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The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984) and historian
Peter Brown™s, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
13 There is an encouraging convergence of such orientations particularly in recent research

relating to embodied cognition, as exempli¬ed in the work of Francisco Varela, Evan
Thompson, Eleanor Rosch, George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Antonio Damasio, Brian
O™Shaughnessy, Shaun Gallagher, John Campbell, Alva No¨ , and others.
Body Consciousness

normative, prescriptive character by proposing speci¬c methods of
somatic improvement and engaging in their comparative critique. Since
the viability of any proposed method will depend on certain facts about
the body (whether ontological, physiological, or social), this pragmatic
dimension will always presuppose the analytic dimension, though tran-
scending it not only by evaluation but also by meliorative efforts to change
certain facts by remaking the body and society. Over the course of his-
tory, a vast variety of pragmatic methods have been designed to improve
our experience and use of our bodies: various diets, forms of grooming
and decoration (including body painting, piercing, and scari¬cation as
well as more familiar modes of cosmetics, jewelry, and clothing fashions),
dance, yoga, massage, aerobics, bodybuilding, calisthenics, martial and
erotic arts, and modern psychosomatic disciplines like Alexander Tech-
nique and Feldenkrais Method.
These different methodologies of practices can be classi¬ed in different
ways. We can distinguish between practices that are holistic or more atom-
istic. While the latter focus on individual body parts or surfaces “ styling
the hair, painting the nails, tanning the skin, shortening the nose or
enlarging the breast through surgery “ the former practices are emphat-
ically oriented toward the whole body, indeed the entire person, as an
integrated whole. Hatha yoga, t™ai chi ch™uan, and Feldenkrais Method,
for example, comprise systems of integrated somatic postures and move-
ments to develop the harmonious functioning and energy of the body as
a uni¬ed whole. Penetrating beneath skin surfaces and muscle ¬ber to
realign our bones and better organize the neural pathways through which
we move, feel, and think, these practices insist that improved somatic
harmony is both a contributory instrument and a bene¬cial by-product
of heightened mental awareness and psychic balance. Such disciplines
refuse to divide body from mind in seeking the enlightened betterment
of the body-mind of the whole person.
Somatic practices can also be classi¬ed in terms of being directed pri-
marily at the individual practitioner herself or instead primarily at oth-
ers. A massage therapist or a surgeon standardly works on others but in
doing t™ai chi ch™uan or bodybuilding, one is working more on one™s own
body. The distinction between self-directed and other-directed somatic
practices cannot be rigidly exclusive because many practices are both.
Applying cosmetic makeup is frequently done to oneself and to others;
and erotic arts display a simultaneous interest in both one™s own experi-
ential pleasures and one™s partners™ by maneuvering the bodies of both
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 25

self and other. Moreover, just as self-directed disciplines (like dieting
or bodybuilding) often seem motivated by a desire to please others, so
other-directed practices like massage may have their own self-oriented
Despite these complexities (which stem in part from the deep inter-
dependence of self and other), the distinction between self-directed and
other-directed body disciplines is useful for resisting the common pre-
sumption that to focus on the body implies a retreat from the social. My
work as a Feldenkrais practitioner has taught me how important it is to
pay careful attention to one™s own somatic state in order to pay proper
attention to one™s client. When I give a Feldenkrais lesson of Functional
Integration, I have to be aware of my own body positioning and breath-
ing, the tension in my hands and other body parts, and the quality of
contact my feet have with the ¬‚oor in order to be in the best condition
to gauge correctly the client™s body tension and ease of movement.14 I
need to make myself somatically comfortable so as not to be distracted by
my own body tensions and in order to communicate the right message to
the client. Otherwise, I will be passing my feelings of somatic tension and
unease to the client when I touch him. And because one often fails to
realize when and why one is in a mild state of somatic discomfort, part of
the Feldenkrais training is devoted to teaching one how to discern such
states and distinguish their causes.
Clearer awareness of one™s somatic reactions can also improve one™s
behavior toward others in much wider social and political contexts. Much
ethnic and racial hostility is not the product of logical thought but of
deep prejudices that are somatically expressed or embodied in vague
but disagreeable feelings that typically lie beneath the level of explicit
consciousness. Such prejudices and feelings thus resist correction by mere
discursive arguments for tolerance, which can be accepted on the rational
level without changing the visceral grip of the prejudice. We often deny

14 Feldenkrais Method deploys an educational rather than pathological model. Practitioners

thus regard the people we treat as “students” rather than “patients,” and we speak of our
work as giving “lessons” rather than “therapy sessions.” Functional Integration is only one
of the two central modes of the Method, the other being Awareness Through Movement.
The latter is best described in Feldenkrais™s introductory text, Awareness Through Movement
(New York: Harper and Row, 1972). A very detailed but dif¬cult account of Functional
Integration is provided in Yochanan Rywerant, The Feldenkrais Method: Teaching by Handling
(New York: Harper and Row, 1983). For a comparative philosophical analysis of the
Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique, and bioenergetics, see chapter 8 of my
Performing Live (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000).
Body Consciousness

that we have such prejudices because we do not realize that we feel them,
and the ¬rst step to controlling or expunging them is to develop the
somatic awareness to recognize them in ourselves.15
Somatic disciplines can further be classi¬ed in terms of whether their
major orientation is toward external appearance or inner experience.
Representational somaesthetics (such as cosmetics) is concerned more
with the body™s exterior or surface forms, while experiential disciplines
(such as yoga) aim more at making us “feel better” in both senses of
that ambiguous phrase (which re¬‚ects the productive ambiguity of the
aesthetic): to make the quality of our somatic experience more satisfy-
ingly rich but also to make it more acutely perceptive. Cosmetic practices
(from hairstyling to plastic surgery) exemplify the representational side
of somaesthetics, while practices like Feldenkrais™ “Awareness Through
Movement” or mindfulness meditation are paradigmatic of the experi-
ential mode.
The distinction between representational and experiential somaesthet-
ics is one of dominant tendency rather than a rigid dichotomy. Most
somatic practices have both representational and experiential dimen-
sions (and rewards), because there is a basic complementarity of rep-
resentation and experience, outer and inner. How we look in¬‚uences
how we feel, and vice versa. Practices like dieting or bodybuilding that
are initially pursued for representational ends often produce inner feel-
ings that are then sought for their own experiential sake. The dieter
becomes an anorexic craving the inner feel of hunger; the bodybuilder
becomes addicted to the experiential surge of “the pump.” Moreover,
somatic methods aimed at inner experience often employ representa-
tional means as cues to effect the body posture necessary for inducing
the desired experience, whether by consulting one™s image in a mirror,
focusing one™s gaze on a body part like the tip of the nose or the navel, or
simply visualizing a body form in one™s imagination. Conversely, repre-
sentational practices such as bodybuilding use acute awareness of expe-
riential clues (e.g., of optimal fatigue, body alignment, and full muscle
extension) to serve its sculptural ends of external form, helping to dis-
tinguish, for example, the kind of pain that builds muscle from the pain
that indicates injury.
Nonetheless, the representational/experiential distinction remains
useful, particularly for refuting certain arguments that would condemn

15 I elaborate this argument more fully in Chapter 4 of this book, which treats Wittgenstein™s

somatic philosophy.
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 27

somaesthetics as intrinsically super¬cial and devoid of the spiritual.
Horkheimer and Adorno™s famous critique of somatic cultivation pro-
vides a good example of such arguments. Any attempt “to bring about a
renaissance of the body” must fail, they claim, because it implicitly rein-
forces our culture™s “distinction . . . between the body and the spirit.” As
an object of care, the body will be representationally exteriorized as a
mere physical thing (“the dead thing, the ˜corpus™”) in contrast to the
inner living spirit.16 Attention to the body is thus always alienated atten-
tion to an external representation outside one™s spiritual self. Moreover,
as external representation, it is inescapably dominated and deployed by
society™s corrupt masters of the image “ advertising and propaganda. “The
idolizing of the vital phenomena from the ˜blond beast™ to the South Sea
islanders inevitably leads to the ˜sarong ¬lm™ and the advertising posters
for vitamin pills and skin creams which simply stand for the immanent
aim of publicity: the new, great, beautiful, and noble type of man “ the
Fuhrer and his storm troopers” (DoE, 233“234).
Enthusiasts of bodily beauty and bodily training are not merely
super¬cial; they are more sinisterly linked to fascist exterminators, who
treat the human body as a mere “physical substance” (DoE, 234), a mal-
leable mechanical tool whose parts must be shaped to make it more
effectively serve whatever power controls it. By such Nazi logic, if bodies
are no longer in good repair, they should be melted down into soap or
converted into some other useful thing like a lampshade.

Those who extolled the body above all else, the gymnasts and scouts, always
had the closest af¬nity with killing. . . . They see the body as a moving mech-
anism, with joints as its components and ¬‚esh to cushion the skeleton. They
use the body and its parts as though they were already separated from
it. . . . They measure others, without realizing it, with the gaze of a cof¬n
maker [and so call them] tall, short, fat or heavy. . . . Language keeps pace
with them. It has transformed a walk into motion and a meal into calories
(DoE, 235).

Formulated more than ¬fty years ago, Horkheimer and Adorno™s cri-
tique remains a powerful summary of today™s major indictments against
aestheticizing the body. By promoting seductive images of bodily beauty
and excellence, somatic aesthetics stands accused as a tool of capitalist
advertising and political repression. It alienates, rei¬es, and fragments the
body, treating it as an external means and mechanism that is anatomized

16 See
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cum-
ming (New York: Continuum, 1986), 232, 233, hereafter DoE.
Body Consciousness

into separate areas of intensive labor for ostentatious measurable results
and the sale of countless commodities marketed to achieve them. Hence,
we ¬nd our preoccupation with body measurements and with special-
ized “¬tness” classes devoted to “abs,” thighs, butts, and so forth; hence
the billion-dollar cosmetics industry, with its specialized products for dif-
ferent body parts. A somatic aesthetics, the argument continues, must
therefore undermine individuality and freedom by urging conformity
to standardized bodily measures and models as optimally instrumental
or attractive. These models, moreover, re¬‚ect and reinforce oppressive
social hierarchies (as, for example, the North American ideal of tall, lean,
blond, blue-eyed bodies obviously serves the privilege of its dominant eth-
nic groups).
Potent as such indictments may be, they all depend on construing
somaesthetics as a theory that reduces the body to an external object “
a mechanical instrument of atomized parts, measurable surfaces, and
standardized norms of beauty. They ignore the body™s subject-role as the
living locus of beautiful, felt experience. But somaesthetics, in its experien-
tial dimension, clearly refuses to exteriorize the body as an alienated thing
distinct from the active spirit of human experience. Nor does it tend to
impose a ¬xed set of standardized norms of external measurement (e.g.,
optimal pulse) to assess good somaesthetic experience.17
The blindness of culture critics to the somatics of experience is under-
standable and still widespread. For the somaesthetics of representation
remains far more salient and dominant in our culture, a culture largely
built on the division of body from spirit and economically driven by the
capitalism of conspicuous consumption that is fueled by the marketing of
body images. But precisely for this reason, the ¬eld of somaesthetics, with
its essential experiential dimension, needs more careful, reconstructive
attention from philosophers.
The representational/experiential distinction is thus useful in defend-
ing somaesthetics from charges that neglect its interior, experienced
depth. However, just as this distinction should not be understood as a
rigidly exclusive dichotomy, neither is it exhaustive. A third category of
performative somaesthetics can be introduced for disciplines devoted pri-
marily to bodily strength, skill, or health (such as martial arts, athletics,

17 Thisis not to say that experiential somaesthetics can present no norms or ideals. The
famed “runner™s high,” bodybuilder™s “pump,” and lover™s orgasm might be seen as stan-
dards of experiential success; and, if misconstrued as the sole measure of experiential
value for their relevant practices, they can also wield an oppressive power that somaes-
thetic critique needs to challenge.
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 29

and aerobics or calisthenics). To the extent that such performance-
oriented disciplines aim either at external exhibition or at enhancing
one™s inner feelings of power, skill, and health, we might assimilate them
into either the dominantly representational or experiential mode.
3. No matter how we classify the different methodologies of pragmatic
somaesthetics, they need to be distinguished from their actual prac-
tice. I call this third branch practical somaesthetics. It is not a matter of
producing texts, not even texts that offer pragmatic methods of somatic
care; it is instead about actually pursuing such care through intelligently
disciplined practice aimed at somatic self-improvement (whether in rep-
resentational, experiential, or performative modes). Concerned not with
saying but with doing, this practical dimension is the most neglected
by academic body philosophers, whose commitment to the discursive
logos typically ends in textualizing the body. For practical somaesthet-
ics, the less said the better, if this means the more work actually done.
But because, in philosophy, what goes without saying typically goes with-
out doing, the concrete activity of somatic training must be named as
the crucial practical dimension of somaesthetics, conceived as a compre-
hensive philosophical discipline concerned with self-knowledge and self-
Foucault is exemplary for working in all three dimensions of somaes-
thetics. The analytic genealogist, who showed how “docile bodies” were
systematically yet subtly, secretly shaped by seemingly innocent body disci-
plines and regimes of biopower so as to advance oppressive sociopolitical
agendas and institutions, emerges also as the pragmatic methodologist
proposing alternative body practices to overcome the repressive ideolo-
gies covertly entrenched in our docile bodies. Foremost among these
alternatives were practices of consensual homosexual sadomasochism
(S/M), whose experiences, he argued, challenged not only the hierar-
chy of the head but also the privileging of genital sexuality, which in

18 Forfurther elaboration of somaesthetics, see my Performing Live, ch. 7“8, and “Thinking
Through the Body, Educating for the Humanities: A Plea for Somaesthetics,” Journal of
Aesthetic Education, 40, no. 1 (2006): 1“21. For critical discussions and interpretive appli-
cations of somaesthetics, see the essays of Martin Jay, Gustavo Guerra, Kathleen Higgins,
Casey Haskins, and my response in Journal of Aesthetic Education 36, no. 4 (2002): 55“
115. See also the articles by Thomas Leddy, Antonia Soulez, and Paul C. Taylor, and
my response in Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 16, no. 1 (2002): 1“38; Gernot B¨ hme,o
“Som¨ sthetik “ sanft oder mit Gewalt?” Deutsche Zeitschrift f¨ r Philosophie, 50 (2002): 797“


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