8.27.2012

The Orgy of Human Being

So we have these bodies — this blood and liver, this spleen, elbow, and eye, these ridiculous toes, these labyrinthine intestines. And we have something else — a spirit? a soul? an energy? In any case, we have some invisible properties. To wit, when you meet people you get a vibe that exceeds their smell and look. Or, for that matter, when you wake you don't just feel your head, hair, and knees: you feel excited, nervous, happy.

Now, I believe that our bodies — that all bodies, organic and not — are essential parts of experience. They are not mere vehicles of our identity but constitutive of it. And yet I am no materialist. I do not believe identity begins and ends with the body. Nor am I an idealist. I do not believe identity is first and foremost invisible, as if we were first and foremost a soul.

If I must be something, I am a phenomenologist of a sort. This means I am enamored of experience, to what happens. And what happens everyday, everywhere, all the time is at once physical and non-physical, visible and invisible. I touch something and I feel something. The two combined create an experience, a phenomenon — ergo, phenomenology. 

My body is sensual; it can touch and be touched. And, at the same time, it has invisible properties — not sensual per se but still, oddly, palpable. Let's call these moods. We might choose a broader term such as affect or a more narrow term such as feelings or emotions. In any case, we are each at once visible and invisible.

These visible and invisible states — this touch and this feeling, this sensuality and this affect — are interconnected but according to an ever changing calculus. They do not necessarily correspond one-to-one. A piece of sand paper, for instance, does not necessarily have a rough mood. On the contrary, I find sandpaper rough to the touch but soothing to the spirit — such an elegant, simple tool that seeks nothing but smooth refinement.

Merleau-Ponty says the visible and invisible worlds are intertwined, marbled, a chiasmus, a reversible figure in which neither comes first, neither determines the other. They go together without becoming one.

This overthrows the tyranny of metaphysics — of concepts, souls, Forms, and ideas. This is not a hierarchy atop which sits some pure, unadulterated, disembodied truth. But the chiasmus does not affirm the rights of the material over and against its invisible brethren. No: it's a criss cross, a marbling, a braiding. These are the shapes of being, the architectures of becoming.

In these strange architectures, we need to (re)think, reconsider our approaches to a meaningful life. We shouldn't be thinking of how best to leave our bodies for we are tethered to them and it's beautiful. There is no transcendence as there's nowhere else to go. But nor do we affirm the pleasures of the body over and against ideals, ideas, identities.There is no dichotomy. Body and spirit are not opposed; they are not flip sides of a coin. Our limbs and feelings, our tissues and moods, are braided, running with, in, over, and through each other.

What makes me me and you you? Not a soul or spirit but this particular inflection of the world, of the cosmic flow: what makes you you is how you take in the world and play it back in action, words, sweat, piss, mood, disease, laughter. Just as each tree inflects the wind just so, we inflect the winds of the universe. We are a complex system of functions, a style, a way of going, of distributing things. As we interact with the world and the world interacts back, we shape the world. But this is not quite right as we are part of the world: I am this part, you are that part, that tree is its part, that screen its, and so on.

What, then, of our so-called spirit? Forget your spirit. And forget your body. Because, no duh, the two are intertwined: eat certain foods and you not only shit funny, you feel funny. Drugs are the most acute example but it's true of everything we take in — air, drink, nutrients, art, love, sex, dreams, ideas, odor. To consider our well being demands considering our visible and invisible selves at the same time, in the same breath.

We are not body or soul. We are a mishmash. We are visible and invisible, organic and inorganic,  streaming and swirling in an emergent calculus. We don't live in a house of being. There is no nation of identity with a clear executive branch. We are a symphony of visible and invisible bodies and forces moving in infinitely complex harmonies, equally resonant and dissonant — a veritable orgy of being (pace C Lynsey).

2 comments:

Linz said...

Reading this, I'm so grateful that there's a word for "palpable" and a word for "sensual," and that the two are so slightly, and so crucially, different. It feels like those words were invented just for this post.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Palpable is the sexiest word. And the distinction between sensual and palpable is, sexy, too -- sensually and palpably.