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?

2 thoughts on “The problem with the body

  1. gerunds

    Honestly. You need verbal nouns or nounal verbs.

    Another way to think about it is the Spanish language Bible. Read the prologue to John.

    En el primero era El Verbo.

  2. I’m with privileging what bodies *do* – I use verbs far more than adjectives, and definitely more than nouns.

    For me, this is a matter of *hope*. I need to believe that we can all *do* better. If my essence doesn’t allow me to change, then I need my actions to.

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