Sam’s intro to body hermeneutics as a method

This is the beginning of the introduction to Chapter 4 of Sam Mallin’s “Body on My Mind”. He talks quite a bit about Husserl, which might not be too helpful if one doesn’t have a clue about Husserl, or not? Anyway, here it is:

<Ice Age I said: A general quality of human existence, like a concept in the mind…. Kind of an indigenous way, like a spirituous spirit, breath and wind-like. I thought that it was like my commitment to philosophy, L.’s to her children, Levin’s commitment to the life of the intellectual, operatic and broad. I do body philosophy. Thought chased…and now body hermeneutics. >

I call my method a trick because any method should be just a way to get started. Not even scientific methods, engineering methods, carry through the process from start to end, not even close. Yes, yes we know that it takes ‘creativity’ all along the way, that black box of so many theories of discovery, from hypothesis, to creating simple experiments, to analyzing the outcome… Although there is that faith in absolute cognition, “brain-power”, we all know somehow it can’t do it all even in science or mathematics.

Body hermeneutics is a trick for helping us think about existence, about existing-thought and the existing world, including past and future ones. It gets us started by getting us in touch with philosophically interesting phenomena. [36] It then helps us keep them alive in their phenomenally, that is, their capacity to be an experience that grips us but that we also have to try to gather in.

The first step of any phenomena-logical treatment is to “bracket”, “put out of action”, “suspend”, or “reduce away” the so-called “natural attitude”. These are all Husserl’s terms, fine terms once one gets what they are attempting to name. Thinking along with the procedures of body hermeneutics, if they accomplish anything, manage to get us well underway to reducing away the natural attitude. What’s that? It’s an attitude we take up as soon as we start thinking about things, a kind of bad habit that contains most of the theoretical perspectives of our time. Yes, the natural attitude is overfull with intellectual habits, and these are mostly those of our science and the modernist (and post-modernist) metaphysics that sustain it. Our natural attitude for example, is Cartesian, seeing us as subjects that rule everything else as objects; is Platonic in believing that ideas construct this objective reality; Hobbesian, for it assumes an egoist psychology that has all these self-seeking and isolated subjects potentially at war; Humean in assuming that all we encounter are our own experiences and our representations rather than what they are ‘of’. Most of all, the natural attitude is hyper-rationalist and intellectualist or just neuro-psychological. It believes habitually that all structure, order, institution, control, insight and creation come from cognition, or as we are starting to say in our new abyssal language, the brain. Yes, it is also religious in the bad Statist sense of a social order that domesticates the sacred as well, and such religion is a mere aid and accomplice to this cognitive culture, the place too where the modernist soul is also said to dwell. God afterall is the rational (cognized) super-mind that thinks the universe into existence, observes it from on high, lays down rational natural laws that only reason can find, and is the source of an ultimately discoverable rational ethics – even if that ethics becomes a capitalist-economic one, as rational as economic science.

How does one get out of such culturally dominant perspectives? Husserl thought we could do it quite thoroughly. The level we would then attain would be that of the lived world rather than the world we thought we were living (Descartes’ thought of… life or of world), the “life world”. This “life world” is the world we live in rather than just think our way through; the world that involves all sides of our existence, yes, like the four regions and their endless webs of interchange and separation. The life world is full of “irrationalities” as well as “rationalities”, falsehoods and truths, hypocrisies and sincerities, hates and loves, children and the elderly, dogs and cats, birds and trees… Yet, strangely enough Husserl wanted to do still another kind of reduction on life’s world so that he could get beneath it to its underlying structures. What was odd was that he thought, thought that these structures were cognitive and were best discovered through cognition, thought, the mind… And, of course, these structures were as clear and distinct as ideas or representations, “mental objects”, kind of like mathematics for a mathematician, which Husserl was.

Most of all, he wanted to find the source of these structures, what upheld them, constituted them, oversaw them. He wanted to describe most of all a fourth level, where we could understand the structure of these structures, that is, by studying a kind of hypothetical thing called “the transcendental ego”. He sought for an ego that would lay out the rules, ways and means for us to transcend ourselves… in order to have a knowledge of things and others themselves.

I know that giving merely a page to Husserl’s four reductions is a simplification and he had many different versions of it beside. The most important point for us is to try to understand how the existential phenomenologists, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, modified this methodological procedure. First of all, they denied that one could even ‘half-way’ accomplish the first reduction, or completely do away with our natural theoretical attitudes. Nonetheless, one had to indeed constantly work at criticizing and loosening the grip of these theory-laden habitual ways of thinking out reality or ourselves… One can never hope to escape one’s culture or metaphysics even halfway Heidegger kept telling us. The first reduction is perpetual, “perpetual revolution” the Maoist-inclined phenomenologists, like Sartre, loved to point out.

They were more interested in describing the life world, which appeared almost in inverse proportion to the presence of the natural attitude and its correlative ‘common sense’ world. Some phenomenologists like Scheler and definitely the great phenomenologist of the social sciences, Schutz, were happy just describing this life world. So much good criticism of philosophy, the sciences and social institutions can be accomplished just by describing the ways we live in the ‘everyday’ world. Hermeneutics especially is aware of the feedback loop between describing the life world and bracketing the common sense one.

Yet, Schutz and Scheler, and certainly Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, were also interested in the structures of the life world, as was Husserl but, unlike Husserl, found that they were not primarily cognitive structures. The structures of the lived world and its “attitude” (liv-ing life or exist-ing) are living structures, structures that are more like living things, organic, growing, dying, mating or struggling. They are the kinds of indeterminate, open-textured, porous structures we have been trying to describe as characteristic of bodily knowledge. Is the structure of these structures, the life of living, “existence” or “the body”, a different kind of “transcendental ego”? I that what being (Sein) was for the early Heidegger?

Still, I think it’s fair to say, the main point of all existential methods is to move through these four levels of reduction first named by Husserl if only in a rough and ready way, sometimes wrestling just at the surface, sometimes luckily sliding into a deeper level but, most often, juggling all four levels of reduction and undulating with them all. Each feeds back on the other. Hermeneutics loves this deepening cycling movement, which goes as deep as one is able at the moment into the dark and ultimately concealed depths, then always having to bob by back to the top and absorb what one has learnt in the terms of the surface, the natural attitude and life world. Afterall, isn’t it the case that we have to live out and experience any new structure we managed to sense at those deeper levels? Don’t we have to think them, make them relevant to the theories that control and too often smother us in the natural attitude?

Although we can’t really sharply distinguish the reduction’s levels or count them, body hermeneutics does hermeneutics of all four levels by describing how the body is the locale of the natural attitude, lived world and any structure. It uses the body to do hermeneutics of… anything; but, in another sense, it constantly works at describing the correlative of everything, the body. We know that the phrase is purposely ambiguous, doubled or equivocal, between being a hermeneutics of the body and a bodily way of doing hermeneutics.

[36]  Philosophical in broadest sense, as we shall explain in the next section.


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