We are further plagued by a growing variety of personal and social discontents generated by deceptive body images. If body consciousness is a topic unlikely to comfort conventional philosophical tastes, this is not because philosophy has always ignored the body, as too many somatic advocates are fond of complaining. Its dominantly negative image — as a prison, distraction, source of error and corruption — is both reflected and reinforced by the idealistic bias and disregard for somatic cultivation that Western philosophers generally display. We must not forget, however, that philosophy in ancient times was practiced as a distinctly embodied way of life in which somatic disciplines frequently formed an important part, even if such disciplines sometimes assumed a more body-punishing character in philosophies where mind and soul were thought to achieve more freedom and power through severe somatic asceticism. However, the idea of using its cultivation for heightened consciousness and philosophical insight would probably strike most professional philosophers as an embarrassing aberration.
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We are further plagued by a growing variety of personal and social discontents generated by deceptive body images. If body consciousness is a topic unlikely to comfort conventional philosophical tastes, this is not because philosophy has always ignored the body, as too many somatic advocates are fond of complaining.
Its dominantly negative image — as a prison, distraction, source of error and corruption — is both reflected and reinforced by the idealistic bias and disregard for somatic cultivation that Western philosophers generally display. We must not forget, however, that philosophy in ancient times was practiced as a distinctly embodied way of life in which somatic disciplines frequently formed an important part, even if such disciplines sometimes assumed a more body-punishing character in philosophies where mind and soul were thought to achieve more freedom and power through severe somatic asceticism.
However, the idea of using its cultivation for heightened consciousness and philosophical insight would probably strike most professional philosophers as an embarrassing aberration. I hope to change this prejudice.
Unlike philosophers, artists have generally devoted a very adoring, revering attention to the body. Realizing how powerfully and precisely our mental life is displayed through bodily expression, they have shown how the most subtle nuances of belief, desire, and feeling are reflected in the postural and gestural attitudes of our figures and facial countenance.
The young woman here, passively posed on a luxuriously bedded and curtained interior, is fresh and naked from her bath and thus ready for her required sexual service.
She presents a deliciously lovely and luminous backside of flesh. But in her static pose, with her head turned away in darker shadow and her gaze and facial expression invisible, we get no sense of her having any active, thoughtful consciousness at all.
She even seems unconscious of the close presence of the implied viewer, who sees her in almost total nakedness, apart from the turban on her bound hair and the sheet wrapped around her arm — both more suggestive of her bondage than of protective covering. What a shock to learn that the marketing department had selected this beautiful but painfully misleading image for the cover of my book on body consciousness!
Do not judge this book by its cover. Moreover, despite its share of intense pleasures, body consciousness is perhaps most acutely and firmly focused in experiences of pain. Kant, for example, though affirming self-examination as a crucial duty and despite his meticulous personal attention to details of diet and exercise , sharply condemns somatic introspection for generating melancholia and other corruptions. William James likewise warns that heightened consciousness of the bodily means of action leads to failure in achieving our desired ends.
Do our bodies really function best when we most ignore them rather than mindfully trying to guide their functioning? Without critical somatic consciousness, how can we correct faulty habits and improve our somatic self-use? If philosophy is likewise committed to the goal of self-improvement and self-care, could enhanced skills of somatic awareness enable better ways of monitoring and directing our behavior, managing or diminishing our pain, and more fruitfully multiplying our pleasures?
How to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful forms of body consciousness? How to combine critical body mindfulness with the demands for smooth spontaneity of action? Are there special principles or methods of somatic introspection for improving body consciousness and then using such enhanced awareness for better cognition and sensorimotor performance?
How do these methods relate to the struggles of individuals whose bodies serve to underline their subordinate social status? How does somatic proprioception expand our traditional picture of the senses and their role in cognition and coordinated action? Such questions, and many others related to body consciousness, will be addressed in this book, which is a product of at least a decade of struggling both theoretically and practically with this topic.
Though the struggle continues, this book marks a significant measure of progress in my ongoing project of somaesthetics that grows out of earlier work in philosophical pragmatism as a philosophy of life.
The pragmatism I advocate puts experience at the heart of philosophy and celebrates the living, sentient body as the organizing core of experience. In that context, Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life introduced the notion of somaesthetics as a field of theory and practice, which was later elaborated in Performing Live This book is a further extension of the somaesthetic project, with much more detailed attention to issues of body consciousness and to their problematic treatment by past masters of twentieth-century philosophy.
I often prefer to speak of soma rather than body to emphasize that my concern is with the living, feeling, sentient, purposive body rather than a mere physical corpus of flesh and bones. Three other institutions were also particularly supportive of my work on this book. The University of Oslo kindly invited me to spend the month of May sharing my somaesthetic research with their interdisciplinary study group on literature and disease special thanks here to Knut Stene-Johansen and Drude von der Fehr.
The highlight of that year was the time I lived and trained in a Zen cloister, the Shorinkutsu-dojo, set on a hill by the coastal village of Tadanoumi on the beautiful Inland Sea. I am extremely grateful to my Zen Master, Roshi Inoue Kido, for his superb instruction, which amazingly combined uncompromising discipline with affectionate kindness. It was not an easy time; there were moments of struggle, frustration, failure, shame, and pain. This experience of Zen practice reinforced my faith that despite the problems and risks of somatic consciousness, its disciplined cultivation in the proper forms, foci, and contexts can prove an invaluable tool for pursuing a philosophical life of self-discovery and self-improvement that also takes one beyond the self.
I first acquired this conviction through my four-year training and subsequent professional work in the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education and therapy and through some earlier instruction in the Alexander Technique.
These body-mind disciplines taught me other important lessons: that philosophical understanding of body consciousness can be enhanced through practical training in disciplines of reflective somaesthetic awareness; that our somatic consciousness is typically flawed in ways that systematically hamper our performance of habitual actions that should be easy to perform effectively but yet prove difficult, awkward, or painful; and that somaesthetic insight can provide us with creative strategies to overcome such faulty habits and other disorders involving somatic, psychological, and behavioral problems.
Body consciousness is therefore not, as many have complained, something whose cultivation speaks only to the young, strong, and beautiful. Though aging and infirmity bring a disconcerting somatic consciousness we are tempted to shun, the older and weaker we get, the more we need to think through our bodies to improve our self-use and performance for the effective pursuit of our daily activities and the goals we strive to realize.
I know this not only from my Feldenkrais experience in caring for others but also from my personal experience of aging. Confining myself to a sample of published English texts, I wish in particular to acknowledge the discussions of Jerold J. Kim, and Barbara Formis. I am thankful that Chuck Dyke and Jerold J. Abrams read an early draft of this book and offered very valuable comments, as did two readers for Cambridge University Press who were later identified to me as Robert Innis and Shannon Sullivan.
I am grateful for the opportunity to use some of this material, which has been significantly revised and expanded, to help shape a much more developed, sustained, and unified book-length study. It is a privilege to have Beatrice Rehl of Cambridge University Press as my editor, and I thank her for thoughtful advice and encouraging support.
My wife Erica Ando and our daughter Talia Emi have continuously inspired my work through graceful intelligence in action and cheerful beauty in repose. This book could not have been written without them. Richard Shusterman.
Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics (review)
This direction can be characterized briefly as closely connected with the American pragmatism that Shusterman assimilated, thanks to Rorty, albeit often in a polemic relation to him. It is the direction taken by a contemporary aesthetician in search of a new formula for a discipline that in its modern form, as a philosophy of art, has fallen into a state of exhaustion. It is also the direction taken by a philosopher and aesthetician who is seriously interested, not only in cognizing the world, but also in its melioration. In the second edition of Pragmatist Aesthetics Shusterman had included an additional chapter, entitled "Somaesthetics: A Disciplinary Proposal.
Body consciousness : a philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics