Body hermeneutics is a phenomenological method that describes and reflects on the lived body in a concrete situation dealing with everyday concerns, institutions, people, nature, art. The particular strength of body hermeneutics is that it does not limit the method to working exclusively in cognitive sphere, but develops its insights with the help of different “regions” of lived body, that is, perceptual, motor-practical, social-affective, cognitive. Body hermeneutics describes how lived body responds to a concrete situation through its different “regions”.
Similarly to traditional textual hermeneutics, the goal of the method is to describe, to clarify, to articulate and to elucidate what one is working on. However, both the “toolbox” and the “field” to which the method can be applied are much broader. Body hermeneutics is carried out by the whole body, that is, not only by cognition, but also by other “faculties” of the body, like emotions, sense perception, motility, and so on. At the same time, body hermeneutics can be applied not only to texts, usually it is applied to all kinds of artworks, or even to everyday situations in which we constantly find ourselves.
While doing body hermeneutics of a situation or an artwork, we try to purposely and systematically feel it out, paying attention to the different aspects of our body, or as Mallin calls them, following Merleau-Ponty, “bodily regions” – sense perception, motor-practical region, social-affective, and cognitive. When we describe an artwork or a situation, we pay attention to how it attunes different “sides” of our body, how it makes us move, or feel, how our eyes see the colors and shapes in it, how it changes the space, what emotions it brings out in us, what it calls for in terms of practice and action, how we breathe, and so on. And so we “circle” describing different aspects of being in touch with that on what we work. Just as with traditional “textual” hermeneutics, we do not merely make the same circle over and over again, but somehow we go deeper, our descriptions become sharper, different sides and aspects start confirming each other, the things we are describing become fuller and thicker. They show themselves better than before, using Heidegger’s term, they become “nearer”. We start feeling and understanding them better than before, we learn something about them, about how to be with them, and about ourselves too.
Body hermeneutics is definitely a bodily “exercise”, and yet at the same time it is always carried out within language and by means of a language. It always remains hermeneutics, and as such it has the purpose to articulate, clarify and develop our concepts, our cognitive habits, our ways of cognitively understanding phenomena by naming and describing them. When doing body hermeneutics, we bring our (often so abstract) concepts to meet things, artworks, and situations to which they are supposed to relate. In working out this relationship between the name and the named, between the surface and layers of depth, between the abstract and the rich ambiguity, between cognition and flesh, between concepts and phenomena contained in and brought out by things and situations, the concepts become less and less abstract. They become deeper and fuller, more accurate and precise in some ways, yet thicker and livelier in others. The concepts become in touch with phenomenal reality, they grow and stretch, focus and sharpen, they adapt and develop, they acquire an ability to bring out (shine with) evidence and truth (both understood phenomenologically as Evidenz and aletheia).