Wednesday, March 05, 2014

"an observer's attitude"

Susan Wendell, in her article "Feminism, Disability, and the Transcendence of the Body," discusses her strategies for living with chronic pain. "Living with" is already saying something about her experiences and strategies that may not fit. Somewhat contrary to what I wrote about embodiment and non-ownership, she says she adopts a stance of treating her pain as "a physical phenomenon to be endured until it is over and not taken seriously," which suggests a form of embodiment that induces a relation, a regard, and thus a separation of the living, conscious ego from one's body.

Wendell says her mood is improved when she can say to herself, "My body is painful (or nauseated, exhausted, etc.), but I'm happy." Her illness and pain lead to depression, for which she has a similar strategy. She says she enhances the quality of her life when she can say to herself, "My brain is badly affected right now, so I'm depressed, but I'm fine and my life is going well." Leaving aside the need to develop a fuller account of depression (not her task in the article), this suggests a state of mind and a form of experience in which one's own mood is separable from oneself, or at least from what she continues to call her "life." ("Life" may or may not mean "lived experience" in a phenomenological way.)

In sum, she says, most surprisingly, "I am learning not to identify myself with my body, and this helps me to live a good life with a debilitating chronic illness." This is surprising given the trajectory toward holistic embodiment models of consciousness and life in "continental" philosophy (which would appear to be Wendell's intellectual home turf).

This seems almost like a return to dualism, of the kind that allegedly dogged Husserl's first attempts toward transcendental phenomenological philosophy. That contintental philosophers keep returning to this theme suggests to me that there is a lot yet unthought about the basic move of transcendental egoism, and perhaps also still about Descartes' dualism. (I always wear my Hegel glasses when I think about this stuff: all dichotomies are false, and the truth is the whole.)

Wendell's strategies also complicate further the notion of one's "own" body or consciousness. I am totally unsure what to make of the way she displaces depression. This could be for personal reasons, namely that I experience depression as existential mood, and find it difficult to displace, and especially to say to myself, "I am depressed, but my life is good." To me, the phrase that follows naturally from "I am depressed" is "and therefore my objectively good life is crappy."

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