Body, Glorified

Kelly Dean Jolley April, 2008

“Plotinus, the philosopher our contemporary, seemed ashamed of being in the body.” So wrote Porphyry of Plotinus, in what is one of the great sentences beginning any biography. (Porphyry wrote On the Life of Plotinus and the Order of his Books sometime between 301 and 305, thirty years after the death of Plotinus.) I well recall the blood rushing to my head when I read those words as a freshman in college. I had been raised in a small church in southern Ohio: in one of those insular, biblicist, pugnacious and deliberately unhistoried churches that speckle the landscape from Alabama and Tennessee into the southern-most or anyway most southern-like sections of the midwest. I’d been raised to believe that when I was resurrected (should I be so graced) I would be resurrected in a glorified body. What a glorified body was, exactly, my elders left to my newly baptized imagination. I imagined that it would be a kind of glowing, ethereal “body” capable of metaphysical hijinks of all sorts—like jaunting from place to place instantaneously. The only real clarity I had was that whatever else might be true of my future glorified body, it would not be of the earth, earthy. My body, my old body, would become the earth’s and return to it. While I won’t say I was all-but a neoplatonist at heart even before college, my head-first plunge into the Enneads suggests that in Plotinus I had found the man I was looking for. I, too, felt ashamed of being in the body. I longed for my future, glorified body. Religion I came to understand was, among other things, the activity that separated the soul from the body. The soul was life, the body death. For all my Christianity, I believed in voodoo: each of us was an animated corpse, a zombie of sorts, an essentially living thing trapped in something essentially dead—or, if not dead, then deathly. I remained, mostly unthinkingly, of this mind until shortly after graduate school, while teaching my first college courses. I was reading the English philosopher (and Catholic) Peter Geach’s Mental Acts and was clobbered (I


know no other adequate word) by the chapter “Could Sensuous Experiences Occur Apart from an Organism?” Geach seemed to me then and still seems right to have answered his titular question, “No”. Geach was not arguing in the chapter against neoplatonism, but against cartesianism. But my neoplatonism rightly absorbed the blow. It never recovered. I eventually began to rebuild my understanding of resurrection. The body, the earth earthy body, I decided, was resurrected–but resurrected glorified. But what could the glorification of such a body be? That question dogged me. I found help. I stumbled across a notion, a notion that informs a swath of phenomenology. Here is the notion: imaginary objects differ from real objects in that the former have no features that need to be discovered, no features that can surprise the imaginer, whereas the latter do have features that need to be discovered, features that can surprise the perceiver. Consider: I imagine a child’s block. If I imagine it initially as presenting only one side to me, I will know without investigating whether there is a letter or number on the block, and if there is, what it is. If I rotate the block horizontally then vertically in my imagination, I will again discover nothing on the sides that successively are presented to me that I do not know would be there. Why is that? Because I am imagining the block and I am rotating the imagined block in my imagination. Everything in my imagination is present to me; there is nothing there that is not made known to me. I put there everything that is there. I do not have to discover anything there or come to realize that anything is there. I am conscious of all that is there without needing either discovery or realization. None of this is true of real objects. With them, discovery and realization are necessary and more or less constant. Or I should say, that it how it is with most real objects? I eventually realized that the relationship I have to my imaginary objects is sort of the relationship I have to one real object–my body. One among the real objects is the object I am. I know a bit, quite a lot, actually, about my body without needing either discovery or realization. Typically, I know the position of my limbs without having to look to find where they are. I do not typically need to lean over in my chair to take stock of the placement of my feet. I know where they are, I am conscious of where they are, without needing to look. Think how strange it would be to have to discover where your feet are! Imagine needing to locate your limbs before beginning any bodily endeavor. If I needed to discover where my feet are when I am walking, I would barely be able to walk. The same thing that is true typically of the position of my limbs is true typically of my intentional bodily actions. I have the sort of relationship typically to these that I do to my imaginary objects. 2

Now that does not show that my body’s limb’s positions, or my body’s reflexes or restivenesses, or even my intentional bodily actions, are imaginary. Instead, it reveals something fascinating about what it is to have bodily self-knowledge, or to be an embodied self. Often my body is present to me as an imagined object is present to me. It is as though my consciousness permeates my body much more fully than I normally suspect. It is as though my body just were my consciousness or my intentions extended in space and in time. Think of moments of physical mastery, moments like those lived through by a master carpenter in shaping a bit of wood. While he works well, he is aware only of the wood and of his relatedness to it. His body becomes transparent. His hands are not tools he uses to manipulate his hand tools. His hands are the modes of presentation of his hand tools. His body is lost in the process of shaping the wood. The wood resists his effort; his body not only does not resist his effort, his body just is his effort as the effort manifests itself in the workshop. His skill provides him with what we might, guardedly, call a priori knowledge of his body. Because he knows what he is doing he knows where his body is without needing to check. To the extent that he needs to check on his body, he reveals that he is not a master craftsman. The apprentice’s hand is a tool he uses when he manipulates his hand tools. That is one reason why he manipulates them less well, more clumsily, than the master. There is, of course, much about my body as a real object that I do need to discover or to realize. I need to discover how much I weigh at a given moment, how tall I am at a given moment, whether or not I am allergic to cat dander, etc. And much that my body does involuntarily is done without me knowing or being conscious of it: my hair grows, my nails in-grow, my food is absorbed, tumors grow or shrink. I have to make discoveries about these things. When I consider them, I no longer feel as if my body were presented to me as my imaginary objects are. My consciousness no longer seems to permeate my body. Parts of my body and some of its doings seem dark, impermeable to consciousness. And I can, at odd moments, under pressure, as a result of embarrassment, or because of a lack of skill, lose the kind of control of my intentional bodily actions that made it seem that my body was just my intentions extended in space and time. When that happens, my body seems more like a fleshy marionette I try to control, that I try to move about on strings of nerve and sinew. It is extended in space and time, but neither my consciousness nor my intentions are. (I’ve said that my relation to my body is typically of the same sort as my relation to my imaginary objects. I say ‘typically’ because of phenomena that can alter that relationship: anesthesia, my arm’s falling asleep, severe 3

trauma. Each of these can eject, so to speak, my consciousness or my intentions from my body.) In Truth and Hope, Geach likens God’s knowledge of the world and all that is in it to our bodily self-knowledge. It might be clearer to liken his knowledge of the world and all that is in it to our knowledge of our imaginary objects. But, again, this would not mean that the world and all that is in it are imaginary. It would mean instead that God puts everything there that is there. He need not discover or realize anything about the world. He knows or is conscious of all of its features. All that there is to know or be conscious of in the world is present to God. And maybe this gives us a glimpse into glorified embodiment. I know that I am skirting the edge of a mystery here, and I do not take what I am about to suggest as more than a glimpse in a mirror, darkling and incomplete. But maybe my glorified body will be my earth earthy body but rendered wholly transparent to me. All that can be known about my body will be known to me. None of it, none of its doings, will be dark or impermeable to consciousness. I will not need to discover anything or come to realize that something is so about my body. I will just know. My body will be sheerly my consciousness and my intentions extended in space and time. I will be conscious of all that there is to be conscious of as an embodied self. My body will be mine, it will be wholly mine, it will be of the earth earthy but not the earth’s, for the very first time, when it is resurrected as a body, glorified. Plotinus was ashamed to be in the body. I was, too. But that was because Plotinus and I misunderstood the body, misunderstood matter, misunderstood earth earthiness. We did not know that the body could be glorified. Plotinus and I lived in our bodies as strangers in a strange land. We did not know that the body could be home and did not know it could be at Home in a City Foursquare. As Fr. John Meyendorff puts the point, in a footnote to St. Gregory of Palamas’ Triads: In the corrected Platonism of the Greek Fathers, the body, though not initially corruptible, has become liable to fragmentation and decay as a result of the Fall...While matter remains inert, it constitutes a barrier and burden to the soul, but once revitalised by the becomes a supple instrument of the spirit.


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