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(with Montaigne) that our greatest artworks are ourselves (inextricably
bound up with and shaped by others), it also brings ethical considerations
into the project of aesthetic self-fashioning and the judgment of such art.
If pragmatism can claim Foucault as a partial though problematic ally, it
¬nds its best nineteenth-century exemplars neither in Baudelaire nor in
Nietzsche but in America™s Emerson and Thoreau, past prophets of the
somaesthetics that I advocate. Let me close this chapter by quoting them.
“Every man,” says Thoreau, “is the builder of a temple, called his body
to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by
hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our
material is our own ¬‚esh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins to
re¬ne a man™s features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them.”
“Art,” Emerson claims, “is the need to create; but in its essence, immense
and universal, it is impatient of working with lame or tied hands, and
Body Consciousness
48

of making cripples and monsters, such as all pictures and statues are.
Nothing less than the creation of man and nature is its end.”46
In the American culture that Emerson and Thoreau helped shape and
that globalization has consequently thrust upon all the world™s cultures,
how are we to create and care for our embodied selves today? With drugs
and dieting, steroids and silicone implants, with prick rings and leather
masks and ¬st-fucking in dungeons, with aerobics and triathlons, with
dance and pranayama, or with new technologies of genetic and neural
engineering? Foucault may not give us the best answers to such questions,
but his somaesthetics confronts us (even affronts us) with the crucial issue:
conceived as an art of living, philosophy should attend more closely to
cultivating the sentient body through which we live. Such cultivation not
only involves re¬ning the body and its unconscious motor programs; it
also means enhancing somatic sentience through heightened, re¬‚ective
body consciousness. Foucault errs in presuming that such consciousness
is best heightened through maximized intensity of stimulation, whose
violence ultimately will only dull our sensibility and deaden our pleasure.

46 Henry David Thoreau, Walden, in The Portable Thoreau, ed. Carl Bode (New York: Viking,
1964), 468; and Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art,” in Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Richard Poirier
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 192.
2


The Silent, Limping Body of Philosophy
Somatic Attention De¬cit in Merleau-Ponty




I
In the ¬eld of Western philosophy, Maurice Merleau-Ponty is something
like the patron saint of the body. Though La Mettrie, Diderot, Nietzsche,
and Foucault have also passionately championed the bodily dimension
of human experience, none can match the bulk of rigorous, systematic,
and persistent argument that Merleau-Ponty provides to prove the body™s
primacy in human experience and meaning. With tireless eloquence that
almost seems to conquer by its massive unrelenting ¬‚ow, he insists that the
body is not only the crucial source of all perception and action but also
the core of our expressive capability and thus the ground of all language
and meaning.
Paradoxically, while celebrating the body™s role in expression, Merleau-
Ponty typically characterizes it in terms of silence. The body, he writes in
Phenomenology of Perception, constitutes “the tacit cogito,” “the silent cogito,”
the “unspoken cogito.”1 As our “primary subjectivity,” it is “the conscious-
ness which conditions language,” but itself remains a “silent conscious-
ness” with an “inarticulate grasp upon the world” (PoP, 402“404). Form-
ing “the background of silence” that is necessary for language to emerge,
the body, as gesture, is also already “a tacit language” and the ground of all
expression: “every human use of the body is already primordial expression”

1I shall be citing from the works of Merleau-Ponty using the following editions and abbre-
viations: Ph´nom´nologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), hereafter Pdp; English
e e
translation: Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962),
hereafter PoP; In Praise of Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. John Wild, James Edie and
John O™Neill (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), hereafter IPP; Signs,
trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), here-
after S; The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern
University Press, 1968), hereafter VI.

49
Body Consciousness
50

(S, 46“47, 67). There is a further paradox. Though surpassing other
philosophers in emphasizing the body™s expressive role, Merleau-Ponty
hardly wants to listen to what the body seems to say about itself in terms
of its self-conscious sensations, such as explicit kinaesthetic or proprio-
ceptive feelings. The role of such feelings gets little attention in his texts,
and they tend to be sharply criticized when they are discussed.2 They
are targets in Merleau-Ponty™s general critique of representations of bod-
ily experience, along with other “thematized” somatic perceptions. Our
body, he insists, wonderfully guides us, but “only on condition that we
stop analyzing it” and its feelings in re¬‚ective consciousness, only “on the
condition that I do not re¬‚ect expressly on it” (S, 78, 89).
This chapter will explore the reasons for Merleau-Ponty™s insistence
on somatic silence and resistance to explicitly conscious body feelings
by showing how they emerge from and illustrate his speci¬c goals for a
phenomenology of embodiment and a revaluation of our basic sponta-
neous perception that has been the target of philosophical denigration
since ancient times. Some of these reasons are not very clearly articu-
lated in his writings, perhaps because they were so closely tied to his basic
philosophical vision that he simply presumed them. He may have not
really seen them clearly by seeing through them, just as we see through
eyeglasses without seeing them clearly (and the clearer we see through
them, the less clearly they are seen). I will do my best to explain Merleau-
Ponty™s resistance to thematized somatic consciousness or somaesthetic
re¬‚ection. But I will not be able to justify it. For this attitude is precisely
one of the features of his somatic theory that I ¬nd most problematic,
not only as a pragmatist philosopher, but as a somatic educator.
Merleau-Ponty™s attitude derives both from his speci¬c goals in somatic
phenomenology and his general conception of philosophy. Just as he
paradoxically describes the body™s expressiveness in terms of silence, so
in his lecture “In Praise of Philosophy” (his project-de¬ning, lecon inau-
¸
gurale at the Coll` ge de France), he stunningly describes philosophy as
e
“limping” and yet goes on to celebrate it precisely in terms of this crip-
pling metaphor: “the limping of philosophy is its virtue” (IPP, 58, 61).


2 William James, John Dewey, and Ludwig Wittgenstein all give more attention to such
explicit, thematized somatic feelings. Chapter 5 shows how introspective attention to
bodily feelings plays a central role in James™s explanations of the self, the emotions,
and the will, while Chapter 4 explains why Wittgenstein rejects the use of these feelings
to explain such concepts, though allowing other philosophical uses for bodily feelings.
Dewey™s advocacy of careful attention to somatic feelings (inspired by his study of F. M.
Alexander™s Technique of heightened re¬‚ective somatic awareness and self-use) will be
discussed in Chapter 6.
The Silent, Limping Body of Philosophy 51

Why should a brilliant body philosopher like Merleau-Ponty use such a
metaphor of somatic disempowerment to characterize his philosophical
project? While exploring his reasons, this chapter will contrast his philo-
sophical vision with a more practical, reconstructive pragmatist approach
to somatic philosophy. This approach advocates more attention to explicit
somatic consciousness or somaesthetic re¬‚ection in trying to achieve not
only a theoretical rehabilitation of the body as a central concept for phi-
losophy but also a more practical, therapeutic rehabilitation of the lived
body as part of a philosophical life of greater mindfulness.


II
The key to Merleau-Ponty™s strategy is to transform our recognition of the
body™s weakness into an analysis of its essential, indispensable strength.
The pervasive experience of bodily weakness may be philosophy™s deepest
reason for rejecting the body, for refusing to accept it as de¬ning human
identity. Overwhelming in death, somatic impotence is also daily proven
in illness, disability, injury, pain, fatigue, and the withering of strength that
old age brings. For philosophy, bodily weakness also means cognitive de¬-
ciency. As the body™s imperfect senses can distort the truth, so its desires
distract the mind from the pursuit of knowledge. The body, moreover,
is not a clear object of knowledge. One cannot directly see one™s outer
bodily surface in its totality, and the body is especially mysterious because
its inner workings are always in some way hidden from the subject™s view.
One cannot directly scan it in the way we often assume we can examine
and know our minds through immediate introspection. Regarding the
body as at best a mere servant or instrument of the mind, philosophy has
often portrayed it as a torturous prison of deception, temptation, and
pain.
One strategy for defending the body against these familiar attacks from
the dominant Platonic-Christian-Cartesian tradition is to challenge them
in the way Nietzsche did. Radically inverting the conventional valuations
of mind and body, he argued that we can know our bodies better than
our minds, that the body can be more powerful than the mind, and that
toughening the body can make the mind stronger. Concluding this logic
of reversal, Nietzsche insisted that the mind is essentially the instrument of
the body, even though it too often is misused (especially by philosophers)
as the body™s deceptive, torturing prison.3

3 For more detailed discussion of this Nietzschean strategy, see my Performing Live (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), ch. 7.
Body Consciousness
52

Though appealingly ingenious, this bold strategy leaves most of us
unconvinced. The problem is not simply that its radical transvaluation of
body over mind goes too much against the grain of philosophy™s intel-
lectualist tradition. Nor is it merely that the reversal seems to reinforce
the old rigid dualism of mind and body. Somatic de¬ciency is, unfortu-
nately, such a pervasive part of experience that Nietzsche™s inversion of
the mind/body hierarchy seems too much like wishful thinking (partic-
ularly when we recall his own pathetic bodily weakness). Of course, we
should realize that our minds are often impotent to explain discursively
what our bodies succeed in performing, and that our minds often fatigue
and strike work while our bodies unconsciously continue to function. But
despite such recognition of mental de¬ciencies, the range of what we can
do or imagine with the power of our minds still seems far superior to what
our bodies can actually perform.
In contrast to Nietzsche™s hyperbolic somaticism, Merleau-Ponty™s argu-
ment for the body™s philosophical centrality and value is more shrewdly
cautious. He embraces the body™s essential weaknesses, but then shows
how these dimensions of ontological and epistemological limitation are
a necessary part and parcel of our positive human capacities for having
perspectives on objects and for having a world. These limits thus provide
the essential focusing frame for all our perception, action, language, and
understanding. The limitation the body has in inhabiting a particular
place is precisely what gives us an angle of perception or perspective
from which objects can be grasped, while the fact that we can change our
bodily place allows us to perceive objects from different perspectives and
thus constitute them as objective things. Similarly, although the body is
de¬cient in not being able to observe itself wholly and directly (since, for
example, the eyes are ¬xed forward in one™s head, which they therefore
can never directly see), this limitation is part and parcel of the body™s per-
manent, privileged position as the de¬ning pivot and ground orientation
of observation. Moreover, the apparent limitation that bodily perceptions
are vague, corrigible, or ambiguous is reinterpreted as usefully true to a
world of experience that is itself ambiguous, vague, and in ¬‚ux. This logic
of uncovering the strengths entailed in bodily weakness is also captured
in Merleau-Ponty™s later notion of “the ¬‚esh” (VI, 135“155). If the body
shares the corruptibility of material things and can be characterized as
“¬‚esh” (the traditional pejorative for bodily weakness in Saint Paul and
Augustine), this negative notion of ¬‚esh is transformed to praise and
explain the body™s special capacity to grasp and commune with the world
of sensible things, since its ¬‚esh is itself sensible as well as sensing.
The Silent, Limping Body of Philosophy 53

Before I go further into how Merleau-Ponty™s strategy of rehabilitating
the body leads him to neglect or resist the role of explicitly conscious
somatic sensations, let me make some introductory remarks about such
sensations and their use. These are conscious, explicit, experiential per-
ceptions of our body: they include distinct feelings, observations, visual-
izations, and other mental representations of our body and its parts, sur-
faces, and interiors. Their explicit or represented character distinguishes
them clearly from the kind of primary consciousness that Merleau-Ponty
advocates. Though these explicit perceptions include the more sensual
feelings of hunger, pleasure, and pain, the term “sensation” is meant
to be broad enough to cover perceptions of bodily states that are more
distinctively cognitive and do not have a very strong affective character.
Intellectual focusing or attentive awareness of the feel, movement, ori-
entation, or state of tension of some part of our body would count as a
conscious body sensation even when it lacks a signi¬cant emotional qual-
ity or direct input from the body™s external sense organs. Conscious body
sensations are therefore not at all opposed to thought, but instead are
understood as including conscious, experiential body-focused thoughts
and representations.
Among these explicitly conscious bodily sensations, we can distinguish
between those dominated by our more external or distance senses (like
seeing, hearing, etc.) and those more dependent on more internal bodily
senses such as proprioception or kinaesthetic feelings. I can consciously
sense the position of my hand by looking at it and noting its orientation,
but I can also close my eyes and try to sense its position by propriocep-
tively feeling its relation to my other body parts, to the force of gravity,
to other objects in my ¬eld of experience. Such explicit proprioceptive
perceptions can be regarded as somaesthetic perceptions par excellence,
because they are not only somaesthetic by invoking mindful aesthesis or
discriminating, thematized perception, but also by relying essentially on
the somaesthetic sensory system rather than our teleceptors.
By instructing us about the condition of our bodies, both these kinds of
mindfully conscious somatic perceptions can help us to perform better.
A slumping batter, by looking at his feet and hands could discover that his
stance has become too wide or that he is choking up too far on the bat.
A dancer can glance at her feet to see that they are not properly turned
out. But besides these external perceptions, most people have developed
enough internal somatic awareness to know (at least roughly) where their
limbs are located. And through systematic practice of somaesthetic aware-
ness this proprioceptive consciousness can be signi¬cantly improved to
Body Consciousness
54

provide a sharper and fuller picture of our body shape, volume, density,
and alignment without using our external senses. These two varieties of
explicitly conscious or mindful sensations constitute only a relatively small
portion of our bodily understandings and perceptions, which exhibit at
least four levels of consciousness.
First, there are primitive modes of grasping that I am not really con-
sciously aware of at all but that Merleau-Ponty seems to recognize as
belonging to our most basic “corporeal intentionality” (S, 89). When
Merleau-Ponty says “that my body is always perceived by me” (PoP, 91),
he surely must realize that we are sometimes not consciously aware of
our bodies. This is not simply when we are concentrating our conscious-
ness on other things, but because we are sometimes simply unconscious

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