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undeveloped capacities of somatic re¬‚ection and attentiveness.
Indeed, even if one cannot simultaneously experience one™s own body
as feeling and as felt, this does not entail that one can never observe it;
just as the putative fact that one cannot simultaneously experience one™s
own mind as pure active thinking (i.e., a transcendental subject) and as
something thought (i.e., an empirical subject) does not entail that we
cannot observe our mental life. To treat the lived body as a subject does
not require treating it only as a purely transcendental subject that cannot
also be observed as an empirical one. To do so would vitiate the essential
reversibility of the perceiving sentience and the perceived sensible that
enables Merleau-Ponty to portray the body as the “¬‚esh” that grounds our
connection to the world. The “grammatical” distinction between the body
as subject of experience and as object of experience is useful in reminding

17 James,The Principles of Psychology, 573“575. On the vague notion of mental simultaneity
and the intractable problems of determining “absolute timing” of consciousness, see
Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown, 1991), 136, 162“166.
The Silent, Limping Body of Philosophy 73

us that we can never reach a full transparency of our bodily intention-
ality. There will always be some dimensions of our bodily feelings that
will be actively structuring the focus of our efforts of re¬‚ective somatic
awareness and thus will not be themselves the object of that awareness
or the focus of consciousness. There will also always be the possibility of
introspective error through failure of memory or misinterpretation. Nor
should we desire simultaneous re¬‚exive consciousness of all our bodily
feelings. But the pragmatic distinction between the perceiving “I” and
the perceived “me” should not be erected into an insurmountable episte-
mological obstacle to observing the lived body within the realm provided
by the specious present and short-term memory of the immediate past.18
Ultimately, we can also challenge Merleau-Ponty™s argument against
bodily self-observation by simply reminding ourselves that such observa-
tion (even if it is merely noticing our discomforts, pains, and pleasures)
forms part of our ordinary experience. Only the introduction of abstract
philosophical re¬‚ection could ever lead us to deny its possibility. If we
take our pretheoretic common sense experience seriously, as Merleau-
Ponty urges us to do, then we should reject the conclusion that we can
never observe our own lived bodies, and we could therefore urge that
his philosophical project be complemented by greater appreciation of
re¬‚ective somatic consciousness.


V
Given the insuf¬ciency of these reconstructed arguments, Merleau-
Ponty™s resistance to somatic mindfulness and re¬‚ection can be justi-
¬ed only in terms of his deeper philosophical aims and presumptions.
Prominent here is his desire for philosophy to bring us back to a pure,
primordial state of uni¬ed experience that has “not yet been ˜worked
over™” or splintered by “instruments [of] re¬‚ection” and thus can “offer
us all at once, pell-mell, both ˜subject™ and ˜object,™ both existence and
essence,” both mind and body (VI, 130). Such yearning for a return to

18 Mead himself wisely allows this. In making his famous “I/me” distinction, Mead did
not conclude that the “I” was unobservable and absent from experience. Though “not
directly given in experience” as an immediate datum, “it is in memory that the ˜I™ is
constantly present in experience.” That “the ˜I™ really appears experientially as a part of
a [subsequent] ˜me™” does not therefore mean we cannot observe ourselves as subjective
agents but only that we need to do so by observing ourselves over time through the use
of memory. See George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1962), 174“176.
Body Consciousness
74

prere¬‚ective unity suggests dissatisfaction with the fragmentation that
re¬‚ective consciousness and representational thinking have introduced
into our experience as embodied subjects.
Philosophy can try to remedy this problem in two different ways. First,
there is the therapy of theory. Philosophical re¬‚ection can be used to
af¬rm the unity and adequacy of unre¬‚ective body behavior, to urge that
we concentrate on this unre¬‚ective unity, while rejecting somatic re¬‚ec-
tion and representational somatic consciousness as intrinsically unneces-
sary and misleading. Here the very mystery of unre¬‚ective bodily actions
is prized as an enabling cognitive weakness that proves superior to per-
formances directed by representational re¬‚ection. But a second way to
remedy dissatisfaction with our experience as embodied subjects moves
beyond mere abstract theory by actively developing our powers of re¬‚ec-
tive somatic consciousness so that we can achieve a higher unity of expe-
rience on the re¬‚ective level and thus acquire better means to correct
inadequacies of our unre¬‚ective bodily habits. Merleau-Ponty urges the
¬rst way; my pragmatist somatic theory urges the second, while recogniz-
ing the primacy of unre¬‚ective somatic experience and habit.
The ¬rst way “ the way of pure intellect “ re¬‚ects Merleau-Ponty™s
basic vision of philosophy as drawing its theoretical strength from its
weakness of action. “The limping of philosophy is its virtue,” he writes, in
contrasting the philosopher with the man of action by contrasting “that
which understands and that which chooses.” “The philosopher of action
is perhaps the farthest removed from action, for to speak of action with
depth and rigor is to say that one does not desire to act” (IPP, 59“61).
Should the philosopher of the body, then, be the farthest removed from
her own lived body, because she is overwhelmingly absorbed in struggling
with all her mind to analyze and champion the body™s role?
This is an unfortunate conclusion. But it stubbornly asserts itself in
the common complaint that most contemporary philosophy of the body
seems to ignore or dissolve the actual active soma within a labyrinth of
metaphysical, psychological, social, gender, and brain-science theories.
Despite their valuable insights, such theories fall short of considering
practical methods for individuals to improve their somatic consciousness
and functioning. Merleau-Ponty™s phenomenological approach exempli-
¬es this problem by devoting intense theoretical re¬‚ection on the value
of unre¬‚ective bodily subjectivity, but dismissing the use of somatic re¬‚ec-
tion to improve that subjectivity in perception and action. In contrast to
men of action (and other varieties of “the serious man”), the philosopher,
says Merleau-Ponty, is never fully engaged in a practical way in what he
The Silent, Limping Body of Philosophy 75

af¬rms. Even in the causes to which he is faithful, we ¬nd “in his assent
[that] something massive and carnal is lacking. He is not altogether a
real being” (IPP, 59, 60).
Lacking in Merleau-Ponty™s superb advocacy of the body™s philosoph-
ical importance is a robust sense of the real body as a site for practi-
cal disciplines of conscious re¬‚ection that aim at reconstructing somatic
perception and performance to achieve more rewarding experience and
action. Pragmatism offers a complementary philosophical perspective
that is friendlier to full-bodied engagement in practical efforts of somatic
awareness. It aims at generating better experience for the future rather
than trying to recapture the lost perceptual unity of a primordial past, a
“return to that world which precedes knowledge” (PoP, ix).
If it seems possible to combine this pragmatist reconstructive dimen-
sion of somatic theory with Merleau-Ponty™s basic philosophical insights
about the lived body and the primacy of unre¬‚ective perception, this is
partly because Merleau-Ponty™s philosophy has its own pragmatic ¬‚avor.
Insisting that consciousness is primarily “not a matter of ˜I think that™ but
of ˜I can™”(PoP, 137), he also recognized that philosophy is more than
impersonal theory but also a personal way of life. If he urged philosophy as
the way to recover a lost primordial unity of unre¬‚ective experience, if he
de¬ned it as “the Utopia of possession at a distance” (perhaps the recap-
ture of that unre¬‚ective past from the distance of present re¬‚ection),
were there reasons in his life that helped determine this philosophical
yearning (IPP, 58)? Was there also a personal yearning for a utopian past
unity “ primitive, spontaneous, and unre¬‚ective “ and recoverable only
by re¬‚ection from a distance, if at all?
We know very little of the private life of Merleau-Ponty, but there is
certainly evidence that he had such a yearning for “this paradise lost.”
“One day in 1947, Merleau told me that he had never recovered from an
incomparable childhood,” writes his close friend Jean-Paul Sartre. “Every-
thing had been too wonderful, too soon. The form of Nature which
¬rst enveloped him was the Mother Goddess, his own mother, whose
eyes made him see what he saw . . . By her and through her, he lived this
˜intersubjectivity of immanence™ which he has often described and which
causes us to discover our ˜spontaneity™ through another.” With childhood
gone, “one of his most constant characteristics was to seek everywhere
for lost immanence.” His mother, Sartre explains, was essential to this
utopian “hope of reconquering” this sense of childhood spontaneity and
“immediate accord” with things. “Through her, it was preserved “ out of
reach, but alive.” When she died in 1952, Sartre recounts, Merleau-Ponty
Body Consciousness
76

was devastated and essentially “became a recluse.”19 There remained the
consolation of philosophy and the project of reclaiming, at least in the-
ory, the cherished but vanishing values of spontaneity, immediacy, and
immanence that belonged to his lost world of unre¬‚ective innocence and
harmony.

19 Jean-Paul
Sartre, “Merleau Ponty,” in Situations, trans. Benita Eisler (New York: Braziller,
1965), 228, 235, 243, 301“302.
3


Somatic Subjectivities and Somatic Subjugation
Simone de Beauvoir on Gender and Aging




I
If Merleau-Ponty is unconvincing in positing a ¬xed ground of primordial
perception that, though embodied, is “unchanging, given once and for
all,” and shared or “known by all”; if he is wrong in elevating this ground
into a universal normative ideal of spontaneity whose recovery should be
somatic philosophy™s prime aim, then let us turn to theorists more sensi-
tive to the diversity of embodied perception and the historicity of somatic
norms. Insisting that variant historical, social, and cultural factors differ-
ently mold our experience as embodied subjects, such thinkers further
argue that a culture™s dominant forms of discourse tend to obscure or
demean divergent subjectivities so as to universalize the consciousness
of socially privileged subjects as naturally normative and de¬nitive for
the entire human race. Should all somatic subjectivity be assimilated to
the kind described by philosophers who typically generalize from their
phenomenological experience as privileged adult males in the prime of
life? A philosophical account of body consciousness must confront the
question of difference.
Simone de Beauvoir ranks among the most original and in¬‚uential
theorists of difference. A longtime philosophical friend and collaborator
of Merleau-Ponty, she effectively challenges the ahistorical universalism of
his approach to embodiment by exploring the problems of bodily differ-
ence (in women and the elderly) and by exposing the ways that historically
dominant hierarchies of power shape our somatic experience and de¬ne
the norms of bodily being. To expose the subtle mechanisms through
which differently embodied subjectivities are subjugated through their
bodies, Beauvoir shows how the distinctive bodily differences of women


77
Body Consciousness
78

and old people are perceived as negatively marked in terms of social
power that re¬‚ects society™s male dominance. Such social disempow-
erment is reciprocally reinforced by the perceived bodily weakness of
women and the elderly, which seems to justify their subordinate status as
natural and necessary. Fostered and inculcated by the prevailing institu-
tions and ideologies of our culture, such somatic and social subordination
is, moreover, incorporated in the bodily habits of these dominated sub-
jects who thus unconsciously reinscribe their own sense of weakness and
domination.
Could cultivation of greater somaesthetic powers and consciousness
help in liberating such subjugated subjectivities, and how does Beauvoir
regard the emancipatory potential of somaesthetic praxis? To explore
such issues, this chapter examines Beauvoir™s rich somatic philosophy,
focusing especially on two major works, The Second Sex (1949) and the
The Coming of Age (1970), which explore somatic difference and subjuga-
tion in the ubiquitous human categories of woman and the aged.1 If the
body “is the instrument of our grasp upon the world” and if “freedom
will never be given . . . [but] will always have to be won,” then Beauvoir
should clearly af¬rm somatic cultivation as crucial for enhancing our bod-
ily instrument to help us win greater freedom.2 However, her approach
is more ambiguous, complex, and con¬‚icted.
Its complexities can be made clearer by framing our discussion in terms
of the branches of somaesthetics outlined in Chapter 1. Beauvoir™s prac-
tical somaesthetics “ her actual personal engagement in bodily practices
and disciplines “ will not be studied here. Though factors of somatic
biography can help us understand a philosopher™s discursive views on
embodiment, highlighting biography would feed a dangerous trend in

1 Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxi`me sexe (Gallimard: Paris, 1949), and La Vieillesse (Gallimard:
e
Paris, 1970). For the former, I quote from the English version, The Second Sex, trans. H.
M. Parshley (New York: Vintage, 1989), hereafter SS. Parshley™s text is an unfortunately
abridged and often poorly translated rendering of the original, so I occasionally use my
own translation. For a powerful critique of Parshley™s abridgment and translation, see
Margaret Simons, Beauvoir and The Second Sex (New York: Rowman & Little¬eld, 1999).
La Vieillesse, translated into English (by Patrick O™Brien), was published as The Coming of
Age (New York: Putnam, 1972), hereafter CA.
2 SS, 34; and Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New

York: Citadel Press, 1964), 119. The body™s crucial role in freedom is especially clear
when we conceive freedom not narrowly in terms of negative liberty from imposed social
constraints but of positive ability to perform. An infant is free in the negative sense to walk,
but he has no positive freedom to do so until he masters the relevant bodily competence.
Bodily power or movement is perhaps the elemental root of our concept of freedom, as I
argue in “Thinking Through the Body, Educating for the Humanites,” Journal of Aesthetic
Education, 40 (2006): 1“21.
Somatic Subjectivities and Somatic Subjugation 79

Beauvoir studies of “reducing the [work] to the woman” and then trivializ-
ing or discrediting her philosophical arguments “as mere displacements
of the personal.”3 Biographical studies and her own extensive memoirs
show she enjoyed a dynamic bodily life and expressed her taste in clothes,
cosmetics, and grooming. Fond of skiing, cycling, and tennis, she was an
especially avid hiker, who had a love of food, a robustly ample experi-
ence of sexuality, and, more remarkably, an avowed passion for violence,
which she also manifested through some childhood experiments in rad-
ical asceticism.4
Beauvoir™s contributions to analytic somaesthetics “ her studies of
human embodiment and its particular expression in women (of differ-
ent ages, cultures, and social positions) and in the elderly (of differ-
ent societies, professions, and classes) “ are too richly wide ranging for
adequate analysis here. Extending from the metaphysics and biology of

3 See Toril Moi, Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 27, 32.
A similar danger exists in using Beauvoir™s ¬ction to probe her somatic views. Her philo-
sophical arguments on these matters could then be dismissed as essentially a continuation
of her ¬ctional musings and thus not be taken as serious philosophy, and she herself might
then be trivialized as merely a writer rather than a “real” philosopher. The strategy of
marginalizing Beauvoir™s philosophy is unfortunately encouraged by her own preference
to call herself a writer rather than assume the title of philosopher (apparently in defer-
ence to Sartre™s philosophical stature). I agree with Margaret Simons, Debra Bergoffen,
and many others in ranking Beauvoir as an important philosopher. See Simons, Beauvoir

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