The Power of Hesitation: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and seeing differently – Prof Alia Al-Saji (IAS Public Lecture, Durham, 25 October 2012)

The Power of Hesitation: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and seeing differently
Professor Alia Al-Saji
McGill University, Canada
25 October 2012, 5.30—6.30pm
Pemberton Building, Palace Green, Durham University

Abstract:  This paper asks how perception becomes racializing and seeks the means for its critical interruption. Professor Al-Saji’s aim is twofold: first, to understand the recalcitrant and limitative temporal structure of racializing habits of seeing, a structure that restricts their responsivity and improvisational openness. While racializing perception can be understood to build on the intentionality and habituality of all perception (as Linda Martín Alcoff has shown), its distinctive intransigence and de-humanization call for further phenomenological study. In this paper, Professor Al-Saji will argue that racializing perception is both more and less than habitual perception: more in its representational over-determination, less in its af­fective closure to difference and change. Drawing on the phenomenologies of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Frantz Fanon, she shows how this perception is reduc­tive and naturalizing; it constitutes racialized bodies as bodies that cannot be seen otherwise. As a counter­weight to the closure of racializing seeing, the second aim of this paper is to uncover resources within the temporality of perception for a critical awareness and destabilization of racializing habit. Reading Henri Bergson and Merleau-Ponty in dialogue with Iris Mari­on Young and race-critical feminism, Professor Al-Saji finds in hesitation the phenomenological moment when racializing habits of seeing can be internally fractured. Hesitation, she claims, can make visible the exclusionary logic of racializing and objectifying perception, coun­tering its affective rigidity and opening it to critical transformation. Hesitation thus opens the possibility for perception to become at once critically watchful and ethically responsive.

Biography: Professor Alia Al-Saji is a visiting Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study between October and December 2012. Her philosophical research brings together and critically engages 20th century phenomenology and French philosophy, and contemporary critical race and feminist theories. Running through her research is an abiding concern for the themes of time and embodiment, the intersection of which Professor Al-Saji seeks to philosophically elaborate.

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