Monday, June 09, 2014

the my-body problem

Most often, I believe, the conceptualization of one’s body as “my body” is objectifying and extrinsic. There are ethical, economic, political contexts in which “my body” and the mineness of a body make a great deal of difference, and these concepts inform how we interpret embodiment on an ongoing, everyday basis. We don’t often refer to “my body” outside of very particular, often evaluative contexts: “my body” is “athletic” or “sore” or “breaking down” or whatever. We don’t say “my body got up at 7:30 this morning,” although, no doubt, if I did, so did my body.

The notion of a body as “mine” is perplexing to me in part because of the way these typical ways of talking objectify and externalize body, as though my body were a possession. I don’t experience a possessive ownership relation to my body, under typical circumstances. Only rarely is it helpful to clarify which item in a pile of things is my body, in contradistinction to other things or other bodies. (In those kinds of circumstances, identifying which item is my body is sometimes not chiefly on my mind.)

If I consider the phenomenology of how my being embodied presents itself, I’m at a loss to identify something like “mine-ness.” Typically we move, we sit, we sip tea, we listen to Desprez motets, or whatever else we do, not by way of taking hold of something like a “my body” and moving “it.” Thus the holism of a lot of phenomenological accounts: I am my body, rather than have it. Even in this language, there’s that “my body” that I can’t account for from my own phenomenological assay.

What I find is what I shall call for the time being “tensile coalescing (the) all surrounding, to here.” This is unwieldy, I know.

I sat down at my keyboard, in the midst of puzzling about the “my body” problem, and did a little phenomenology of what turned up when I tried deliberately to set aside any notion that I knew what it might mean to say “my body”—or even “body.” (I think that’s a clue: it’s damned hard to set aside the ordinary posit of “my” without also setting aside “body” as well.) Some surprising stuff showed up.

What showed up was distant and nearby locales of encounter with surroundings. I was sitting in poor posture with the heel of one foot resting on the top of the other. Eventually that hurt, but the feeling of pain was located far away, though not so far as to be outside somewhere. The Desprez motets and the hum of the HVAC fan struck and surrounded. The floor vibrated throughout me. Suddenly the teeming of surrounding became vividly apparent, in a moment of allowing much more of the surrounding to go unfiltered. That teemingness prompts the word all.

There was a centrality to all this, but not a mere point: an ongoing bringing together of these surroundings (read that as a present participle as well as a gerund), hence “coalescing.” When I sat up I noticed better the way this coalescing presented itself as having a sort of tension built into it. This is not “tension” in the way we use it to name unpleasant stress, but tension in the sense of having potential energy to it (which I know I’m using improperly in the technical sense; it’s evocative). What showed up was both kinetic coalescing and potential for moving.

This had a focal point, but not in the sense of something fixed, pregiven, preordained. It was a point toward which the coalescing was happening: to here. Here just means that point—an asymptote, really (again in a nontechnical sense).

So: a tensile coalescing (the) all surrounding, to here.

(BTW, I think I'm gonna keep the name "the my-body problem" for this little venture, as a joke on the old saw, the mind-body problem.)

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