Center for Body, Mind, and Culture

Raymond D. Boisvert  Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor, Siena College, Loudonville, New York.

“Clusters of Commitments: Somaesthetics Beyond Bodies and Faith”

This presentation suggests a reform (or downright heresy) within somaesthetics.  It argues that the conference title “Bodies of Belief: Somaesthetics of Faith and Protest,” highlights terms that are really part and parcel of a non-somaesthetic landscape, specifically Bodies and Faith.  “Belief” is o.k., “protest” is for another essay.  “Bodies” and “Faith” are the terms I wish to evaluate.  My modification of the conference title “Clusters of Commitments: Somaesthetics Beyond Bodies and Faith” (1) removes terms (“body,” “faith”) whose connotations remain rooted in a semantic context that antedates the somaesthetic turn, and (2) emphasizes the priority of praxis, a priority which (i) challenges the primacy of mind (and thus obviates the necessity of reacting by embracing “body”), and (ii) marginalizes “faith” while making living “beliefs” central.  Can we articulate a general take on things that does away with the substantive “body” (except when it means “cadaver”) and rejects the connection of “faith” with religion?  Those are the challenges this essay seeks to meet.

Dori Coblentz   Ph.D. Candidate, Emory University, Department of English.

““Governe thy weapon, but also thy selfe”:Fencing and Belief in the English Renaissance”

The construction and cultivation of the body has attracted sustained attention in the early modern scholarship of the last few decades. Rapidly changing structures of belief and practice from the Protestant Reformation to the Scientific Revolution highlight the contingency of bodies and their activities. However, though devotional, philosophical, and literary discourses have been fruitfully examined, instructional prose that grapples with what it means to textually transmit embodied knowledge has been surprisingly neglected. Early modern fencing manuals illuminate the embodiment and contestation of beliefs and values. Fencing treatises, like devotional texts, emphasize obedience and self-governance and provide techniques and rituals to encode these values into the body. However, while most fencing manuals contain at least a nod to the “science of Divinity,” such acknowledgements are usually in the context of delimiting subject matter: theologians discuss the meaning of life and fencing masters discuss how to stay alive. In contrast, Joseph Swetnam’s Schole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence (1617) represents a sustained attempt to synthesize the practices of fencing and of Christianity. As such, the book reveals how English early moderns understood somatic participation in belief and vice versa more generally. I argue that fencing, as competitive sport of combat and vehicle for self-transformation, opens knowledge of timing, judgment, and intuition at the level of practice. This knowledge is corporealized in the muscles through iterative training. Fencing manuals illuminate an important way in which beliefs are embodied and contested through the tactics they emphasize and the reflexes they cultivate.

Pradeep A. Dhillon   Associate Professor, Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, University of Illinois.

“Somaesthetic Disgust and Moral Aesthetic Experience”

Somaesthetics, as developed by Richard Shusterman, has proved to be enormously influential not only in taking up some central problems within philosophical aesthetics, but within philosophy itself. In this essay, my concern is with moral entailments afforded by the epistemology suggested by somaesthetics. Particularly, I am concerned with the role of disgust as a somaesthetic response to certain artworks in evoking a moral response. This emphasis on disgust as a dimension of aesthetic experience is in keeping with Shusterman’s own efforts at broadening the scope of what is typically taken to be the nature of aesthetic experience. However, it also moves us beyond the “good” art/”bad” dichotomy that Shusterman himself often falls into and gives bodily felt disgust a place in moral thinking that he would certainly wish it to take. The artworks of the Indian artist Chittaprosad undertaken during the Bengal Famine of 1942-43 provide an opportunity to explore these concerns through their depiction of starving, dead, dying and decaying bodies. Chittaprosad’s stark-even repelling- representations of the human body provide an aesthetic experience that not only dissolves the line between humans and animals, but also, quite remarkably re-inscribes them in a manner strongly reminiscent of the Kantian sublime. In sum, reading between Shusterman’s expanded notion of aesthetic experience in relation to the body and Chittaprosad representation of the body in its most material aspect, provides an opportunity for productive philosophical work and moral education.

Lexi Eikelboom   Ph.D. Candidate, Theology, University of Oxford, UK.

““I Got Rhythm”: The role of Rhythm in the Somatic Dimensions of Identity and Protest””

One of the ways in which identity is established and maintained is through bodily participation in the rhythms of a group’s music, dance, poetry, and ritual. Paradoxically, however, such participation requires an individual to temporarily suspend his or her subjective rhythms in order to enter into the rhythms of the group. Rhythm thus shapes identity through the body by interrupting subjectivity and bringing the individual into somatic empathy with a group. This double-function of rhythm means that rhythm is a way in which persons can be controlled through the manipulation of their bodies, but rhythm itself can never be controlled by those who attempt to harness it, such that it remains a means of protest and subversion. This paper argues, based on the work of Julia Kristeva and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, that protest depends on the disruption of subjective identity through bodily participation in a rhythm and that according to this definition, organized religion can itself be understood as a form of protest. Subjective identity is the self-concept that is generated in and through various symbolic rhythms: imitations, self-presentations, patterns of speech etc., which are determined by cultural patterns and forces, including problematic patterns like colonialism or patriarchy. Protesting these subjective rhythms requires their suspension, which is only possible through participation in alternative, pre-subjective, somatic rhythms. I argue, using the examples from Christianity, that religion can function as a way in which to access these somatic rhythms, which in turn contest the subjective rhythms given by the dominant culture.

James Garrison   Ph.D. Candidate, Philosophy, University of Vienna.

“Knowing Your Place, Knowing Where to Stand;Ritual, Role, Resistance in Confucianism and Somaesthetics”

Drawing Richard Shusterman to Confucianism is the key notion that “one’s character and somatic comportment are essentially indivisible.” Within the Chinese lexicon, the main issue here is lǐ (礼; traditionally written 禮), which refers to the somaesthetically-oriented ritual propriety described as a “social grammar” for recognizing one’s self in relation to others, or as Confucius playfully puts it, “knowing where to stand lì (立).” Thus, attention to ritual results in a habituated, almost instinctive, sense of appropriateness after sufficient and studied practice. With ritual practice deeply embedding a sense of appropriateness, proper distinctions can then be made within the social scene. This grounds the Confucian idiom of protest, remonstration, which aims at reflecting that sense of appropriateness by appealing to roles and names. Here, the loyal opposition reminds the ruler of where each ought to stand, lest the failure of the ruling party to live up their role justify quitting the state, popular revolt, or even regicide. And so, perhaps by whimsical extension, it can be said that ritual propriety also gives knowledge of where to make a stand. Knowing where to make a stand is not just a matter of rhetorical flourish though. It involves the body, muscle memory, and habituation of sediment; it involves somaesthetics. Hence, I propose looking at protest movements with Confucian cultural roots, particularly the much-commented-upon “polite” resistance occurring in Hong Kong, with an eye to ritual, role, and to the possibility of refining protest with somaesthetic attention.

Dorota Koczanowicz  Ph.D. Art Studies,Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland.

“Regimes of taste and somaesthetics”

In his Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant states that taste is a definitely subjective sphere in which experience cannot be generalised. The claim reverberates in a popular saying which proclaims that “in matters of taste there can be no dispute.” In my presentation, I want to insist that our individual tastes do not result from free choices but are instilled in cultural training we are subject to from the moment we are born onwards. Tastes reflect our social position and cultural background. We are what we eat, but what we eat is not exactly a matter of choice. We are ruled by various regimes of taste, and our bodies are formed in compliance with culturally entrenched norms and values. Drawing on theories of Bourdieu, Foucault and Shusterman, I will explore the ways in which taste disciplines our bodies and will examine possibilities of emancipation.

Leszek Koczanowicz  Professor University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Wroclaw Faculty.

“Bodies of Resistance, Bodies of Emancipation. Somaesthetics and Biopolitics”

The aim of my presentation is to show the relevance of somaesthetics for biopolitcs. Therefore in the first part of my paper I concentrates on the basic categories of biopolitics developed by M. Foucault, R. Esposito, and G. Agamben. Despite significant differences between these authors they refer to body as a locus of oppression. Somaesthetics gives us a possibility to develop an alternative concept of biopolitics where the body is a locus of emancipation. I sketch such an alternative concept of biopolitics in the second part of my presentation.

Felecia McDuffie  Associate Professor of Religion, Georgia Gwinnett College.

“Toward a Fat Theology: Reflections on the Fatosphere as a Resource for an Embodied Theology”

 This paper examines some of the spiritual and theological implications of the ‘fatosphere,’ a corner of the internet where fat people and their allies blog and network in support of the counter-cultural message that fat should be accepted and, even more radically, celebrated. While feminist, womanist, and disability theologies have had much to say about drawing on the embodied experience of the marginalized, fat bodies remain a bastion of marginalization in Christian history and thought. Historically, an anorexic theology has often dominated Christian discourse on the body. Thin bodies represent asceticism, control, and self-denial. Fat bodies represent sin, sloth, gluttony, and vice of every sort.  The ideal Christian body has ranged from the skeletal female saints reputed to live on the communion host alone to the slim figure recommended by a plethora of contemporary Evangelical diet books. Christian theology, however, offers a banquet of categories for a possible “fat theology,” including creation, incarnation, and sacrament. Listening to the voices, reading the experiences, and looking at the images in the fatosphere suggests an alternate theology of the body grounded in celebration instead of denial, in eros instead of control, in brokenness instead of utopianism, in community instead of capitalism. Through its challenges to current cultural constructions of embodiment, the fatosphere provides the theologian with fruitful resources for thinking outside the (low-cal/no-fat) box.

Catherine Nolan  Ph.D. Student,State University of New York.

Organ Donation and Beliefs about Death”

 Our belief that someone is dead leads us to certain actions, including personal actions such as grieving, social actions such as burial rites, and legal actions such as the redistribution of the victim's assets. Modern medicine has opened a new set of behaviors to us: organ retrieval and transplantation. We can now use one human's organs to give others a chance at survival, and laws, hospital protocols, and social scripts have grown up around this new pattern of diagnosing death and immediately operating to remove the donor's organs. In an opt-in donor system like that of the U.S., the donor must explicitly volunteer her body for this surgery, expressing an implicit belief that she will not be harmed or killed by the procedure. Nevertheless, other beliefs about death – discernable in U.S. law and medical tradition – conflict with certain organ retrieval protocols. Non heart-beating organ donation (NHBD), in particular, relies on criteria for death which are inconsistent with the belief that death is irreversible in some strong sense: NHBD requires the diagnosis of death while the donor could still be resuscitated. In this paper, I explore several reactions to this conflict, ranging from the rejection of NHBD abd withholding one's consent to have one's organs donated, to rejection of the “dead donor rule” and even consenting to be killed (once one's health has reached a specified low threshold). One's beliefs about organismal death are reflected in the decision to relinquish one's body to the surgeons, and to save others.

Elizabeth Cruz Petersen Adjunct Faculty, Independent Scholar,Florida Atlantic University.

“Actors Challenging Negative Social Constructs in 17th-Century Spain”

 Somaesthetics, as a study that focuses on sensory-aesthetic appreciation and somatic awareness, provides a pragmatic approach to understanding the unique way in which the woman of the Spanish stage, while dedicating herself to the art of acting, challenged the negative cultural and social constructs imposed on her. Women in the early modern Spanish theater, regardless if they were the product of theater dynasties or if they entered the acting profession as adults, learned that to cultivate certain habits and to acquire new ones opened doors and opportunities for them. By the art of articulation and vocalization, by training their bodies and their environment, these actors created a measure of agency. The female actors lived the life of the characters they portrayed, which were full of multicultural models from various social and economic classes. This transformation granted them certain benefits normally not available to women outside of the convent, such as an education; alternative career path opportunities such as that of directors/managers of their own companies; and even negotiating their own contracts with acting companies. This paper will focus on the representative-performative forms practiced by early modern Spanish women actors, who worked to change and improve their bodies and their habits in preparation for their performance on stage. These women recognized that their bodily existence was determined by the dynamic interaction between their bodies and the various environments, negotiating the relationship between the stronghold of the Church and State authorities in order to establish themselves as professionals in the theater.

Diane Richard-Allerdyce  Faculty member, Humanities & Culture, Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, Ohio.

“The Lump in the Throat”

At the opening of Anaïs Nin’s prose-poem House of Incest (published in 1932 more than half a century before her unexpurgated diaries would present literal incest as an actual rather than strictly metaphorical event in the author’s experience), the narrator announces that before she can begin her story, she must first free her throat of an obstruction.  The blocking object, we learn, is the narrator’s own heart, which she has coughed up while in the throes of a dream ----an image that gives poetic body to the concept of grief as a “lump in the throat.” The image invokes  both what Lacanian critic Ellie Ragland has called the materiality of language and what Amy Novak has called the materiality of trauma. Its inscription points to the way that writers express what is otherwise  inarticulable but palpable--that which Lacan called the Real. It exists as an experience both within the way language is encoded on and in bodies and, simultaneously, beyond the  scope of the Symbolic (order of culture and language)--an inescapable presence that pushes at the edges of awareness to be spoken. Richard Shusterman's work in the field of somaesthetics provides a lens for understanding and exploring the role of a body-based linguistic/literary consciousness that is potentially liberating for individual writers and readers and potentially transformative on the larger scale of the social. In this presentation, I shall explore Shusterman's somaesthetic philosophy in light of a Lacanian feminist perspective on the materiality of language--a literary somaesthetic.

Stenslie Stahl  Faculty member, Humanities & Culture, Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Ecstatic Protests - On Corporeal Ambiences During the Act of Tagging”

Tagging and graffiti are both exciting and high-risk activities. The paper investigates the sensual connection between ecstasis, – as the somatic state of loss of control-, and protest, – as the collectives attempt to gain control-, found amongst contemporary graffiti artists.

Luciana Mourão Arslan  Federal University of Uberlândia.

“Lygia Clark’s art of rituals: challenging limits through somaesthetic perception and reflection”

The Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920-1988) created a set of works in order to activate soma-conscience and self-improvement in patients or spectators. Despite her controversial career, being an artist and therapist, her works are part of collections in the main art museums around the world, and have been displayed in special expositions, such as the recent exhibition The Abandonment of Art in the Museum of Modern Art -NY. Over the last decades, many researchers in different fields have been discussing Lygia Clark’s works.  I aim to propose a  somaesthetic approach  about a set of Clark’s works: Sensory Objects, Relational Objects and Propositions. Works such as Cannibalistic Slobber (1973) were created for students in a course called “gestural communication” in Sorbonne, France; but others were elaborated to be used in “small rituals” in her studio in Rio, where she treated many individuals with psychological issues.

Mark Watson Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal.

“‘What am I s’posed to do, stop hunting bears? I’d rather die, there’d be nothing left to live for’: Moral reflections on a woodsman’s experience of living through and across (bear) skins in northern Quebec”

Ken is a 62-­‐year old Quebecois woodsman (of non-­‐Aboriginal descent) living in a Cree community on the southern shores of James Bay. A well-­‐known traditional bowhunter and a deeply experienced black bear guide, I have known Ken for over ten years and, in my role as apprentice (and anthropologist), have been hunting bears with him since 2008. My primary preoccupation in this paper is with the rhetorical question Ken poses in this title and how it opens up into discussion of embodiment, environmental ethics and human flourishing. Based on long-­‐term ethnographic fieldwork, I explore what it means for Ken to flourish as a human being ‘through and across the skins of animals’. Moving beyond the strongly normative positions within environmental discourse informed by the philosophies of deontology and utilitarianism, I focus on the lived and aesthetic (as well as transactional) qualities which Ken, and other skilled hunters, describe in vivid detail as motivating their practice, that is, a deep feeling for and intuition of the beauty of animals and the natural world and the diversity of the biotic community; a recognition, that is, of the complex state of co-­‐constitution in which the hunter recognizes and experiences the potentialities as well as limits of their role as a human being. In this sense, to flourish is to integrate into one’s character through sustained practice virtuous habits which exemplify the internal goods of one’s life as a bowhunter and woodsman. Bringing MacIntyre into conversation with Dewey, I explore the deeply aesthetic and moral aspects of “alertness” as a virtue (and therefore internal good) in hunting practice. Such “refinement” as Aldo Leopold once famously termed it in his treatise on the “land ethic” -­‐   or what I suggest we might also call ‘being open and alive to the world’ is not to displace the act of killing in hunting but neither is it to foreground it as many critics do. It is instead to situate one’s emotions, intuitions and actions as a hunter within a greater whole and in so doing engage directly (and virtuously) with those moral dilemmas of beauty and brutality which, the woodsman would contend, brings us closer to, instead of further away from, lived human existence.

Russell Pryba Ph.D. Philosophy, Northern Arizona University.

"Tasting Belief: A Pragmatic Account of Gustatory Experience"

Generally speaking, the Pragmatist tradition understands beliefs in terms of their experiential "cash-value." In this paper, I construct a theory of gustatory experience on the basis of the pragmatist conception of  belief. Specifically, this paper will show how our experiences with specific dishes or cuisines form the basis of beliefs regarding our future expectations regarding new gustatory experiences. Thus, our previous gustatory experiences of a specific dish function like an ideal type that normatively guides our beliefs about future encounters with the same dish. I will argue that these beliefs are particularly operative in regards to how one interprets menus. One reads a menu as an expectation that a particular dish conforms with one's beliefs about the ideal type of that dish. This not only explains the occurrence of culinary disappointment, but also suggests the ways in which creative chefs can create humorous and ironic takes on traditional dishes.

Sheldon Richmond Ph.D. Independent Scholar, Thomhill, Canada.

"'Bold As a Tiger, Light As an Eagle, Run Like a Deer, and Strong As a Lion': The Evolving History of the Body-Aesthetic in Judaism"

The "Code of Law" for (observant) Jews, the Shulchan Aruch (1560's) outlines how to conduct bodily-matters, from posture to cleanliness. The Shulchan Aruch starts off in a “roaring” manner by advocating a lack of timidity concerning how to perform the Commands. However, the specific laws concerning bodily carriage, attire, and cleanliness in houses of study and prayer, and in every day matters, including sexual conduct, evoke the attitude of humility and obsessive fastidiousness. Much of the body-aesthetic evoked by the Shulchan Aruch evolved historically from an antithetical reaction to Greco-Roman philosophies and aesthetics of the body. The implicit philosophy of the Shulchan Aruch was to avoid what rabbinical authorities identified as “Epicurean” or “Epicuros”, the code word for Greek philosophy and culture. However, modern day Jews have reconceptualized the traditional aesthetics of the body found in the Shulchan Aruch. Ironically, the aesthetics of the body has returned to an approach found in Maimonides and in Spinoza. Maimonides saw the health of the body as central to spiritual health. Spinoza absorbed the body-aesthetic of Maimonides and pushed it to its logical limit by viewing the body and in general, materiality, as an attribute of the divine. The principle of “bold as a tiger...” has taken on a new meaning in the current Jewish body-aesthetic.




 Last Modified 1/22/15