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been recognized; the basic somatic terms of “organ” and “organism”
derive from the Greek word for tool, organon. Yet, Greek philosophy™s
aristocratic tendency to champion ideal ends while disparaging material
means as mere menial necessity has resulted, with Plato and subsequent
idealists, in condemning rather than celebrating the body as medium,
while using its very instrumentality to exclude it from what is essential
and valuable in human being. A medium or means (as etymology indi-
cates) typically stands between two other things between which it medi-
ates. Being in the middle, an interface with two faces, a medium connects
the mediated terms, yet also separates them by standing between them.
This double aspect is also present in the instrumental sense of medium
as means to an end. While being a way to the end, it also stands in the
way, a distance to be traveled between purpose and its ful¬llment.
Plato™s seminal condemnation of the body as medium in the Phaedo
(65c“67a) concentrates on the negative interfering aspect. Pre¬guring
today™s dominant lines of media critique, it argues that the body dis-
tracts us from reality and the search for true knowledge by interrupting
our attention with all sorts of sensational commotion and diverting our
minds with all sorts of passions, fancies, and nonsense. Moreover, our
somatic sensorial medium distorts reality through its ¬‚awed perception.
The body is even portrayed as a multimedia conglomerate of different sen-
sory modalities and technologies (such as eyes, ears, feeling limbs, etc.),
Introduction 5

and such plurality and divisibility of parts provide all the more reason for
Plato to degrade it by contrast to the indivisible soul that seeks the truth
despite its con¬nement in the body™s distortive prison.4
These ancient lines of critique, adopted by Neoplatonism and inte-
grated into Christian theology and modern philosophical idealism, have
waxed enormously in¬‚uential in our culture, as has another Platonic argu-
ment (from Alcibiades 129c“131d) to denigrate and alienate the body as
instrument. We clearly distinguish between a tool and the user of the tool,
between instrument and agent; so if the body is our tool or instrument
(no matter how intimate and indispensable), then it must be altogether
different from the self who uses it, for which it must therefore be a mere
external means. It follows (so goes the argument) that the true self must
be the mind or soul alone, and consequently that self-knowledge and
self-cultivation have nothing to do with cultivating bodily knowledge and
consciousness. More generally, the idea of the body as an external instru-
ment used by the self is easily translated into the familiar image of body
as servant or tool of the soul. This further promotes the disparaging
identi¬cation of the somatic with the dominated serving classes (includ-
ing women), an association that reciprocally reinforces the subordinate
status and disrespect for all the associated terms.
Yet Plato™s reasoning can surely be challenged, even by extending its
basic argument, with its dichotomizing objecti¬cations, into a reductio ad
absurdum. We clearly use more of ourselves than our bodies alone. We use
our minds to think and our souls to will, hope, pray, decide, or exercise
virtue. Does the use of one™s mind or soul likewise entail its being a mere
external instrument rather than an essential part of one™s identity? If
we strip everything that the self uses from belonging to the real self, we
are left with nothing at all; for we indeed use our selves, whenever we
use other things and even when we do not. Self-use is not a contradiction
in terms but a necessity for living, and to show why heightened somatic
consciousness can improve one™s use of the self is a major aim of this
book. Nor does this express a joyless instrumentalism, because improved
self-use surely includes a greater ability to enjoy oneself, with the soma
clearly a key experiential site (rather than a mere means) of pleasure.


4 Fora more detailed critical discussion of Plato™s argument and its re¬‚ection in con-
temporary debate concerning the body™s relationship to the new media, see my chapter
on “Somaesthetics and the Body-Media Issue,” in Richard Shusterman, Performing Live
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), ch. 7.
Body Consciousness
6


II
Contemporary culture undeniably lavishes enormous and, in some ways,
excessive attention to the body. But it is not the sort of attention that
this book is most keen to advance. Social theorists and feminist critics
have convincingly exposed how the dominant forms in which our cul-
ture heightens body awareness serve largely to maximize corporate prof-
its (for the massive cosmetics, dieting, fashion, and other “body-look”
industries) while reinforcing social domination and in¬‚icting multitudes
with self-aversion. Ideals of bodily appearance impossible for most peo-
ple to achieve are cunningly promoted as the necessary norm, thus con-
demning vast populations to oppressive feelings of inadequacy that spur
their buying of marketed remedies.5 Distracting us from our actual bodily
feelings, pleasures, and capacities, such relentlessly advertised ideals also
blind us to the diversity of ways of improving our embodied experience.
Somatic self-consciousness in our culture is excessively directed toward a
consciousness of how one™s body appears to others in terms of entrenched
societal norms of attractive appearance and how one™s appearance can be
rendered more attractive in terms of these conventional models. (And
these same conformist standards likewise impoverish our appreciation
of the richly aesthetic diversity of other bodies than our own.) Virtually
no attention is directed toward examining and sharpening the conscious-
ness of one™s actual bodily feelings and actions so that we can deploy such
somatic re¬‚ection to know ourselves better and achieve a more perceptive
somatic self-consciousness to guide us toward better self-use.
Such improved self-use, I should reiterate, is not con¬ned to mere
practical, functional matters but includes improving our capacities for
pleasure, which can be signi¬cantly enhanced by more perceptive self-
awareness of our somatic experience. We can then enjoy our plea-
sures “twice as much,” insists Montaigne, “for the measure of enjoyment
depends on the greater or lesser attention that we lend it.”6 Too many
of our ordinary somatic pleasures are taken hurriedly, distractedly, and
almost as unconsciously as the pleasures of sleep. If this dearth of somaes-
thetic sensitivity helps explain our culture™s growing dependence on
increasing stimulation through the sensationalism of mass-media enter-
tainments and far more radical means of thrill taking, then such a diet
5 See, for example, Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
6 The Complete Works of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame (Stanford, CA: Stanford University

Press, 1965), 853.
Introduction 7

of arti¬cial excitements can conversely explain how our habits of per-
ception (and even our sensorimotor nervous system) are transformed in
ways that elevate the stimulus threshold for perceptibility and satisfac-
tion while diminishing our capacities for tranquil, steady, and sustained
attention. Somatic re¬‚ection™s cultivation of more re¬ned somatic self-
consciousness can address these problems by providing more rapid and
reliable awareness of when we are overstimulated by a surfeit of sensory
excitements so that we know when to turn them down or switch them
off to avoid their damage. Such heightened, attentive awareness can also
teach us how to tune out disturbing stimulations by means of cultivated
skills in redirecting control of conscious attention in one™s own experi-
ence, as disciplines of mindfulness have clearly shown.
Our culture™s general indifference to this cultivated form of somatic
self-consciousness is also expressed in philosophy™s continued disregard
of its importance, even in philosophers who champion the body™s essen-
tial role in experience and cognition. This book tries to trace and explain
this omission in twentieth-century somatic philosophy and to make a case
for the philosophical appreciation and cultivation of this neglected type
of somatic self-awareness or re¬‚ection, whose value is contrastingly advo-
cated by a wide variety of somatic theorists, educators, and practitioners
outside the institutional framework of philosophy.
Though I write this book as an academic philosopher, I should con-
fess from the outset that my perspective on body consciousness has been
deeply in¬‚uenced by my practical experience of various somaesthetic
disciplines. Most instructive has been my training and professional expe-
rience as a certi¬ed practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method, a form
of somatic education for improved self-awareness and self-use that has
inspiringly successful and wide-ranging therapeutic applications, but also
an uncompromising integrity whose refusal of commercialized simpli-
¬cation has denied it the popularity and market share it deserves. I
also acknowledge my debt to other disciplines that promote heightened
somatic consciousness and body-mind attunement: from yoga and t™ai chi
ch™uan to zazen and Alexander Technique.
While providing a critical study of contemporary philosophy™s most
in¬‚uential arguments against the heightened consciousness of somatic
re¬‚ection, this book also makes a case for somaesthetics as a gen-
eral framework in which the cultivation of such consciousness (as well
as other forms of somatic training) can best be understood and pur-
sued. This project involves a phenomenological study of body con-
sciousness that probes the different kinds, levels, and values of somatic
Body Consciousness
8

self-awareness “ from essentially unconscious motor intentionality and
unfocused automatic reactions involving unre¬‚ective somatic habits
or body schemata to explicitly thematized body images, somatic self-
awareness, and re¬‚ective somatic introspection. It also means exploring
the ways these different modes of somatic consciousness can be related
and collaboratively deployed to improve our somaesthetic knowledge,
performance, and enjoyment. A key argument in the condemnation of
cultivating somatic self-consciousness is that any sustained focus on bodily
feelings is both unnecessary and counterproductive for effective thought
and action. Attentive self-consciousness of bodily feelings (or, for that
matter, of bodily form or movement) is thus rejected as a distracting,
corruptive obstacle to our essential cognitive, practical, and ethical con-
cerns, a retreat into ineffectual self-absorption. Our attention, it is argued,
must instead be directed exclusively outward for our engagement with
the external world.
The book™s defense of re¬‚ective or heightened somatic self-awareness
will show, however, that such intensi¬ed body consciousness need not
disrupt but rather can improve our perception of and engagement with
the outside world by improving our use of the self that is the fundamen-
tal instrument of all perception and action. Indeed, I contend that any
acutely attentive somatic self-consciousness will always be conscious of more than
the body itself. To focus on feeling one™s body is to foreground it against
its environmental background, which must be somehow felt in order to
constitute that experienced background. One cannot feel oneself sitting
or standing without feeling that part of the environment upon which
one sits or stands. Nor can one feel oneself breathing without feeling
the surrounding air we inhale. Such lessons of somatic self-conscious
eventually point toward the vision of an essentially situated, relational,
and symbiotic self rather than the traditional concept of an autonomous
self grounded in an individual, monadic, indestructible, and unchanging
soul.


III
For treating all these diverse and complex issues, six twentieth-century
philosophers are especially important: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone
de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and two pragmatist
philosophers whose writings also stretch back to the late nineteenth cen-
tury, William James and John Dewey. These renowned thinkers are exem-
plary, not only for their in¬‚uential somatic theorizing but also for the
Introduction 9

striking way they represent today™s most powerful Western philosophical
traditions: phenomenology, analytic philosophy, pragmatism, existential-
ism, hermeneutics, poststructuralism, and feminism.7 In engaging their
theories, this book is thus not simply dealing with past historical prod-
ucts but with perspectives that continue to shape the orientations and
command the commentary of today™s body philosophers. Each of these
master thinkers forms the primary focus of one of the book™s six chap-
ters, but their arguments will be interrelated in terms of the following
narrative.
The ¬rst chapter introduces the ¬eld of somaesthetics and the book™s
major issues through a study of Michel Foucault™s distinctive and in¬‚uen-
tial somatic philosophy. Advocating the body as an especially vital site
for self-knowledge and self-transformation, Foucault argues that self-
fashioning is not only a matter of externally stylizing oneself through
one™s bodily appearance but of trans¬guring one™s inner sense of self
(and thereby one™s attitude, character, or ethos) through transformative
experiences. Central to this experiential transformation, according to
Foucault, is the experience of bodily pleasures. Because their predictable
stereotypes and conventional limits, however, constrain our possibilities
of creative self-ful¬llment and growth, he explicitly urges the pursuit
of unorthodox somatic practices to make the body “in¬nitely more sus-
ceptible to pleasure.” Yet, the range of pleasures that Foucault in fact
advocates remains paradoxically narrow, essentially con¬ned to the most
intense delights of strong drugs and transgressive sex, epitomized by his
ardent af¬rmation of consensual, homosexual sadomasochism. The body,
however, enjoys many other pleasures that are less violent and explosive
without being so boringly conventional that they blunt self-awareness and
self-development. Tranquil practices of meditative awareness in breath-
ing, sitting, and walking can generate subtle streams of deep delight and
initiate radical transformations, often burgeoning into experiences of
intensely exhilarating, yet quiet, joy.

7Irecognize that my choice of thinkers and movements does not cover the full spectrum
of in¬‚uential twentieth-century somatic philosophy. One major philosophical movement
not examined here but often rich in somatic insight is Philosophische Anthropologie, rep-
resented by Max Scheler, Arnold Gehlen, and Helmut Plessner (with some phases of
Ernst Cassirer™s work also somewhat linked to this trend). For a contemporary version of
philosophical anthropology based on a systematic reconstruction of Helmut Plessner™s
work (which is enjoying an especially vibrant renaissance in Europe), see the important
two-volume study of Hans-Peter Kruger, Zwischen Lachen und Weinen: vol. 1, Das Spektrum
¨
menschlicher Ph¨ nomene (Berlin: Akademie, 1999), and vol. 2, Der dritte Weg Philosophische
a
Anthropologie und die Geschlecterfrage (Berlin: Akademie, 2001).
Body Consciousness
10

Why are such gentler practices and subtler, quieter delights ignored
when Foucault™s goal is to maximize our capacities for pleasure? More
than merely a personal problem of Foucault™s tortured psyche, this
neglect re¬‚ects our culture™s general insensitivity to the subtleties of
somatic sensibility and re¬‚ective body consciousness, a numbness that
promotes the quest for sensationalism. And this general cultural de¬-
ciency ¬nds salient philosophical expression even in the most progressive
twentieth-century thinkers who af¬rm the body™s crucial role. We can bet-
ter understand Foucault™s deafness to subtle somatic pleasures and gentle
body disciplines by tracing his impaired body consciousness to a strongly
entrenched philosophical tradition that rejects somatic re¬‚ection even
when celebrating the body.
Chapters 2 and 3 therefore address the philosophies of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir who form a signi¬cant part of the
French philosophical background from which Foucault™s somatic think-
ing emerged. Merleau-Ponty is treated ¬rst, since Beauvoir™s account of
our bodily existence explicitly draws on him and since Foucault con-
fessed to have been “fascinated by him.”8 Examining how Merleau-
Ponty and Beauvoir af¬rm the body™s intentionality and essential role
in our personal development, these chapters also explain the ways they
resist, for different reasons, the af¬rmation of re¬‚ective body conscious-
ness as a means of enhancing one™s powers, emancipatory development,
and self-understanding. In showing the limitations of their arguments,
I demonstrate how Merleau Ponty™s insights about the primacy of unre-
¬‚ective consciousness and Beauvoir™s concerns about the objecti¬cation
and exploitation of female bodies need not be sacri¬ced by recogniz-
ing the value of re¬‚ective body consciousness. Though Beauvoir™s argu-
ments against somatic self-cultivation (including not only somatic self-

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