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attractively developed, but it is also where one™s skills of perception and
performance can be honed to improve one™s cognition and capacities
for virtue and happiness. In that context, Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism
and the Philosophical Life (1997) introduced the notion of somaesthetics
as a ¬eld of theory and practice, which was later elaborated in Performing
Live (2000). 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 phi-
losophy. 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 ¬‚esh and bones. In fact, were I not worried
about burdening this book with an awkwardly technical title, I might have
called it “somatic consciousness” or even “somaesthetic consciousness” to
avoid the negative associations of the term “body.”

I gratefully acknowledge the muni¬cent support of my research pro-
vided through Florida Atlantic University™s Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent
Scholar Chair in the Humanities that I am truly fortunate to hold. 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 2006 sharing my somaesthetic research with their interdisciplinary
Preface xiii

study group on literature and disease (special thanks here to Knut Stene-
Johansen and Drude von der Fehr). In the fall semester of 2006, the
Universit´ de Paris 1 Panth´ on-Sorbonne graciously hosted (through the
e e
good of¬ces of Dominique Chateau, Marc Jimenez, and Jacinto Lageira)
a series of lectures in which I could test the book™s ¬nal arguments in
a foreign language. Earlier, Hiroshima University (on the suggestion of
Satoshi Higuchi) generously invited me to spend the entire academic
year of 2002“2003 as a visiting professor (with no teaching duties) to
pursue my research in somaesthetics, affording me a much closer view
of Japan™s extraordinary body-mind disciplines, from meditation to the
martial arts. 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 amaz-
ingly combined uncompromising discipline with affectionate kindness.
It was not an easy time; there were moments of struggle, frustration, fail-
ure, shame, and pain. But I cannot remember a more perfect happiness
or greater perceptual acuity than what I experienced through Roshi™s
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 ¬rst 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 re¬‚ective somaesthetic awareness; that our somatic con-
sciousness is typically ¬‚awed in ways that systematically hamper our per-
formance of habitual actions that should be easy to perform effectively
but yet prove dif¬cult, 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 prob-
lems. Body consciousness is therefore not, as many have complained,
something whose cultivation speaks only to the young, strong, and beau-
tiful. Though aging and in¬rmity bring a disconcerting somatic con-
sciousness 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.

I am grateful not only to my teachers in somatic disciplines of mindful-
ness but also to the many scholars who have helped re¬ne, develop, and
extend the ¬eld of somaesthetics through critical analysis and exploratory
interpretations, in ¬elds ranging from dance and performance art to fem-
inism, drug education, sports, and spirituality. Con¬ning myself to a sam-
ple of published English texts, I wish in particular to acknowledge the dis-
cussions of Jerold J. Abrams, Peter Arnold, Deanne Bogdan, Jon Borowicz,
Liora Bressler, David Granger, Gustavo Guerra, Casey Haskins, Kathleen
Higgins, Robert Innis, Martin Jay, James Scott Johnson, Thomas Leddy,
Barbara Montero, Eric Mullis, Richard Rorty, Simo S¨ atel¨ , Shannon
a¨ a
Sullivan, Ken Tupper, Bryan Turner, and Krystyna Wilkoszewska. I also
acknowledge my debt to the talented philosophers whose work in trans-
lating my texts on somaesthetics often prompted me to re¬ne and rethink
my views: Jean-Pierre Cometti, Peng Feng, Wojciech Malecki, Fuminori
Akiba, Nicolas Vieillescazes, Heidi Salaverria, Robin Celikates, Alina
Mitek, Jozsef Koll´ r, Satoshi Higuchi, Emil Visnovsky, Ana-Maria Pascal,
´ a
Jinyup Kim, K.-M. Kim, and Barbara Formis.
In testing out the book™s ideas in preliminary papers, I was fortunate to
receive helpful comments from too many colleagues to mention here. But
I am happy to acknowledge those of Roger Ames, Takao Aoki, Richard
Bernstein, Gernot B¨ hme, Peg Brand, Judith Butler, Taylor Carman,
Vincent Colapietro, Arthur Danto, Mary Devereaux, Pradeep Dhillon,
George Downing, Shaun Gallagher, Charlene Haddock-Seigfried, Mark
Hansen, Cressida Heyes, Yvan Joly, Tsunemichi Kambayashi, Hans-Peter
Kr¨ ger, Morten Kyndrup, Jos´ Medina, Christoph Menke, James Miller,
u e
Alexander Nehamas, Ryosuke Ohashi, James Pawelski, Naoko Saito,
Manabu Sato, Stefan Snaevarr, Scott Stroud, John Stuhr, and Wolfgang
Welsch. 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 identi¬ed to me
as Robert Innis and Shannon Sullivan). Marla Bradford was helpful in
preparing the bibliography, Giovanna Lecaros assisted with proofread-
ing, and Wojciech Malecki very generously offered to work on the index.
Some of the book™s arguments have already been rehearsed in articles
published in The Monist, Hypatia, The Philosophical Forum, The Cambridge
Preface xv

Companion to Merleau-Ponty, and The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and
the Political (Cornell University Press). I am grateful for the opportunity
to use some of this material, which has been signi¬cantly revised and
expanded, to help shape a much more developed, sustained, and uni¬ed
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
Boca Raton, May 2007

Body consciousness (a term of multiple meanings with widely ranging
applications) forms the central focus of this book. In exploring various
forms and levels of body consciousness and the diverse issues and the-
ories through which twentieth-century philosophy has tried to explain
the body™s role in our experience, the book also advocates greater atten-
tion to somatic self-consciousness both in theory and in practice. I make
the case for heightened somatic consciousness not simply by refuting
in¬‚uential philosophical arguments against the value of such conscious-
ness, but also by outlining a systematic philosophical framework through
which the different modes of somatic consciousness, somatic cultivation,
and somatic understanding can be better integrated and thus more effec-
tively achieved.
That disciplinary framework, somaesthetics, is explained in the book™s
¬rst chapter, and its concepts and principles continue to shape my subse-
quent arguments. For the moment, we can brie¬‚y describe somaesthetics
as concerned with the critical study and meliorative cultivation of how we
experience and use the living body (or soma) as a site of sensory apprecia-
tion (aesthesis) and creative self-fashioning. Somaesthetics is thus a disci-
pline that comprises both theory and practice (the latter clearly implied
in its idea of meliorative cultivation). The term “soma” indicates a living,
feeling, sentient body rather than a mere physical body that could be
devoid of life and sensation, while the “aesthetic” in somaesthetics has
the dual role of emphasizing the soma™s perceptual role (whose embod-
ied intentionality contradicts the body/mind dichotomy) and its aesthetic

Body Consciousness

uses both in stylizing one™s self and in appreciating the aesthetic qualities
of other selves and things.1
Before going any further, readers might already object: Why advocate
any more attention to body consciousness and even develop a system-
atic discipline for it? Is not our culture already far too body conscious,
excessively ¬xated on how our bodies look, how much they weigh, how
alluringly they smell, how stylishly they are decorated, how powerfully
they can be made to perform athletically through drugs and intensi¬ed
disciplines of training? Are we not, then, suffering from a monstrously
overgrown body consciousness whose irrepressible surge is even infecting
¬elds like philosophy that are traditionally respected as devoted to mind
in contrast to body? If so, this book would seem more the sad symptom of
cultural and philosophical malaise than an instrument for improvement.
A further objection is likely. Our perceptual powers are already fully
occupied with more pressing matters than cultivating somatic conscious-
ness. Transformed by the continuing information revolution, inundated
by increasing ¬‚oods of signs, images, and factoids, we already have too
much to attend to in the surrounding environments of our natural, social,
and virtual worlds of experience. Why, then, devote a portion of our lim-
ited and overstretched capacities of attention to monitor our own somatic
experience? How can we afford to do so? Besides, our bodies seem to
perform perfectly well without any somatic re¬‚ection or heightened con-
sciousness. Why not simply leave our bodily experience and performance
entirely to the automatic mechanisms of instinct and unre¬‚ective somatic
habits, so that we can focus our attention on matters that really call for
and deserve full conscious attention “ the ends we seek and the means,
instruments, or media we need to deploy to achieve those ends?
Responding to such questions with one of this book™s guiding princi-
ples, we should recall that the body constitutes an essential, fundamen-
tal dimension of our identity. It forms our primal perspective or mode
of engagement with the world, determining (often unconsciously) our

1 Although I introduced the term “somaesthetics” to propose a new interdisciplinary ¬eld
for philosophical practice, “somaesthetic” (or as it is more frequently spelled, “somes-
thetic”) is a familiar term of neurophysiology, referring to sensory perception through
the body itself rather than its particular sense organs. The somaesthetic senses are often
divided into exteroceptive (relating to stimuli outside the body and felt on the skin),
proprioceptive (initiated within the body and concerned with the orientation of body
parts relative to one another and the orientation of the body in space), and visceral or
interoceptive (deriving from internal organs and usually associated with pain).
Introduction 3

choice of ends and means by structuring the very needs, habits, interests,
pleasures, and capacities on which those ends and means rely for their
signi¬cance. This, of course, includes the structuring of our mental life,
which, in the stubbornly dominant dualism of our culture, is too often
sharply contrasted to our bodily experience. If embodied experience is
so formative of our being and connection to the world, if (in Husserl™s
words) “the Body is . . . the medium of all perception,” then body conscious-
ness surely warrants cultivating, not only to improve its perceptual acuity
and savor the satisfactions it offers but also to address philosophy™s core
injunction to “know thyself,” which Socrates adopted from Apollo™s tem-
ple at Delphi to initiate and inspire his founding philosophical quest.2
The body expresses the ambiguity of human being, as both subjective
sensibility that experiences the world and as an object perceived in that
world. A radiating subjectivity constituting “the very centre of our expe-
rience,” the body cannot be properly understood as a mere object; yet,
it inevitably also functions in our experience as an object of conscious-
ness, even of one™s own embodied consciousness.3 When using my index
¬nger to touch a bump on my knee, my bodily subjectivity is directed
to feeling another body part as an object of exploration. I thus both am
body and have a body. I usually experience my body as the transparent
source of my perception or action, and not as an object of awareness. It is
that from which and through which I grasp or manipulate the objects of the
world on which I am focused, but I do not grasp it as an explicit object
of consciousness, even if it is sometimes obscurely felt as a background
condition of perception. But often, especially in situations of doubt or
dif¬culty, I also perceive my body as something that I have and use rather
than am, something I must command to perform what I will but that
often fails in performance, something that distracts, disturbs, or makes
me suffer. Such discord encourages somatic alienation and the familiar
denigrating objecti¬cation of the body as just an instrument (lamentably

2 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Phi-
losophy, trans. R. Rojcewicz and A. Schwer (Boston: Kluwer, 1989), 61. The italics are
Husserl™s. Hereafter my book will note only when I add italics to quotations.
3 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London:

Routledge, 1986), 71. William James describes the body in the same terms of centrality,
as “the storm centre” and “origin of coordinates” in our experience. “Everything circles
round it, and is felt from its point of view.” “The world experienced,” he elaborates,
“comes at all times with our body as its centre, centre of vision, centre of action, centre
of interest.” William James, “The Experience of Activity,” in Essays in Radical Empiricism
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 86.
Body Consciousness

weak and vulnerable) that merely belongs to the self rather than really
constituting an essential expression of selfhood.
However, even if we objectify or instrumentalize the body (and to some
extent we must for pragmatic purposes of somatic care), this is no reason
to regard it as not needing or deserving our attentive consciousness. For
even if construed as an instrument of the self, the body must be recog-
nized as our most primordial tool of tools, our most basic medium for
interacting with our various environments, a necessity for all our percep-
tion, action, and even thought. Just as skilled builders need expert knowl-
edge of their tools, so we need better somatic knowledge to improve our
understanding and performance in the diverse disciplines and practices
that contribute to our mastery of the highest art of all “ that of living
better lives. A more discerning awareness of our somatic medium can
improve its use in deploying all our other tools and media; for they all
require some form of bodily performance, even if it is the mere pushing
of a button or blinking of an eye.
The body™s role as our primordial instrument or ur-medium has long


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