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focus that distracts from other goals. Because once the feelings of faulty
movements are attended to, the movements can be analyzed, corrected,
and replaced by proper ones accompanied by other somaesthetic feel-
ings that can be habituated and then allowed to slip into unre¬‚ective but
intelligent habit.14 If philosophy involves not merely knowledge of one™s
mind, but ameliorative self-mastery (as Wittgenstein fervently believed),
then attention to somaesthetic feelings should be crucial to philosophy™s
task of “working on oneself.” This project of self-mastery is central to the
¬eld of ethics, but let us ¬rst turn to aesthetics, since Wittgenstein closely
identi¬es these two domains of value, even to the point of regarding the
quest of the good life in largely aesthetic terms.15

Like his philosophy of mind, Wittgenstein™s aesthetics presents a cri-
tique of sensation-based psychologism. Aesthetic explanations are not

13 The clinical work of Alexander and Feldenkrais provides ample evidence that trained
somaesthetic awareness need not interfere with motor performance. Insomnia therapists
explicitly deploy attention to breathing and subtle body movements not only to relax the
body but also to distract one™s troubled mind from the relentless thoughts that keep one
frustratingly awake.
14 In arguing that focused somaesthetic attention is most needed for remedying faulty habits

and may be subsequently diminished once the new habit is successfully adopted, I do not
wish to deny the further claim that it can sometimes also be helpful when deploying a
well-functioning intelligent habit in actual performance; for example, an expert dancer™s
focused proprioceptive attention in performing a dance she knows well. With respect to
this issue of interference versus value in performance, so much depends on the skill,
quality, and focus of the somaesthetic attention. I suspect that many errors allegedly
caused by explicit attention to one™s bodily movements and feelings are in fact due to
poor somaesthetic skills of focused attention and to the unnoticed distraction of attention
(with consequent anxiety) toward the successful results of one™s action.
15 I provide a detailed argument for this claim in Practicing Philosophy, ch. 1. Recall

Wittgenstein™s famous dictum: “Ethics and aesthetics are one,” from his Tractatus Logico-
Philosophicus, 6.421.
Body Consciousness

causal ones and, like the aesthetic judgments they explain, “have noth-
ing to do with psychological experiments” (LA, 17). As with emotions
and other mental states, aesthetic judgments and experiences cannot be
explained in terms of the artist™s or audience™s somatic sensations, “their
organic feelings “ tension of the muscles in their chest” (LA, 33). We can
explain aesthetic experiences and judgments much better by describ-
ing the particular artworks that are being judged and experienced, as
well as describing the behavior of the artists and audience, including our-
selves. Gestures are also very effective in conveying how the artwork makes
us feel.
In any case, our appreciation of art is not an appreciation of any sep-
arable somatic sensations that art can give us ( just as it is not an appre-
ciation of associations that are independent of the artwork). Otherwise,
we could imagine foregoing any interest in the artwork simply to get the
sensations (or associations) more directly through some other means
(say, some drug). But we cannot separate our aesthetic experience of art
from the object of that experience; and that object is art, not our somatic
sensations. Finally, the appeal to “kinaesthetic feelings” to explain our aes-
thetic judgments is logically unsatisfactory because these feelings them-
selves are not adequately describable or individuated without appealing
either to the artwork itself or to some set of gestures that we feel expresses
them. For Wittgenstein, there seems to be no “technique of describing
kinaesthetic sensations” of aesthetic experience more accurately than by
our gestures. Moreover, he argues, even if we did devise a new system of
describing “kinaesthetic sensations” in order to determine what would
count as “the same kinaesthetic impressions,” it is not clear that its results
would correspond with our current aesthetic judgments and their gestu-
ral expression (LA, 37“40).
If somatic feelings are neither the object nor the explanation of our
judgments and experience of art, this does not entail, however, that such
feelings are not aesthetically important. Wittgenstein, as we have seen, is
clearly attentive to somatic feelings, and he acknowledges their aesthetic
value in a number of ways. First, they form the mediating focus (if not also
the precise object) of aesthetic satisfactions derived from experiencing
our bodies. Wittgenstein highlights “the delightful way the various parts
of a human body differ in temperature” (CV, 11). Second, kinaesthetic
feelings may help us derive a greater fullness, intensity, or precision in our
experience of art because (at least for some of us) aesthetic imagination
or attention is facilitated or heightened by certain bodily movements that
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 125

somehow feel as if they correspond to the artwork. Wittgenstein provides
his own example:

When I imagine a piece of music, as I often do every day, I always, so I believe,
grind my upper and lower teeth together rhythmically. I have noticed this
before though I usually do it quite unconsciously. What™s more, it™s as though
the notes I am imagining are produced by this movement. I believe this may
be a very common way of imagining music internally. Of course I can imagine
without moving my teeth too, but in that case the notes are much ghostlier,
more blurred and less pronounced.16 (CV, 28)

“If art serves ˜to arouse feelings,™” Wittgenstein later asks, “is, in the
end, perceiving it sensually [ihre sinnliche Wahrnehmung] to be included
amongst these feelings?” (CV, 36) This cryptic, apparently rhetorical,
question reminds us that aesthetic perceptions must always be achieved
through the bodily senses, and it could be recommending a more embod-
ied and sensually attentive use of art. In other words, we might sharpen
our appreciation of art through more attention to our somaesthetic feel-
ings involved in perceiving art instead of narrowly identifying artistic
feelings with the familiar kind of emotions (such as sadness, joy, melan-
choly, regret, etc.) that often make art appreciation degenerate into a
gushy, vague romanticism. Wittgenstein™s remark is not at all clear, and
my interpretation may be more or other than what he intended. But
independent of Wittgenstein, the point can be validly made. If better
somaesthetic awareness and discipline can improve our perception in
general by giving us better control of the sense organs through which
we perceive, then it can also, ceteris paribus, give us better perception in
aesthetic contexts.
For Wittgenstein, the body may have a crucial aesthetic role that goes
deeper than any conscious somaesthetic feeling or expression. As with
Merleau-Ponty, the body serves Wittgenstein as a central instance and
symbol of what forms the crucial, silent, mysterious background for all
that can be expressed in language or in art, the unre¬‚ective source for
all that can be consciously grasped in re¬‚ective thought or represen-
tation. “The purely corporeal can be uncanny.” “Perhaps what is inex-
pressible (what I ¬nd mysterious and am not able to express) is the
background against which whatever I could express has its meaning”
(CV, 16, 50). Music™s inexpressible depth of meaning and its grand,

16 It
may be that Wittgenstein™s habits as a clarinet player had something to do with these
somaesthetic feelings because playing this instrument involves holding the teeth together.
Body Consciousness

mysterious power derive from the body™s silent role as creative ground
and intensifying background. That is how a surface of ephemeral sounds
can touch the very depths of human experience. “Music, with its few
notes & rhythms, seems to some people a primitive art. But only its
surface [its foreground] is simple, while the body which makes possi-
ble the interpretation of this manifest content has all the in¬nite com-
plexity that is suggested in the external forms of other arts & which
music conceals. In a certain sense it is the most sophisticated art of all”
(CV, 8“9).17
Here again, I think Wittgenstein™s recognition of the body™s crucial
role needs to be taken a step further in a pragmatic direction. More than
guitars or violins or pianos or even drums, our bodies are the primary
instrument for the making of music. And more than records, radios, tapes,
or CD™s, bodies are the basic, irreplaceable medium for its appreciation.
If our bodies are the ultimate and necessary instrument for music, if one™s
body “ in its senses, feelings, and movements “ is capable of being more
¬nely tuned to perceive, respond, and perform aesthetically, then is it
not a reasonable idea to learn and train this “instrument of instruments”
by more careful attention to somaesthetic feelings?
The value of such somaesthetic training (as I have already argued in
Practicing Philosophy and Performing Live) extends far beyond the realm of
¬ne art, enriching our cognition and our global art of living. Improved
perception of our somatic feelings not only gives us greater knowledge
of ourselves but also enables greater somatic skill, facility, and range of
movement that can afford our sensory organs greater scope in giving
us knowledge of the world. Besides augmenting our own possibilities of
pleasure, such improved somatic functioning and awareness can give us
greater power in performing virtuous acts for the bene¬t of others, since
all action somehow depends on the ef¬cacy of our bodily instrument.
Earlier in this chapter I noted how the ideas of proper mental order and
the proper aesthetic education of taste to appreciate right order have
traditionally been very important for ethics and political philosophy. If
bodily feelings have a signi¬cant place in Wittgenstein™s philosophy of
mind and aesthetics, do they play an equally meaningful role in his ethical
and political thought?

17 The parenthetical term “foreground” refers to the German “Vordergrund,” which was a
textual variant to “surface” [Ober¬‚¨ che] in the manuscripts. See the revised second edition
of Culture and Value (RCV, 11).
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 127

Wittgenstein™s discussion of somatic feelings with respect to ethics and
politics is rather limited but nonetheless noteworthy. First, our sense of
the body, he argues, provides the ground and often the symbol for our
concept of what it means to be human. “The human body is the best
picture of the human soul” (PI, p. 178).18 Our basic existential situation as
embodied beings, moreover, implies how we are limited by the constraints
and weakness of our mortal ¬‚esh: “We are prisoners of our skin” (TB, 63).
But our appreciative feeling for the body (as the Greeks and even idealists
like Hegel recognized) is also crucial to our sense of human dignity and
integrity and value. Our bodies give us substance and form without which
our mental life could not enjoy such a varied, robust, nuanced, and noble
expression. “It is humiliating to have to appear like an empty tube which is
simply in¬‚ated by a mind” (CV, 11). Our ethical concepts of human rights,
the sanctity of life, our high ideals of moral worth and of philosophical,
and aesthetic achievement all depend, Wittgenstein argues, on a form of
life that takes as a premise the ways we experience our bodies and the
ways that others treat them. Consider this strikingly brutal passage from
his Cambridge Notebooks, whose evocation of violence reminds one of
Foucault (though without Foucault™s apparent relish and utopian hope
for positive change through radical body transformation):

Mutilate a man completely, cut off his arms & legs, nose & ears, & then
see what remains of his self-respect and his dignity, and to what point his
concepts of these things are still the same. We don™t suspect at all, how these
concepts depend on the habitual, normal state of our bodies. What would
happen to them if we were led by leash attached to a ring through our
tongues? How much then still remains in him of being human? Into what
state does such a person sink? We don™t know that we are standing on a
high narrow rock, & surrounded by precipices, in which everything looks
different. (TB, 139“140, my translation)

If the familiar forms and normal feelings of our body ground our form
of life, which in turn grounds our ethical concepts and attitudes toward
others, then we can perhaps better understand some of our irrational
political enmities. The fanatical kind of hatred or fear that some people
have for certain foreign races, cultures, classes, and nations does display

18 Moreover, embodied passions form part of the soul whose care and salvation are so
important to Wittgenstein: “it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its ¬‚esh and
blood, that needs to be saved, not my abstract mind” (CV, 33).
Body Consciousness

a deep visceral quality, which suggests that such enmity may re¬‚ect pro-
found concerns about the integrity and purity of the familiar body in a
given culture. Such anxieties can be unconsciously translated into hostil-
ity toward foreigners who challenge that familiar body and threaten its
corruption through ethnic and cultural mixing that can alter the body
in both external appearance and behavior.
Wittgenstein may be suggesting something like this as an explanation
for the stubborn persistence of rabid antisemitism in the apparently most
rational countries of Europe. This seemingly irrational hatred of the Jews
may in fact have a deep compelling logic of its own that seems to oper-
ate on a visceral model or analogy. The Jews, in this unhappily familiar
analogy, are a diseased tumor (Beule) in Europe, though Wittgenstein is
prudent enough not to call this tumor a fatal cancer.

“Look on this tumor as a perfectly normal part of your body!” Can one do
that, to order? Do I have the power to decide at will to have, or not to have,
an ideal conception of my body?
Within the history of the peoples of Europe the history of the Jews is not
treated as circumstantially as their intervention in European affairs would
actually merit, because within this history they are experienced as a sort of
disease, and anomaly, and no one wants to put a disease on the same level
as normal life [and no one wants to speak of a disease as if it had the same
rights as healthy bodily processes (even painful ones)]. We may say: people
can only regard this tumor as a natural part of the body if their whole feeling
for the body changes (if the whole national feeling for the body changes).
Otherwise the best they can do is put up with it.
You can expect an individual man to display this sort of tolerance, or else
to disregard such things; but you cannot expect this of a nation, because
it is precisely not disregarding such things that make it a nation. I.e. there
is a contradiction in expecting someone both to retain his former aesthetic
feeling for his body [aesthetische Gef¨ hl f¨ r seinen K¨rper] and also to make the
uu o
tumor welcome. (CV, 20“21)

After a half-century of efforts to overcome the horrors of the Holocaust
with arguments for multicultural tolerance, should we simply endorse the
apparent political implications of this alleged contradiction and argue
that it is unreasonable for European nations to tolerate the Jews or other
alien minorities that are experienced as tumors? If we respect Wittgen-
stein™s intelligence and ethical integrity (and how could we not!), should
we read this private notebook entry from 1931 as Wittgenstein™s ¬nal
view on the Jewish question, asserting that a nation™s essential function
or duty is to preserve the ethnic purity of its body politic? We can reject
this purist conclusion without denying the explanatory links between
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 129

political enmity against the Other and the concern for our familiar body
feelings and practices. Instead, Wittgenstein™s remarks on the politics of
somaesthetic feelings can be given a much richer and more politically
progressive interpretation.
It is a commonplace of anthropology that maintaining the intact
boundaries and purity of the body can play an important symbolic and
pragmatic role in preserving the unity, strength, and survival of a social
group. Thus, for example, in trying to ensure the social identity of the
young Hebrew nation, the early books of the Old Testament are full of
meticulous injunctions for the Hebrews about body purity with respect


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