the hasty application of adult standards to the child. The second approach concerns what I would call a “thick description” of the child’s lived experience. Merleau-Ponty exemplifies this approach in his lectures on child psychology and the notion of institution, where he develops a concrete, phenomenologically informed account of childhood and puberty.

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