The Normal and the Abnormal: The 43rd Annual Meeting of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle

The Normal and the Abnormal: The 43rd Annual Meeting of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle
November 8th-10th, 2018
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

On November 8th-10th, 2018, the Department of Philosophy & Religion with generous financial support from the Vice-Chancellor of Research and the Graduate School, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the Honors College held the 43rd Annual Meeting of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Professor Talia Welsh of UTC directed the conference with support from Gail Weiss (George Washington University), the General Secretary of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle, and David Morris, (Concordia University) the Associate General Secretary.

The conference featured two keynotes lectures, twenty-two papers (selected by peer-review process), and the 2018 Martin Dillon award for graduate work in Merleau-Ponty scholarship. All the sessions were plenary resulting in an ongoing strong discussion throughout the conference. We had one keynote by Jenny Slatman, Professor of Medical Humanities of Tilburg University and one keynote and magic performance, surely a first at a philosophy conference, by Lawrence Hass, retired Professor of Philosophy of Austin College and current Dean of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School, Las Vegas. We also enjoyed a stellar performance by retired professor of Mississippi State University, and current musician, Rachel McCann.

The presenters came from eight countries world-wide, with twelve professors, one independent scholar, and ten post-docs or graduate students presenting their papers. We had a variety of departments represented including philosophy, art, magic, music, psychology, medicine, and feminist studies. The conference was attended by 48 people with additional UTC students and faculty.

Thursday, November 8th had the following presentations:

Neal DeRoo, King’s University Alberta: “Merleau-Ponty and Ab/Normal Phenomenology: The Husserlian Roots of Merleau-Ponty’s Account of Expression.”

Jan Puc, Czech Academy of Science: “Neither Bad Habit nor Bad Faith. The Ambiguity of the Unconscious in early Merleau-Ponty.”

Peter Antich, University of Kentucky: “Hallucination and Perceptual Faith.”

Adam Blair, Stony Brook University: “Ground Without Figure: A Phenomenology  of Peripheral Sightedness.”

Chiara Palermo, Université de Strasbourg: “Reflecting memory. Trauma and history in Kader Attia’s work.”

Lin Ma, Renmin University: “On the Topology of Chiasma, Chiasme, and Reversibility: Merleau-Ponty’s Later Ontology.”

Gail Weiss, George Washington University: “Living Between-Worlds: Decolonizing and De-Pathologizing Multiple Worlds of Sense.”

Alia Al-Saji, McGill University: “Decolonizing Phenomenology: Merleau-Ponty, ‘Primitive’ Peoples, and Prepersonal Life.”

Jenny Slatman of Tilburg University gave the keynote presentation, “Toward a Phenomenology of Abnormal Embodiment?” in the late afternoon discussing how Merleau-Ponty’s work does not use the term “abnormal” but rather pathological. She explored work in Kurt Goldstein and statistics to explore concepts of normality, abnormality, and pathology.

In the evening of the first day, we enjoyed a reception with accompanying music played by Rachel McCann & Carnal Echo at the Bessie Smith Hall.

Friday, November 9th had the following presentations:

Jennifer Bradley, Duquesne University: “Figures with No Ground: an exploration of the (dis)orienting Perceptual Experiences in Autism through the lens of Merleau-Ponty.”

Jennifer Wang, Villanova University: “(Ab)normality as Spectrum: Merleau-Ponty, Post-Kleinians, and Lacan on Childhood Autism.”

Claus Halberg, University of Bergen: “Transgendering the Merleau-Pontian Body: Not Necessarily an Easy Task.”

Matthew Rukgaber, Eastern Connecticut State University: “A Phenomenological, Sociotechnical Systems Approach to Shame and Disability.”

Randall Johnson, Psychiatry-Private Practice: “Dark Pedagogies: Unlearning Whiteness as Transparency.”

James Rakoczi, King’s College London: “Moving Without Movement.”

Gabrielle Jackson, Stony Brook University: “What Does the Pathological Reveal About the Normal? Merleau-Ponty and Neuropsychology.”

Joel Michael Reynolds, University of Massachusetts Lowell: “Health and Other Reveries.”

At the conclusion of the day Friday, we were delighted by a lecture on the history and philosophy of magic, its connection to Merleau-Ponty, and a magic show entitled “What Is Magic? The Philosophy and Psychology of a Neglected Art Form” by Lawrence Hass, Dean of the McBride Magic & Mystery School.

The final day of the conference, Saturday, November 10th, we had the following presentations and the business lunch:

Whitney Howell, La Salle University: “The Insight of Dispossession: Merleau-Ponty on the Spatial Level.”

Hannah Venable, University of Dallas: “The Need for Merleau-Ponty in Foucault’ Account of the Abnormal.”

Jan Halak, Palacky University: “Living Body as an Institution: Merleau-Ponty on Experiential Norms.”

Maria Cristina Murano, Linkoeping University/Children’s Mercy Kansas City: “A Socio-Phenomenological Understanding of Short Stature.”

Christine Wieseler, University of Louisville: “The Desexualization of Disabled People as Existential Harm and the Importance of Temporal Ambiguity.”

Noel Kirsch, School of the Art Institute of Chicago: “Plasticity of Perception: Towards a phenomenology of PTSD.”

Prior to the conference banquet at the Bessie Smith Hall, we were pleased to end with the winner of the 2018 Martin Dillon Memorial Award–Rawb Leon-Carlyle, Penn State, who spoke on “Wild Red: Synesthesia, Deuteranomaly, and Euclidean Color Space”

The Martin Dillon award was started to honor the contributions to Merleau-Ponty scholarship and the International Merleau-Ponty Circle of Martin Dillon and award a graduate student a $500 travel award.

More information about the IMPC, including next year’s conference at Fordham University in New York City, can be found at

Report by Talia Welsh (The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)

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