body. week 2.
city. new york city
In speech, the body comes into contact with the mind. More than that, the body, through speech, articulates the mind. It shapes it. But it is only in writing that the mind finally becomes body. It is only in writing that I come face-to-face with my mind. My mind as a body that is not my own. A stranger?
Kasha: What is it about religion, art, and philosophy that so thrills me?
Teretz: They allow me to feel touched. Encountered. Real. In short, to feel alive.
Kasha: And what is it to feel alive?
Teretz: To feel bodied. To be Unthought. Un-understood. Unimagined. To be here, not over there. To be now, and never then. To feel this, and nothing but.
Heaven is a place where the ice of existence melts into a stream of warm-water. Heaven is a place where nothing is as it is.
The dichotomy between mind and body is mistaken. It should rather be reconstituted as a dichotomy between language and sense. To attempt to live without language is to attempt to live like an animal. Or a child. It is, therefore, an attempt to live without sin. To live, finally, both happily and peacefully. But hasn’t Nietzsche already shown us that return, regret, rejection will never take us where we wish to go? Hasn’t he convinced us all that there is only one direction: forward?
Well, there, consider the inverse. To attempt to live without sense is to attempt to live like an angel, or better, an idea (i.e. like god, the Idea par excellence). It is an attempt to achieve independence and freedom. And hasn’t Hegel taught us enough to know that freedom without actuality is nothing but death?
But how can we live as neither animals nor gods? As neither free nor holy? How, that is, are we to live as broken, grieving, loving men? Where can we go to find some hope?
For one, we can begin with our language and our sense. We can begin right here, at the end.
Today was ordinary = folding laundry, washing dishes, a stroll in the park, coffee to go.
The Body in Society, by Alexandra Howson
A framework in which selves are construed as “parts” in a theatrical performance. We act out the roles we feel are best, the roles which work. We share and conceal information (through gestures and language) which befits our role. Consider what happens when a person who is “unreadable” joins a small group. The other “actors” are forced (often uncomfortably) to reevaluate their own role in light of this ambiguity. Improvisation is forced upon them by this unreadable body.
Link between medicine and body image: the development of the medical profession (over the last two hundred years) has allowed doctors to study an enormous quantity of human bodies (for perhaps the first time in history). This in turn has produced a dizzying array of statistics around what a “normal body” is or should be. Consider the innocent questions “isn’t she tall for her age?” From a very early age, we receive constant reminders from medical authorities (during several visits per year) reminding us of our position relative to the normal (read: healthy) body.
The modern person laughs at the ancient Egyptians who believed that their pharaoh didn’t need the bathroom. And yet, if the president were to fart during the state of the union, it would shock the world. Just like the ancients, we desperately seek leaders who are more-than-bodies, who have risen beyond mere humanity. Leaders who, at least in the minds of their followers, have shed their bodies and become gods.
My body is fun
My body is work
My body is soft
My body hurts
My body is art
My body is an animal
My body is a human
My body is a mystery
My body is warm
My body is mine
How does one “think” the body? Or, how does one “body” thoughts? Phrased still differently, what does the body of thought consist of?
Well, for starters, a thought has an appearance. It appears. It becomes known. It is felt. But what is it felt as? Just as what it is. What it is as body.
I smell a smell. I taste a taste. I see a sight. I think a thought.
But thoughts do not pertain to bodies.
Oh, but they do. Bodies of thought.
I think the thought: “I love you”. What does that appear as? How is it shaped? How does it feel?
I think the thought: “a pile of purple plums.” What does that appear as? Is it the same as “I love you”? In what ways does it differ? Not in meaning, but in body.
Thoughts give birth to children. I once had a thought so scary that I could hardly bare to think at all.
Once again: How does one think the body?
I will answer with a question: how does one body the body? Answer that, and you’ll have the solution to both questions.
Three steps to embodiment: (1) Perception (2) Communion (3) Expression
How does one embody a thought? By becoming it.
How does one perceive a thought? By feeling it.
I embody the thought. I become all that “sad” wishes to be.
I feel the thought. I notice all the ways that the thought “sad” feels like. I feel it with my mind. I feel it with my mouth. I feel it with my ears. And my eyes and my nose. I feel it with my fingers and my tongue and my tears.
I don’t have to reach outside myself, to take what other people have. I can reach inside myself, and receive what I already have.
There is a lot of talk of redefining beauty standards. But why the need to feel beautiful in the first place? I’m content with being ugly.
I have nothing to write. Because I have nothing to think.
The first thing I did with all of the information I learned about the body is to forget it.
We grow up hearing about things like marriage and love. We’re shocked, when we grow older, not to discover that they’re fake. But to discover that they’re actually real. Real people engaged in real marriages held together with real love. Reality is far more shocking than fiction.
Two essays on large bodies: Hunger by Roxane Gay and The Whale by Daren Aronofsky. Today, I just so happened to read the first and watch the second. What a coincidence.
Both characters ate themselves to misery, both in response to a trauma. Roxane was gang raped. Charlie’s boyfriend first starved himself and then jumped off a bridge. Both blamed themselves for the tragedy, the loss. Both claim to be worthless, with Charlie telling his estranged daughter: I couldn’t imagine anyone would ever want someone like me in their life.
Both characters strove to make themselves, bite by bite, pound by pound, disgusting. And by so doing, barricade themself against those who might love them.
But in both cases, this proves impossible. The only person they truly can’t bear, the only person they truly despise, is the one they can never escape.
The only difference between the two? Charlie insists that “people are amazing” while Roxane reminds us that “the world is cruel”.
My body holds me in my past.
In other words, my body holds me in my self.
There is no sense of happiness to be found,
Outside of the body.
Transcendence through the body.
Transcendence on the body.
Transcendence with the body.
Transcendence in the body.
Transcendence = descendance.
Through my body, I have a past.
Through my body, I am a descendent.
Through my body, I descend (from above)
Through my body, I ascend (from below).
Through my body, I transcend.
The body demands a new kind of philosophy. An embodied philosophy. Experiential philosophy. Philosophy as a practice. Philosophy as an unfolding. Philosophy as a “keeping life company”. Philosophy as intimacy.
Reality is enormous.
Reality is inconceivable.
Reality is beyond.
Reality is impotent.
Reality is everything.
Reality is destruction. A destruction of everything that was and everything that will be.
Reality is an other.
The problem though, is that reality actually is all that is real.
Does a society obsessed with bodies (ie, material) necessarily face a crisis of superficiality? Does it necessarily lack depth? And what, exactly, would that lack consist of? What do we mean by ‘depth’, and what are the consequences of losing it?
I lay in bed, all day, concerned only with myself. That is, only with my mind.
My mind feels tired today. I feel down. I can’t get up, I can’t get out. And so I don’t. I just lay here, falling further and further down, growing more and more absent.
I take a moment to ask myself: what would my body like to do? The answer is simple. My body would like to go for a walk. Or even a run! My body would like to stretch and play and eat and laugh. My body would love a long hot soak in a steaming bath or a quick brisk stroll in the sunny park. My body would even be happy to sit still, quietly, if only I’d pay some attention to it.
And yet… I continue to write. Busy, only in my mind.
That moment in which you’re suddenly aware that it’s grown dark outside, but you haven’t bothered turning on the lights.
The body is the open.
- JL Nancy
I step outside to relinquish my privacy. I step outside to expose myself. I step outside to enter into a system, a structure more archaic than life itself.
And then I return back home, into myself. Into my privacy. Into my freedom, away from the law.
Heart and brain. Body and head. Activity and focus. Mother and father. Nature and nurture. In and out. Life and death. Libido and ego. Or as Spinoza would say: Nature (or god).
A body which is insecure about itself. An insecure body. A body which takes itself as Other. An othering body. An ignorant body. A body which does not know itself. For, how could it?
Note to a certain lady:
“Your body overwhelms me.”
I went on my annual retreat with Shlomo this weekend. This year, I set an intention to stay on the surface:
“Try, as much as feels comfortable and rewarding, to stay on the surface of things. The surface of bodies. The surface of feelings. The surface of thoughts.
Notice their appearance. Do not seek out their essence.”
This had the two-fold benefit of playing into my body project as well as calming the anxieties that invariably arise as I prepare to take drugs.
While terror may await me in the depths of my psyche, the surface is always safe. The surface never contains anything.
There was a third benefit as well, which I only fully came to appreciate during the retreat itself. Since the retreat has been a very meaningful experience the last few years, I feel an enormous pressure to make it meaningful this year too. But how can I manufacture a meaningful experience? But ah, meaning is located in the depths after all. On the surface, everything is equal. Everything is already okay. Just the way it is. Leading up to and during the retreat, whenever I experienced moments of doubt or anxiety, I would pull myself back up to the surface and experience that anxiety as a thing in itself. I’d resist sinking down into it, but stayed floating above. Often, in those moments, I’d let out a chuckle.
Now, what are some “body” moments from the retreat?
We played a game that I invented where we each took turns choosing one thing that is a form of communion with our body and one thing which is a form of expression. (I think on my first turn I focused on eating a grape (communion) and gave Shlomo a hug (expression)). It was fun and we got to play off of each others’ ideas. It ended with me stripping down to my underwear and jumping into the freezing lake.
We played another game that my friend Jo taught me where you sit across from each other and one person closes their eyes and the other person asks “can I touch your x” and then if you consent they touch your “x”. And then you ask if it felt ok. And then they ask “can I touch your y”. And so forth. It brings an extremely heightened awareness to the nature of touch, vulnerability, intimacy but also lots and lots of safety. I normally would never touch Shlomo or allow him to touch me, but this let me experiment with touching him in a safe, easy, and intentional way.
At one point, while we were rolling on Molly, Shlomo asked to hold my hand. After just the slightest touch of hesitation, I said yes. The purity of his intentions and the depths of our intimacy made me question the very nature of sexuality and intimacy.
Artaud, To Be Done with the Judgement of God
they were words
invented to define things
or did not exist
in the face of
the pressing urgency
of a need:
the need to abolish the idea,
the idea and its myth,
and to enthrone in its place
the thundering manifestation
of this explosive necessity:
to dilate the body of my internal night,
the internal nothingness
of my self
which is night,
but which is explosive affirmation
that there is
to make room for:
I do not know
I do know that
are nothing to me;
but there is a thing
which is something,
only one thing
which is something,
and which I feel
because it wants
TO GET OUT:
of my bodily
That I am suffocated;
and I do not know if it is an action
but in pressing me with questions this way
until the absence
of the question
they pressed me
until the idea of body
and the idea of being a body
and it was then that I felt the obscene.
Because they were pressing me
to my body
and to the very body
and it was then
that I exploded everything
because my body
can never be touched.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape
off that animalcule that itches him mortally,
and with god
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.
They you will teach him again to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.
The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology, by John Robinson
The body of sin and death.
But the body is not simply evil: it is made by god and for god.
Hope lies in the resurrection of the body.
Hope lies. Hope lies.
The hebrews had no use for the body. They had only flesh.
Bodies eating bodies eating bodies. We are all of us cannibals.
“The answer is quite simply that the Hebrews did not think about the body for its own sake. They were not interested in the body as such. All questions of the interrelation of its different parts and functions were entirely subordinated to the question of the relation of the whole man, as part of the solidarity of creation, to god.”
Unlike Christianity, which is a religion of spirit, Judaism is transferred and transcribed in the flesh. This is why Christianity insists so strongly on belief and doctrine, while Judaism is but a meticulous practice. In fact, Christianity is nothing but the process of taking the idea of god to its final conclusion; it is primarily an intellectual-teleological endeavor not unlike science. In Judaism, we attempt to unfold the practice, the performance toward its ultimate elaboration. The Christian asks: What must I believe? The Jew asks: what must I do? In Judaism, Hashem never denies the other gods; he simply forbids us from following them.
Who, in their wildest dreams, could have imagined that god could be found on earth? That god could be spoken to, felt, and killed. Of all the fantastic claims made by the world religions, this must be the craziest of all. Only the Christian was brave enough to point: “god is here.”
Credo quia absurdum.
When Paul (as Saul) is persecuting the Christian church, Christ appears to him and asks “why are you persecuting me?” Christ describes the entire Christian community as “me”; that is, as Christ himself. Paul takes this to be a vision of Christ’s resurrection. Christ does not say that punishing the church also punishes me. He says, “I am the church.” The church is my body. And you are hurting me. Paul takes this literally and converts into the church, thereby becoming Christ. He now meets Christ in meeting his fellow Christians.
“We find stressed in each account of Paul's conversion how the heart of the revelation which came to him was the fact that the Church he was trying to stamp out was no other than Jesus Christ Himself: 'Saul, Saul,' why do you persecute me? ... And I said, who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou is persecuting (Acts 26.14). The appearance on which Paul’s whole faith and apostleship was founded was the revelation of the resurrected body of Christ, not as an individual, but as the Christian Community. As Prof. Emile Mersch has put it, 'Since that day, when he saw Christ in the Church he was persecuting, it seems that he can no longer look into the eyes of a Christian without meeting there the gaze of Christ.’”
The hope of Christianity is nothing less than the embodiment of the complete fullness of God which already resides in Christ. This can never be true of isolated Christians, just as an isolated limb cannot support life. It requires a complete body, a community in Christ. That is, a community in life and in flesh.
“So, we who are many, are one body in Christ.”
“We are in Christ, not as a pebble in a box, but as a branch in a tree. For there is a real sense in which the tree is in the branch. We are in Christ in so far as His life is in us.”
It is after all undeniable that all flesh, human and otherwise, share in the self-same sanctity and horror that is life, that is existence.
Kasha: How is it possible for flesh to sin? Surely, only the mind (perhaps only the human mind) is capable of sinning. Isn’t the body always as pure as the day it entered the world?
Teretz: The mind, too, consists of flesh. (The Greeks were wrong to distinguish between the two.)
The postmodern body? Corporation.
The pride, product and expenditure of all human toil.
Body = the letter (not the spirit) of the law.
Body = the text itself, not its meaning, and certainly not its intention.
Body = the aleph and the bet
My body has parts.
While talking to a friend of mine who was formerly obese, he mentioned that I’m very lucky that I can still communicate with my body. For example, when my hunger is satisfied, I notice and can respond by stopping to eat. And when my body is hungry, I notice and can respond by eating. He told me that after spending decades ignoring and overriding his body’s signals, he no longer knows when he’s actually hungry or actually satisfied. Now, he’s forced to operate according to rules.
This reminded me of something that an old Greek artist recently told me. She said that in a relationship, the most important thing is not to forget who you are. For once you forget it, you may never be able to find your self again. She said that after getting divorced she spent years and years searching for herself. She knows that she’s there somewhere, but has yet to re-find herself.
Relationships, especially with one’s self, are built on trust. And trust, once broken, can be very very difficult to mend.
Bodies, by Susie Orbach
“The body is turning from being the means of production to the production itself.”
“What Freud showed us, first of all, was that a "natural" human sexuality was a misperception. Sexual desire is replete with conflict, longing and fantasy. In our epoch, I contend, the body itself has grown as complicated a place as sexuality was for Freud's. It too is shaped and misshaped by our earliest encounters with parents and carers, who also contain in themselves the forces and imperatives of our culture, with its panoply of injunctions about how the body should appear and be attended to. Their sense of their own bodily lacks and strengths, their hopes and fears about physicality, will play themselves out on the child. What I am finding new and troubling is the prevalence of distressed parental bodies inside the body experience of the adults I see. What is emerging now is a transgenerational transmission of anxious embodiment.”
Challenge: Building (and discovering and maintaining) a body in an age of rapid disembodiment
Over yom tov, I find myself retreating into my bedroom, away from my family, to fold back into my digital life of WhatsApp and Netflix.