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December 19, 2008

What is embodiment?

The following is an after thought to our wrap up discussion at the end of today's session with Margie.
The post is related to my comment in session that "embodiment" is really as complicated as any other notion, and there are many ways to experience it and ways to talk about it. It also relates to my comment that in the academy we focus a lot on representations...third person descriptions of phenomena, And the representation is central to scholarly research. E.g., what are the facts (empirical description).? How do you account for the facts --how do you represent the objects of study in a theor of the objects?

The below comment also voices my insight from today's session that embodiment is about specific and particular bodies. We had been talking in session about Margie's contribution as our teacher, and what people noted about her. Jane said she noted Margie's voice. Maggie talked about some things and one I recall was Margie's nurturance, her "Mom"-ness. With that as background, I wrote this email when I returned to my office to sit and finish a document...

margie MOVES (and talks, and thinks and dresses...(etc.?)) differently than we do.
she's not like the models we see and maybe tried to measure up to in academia.

She *does being Margie* not just in a different way, but out of a different model of doing one's self.

how we move is a public display of our self
we change the body and we can change our and others' perception of who we are.

margie is also a consistent model of the kind of body-mind she is displaying...representing...to us.
but it's definitely a margie body-mind.
that degree of specificity and uniqueness matters. Margie is not an every-woman body mind.
There is no body-mind in the abstract! There's no generic body-mind.

without a model...a map...her representation to us through her body (and voice), we couldn't do this..or not in the same way. Something would be compromised.
it's not enough to work from a book, or a movie to become more embodied.

Rather, to learn to be more embodied requires a real body, face-to-face with us.
this is not a distance learning course, neither is parenting...

my point - to be embodied we need a teacher, and we need to see, and at times feel her body, (where the bones are), hear the teacher's voice, see the humanness of her body, (some of your hairs are falling on your sweater, margie...,) etc..

Embodiment is physical.
Eliminate the physical models, props, teachers, human element, and it's not going to be (as) effective.
Human societies have always been face-to-face... until now.
I don't want to get into the issue of virtual bodies, avatars, virtual life, etc., in this post, but I want to say that the element of being face-to-face is a an obvious dimension to being embodied and experiencing embodiment. It may not be necessary...but it is an element of our learning process.
Perhaps as scholars and artists, because our work often takes us into a room alone, the loss of the presence of another body may lead us to feel less embodied...or at least embodied in a different way, maybe less intensely embodied...

What if wisdom of the body was staring us in the face? (Not all wisdom, just some). Because a lot of it for us adults has to be excavated. In these sessions we are excavating, diving down. Is embodioment a practice one has to do on a daily basis to maintain?

To paraphrase Justine Cassell, "Why do we have a body and what do we want to do with it?"
why do we have to ask this question?

December 15, 2008

Going Inside

by Jerry McClelland

(moderator's note - This entry first appeared in the comments section....)

When I was a child I was wild-haired, barefoot, and joyous during the summers. Only for church on Sunday mornings would I have to wear a dress and shoes, have my hair curled and in place, and mind my manners. On the other days, I pulled on faded, un-ironed hand-me-down shorts and shirts and after breakfast, my work on the farm and play with my older sisters took me outside. That would be O-U-T-S-I-D-E. I climbed fences, ladders, trees, and buildings; I walked and ran through the dust of droughts, rain, manure, (slow) quick sand, corn rows, pastures, streams, and snow; I touched the earth where it is hard, wet, slimy, sharp, stinky, hot, cold and where the wild, purple violets grew; and when I bathed at night my mother would look at my bruises and say, “Child, your legs look like a battlefield.� Aside from bathing, brushing teeth, and combing my hair once a day, the main rule for summer was: do not get behind a moving piece of farm equipment. Everything else was wide open.

At 19, I left home for the University of Missouri, and I seldom went outside again for 35 years. In early adulthood, I turned indoors because that was where I found the activities of learning in college, pastimes, learning my teaching craft, and city living. The routine in my 30s, 40s and early 50s was to go from house to car, car to office, office to stores. Professing was indoors: preparing to teach, teaching, advising, writing, wrangling over budgets and permission to interview subjects, interviewing, analyzing text, presenting papers—all indoors. I went outdoors for my son, taking him on walks and bike rides, and there were also a few short forays outside for my own enjoyment. I once camped in northern Minnesota with a friend, fished a few times with my parents in Canada, and I hiked a short, ancient trail on the Mediterranean coast. Usually, I did not linger when I went outdoors, always driven by the need to get right back to my responsibilities for work and my son and husband. After some years, I more or less forgot the outdoors was there.

December 12, 2008

Split at the heart, and other terminology.


What words or phrases elucidate the work of our collaborative when we talk about our experiences of denying our body for work?

The posts in the "anti-embodied methodologies" section point to the usefulness of :
"split at the heart"
"pushing away"
"driven by the need"
"replacing the outdoors with the indoors"
"disciplining the body"

What words or phrases capture YOUR memories and experiences?

Driven by the need

"Driven by the need".

That's how Jerry described the way into anti-embodied work. How accurate.

Reading her mother's comment on how her legs looked like "a battlefield" (was it an admonishment or a kind comment?), I recalled my mother's comment to me in childhood or adolescence that I was "hard on my shoes", and my father passing by and disliking seeing me sitting on the curb in the Bronx, dirty from playing in the street.

Are these critiques of not being "girly" enough? Critiques that enculturate girls into more restrained, less free, more standard feminizing behaviors? What are the boys' memories in our group, connected to being outdoors: encouragement, skill building...?

If we are studying embodied methodologies, it's clear that we have to go back to our childhoods to see what our relationship to our bodies were, the contexts for using them, and the messages we got then about that.

If we can collect that, it can become a valuable document for our group and a source of insight as we connect as adults to the work we're doing and the foundations it is being put on or...transforming....

We can keep anonimity if any of this is published, so don't let public airing keep you from writing now.

December 11, 2008

Rx: How to sedate your body to be more productive

This is an Rx for being more productive at work. Everyone is invited to collaborate in adding their own "Rx" potions.

1. If you're lucky, you'll be assigned a small windowless air-conditioned room. You get to it from the main hall of your department. You open a door into a corridor with other doors: two on your left, two on your right and a fifthd oor that is straight ahead. Behind each of these doors are small windowless rooms for graduate students. The fifth door, straight ahead of you, has a window because it's on the outside wall of the building. These offices, rightly called 'cubicles' are the quiet areas of your department or company. They are intended to maximize your concentration and work output.
Your cubiicle is about 4' X 6', which is sufficient. When you pull open the door from the inside, you have to twist your body a bit, because the space is so small and utilitarian.
Luckily, you'll get this assignment as a graduate student, learning to work in these conditions before your degree. This invaluable training will teach you appropriate work habits to use right away for your first job. This will put you ahead of candidates from schools that can only offer group work rooms for their graduate students. Happily, these students, who will certainly be less disciplined and organized and productive, will be on the job market with you.

2. Arrive at your windowless cubicle in the morning before all others arrive at theirs in the same corridor. They will be terrified to see you there, and it will boost their productivity. Hibernation is viral among scholars.

3. You can bring a radio but play music only. You can put a welcoming poster on the small wall space.

4. The treasured cubicle is to sit down in and concentrate, so work through the day taking a short break for necessities. Eat at your work table. Socialize minimally, because socializing is also viral. However, you will discover that it is a good idea to leave the cubicle for a while at sunset to seek the warmth, light, colors, body movement and lots of other people that you have been withheld from during the day. Then, having warmed up your chilly, air-conditioned, movement- and sun-deprived body, you will feel revitalized, so reenter your cubicle and work through until about 10- or 11 p.m. Return home.

5. Repeat #4 the next day and until the project is finished. No pain, no gain. Get used to it.

6. After air-conditioning your body for 6 months indoors, while outside humid days of 99+ degrees were gloriously marching forth in a Texas spring and summer, you will move to a job in Minnesota in September, and suddenly find yourself in a Texas style winter. You will start shaking. Chills overtake you. Your body temperature is re-regulating itself. Your body, or rather, THE body, knows. This body is reconditioning itself during the abrupt shift, and for its new demands. You are now allowed to go outside AND inside. You have work to get done. Just ignore your shaking and chills. The body will do what it has to. It can take a lot of what you give it to do. Don't think about it.

December 8, 2008

Poem - When I Was the Muse, by Kate Daniels

When I Was the Muse
- Kate Daniels

When the painter said, OK, you guys,
take off your clothes! I startled at the plural,
assuming I'd been engaged to model by myself.
But then the dark-skinned god I knew as Aaron
from my Econ class unzipped his jeans,
and dropped them, grinning, on the floor.
So I did, too, and clambered up beside him
on the plywood box that elevated us above
the clutch of paint-stained easels. Thoughtfully,
the students posed our naked bodies. Someone fluffed
the crispy hair between my legs into a dark brown
bristling fan. And someone pinched the sides
of Aaron's face to pinken up his cheeks.
Privately, I installed myself inside that mental space
where I had hidden as a child when the world
could be aborted no other way . . .

It was part of my plan to walk unclothed
among the portraits my unclad body
had provoked. So when we broke
for lunch, the students lunging in a herd
out back to smoke, I did. If you had asked me
then why I modeled, I'd have said,
to overcome my bourgeois insecurities,
to combat my fear of what might happen
if I showed myself completely naked
to someone else. But if you asked me now?
I'd describe the privilege of walking among
a museum of strangers' images devoted to oneself,
and tell you what a privilege it was to see myself
the varied ways that others did.

Some silly fellow had painted nipples on me the size
and shape of frying eggs. Another jokester
had shrunk them down as small as M&Ms.
But someone serious and sad had shared a vision
of my head as a clotted orb of hair and mouth,
and brushed in underneath, a body headless
as the horseman in the myth. Then I seemed
to walk into the darkroom of my mind's own eye
and saw the self I'd always felt inside but never known:
a complicated, unsmiling creature with a fear-tinged face.
Around her the aura of something golden was fighting
with whip-like straps of something black. She was staring
straight into the future, trying to get out, trying
to conceal her fear, completely unaware
of how it glistened and glowed, and of how
irresistible it was for the artist to spread it
across the canvas so that everyone could see.

Poem - The Fall by George Bilgere

The Fall
- George Bilgere

Although there were no witnesses
In the hallway outside the women's room
Of the Hotel Coronado,
When my aunt stumbled
And fell to her knees on the ancient marble

It must have been like the swordsman
Falling in The Seven Samurai,
A whole dynasty collapsing,
Falling out of its bones

Into the mud. I was reading
The sports section in the lobby
When a boy, probably sixteen or so,
Ran in and called my name.
An old woman has fallen, he said,
Frightened that something
So enormous could happen, that fate
Should cast him as an emissary
Announcing dynastic collapse
Instead of just a high school kid,

And I stood up and ran to her
Although I'm fifty-six now, and breaking
Into a spontaneous run feels like
Trying out a language you'd lost
As a kid who'd swapped countries.

And there she sat, lean and elegant,
Like an athlete who'd collapsed
From sheer exhaustion, her legs
Drawn up to her chin as she fought
To lift the whole city again,

The crumbling Coronado,
Where Miles Davis used to jam,
And the Continental, where the Gershwins
Hung out at the Tack Room,
And the abandoned Fox Theater
Where she saw Olivier's Hamlet

And even the boarded up
Forest Park Boat house, where her father
Used to take her for ice cream
In the sweltering St. Louis summers.

An old woman has fallen.

Potluck Dates for 2009

As a part of our collaboration, we will convene monthly potlucks of the Embodied Methodologies Working Group. These potlucks will take place on the second Wednesday of every month from 6 - 8 p.m. The dates are as follows:

January 14
February 11
March 11
April 8
May 13
June 10

December 1, 2008

The Meaning of Mind....

by Amy Sheldon

1. Note the modular and dualistic description of what we are doing, e.g. in section #1, "the brain (mind?) imagines aspects of the body". This claims a division of labor and one that is complementary. This is a fiction, isn't it? The brain sends and receives information from our sensing organs through pathways "in the body". The brain is a discrete organ, but is it not also IN the body and connected throughout the body? So note the conventional rhetoric of dualism.

2. "the cells' awareness of themselves"...'awareness'...??? awareness without intervention of a brain AND/OR a mind?

3. In section #3, I am intrigued by the claim, certainly true, that "meaning making happens so quickly", and that there is "prereflective experience", and that there can be a lag to "language the experience or make meaning from it". What if there is no lag...what if thinking, cognition, meaning making is being done simultaneously with input from sense experience? At any rate, that there is a "lag" seems to be a claim that we can not falsify. It is given in faith. Does it matter if sensing and perceiving (or cognitioning) is sequential or simultaneous?

I would guess that psychologists working on perception of sensory experience have talked about these issues before, i.e., the process of transformation of the input from sensory experience into cognition. A place to look might be the research on visual perception in infants and young kids.

(moderator's note - Amy initially wrote this entry as a response to Margie Fargnoli's description of the work we did at our first embodiment workshop. I have posted it as an independent entry to make it easier to find....)