James Rakoczi – Moving without movement: Merleau-Ponty’s “I can” in cases of global paralysis

Here is the latest of our recordings from The British Society for Phenomenology’s 2018 Annual Conference ‘The Theory and Practice of Phenomenology’. James Rakoczi is from King's College London, and the paper is titled ‘Moving without movement: Merleau-Ponty’s “I can” in cases of global paralysis’.


Abstract: “In this paper, I aim to demonstrate how memoirs written by people who live with, or have experienced, global paralysis can illuminate and complicate Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s claim in Phenomenology of Perception that embodied movement is a necessary condition for a transcendental self. I argue that the kinds of movement these texts articulate shares an affinity with the kind of movement instantiated by Merleau-Ponty’s intentional arc: a ceaseless and adaptive movement, or a “therapeutic” movement, which constantly “recovers” from an incapacity to move. In short, Merleau-Ponty’s “I can” emerges ceaselessly from an “I cannot”. I shall make particular reference to two texts. First, I shall consider how any philosophy attempting to centre the importance of bodies-in-movement might align with the claims made in Kate Allatt’s memoir Running Free (2011), a text in which Allatt attributes an interior ‘running psyche’ as imperative to her miraculous recovery from locked-in syndrome. Second, I will read Jean-Dominique Bauby’s locked-in syndrome memoir The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon, 1997) through the lens of Merleau-Ponty’s account of anosognosia, arguing that the text conceals its laborious method of production in the very process of describing that method. I will conclude by reflecting on the influence Merleau-Ponty has had on embodied therapies and textual accounts of lived illness experience, and indicate how understanding the ways in which embodied movement, textuality and therapeutics overlap has significance for our understanding of Merleau-Ponty’s claims.”


The British Society for Phenomenology’s Annual Conference took place at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, UK during July, 2018. It gathered together philosophers, literary scholars, phenomenologists, and practitioners exploring phenomenological theory and its practical application. It covered a broad range of areas and issues including the arts, ethics, medical humanities, mental health, education, technology, feminism, politics and political governance, with contributions throwing a new light on both traditional phenomenological thinkers and the themes associated with classical phenomenology. More information about the conference can be found at:



The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, conferences and other events, and its podcast. You can support the society by becoming a member, for which you will receive a subscription to our journal:


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