Merleau-ponty Meets Kretchmar: Sweet Tensions of Embodied Learning

Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 5 (3):256 - 269 (2011)

Abstract

The last decades have seen a rising philosophical interest in the phenomenology of skill acquisition. One central topic in this work is the relation between the athlete's background capacities and foreground attention as an invariant feature of skilful movements. The purpose of this paper is to examine further this gestalt relation from the perspective of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological account of embodied learning and a classical notion from philosophy of sport, namely ?sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome?. In the first part we will explicate how Merleau-Ponty understands embodied learning as a form of gestalt switch that allows the athlete to perceive the world more meaningfully in relation to an ongoing movement project. That is, a skilled athlete perceives more and better opportunities for actions. In the second part, we revisit the classical notion of ?sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome? developed by Kretchmar. This phrase is attributed to the indeterminate back and forth rallies between sport contestants, and to persons facing a sport situation that produces an ambiguity as to whether one will succeed in one's task. In the third part, we then juxtapose Merleau-Ponty's notion of embodied learning and the notion of sweet tension from philosophy of sport in order to draw out the relations between the two notions. In addition, in much of the philosophical work on skill acquisition (for instance in Merleau-Ponty and his much-cited commentator, Hubert Dreyfus) the distinction between everyday skills (such as walking and opening doors) and sport skills is collapsed. Our discussion aims to show that by introducing the notion of ?sweet tension? to the literature on phenomenology of skill acquisition, we are able to highlight a phenomenological difference between everyday skills and sport skills

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