- Paperback: 258 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 7, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521675871
- ISBN-13: 978-0521675871
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,747,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics 1st Edition
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"In this beautifully written book, Shusterman articulates his unique conception of somaesthetics, in which reflective bodily awareness is presented as a means for self-cultivation. Shusterman gives a deeply insightful and highly original appreciation of the views of the body found in Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, William James, and John Dewey, but he also examines the limitations of each of these views, in order to reveal the profound importance of our embodiment for everything we experience, think, and do. The result is a compelling and highly nuanced account of what bodily consciousness is, how it is possible, and how it can contribute to individual and communal flourishing."
-Mark Johnson, Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon
"Ever since Plato disdained the base materiality of the body in favor of the purity of ideal forms, Western philosophy has struggled to incorporate the corporeal. A number of 20th-century figures, among them Dewey, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, Wittgenstein and Foucault, resisted the tradition to raise fundamental questions about the somatic moment in all thought. Carefully reconstructing their arguments and drawing on his own experience as a leading Pragmatist philosopher and trained body therapist, Richard Shusterman makes a compelling case for the centrality of somaesthetics in both the theories and practices of our age."
-Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley
"Shusterman's pragmatist philosophy, like William James's a century earlier, succeeds in connecting diversities of experiences while maintaining their differences in a dynamic and fertile tension...Against a society that glorifies certain models of good looks, against the conformism of advertised images...Shusterman seeks to liberate the notion of self-use from its dominant competitive context..."
-David Zerbib, Le Monde
"This welcome book is the crowning achievement of Richard Shusterman's work in somaesthetics, demonstrating how the body can be a site of increased knowledge, sharpened perception, and practical discipline that improves lived experience. Critically engaging somatic philosophers such as Foucault, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir, Wittgenstein, James and Dewey, Body Consciousness is a must-read for those who don't want merely to learn more about human embodiment, but also to change it."
-Shannon Sullivan, Head, Professor of Philosophy, Women's Studies, and African and African American Studies, Penn State University
"Another book on the body, but not a book like the others...Richard Shusterman inaugurates, in his latest book, a new and special turning point...[he] does not focus on the body's most sensationalist exploitations...but, on the contrary, on the active body in all its humanity and individuality."
-Barbara Formis, Art Press
"Body Consciousness, like Shusterman's other works on aesthetics, is an important contribution to the development of a more adequate theory of mind-body as a unity. It is valuable in building a foundation for the development of a more sophisticated and philosophically adequate sociology of the body."
-Bryan S. Turner, National University of Singapore, Body & Society
Richard Shusterman's thoughtful and deeply introspective book, Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics is a catalyzing investigation into the corporeal views of western philosophy-an area of thought frequently overshadowed by contemporary philosophical emphases on linguistics and the contextually determined structure of thought. His essential concern, which he revisits throughout the book, is that philosophy, as a discipline, needs to return to its earliest ambition of examining less how we think than how to live. For Shusterman, this ambition begins with the body..."
-Daniel Barber, Emory University, International Journal of Education & the Arts
"If Body Consciousness may be initially hard going to the non-philosopher, it's worth the effort, if only for how successfully it communicates the message that philosophy can be a practical, hands-on, in-the-world activity with lessons for all of us....Shusterman writes from his experience as a Feldenkrais practitioner....Body Consciousness is structured into six chapters, each presenting the somaesthetic insights and philosophical shortcomings of a different philosopher."
-Joel Parthemore, Metapsychology Online
"Shusterman provides a focused reading of a Continental or pragmatist philosopher who takes the body seriously: Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleay-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, Ludwig Wittgenstein, William James, and John Dewey....Summing up: Recommended."
-J.L. Eagen, Choice
"Body Consciousness is an important book deserving of a wide readership and careful attention. Should it receive both I am confident it will be praised by others as much as I praise it here."
- John Protevi, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology
Contemporary culture increasingly suffers from problems of attention, over-stimulation, and stress, and a variety of personal and social discontents generated by deceptive body images. This book argues that improved body consciousness can relieve these problems and enhance one's knowledge, performance, and pleasure.
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That relates to his intent to be helpful to us non-philosopher type ordinary folk. As an advocate of such body therapies as the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method, he leans heavily and steadily in the direction of how-to-improve-ourselves. One cannot doubt the virtue of such therapeutic intentions. Yet one can doubt the value of such when used to critique philosophers, such as Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein, specifically identified with a breakaway from the Platonic tradition of mind over matter.
That is not to say that the issues at stake of habit, will, choice, behavior are easily answered. In the concluding chapter comparing James and Dewey, the unresolved conflicts are examined. Shusterman's desire for self-improvement appears in his description of the James/Dewey differences with "Dewey's reconstruction of James's theory of emotion corrects this anomalous suggestion of a pure spiritual, bodiless emotion that would imply a real division of mind from body."
The late Donald Davidson outlined his theory of "anomalous monism" in pursuit of a comprehensive understanding of the inescapable conflict. So one legitimate way to avoid double-talk is to accept a doubled unity. It represents our inherited analytic pattern of breaking unities into pieces and then looking for some glue, because we know they ought not to have been separated to begin with. James struggled with that, and it is what Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein advocate.
A philosophically responsible phenomenological contribution to personal therapy, while far from unknown, is yet far from popular. The "Journal of Phenomenological Psychology" has been published for 40 years, so its Google hits numbering a mere 140,000 shows its limited attraction. Yet it marks a prominent place where philosophy and psychology represent their differences. Kant first asked, Which had priority, the body or the mind? Later he admitted that was undetermined. As his primary interest was a philosophical critique, his disdain of psychology followed.
Shusterman offers a competent encounter with his choice of philosophers. His defensive preference for traditional conceptualizations in the name of philosophy of mind, while disappointing, does not negate the value of his contribution. Who else dares to take on Foucault, de Beauvoir, Dewey and Wm. James, along with Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein in one grand philosophical (psychological?) struggle?
Shusterman's book remains ruled by its prior psychological commitments, but it may provide a springboard to further discussions of those philosophers, as well as to a better understanding of the body in philosophy of mind.
Similarly, Shusterman's extensive but eventually dismissive discussion of John Dewey and F.M. Alexander quotes admittedly problematic passages from Alexander's earliest book (1918), but largely ignores both Alexander's later work and further developments arising from his discoveries. He cites Frank Pierce Jones's book Body Awareness in Action, but ignores the research it describes. He dismisses the fact that Dewey's support of Alexander was derived mostly from Dewey's direct experience of his teaching, not from his writings. Shusterman mentions that he has taken a few Alexander lessons himself. Speaking as an Alexander teacher of forty years' experience I can state with some authority that this book suggests that he has fundamentally misunderstood what Alexander discovered.
I am not qualified to evaluate Shusterman's ideas about the four other philosophers whom he discusses, but if the problems I describe above are typical, it would be better to turn elsewhere for insights in this field.
William Conable, Professor Emeritus
The Ohio State University
The decision to include, in this brief overview of Alexander's practical work, a quotation that has been removed from most editions of one of his books, in which Alexander expresses his racist views (quite common in his day), clearly demonstrates Shusterman's hidden agenda, which is attacking Alexander, rather than presenting a knowledgeable assessment of his work. We get nothing of the personal about Feldenkrais, who had quite a reputation of his own for unpleasantness, and who used Alexander's work as a foundation for his own. By the way, Alexander also considered Germans racially inferior to the British (take that, master race!).
About Alexander's work, Mr. Shusterman notes, critically, that: "The Alexander Technique is especially focused on upright posture...". Since pretty much everything we do, except for sleep, involves "upright posture", how is that a negative? It is true that, in the Alexander Technique, one does not spend a great deal of time rolling around on the floor, or touching one's head to one's knee, but instead one deals with the self in everyday life and action - alert and upright.
He further writes: "His `primary control' of keeping the head `forward and up'[...]", and later, "[...] reliance on one central position of head and neck [..]". Note that it is Shusterman, never Alexander, who applies words denoting fixity, such as "keeping" and "position", in describing the "primary control", exposing his faulty understanding of what Alexander wrote and taught. Nowhere does Alexander ever write of "keeping" or "holding" the head-neck relationship - on the contrary, he repeats (ad nauseum, in fact) that it is necessary to allow or permit freedom, so that the head is permitted space and movement in its relationship to the rest of the body. Alexander stresses throughout all his writing, as he did in his work, that one simply wants to inhibit habitual fixity, especially in what we now refer to as the neck reflexes. Contrary to Mr. Shusterman's contention that the Alexander Technique focuses on the "primary control" to the detriment of other systems, such as the sensory, Alexander, and teachers trained by him work on global consciousness of the self. Frank Pierce Jones, who Mr. Shusterman quotes, even defined the Alexander Technique as a method for combining proprioception and exteroception into a unified field of perception. (Mr. Jones, by the way, is best known for his published research on the Alexander Technique, which includes publication in journals on psychology and physiology. He was a student and friend of John Dewey and Alexander) If Mr. Shusterman had taken the time to have more than a couple of lessons in the Alexander Technique with a properly trained teacher, he would have difficulty sustaining his misconceptions about the "primary control", a term which many in the Alexander world no longer even use, preferring terminology from contemporary science (tonic neck reflexes, vestibulo-nuchal reflexes). It is hardly Alexander's fault that the bulk of his research was undertaken before the discovery of the reflexes his technique works with. (Nikolas Tinbergen gave his Nobel Prize acceptance speech about Alexander and his application of the scientific method to the study of the self.)
Again, if Mr. Shusterman had truly read his sources, he would have found a very clear explanation in Frank Peirce Jones' work Freedom to Change of how increased awareness of reactions in the neck region can be used to alert one to postural sets that lead to inefficient movement. Today's researchers in neuro-physiology, particularly Alain Berthoz, recognize the Head-Neck Sensory Motor System (Alexander's primary control, and the title of a book edited by Mr. Berthoz), as the center of postural response and change. Any attempt to alter the motor aspects of postural adaptation must begin with the neck region, as such change spreads from this region outwards. Research post-Alexander supports his observations in this regard.
Mr. S. is also critical of Alexander's notion of faulty sensory awareness. While it is true that his writing is often poor and, in this case, even misleading, anyone who has experienced Alexander's method may understand what he meant. Today, we would express faulty kinesthesia differently, as result of top-down sensory perception. In other words, what we see is not what the eye takes in, but it is a combination of sensory input and experience. This is true of all sensory experience. Without top-down sensory processing, the world is just an indecipherable maze of sound and light waves and electrical impulses. Alexander is simply trying to get us to question our sensory conclusions, because they are often mistaken, as an anorexic that sees a heavy person in the mirror is not exhibiting an eye problem, or, in a different way, someone who cannot hear pitch is not necessarily someone with a hearing problem - it is more a matter of how experience colors perception in a top-down manner. Here is Daniel Levitin on the subject in "This is Your Brain on Music":
"Low-level processing in your brain sees blobs of ink on this page, and perhaps even allows you to put those blobs together and recognize a basic form in your visual vocabulary, such as the letter A. But it is high-level processing that puts together three letters to let you read the word ART and to generate a mental image of what the word means."
One must remember that Alexander wrote to take possession of his work, as others who had experienced it were beginning to claim aspects of it as their discoveries, and that his actual work went far beyond what is contained in his writing. It is not a method that addresses movement, as are methods such as that of Mr. Feldenkrais, but is instead a method that addresses postural constants, and, due to the hierarchical nature of postural reflexes, this work requires a very developed awareness of reactions, especially in the sub-occipital region, where postural change is first seen in the musculature. For that reason, teachers trained in the Alexander Technique, at least those certified by STAT, AmSTAT and CanSTAT, undergo a minimum of 1600 hours training (more than double that of Feldenkrais training), often considerably more.
Further, to assert that Alexander did not consider the importance of sensory input to postural adaptation is absurd. Anyone who has had a lesson with a competent teacher of the A.T. will have been driected to keep the eyes focused, to maintain an outward gaze, to sense the pressure of the feet against the floor (something one cannot do rolling around on a mat), to un-clutch and open the hands, etc.
This is not the first time Shusterman has demonstrated a poor comprehension of somatics and the Alexander Technique, as his earlier paper, "Somasthetics" and an earlier book, Performing Live, are filled with similar errors (Performing Live has comments on Alexander's inhibition that are risible. Mr. Shusterman confounds the term inhibition, as it is used in physiology and in the Alexander Technique, with the same term as it is used in pop-psychology. He attributes some kind of negative connotation to the term as Alexander used it, as though there were some kind of suppression of impulse involved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as in physiology, inhibition is the partner and counterpart to excitation -- when one muscle group is excited, that is, its fibers contracted, an opposing group is inhibited, or allowed to lengthen. There is constant muscle tone in all muscles, and it becomes possible for that muscle tone to become imbalanced and inappropriate. Excessive muscle tone can be clearly noted at the beginning of any action, when a postural set begins in the neck region, leading to an overall increase in muscle tone. At this point, to inhibit the immediate reaction to a stimulus means to consciously order inhibition, much as one might do in a yoga posture when a stretched muscle is sensed and released. Rather than having a negative effect on spontaneity, as Mr. S. implies, this release from old, established habitual reaction, frees one to be present for what is happening now). In approaching his current work, I had expectations that he might have deepened his understanding of the subject of somatics in general, and of the Alexander Technique, in particular. Silly me - perhaps Mr. Shusterman is just an academic repeatedly rehashing his earlier work. Or perhaps he is one of those that we in the Alexander Technique consider resistant to teaching. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and go with the latter.
Understanding of the Alexander Technique is helpful in understanding Dewey's ideas on habit. He studied with Alexander for 35 years and wrote (as Mr. Shusterman notes) introductions to two of Alexander's books. If you wish to read about the Alexander Technique, Frank Pierce Jones' Freedom to Change is a good place to start.