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consciousness but also the cultivation of external bodily form and perfor-
mance) are most potently expressed in her feminist classic The Second Sex,
they also appear in her subsequent book on old age, which merits our
attention for its extensive treatment of this important somatic issue that
most philosophers have failed to theorize in a systematic way (including
the other ¬ve past masters discussed here).
The next chapter turns to a key ¬gure in analytic philosophy of mind.
Ludwig Wittgenstein is famous for his vigorous arguments against using
bodily feelings as philosophical explanations of key mental concepts such

8 See
his remark in Claude Mauriac, Et comme l™esp´rance est violente (Paris: Livre de poche,
1986), 492.
Introduction 11

as emotion, volition, and our sense of self. A closer reading of his work,
however, reveals his recognition of other, nonexplanatory, uses for re¬‚ec-
tively attending to somatic feelings. The chapter then shows how Wittgen-
stein™s limited and fragmentary acknowledgments of somatic re¬‚ection
can be expanded and pragmatically employed in key questions of ethics
and aesthetics that he links to the body in brief but cryptic remarks whose
meaning can be fruitfully developed in terms of enhanced somatic con-
sciousness. One important issue that this chapter investigates is the prob-
lem of ethnic and racial intolerance in terms of its visceral roots, and its
need for somaesthetic remedies.
The ¬nal two chapters engage the principal pragmatist treatments of
body consciousness as exempli¬ed in William James and John Dewey.
James, the main target of Wittgenstein™s arguments against the philosoph-
ical misuse of somatic re¬‚ection, persistently argues that bodily feelings
are crucial in explaining almost all areas of mental life. He even associates
our most basic inner sense of self with bodily feelings in the head that
he detects through somatic introspective. Only the will is held to reside
“exclusively within the mental world” devoid of an essential somatic com-
ponent. James, moreover, displays extraordinary mastery in the intro-
spective observation and phenomenological description of bodily feel-
ings alleged to be involved in thought and emotion. However, despite his
use and advocacy of self-conscious somatic re¬‚ection in his theoretical
work, James paradoxically argues against such re¬‚ection in the actual
practice of living. Urging that effective action instead demands the same
sort of uninhibited, unthinking spontaneity advocated by Merleau-Ponty,
James further condemns re¬‚ective somatic self-consciousness for gener-
ating psychological and moral problems of depression. Besides refuting
James™s arguments, this chapter explains the underlying cultural and per-
sonal reasons for his resisting the role of somatic re¬‚ection in practical
The book concludes with a chapter on John Dewey, showing how
he develops the essential somatic orientation of James while removing
some of its troubling dualisms and one-sided limitations. After explain-
ing Dewey™s improvements to James on such theoretical issues as the
body™s role in will, emotion, thought, and action, the bulk of the chapter
gives special attention to Dewey™s vigorous case for self-conscious somatic
re¬‚ection in the realm of concrete practice. As this advocacy is intimately
connected to Dewey™s work and friendship with the somatic educator
F. M. Alexander, the chapter includes a critical analysis of the impres-
sively original methodology of bodily awareness and self-use now known
Body Consciousness

as the Alexander Technique. The problems with Alexander™s approach
(such as its excessive cephalic-centrism and rationalistic denigration of
sex and passion) will be shown to be re¬‚ected in the limitations of
Dewey™s theorizing of the body, which (like James™s) sadly neglects the
erotic, whose importance for somatic philosophy is rightly emphasized by
Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir, and, of course, Foucault. Nonetheless, Dewey
provides what is probably the most balanced and comprehensive vision
among twentieth-century somatic philosophies, because he appreciates
the value of re¬‚ective somatic consciousness along with the primacy of
spontaneous, unre¬‚ective bodily perception and performance, while also
providing conceptual clues for understanding how the re¬‚ective and
unre¬‚ective can best be combined for improved use of ourselves. Dewey™s
account of self-consciousness and self-cultivation, moreover, cogently
underlines the essentially situated and environmentally constituted and
interactive nature of the self.

Dewey died more than ¬fty years ago (in 1952), long before the new
microchip technologies accelerated the successive information revolu-
tions that de¬ne today™s globalized culture. Is this book “ with its focus
on the past century™s somatic philosophy, with its appreciation of ancient
Asian somatic disciplines of heightened consciousness, and with its wor-
ries that our powers of attentive somatic awareness are being threatened
by the sensationalism and informational overload of the new media age “
then simply outdated, a backwardly old-fashioned re¬‚ection of philoso-
phy™s characteristic conservatism? Though rooted in the past, this study is
nonetheless forward-looking in its concern for heightened somatic self-
consciousness in our increasingly mediatic lifeworld.
There is no compelling reason to believe that our new technologies will
render our bodies obsolete and our somatic consciousness gratuitous.
As I argue in Performing Live, the more the new communications media
strive to free us from the need for physical bodily presence, the more
our bodily experience seems to matter. The most advanced technolo-
gies of virtual reality are still experienced through the body™s perceptual
equipment and affective sounding board “ our sensory organs, brain,
glands, and nervous system. So even the highest ¬‚ights of technologi-
cal fantasy (such as William Gibson™s vision of the Matrix) portray their
¬ctional heroes as physically drained from their harrowing escapades
Introduction 13

in cyberspace, since their intensely stressful emotions, though virtually
induced, must be somatically grounded to be experienced as strong emo-
tions at all.
The more information and sensory stimulation our new technologies
provide us, the greater the need for cultivating a somaesthetic sensitivity
to detect and deal with threats of stressful overload. We cannot simply rely
on further technological instruments to do our somatic monitoring for
us, because we need our own body sensitivity to monitor the performance
of those devices whose functioning and ¬t are always fallible. Patients who
use monitoring devices in or on their bodies are therefore urged to be
vigilantly attentive to whether these instruments are causing discomfort
or showing other signs of malfunction. More generally, any use of new
tools and technologies involves new uses (and postures and habits) of
the body, which means new possibilities of somatic strains, discomforts,
and disabilities resulting from inef¬cient body use that cultivation of
heightened somatic self-consciousness could help us to reveal, remedy,
or avoid. We already know how extended computer use has generated
a multitude of somatic problems, ranging from eyestrain and back and
neck pain to varieties of tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other
repetitive stress disorders that typically result from bad posture and habits
of somatic misuse that could be detected through improved somatic
self-awareness and self-monitoring. Better ergonomic design can help
to some extent but even such design, which itself depends on enhanced
somatic self-consciousness, cannot overcome the abuses of bad postural
We cannot simply trust our habits to correct themselves through uncon-
scious trial and error or through eventual evolutionary adjustments. That
attitude of unthinking trust in ourselves and our future, rather than the
critical somatic self-consciousness here advocated, is more truly labeled
old-fashioned for its expression of a traditional unquestioning faith in
divine or natural providence. Unre¬‚ective trial and error and evolu-
tionary adjustment not only leave too much to unreliable blind chance
but also work far too slow to ensure the individual™s well being and to
keep up with the rapid pace of new technological inventions, which will
require ever new somatic adjustments. Even if a familiar action can be
performed more quickly and reliably through unconscious habit than
through somatically self-conscious attentiveness, such mindful conscious-
ness is important for learning new skills and necessary for properly iden-
tifying, analyzing, and rectifying our problematic bodily habits so as to
Body Consciousness

render them more appropriate to our changing conditions, tools, and
tasks and more in harmony with the changing needs and health of our
basic bodily instrument. As long as our future involves transformations
in bodily use and experience, somatic self-consciousness should play a
central role in tracking, guiding, and responding to these changes.

Somaesthetics and Care of the Self
The Case of Foucault

Among the many reasons that made Michel Foucault a remarkable
philosopher was a doubly bold initiative: to renew the ancient idea of
philosophy as a special way of life and to insist on its distinctly somatic
and aesthetic expression. This double dimension of Foucault™s later work
(elaborated not only in the three volumes of his History of Sexuality and
his ¬nal courses at the Coll` ge de France but also in a variety of interviews
and short articles) is pointedly expressed through his central ideas of the
“aesthetics of existence,” the stylizing “technologies of the self,” and the
cultivation of “bodies and pleasures.”1 This chapter examines Foucault
as an exemplary but problematic pioneer in a ¬eld I call somaesthetics,
a discipline that puts the body™s experience and artful refashioning back
into the heart of philosophy as an art of living. A long dominant Platonist
tradition, intensi¬ed by recent centuries of Cartesianism and idealism,
has blinded us to a crucial fact that was evident to much ancient and non-
Western thought: since we live, think, and act through our bodies, their
study, care, and improvement should be at the core of philosophy, espe-
cially when philosophy is conceived (as it used to be) as a distinctive way
of life, a critical, disciplined care of the self that involves self-knowledge
and self-cultivation.
Even in today™s atmosphere of heightened body consciousness, most
theorists have followed Pierre Hadot in treating the philosophical life

1 The quotations are from Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley, vol. 1
(New York: Vintage, 1980), 157; vol. 2 (New York: Vintage, 1986), 89; and “Technologies
of the Self,” in The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954“1984, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans.
Robert Hurley, vol. 1 (New York: New Press, 1997), 223“251.

Body Consciousness

as a one-sided life of the mind.2 Hadot, who ¬rst revived contemporary
interest (including Foucault™s) in philosophy as a way of life, de¬nes this
life in terms of its programmatic practice of therapeutic disciplines (e.g.,
“meditations,” “therapies of the passions,” and “self-mastery”), which he
pointedly calls “spiritual exercises” and which he de¬nes in sharp contrast
to bodily exercises and needs. Tracing these exercises back to Socratic
dialogue and focusing primarily on the “Stoico-Platonic” tradition, Hadot
even more tellingly de¬nes their spiritual character and philosophy™s
essential goal in terms of the Phaedo, Plato™s most body-despising dialogue.
Here Plato portrays philosophy™s life as a training in death, through the
exercise of “separating the soul as much as possible from the body . . . until
it is completely independent.”
Glossing these famous words to express the soul™s spiritual striving “to
liberate itself” from the body™s passions and senses “so as to attain to the
autonomy of thought,” Hadot sees spiritual exercise as the tool through
which “philosophy subjugates the body™s will to live to the higher demands
of thought,” “an attempt to liberate ourselves from a partial, passionate
point of view” linked to the senses and the body “so as to rise to the uni-
versal, normative viewpoint of thought,” to embody our pure essence of
reason. Noting that these spiritual exercises to strengthen the soul can
be seen as a form of “spiritual gymnastics” analogical to physical exer-
cises to bolster the body, Hadot even recognizes that “the gymnasion, the
place where physical exercises were practiced, was the same place where
philosophy lessons were given.” Yet, he strangely seems unwilling to coun-
tenance the idea that both these activities could be fruitfully combined
by the ancients in pursuing philosophy as a way of life. Though awed by
Hadot™s superior scholarship in ancient philosophy, I dare to think this
combination can be detected if we look beyond the imposing antisomatic

2 See Pierre Hadot, “Spiritual Exercises,” in his Philosophy as a Way of Life, ed. Arnold David-

son (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 81“125, citations here from 84, 94, 102. Hadot™s one-sided
emphasis on the mind is clearly echoed in the accounts of philosophical living offered
by Stanley Cavell, Martha Nussbaum, and Alexander Nehamas. In Practicing Philosophy:
Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life (New York: Routledge, 1997), where somaesthetics
is introduced to provide a more body-friendly account of philosophical living, I critique
Cavell and Nehamas for ignoring the body and de¬ning the philosophical life wholly in
terms of words, especially the textual exercises of reading and writing. Martha Nussbaum™s
study of The Therapy of Desire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994) exhibits
the same intellectualist one-sidedness in limiting philosophical life to “the technique” of
“rational argument” (5“6, 353“4). She moreover follows Hadot™s focus on the Stoics and
a one-sided emphasis on the medical-therapeutic model of philosophical life as opposed
to the aesthetic model that Foucault, Nehamas, and I advance.
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 17

shadow of Platonist idealism and its enormously in¬‚uential expression in
the Phaedo. In the Timaeus, for instance, Plato urges “an equal and healthy
balance between [body and mind]. So anyone [like the philosopher]
engaged on mathematics or any other strenuous intellectual pursuit
should also exercise his body and take part in physical training.”3
If we look beyond Platonic sources, we will be reminded that Socrates
“took care to exercise his body and kept it in good condition” by regu-
lar dance training. “The body,” he declared, “is valuable for all human
activities, and in all its uses it is very important that it should be as ¬t as
possible. Even in the act of thinking, which is supposed to require least
assistance from the body, everyone knows that serious mistakes often
happen through physical ill-health.” Socrates was not the only ancient
philosopher to celebrate physical health and advocate somatic training
and re¬nement. Before him, Cleobulus, a sage “distinguished for strength
and beauty, and . . . acquainted with Egyptian philosophy,” “advised men
to practise bodily exercise.” Aristippus (hedonistic pupil of Socrates and
founder of the Cyrenaic school) claimed “that bodily training contributes
to the acquisition of virtue,” while Zeno, founder of the Stoics, likewise
urged regular bodily exercise, claiming that “proper care of health and
one™s organs of sense” are “unconditional duties.” Though rating mental
pleasures above mere bodily ones, Epicurus still af¬rmed “health of body
and tranquillity of mind” as the twin goals of philosophy™s quest for “a
blessed life.”4
Diogenes, founder of the Cynics, was still more outspoken in advocating
bodily training as a necessary key to developing virtue and the good life:
“And he would adduce indisputable evidence to show how easily from
gymnastic training we arrive at virtue.”5 Practicing the somatic discipline
he preached, he experimented with a variety of body practices to test
and toughen himself: from limiting his diet and walking barefoot in the
snow, to masturbating in public and accepting the blows of drunken
Recognition of somatic training as an essential means toward philo-
sophical enlightenment and virtue lies at the heart of Asian practices of


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