The Phenomenology of Rheumatology: Disability, Merleau-Ponty, and the Fallacy of Maximal Grip


  • Gayle Salamon


This paper charts the concepts of grip and the bodily auxiliary in Maurice Merleau-Ponty to consider how they find expression in disability narratives. Arguing against the notion of “maximal grip” that some commentators have used to explicate intentionality in Merleau-Ponty, I argue that grip in his texts functions instead as a compensatory effort to stave off uncertainty, lack of mastery, and ambiguity. Nearly without exception in Phenomenology of Perception, the mobilization of “grip” is a signal of impending loss, and is offered as a strategy for managing failure rather than as an example of sure-footed mastery. I read Merleau-Ponty alongside Mary Felstiner's Out of Joint: A Public and Private Story of Arthritis to explore these other, attenuated dimensions of grip. Finally, the paper turns to Harriet McBryde Johnson's memoir Too Late to Die Young as an example of a way of thinking disabled embodiment otherwise.