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Running Head: Critical Somatics: Theory and Method
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method Nicole Anderson Marylhurst University
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Critical Somatics: Theory and Method is a proposal for a new discipline designed to thematize the body—the experiencing, performing, culturally and socially productive body—as the locus of both limitation and novelty, habit and creativity. This paper offers the theoretical bases for such a discipline, as well as methodological suggestions designed to integrate critical awareness with experiential attunement for the student enrolled in a Critical Somatics program. The main objective of a Critical Somatics discipline is for each student to develop an increased awareness of the relationship between his or her mode of bodily comportment, social and cultural institutions, and the limitations and possibilities for choice and change on both personal and social levels.
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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, a decade into the twenty-first century, and the problems
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 5 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, in traditional western thought: gender, emotion, sexuality, ecology, consciousness as an historical process, human labor, and again, more. Why is it, then, that the problem of the relationship between subject and object-There is no simple answer to this question. 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. 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
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 6 (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 fascial anatomy, 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—an interface that has yet to become the focus of any one discipline, but whose constituents are scattered across a host of disciplines and projects. Second, It is an experiential and activist discipline, which requires that its students are also practitioners. It adds a crucial element which other academic disciplines 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 and ecological environment. The Critical Somatics student would have
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 7 much freedom to choose the practice that speaks to him-her most resoundingly, but a few possibilities, to offer examples, would be modern dance, capoiera, yoga, Trager, Alexander technique, and Authentic Movement, among others. Third, 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, even more importantly, kinesiology, or the study of movement. The only explanation I have to offer for this omission, especially when the work in question presumably aims to illuminate and/or deconstruct the subject/object distinction, is the authorin-question's own bias against scientifically produced knowledge. Because it integrates 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 each discipline’s unique assumptions and methodologies into a discipline that transcends their limitations precisely by inhabiting the orientation of each one, and drawing out / allowing the relevant
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 8 knowledge to emerge that would broaden and deepen our understanding of the many dimensions 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 both their experiential and observable / measurable (i.e. "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. This 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 would ignore questions of "interpretation" or "textuality." As stated
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 9 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, and the feedback-relationship that exists between conceptualization and experience. Finally, 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, paraphrasing William Petty, stated, "Labor is the father of material wealth; the earth is its mother" (1867). 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 relationally-structured social institutions, is the basis of a particular type of relationship to the non-human elements of the planet, economically and psycho-
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 10 culturally speaking. Marx's statement is, less directly, a psychological one: it is from the interaction of human and nonhuman nature that consciousness emerges and takes shape; and, that consciousness leaves behind archeological records of itself in the form of arts, crafts, and commodities, each of which is the outcome of labor and earth and is the substrate of wealth creation and distribution. 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 hisher experience, creates the “world” within which any given socially organized, economically active people live, worlds with efficacy and consequence on organismic, social, and ecological levels. The dynamic integration of worlds into both organismic-psychic strucure as well as environmental design and impact explains the need for incorporating both the "critical" and the "somatic" elements of experience into one discipline: Critical Somatics. That there is currently no academic discipline that takes these dynamics, and their psychological, organismic, social, and environmental interface, as its primary locus of study reveals the need
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 11 for the Critical Somatics discipline at this time.
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Part 1: Theory
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Alienation and the History Of Consciousness.
A new way of thinking about human consciousness arose in Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century. Rather than seeing it as something divine, eternal, and unchanging, philosophers and theorists instead began to treat consciousness as a natural and historical / evolutionary entity—as something with an origin and a development over time. In the early part of the century, philosopher Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel proposed a dialectical, evolutionary view of “spirit/mind” (Geist) as an entity that progresses through history via human action on both individual and social levels, and that culminates in absolute knowledge and
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 14 freedom. According to Hegel, it is alienation, and the overcoming of alienation, that is the driving force that animates historical movement and transforms spirit through the vehicle of history. The notion of alienation, and the human ability to transcend it, is a crucial one for the development of a critical somatics practice; therefore, its explication is necessary to illuminate the motivation driving the creation of the critical somatics discipline. Hegel’s concept of alienation is complex. It begins with the material manifestation of Spirit in and through history, which is not recognized as a part of the Being of Spirit but is instead assumed to be separate from it. Likewise, the individual minds perceiving this manifestation are alienated when they fail to recognize themselves and their own consciousness as manifestations of this same Spirit. Mind and materiality are both manifestations of Spirit, and neither can exist independently of the other. Thus for Hegel, the notion that material objects exist independently of the minds perceiving them is a symptom of alienation. The positing of an “objective” world “out there” that is independent of our perceptual processes is similar to positing a “heaven” that is independent of earth—it denies the interactivity of perception and being in the creation of worlds.
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 15 It is the task of the philosopher to identify this alienation for what it is— ultimately, Spirit’s separation from itself —and to embody a new, greater consciousness that embraces both subject and object within a higher stage of a progressively evolving consciousness that recognizes the material world as Consciousness manifest. Hegel also describes alienation as a kind of ‘deadness,’ a being-dominated by social forms that one forgetfully participates in making, an acceptance of authority because it is authority, rather than because it agrees with one’s own reason (Gouldner, 1980, p. 177). This state of alienation, according to Hegel, can only be overcome by asserting one’s agency, reason, and will in the face of oppression and irrationality, and by transcending enlightenment solipsism through the practice of dialectical philosophy. Hegel’s politically engaged students—the Young Hegelians—felt that Hegel’s works needed to be reworked and given an anti-metaphysical, materialist orientation; they located the source of human alienation and unfreedom in religion and the state, and believed that if humanity could eliminate these notions and institutions, it would overcome
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 16 alienation and live in full consciousness and freedom. Their contemporary, Karl Marx, critiqued this view and accused the Young Hegelians of falling into the same metaphysical trap as Hegel did—they located the source of alienation in structures of consciousness (Marx included political ideologies and structures in this realm), rather than in the actual world of material relations and processes of production. Marx did not believe that religion caused alienation; rather, he saw it as a symptom that emerged from an alienation that existed within material reality itself—an alienation of humanity from both nonhuman nature, and from its own creative, productive, and active social nature (which reached its greatest intensity under the capitalist mode of economic production). Like Hegel, Marx took historical movement seriously; however, he did not see history as a vessel for the self-realization of “Spirit”. Rather than emphasizing the political, religious, and intellectual products of society, he brought into focus that area of human existence that was either ignored by most philosophers of his time, or that was seen only through a lens tinged with unquestioned ideological premises—this area of focus was the basic human activities of production and reproduction. Only once these basic relationships and practices are studied and understood, can we consider consciousness as it
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 17 emerges through and becomes a part of these activites, not as an ontologically primary entity that creates time and animates otherwise inert matter: Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite mode of development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process…. (Marx, 1845, pp. 74-75). To understand consciousness, Marx believed it must be studied as an emergent result of both social and environmental (i.e. material) activity. Consciousness evolved, but this evolution did not result from “Spirit’s drive to absolute knowledge;” rather, it resulted from shifts in the development of industry, which included technological advances as well as changes in population and social organization. The more humans transformed the natural environment through industrial
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 18 development, the more the yoke of identity between human awareness and the natural environment stretched. As for Hegel’s state of absolute knowledge, consciousness could only evolve from an alienated state to a state of freedom if the material conditions causing that alienated state were abolished and replaced by conditions that honored nature—human and non-human—and its movement and development through time via an ecologically and socially conscious mode of human industry.
There are some intellectual and political dangers in understanding human consciousness as evolutionary. Materialist philosophies emerging from Britain (empiricism and/or classical liberalism) as well as from American anthropological perspectives usually combined some sort of evolutionary theory of human civilizational development with an ethnocentrism that treated modern European culture in all of its aspects—its art and architecture, its political forms, its economy, as well as its form of consciousness, “Reason”—as the epitome of human cultural development. This ‘progressivist’ view placed cultural groups along a continuum from the “primitive” to the “civilized” and assumed a unilinear (one, universally applicable, step-by-step) progression
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 19 from one stage to the next until all cultures eventually reached a Europeanlike civilization with an enlightenment consciousness and sensibility. It is worth noting that, though slowly changing, this understanding of development governs much of today’s international investment and lending policies aimed at so-called “third world” or “peripheral” nations’ economic development. Being mindful of the pitfall of racism in discussing any evolutionary theory of consciousness, we can retain the view of consciousness as having an origin and development, without requiring that it develops through particular stages toward particular ends. If we remove the teleology that takes “Enlightenment Man” and his notion of reason as the pinnacle and standard of consciousness development, and if we remove the notion that culture and consciousness progress in a linear and predictable fashion, then viewing consciousness as a historical phenomenon can provide profound insights into heretofore neglected elements of being, including the role of embodiment and its relationship to social organization, environmental exploitation, and psychological well-being.
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There are several other nineteenth-century figures whose theories could be called materialist that might serve as a starting point for critical somatics theory; however, Karl Marx recognized a deep flaw in their works, a flaw that unintentionally reinforced the idealism against which those materialists reacted. The materialist theories before Marx were in some cases ahistorical, in others reductionist, and all took the subject-object distinction for granted, thereby leaving the problem of human alienation in tact. In Marx’s words: The chief defect of all previous materialism… is that things, reality, the sensible world, are conceived only in the form of objects of observation, but not as human sense activity, not as practical activity, not subjectively. Hence, in opposition to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism, which of course does not know real sense activity as such…. [This materialism] therefore does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary,’ ‘practical-critical’ activity (Marx, 1845, p. 67). Marx sought to create a much deeper and more thorough materialism that did not assume pre-given, purely external (and static) objects “out there” waiting to be empirically observed and measured by a blank, tabula rasa sort of consciousness; nor did it assume an active but
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 21 solipsistic consciousness “in here” whose categories and abstract mental operations alone would lead to truth. Instead, Marx dynamically interwove subject and object in “practical, human sense activity” or “practice,” a dynamic process that would later be described by Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu as a “dialectic of the internalization of externality and the externalization of internality or, more simply, of incorporation and objectification” (Marx, 1845, pp. 67-68, Bourdieu, 1972, p. 72). Incorporation, for Marx, means that humans internalize their material conditions, in the form of moral “values” as well as mental sublimates, fantasies, and so on: [W]e demonstrate the development of ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises (Marx, 1845, p. 75). Later Marxist theorists elaborate much further upon the incorporation of material conditions not only into the “psyche” but into the body itself; these theorists are crucial to the theoretical foundations of critical somatics, and will be explored below. Objectification can be understood in several ways: as the creation of physical objects, such
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 22 as tools, handicrafts, and manufactured goods; as the creation of mental objects such as concepts and ideas, or any of the intellectual products of society, including legal categories, aesthetic standards, scientific analyses, and so on (in which case it overlaps with the concept of incorporation); or it can be interpreted through the lens of Gestalt psychology, as the perceptual ‘drawing out’ of a distinct figure or object from a field of potential stimuli, the rest of which settle and recede into a more-or-less inert background (Sternberg, 2006, p. 125). Objectification in any of these senses does not occur independently of the “sense perception and sensuous need” of active human beings; rather, those elements of the world that become objects do so as a result of the needs, desires, and problems that arise out of specific social and environmental conditions (Marx, 1844, p. 70). When the practical activities of socially organized production and reproduction are not themselves conceptually objectified and included in the theoretical constructs of science, then science remains incomplete and divided between human science and natural science (pp. 72-73). Human social and ecological relations and the subject-object dialectic remain concealed by, even as they continue to generate, the concepts that theorists take as their point of analytic departure. Yet it cannot be repeated enough: even this failure to incorporate the material basis of human social life into our scientific / conceptual structures—and thus into our understanding of “reality”—is the outcome of historically specific material conditions.
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 23 Importantly, it is not only conceptual objectification that is psychologically relevant. Marx recognized that the products made by human beings, and the mode of their production (i.e. “industry”), are “an open book of the human faculties, and a human psychology which can be directly apprehended” (p. 72): Everyday, material industry… shows us, in the form of sensible, external, and useful objects, in an alienated form, the essential human faculties transformed into objects. No psychology for which this book, i.e. the most tangible and accessible part of history, remains closed, can become a genuine science with a real content…. Industry is the real historical relation of Nature…to man. Consequently, if industry is conceived as an exoteric form of the realization of the essential human faculties, one is able to grasp also the human essence of Nature of the natural essence of man” (pp. 72-73). Industry—its process and its products—is human psychology objectified and materialized. The way in which we utilize earthly materials, the items that we produce with them, and the manner in which we do so —all of this shapes our “psychological” orientation, which in turn shapes the way we relate to nature. If our orientation toward nature
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 24 is alienated—if we are not relating to it with a systemic understanding of our interconnection and ‘identity’ with it—an identity that is not necessarily mystical but that amounts to our role in the sum of ecological relations—our products and our mode of industry will reflect this orientation and produce outcomes that amplify and reinforce it. In order to demystify intellectual concepts and institutions and root them in observable social practices, Marx begins with a deeply embodied, human-ecological understanding of the production process which serves as the locus of “the dialectic of incorporation and objectification”: Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material reactions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature (1867, p. 88). Marx calls these transformative “material reactions” between humans and nature “metabolism” to emphasize their nature as simultaneously consumptive and productive
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 25 forces (Foster, 2000, p. 141). He locates the generative source of this metabolism in the kinesiology of human labor (“…arms and legs, head and hands…”), which, together with the human will, effects and mediates the mutual human-nature transformation. Of course, it is not individual kinesiology alone, nor is it merely an aggregation of individual kinesiologies, that transform Nature: In the process of production, human beings do not only enter into a relation with Nature. They produce only by working together in a specific manner and by reciprocally exchanging their activities. In order to produce, they enter into definite connections and relations with one another, and only within these social connections and relations does their connection with Nature, i.e. production, take place. (Marx, 1849, p. 146). Though his analysis describes quite clearly the way in which human social relations affect and transform Nature, he is less clear about how, exactly, humans are transformed by their transformation of externality. We can extrapolate, however, from Marx’s emphasis on language as the material and practical form of consciousness and demonstrate the way in which language contributes to the internalization of social and material conditions: From the start the “spirit” is afflicted with the curse of being “burdened” with
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 26 matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well…. Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product…. (1845, pp. 70-71). It is language that generates the metaphorical mind “space,” where “phantoms” of what actually exists in the practical world dwell conceptually (Marx, 1845, pp. 70-71; Jaynes, 1990, pp. 44-45; Lakoff & Johnson, 2004, p. 45). The cognitive (neuro)science of metaphor will be elaborated upon later in this work, as it, too, plays a very important role in the theoretical foundation of critical somatics. For now, it is enough to argue that, according to this theory, any transformation of consciousness can only occur when certain, definite material conditions engender that transformation; specifically, an alienated consciousness cannot transform itself into an unalienated consciousness without such a material transformation. That consciousness can begin to mistake itself for something other than conscious existence, something that is independent of or even superior to materiality, is again the product of a particular development in human social organization; historically, Marx argues, it is
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 27 when “a division of material and mental labour appears,” with the rise of a priestly class of knowledge-keepers who are given much higher social status than non-literate, non-priestly members of society, that this valuation and reification occurs. Marx’s dialectical materialism provides a solid starting point for understanding the mechanism whereby social and material interactions affect human ‘nature’ and generate consciousness, as well as understanding the material nature of consciousness. However, it does not provide enough detail or nuance toward this end. To get from (a specific mode of) socially organized productive movement to (a specific mode of) consciousness, we must look to Marx’s theoretical successors and also incorporate theory derived from several other disciplinary methods, in order to explicate and deepen our understanding of the subject-object dialectic embodied in human practice. In his essay “Les Techniques du Corps,” anthropologist Marcel Mauss sought to explicate the social and educational, or “traditional,” nature of bodily usage and comportment. Things like swimming, digging with a spade, and even walking and sleeping “form a social idiosyncrasy, they are not simply a product of some purely individual, almost completely psychical arrangements and mechanisms” (Mauss, 1934, p. 48). Bodily motor habits that we often think of as “natural” are, in fact, techniques—that is, they are demonstrably social, and they take on
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 28 particular characteristics specific to a given social group, class, gender, and so on. These forms of embodied comportment, to which Mauss referred using the Latin term habitus, are passed on educationally or traditionally (via instruction or ritual), but not always explicitly; they are often learned implicitly, through imitation. As Mauss puts it, “In all these elements of the art of using the human body, the facts of education are dominant. The notion of education could be superimposed on that of imitation” (p. 49). This imitation occurs in an uneven power relationship as well, and in this way, one’s habitus also embodies his or her location in a larger social order: What takes place is a prestigious imitation. The child, the adult, imitates actions which have succeeded and which he has seen successfully performed by people in whom he has confidence and who have authority over him. The action is imposed from without, from above, even if it is an exclusively biological action, involving his body. The individual borrows the series of movements which constitute it from the action executed in front of him or with him by others. It is precisely this notion of the prestige of the person who performs the ordered, authorized, tested action vis-à-vis the imitating individual that contains all the social element (pp. 50-51). After recognizing the sociological or
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 29 “educational” aspect of body usage, Mauss raises the question of whether there is any room in the analysis of body techniques for “the psychological mediator,” or whether there is no gap at all between biological and sociological phenomena (pp. 53, 66). His conclusion is that psychology—the interior mental and motivational life of the individual— somehow “links” the biological and the sociological, but does not play a causal role in human behavior “except in moments of creation or reform” (66). But how much “depth, breadth, and height,” as Nietzsche put it, does this psychological “link” maintain, and to what extent does it create “distance” between the biological and the sociological and allow for individual choice and freedom? Mauss’s reply is interesting: it is the educational transmission of yet another technique that creates the ability to choose the way in which we will use our bodies—this is the technique of “composure”: [Composure] is above all a retarding mechanism, a mechanism inhibiting disorderly movements; this retardation subsequently allows a coordinated response of coordinated movements setting off in the direction of a chosen goal…. It is not thanks to unconsciousness that there is an intervention of society. It is thanks to society that there is an intervention of consciousness” (67).
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 30 Mauss follows his discussion about the technique of composure with his thoughts on Taoist and Yogic body techniques, especially breathing techniques, and argues that “at the bottom of all our mystical states there are techniques of the body…. I think that there are necessarily biological means of entering into ‘communication with God’”(67). So far, Mauss has identified the social/educational transmission of body techniques, of power relations along with body techniques, and of the psychological ability to control bodily movements and exert some degree of choice and direction over them. All of these elements of body technique together create a cultural repertoire of embodied motor performances that manifest the social order through the individual’s habitus. In addition, Mauss recognizes that these “assemblages” of motor performances are amenable to thematization and sociological classification. He also recognizes that, like the objects of consciousness, the techniques of the body are symbolic, and together comprise a system of signs that convey information about social status, gender, ethnic identity, etc., and about the social order as a whole—i.e. they can be understood as meaningful. Mauss does not elaborate further upon his insights regarding the classificatory and symbolic nature of the techniques of the body, specifically upon how they come to function as social signifiers with an experiential content. It should be noted that Mauss was a structuralist
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 31 anthropologist, and so believed that the source of meaning was the differential relationship among the signs that comprise any particular system—sign A means “A” because it is different from sign B, and because it is related to sign B in a particular way or set of ways, as constrained by the system of which both sign A and sign B are a part. However, this structuralist interpretation of the system of body techniques is limited: while the objectification of body techniques illuminates their systematic and social nature, it does not explain how the meaning itself becomes internalized, or how this internalization, in turn, goes on to reproduce the external social structure. For such elaboration we must turn to the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu examines the physiological incorporation of cultural meanings as they arise out of material relations, and how these incorporated meaning systems are not merely the products of the social order, but are generative of that order and of its symbolic meaning systems. In his book Outline of a theory of practice, Bourdieu seeks to develop a method of analysis that incorporates but goes beyond objective sociological classifications, such as those of body techniques created by Mauss. Such “methodological objectivism” is “a necessary moment in all research” because it allows the sociologist to map social relations from a perspective not available in the ordinary experience of an agent located within the social structure (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 72).
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 32 However, it is precisely this “break with primary experience” that often leads the sociologist to reify or “hypostatize” his or her social models, to accept the conditions they represent as given, without asking how they are generated and reproduced. For this reason, sociology must “pass from the opus operatum to the modus operandi, from statistical regularity or algebraic structure to the principle of the production of this observed order, and to construct the theory of practice, or, more precisely, the theory of the mode of generation of practices, which is the precondition for establishing an experimental science of the dialectic of the internalization of externality and the externalization of internality, or, more simply, of incorporation and objectification” (p. 72). Bourdieu’s theory of practice is perhaps the most important sociological framework for the critical somatics discipline, which seeks to be precisely the sort of “experimental science” mentioned above. Bourdieu elaborates on the inner-outer dialectic using Mauss’s term habitus and a related partner term, hexis. He iterates many versions of his definition of habitus, but an amalgam might be something like this: the habitus is a system of internalized, socially constituted and structured dispositions that themselves generate, structure, and classify embodied social practices and products. Hexis is also a internalization of social conditions, but the concept refers primarily to bodily comportment, posture, and carriage, or “body schema” (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 190). Bourdieu
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 33 defines hexis as “a pattern of postures that is both individual and systematic, because linked to a whole system of techniques involving the body and tools, and charged with a host of social meanings and values” (1977, p. 87). Hexis is “political mythology realized, embodied, turned into a permanent disposition, a durable manner of standing, speaking, and thereby of feeling and thinking” (p. 92). One of the main questions in Bourdieu’s work is, how do bodily hexis, and the other social practices generated by the habitus, come to take on symbolic meaning? How do these dispositions signify one’s social location in a given society and thus reinforce the social order as a whole? In Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste, Bourdieu begins with the fact of “objective social conditions,” conditions which are determined, on a social level, by the distribution of capital, and individually by ones share of that distribution, i.e. ones relationship to capital, i.e. ones class location in a capitalist economy (1984, pp. 169-170). It is important to note that, for Bourdieu, economic capital is only one type of capital. He also posits cultural capital, and social capital (1984, p. 114). Cultural capital includes things like, one’s level of education, exposure to and mastery of discourse regarding artistic or popular works and practices, and so on. For example, in Bourdieu’s study, he found that teachers and skilled workers have the same income, but teachers prefer different social activities and have different tastes than machinists, say, due to differential exposure and access to cultural
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 34 capital (1984, p. xxx) – check for accuracy. Different conditions create different overall environments within which social agents are immersed. Of course, no two individuals share precisely the same conditions, so there is some individual variation amongst agents in a shared environment; however, there are enough shared characteristics to create what Bourdieu calls a “stylistic affinity” in the habitus and hexis of those in the same social class. These common styles—what Bourdieu termed lifestyles—are identifiable and classifiable not only to sociologists but to agents within the social system in question, although there is a difference between the former and the latter in both significance and method. For the sociologist studying lifestyles, their connection to particular social classes is a statistical and objective fact; for the social agent, the relationship between lifestyle or taste and class is obscured, and taste is seen as a more or less individual phenomenon. They become the basis for judging the quality of an individual’s social, aesthetic, and behavioral choices, and for creating systems of social value based on such evaluations. But social classes and their styles—or lifestyles-- are not independent of the whole society of which they are a part—the social conditions of each class are systematically related to those of other classes precisely to the extent that they differ from those conditions. Hence, class forms a differential system in a society objectively structured by the unequal distribution of capital. In this sense, the habitus shaped by the specific class conditions of one group
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 35 embodies the whole social structure; the context for any meaning that arises from these differential social conditions is the social structure itself. It is the habitus which transmutes the objective conditions of class into symbolic signifiers of what Bourdieu calls life-style. In order to do this, though, the practices generated by the habitus must be able to be “read” by social actors as signs—that is, they must be classifiable. For Bourdieu, taste functions as this “classifying operation,” as the means of differentiating, judging, and appropriating social practices and products. Additionally, taste, like the practices it judges, also arises from the habitus, which in turn arises via the internalization of class conditions. People in different classes have different propensities, different life-styles, different tastes, while people in the same class tend to share similar tastes and lifestyles—they have what Bourdieu calls “stylistic affinity” (p. 173). We usually think of taste as an expression of one’s individuality, of one’s unique aesthetic sensibilities, but Bourdieu challenges this assumption by demonstrating that, actually, taste is an expression of our particular but objective location in a capitalist system where capital, and the power associated with capital, is not distributed equally. Bourdieu emphasizes Mauss’ recognition of the classifiability of body techniques, and reminds sociologists that “the ‘objects’ they
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 36 classify [namely, social agents and their location in social ‘space’] produce not only objectively classifiable practices but also classifying operations that are no less objective and are themselves classifiable” (pp. 169-170). In other words, it isn’t just the sociologist who classifies social practices. Agents classify social practices too, only they do so from a particular location within the social space. These acts of classifying are practices which, like other social practices, are classifiable (pp. 169-70). Both social practices, and the classification of social practices, are generated by the habitus, which Thus this habitus is not like a psychological “archetype” that precedes social conditioning, but is the product of social conditioning at the same time that it generates practices which adapt to those conditions. Further, because the habitus is shared by those who share the same social conditions, it serves as a signifier of those social conditions, separating in-groups and out-groups based on class. These class signifiers are embodied in the way an individual carries him or her self, as well as in his or her taste. Together, habitus and taste determine an individual’s lifestyle, which is essentially their class position symbolized.
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 37
From a rather different angle than Marxist materialism, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche also approached consciousness as a product that evolved over time, centered in language, and was largely the outcome of the needs of the social group, which he condescendingly called “the herd.” However, the aspect of Nietzsche’s thought that is most relevant for an introduction to Critical Somatics is his unique view of what we call the human soul. I find it important to approach much of Nietzsche’s work as a thought experiment rather than as an accurate historical record. As in the work of other dramatists, the truths hidden in Nietzsche’s work are not factual. In the second essay of A Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche offers a meditation on guilt and bad conscience. He asserts that guilt as a moral trait derives from the material experience of being in debt. The evidence he offers is philological: “guilt” from the German schuld
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 38 (‘should’), “debt” from German “schulden” (xxxx, p. xx). According to Nietzsche, the act of exchange is the first human experience of promise-making—of owing something to someone, whether payment or trade. It is this situation of owing, he argues, that generated the human capacity for memory. The debt is carried as a promise—a pledge borne by his person and sustained by trust. Likewise, “bad conscience” emerges from a material situation—namely, the violent transition from nomadism to sedentarism, when “wild, free, and roving man” became “locked within the walls of society and peace.” Nietzsche argues that society under the rule of the state was repressive of all the “ancient instincts of freedom.” These instincts, no longer able to “discharge themselves outward turn inward,” a process Nietzsche calls “the internalization of man:” It is only by this process that man developed that which is later called his ‘soul.’ The entire inner world of man, being originally thin, as if it were stretched between two hides, expanded and extended, received depth, breadth, and height, in the same measure as man’s outward discharges were checked (p. xx). Nietzsche associates these drives with love for the earth—for this world, for ‘reality’ (as opposed to some projected imaginary realm such as the Christian notion of heaven). For
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 39 Nietzsche, a genuine affirmation of life must breach through the disgust toward nature created by Christianity’s projection of evil onto that which is earthly, sensual, and vital-- its shaming and devaluing the instincts of freedom, wildness, and joy that have no legitimate, socially sanctioned outlets. His goal is to resurrect reality and re-train “bad conscience” to attach itself to those qualities which are life-denying, and re-valuing those traits that have been repressed through centuries of living in statist unfreedom (xxxx, p. xx).
The Cognitive Science of Metaphor
Jaynes is not a contemporary of Marx or Nietzsche—he is a late twentieth-century philosopher and theorist of consciousness. Like Nietzsche, Jaynes also believes there was a process of “internalization” undergone by humans; however, unlike Nietzsche, he believes that internalization is constructed primarily through metaphor: Where does consciousness take place? Everyone, or almost everyone, immediately replies, in my head. This is because when we introspect, we seem to look inward on an inner space somewhere behind our eyes. But what on earth do we mean by ‘look’? We
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 40 even close our eyes sometimes to introspect even more clearly. Upon what? Its spatial character seems unquestionable…. And this is the very heartbeat of the matter. For we know perfectly well that there is no such space in anyone’s head at all! There is nothing inside my head or yours except physiological tissue of one sort or another. And the fact that it is predominantly neurological tissue is irrelevant. Now, this thought takes a little thinking to get used to. It means that we are continually inventing these spaces in our own and other people’s heads, knowing perfectly well that they don’t exist anatomically; and the location of these ‘spaces’ is indeed quite arbitrary…. (Jaynes, 1990, p. 44-45).
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 41
In the previous chapter, we examined various theoretical sources that discussed the role of social conditions in engendering particular ways of inhabiting the body, and how these embodied dispositions generated awareness of symbolic systems, or consciousness, whose meaning both derived from but masked social conditions. We have examined the way in which our comportment, our taste, and our lifestyle reveals, symbolically, while concealing, actually, our material position vis-à-vis capital. We have seen the role that metaphor plays in the transubstantiation of matter into meaning. In this chapter, we are going to examine the physiological mechanisms that, when understood, will explain more thoroughly how something like an “embodied disposition,” orientation, or “attunement” shapes our perceptual structures, our reception of linguistic and symbolic information, and our ability and
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 42 drive to communicatively and symbolically express our experience. Throughout chapter one, we used terms like “habitus,” “disposition,” “orientation,” and “attunement” to describe a certain way of inhabiting a socially constructed, symbolically meaningful space. But we have never been able to discuss the materiality of these concepts, or of the way in which embodiment produces meaning. For this endeavor, it is necessary to turn to the sciences of physiology and kinesiology, the study of movement, to understand the complex transfer of what Bourdieu called “body hexis” into symbolic meaning systems.
The Learning Flesh
The body is a holistic system. Understanding it in a mechanistic way, without exploring the relationships and patterns that create one’s overall organism, will prevent us from seeing the interface between the material conditions within which we are immersed, and the meanings that we give to those material conditions. According to Deane Juhan, bodywork practitioner and author of Job’s Body: a Handbook for Bodywork: It is the touching of the body’s surfaces against external objects and the rubbing of its own parts together which produce
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 43 the vast majority of sensory information used by the mind to assemble an accurate image of the body and to regulate its activities…. Not only is it true that the nervous system stimulates the body to move in specific ways as a result of specific sensations; it is also the case that all movements flood the nervous system with sensations regarding the structures and functions of the body. Movement is the unifying bond between the mind and the body, and sensations are the substance of that bond. Friction on the skin, pressure on the deeper tissues, distortion of the tissues surrounding the joints—these are the media through which the organism perceives itself and through which it organizes its internal and external muscular responses…. [S]ensations to a large degree organize the mind. They do not simply give the mind material to organize; they are themselves a major organizing principle (Juhan, 1998, p. xxv-xxvi). To understand how sensations take on this organizational role and mediate the mind-body interface, we must describe briefly the anatomy of sensation, beginning with the sense of touch, which includes “hot, cold, itches, tickles, all degrees of pressure, vibration, and an
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 44 enormous variety of pains and pleasures” (p. 28). The sensory receptors of the skin vary, and register different types of sensory information in different layers of the dermis. (Ruffini organs etc). The nerve cells that trail from these sensory receptors bundle into a nerve trunk in an orderly manner—the spatial relationship among the locations of tactile stimulation is preserved as the nerve fibers bundle into the nerve trunk, and as they terminate in the sensory cortex, where these relations are “mapped” in a way similar to fiber optic cables (pp. 37-42). Further, organization seems to begin at the dermal sensory receptors, with each receptor “tagging” the nerves with neurotransmitters that dictate how the information is received by the cortex. The research Juhan cites involves a frog who had a patch of skin from his belly and his back switched. The stimulation of the ‘belly’ patch, on the frog’s back, still caused the frog to scratch his belly. This indicates that something in the dermis dictates how the information traveling through the nerves will be received by the sensory cortex, and will in turn affect the motor response. This “suggests that the use of touch and sensation to modify our experience of peripheral conditions exerts an active influence upon the organization of reflexes and body image deep within the central nervous system” (p. 40). organization of the nervous system does not appear to be dictated by the brain—it is not top-down; rather it is the periphery that organizes the center (p. 40).
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 45 For this reason, Juhan calls the sense of touch “The mother of all senses” (p. 29). This sense, unlike the others, is not confined to the head but spread across the surface of the entire body, and in fact, the other senses can be considered highly specialized versions of the mother sense (p. 28). Additionally, in the budding embryo, which is made of three distinct layers which have a specialized role in its development, the skin, brain, and nervous system all emerge from the same embryonic layer.
Fascia is the most pervasive tissue in the body —it surrounds every bone, muscle fascicle and fiber, and organ in the body. Proprioception Fascia Muscle Tension / habit Semiconductive properties of Fascia Hyaluronic Acid
Critical Somatics: Theory and Method 46
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