Intercorporeality in virtuality: the encounter with a phantom other

From Firenze University Press Journal: Aisthesis

University of Florence
3 min readFeb 14, 2024

Ariela Battán Horenstein, Instituto de Humanidades-CONICET-Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

María Clara Garavito, Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas-Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Veronica Cohen, University of Buenos Aires

The social isolation measures that were imposed by governments across nearly the entire globe due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused a worldwide acceleration of digital literacy and a migration of a good part of our social and community life to virtual environments2. With unusual speed, elder-ly people who had never used a cell phone were making video calls, teachers at all levels were giv-ing classes using online platforms, and some of us were taking virtual classes.As phenomenologists living under such cir-cumstances (i.e.: getting accustomed to using Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp for communicating with family, friends, and stu-dents), countless questions and philosophical que-ries arose. In this context, we began to meet virtually, thereby combining philosophical reflection and lived experience. Taking into consideration the relevant aspects of this phenomenon (virtualization of the meeting space, technological mediation, geographical distance and temporal difference, reconfiguration of affectivity, among others), we searched for phenomenological tools that would allow us to describe and understand this unexpected phenomenon.The phenomenal field broadened to encompass a series of new phenomena — or, more precisely, old phenomena in new contexts. These include otherness and empathy in virtuality (Ferencz-Flatz [2022]; Osler [2021]), extended cognition, agency through technological devices (Geniusas [2022]), screen-mediated perception, mediat-ed intentionality, etc. In short, we sought to apply Merleau-Ponty’s thesis of intersubjectivity as inter-corporeality to the encounter mediated by screens through videoconferencing platforms.Our goal was to provide a phenomenological description of the experience of being with others as mediated by digital screens. We aimed to relativize apocalyptic forecasts which predicted that lack of affectivity would lead to a dehumanized present and a future of solipsistic egos secluded behind screens. As a result of this descriptive pro-cess, we arrived at the concept of the “phantom other”. In what follows, we propose to explore this concept by proceeding in two directions. Through a programmatic approach, we consider the relevance of conceptual and descriptive tools provided by phenomenological analysis to account for the phenomenon of the encounter with the other in a virtual situation. In so doing, initially we maintain that the intersubjective relationship mediated by screens seems a sort of a paradoxical perception that avoids any form of reductionism. In this sense, the givenness of my interlocutor in a video call cannot be explained using pairs of opposites such as actual-virtual, being-appearance, or pres-ence-absence. Then, employing a more speculative approach, we focus on the definition of the phantom other as informed by phenomenological descriptions of the phantom limb (Merleau-Ponty [1945]; Morris [2004]; Umbelino [2019]).


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