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What is critical somatics?
For much of the twentieth century, and
even before, philosophers of all stripes have struggled to come to terms with problems that arise when we insist on a rigid distinction between the human subject, "in here," and a world of readymade, distinct objects "out there," – between interiority and exteriority, self and other, spirit and matter, mind and body. Yet here we are, almost a decade into the twenty-first century, and the problems still persist. There have been many unique, brilliant attempts to resolve this dualism, both inside and outside of academia, and they have emerged in almost every field imaginable: neuroscience, physics, ecology, sociology, philosophy, religion, cultural anthropology, feminism, and
more. These projects have brought to the fore aspects of life that have been neglected, benignly or otherwise: gender, emotion, sexuality, ecology, consciousness as an historical process, human labor, and again, more. Why is it, then, that the problem is still with us? Why are we still unable to articulate a solution that "sticks"? I propose that the primary reason for the lack of a clear resolution to this problem is simply that no one has yet compiled the findings of these various disciplines into one coherent project. In particular, I argue that the most important excluded discipline is that of physiology. Critical Somatics is designed to illuminate the psychological, social, and ecological interface, and to describe the complex and dynamic inter-relationships of the constituent elements of this interface. The most salient of these elements are: our organismic, embodied, lived experience; culturally varied performativities and body techniques/habits; social and economic processes and one's location within them; and metaphor, broadly understood (all terms will be defined, at least tentatively, in chapter one and explicated throughout the text). Put in disciplinary terms, Critical Somatics (CS) could be seen as an incorporation of phenomenology and hermeneutics;
poststructuralism; sociology; cognitive psychology, and importantly, the sciences of physiology and kinesiology (and others related to or derived from these sciences). Critical Somatics, however, is more than a methodological mix-and-match, more than the summation of knowledge(s) produced by these disciplines. First, it is an integrative discipline whose goal is an increased understanding of an interface among multiple processes that has yet to become the focus of any one discipline, but whose constituents are scattered across a whole host of disciplines and projects (themselves often interdisciplinary, but not quite interdisciplinary enough). It is an experiential and activist discipline, which requires that its students are also practitioners. Additionally, it adds a crucial element which the others lack— practices which are aimed at enhancing the student's attunement to his-her own embodied, organismic experience, and his-her awareness of the relationship between the quality of that experiencing and the larger social as well as ecological environment. The Critical Somatics student would have much freedom to choose the practice that speaks to himher most resoundingly, but a few possibilities, to offer examples, would be modern dance, capoiera, yoga, Trager, Alexander technique, and authentic movement, among others. Thirdly, I
would like to point out that the disciplines most notably missing in other attempts to bridge the interface between interior and exterior, subjective and objective, are the disciplines of physiology and kinesiology. The only explanation I have to offer for this omission, especially when the work at hand was presumably to illuminate and/or deconstruct the subject/object distinction, is the author's own bias against scientifically produced knowledge. Because it integrates such practice with a critical analysis of the role of social and technological organization in shaping both consciousness and the quality of one's experience, CS requires a methodology that bridges mind and body, theory and practice, and the human and social sciences, not by reduction or some kind of parallelism, but through the dynamic integration of their unique assumptions and methodologies into a discipline that transcends their limitations precisely by inhabiting the orientation of each one, and utilizing all of them to enhance our understanding of somatic processes. Critical Somatics is explicitly materialist— to be understood as a methodological statement as opposed to an ontological one. A materialist methodology centralizes embodied, organismic, and ecological / economic dynamics in their experiential and observable / measurable
(ie "objective") aspects. The discipline would never survive without traditional scientific methodology, but it must expand beyond this tradition to include the perceptual and social processes whereby scientific objects come into being in the first place: thus the methodologies of both gestalt psychology as well as phenomenology are indispensable to this end, as is a sociology of science, most famously delineated in the work of Thomas Kuhn. Hermeneutics could also be useful here, especially its Heideggerian notions of attunement and disclosure. The materialist methodology is not to be confused with reductionism or determinism of any sort (atomistic, economic, etc…). We are not seeking first or final causes, but an understanding of a dynamic process. Nor should it be assumed that the discipline's methodology will ignore questions of "interpretation" or "textuality." As stated earlier, metaphor is one of the most salient and important aspects of the discipline. But its salience lies in the role that metaphor plays in shaping the experience of the organism. Additionally, such an integrative, dynamic, and complex discipline would be severely lacking if it did not employ the methods of systems science. The inclusion of economic and ecological processes alone should make the need
for systems theory quite clear. Concepts such as feedback, non-linearity, emergence, organization, and others, as well as the visual tool of flowcharts, are indispensable for keeping the academic model, as well as both the student and the teacher of Critical Somatics, organized.
In his study of the creation of material wealth, Karl Marx stated, "Labor is the father of material wealth; the earth is its mother." This is not only an economic statement but an ecological statement as well. The interaction between human behavior and "nature", mediated by technology and organized through social institutions, is the basis of both a particular type of economy and a particular type of relationship to the nonhuman elements of the planet. Marx's statement is, less directly, a psychological one: it is from the interaction of human and non-human nature that consciousness emerges and takes shape; and, that consciousness leaves behind an archeological evidence of itself in the form of the commodity, which is the outcome of labor and earth and is the substrate of capitalist wealth creation. Thus, the interplay between the experiencing human organism, his-her location and role in a socially organized economy, his-her technologically
mediated interaction with "nature," and his-her metaphorically constructed explanatory narrative of his-her experience, explains both the "critical" and the "somatic" elements of Critical Somatics. That there is currently no academic discipline that takes these dynamics as its primary focus reveals the need for the Critical Somatics discipline at this time.
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