Natasha Tamruchi. The Secret Life of Bodies
Our relationship with our body remains fairly unclear. Contrary to all expectations, rapidly growing knowledge of how a human body works makes it all the more difficult to answer the simple question of what we mean when we say "I". Which part of that I can our bodies claim? How small (or large) a part? None would say in their right mind: My body is myself or I am my body. Logically this should mean that "my body" is definitely not my "I".
However, others recognize me as myself through the mediation of my body. It is my "I's" representative in the outside world, my special envoy carrying the message of my uniqueness. My body has to impress itself on other's memories and thus create an image that will reside there and represent me in my absence.
My body is not I. My body represents me to others. There seems to be an obvious contradiction. How can it be reconciled?
Charged with this important representative function, will the body humbly content itself with the role of a silent porter of thoughts? We'd want it to, wouldn't we?
Basically the question is where the domain of the mind ends (all of its hidden subterranean realms included) and foreign lands begin. Of course, like one notorious fictitious adventurer, our narcissistic mind would gladly claim all those lands for itself.
A "silent body" is a body in complete paralysis. Only then does the mind not get any news from the body, only a paralyzed body stays indifferent to the mind, unable to influence or hinder its mental work. We'll note at the same time that a paralyzed body is a body out of control. It ignores the brain's commands, it lives "by itself", autonomously. A situation like that would be conducive not only to referring to the body in the third person, but also to thinking of it as of a stranger.
However, even in its demonstrative apartness, the body is vitally needed by the mind. No amount of trying would let the latter leave a trace in the world without any cooperation from the body.
Is then the body an acting subject or thing? Let's assume it is a thing. What kind of thing is it? A thing we have to drag along wherever we go? A thing we get away from? Without which we cannot make another step?
It all gets more complicated because the body is a thing that lives. We depend on its life, are bound to - is practically out of our control. It is capable of giving us surprises. The older we get, the less the body's very own mysterious plans are in accord with our intentions. How obnoxious! How hard to accept! But what is there to do? Is there anything to do?
But maybe the body is itself a subject? Then what is it in respect to us: a doppelganger? A servant? A child? A travel companion?
When I say that I have a body, does that mean my body is subordinate to me? Who serves who? Who leads who? When I say "I am tired", is there an act of will, a wish on my part to feel tired?
The body slyly forces itself on us, making us believe that we ourselves-and no one else - are wishing our wishes.
Should we believe it? Aren't we sometimes prepared to pay our hard earned to stop desiring what we desire against our conscious will (here each of us could list their own forbidden wishes, be they innocently dangerous, harmful, stupid, shameful or sinful). How gullible should one be not to suspect any foul play on behalf of the body?
The body is to us a source of secret doubts and endless anxiety. We watch it closely. How is it? Will it stand competition with others? Does it look good wearing these pants? Or this dress? Or not wearing anything? Maybe it needs a bit more here and a bit less there? What else can we try on it? How about plastic surgery? Or a diet?
Or maybe some piercing?
When an imperative need for a partner arouses our carnal self we place all our hopes with the body, we send it out as a soldier into battle. The body becomes our main piece of ammunition in the sexual conquest of The Other.
Then comes its hour of fame: the body manifests its dazzling gift for serving as a pleasure tool (and for its ability to drive us out of our minds).
Yet it seems obvious that our utmost unity with our bodies is experienced not in sexual pleasure, but in pain. How about our disconnection from it? The answer seems equally obvious.
The notion that the body is a part of "us" has been around for quite some time. Yes, it is a part of us - but not quite. It is only partially a part.
If we accept Bakhtin's concept that the body serves as the boundary between our external and internal selves, then one wonders what would happen to the person's internal self if, through some unfortunate circumstances, his or her external incarnation lost, let's say, a leg? What intangible losses would follow the amputation? What irreparable damage, if any, would be done to the internal self? Yes or no?
Then comes aging. The body goes flabby, loses its tightness, goes over its former boundaries, forgets the golden ratio, turns into a shapeless sack, covers itself with folds of fat, nets of wrinkles and sprinkles it all with blotches of discoloration. And this new body is also me? This ugliness is a reflection of my inner life? This is the image of my mature self? The issue of authentic identity arises here in a most direct and cruel fashion. Who is the liar here? What is it all about? Can it be that reality is slandering me, or are my senses deceiving me? Or maybe my sense of self is distorted? How can I ever find out which side of this warped mirror my true "I" inhabits?