As I suggest in the concluding nodes of this webtext, acknowledging the limits of representation does not mean that we should—or even can—forgo acts of representation altogether. Representing events, memories, and experiences are, after all, exactly what writing does, and what we routinely call upon students to do in their writing. But in granting this, it does not follow that we must also grant an ability on writing’s part to successfully perform these duties. Regardless of our hopes or intentions, I want to suggest that writing fails us—and indeed always fails us—when we presume for it the possibility of returning us to the originary space of the embodied event itself. As phenomenology, Bio Mapping, and recent work on memory and trauma suggest, such failure can nevertheless be a good thing to the extent that it invites us to confront (without the possibility of representing or recuperating) the irreducibility of our embodied being-in-the-world.

Although it shares a great deal with Lefebvre and Soja's notions of space as re/produced at the level of everyday practice, the phenomenological idea of being-in-the-world ultimately takes the notion of lived space further by foregrounding the ways tacit or pre-reflective bodily sensations implicate the body-in-action with the vibrancy of the world itself. Soja (1989), it should be noted, turned at one point to Heidegger’s ontology of being in Postmodern Geographies, proposing that being-in-the-world constitutes a form of spatial production and relation. Where my reading of Heidegger and phenomenology parts ways with Soja, however, is in some of the conclusions he reached, particularly with respect to phenomenology’s understanding of consciousness and the degree to which ontology and phenomenology open the way to new critical spatial praxes (see Soja, 1989, pp. 118-137).

First developed by Heidegger (1927/1962) in his monumental work Being and Time and later extended by Merleau-Ponty (1945/2007) in his book Phenomenology of Perception, being-in-the-world attempts to capture the way human existence (Dasein, in Heidegger’s terms) is always already rooted in the concrete relations (i.e., not merely abstract or theoretical relations) it has with spaces, objects, and others in the world. Like their predecessor and founder of modern phenomenology Edmund Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty were interested in exploring the material textures of human experience at their most quotidian levels. Unlike Husserl, however, they proposed doing so without resorting to the phenomenological method of reductionism, which attempts to bracket from analysis all things in the environment except those that appear to us in consciousness. In their mutual (although differing) departures from Husserlian reductionism, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty argued that experience can only be understood and reflected upon within the contexts within which understanding and reflecting occur in the first place. The world, they argued,

is more than simply the spatial container of our existence. It is the sphere of our lives as active, purposive beings: beings who have thoughts about it, who respond to it emotionally, imaginatively, and who act on it (sometimes deliberately, sometimes unthinkingly). (Matthews, 2002, p. 49)

Being-in-the-world thus "implies that we perceive the world, not from a God’s-eye view located somehow outside it, but from somewhere within it," and that

real human experience of the world necessarily involves learning, exploring the world from where one is and only gradually (if successful) coming to some kind of clearer understanding of things and how they are related to each other and to ourselves—and understanding that, since we can never see the world as a whole, will never, even in principle, be complete. (as cited in Matthews, 2002, pp. 61-62)

Although Heidegger assumed in Being and Time that existential analysis can eventually yield insight into our being-in-the-world, he suggested as well that previous attempts at interpreting this ontological condition had been met with mixed results—stemming mainly from their "point of departure" which he characterized as "epistemology or the ‘metaphysics of knowledge’" (p 86). Approaching existence epistemologically presumes that being’s essence can be reduced to our a priori theorizations of it and therefore "represented exclusively by a single exemplar—knowing the world" (p. 86). In contrast, Heidegger proposed that "Being-in-the-world … amounts to a non-thematic circumspective absorption in references or assignments constitutive for the readiness-to-hand of a totality of equipment" (p. 107, emphasis added), with readiness-to-hand indicating that our involvements with/in the world are more often than not tacit or habitual rather than conscious or conspicuous. Heidegger famously illustrated this condition of readiness-to-hand by considering the ways Dasein relates to everyday objects such as hammers and writing tables. When Dasein encounters a hammer in its readiness-to-hand, for example, it does not grasp it theoretically as a concept or idea. Rather, when encountering the hammer in its readiness-to-hand, Dasein deals with the object by using and manipulating it (p. 98). In such instances, the ontic nature of the thing itself withdraws from Dasein's immediate concern, leaving Dasein engaged in a more primordial relation that at once precedes and exceeds its "seeing" or "discovery" of it.

For Merleau-Ponty, it’s precisely this pre-reflective, pre-theoretical aspect of our being-in-the-world that defines being as both an everyday spatial practice and a site for phenomenological investigation. In his own version of the tool-analysis, Merleau-Ponty took Heidegger’s discussion of the object’s withdrawal through its readiness-to-hand and expanded it by introducing the ways the body itself tacitly participates in the production of everyday object relations. In his Phenomenology of Perception, which attempted to marry Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenologies with then recent research on human sensation and perception, Merleau-Ponty described what he calls the "phenomenal body." A person, he argued,

is conscious of his bodily space as the matrix of his habitual action, but not as an objective setting; his body is at his disposal as a means of ingress into a familiar surrounding, but not as the means of expression of a gratuitous and free spatial thought. (p. 119)

While a body clearly has its physical boundaries, Merleau-Ponty noted that our experiences of those boundaries often exceed that reality. A woman wearing a hat with a long feather on top, for instance, may, "without any calculation, keep a safe distance between the feather in her hat and things which might break it off. She feels where the feather is just as we feel where our hand is" (p. 165). The same holds true for a blind man, whose cane

has ceased to be an object for him, and is no longer perceived for itself; its point has become an area of sensitivity, extending the scope and active radius of touch, and providing a parallel to sight. In the exploration of things, the length of the stick does not enter expressly as a middle term: the blind man is rather aware of it through the position of objects than of the position of objects through it. (pp. 165-166)

In each of these cases, the phenomenal body engages in relations with the world and objects in the world that are more habitual than conscious or reflective. The phenomenal body is, in other words, a porous body, microperceptually responding to specific information about the world even as its own capacities quietly spill out and intertwine with those of other beings in the world. Consciousness, in this view, therefore means a great deal more than "awareness" or cognitive "recognition," as Soja, for instance, seems to suggest. For Merleau-Ponty it means

being-towards-the-thing through the intermediary of the body. A movement is learned when the body has understood it, that is, when it has incorporated it into its "world," and to move one’s body is to aim at things through it; it is to allow oneself to respond to their call, which is made upon it independently of any representation. (pp. 159-161)

Although she only briefly touches on phenomenology in Geographies of Writing (in this case, by way of Heidegger and his notion of dwelling), Reynolds nevertheless arrived at many of the same conclusions Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty reached in their respective phenomenologies. Like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, Reynolds has asked us to see bodies and space as intimately connected, with each shaping or marking the other in ways that enable and/or constrain one’s rhetorical being-in-the-world. Where Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty part ways with Reynolds, however, is in the specific attunement they brought to the epistemological and metaphysical limits that accompany our abilities to represent the phenomenal body-in-action. While they agreed that the body’s involvement with/in the world is real and calls for our understanding, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty also maintained that, in responding to such calls, we should be careful not to presume that with understanding comes the possibility of bringing to knowledge that which lies on the hither side of consciousness, in the here-and-now of our pre-theoretical and pre-reflective being-in-the-world.

As Merleau-Ponty has argued, we need to understand and accept that the reality of our being-in-the-world can never be fully exhausted by our discussions or descriptions of it. We need to understand, in other words, that behind our perceptions (or conceptions) of the world and ourselves in the world lie a number of qualities—audibility or tangibility, for example—that are never fully contained in any single act of perception or representation. As Merleau-Ponty put it, there is always "a depth of the object that no progressive sensory deduction will ever exhaust" (p. 251). And this inexhaustible depth holds true for the body and its "prepersonal" being-in-the-world as well:

There is another subject beneath me, for whom a world exists before I am here, and who marks out my place in it. This captive or natural spirit is my body, not that momentary body which is the instrument of my personal choices and which fastens upon this or that world, but the system of anonymous “functions” which draw every particular focus into a general project. (p. 296)

This possibility of "another subject beneath me"—of a prepersonal phenomenal body tacitly involved in its being-in-the-world—offers a very different way of thinking about writing, memory, and representation than what we find in Lefebvre and Soja’s critical spatial theory (and perhaps even in many contemporary conceptions of writing as well). If, as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty suggested, bodily sensation can indeed occur below the threshold of conscious awareness and yet still have an effect on that body’s being-in-the-world, then what we experience as memory, and what we attempt to narrativize as memory through writing, can never stand in for an experience of the event itself for the simple reason that the event itself was never experienced as such in the first place. Memory, in these cases, is not the representation of an experience through writing, but rather the indication, the attunement perhaps, that what we’re attempting to recover—what we’re hoping to recollect—remains forever "unclaimed" and beyond our abilities to recuperate it as a form of knowledge (Caruth, 1996). In a recent book on memory and the Holocaust, Michael Bernard-Donals (2009) referred to these unclaimed experiences or immemorial excesses as "forgetful memory." Between memory and forgetting, he proposed, lies "a memory that is not a representation but a moment of seeing without knowing … that annihilates both past and present and creates, instead, a presence that can only be made available [to us] … through a speaking or writing that is precocious, out of control, and utterly troubling" (p. 8). A writing attuned to forgetful memory, therefore, would not seek to foreclose upon the void of memory by representing it in the terms of knowledge or experience, but would rather "allow the immemorial to impress itself upon the written" (p. 33).

The question of what such a writing might look like (let alone how we might begin to teach it) is a vexed one to be sure (Bernard-Donals, for his part, offered a number of case studies, from memoir to fiction, that illustrated how such excesses can emerge in various writings about trauma). In any event, it seems clear that writing about our pre-reflective being-in-the-world "may require a language other than that of history or the narrative of memory" (p. 33), or at the very least a language that continuously interrupts the will to craft a narrative out of memory. As I argue in the following section, for all of its stated commitments to representing participants’ being-in-the-world, Christian Nold’s Bio Mapping project actually works to question memory’s reliability in the forming of such representations. As I hope to show, when thought of in terms of place-based theories and pedagogies, Nold’s attunement to the limits of memory and representation serve to remind composition scholars of the significant roles pre-reflective sensations play in our everyday lives and the responsibilities we hold at the same time to guard against their theorization or memorialization as such in writing.