Monday, May 19, 2014

Muscle, skin, bones

It is a privileged body who thinks the mind separable from the weight of flesh.

For a lot of us, our bodies are not swamps of lust and preoccupation with the desiring of others. They are places of pain, sharp and searing or dull and chronic. The joints scrape and crack. The skin leaks pus and weeps clear. The muscle spasms or locks. The teeth split or squish. The lungs squeeze or fail to inflate. The anus leaks or folds. Life is failure and misery.

It is impossible to think clearly when you are in pain and in denial about it. So, you have to let yourself think and reflect upon the pain, and it becomes consuming and overpowering. It breaks you down, sharply or piece-by-piece. You are no longer yourself. You are a body in pain.

It forces a mind to recognize submission, and it challenges the ego to let go.

People who go into philosophy with able bodies are tempted to think of their minds as more primary than their bodies. The bodies trick the mind. The bodies tempt the mind. The bodies distort the reality of the world for the mind. The mind is always there for itself. The body was there before the mind, but despite this, the lived experience of the mind will always be its own reality for itself as it is affected by the body. Even when the mind conceives itself as effected by the body, nevertheless the mind will still constrain even that ounce of submission by still thinking the subjectivity of the mind is something, somehow, non-identical with the body. Even when we permit ourselves to say the mind and the self within its expression are illusions, we still say we are the illusions; we still think of ourselves as making that statement. Having an able body means you are more free to live within your mind.

This is not the case for people who feel the pain and the distance of their bodies.



When we feel ourselves, we are inseparable from the pain. We are defined by the pain. We are not at war with our bodies. We know our body is who we are, as someone in pain, as someone constituted from the experiencing of pain. It is not my own thinking that signals for me my reality. It is my bleeding, my weeping, my aching, my creaking, my bubble inside my joint, my spasmodic rhythm inside my muscle, my unsettled cramp in my abdomen, my tingling skin on the shoulders as I pee, my nodding eyelids—therefore, I exist. I exist through the reality of undeniable pain. Though I may be feeling an illusion of pain, I might be actually completely really experiencing pleasure (!), nevertheless I am a feeling thing.

But people who live with chronic or acute pain intimately do not always live a life in submission. This is not what I am saying, though. I am saying such people who face submission can choose to resist and choose authentic denial—we are just all faced in the pain with the life of submission as a choice differently from those who approach the choice at a higher level of their understanding of self. A life in an able body has only the choice of who to be beyond their filtration of the experiences of their body. That is, a person whose body is for them a perfectly acceptable extension of will only experiences the resistance of being in those moments of existing outside of their body. Sometimes, they do face the limits of the body: when it is too aroused, too tired, too bored, too energized, too awkward, too ... Sometimes they elude the body and go straight to the resistance of the will against itself: when they doubt themselves, doubt their own morals, doubt their own reasoning, doubt their own honesty, doubt their own ... But, for the most part, the resistance of the body is swamped by the constant resistance of the world beyond their extension of will. All that outside one's own control is so much more emotionally demanding than what's going on within those things supposedly within one's control.

Pain reminds the soul of its limitations. It resists the will. The weakness of the flesh is stronger than the will of the spirit, the soul, the mind. People who live without constant reminders of pain say things such as "The only limits are what your mind is capable of dreaming" or "The only one stopping you is you." People who live with constant reminders of pain say things such as "Fuck off and leave me alone with all that shit." When the body is no longer an extension of will, alienation from the body demands a response. Either one accepts the loss of the body as an extension of will or one attempts greater control of the body. This is not a simple decision. It is not even one decision, once for all time. As you see, pain is constant in its reminder, pervasive in its challenges, and returns often despite our choices. There are several choices hidden behind the dilemma of accepting the loss or controlling the body. Here are a few.

1. Accept the loss: destroy the body. This manifests itself from the immediate case of suicide to the more long-term forms of intentionally using drugs, alcohol, sex, religion to destroy the body. The idea is to stop prolonging the suffering; it is deep self-loathing.
2. Accept the loss: accept the body. This manifests itself as pacifism and occasionally transcendental forms of speaking about the body. The idea is to prepare the self for its own termination; it is deep self-evacuation.
3. Control the body: destroy the body. This manifests itself from the standpoint of pushing through the pain, overcoming the body by working out, disciplining the body, cutting, ritual forms of disciplining bodies (bdsm, prayer, religious flagellation). The idea is to mitigate and exhaust the power of the body; it is deep self-disciplining.
4. Control the body: control the body. This manifests itself as medicalizing the illness, doctoring and drugging the pain through management techniques, surveillance of all pain conditions and constant monitoring of rates, pressures, counts, quantified symptoms. "What is your stool scale rating today?" The idea is to mitigate the uncertainty of the body; it is deep self-regulation.

(Notice the larger patterns, also, for when the 'head' of the political body—its mind and its will—begins to think it is no longer capable of extending its will through the body.)

Sometimes we choose to mix these. Sometimes they are necessary in one's dialectic: for example, one might choose 3, then choose 1, then finally choose 2. One might choose 4, then choose 2. One might choose 3 and never leave. One might choose 2, then choose 4. There is a story for every switch.

Some (sub)cultures are easily understood on this model. Japanese culture, for example, contains a dominant sense of 3 and 2. This produces on the one hand the sensibility of learning to evacuate the self for the larger collectives, since the body and the self stand in relation to the collective in the mode of resistance. This resistance must be addressed by different means, sometimes in the form of activities designed to increase the burdens and requirements upon one's self (for instance, the intricacies of the tea ceremony, the network of familial and bureaucratic social relations obligating respect, the additional cellulite mass on the sumo wrestler) and other times in the form of activities designed to facilitate the 'endurance challenge' mode of disciplining the will (for instance, mindfulness meditation, climbing a mountain to reach the temple, celebrating the aging and the oldest). I am speaking in generalities, of course, but the point is these modes of operating towards resistance are all contingent. There is no reason beyond people's accumulated choices why those of us who see this as a life in pain choose to move through these responses in any pattern.

Perhaps there are better, more accurate models. There are many worse. It may be the universality of the model is too much of a good thing, and it needs more opportunities to go wrong. It does give me, though, some conceptual freedom to rethink why certain people and ideas and cultures more attractive to me at some points than others, and through such rethinking develop better sense of what's going on between what's happening with my body, the body of my lover, the body of our family with one another, the bodies of which we are thinking members, those bodies comprising the bodies of which we are thinking members.

I do not get along with people who control bodies. But I do get along with some people who destroy bodies, who are doing so because they are, perhaps, on the way to learning dialectically to accept bodies. If all they are about is destruction of bodies, then I absolutely reject them. Obviously, since the discriminating condition has not obtained, then I am caught forever asking "What is their reason for destroying the body?" and if I will ever know this for sure. But I always get along with people who accept bodies. For a person in pain, choice 2 is the closest one has to what it must be like for those whose bodies are extensions of their will to desire the sharing of their bodies with other bodies. But, I recognize the temptation in choice 4. Science and medicine really do work because bodies really are open to analysis and technological manipulation. And there are demonstrated consequences to this manipulation: it appears to work towards fulfilling distinct ends. I am, after all, writing this on a product of controlling the body. The temptation is clear, and so many accept it as a life philosophy. Yet, more and more I see the latest thingimajig or doowackerpottle, no matter how sleek or HD resolution or killerappable it is, is not actually solving the deeper questions invoked by the existence of the last knickknackeral, the one that accidentally killed thousands of people out of the billions we have thanks to the whipdonglerong that came before that. It's not just philosophy that creates the questions for which it acts as the only therapeutic resource; it's also engineering that creates the products for which it acts as the only rehabilitating resource.

And that's exactly what all of this post is about. We are always looking to how we fit in this world, to see how we fit inside it, how it fits inside us. When the body is not even a good fit for us, we are not so likely to think about how everything is an illusion, how everything just needs to be taken apart and rebuilt to fit the dream of it all within the mind.

And, to go further, it may even be that those for whom the body is not even a good audience learn how to be the best dreamers, the best story-tellers, the best fabulists, because they are tempted all the more to find some way of escaping even the sound of their own encasing, threatening body. Or, if not escape it, learn to embrace it through love.


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