Perspectives on Love: Kaja Jenssen Rathe: "Between Erotic Perception and Lived Openness: Merleau-Ponty’s Perspective"

On April 12, guest researcher at STK Kaja Jenssen Rathe will give a presentation titled "Between Erotic Perception and Lived Openness: Merleau-Ponty’s Perspective". This is the third event in our digital lecture series Perspectives on Love, in which we explore different understandings of the concept of love.


In the first lecture of this series, Tove Pettersen showed us how for Simone de Beauvoir, authentic love, by contrast to inauthentic love, is one in which the lovers both remain free and equal subjects, and are not reduced to objects. Moreover, such an authentic love will always be ambiguous, because of the tensions between the loving subjects’ equality and individual difference, between the subjects’ lived freedom and their desire to merge and escape this very freedom. However, one question that remains to be further explored is how authentic love is experienced, more concretely, by the loving subject. What is it that animates and sustains this particular, ambiguous, relational mode of existence that is (authentic) love?

In my lecture I will try to answer this question through the work of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Also a “philosopher of ambiguity,” Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology is curiously compatible with Simone de Beauvoir’s thinking, albeit highlighting different dimensions of existence, and always rooted in the phenomenological analysis of bodily perception. Drawing on Megan Burke’s reading of Merleau-Ponty and her emphasis on the role of imagination in Merleau-Ponty’s thinking about love, I first present how love, for Merleau-Ponty, can be understood as what Burke calls a “lived openness” toward the world, and an “inventive force” – a view of love that Burke also defends for its “queer promise.” In a second part of the lecture, I tie the question of love explicitly back to the question of sexuality as examined by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology of Perception, to emphasize how love is also traced back to the irreducibility of the erotic field of perception. As Merleau-Ponty himself states, “the importance attached to the body and the paradoxes of love are linked, then, to a more general drama drawn from the metaphysical structure of my body, at once an object for others and a subject for me.” Thus love, in Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, emerges as a radical form of “lived openness” toward the world, yet rooted in the structure of erotic perception and of the body itself.​

Practical information

This digital event will be in English, and will consist of a 30 minute lecture, followed by 30 minutes of discussion. This event is free and open to the public. Please follow this link to register for the lecture:



The Zoom link will be sent to your registered email address prior to the event. NB: Please note that we will close the registration for this event at 1 pm CET on April 12. 

For inquiries about the lecture series, please send an email to Anna Young

Published Mar. 22, 2021 10:26 AM - Last modified Mar. 31, 2022 1:06 PM