The theme of this communication requires the prevailing mindset on the dimensions of alterity and reciprocity to undergo somewhat of a shift.
My reflection on the subject follows 3 directions : alterity on the mode of the Sensible actuative reciprocity and identity reconstruction via the contact with the Sensible. Every newly experienced bodily state that is linked to the Sensible brings to light the emergence of a new understanding in our relationship to others. In this communication, I put forward the idea that there is within us an other hidden from us that we need to penetrate in order to engage on a path towards the other.
Alterity on the mode of the Sensible
Levinas tells us that ‘Man is singular’, but what singularity is he talking about ? As individuals, we cannot be seen just as an example of a generality and each event that comes through us has a unique character. Levinas goes further when he places the relationship to the other as our most human ‘ethical relationship’ revealing the sense of responsibility for the other as preceeding the very idea of the relationship. This ethical manoeuvre ties me to the other and irrevocably attributes a self to the other.
In this perspective, singularity is human nature and presides over the singular relationship that the individual establishes with the other. Here, the individual is a ‘being of subjectivity’.
Yet, from the perspective of the Sensible, the question of singularity remains. Indeed, if none of us is like any other, are we nevertheless connected to ourselves, which is the prerequesite to accessing the singularity that reveals itself in the relationship with the Sensible ? The dimension of the Sensible as I define it is born from a direct and conscious connection with the body.
In developing this idea, I will add that we can be devoted to the other without discovering our own singularity. The idea put forward by Levinas that : ‘through the other, it is him/herself that the subject is looking for’ (Levinas, 2008, p.12) remains relevant insofar as relating to the other participates in the construction of our identity, and in particular of our social identity. However, that does not mean that relating to the other guarantees that we relate to ourselves and bridges the distance that separates us from our human nature. This is a disturbing, even disconcerting, thought considering the established idea that we construct our identity by relating to the other.
From the perspective of the Sensible, alterity and reciprocity consider the intersubjective relationship as a relationship of reciprocity that is constructed on a movement towards ourselves in order to move towards the other. In this perspective the first movement of alterity is back towards ourselves to open ourselves and welcome the other. In this type of relating, the relationship to the body becomes the foundamental element of the relationship to the other. Here the essential mode of relating to the other implies the encounter with the locus of the Sensible that awaits us within. It requires that we embody our own supporting point in order to become an inhabitant not only of the earth, but of ourselves.
My experience as a human change facilitator has shown me clearly how deprived people are from a subjective relationship with themselves. There exists within us a place that we are strangers to because it has not yet been explored. The distancing from this alien place within ourselves is what has inspired the title of this communication : “The other within’. It brings me to question the place and the nature of this other hidden to human perception. The term ‘other’ seems apposite in the sense that a dual identity dwells within us, the aspects of which are separate and different in structure from one another.
So we need to make towards ourselves a gesture of alterity in order to experiment and actualize the part of our own human nature that has not yet been explored and that I have named the Sensible. This vision invites us to establish a self-relationship to discover the particular singularity of the Sensible. As the locus of the Sensible is found in the body’s interiority, the body becomes the fundamental element of such a relationship. In this current of thought, transcendance does not mean that we are invited to explore what is bigger than ourselves, but what is biggest within ourselves. It is by taking perceptual enrichment to its peak that a door opens to actualizing a potentiality of human nature. Behind this issue, there is the will to rekindle a quality of presence to our own life as support to being present to the other.
Are we ready to change our relationship to our own life by returning to our bodies? Is it possible to live in greater proximity with ourselves? Some of the people I accompany seem to have a very poor relationship of presence to the interiority of their own bodies. They mention a ‘perceptual blindness’ that denies them access to a quality of corporeal subjectivity, whilst others affirm with ease their meaningful subjective experiencing.
Apprehending the Sensible body only makes sense to those who have experienced it in their own flesh. The Sensible is not just a place within ourselves, it is also a way to apprehend ourselves, a kind of seventh sense specialised in self-perception. People who experience it connect with this hitherto unknown ‘other’ and discover another facet of themselves.
Encountering this experience is an invitation to look at human nature anew. My plea for this wild region that is the Sensible to be discovered necessarily leads me to define the nature of this experience which fits with Levinas’s line of thought of ‘humanity rather than being’ (1963, 1976). Levinas calls on humanity to renounce the idea of ‘being’ as for him the status of being leads to a return to paganism and idolatry. Instead, he advocates the notion of an existence closer to human experience. So what then of locus of the Sensible ? The Sensible is not Being. It inherently carries a strong existential dimension as it enables us to experience the intertwining of totality with singularity, of the indifferentiated with the differentiated, of the animate with the inanimate and with regards to the theme of reciprocal alterity, of others with self and self with others. In other words the Sensible is the place where all the fundamental and human differences intertwine. Seeking to explore the diverse aspects of the relationship to the other within ourselves is at the same time engaging on a path towards the other. Being deprived of the Sensible is first and foremost being deprived of the singular experience that emerges in the relationship with the other. In this relational dimension, a ‘movement towards the self’ is not an egotistical or narcissic process but a move towards the other. The more we are present to ourselves, the more we become present to the other; the more sensible we are to ourselves, the more sensible we are to the other.
On reciprocity on the mode of the Sensible
Actuative reciprocity is the name given to this place of exchange between self and other. It is a particular quality of relating that appears in the instant when 2 people enter into a relationship with themselves within the heart of their embodied subjectivity in its contact with the locus of the Sensible. The singular experience lived by the agents of the relationship emerges within the experiencing of a Sensible shared perceptual background that lies underneath the usual affective and emotional modes of relating. In analysing the categories of the Sensible, it appears that experiencing the inner movement is the starter of the relational process. To illustrate this notion, here are some of the testimonials featuring in my doctoral dissertation : “Encountering the inner movement is the very first experience that has changed my relationship to myself and my perspective on life.” This encounter is almost always associated with a strong relational sensation linked to a deep sense of existence : “I was touched in my depth.” or “I discovered a new intimacy : that of a deep dialogue with myself.” As perception is enriched, people describe a whole process of development of their relationship to their interiority. I have given this process the name of “Processual development of the relationship to the Sensible body”(Bois, 2007). It evolves in stages from the encounter with the ‘other within’ through the perception of warmth, depth, wholeness, presence to self, sense of existence and opening to the other (or more precisely a sensibility/sensitivity to the other).
To give a concrete example that we encounter as we accompany people on the mode of the Sensible and particularly through relational touch: a non-verbal form of communication arises between two people that expresses itself in the form of a dialogue in the tissues that is conveyed through a conscious intersubjectivity. The communication pathway is established by means of an inner movement between the two - that is to say by the encounter of the movement of one with the movement of the other - which self-animates. This place of intersubjective exchange generates a reciprocal, evolving influence that circulates between the ‘touching’ and the ‘touched’ and between the ‘touched’ and the ‘touching’ in an evolutionary loop that constitutes a way of relating to the immediate that is embodied and dynamic.
On identity reconstruction on the mode of the Sensible based on the analysis of a self-narrative.
I have taken a few extracts of a master paper from a student whose subject was : “Itinerary of my identity reconstruction in contact with the Sensible.” This 49 year old student recounts the itinerary of the deconstruction of her identity as a woman, followed by her reconstruction in the encounter with the Sensible. The question she attempts to answer in her research is this : To what extent has the encounter with the Sensible participated in my identity reconstruction ? I will not deal here with her itinerary as such, but rather with its link to this communication and particularly the phase of becoming aware of her distance from herself and the recovery of the other within as a force for identity reconstruction.
It should be noted that the identity breakdown in question here touches the whole person. She is hospitalized in a psychiatry department for mental distress. But in reality, what appears through her narrative is a simultaneous mental, physical, temporal and relational decline. In this sense, the student describes her loss of identity as a combination of changes that exceed a simple psychological malaise. She says “ I didn’t feel well in my body”, and adds : “When I touched myself, I felt no weight and didn’t feel my bodily texture.” Or still : “My body was so light that it no longer belonged to me” and finally “I felt my chest like a black, terrible and deep emptiness.” This bodily state had a real effect on her relationship to herself and to others : “In the world, I wasn’t myself (…) I had a hazy relationship with others (…) people who talked to me always seemed very far.” In her narrative, she has a fundamental insight : “I was in reality the only person with whom I had never talked.”
Having extracted some significant statements regarding the deterioration of her relationship to her body, to herself and to others, here is the phase of identity reconstruction following the encounter with the Sensible
The beginnings of her encounter with life arose with the return of a sense of embodiment that occurred one morning during her hospitalization as she was washing. She recounts that her relationship to her body had very clearly changed : “I began to feel my body through the perception of cold water on my face (…) I remember touching my arms, my head, my skin and feeling there and then, truly alive (…) I opened my eyes and I saw myself. My body was different.”
This student then applied to do the perceptual psychoeducation mestrado which gives an important place to body-mediated self-practice. “Everything started as I encountered my bodily subjectivity and more precisely as I experienced an inner movement animating my body’s interiority (…). This subjectivity was endowed with an objective value since it expressed how my body was reacting to a particular way of relating to myself.” This movement offered her clearly an exceptional state of lucidity : “The encounter with the Sensible body was mobilising an efficient intellectual activity and was conductive to perceiving the contents of my experience in a manner that was relevant, authentic and spontaneous.” The mobilization of different cognitive and intellectual abilities was facilited through this encounter with the inner movement and allowed her to analyse all her mental states: “in the course of the sessions, I progressed through the sensorial introspective dimension into a prospection of myself (…). I was analysing my inner mental states and began to think it was possible to live.”
As she became aware of the presence of a Sensible body, she also became aware, by contrast, of the distance that she had kept with the “other herself” and how much this distance had contributed to her loss of identity.
Through her experience of the Sensible, this student heals her mental, temporal and relational disorders : “Encountering the Sensible body erupted like a unique and particular experience. By being present to the permanent intertwining of the body and of myself, I have discovered the proximity with my life and my existence.”
This communication in the form of an essay discusses several forms of alterity and reciprocity that require further investigation. Firstly there is dimention of the “other within” that is hidden from us and probably constitutes an obstacle to a full relationship with the other. This unexplored part of us called “the wild region of the Sensible” is a constitutive part of the yet unexplored human nature. Unlike Arends (2009) who defines the idea that only God can know and define human nature, I consider that humanity has the responsibility to explore the potentialities of human nature. Enriching perceptual potentialities in the context of the Sensible is the pathway to penetrate human nature. Levinas’ lifelong work focused on the sense of our responsibility for the other being our most human part. This dimension is confirmed when we encounter the other within ourselves, by which I mean, the locus of the Sensible. As indeed when we penetrate the locus of the Sensible, we become simultaneously sensitive/sensible to the other and we make the primordial experience of the sense of responsibility for the other (Levinas , 2008). And so a movement towards ourselves invites us to move towards the other on the mode of actuative reciprocity - a full and living relationship.
In the last part of this communication, I discussed an example of identity reconstruction that occurred in the contact with the Sensible. This example opens perspectives on the relevance of introducing Sensible body mediation for people in the process of reconstructing their identity.
Article published in Bois D., Gauthier J.-Ph., Humpich M. Rugira J.M. (2013) Identité, altérité et réciprocités : articulation au coeur des actions d’accompagnement et de formation. Québec : Ibuntu. pp.25-31
Translation of article L’Homme autrui de lui-même on Danis Bois and CERAP websites by Hélène Pennel 4.8.2018