Last updated: 23 December 1998
The very people who burst with proofs of exuberant vitality could
easily be taken for prepared corpses, from whom the news of their not-quite-successful
decease has been withheld for reasons of population policy. Underlying
the prevalent health is death. All the movements of health resemble the
reflex-movements of beings whose hearts have stopped beating.
Running in the street conveys an impression of terror. The victim's
fall is already mimed in his attempt to escape it. The position of the
head, trying to hold itself up, is that of a drowning man, and the straining
face grimaces as if under torture. He has to look ahead, can hardly glance
back without stumbling, as if treading the shadow of a foe whose features
freeze the limbs. Once people ran from dangers that were too desperate
to turn and face, and someone running after a bus unwittingly bears witness
to past terror. Traffic regulations no longer need allow for wild animals,
but they have not pacified running. It estranges us from bourgeois walking.
The truth becomes visible that something is amiss with security, that the
unleashed powers of life, be they mere vehicles, have to be escaped. The
body's habituation to walking as normal stems from the good old days. It
was the bourgeois form of locomotion: physical demythologization, free
of the spell of hieratic pacing, roofless wandering, breathless flight.
Human dignity insisted on the right to walk, a rhythm not extorted from
the body by command or terror. The walk, the stroll, were private ways
of passing time, the heritage of the feudal promenade in the nineteenth
On the one hand, man is a body, in the same way that this may be
said of every other animal organism. On the other hand, man has a body.
That is, man experiences himself as an entity that is not identical with
his body, but that, on the contrary, has that body at its disposal. In
other words, man's experience of himself always hovers in a balance between
being and having a body, a balance that must be redressed again and again.
The human organism is thus still developing biologically while already
standing in a relationship to its environmont. In other words, the process
of becoming man takes place in an interrelationship with an environment.
(...) From the moment of birth, man's organismic development, and indeed
a large part of his biological being as such, are subjected to continuing
socially determined interference.
So the sick man has the feeling not that he lacks something but that
he has too much of something. His discomfort, as something which is hanging
around him and superfluous, has to go; pain is proud flesh. He dreams of
the body which knows how to keep comfortably quiet again.
So hardly any of the ills of the body are removed when it is seen
in isolation. That is why all improvers of our situation who merely concentrate
on health are so petit-bourgeois and odd, the raw fruit and vegetable brigade,
the passionate herbivores, or even those who practise special breathing
techniques. All this is a mockery compared with solid misery, compared
with diseases which are produced not by weak flesh but by powerful hunger,
not by faulty breathing but by dust, smoke, and lead. Of course there are
people who breathe correctly, who combine a pleasant self-assurance with
well-ventilated lungs and an upright torso which is flexible to a ripe
old age. But it remains a prerequisite that these people have money; which
is more beneficial for a stooped posture than the art of breathing.
Only in his brain is man the most highly developed living organism,
not in other organic capabilities however.
Exercise of the body without the mind ultimately meant being cannonfodder,
and thugs beforehand.
The military mind has one aim, and that is to make soldiers react
as mechanically as possible. They want the same predictability in a man
as they do in a telephone or a machine gun, and they train their soldiers
to act as a unit, not as individuals.
The body is a cultural object. As our most immediate natural symbol
it provides us with a powerful medium through which we interpret and give
expression to our individual and social experience. 'Human nature', the
category of the inevitable (and often the desirable), finds its truth in
the body. We live within a nature/culture opposition and the 'natural body'
confirms our place within a more 'authentic' order. It is a vital foundation
upon which behavior and values are predicated. Conversely, as a symbol
of nature the body must be contained and transformed by culture. We invest
the body with culture, thereby distinguishing ourselves from the rest of
nature. Moreover, our biological being, always mediated by culture, delimits
many of our most important social roles. It defines us in relation to others
in kinship, sex, age groups, and larger social units such as race or caste.
Bodily states are key markers in which are invested the social definitions
of the self - not only regarding role, but normality and abnormality. The
body also supplies a universally experienced model of aliving and dynamic
unit, an organic whole, a prototype from which we can draw in our attempts
to explain and give meaning to larger social units and experiences. It
is our richest source for metonymy and metaphor.
Everything is reduced to what's physical in the end, because it's
the filth inside people's minds that creates all the evil. What is a body,
anyway? I suppose you've got to abuse your body to understand it. If you're
not prepared to humiliate yourself in order to give somebody else a moment's
pleasure, I don't believe that you've actually lived.
... there is a great difference between the mind and the body, inasmuch
as the body is by its very nature always divisible, while the mind is utterly
indivisable. For when I consider the mind, or myself in so far as I am
merely a thinking thing, I am unable to distinguish any parts within myself;
I understand myself to be something quite single and complete. Although
the whole mind seems to be united to the whole body, I recognize that if
a foot or arm or any other part of the body is cut off, nothing has thereby
been taken away from the mind. (...)
... regard this body as a machine which, having been made by the
hand of God, is incomparably better ordered than any machine that can be
devised by man, and contains in itself movements more wonderful than those
in any machine.
I am thinking, therefore I exist. (...) I was a substance whose whole
essence or nature is solely to think, and which does not require any place,
or depend on any material thing, in order to exist. Accordingly this 'I'
- that is, the soul by which I am what I am - is entirely distinct from
the body, and indeed is easier to know than the body, and would not fail
to be whatever it is, even if the body did not exist.
Hence reason also demands that, since our thoughts cannot all be
true because we are not wholly perfect, what truth they do possess must
inevitably be found in the thoughts we have when awake, rather than in
Even those who have the weakest souls could acquire absolute mastery
over all their passions if we employed sufficient ingenuity in training
and guiding them.
It is to the body alone that we should attribute everything that
can be observed in us to oppose our reason.
People can try to eat the correct things, take the correct amount
of exercise, worry less and so forth. But in the end fate or destiny is
seen as taking its toll. People die, to use a commonly used phrase, 'when
their number's up'.
Green consumerism generally, and 'healthy' products and lifestyles
in particular, contain quite precise notions about how an individual should
consider his or her well-being. Not only is the market-place celebrated
but an understanding of the 'natural body' itself becomes fetishised and
idolised. Normality seems to have wholly dispensed with bodily illness
and pain. Perfection is the norm, and one that can be gained through acquiring
the correct products and perfecting the body.
For the fact is that organisms are creative and make their environments
in such a way as to become virtually part of it themselves. But at the
same time environments (nature and other people) are active in the making
of organisms. In many respects each one of these elements, organism and
environment, form part of one another.
Civilization merely develops man's capacity for a greater variety
of sensations, and ... absolutely nothing else.
Human life is now molded to a large extent by the changes that man
has brought about in his external environment and by his attempts at controlling
body and soul.
Whatever his inhibitions and tastes, Western man believes in the
natural holiness of seminudism and raw vegetable juice, because these have
become for him symbols of unadultered nature.
There is an unbroken continuum from the wisdom of the body to the
wisdom of the mind, from the wisdom of the individual to the wisdom of
An individual's body is the one area in his experiential field which
uniquely belongs to him and is the corporeal representation of his "base
of operations" in the world.
For men to focus on controlling women's reproduction to solve a society's
problems seems nothing short of mad or, at best, superstitious. But men's
superstition or insanity has real and dire consequences for the women who
are its object. And states, too, home in on women's bodies, perhaps to
create the illusion that men are in control of uncontrollable forces. Indeed,
almost all governments try to control women's bodies and regulate their
appearance in some way.
The real motivation of the campaign to criminalize abortion is to
establish the principles that women's bodies belong to the state and that
women bear the responsibility for sex.
The body is thus not simply an 'entity', but is experienced as a
practical mode of coping with external situations and events.
Both life-planning and the adoption of lifestyle options become (in
principle) integrated with bodily regimes. It would be quite short-sighted
to see this phenomenon only in terms of changing ideals of bodily appearance
(such as slimness or youthfulness), or as solely brought about by the commodifying
influence of advertising. We become responsible for the design of our own
bodies, and in a certain sense noted above are forced to do so the more
post-traditional the social contexts in which we move.
Regimes are modes of self-discipline, but are not solely constituted
by the orderings of convention in day-to-day life; they are personal habits,
organised in some part according to social conventions, but also formed
by personal inclinations and dispositions.
The body cannot be any longer merely 'accepted', fed and adorned
according to traditional ritual; it becomes a core part of the reflexive
project of self-identity. A continuing concern with bodily development
in relation to a risk culture is thus an intrinsic part of modern social
behaviour. As was stressed earlier, although modes of deployment of the
body have to be developed from a diversity of lifestyle options, deciding
between alternatives is not itself an option but an inherent element of
the construction of self-identity. Life-planning in respect of the body
is hence not necessarily narcissistic, but a normal part of post-traditional
social environments. Like other aspects of the reflexivity of self-identity,
body-planning is more often an engagement with the outside world than a
defensive withdrawal from it.
The body is in some sense perennially at risk. The possibility of
bodily injury is ever-present, even in the most familiar of surroundings.
The body is an object in which we are all privileged, or doomed,
to dwell, the source of feelings of well-being and pleasure, but also the
site of illnesses and strains. (...) [I]t is an action-system, a mode of
praxis, and its practical immersion in the interactions of day-to-day life
is an essential part of the sustaining of a coherent sense of self-identity.
... while infants will sync with the human voice regardless of language,
they later become habituated to the rhythms of their own language and culture
Viewing movies in very slow motion, looking for synchrony, one realizes
that what we know as dance is really a slowed-down, stylized version of
what human beings do whenever they interact.
Each culture has its own characteristic manner of locomotion, sitting,
standing, reclining, and gesturing.
1. The way in which people handle synchrony is both rooted in biology
(bio-basic) and modified by culture.
1. To be conscious is essentially to have sensations: that is, to
have affect-laden mental representations of something happening here and
now to me.
We have two pieces of evidence (perhaps just two) to go on. The first
is the fact that in human beings there is, as we noted, an association
between the 'modality' of a sensation and the bodily location at which
the sensation is felt to occur; so that people typically have visual sensations
with the retina, olfactory sensations with the nasal mucosa, tactile sensations
with the skin, and so on. The second is the fact that, even today in modern
human beings, there is still at least a vestigial association between the
'submodal quality' of a sensation and the way the stimulus is evaluated
at an affective level: so that within the visual modality red light is
typically exciting, blue light claming; within the tactile modality itches
are irritating, tickles pleasurable; within the gustatory modality sweet
tastes are appetitive, rotten tastes revolting, and so on.
Reproductive choice is not some trendy item to toss or keep around
the house. If you cannot get an education or a job, if you cannot choose
what will or will not happen with your own body, then what freedom do you
... if your heart and your honest body can be controlled by the state,
or controlled by community taboo, are you not then, and in that case, no
more than a slave ruled by outside force?
Instead of changing our mechanistic workplaces to make them safer
and more conducive to the human body, we can screen, monitor, or change
the bodies of workers so that they better fit the modern workplace.
We are witnessing nothing less than a commercial invasion into our
blood, organs, and fetuses, our gametes and children, our genes and cells.
As body parts and materials are sold and patented, manipulated and engineered,
we also are seeing an unprecedented change in many of our most basic social
and legal definitions. Traditional understandings of life, birth, disease,
death, mother, father, and person begin to waver and then fall.
Our current behavior toward the body, as toward most of the natural
world, is governed by the principle of efficiency. We see our bodies as
biological machines that are to be used efficiently and effectively. Whether
in labor or in medicine, the code is clear: Minimum input for maximum output
in minimum time. This appears sensible. Who, after all, is opposed to efficiency?
... we are now in the early stages of adding the human body, its
parts and processes, to the list of commodities that are subject to the
laws of supply, demand, and price. The body is not a commodity. It is not
a manufactured product intended for consumption. However, just as the new
techniques in industrial technology led to the commodification of noncommodities
such as human work and nature, the new techniques in biotechnology, including
transplantation, reproductive technology, and genetic engineering, are
now leading to the commodification of the body.
We live equally out of our bodies and out of our minds.
A man who says that men are machines may be a great scientist. A
man who says he is a machine is 'depersonalized' in psychiatric jargon.
Man as seen as an organism or man as seen as a person discloses different
aspects of the human reality to the investigator. Both are quite possible
methodologically but one must be alert to the possible occasion for confusion.
The embodied person has a sense of being flesh and blood and bones,
of being biologically alive and real: he knows himself to be substantial.
To the extent that he is thoroughly 'in' his body, he is likely to have
a sense of personal continuity in time. He will experience himself as subject
to the dangers that threaten his body, the dangers of attack, mutilation,
disease, decay, and death. He is implicated in bodily desire, and the gratifications
and frustrations of the body. The individual thus has as his starting-point
an experience of his body as a base from which he can be a person with
other human beings.
I, for instance, regard any particular man as finite, as one who
has had a beginning and who will have an end. He has been born, and he
is going to die. In the meantime, he has a body that roots him to this
time and this place.
Being embodied as such is no insurance against feelings of hopelessness
or meaningslessness. Beyond his body, he still has to know who he is.
The individual, then, may experience his own being as real, alive,
whole; as differentiated from the rest of the world in ordinary circumstances
so clearly that his identity and autonomy are never in question; as a continuum
in time; as having an inner consistency, substantiality, genuineness, and
worth; as spatially co-extensive with the body; and, usually, as having
begun in or around birth and liable to extinction with death. He thus has
a firm core of ontological security.
No longer is the body a temple to be worshipped as the house of God;
it has become a commodified and regulated object that must be strictly
monitored by its owner to prevent lapses into health-threatening behaviors
as identified by risk discourse. For those with the socioeconomic resources
to indulge in risk modification, this discourse may supply the advantages
of a new religion; for others, this discourse has the potential to create
anxiety and guilt, to promote hopelessness and fear of the future.
The organism is thus being preconditioned for the spontaneous acceptance
of what is offered. Inasmuch as the greater liberty involves a contraction
rather than extension and development of instinctual needs, it works for
rather than against the status quo of general repression - one might speak
of "institutionalized desublimation". The latter appears to be
a vital factor in the making of the authoritarian personality of our time.
Technological rationality reveals its political character as it becomes
the great vehicle of better domination, creating a truely totalitarian
universe in which society and nature, mind and body are kept in a state
of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.
It is certain that in all actual cases of valuable affection, the
bodily expressions of character, whether by looks, by words, or by actions,
do form a part of the object towards which the affection is felt, and that
the fact of their inclusion appears to heighten the value of the whole
Why should people be expected to think about the meaning of life
merely because they happen to be ill? That is just the time when there
is no time to think about such things, because the body is so greedy for
I find it unbearable to need a body in order to exist.
The techniques of the body can and should be approached from a triple
perspective - appreciating not only that the body possesses all three of
these dimensions but more importantly that there is in the medium of the
human body a unique inter-relation- ship of the physical, the social and
the individual. (...) The physical object of the human body has a special
role as a common ground of overlap between collective-social and individual-psy-
chological levels of experience. It is ill-considered to argue in support
of either a physiological or a psychological or a sociological approach.
Most of us consist of two separated parts, trying desperately to
bring themselves together into an integrated soma, where the distinctions
between mind and body, feelings and intellect, would be obliterated.
... the body, normally, is never in question: our bodies are beyond
question, or perhaps beneath question - they are simply, unquestionably,
there. This unquestionability of the body, is, for Wittgenstein, the start
and basis of all knowledge and certainty.
Let's face it, the human body is like a condominium apartment. The
thing that keeps you really enjoying it is the maintenance. There's a tremendous
amount of daily, weekly, monthly and yearly work that has to be done. From
showering to open heart surgery, we're always doing something to ourselves.
If your body was a used car, you wouldn't buy it.
Even more than comparing society to a family, comparing it to a body
makes an authoritarian ordering of society seem inevitable, immutable.
His view of time, and of change, has become that of most elderly
people: he hates change, since for him - for his body - any change is for
the worse. And if there is to be change, then he wants it to happen quickly,
so it does not use up too much of the time remaining to him.
The point is to get a good rhythm, to make it mindless, almost as
a daydream. To walk like breathing. To make it what the body wants, what
the air wants, what time wants.
A man never forgets his body the way a woman does, because a man
is pushing his body, a part of his body, forward, to make the act of love
happen. He brings the jut of his body into the act of love, then takes
it back, when it has had its way.
How boring just to be a body.
It is the action of bodies on bodies, not bodies on minds, which
the crowd enjoys.
The body is the most proximate and immediate feature of my social
self, a necessary feature of my social location and of my personal enselfment
and at the same time an aspect of my personal alienation in the natural
Soul and body, body and soul - how mysterious they were! There was
animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The
senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who could say where
the fleshly impulse ceased, or the physical impulse began?
The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode
The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
Where our language suggests a body and there is none: there, we should
like to say, is a spirit.
Your body is not the real you, it's just the meat you live in. I
like that: it means that the real me doesn't really have a humongous butt.
A man's body has two organs that are alike in being both the busiest
and the most powerful. One is his tongue, and the other is his penis. He
uses the tongue to conquer other men and to win their approval - either
to rally men behind him or to show off as he follows someone else. He uses
his penis to conquer women. He begins by giving the sweetest of names to
what is basically nothing but sheer possession. And he ends by saying that
love-making is the necessary consequence of "love".
Automation meant that jobs which had once allowed them to use their
bodily presence in the service of interpersonal exchange and collaboration
now required their bodily presence in the service of routine interaction
with a machine. Job that had once required their voices now insisted they
be mute. Jobs that had been able to utilize at least some small measure
of their personhood now emphasized their least individually differentiated
and most starkly animal capacities. They had been disinherited from the
management process and driven into the confines of their individual body
space. As a result, the employees in each office became increasingly engulfed
in the immediate sensations of physical discomfort.
In diminishing the role of the worker's body in the labor process,
industrial technology has also tended to diminish the importance of the
worker. In creating jobs that require less human effort, industrial technology
has also been used to create jobs that require less human talent. In creating
jobs that demand less of the body, industrial production has also tended
to create jobs that give less to the body, in terms of opportunities to
accrue knowledge on the production process.
Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001