Sur mes lèvres, deafness, embodiment: towards a film phenomenology of a differently ordered sensorium
Phenomenology is not without its problems when trying to explore, describe and invoke issues of embodiment. Philosophical discourses of phenomenology, in particular those instigated by the Franco-German philosophical tradition in the 20th century, have been critiqued by feminist scholars for their failures to fully acknowledge the situatedness of the bodies from which phenomenology begins to speak: this is particularly apparent in the writing of Iris Marion Young, or of Judith Butler. Those feminist critiques of phenomenology might extend so far as to a critique of the situated bodily sensorium that the figure of the phenomenologist takes on when writing about phenomenology. Film phenomenology, with its particular calls to the faculties of sight, sound, movement and touch, seems to take this bodily problem one step further.
This paper sets out to explore the relationships and contacts between a film phenomenology that rethinks the sensorium beyond the audiovisual, and the persistent issue of situated bodiliness, in particular with regard to differently abled bodies. More specifically again, it aims to explore embodied representations of deafness in Jacques Audiard’s 2003 film, Sur mes lèvres (read my lips). Drawing on recent work in disability studies and performance studies (Kuppers, 2003; Siebers, 2010), and phenomenological theories of embodiment (Sobchack 2004), this paper engages with the ethics of the presentation of a body that experiences sound differently. Beyond the ethics of representation, it also returns to Michel Chion’s claim that film is primarily an art of sound, to challenge the bodily-normative implications of such a claim, and to examine the possibilities that a film-phenomenology of deafness might have for rethinking cinema’s connections to the embodied sensorium.