Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

The language of this exhortation, which we know because it is a text, an unnecessary letter, names the Corinthians as the body by which people can come to know Christ. The Corinthians are simultaneously embodied in three ways: individually, socially and virtually. The individual Corinthians shape the relationships of both division and unity which together form the social body which Paul here addresses as a virtual body, “a letter of Christ.” Christ’s body is extended virtually by the Corinthians in body and by Paul in letter. Most importantly, Paul asserts that these amount to the same thing. The body of the Corinthians becomes a virtual letter of Christ, just as Paul’s letter to the Corinthians becomes a virtual body. The exchange of encouragement occurs in the passing of letters from Paul to his congregations, but the logic of these interstices is a bodily one.

The Gospel of All Creatures

The Gospel of the creatures is that the gospel may be preached through discerning the nature of the divine creation by which the Creator is known. Carnal reason, however, has no right to use the witnesses of the creatures of the gospel; reason errs in its use, an error which has beset all the philosophers in this world … man … must first by means of the creature be led to a knowledge of God; Christ talked to the people about the kingdom of God by means of many parables of nature.*1*
*1* William Klassen and Walter Klaassen, eds., trans. The Writings of Pilgrim Marpeck (Kitchener: Herald Press), 1978. p. 352-353.


the body has got to be worth saving
eyelids are shining with headache and perspiration
morning is finding good intentions under sleep’s persuasion
the body has got to be…
our past lives were too heavy and too expensive
now we’re paying together for our inventions
maybe there’s a ceremony
written down inside the body
where maybe no one ever see
you begin like a lion and you end like a lamb
molars are grinding inspiration down to nothing
where are the instructions
on how to keep it going?
the body…
a patient motor in secret is whirring
binding together what was broken
with the heart’s string
to have without keeping
to sigh without boredom
to know without thinking
and to love without ever knowing
maybe there’s a ceremony
written down inside the body
where maybe no one ever sees

Caithlin De Marrais avers, with the depressed tentativeness typical in this genre, that the body is perhaps the body’s own best hope for salvation. A Better Version of Me, the album on which this song finds itself, is a masterwork devoted to exploring the ways that the body understands. Along with James Gronniosaw, a slave who heard a slave captain read the bible and was astonished to see a book talk, and Ezekiel who ate the scroll, De Marrias finds that our bodies are not governed in their appropriation of texts by the rules of discourse. She warns us not to assume the stability of ethics or interpretation. Good intentions do their daily battle with sleep’s persuasion. Molars grind inspiration down to nothing. The only hope is the eschatological one found in beginning like a lion but ending like a lamb.
This should not surpise us for the transmission and interpretation of truth is not stable or guaranteed when Ezekiel eats the scroll. Gronniosaw’s book so alarms him with its message that the message itself is lost in his amazement at hearing it. But while we should not look to our bodies to provide stability, certainty or any precise method, with De Marrias I want to explore the possibility of interpreting ethically with our bodies.
I begin with De Marrias not just because I like her music but because A Better Version of Me was created through a deliberately embodied process. De Marrias is trained as a dancer, not a bass player/vocalist and these songs grow out of a deliberate attempt to work from the inside out; to give voice first to the body. As an outline of the argument in this chapter, let us begin with an interpretation of the question of the body as Rainer Maria ask it. (continued … and it’s long … in the extended entry)

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The Story of Language and the Body

The biblical story can be told as if the plot were one that took as a main theme the relationship of language and the body. It is a story with intricate twists and turns which is told and retold in the account in which we now have it. It is plural even in its beginning. In the first version (Genesis 1.1-2.4a) God speaks creation into existence. God’s language creates human bodies and the story begins with the precedence of language before bodies. In the second version (Genesis 2.4b-25) God forms a human (ʿādām) from the ground (ʿǎdāmâ) and the animating action is not words but breath; the precedence is reversed. Language only enters the second story with God’s expectation about what humans are allowed to eat. God speaks to let the humans know what they may take into their bodies. After the fall and decline of human civilization God begins again. God does away with all flesh, save a representative of every creature (Genesis 7). In response to this destruction of flesh God gives a promise―God’s words―that God will never bring this level of destruction upon living creatures again. God also gives a law which allows humans to now eat all living creatures but requires that the life of the creature, which is now located in its blood, be respected. Words take a new prominence in regulating the body with Noah, but the body is still the only concern of these words. These three creation accounts each figure the relationship of language to the body slightly differently.
Questions of language become God’s sole concern upon a plain in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11) as God recognizes that the unity of human language and the challenges and affronts this unity pose to God. This lack of difference and the violence inherent therein require God’s intervention and language becomes plural/confused. The plurality restored to language at Babel is then coupled by the particularization of the covenant with Hagar, Sarai→Sarah and Abram→Abraham. This particularity is marked on the male body by circumcision (Genesis 17.10). In this part of the story, which in its own way is a fourth beginning, the focus is on plurality of language and the particularity of the body.
In the next part of this story, the plot thickens as Moses receives two gifts. God gives both God’s name and the law as gifts which reveal to humanity who God is. In the giving of God’s name ( e͗hyeh a͗šer e͗hyeh) God reveals Godself to be a God who is what God does. The self-referential action orientated nature of God’s name points to the plurality of God’s body. In the giving of the law God expects the same of God’s people. The words of the law become the life of the Israelites. In the law the focus on language moves from plurality to particularity. A second reversal happens and the focus is now on the particularity of language and the plurality of the body.
God’s strategies for relating to humanity to this point are both particular and plural and happen through both language and the body. The prominence of language or the body is observable at one or another point in the story but not resolved. God’s strategies are careful and nuanced, but things aren’t going very well. From fall to flood, from the gifts of green plants to the gift of flesh, from the single command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to the Noahide code to the decalogue, God is more and more specific and lenient and humanity and then its chosen nation Israel only show an inability to follow God.
A radical shift occurs much later in Ezekiel where language and the body are combined. Ezekiel receives words from God but the point is not to follow them but to digest them. Ezekiel is faced with the particularly difficult challenge of how to incorporate God’s words. Language here becomes a body and Ezekiel’s body becomes the host, in a new way, for God’s words. In the incarnation God continues to act along this radical trajectory by decisively bringing together body and language as the Word becomes flesh. The law which was once written on tablets of stone is now written on the hearts of the followers of Christ.

The problem with the body

The role of the body in the history of western thought is conflicted and diverse. This sentence accurately depicts a significant dilemma in writing about the body; that any beginning point in any approach to the body is necessarily arbitrary and and account necessarily incomplete. But in its very structure this acknowledgement points to a further, perhaps more important, problem. This more important problem concerns the possibility of speaking or writing about the body in thought. Since Descartes, thought and embodiment have been set in opposition to each other. Other thinkers directly oppose this highly dualistic thinking. The challenge posed by the diversity and conflict in accounts of the body is met by the further challenge; in Western thought human reflective faculties are set against the body dualistically or hobbled by the need to attack this dualism so that almost all language about the body finds itself positively or negatively associated with dualism. A final problematic theme asserts itself at this point in the recognition that any writing or speech about the body is exactly that; language about the body. Bracketing for the moment the possibility of communication about my body in immediate situations without language, the question of the relationship of language to/about/in/before/after the body is again conflicted and diverse. At the simplest level should I talk about the body using nouns or verbs?
Is the body a person so that I privilege identity or the self when talking about the body? Is the body a place or a site open to the construction of a particular kind of building or colony? Is the body a thing so that I can account for it as an object, albeit a very special kind of object? Or should I employ verbs in approaching the body, so that I privilege what bodies do: bodies that touch, feel, see, occupy attention, smell, taste, hear, hum, move, relate, love, burn? Or, as much of contemporary thought on the body actually proceeds, should I privilege the adjectival body: the political body, the economic body, the female body, the gendered body, the black body, the brown body, the red body, the white body, the textual body, the machine body, the virtual body, the cybernetic body, the body of a cat, the body of Christ?


Every moment of a process of interpretation or performance is stratified into at least three levels: pretheoretical, intentional, and reflective. These strata can never be separated or picked apart. A given strata is never necessarily present but we can never expect that any are not present. For example, there is the potential for intentionality at every point across the interpretive/performative process. The writer has an intention, though this is mostly occluded. The text has intentionality although this is the strange intentionality of particular orderings and trajectories. The writer’s intention and the text’s intention are interdependent but they are not identical. The process of interpretation has intentionality as foreunderstanding and prejedice play on the text. The interpreter or actor is intentional both with respect to the text and with respect to the audience. The process of performance intends certain goals and the audience with respect to itself and the performer intends certain changes or feedback. Every moment in this interpretive/performative process shot through with both pretheoretical and theoretical, voluntary and involuntary, tacit and explicit understanding. These strata are detailed in table 1.

































However this table indicates that one is able to enter the interpretative /performative process at a specific point at a given strata and penetrate through to deeper or other levels. I do not believe this to be the case in reality these strata should be thought of as tightly coiled, constantly rotating so that it is never possible to determine from the outside at which point or into which strata one will first plunge.