. 23
( 41 .)


to diet, sexual behavior, and the cleanliness of intact body boundaries.
Bodily “issues” like bleeding, pus, spit, semen, vomit, and menstrual dis-
charge de¬le all those who come in contact with them, and the unclean
need to be separated and cleansed. “Thus shall ye separate the children
of Israel from their uncleanness” (Leviticus 15). Incest, bestiality, homo-
sexuality, adultery, and the eating of foods declared unclean are similar
de¬lements. “De¬le not ye yourselves in any of these things for in all these
the nations are de¬led which I cast out before you” (Leviticus 18). Foreign
nations are portrayed as unclean dangers of contamination that threaten
the purity and health of the Hebrew people. As Wittgenstein™s tumor anal-
ogy suggests, the same metaphorical logic of unclean disease has been
turned against the Jews in the symbolic unconsciousness of Europe. Jews
are stereotyped as dark, hairy, malodorous, unclean, and unhealthy; yet,
nonetheless mysteriously thriving in their ¬lthy darkness like a tumor,
while the true nation or folk is idealized as essentially pure or unmixed.
And the ugly tumor of antisemitism similarly thrives through the dark
power of such symbolism rather than through the critical light of rational
It is precisely because antisemitism (like other forms of ethnic hatred)
has this compellingly sinister symbolism “ a picture that holds whole
nations captive “ that rational arguments for multicultural tolerance
always seem to fail, since the hatred is acquired not by rational means
but by the captivating aesthetic power of images. Yet, as Schiller long
ago claimed, aesthetic education may be able to achieve ethical-political
transformation where rational arguments still ¬nd no purchase. So if
Wittgenstein is right that it is contradictory to expect a person to wel-
come a tumor while retaining his former aesthetic feeling for the body,
this does not mean that the tumor must be exterminated. An alternative
would be to modify that person™s aesthetic feeling for the body and the
body politic.
Body Consciousness

In such ethical and political matters, the discipline of somaesthetics can
offer once again a productive pragmatic step. If racial and ethnic enmity
resists resolution through logical means of verbal persuasion because it
has a visceral basis of discomforting unfamiliarity, then as long as we
do not consciously attend to these deep visceral feelings we can neither
overcome them nor the enmity they generate and foster. Disciplines of
somaesthetic awareness, involving a focused, systematic scanning of our
bodily feelings, is ¬rst helpful in identifying these disturbing somatic
sensations so that we can better control, neutralize, or overcome them.
If we can do no more than merely “put up with” them, in Wittgenstein™s
words, we have at least the ability to identify and isolate them in our
consciousness, which better enables us to take a critical distance from
them and avert their infecting our political judgments.
But somaesthetic efforts could go further than the remedy of diagno-
sis and isolation by actually transforming the undesirable, “intolerant”
bodily feelings. Somatic feelings can be transformed through training
because they are already the product of training. One™s normal feelings
and tastes are largely the result of learning rather than innate instinct; as
habits derived from our experience and sociocultural formation, they are
malleable to efforts of reformation.19 Disciplines of somaesthetic train-
ing can therefore reconstruct our attitudes or habits of feeling and also
give us greater ¬‚exibility and tolerance to different kinds of somatic feel-
ing and behavior. This is a commonplace of gastronomy, athletics, and
somatic therapies; but modern philosophical ethics and political theory
have not given it enough attention.
Part of the problem may be that philosophers who do suggest that
greater tolerance can be achieved through disciplines of somatic trans-
formation “ ¬gures like Wilhelm Reich or Michel Foucault (and many
of Foucault™s followers in queer theory) “ focus their sociopolitical advo-
cacy of somatic discipline on the radical transformation of sexual prac-
tice. However useful and needed their reformatory proposals may be,
their concentration on the sensitive issue of sex and transgression cre-
ates a cloud of controversy and polemics that distracts most mainstream
philosophers (and the general public) from the general notion and value

19 It is a common experience of negotiations between extremely hostile groups that mutual

understanding is greatly improved once the negotiators actually spend enough agreeable
time together to get somaesthetically comfortable with each other, which is why the
sharing of meals and entertainment can be a fruitful part of the negotiating process. This
was quite evident, for example, in the more successful negotiations between Israel and
its Arab enemies.
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 131

of transformative somaesthetic discipline. The whole promise of improv-
ing social tolerance and political understanding through somaesthetic
means should not be so narrowly tied to the sensationally charged but
still rather limited issue of sexual behavior. For all the joys of sex (and
despite the brilliant insights of Freud), there is a great deal more of inter-
est and of value in our bodily life than our experience of sexual activity
and desire. This is something that Wittgenstein must have known, since
sexuality hardly seems to constitute the dominating center of his work
and life, even though his rather hidden, largely repressed, and guiltily
troubled homosexuality must have been an enduring concern.20
In this context, we should note that the hostility, fear, torment, and
social stigmatization associated with homophobia can also be addressed
by somaesthetic mindfulness, since homophobic prejudice shares the
same visceral logic of racial and ethnic enmity. Here too, antagonism and
intolerance are fueled by uncomfortable but often unacknowledged vis-
ceral reactions, feelings that homosexual acts and appetites are alien and
threatening to the familiar, established forms of bodily desire and behav-
ior. Many people who in principle might recognize that consenting adults
should be free to discreetly pursue their alternative sexual preferences,
nevertheless are actually unable to tolerate homosexuality because of the
somatic reactions of discomfort and disgust (including the revulsion of
repressed guilty desires) that even imagined homosexuality generates.
Here again, somaesthetic mindfulness can offer the means to recognize
and control these visceral reactions and thus can also provide a bridge
toward transforming them into less negative feelings about homosexu-
ality. Somaesthetic re¬‚ection can likewise empower those homosexuals
who are confused or troubled about having erotic desires and encounters
that deviate from the heterosexual norm. By giving individuals greater
clarity about their feelings, such mindful body consciousness can enable
anyone with deviant desires to acknowledge, inhabit, and manage these
feelings better (which need not mean to sti¬‚e them).
If the seductive image of body purity and uniformity fuels the deep
prejudice that incites fear and hatred toward alien groups (whether of
racial, ethnic, or sexual difference), then one strategy for overcoming
the problem would be to make vividly clear and visible the impure and
mixed nature of all human bodies, including our own. Somaesthetic
disciplines can give us such a heightened experiential awareness of the

20 OnWittgenstein™s troubled sexuality, see, for example, the biography by Ray Monk,
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (London: Penguin, 1991).
Body Consciousness

impure mixture of our bodily constitution and remind us that our body
boundaries are never absolute but rather porous. The body is a messy
container of all sorts of solids, liquids, and gases; it is always being pene-
trated by things coming from the outside in the air we breathe and the
food we eat, just as we continuously expel materials from within our bod-
ies. The somaesthetic strategy of focusing on our impure bodily mixture
can already be found in the Buddha™s sermon advocating heightened
mindfulness of the body: “a bhikkhu re¬‚ects on this very body enveloped
by the skin and full of manifold impurity, from the sole up, and from
the top of the hair down, thinking thus: ˜There are in this body hair
of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, ¬‚esh, sinews, bones,
marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesen-
tery, stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease,
saliva, nasal mucus, synovial ¬‚uid, urine.™ . . . Thus, he lives observing the
Having indicated my general arguments for the ethical and political
potential of somaesthetic mindfulness, I shall not here pursue a more
detailed account of its diverse disciplines or methods22 ; for Wittgenstein
provides no analysis of mindfulness practices, ancient or modern. We
can, however, conclude this chapter by considering a Wittgensteinian
theme that helps underline the pertinence of somaesthetics not just for
the integrated branches of philosophy we have so far examined, but for
philosophy as a whole.

Wittgenstein frequently insists on the crucial importance of slowness for
properly doing philosophy. Philosophers often err by jumping to wrong
conclusions by misinterpreting the gross surface structure of language
in terms of some primitive scheme and then inferring something that
seems at once necessary and impossible. Instead of rushing “like sav-
ages, primitive people” to “put a false interpretation” on language “and
then draw the queerest conclusions from it,” the key to good philosoph-
ical work is taking the time to carefully untangle the knots of concep-
tual confusion caused by such hasty conclusions from language. We do

21 See the Buddha™s “The Foundations of Mindfulness,” in Walpola Rahula, trans. What the
Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1974), reprinted in A Sourcebook of Asian Philosophy,
ed. John Koller and Patricia Koller (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991), 206.
22 I treat some of these methods in Performing Live (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,

2000), ch. 8.
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 133

this by patiently “clearing up” the complexities of our language, “by
arranging what we have always known,” by “assembling reminders,” “to
bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use,” and thus
“uncovering . . . one or another piece of plain nonsense and . . . bumps
that the understanding has got by running its head up against the lim-
its of language” (PI, 109, 116, 119, 127, 194). This work of painstaking
linguistic analysis requires slow, patient labor and thus demands a sort
of practiced, disciplined slowness. Wittgenstein therefore cautions that
“someone unpracticed in philosophy passes by all the spots where dif¬-
culties are hidden in the grass, whereas the practiced [philosopher] will
pause and sense that there is a dif¬culty close by even though he cannot
see it yet” (CV, 29).
Hence, Wittgenstein™s appreciation of slowness: “The salutation of
philosophers to each other should be: ˜Take your time!™” Wittgenstein™s
manner of reading and writing aims at attaining this slowness. “I really
want my copious punctuation marks to slow down the speed of reading.
Because I should like to be read slowly. (As I myself read.)” “My sentences
are all supposed to be read slowly” (CV, 57, 68, 80). We know, however,
that Wittgenstein™s temperament was the opposite of patient. Exceedingly
quick of mind and movement, he had great dif¬culty in either sitting or
standing still.23 Fiery and quick-tempered, he contrastingly insisted “My
ideal is a certain coolness” a state of tranquillity where “con¬‚ict is dissi-
pated” and one achieves “peace in one™s thoughts” (CV, 2, 9, 43).
But how can we achieve a better mastery of slowness and tranquil-
ity without drugging ourselves with mind-deadening tranquillizers? Self-
isolation in a quiet, foreign place that is far from familiar and unwanted
distractions is one traditional method, and Wittgenstein indeed applied
it in his periods of hermit life far up on the Sogna Fjord in Norway. But
another ancient answer has been a focused attention to and consequent
regulation of our breathing. Since breathing has a profound effect on
our entire nervous system, by slowing or calming our breathing, we can
bring greater slowness and tranquillity to our minds. In the same way, by
noticing and then relaxing certain muscle contractions that are not only
unnecessary but also distractive to thinking because of the pain or fatigue
they create, we can strengthen the focus of our mental concentration, and

23 Memoirs of Wittgenstein often attest to this. See, for example, Fania Pascal, “Wittgenstein:

A Personal Memoir,” in Recollections of Wittgenstein, ed. Rush Rhees (Oxford: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1984), 18; and Norman Malcolm, Wittgenstein: A Memoir (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1958, 2nd ed., 1985), 29.
Body Consciousness

build its patient endurance for sustained philosophical meditations. We
can then afford to take our time.
Attention to bodily feelings cannot explain our thinking, our emo-
tions, or our will. But it can improve them. Somaesthetic sensations nei-
ther explain nor justify our aesthetic judgments, but they can help us
enhance our aesthetic capacities and even our ethical powers. Sensation
is not the mysterious explanatory “something” that de¬nes the fundamen-
tal mechanism of all mental life, but, as Wittgenstein recognizes, it “is
not a nothing either!” (PI, 304). However much somaesthetic feeling and
somatic self-consciousness count for Wittgenstein, I hope to have shown
that they should count for something more, at least for a pragmatism
that seeks to improve the quality of our thought and life, including the
thoughtful lives we lead as active ethical and political beings.

Deeper into the Storm Center
The Somatic Philosophy of William James

“The body,” writes William James, “is the storm centre, the origin of co-
ordinates, the constant place of stress in [our] experience-train. Every-
thing 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 cen-
tre, centre of vision, centre of action, centre of interest.”1 For purposes of
survival, if not also for other reasons, “all minds must . . . take an intense
interest in the bodies to which they are yoked . . . My own body and what
ministers to its needs are thus the primitive object, instinctively deter-
mined, of my egoistic interests. Other objects may become interesting
derivatively through association” with it.2
Despite such powerful pronouncements and his many arguments to
back them up, William James is rarely celebrated as a body philoso-
pher, though he surely gives more careful attention to body conscious-
ness than do more famously somatic philosophers such as Nietzsche,
Merleau-Ponty, or Foucault. Perhaps his stature as a body philosopher
has been eclipsed because the bulk of his somatic research is concen-
trated in his early book on psychology (of 1890) and because he devoted
much of his later energy to topics of metaphysics, religious belief, and
spiritualism. However, James™s af¬rmation of the body™s central impor-
tance extends throughout his entire career. The quote that opens this
chapter comes from an essay of 1905 that James later appended to

1 See William James, “The Experience of Activity,” in Essays in Radical Empiricism
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 86. Reference to this book of essays,
¬rst published in 1912, will be to this edition, hereafter RE.
2 William James, The Principles of Psychology (1890; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University

Press, 1983), 308, hereafter PP.

Body Consciousness

A Pluralistic Universe, which was published in 1909, the year before he
died. In “The Moral Equivalent of War,” written in 1910, James can still
be found touting the body by lauding the “ideals of hardihood,” the
“virtues” of “physical health and vigor” and “the tradition . . . of physical
¬tness” that make the martial life irresistibly attractive and that must be


. 23
( 41 .)