How to Turn Around Trouble: Merleau-Pontean Institution, Aesthetics and the Metaphor of ‘Woman’-as-Hinge,

Andrews, Jorella G.. 2018. 'How to Turn Around Trouble: Merleau-Pontean Institution, Aesthetics and the Metaphor of ‘Woman’-as-Hinge,'. In: World Phenomenology Institute, 2018 Conference on Phenomenology and Aesthetics. Harvard University, United States 13-15 June 2018.. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper presents phenomenological aesthetics as a mode of investigation which, if deployed, is especially effective in situations that are experienced even as hopelessly conflictual or threatening — from the personal to the political — but which require reform. Rather than promote escapism, distraction or self-indulgence (criticisms that have been levelled against the aesthetic), phenomenological aesthetics provides investigators with the intellectual, emotional, and methodological capacities (1) to remain actively and flexibly connected to these troubling conditions; not to flee from them but to remain in-situ; (2) to find alternatives to the pre-fabricated (pre-constituted) quick-fix solutions that are so often resorted to — rightly so by first responders — by taking the time to engage in circuits of phenomenological epochē, and (3) from this basis, calmly and with fidelity, to discover within these characteristically fractured and divisive contexts what I would like to call ‘hinge scenarios’. These are imminently-emergent connective structures whose resolutely situated, flexible and aligned turnings enable configuration-and-orientation-changing openings and closings to become evident.

The idea of ‘hinge-scenarios’ has its origins in two suggestive usages of a ‘hinge’ (charnière) metaphor in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writing. In Institution and Passivity: Course Notes from the Collège de France, 1954-1955, institution may be understood as an inter- or intra-corporeal revelatory phenomenon which, amongst other things, dismantles assumptions that heterogeneity (of perceived identity, belief, position or practice, for instance) is a threat to community and cooperation. The instituted exists ‘between others and myself, between me and myself, like a hinge, the consequence and the guarantee of our belonging to one self-same world’. While the instituted is discoverable within any or all contexts, aesthetic experiences associated with making, displaying or interacting with art often facilitate such opportunities with intention and intensity. The second Merleau-Pontean example is from The Visible and the Invisible where the corporeal schema of a women ‘in the street feeling that they are looking at her breast, and checking her clothing’ is described as ‘for itself — for the other — It is the hinge of the for itself and the for the other —To have a body is to be looked at (it is not only that), it is to be visible’. It is from this text that I coin the phrase ‘Woman’-as-hinge’, poetically, as a figuration of those occasions when the vulnerabilities of exposure are grappled with, such that unexpected insights and admittedly risky experiences of connection become possible. Here illusions of self-possession as a guarantor of security are relinquished.

The ‘hinge-scenarios’ just outlined install us within finely articulated but often unheeded structures of ‘in-betweenness’. However, Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions, here at least, remain axiologically neutral. Therefore, I further define those ‘hinge-scenarios’ that are capable of inaugurating positive transformation as moments in which (as in the classical tradition) truth, beauty and goodness are experienced as a triumvirate — even if only fleetingly — from which appropriately nuanced resources may be garnered. In exemplifying this point, which incorporates the three capacities released by phenomenological aesthetics outlined above, two art-works play a pivotal role: the South Korean artist Kim Jongku’s multi-media installation Mobile Landscape (2009) and the Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi’s painting You who are my love and my life’s enemy too (2010).

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Phenomenological aesthetics, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hinge (Charnière)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


14 June 2018Accepted

Event Location:

Harvard University, United States

Date range:

13-15 June 2018.

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Jan 2019 11:30

Last Modified:

09 Jan 2019 11:30


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