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rience,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 56 (1998): 51“53; and “Provokation und
Erinnerung: Zu Freude, Sinn und Wert in asthetischer Erfahrung,” Deutsche Zeitschrift f¨ r
¨ u
Philosophie, 47 (1999): 127“137. I never claim that pleasure is the only or highest value in
art and aesthetic experience. For more on the varieties and values of pleasure but also on
other values in aesthetic experience, see my “Entertainment: A Question for Aesthetics,”
British Journal of Aesthetics, 43 (2003): 289“307; and “Aesthetic Experience: From Analysis
to Eros, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 64 (2006), 217“229.
34 See Benedict de Spinoza, The Ethics, in Works of Spinoza, trans. R. H. M. Elwes (New York:

Dover, 1955), 174.
Body Consciousness

of ethics and politics. We share our bodies and somatic pleasures as much
as we share our minds, and they surely appear as public as our thoughts.
Pleasure is misconstrued as intrinsically private by being misidenti¬ed
as merely an inner bodily sensation to which the individual has unique
access. Most pleasure or enjoyment does not have the character of a spe-
ci¬c, narrowly localized body feeling (unlike a toothache or stubbed toe).
The pleasure of playing tennis cannot be identi¬ed in one™s running feet,
beating heart, or sweating racket hand. Somatic enjoyments like tennis
cannot be mere sensation for two other reasons. The stronger a sensa-
tion the more attention it claims for itself and the more it distracts from
concentration on other things. If enjoying tennis were only the having of
strong sensations, the more we enjoyed it, the harder it would be to con-
centrate on the game, but clearly the opposite is true. Second, if pleasure
were merely blind sensation, we might in principle enjoy the pleasure of
tennis without any connection to the actual or imagined playing of the
Such objections indicate a more general point. Pleasure, even when
identi¬ed with pleasurable feelings, cannot be simply identi¬ed with
blind sensation because the very enjoyment of sensation depends on the
context or activity that shapes its meaning. The glass of (even mediocre)
wine that Foucault condemns to everyday banality can be the site of
intense pleasure, even spiritual joy, when framed in the proper sacred
context. Such examples (just like S/M™s hedonic trans¬guration of pain)
testify to pleasure™s semantic and cognitive dimensions that defy its reduc-
tion to mere sensationalism. As philosophy has long insisted, we also take
pleasure in knowing, and this pleasure inspires us to learn more.
4. Even if most pleasures seem trivial, some experiences of delight
are so powerful that they deeply mark us, transforming our desires and
thus redirecting our way of life. Deep aesthetic experience and mysti-
cal religious experience share this power, and in many cultures they are
intimately linked: the poet and prophet likewise inspired and inspiring
through exaltedly altered mental states.35 The overwhelming spirituality
of such experience is often expressed and heightened by a deeply somatic
deliciousness that Saint Teresa describes as “penetrating to the marrow
of the bones,” enthralling and trans¬guring us.36 The terms “rapture”
and “ecstasy” convey this idea of being seized and transported outside

35 See, for example, the strong parallels traditionally drawn between the experience of waka

poetry, N¯ theatre, and Buddhist satori, as summarized in Yuasa, The Body, Self-Cultivation,
and Ki-Energy, 21“28.
36 Saint Teresa, The Interior Castle, cited in William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

(New York: Penguin, 1982), 412.
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 43

ourselves by pleasure so intense that it sometimes seems almost painful
to endure. This is not the easy pleasure of self-grati¬cation but the terrify-
ing thrill of self-surrender in the quest for self-transformation. Seized by
this ravishing delight, some have felt close to dying from its electrifying
power (and studies of mystical experience show in fact that heartbeat,
breath, and circulation are virtually arrested).37 Yet these heart-stopping
ecstasies are also celebrated for providing somatic empowerment and
spiritual redirection. The aim is not sensual delectation per se, but the
self-transformation that intense pleasure can induce, as in the Su¬ mys-
tic Al-Ghazzali™s formula of “transport, ecstasy, and the transformation
of the soul.”38 Though typically religious, these climactic experiences of
transcendent joy and spiritual trans¬guration need not require a conven-
tional theological faith.
The highest forms of pragmatic somaesthetics combine such delights
of self-transformational self-surrender with strict disciplines of somatic
self-control (of posture, breathing, ritualized movement, etc.). Such dis-
ciplines not only prepare and structure ecstatic experience but they also
provide a controlled ¬eld where the inspiring energy of peak experience
can be deployed and preserved in systematic practices that promote the
re-achievement of these peaks in healthy contexts. This ensures that soar-
ing self-surrender can fall back on a safety net of disciplined self-mastery in
preparation for a further leap. Beneath the breathless rapture of samadhi
rests the yogi™s years of disciplined breath control. Such somaesthetic dis-
cipline also provides its own pleasures of self-governance, while its cog-
nitive and ethical bene¬ts “ in training the senses, will, and character “
further transcend the values typically identi¬ed with hedonism.

These arguments for pleasure should also show that the aesthetic aims of
pragmatic somaesthetics are not con¬ned to the narrow pursuit of plea-
sure (however valuable such pleasure may be). Somaesthetics connotes
both the cognitive sharpening of our aesthesis or sensory perception and
the artful reshaping of our somatic form and functioning, not simply to
make us stronger and more perceptive for our own sensual satisfaction
but also to render us more sensitive to the needs of others and more capa-
ble of responding to them with effectively willed action. In the context

37 See William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience , 412; Yuasa, The Body, Self-Cultivation,

and Ki-Energy, 59“60.
38 Citedin James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 403.
Body Consciousness

of such broader goals, somaesthetics should not be seen as self-indulgent
luxury. Higher somaesthetic forms therefore make pleasure the essential
by-product of an ascetic, yet aesthetic, quest for something better than
one™s current self, a quest pursued by learning and mastering one™s soma
and re¬ning it into a vessel of experienced beauty so that one can attain
still greater powers and joys potentially within us “ a higher self, perhaps
even a divine spirit or Oversoul. Such somaesthetic discipline (evident
in yoga and Zen meditation but also in Western practices such as the
Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique) involves, of course,
a signi¬cant degree of intellectual askesis as well.
Rejecting the mind/body dualism (since the very phenomenon of
sense perception de¬es it), these practices aim at the holistic transfor-
mation of the subject, in which the dimensions of aesthetic, moral, and
spiritual improvement are so intimately intertwined that they cannot
effectively be separated. Thus hatha yoga™s state of Ghata Avasthˆ is simul-
taneously described as one where “the Yogi™s posture becomes ¬rm, and
he becomes wise like a god . . . indicated by [the] highest pleasure expe-
rienced,” involving the acute perception of a subtle drumlike sound of
divine energy “in the throat.”39
Although yoga is surely remote from Foucault™s disciplinary program
of S/M, could his devoted quest for the most intense somatic pleasures
still be understood in terms of a spiritually transformative askesis, how-
ever dangerously misguided? He seems to see it that way, and he certainly
appreciates the spiritual dimension of the somatic. Asserting already in
Discipline and Punish that the soul in fact “has a reality” as “produced per-
manently around, on, within the body by the functioning of . . . power,” he
goes on to highlight the role of somatic askesis (along with technologies
of self-writing) in his later study of Greco-Roman and ancient Christian

39 Svatmarama Swami, The Hatha Yoga Pradapika, trans. Pancham Sinh (Allahabad, India:
Lahif Mohan Basu, 1915), 57. Similarly, it is alleged that in Parichaya Avasthˆ , an “ecstasy
is spontaneously produced which is devoid of evils, pains, old age, disease, hunger, and
sleep.” In such conditions of samadhi, the yogi is even said to conquer death. But paradox-
ically, precisely in their struggle to overcome life™s painful somatic limitations, somaes-
thetic practices like yoga usefully underline the body™s inescapable mortality, teaching
us the wisdom of humility. Only a puerile somaesthetics would forget that embodiment
implies ineliminable ¬nitude and weakness. Philosophy™s neglect of the body can partly
be explained as a proud and wishful denial of our mortal limits. But bodily ¬nitude
does not entail the futility of working on our somatic selves; no more than our failure
to know everything discredits the attempt to achieve greater knowledge. Somatic self-
consciousness, rather than a denial of our mortality and limitation, can provide a clearer
awareness of our ¬nitude and, as we shall see below, a better preparation for aging and
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 45

spiritual care of the self.40 If Foucault™s own pragmatic somaesthetics of
pleasure has a transformative spiritual dimension,41 the power of its spir-
ituality seems diminished or put in question not merely by his excessive
concentration on the sensationalist pleasures of strong drugs and sexual
violence, but also by his choosing Charles Baudelaire™s model of dandyism
to embody his own ideal of transformative somaesthetic askesis.42
Nevertheless, should we not recognize that consciousness-altering
drugs and intensi¬ed sexuality play a meaningful role in many religious
traditions and that expressions of sadomasochism are surely not foreign
to the Catholic spiritual sensibilities that have shaped our own culture?
Consider, for example, the eroticized images of the cruci¬xion™s tortured,
suffering passion of fatal bondage (overseen by an omnipotent God the
Father) or the many saintly morti¬cations of the ¬‚esh and inquisitional
trials of faith, or the frequent expression of religious love in terms of
joyfully yearning, ravished domination. “Batter my heart, three-personed
God,” urges John Donne in “Holy Sonnet 14,” continuing this prayer
of sacred ardor by heightening its erotic violence: “o™erthrow me, and
bend/ Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new/ . . . Yet dearly
I love you, and would be loved fain,/ . . . Take me to you, imprison me, for
I/ Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except
you ravish me.” Here again, we see how Foucault™s S/M program deserves
our careful critical attention not so much as a perverse transgression of
our culture™s values but as an explicit, intensi¬ed expression of deeply
problematic tendencies that historically subtend those values and the
practices they generate, even in our spiritual and religious experience.
In deploying Baudelarian dandyism as the modern paradigm of self-
transformative aesthetic discipline, Foucault af¬rms “the philosophical
ethos” implied in its respect for “the ephemeral,” its strenuous “will ˜to
heroize™ the present” moment and capture “the swift joys of the depraved
animal.” But he especially celebrates its demanding “doctrine of ele-
gance,” the trans¬guring “asceticism of the dandy who makes of his body,

40 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979),
41 Jeremy Carrette, Foucault and Religion: Spiritual Corporality and Political Spirituality

(London: Routledge, 2000), makes an extended case for an insuf¬ciently recognized
“spiritual corporality” in Foucault™s writings, explaining it (through links to Sade, Niet-
zsche, Klossowski, Bataille, and others) in terms of the body taking the central position in
human life after our culture™s recognition of the death of God. Bataille, of course, insists
that “all eroticism has a sacramental character” (Eroticism, 15“16).
42 Michel Foucault, “What Is Enlightenment?” The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, trans.

Robert Hurley (New York: New Press, 1997), 1:303“319.
Body Consciousness

his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art.”43
Since the dandy™s aesthetic “cult of the self,” in Baudelaire™s account, is
focused “above all else” on the “distinction” of “elegance and originality”
and linked with an intense appreciation of “the lofty spiritual signi¬cance
of the toilet” (“in praise of cosmetics”) and “the special beauty of evil” as
“pure art,” Foucault™s exaltation of this exemplar renders the whole idea
of spiritual self-transformation through somaesthetic askesis far more sus-
pect and vulnerable to Pierre Hadot™s charge that such aestheticism only
amounts to super¬cial, arti¬cial self-posturing rather than the earnest
sort of deep spiritual transformation we expect of the ethical ideal of
self-care.44 Somaesthetic self-fashioning, however, can ¬nd a far more
convincing exemplar of ethical-spiritual transformation in the divinely
inspired self-discipline of Socrates, whose somaesthetic power (honed
through persistent exercise and dance training) could cast a seductive
spell, despite his old age and ugly facial features, thus enabling him to
argue he was more beautiful than the famously handsome Critobulus in
Xenophon™s Symposium (2.8“2.19, 5.1“5.10). Equally powerful examples
of spiritually uplifting somaesthetic discipline can be found in the Con-
fucian tradition, whose emphasis on art, ritual, and attractive somatic
demeanor for instilling greater spiritual harmony in both personal char-
acter and social life is so prominent that the Confucians were sometimes
even criticized as aesthetes.45
If such ancient examples prove that aesthetic concerns are not essen-
tially opposed to ethical and spiritual askesis (which has its own aus-
tere beauty), we should also recall how, in modern times, art has often
supplanted traditional religion as the site of transcendent spirituality.
Even Foucault™s model of aesthetic self-transformation is not without its

43 Ibid., 310“312.
44 Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathan Mayne
(London: Phaidon, 1964), 1“40, quotations from 27, 28, 31, 32, 38. Baudelaire admits
that the dandy is “a weird kind of spiritualist,” whose “excessive love of visible, tangi-
ble things . . . [involves] a certain repugnance for the things that form the impalpable
kingdom of the metaphysician,” and makes it hard to “bestow upon him the title of
philosopher” (9, 28). Hadot critiques Foucault™s model of self-cultivation as “a new form
of Dandyism, late twentieth-century style,” that is “too aesthetic” to be a good “ethical
model,” see Philosophy as a Way of Life, 211.
45 Mozi, for instance, expressed such criticism. See The Ethical and Political Works of Motse,

trans. W. P. Mei (London: Probsthain, 1929). For a more detailed discussion of the
somaesthetics of Confucianism and its relation to ethical and spiritual askesis, see my,
“Pragmatism and East-Asian Thought,” in The Range of Pragmatism and the Limits of Philos-
ophy, ed. Richard Shusterman (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 13“42.
Somaesthetics and Care of the Self 47

suggestion of a religious moment. In the very interview where he advo-
cates a sexual ethics of intense pleasure, Foucault equally insists that the
aesthetic quest for self-transformation holds the promise of salvation but
demands a “work like a dog” discipline of intellectual effort. “For me
intellectual work is related to what you could call aestheticism, meaning
transforming yourself . . . I know that knowledge can transform us . . . And
maybe I will be saved. Or maybe I™ll die but I think that is the same any-
way for me. (Laughs).” This ambiguous laughter in equating salvation
and death (which could express black humor, or irony toward Christian
salvation through death, or even embarrassment about his fascination
with death or about his very use of the religiously charged notion of sal-
vation) cannot conceal that Foucault is very serious about the aesthetic
dimension of self-transformation. For he goes on to insist: “This transfor-
mation of one™s self by one™s own knowledge is, I think, something rather
close to the aesthetic experience. Why should a painter work if he is not
transformed by his own painting?” (FL, 379).
But why, to continue this line of argument, should one work so hard, if
the aesthetic transformation is merely perfunctory and super¬cial: a line
of mascara, the shallow shimmer-shine of tinted hair? Modernity™s sad
irony is that art has inherited religion™s spiritual authority, while being
compartmentalized from the serious business of life. Aestheticism must
seem amoral and super¬cial when art is falsely relegated from ethical
praxis and instead con¬ned to the realm of mere Schein (i.e., appearance,
illusion). Challenging this false dichotomy between art and ethics, prag-
matism seeks to synthesize the beautiful and the good. While recognizing


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