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While the various forms of violence have been the subject of special studies, we lack a paradigm that would allow us to understand the different forms of violence (physical, social, cultural, structural, and so on) as aspects of a unified phenomenon. In this article, I shall take violence as destructive of sense or meaning. The relation of violence to embodiment arises through the role that the body plays in our making sense of the world. My claim is that violence is destructive of this role. It undoes the role of the bodily "I can" in making sense of our surrounding world--be this its physical, cultural, or social significance.
James Mensch (St. Francis Xavier University)
While the various forms of violence have been the subject of special studies,
we lack a paradigm that would allow us to understand the different forms of
violence (physical, social, cultural, structural, and so on) as aspects of a uni-
fied phenomenon. In this article, I shall take violence as destructive of sense
or meaning. The relation of violence to embodiment arises through the role
that the body plays in our making sense of the world. My claim is that vi-
olence is destructive of this role. It undoes the role of the bodily “I can” in
making sense of our surrounding world be this its physical, cultural, or so-
cial significance.
One need not accept Hegel‘s view of history as a ―slaughter bench‖ to see vi-
olence as a pervasive factor of human experience. As history teaches, a good
part of the diplomatic and political activities of humankind have been dedicat-
ed to dealing with its collective and individual consequences. The necessity of
such action can be read from the statistics. According to the World Health Or-
ganization (WHO), around 1.6 million lives are lost each year due to violence.
World wide, it is among the leading causes of death for people between the
ages of 15 and 44. These statistics concern only the use of physical violence
that is, the violence defined as ―the intentional use of physical force or pow-
er.‖1 They do not include ―structural violence.‖ This is the violence that ap-
pears in the deprivations of the developing world, such as malnutrition and the
corresponding rates of infant mortality. The resulting deaths are understood to
be violent, rather than natural, insofar as they arise from the structural inequi-
ties characterizing the relations between developing and advanced nations. As
part of the same continuum, we also have the cultural and social violence that
often follow from such inequities. As reports of dysfunctional aboriginal
communities, troubled societies, and ―failed states‖ like Somalia indicate, this
violence, though harder to document, is also widespread.
While the various forms of violence have been the subject of special
studies, research in this area has been hampered by the lack of a unifying para-
digm. Very basic questions, such as those relating to the meaning of violence,
remain unanswered. What is lacking is a paradigm that would allow us to un-
derstand the different forms of violence (physical, social, cultural, structural,
Violence and Embodiment 5
and so on) as aspects of a unified phenomenon. In what follows, I will use the
phenomenological method to develop this paradigm. In its broadest sense,
phenomenology is the study of how we make sense of the world. It begins by
identifying sense-structures and works backward to investigate the activities
and experiences which generate them. As currently practiced, this method
does not see the knower as a disembodied ―pure‖ observer.2 Rather, it begins
with the fact that the activities and experiences that underlie all our sense-
making activities presuppose the body. Thus, it recognizes that the sense we
have of a three-dimensional object in space is generated by the perspectival
views we experience as we walk about or handle it. The object‘s sense as hav-
ing weight comes from our lifting it; its sense of having certain tactile qualities
arises from our touching it. In other words, the fundamental fact phenomenol-
ogy begins with is that our bodily abilities are correlated to the basic senses we
have of the world. This correlation, I believe, is the key to a unified approach
to the different forms of violence. In what follows, I shall take violence as de-
structive of sense or meaning. The relation of violence to embodiment arises
through the role that the body plays in our making sense of the world. My
claim is that violence is destructive of this role. It undoes the role of the bodily
―I can‖ in making sense of our surrounding world be this its physical, cul-
tural, or social sense.
Sense-making: As Merleau-Ponty noted, ―it is literally the same thing
to perceive one single marble, and to use two fingers as one single organ.‖3
Our perception of the marble is one with a set of bodily acts, those of reaching
over, picking up and bringing close the marble. We also turn our heads, focus
our eyes and, if need be, roll the marble between our fingers to see its different
colours and guage its hardness and smoothness. The sense of the marble in-
cludes all these qualities. As such, its perception also includes a certain bodily
perception. I perceive both the different aspects of the object and my body as
it plays its role in the perception of the object. In Merleau-Ponty‘s words,
―External perception and the perception of one‘s body vary in conjunction be-
cause they are two facets of one and the same act‖ (Ibid.). Thus, the percep-
tion of the marble includes that of the grasping fingers. I do not just grasp the
sense of the marble, I also grasp the sense of my body as it functions in this
perception. The grasp or ―constitution‖ of the marble‘s sense, in other words,
goes along with a parallel grasp or constitution of my bodily being.4
This co-constitution appears on all levels of sense-making. To go
beyond the senses of things in their mere physical presence, we have to speak
of the uses we put them to as we engage in our projects. Generally speaking,
6 Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy
the pragmatic sense of things is given by their purpose in relation to such
projects. We have projects because we are dependent on the world, that is, on
the things in it that we need. The goals of our various practical projects are to
provide us with them. In accomplishing these projects, we also determine how
the world appears to us. Thus, each project, when successful, exhibits those
aspects of the world that are required for our purposes. The water of a stream,
for example, is seen as water to drive my mill when I use it for this purpose. It
can also appear as water to drink or to wash or cook with, depending on my
particular needs. This determination of the appearing of the world and, hence,
of its sense is also a determination of the way we appear to ourselves. We be-
come the person who has accomplished these projects. The sense of our em-
bodiment as an ―I can‖ is correlative to such projects. The co-constitution of
the sense of this ―I can‖ and the sense of the world disclosed through such
projects places us within the world. The embodied ―I can‖ always appears
within the world it discloses. It is always disclosed as a ―being-in-the-world.‖
In all this, the role of the embodied ―I can‖ is crucial. Without it, we
could not acquire and enact the practical senses we gain from others. Thus,
everything from learning to eat at the table to learning how to write presuppos-
es a functioning body. The same holds for our initial learning of our language.
We acquired, for example, the meaning of such words as ―knife‖ and ―fork‖
when we learned to eat at the table. They were not taught to us in isolation,
but rather as part of a pattern of bodily behaviour, one which disclosed what
knives and forks were for. Similarly, in appropriating the projects of others we
learned, for example, that paper can be used as a surface to draw and write on
or as material to start a fire or to make a paper airplane, and so on. Each new
use enriches our sense of what is meant by the word ―paper.‖ 5 Behind this is,
in fact, a multiple correlation: The components of a word’s meaning are corre-
lated to the ways in which the object it designates can appear, which are corre-
lated to its instrumental character, that is, to the purposes we can put this par-
ticular object to. Such purposes themselves are correlated to our specific
projects. To the point that such projects are common, each of these correlated
elements will also be common. The common meaning of an expression will
point back to the common usage of an object as means for a given goal. Thus,
for everyone who uses paper to start a fire, the meaning of the word ―paper‖
will include the fact of its being combustible.
These correlations rule out the possibility of a ―private language.‖ For
an expression to be irremediably private, the appearing it relates to would also
have to be private. This would imply the object itself would have to be unique
Violence and Embodiment 7
in its instrumental character. Nothing else would be capable of substituting
for a particular object in the accomplishment of some particular project. To
turn this about, we can say that the commonality of meaning is based on substi-
tutability. Not just this sheet of paper can be used to start a fire. Other sheets
can also have this use and, hence, can bear the common meaning ―combusti-
The above makes clear that the role of the body in generating pragmat-
ic senses is one of enactment. Through a set of bodily activities, we enact
senses by putting the objects to the uses that disclose their senses. We do so
through our bodily ―I can,‖ which may be anything from ―I can eat with a
spoon‖ to ―I can drive a car.‖ Without this ―I can,‖ a person‘s words lose their
lived sense. The loss of this ―I can‖ is not, then, just the reduction of the body
to a nonfunctioning object. It is also the loss of the person‘s ability to enact
and, hence, uncover for himself the senses that make up the world he shares
with his others. Broadly speaking, such senses are ordered according to levels
of their enactment. Their constitution, in other words, is a multilevel affair
which begins with bare physical presence, continues with the pragmatic senses
involved in relatively simple, discrete projects, and continues with collective,
cultural projects, where the senses in question can only be generated by groups
of individuals working together. Thus, the ―I can‖ that is correlated to the
grasp of a violin as a physical presence is required for the ―I can‖ that discloses
it as a musical instrument by playing it. This, in turn, is required for the ―I can
play with others‖ that discloses the violin‘s role in a string quartet.
What we have here is a series of founding and founded levels, which
build progressively toward the constitution of the elements making up our cul-
tural world. Take, for example, the constitution of an aboriginal hunting party.
The collective activities of its members enact the world of the hunt. Such a
world rests on the activities that constitute the pragmatic senses of its individu-
al elementssay, those of the weapons employed. On the basic founding lev-
el, we encounter those bodily activities, such as turning one‘s head, focusing
one‘s eyes, and so forth, that are involved in the project of grasping the basic
physical presence of the objects surrounding us. In each case, a ―world‖ (or
milieu) is constituted, one that includes a corresponding constitution of body
and its ―I can‖ as present in this world. For example, in disclosing the violin
as an ensemble instrument, the ―I can‖ also discloses itself as the ―I can play
with others,‖ e.g., as a member of a string quartet. In the movements of the
members of the string quartet as they watch and gesture to each other, moving
in tempo with the music, the performers exhibit a sense of embodiment that is
8 Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy
founded on but distinct from that which is present when they play alone. Here,
as before, we can speak of ―two facets of one and the same act,‖ namely, the
correlative constitution of both the body and the objects it employs as it engag-
es in various projects. Both are generated by its activity. When this activity is
social, that is, involves shared projects, so is the corresponding embodiment.
Viewed as a social structure, it is correlated in its ―I can‖ to a corresponding
social world. It becomes an ―I can‖ within this world.
Cultural and Physical Violence: The tie just drawn between embo-
diment and sense-structures allows us to see a common thread in the different
forms of violence. In each case, we confront the destruction of sense that oc-
curs through the impairment of the bodily ―I can‖ that is required to generate
such sense. Violence, we can say, is always bodily, but the body it violates va-
ries according to the performance of this ―I can.‖ Thus, the many faces of vi-
olence that we encounter in our world are differentiated according to the form
of embodiment and the corresponding ―I can‖ that they violate. A few exam-
ples will make this position clear. Take, for instance, the destruction of abori-
ginal cultures by Europeans. The result of European colonization was not just
a transformation of the land through enclosures and the destruction of habi-
tatsa change that deprived the inhabitants of their original means of support-
ing themselves. Concomitant with it was a disruption of the contexts of sense
by which the natives interpreted their world and themselves within it. Thus,
once the land was divided up and enclosed for farming, the aboriginal hunter-
gatherer activity became impossible. With this, the worlds such activity dis-
closed were no longer available. The inhabitants could, consequently, no
longer understand themselves within their context. The men, for example,
could no longer see themselves as hunters or pastoralists, given that all the
suitable land was enclosed by the colonists. Their loss was a loss of their
sense of embodiment as hunters or pastoralists. This was not just a loss of a
social function along with the recognition and status that this involved. It was
also a loss of a bodily ―I can,‖ one correlated to the specific projects that were
no longer possible. It vanished along with the world such projects uncovered.
If we broaden the sense of ―project‖ to include the religious practices
that disclosed to the natives the ―spiritual‖ senses of their world, we can see a
parallel example of cultural violence in the activities of the European missio-
naries, who often traded medical aid and other material advantages for profes-
sions of belief. The transformation of the aboriginal religious self-
understanding affected their comprehension of their embodiment. A striking
example of this was the reinterpretation of the tropical native‘s body as the
Violence and Embodiment 9
―flesh‖ that was liable to corruption and sin, the flesh, therefore, that had to be
In Canada, the forcible removal of native children to residential
schools exacerbated this destruction of sense. These children were forbidden
to speak their native language, thus preventing them from transmitting its spe-
cial senses. The cumulative effect of this imposition of non-native cultural and
religious outlooks was not necessarily their adoption. The inappropriateness of
the latteras belonging to a different social context and situation, one corre-
lated to a different ―I can‖—usually ruled this out. The result was, rather, the
collapse of their own interpretative, sense-making categoriesincluding most
prominently the ones by which they judged good and evil. At the extreme, na-
tive Canadians suffered a breakdown in their ability to make sense of and,
hence, function in their new situations. With this came the phenomena of
abuse. In the disorders of sexual, spousal, drug and alcohol abuse of some
communities, it is possible to see the collapse of their embodiment as a social
Such abuse may, but need not terminate in physical violence. When it
does, it attacks our physical embodiment and its ―I can.‖ In the extreme case,
it prevents its victim from enacting the basic senses that tie her to her physical
and cultural worlds. A horrific example of such violence is provided by the
amputations that were carried out by the various militias that ravaged East
Africa during its recent civil wars. A normally functioning body allows a per-
son to engage in the projects of her society and thus to possess the understand-
ing that is articulated by the common expressions of her language. But, when
she is subjected to the amputation of hand or foot, or otherwise mutilated, her
body no longer is that of the norm. What is mutilated is not just her body, but
also her body-dependent projects. The mutilation, thus, extends to her prag-
matic understanding of her world and her being in it. The interpretations that
articulate this understanding are no longer congruent with those of society.
The same holds for the linguistic meanings that express these interpretations.
Within certain limitsnamely those set by the bodily mutilationshe, thus,
becomes languageless. Her mutilation is not just ―unspeakable‖ in the sense of
being dreadful. It is also such as to place her outside of the context of the
common meanings she once shared with her others. Not being able to enact
them, they remain ―symbolic,‖ that is, they possess a sense that she cannot fill
with intuitive fullness. Here, the result of such violence is a silencing of its
victims. It removes them from a living participation in the context that would
permit the articulation of their situation. The ultimate violence on the physical
10 Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy
level is, of course, that of murder. Given that the living body is the ultimate
foundation of all our projects, this results in the total collapse of sense-making
and, hence, in the complete silencing of the individual.
Trauma: To understand the effect of bodily violence on this ultimate
level, we have to grasp the temporal aspect of sense-making. Sense-making is
a matter of engaging in a project, even if this is simply the project of wanting
to get a better look at something. In engaging in a project, we project our-
selves forward towards what we want to achieve. We let this direct us. There
is, as Heidegger noted, a certain temporal distention towards the goal of the
project.6 Given this, to assert that sense-making is a bodily function implies
that the body, in its own functioning, has this temporal distension. By such a
distention, I do not mean something measured by clock-time. The reference,
rather, is to the way we are always ahead of ourselves in our projective being
in the world. We are in the world through our projects since, as noted, through
them we co-constitute the senses of the world and ourselves within it. This
sense of ourselves as an ―I can‖ includes a sense of ourselves as ahead of our-
selves, there at the goal.
The best way to understand the organic basis of this projective being-
in-the world is through the contrast Hans Jonas draws between the inorganic
and the organic. He begins by noting that an inorganic entity is identical to the
matter composing it. It is just this matter and nothing else. This means that its
identity has a certain temporal independence. In Jonas‘s words, ―its being
now is the sufficient reason for its also being later, if perhaps in a different
place.‖ ―A proton,‖ for example, ―is simply and fixedly what it is, identical
with itself over time, and with no need to maintain that identity by anything it
does.‖ Its conservation is, thus, ―a mere remaining …. It is there once and for
all.‖7 In other words, temporal distinctions do not enter into its essential de-
scription. Since it is inherently always the same, its temporality is that of sheer
nowness. The case is quite different for the organic. To be, the organic body
must reassert its being from moment to moment. It must reach outside of itself
if it is to be. This is because it is both totally composed of matter and yet dif-
ferent from it. It must engage in metabolismin the exchange of material
(Stoffwechsel) with the worldin order to be. Thus, the matter composing it,
Hans Jonas writes, ―is forever vanishing downstream.‖ ―[I]ndependent of the
sameness of this matter, it is dependent on the exchange of it . . .‖8 Without
this, it would not be alive. Thus, in contrast to the inorganic, its material state
cannot be the same for any two instants. It could only be the same if its meta-
Violence and Embodiment 11
bolic functioning were to end. But, this would imply its death since it would
now be inorganic.
Since it is organic, it constantly needs the influx of new material. In
Jonas‘ words, ―This necessity (for exchange) we call ‗need,‘ which has a place
only where existence is unassured and its own continual task.‖9 Such need ex-
presses its relation to the future. Thus, a living body has a future insofar as its
being is its doing, i.e., stretches beyond the now of its organic state to what
comes next.10 Here, its ―will be‖—the intake of new materialdetermines the
―is,‖ that is, determines the nature of its present activity. Insofar as it exists by
directing itself beyond its present condition, the living body is ahead of itself,
it ―has‖ a future. In other words, as need, as the necessity for exchange, it is
already stretched out in time. Given this, we have to say that the living body,
in its very organic functioning, provides the basis for our sense-making. It
does so by grounding our being ahead of ourselves that makes projects and,
hence, disclosure possible. Thus, we have projects that disclose us as in the
world because we have needs. The fundamental basis of such needs is our or-
ganic relation to the world. This relation first places us in the world by making
us of the worldi.e., of the materials that the world offers us for our flesh.
Implicit in the above is a point that is crucial to understanding the ef-
fects of bodily violence. This is that the organically functioning body, in its
grounding sense, is itself beyond sense. Formally, this point follows from
Fichte‘s assertion ―by virtue of its mere notion, the ground falls outside of
what it grounds.‖11 As Fichte explains, if the two were the same, the ground
would lose its function, which is that of accounting for the grounded. Like the
grounded, the ground would, itself, be in need of the same type of accounting.
In a more than formal sense, the senselessness of the body can be understood
in terms of what was said about the impossibility of a ―private language.‖ The
impossibility follows from the fact that the common meanings a language em-
ploys point back to the common usages of an object to achieve some goal.
This implies that this commonality of meanings is based on the substitutability
of objects as means to achieve a goal. The example given was that not just a
particular sheet of paper can be used to start a fire. Other sheets can also have
this use and, hence, can bear the common meaning ―combustible.‖ What is
absolutely unique, then, can have no common meaning. It is unspeakable in
that it has no communicable sense. Now, the body in its organic functioning
does have a uniqueness that defies substitution. No one can eat for me. No
one can take a walk or exercise for me. In general, no one can perform any of
my bodily functions for me. In their very inalienability, such functions are like
12 Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy
my death. Just as I alone must undergo my own death, that is, my own cessa-
tion of organic functioning, so I alone must engage in the elements of this
functioning.12 My organic activities are, therefore, inalienable. They cannot
be substituted for. My body, as irretrievably my own, is marked by this inabil-
ity to have a substitute. It escapes the signification (the expressed sense) that
is correlated to the disclosure of substitutable objects.
This, of course, does not mean that there is no disclosable aspect of the
body. Like other objects, its disclosure is correlated to its instrumental cha-
racter. Thus, its various skills and attributes can be exhibited insofar as they
show themselves as means to given ends. What is thereby disclosed is the hu-
man body as a public object. Insofar as the common meanings of language de-
scribe it, this is also the substitutable body. Many different individuals can, for
example, tie their shoelaces or walk down the street. The ability to perform
such tasks thus enters into the general sense of body. This sense can be ex-
pressed in the words that convey this sense. The nondisclosable, nonexpressi-
ble aspect of the body comes from the fact that on the most basic level one
body is not substitutable for another. The fact that someone else eats dinner
does not relieve my need to eat dinner. My bodily projects, understood in the
sense of this example, delimit a sphere of ownness that is radically private.
This sphere of what is proper to me is marked by nonsubstitutibility. It thus
constitutes the sphere of the private that escapes linguistic expression. As
such, it falls under Aristotle‘s assertion that the particular as the particular can
be sensed, but cannot be expressed in a language we share with our others.13
Such sharing involves common meanings, which express the common features
of objects. My body as mine, however, cannot be common. It is the flesh that
incarnates me, making me this particular person and not anybody else. Given
that the meanings we use always apply to more than one object, this bodily
particularity that we sense and daily live is always inexpressible.
This senselessness of the body is crucial to understanding the possi-
bility of violence understood as trauma in the psycho-analytic sense. Such
trauma combines a lack of sense with strong emotional affect. The body, as
the place of our sensuous passivity to all the degrees of pleasure and pain, is
the seat of affect. As the organic functioning that makes possible sense, it is,
in its unique singularity, beyond sense. Thus, the strong affect that reduces it
to itself, that is, limits its self-presence to the immediate, nonsubstitutable,
nonexpressible presence of such an affect, results in trauma. The effect of this
trauma is a kind of suffocation similar to that which Levinas described in his
work, Existence and Existents.14 It involves feelings of entrapment and panic.
Violence and Embodiment 13
The victim, experiencing it, has a horror of being closed in with no possibility
of escape. The reason for this comes from the self-transcendent nature of or-
ganic functioning. Such functioning is inherently outside of itself. As the ex-
pression of need, it directs itself beyond itself. As expressing our dependence
on the world, its basic mode is that of exceeding itself. To cut off such self-
transcendence is, thus, to threaten this functioning with extinction. It is to
eliminate the ―I can‖ that allows an organic being to live by transcending itself.
The experience of such trauma is, thus, that of the collapse of this ―I can.‖
Were the ―I can‖ still possible, disclosure and, hence, sense could be generat-
ed. The person exercising it would have a future. By virtue of her projective
being, she could escape from the senselessness she had been reduced tothis,
by engaging in sense-making and interpreting herself accordingly. In other
words, she could disclose a world and herself in it in the ways that she learned
from her others. She could be speakable, that is, expressible as a sense struc-
ture that is part of the sense of the world.
Ultimate violence is the cutting off of this possibility. I say ―ultimate‖
because with the bodily violence that results in trauma we are at the founding
level of constitution. Below this is simply the cessation of all organic func-
tioning. What our analysis of the lowest level makes clear is that violence,
taken as a destruction of sense, is an undermining of both embodiment and the
sense constituted through such embodiment. Since this sense includes that of
embodiment, we confront on the lowest level the senselessness of embodi-
ment, which is passively experienced as pure affect.
Whatever the level of violence, the pattern is the same. In each case,
we have the disruption of a constitutive level and, hence, of the senses of self-
hood and world that it founds. What remains after the disruption are the lower
founding levels. These, too, can be disrupted until we come to the ultimate
founding level, which, not having a level of sense-making beneath it, is itself
senseless. To illustrate this schematically, we can take the highest levels of
constitution to be those of the social and cultural sense-structures that are oc-
casioned by the collective ―I can.‖ Such an ―I can‖ is itself an expression of
our social embodiment. Cultural violence destroys such sense-structures by at-
tacking the embodied ―I can‖ that accomplishes them. Founding this ―I can,‖
we have the individual ―I can‖ with the sense-structures it generates. Given
that the projects generating such structures were learned from the individual‘s
others, this founding level is, of course, never pure. No complete abstraction
of it from the collective level is possible. In spite of this, however, we can
speak of typicalities and patterns of disclosure that characterize individual
14 Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy
lives. We can also speak of the violence that disrupts them, that robs such
lives of their lived senses. On the lowest level, we have the bodily functioning
that underlies the individual ―I can.‖ Its destruction affects all the higher le-
vels. This is why cultural genocide can always be accomplished through the
elimination of a people and, if pursued relentlessly, always includes this as an
option. What is crucially important is not to wait till this occurs. This, how-
ever, involves being sensitive to the destruction of embodiment and of the em-
bodied sense that characterizes all the faces of violence.
1 The statistics are from the World Report on Violence and Health, WHO, October 3, 2002, 3.
The English version of the report can be obtained at: I would like to ex-
press my gratitude to Dr. Michael Staudigl for the correspondence and conversations that contri-
buted so greatly to the development of this article.
2 As Don Welton argues, this Cartesian view of the knower does not even pertain to Husserl‘s
phenomenology. In Welton‘s words, ―… Husserl‘s Cartesian formulation of his method is a
first rather than a final formulation…‖ See, The Other Husserl: The Horizons of Transcendental
Phenomenology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 4.
3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, tr. Collin Smith (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1962), 205.
4 The reason for this, in Husserl‘s view, is that the optical (or visual) sensations of the object are
entangled with those of my bodily activities as I move to get a better look, handle the object, etc.
In such a process, as Husserl writes, ―... the running off of the optical and the change of the ki-
nesthetic [data] do not occur alongside each other, but rather proceed in the unity of an intenti o-
nality that goes from the optical datum to the kinesthetic and through the kinesthetic leads to the
optical, so that every optical [datum] is a terminus ad quem and, at the same time, functions as a
terminus a quo(Ms. C 16 IV, p. 40b in Edmund Husserl, Späte Texte über Zeitkonstitution
1929-1934 (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), 329, my own translation.
5 Heidegger makes this point by observing that as we gain more and more skill in making our
way in the world, we ―understand‖ it in the sense of knowing the purposes of its elements. He
defines ―interpretation‖ as the ―considering ... of something as something‖ that articulates this
practical understanding. In other words, ―interpretation‖ makes explicit the purposes of the ob-
jects we encounter; it expresses ―what one does‖ with them. Such interpretations form the core
of a language. They constitute the significance of its descriptive expressions. Martin Heidegger,
History of the Concept of Time, tr. Theodore Kisiel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press
1985), 261.
Violence and Embodiment 15
6 For Heidegger this temporal distension is of ourselves inasmuch as it is through anticipation
that we project ourselves forward, placing ourselves at the goal. The future coming towards us
is, in this view, a letting ourselves (qua projected) come towards us. In Heidegger‘s words,
―This letting itself come towards itself … is the primordial phenomenon of the future as coming-
towards.‖ (372) It is our closing the gap between the projected self and the present self.
7 Hans Jonas, Mortality and MoralityA Search for the Good after Auschwitz, ed. Laurence
Vogel (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 89.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 In Jonas‘s words, ―. . . organisms are entities whose being is their own doing ... the being that
they earn from this doing is not a possession they then own in separation from the activity by
which it was generated, but is the continuation of that very activity itself.‖ (Mortality and Mo-
rality, 86).
11 J. G. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, trs. P. Heath and J. Lachs (Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press, 1982), 8.
12 According to Heidegger, ―death is essentially, in every case, mine‖ (Sein und Zeit, Tübingen:
Max Niemeyer 1967, 240). It ―lays claim to me as an individual.‖ Because it cannot be shared,
―the nonrelational character of death individualizes Dasein down to itself‖ (Ibid., 263). My
point is that all our organic functions have this ―nonrelational character.‖ Just as no one can die
for me, no one can eat for me.
13 See Aristotle, Metaphysics, VII, x, 1036a 27.
14 In Levinas‘ description, ―The mind does not find itself faced with an apprehended exterior.
The exterior is no longer given. It is no longer a world. What we call the I is itself sub-
merged by the night, invaded, depersonalized, stifled by it…. Before this obscure invasion, it is
impossible to take shelter in oneself, to withdraw into one‘s shell. One is exposed‖ (Existence
and Existents, tr. Alphonso Lingis (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995), 589). For
Levinas, this is an experience of the anonymous ―there is‖ of being. Such an experience, I am
claiming, is also that of trauma understood as the collapse of the sense-making function that
would place the I in the world, thereby distinguishing it from the world and giving it an exterior.
... While I agree that "we lack a paradigm that would allow us to understand the different forms of violence" (Mensch 2008), the phenomenon of violence does not have to be regarded necessarily as a homogenous one. Its tripartite temporality is an indication of the fact that the experience of violence consists in a plurality of modes of experiencing and in the shifting from one to another. ...
... Two thematic dossiers, edited byEndress and Rampp in Human Studies (Springer) in 2013 and respectively Ciocan and Marinescu in Studia Phaenomenologica in 2019, deserve special mention here, as well as the contributions of Staudigl (2013a),Waldenfels (2003),Dodd (2017),Mensch (2008Mensch ( , 2017 andLawlor (2016). A remarkable collection of phenomenological studies can be found inStaudigl (2014).1 Other divides refer to normative vs. non-normative, micro vs. macro approaches on violence (see Hartmann 2017: 5f.). ...
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Violence is signaled by a mark of discontinuity, interruption, rupture. The tripartite temporality of violence, with its strong focus on the present, points to the originary violence. Moreover, the violent event is structuring the order of the action sequences in an actual violent (embodied) interaction. The interactional dynamics in violent encounters between co-present actors shapes the specific forms of the experiencing in (and of) the violent interaction. Based on how violence is experienced in an interactive situation, the phenomenon of violence articulates itself according to three coordinates: directedness, co-performativity and de-capabilisation. The outlining of the structure of the lived experience of violence is revealing something irreducible in it. To understand the experience of violence as such, I propose that we accept the idea of violence per se and depart from the idea that the acts of violence are essentially moral actions. The core of the ethical-moral discussion concerning violence should be grounded instead on the moment of conversion identifiable when we take into account the reaction to violence.
... Claramente os autores apropriam-se destas expressões no contexto das ações corporais, como "eu consigo conduzir" ou "eu posso levantar-me e ir embora", mas podemos considerar que, particularmente nas mulheres vítimas de violência doméstica, há como que uma quebra da sua unidade psicocorporal, como se os verbos "conseguir" e "poder" tivessem sido retirados (pela ação Em casos extremos comoaqueles de violência sexual, o próprio self corporal e o autoconceito se tornam mais flexíveis, menos coesos e menos seus (Mensch, 2008;Selgas, 2014;Chiu, Chang e Hui, 2017). Como se quanto mais magoado estiver o corpo (entenda-se o corpo físico e psíquico, a identidade psicocorporal), mais difícil seja a superação da violência e da ambiguidade da relação amorosa, e a tomada de decisão por um rumo diferente. ...
... Mensch (2008) faz também uma revisão do trabalho de Merleau-Ponty utilizando apenas o termo embodiment. No entanto, em 1962 sabemos que Merleau-Ponty se referia essencialmente à corporeidade. ...
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A violência doméstica contra as mulheres é uma realidade demasiado presente na sociedade contemporânea, sabendo-se muito pouco sobre todo o processo e, sobretudo, sobre as vítimas. É uma problemática de particular complexidade, por contar com múltiplos intervenientes, mas também pelas diferentes perspetivas teóricas que se podem adotar na sua compreensão. Neste artigo, fazemos uma revisão sobre a fenomenologia do corpo da mulher vítima de violência, considerando o corpo físico e psíquico, discutindo os processos de embodiment da violência e do trauma. Tentamos compreender como o corpo se coloca numa situação de agressão, e de que forma isso compromete o comportamento e a saúde da vítima, ou como podemos fazer do corpo uma ferramenta de empoderamento da mulher agredida. Palavras-chave: Violência doméstica, corpo, embodiment, body-ownership, mulher, fenomenologia, empoderamento. Abstract: Domestic violence against women is a major reality in our present society, although our scares knowledge about all the process and, mostly, about the victims. It is quite a complex issue, because of its many characters, but also because there are a range of different theoretical perspectives for its comprehension. In this paper, we reviewed knowledge about phenomenology of the body, particularly the body of female victims of violence, taking in account the physical and psychic body, discussing the embodiment of violence and trauma. We try to understand how the body behaves in an aggressive situation, and how it compromises the battered woman behavior and health, or even how we can make from the body an empowerment resource.
... Thus, as seen before, embodiment research supports the idea that the body is embedded in one's environment, is a product and producer of physical, psychological, and identity features, and gathers subjectivity and our ability to make sense of the world (Mensch 2008;Marmeleira and Santos 2018). Accordingly, Marshall and colleagues propose three main standpoints, whose intertwining may, in their view, represent the embodiment: the body morphology, the body as lived experience, and the body that actively engages with the world (Marshall et al. 2021). ...
Intimate partner violence (IPV) impacts both physical and mental health of victims. The embodiment refers to the inner and outer features that structure how we feel and act within our bodies. The study of the impact of violence on embodiment has led to a growing interest among researchers and practitioners. This is a review chapter about the embodiment features in need to be considered in research and support of victims of intimate partner violence. The chapter also encloses the embodiment measurement tools and ethical cautions, as well as the importance of the embodied possibilities – feeling, owning, and acting – as therapeutic resources for victims of IPV. This chapter ends with a schematic organization of the embodied mechanisms involved in therapy targeting victims of IPV and a brief case report of the embodied therapeutic journey of a female victim.
... See Heidegger (1996, p. 140). 12 SeeStaudigl (2006),Mensch (2008),Rogozinski (2020).Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved. ...
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Our most current experience of violence is not predominantly violence “given in the flesh,” but violence given through the mediation of the image. The phenomenon of real violence is therefore modified through the imagistic experience, involving first of all its emotional, embodied and intersubjective dimensions. How is the emotion constituted in the face of depicted violence, in contrast to the lived experience of real violence? Is the intersubjectivity modified when (symmetrical or asymmetrical) violence appears pictorially? What specific embodied dimensions are particularly engaged when violence is lived as an image, and not as a real phenomenon? The phenomenon of imagistic violence can also be understood in contrast with the experience of violence lived in phantasy, memory, or dreaming. Also, since each type of image puts into play certain possibilities of depicting violence, making possible various subjective experiences of violence, it crucial to explore how this experience fundamentally depends on the type of image by which the phenomenon of violence is depicted, be it painting, photography, fiction film, documentary or media image.
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The paper aims to give a phenomenological account of the way in which the experience of violence is modified in the aesthetic images. The phenomenological framework in which I place my analysis is primarily given by Edmund Husserl’s conception. The investigation starts from the curious fact that violence cannot be aesthetically experienced when it is presented in person, but it can be aesthetically experienced in images. I claim that the reason for this asymmetry lies in the structure of image-consciousness, that is, in the differences between the physical thing, the depicting object and the depicted subject. Given that the image-consciousness presupposes the background of the physical thing, which is constantly and implicitly aimed by the consciousness, it is possible to focus only on the manner in which the depicted violence appears. In this way, we can aesthetically contemplate a violent scene without being disturbed by it. To show this, I bring forth a brief presentation of the a priori structure of (i) image-consciousness and (ii) aesthetic attitude, as they have been theorised by Husserl. After (iii) providing a minimal concept of violence and explaining some of the modifications that violence undergoes in image-consciousness, (iv) I show how violence is modified in aesthetic images.
This article accounts for Heidegger’s phenomenological concept of violence from the period of Being and Time. Violence is relevant for Heidegger in two different contexts: (i) methodological, where we speak of hermeneutic violence, and (ii) thematic, where we should speak of existential violence. The former is grounded in the latter. In the first part of the article, I analyze hermeneutic violence, showing that this concept is ambiguous, and one has to distinguish between two different meanings of it. In the second part of the article, I show that at the core of the original sense lies the existential violence of bursting out of senselessness. In the final part, I contextualize Heidegger’s concept in light of the contemporary phenomenological developments of the phenomenon of violence, showing that existential violence is constitutive and has the peculiar character of being at the same time sense-destroying and sense-making.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) seeks to protect women’s bodily integrity in war and promote women’s rights to participate in decisions affecting them in the realm of peace and security. Its normative framework offers potential to transform how peace and security is framed in the UN Security Council. At the same time, critics charge that the Women, Peace and Security agenda reproduces problematic categories, including women as a static, homogeneous social group, binaries such as peace and war as clearly delineated events, and victims and perpetrators as gendered, oppositional groups. In this article, we strive to think critically about gender and human rights through the rubric of the Women, Peace and Security agenda and problematic categories that underpin its design. We do so by exploring gender and embodied knowledge in war.
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In this article, I address the question of violence with respect to the phenomenological difference between the transcendental and the empirical field. In the first part, I phenomenologically address the notion of violence, developing a concept required for an account of the phenomenon of violence. Thus, I correlate it with the notion of vulnerability, arguing that violence cannot be understood irrespective of vulnerability. However, a proper phenomenological account has to indicate the subjective conditions of possibility of a phenomenon as it is given in experience. Therefore, we should ask: what is the status of violence when we are talking about the transcendental field? This question leads to the second part of my article, where I address the notion of violence from the perspective of the difference between the pure and the empirical ego, as it has been traced out by Husserl. If from the point of view of an empirical ego the concept of violence is meaningful, from the point of view of the transcendental ego it seems to be absurd. This is particularly significant, because Husserl is talking about the transcendental ego as being immortal. The pure ego is thus invulnerable and this means that violence—understood from the point of view of both the violating subject and the violated one—is something that cannot be linked to the transcendental field. The question that arises—how is violence possible on the empirical level, since it is impossible on the transcendental level?—is a question to which Husserl cannot respond.
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The aim of this article is to explore the emotional dimensions involved in the phenomenon of interpersonal violence, identifying various modalizations of affectivity occurring in the architectonics of this phenomenon. I will first concentrate on symmetrical violence, namely, on the emergence of irritation, annoyance, anger, and fury leading to fierce confrontation. Next I will explore asymmetrical violence, where the passive pole experiences the imminence of the other’s violence in fear and in being terrified. I will then focus on the experience of the third in the face of violence, showing that here the affectivity is differently constituted each time, depending on the various situations of symmetrical and asymmetrical violence that the third witnesses. Finally, I will contrast the experience of real violence with the experience of violence-as-image, and I will pose several questions regarding the modifications of the affective experience of the third in the face of depicted violence.
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The aim of this article is to address the question of the anthropological difference by focusing on the intersubjective relation between the human and the animal in the context of a phenomenological analysis of violence. Following some Levinasian and Derridian insights, my goal is to analyze the structural differences between interspecific and intraspecific violence by asking how the generic phenomenon of violence is modalized across various levels: from human to human, from human to animal, from animal to human, from animal to animal. I will address questions of incarnated vulnerability and altered states of affectivity, and I will relate the various forms of violence emerging in the context of the anthropological difference to the question of territoriality, arguing that violence is structurally modified in relation to particular articulations of our worldly spatiality.
"Hans Jonas (1903-93) was a German Jew, pupil of Heidegger and Bultmann, lifelong friend and colleague of Hannah Arendt at the New School for Social Research, and one of the most prominent thinkers of his generation. The range of his topics never obscures their unifying thread: that our mortality is at the root of our moral responsibility to safeguard humanity's future. Mortality and Morality both consummates and demonstrates the basic thrust of Jonas's thought: the inseparability of ethics and metaphysics, the reality of values at the center of being. "
The Science of Knowledge
  • J G Fichte
J. G. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, trs. P. Heath and J. Lachs (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 8.
It-lays claim to me as an individual.‖ Because it cannot be shared,-the nonrelational character of death individualizes Dasein down to itself‖ (Ibid., 263). My point is that all our organic functions have this-nonrelational character.‖ Just as no one can die for me
  • According
  • Heidegger
According to Heidegger,-death is essentially, in every case, mine‖ (Sein und Zeit, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer 1967, 240). It-lays claim to me as an individual.‖ Because it cannot be shared,-the nonrelational character of death individualizes Dasein down to itself‖ (Ibid., 263). My point is that all our organic functions have this-nonrelational character.‖ Just as no one can die for me, no one can eat for me.