SOMAESTHETICS AND PHENOMENOLOGY
What is the difference between somaesthetics and phenomenology? This is a question often encountered by a teacher of body philosophy when s/he presents somaesthetics, the less known of these two approaches to the philosophy of the body.
The answer might look simple. Phenomenology, when focused on the body, has been the main academic tradition of philosophical body-consciousness. Phenomenologists have mainly aspired to remain academic and theoretical with an epistemological objective, and the approach has not been established for practical use. Somaesthetics, a much more recent concept, has from the outset been fueled by an aspiration to lead theory and bodily practices into a dialogue – where both could enhance their (for the body often just tacit) knowledge with the help of the other. And if phenomenology, although later actively adapted in Japan and South Korea for example, is very (Western) Central European by nature, somaesthetics, with its roots in American pragmatist philosophy (mainly John Dewey), has from its origins in the early 2000s encouraged dialogue between different philosophical traditions, both ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western.’
However, the issue becomes complicated when looking at the communities working on and with the approaches. Some phenomenologists today are actually dancers, karateka, and/or yogi, while others apply phenomenology to robotics and interface and interaction design for example, and so actually put phenomenology into practice in a way somaesthetics has made programmatic for itself. Contrarily, many who write about somaesthetics are actually classical academic philosophers in the sense that their main bodily practice is to sit behind a desk and drink (too much) coffee.
Both traditions take pride in their roots – phenomenology in the philosophical springs of the Brentano-Husserl connection (without forgetting the threads of reflections that have made René Descartes for example a central figure in the corpus), and somaesthetics in Dewey’s philosophy of experience and his experimental attitude (without forgetting the way Peirce and James had previously built approaches to the body). Practically, many of those interested in phenomenology have not actually looked closely at its very beginnings (although the interest in Husserl is somehow increasing in importance again), and instead they start from Merleau-Ponty. In the same way, Dewey’s original life work is for many somaestheticians known only through the work of later thinkers of pragmatism, most notably of course Richard Shusterman, the initiator of the discussion of somaesthetics.
What could a comparative and/or critical and/or synthetizing inquiry into the relationship between these two approaches bring forth? What are the key differences (historical sources, practical writing, applications) – and could somaesthetics and phenomenology profit from having more philosophical dialogue? What about their actual origins? Pragmatism could historically be seen as an offspring of earlier German philosophy that was imported to the new world through European diaspora. Dewey went to China for a period and applied some of his Eastern learnings to his philosophy of art (Shusterman has also had a strong connection to China and Japan), and phenomenology had already in Husserl an Asian (Japanese) connection that became stronger with Heidegger (who, besides his dialogues with Japanese thinkers, started to translate Tao Te Ching with a Chinese student). Has Asian thinking shaped the emergence of both philosophies of the body in a way that unites them from their beginnings? The same could be asked about the German and French philosophies that were imported to Harvard, the birthplace of pragmatism, but that also served as a background to the evolution of phenomenology. Peirce attacked the Cartesians that dominated Harvard’s philosophical atmosphere, but Husserl engaged in rereading Descartes. Still, the source is the same. Early German philosophies of experience echo in the very beginnings of both traditions.
The Journal of Somaesthetics welcomes articles on the nature of these two schools of thinking, their history, applications, and possible futures for the issue ‘Somaesthetics and Phenomenology.’ The main focus of the work does not have to be on scholarly comparisons, but we hope that the theme of the two approaches is somehow present in the text. Do not hesitate to report on hands-on experiments – and please do not hesitate to ask any questions regarding the issue (contact Editor-in-Chief Max Ryynänen at firstname.lastname@example.org).
15.12.2020: Deadline for the articles, which will be sent for peer review
15.2.2021: Peer reviews returned to the authors
15.4.2021: Deadline for the finished articles
The Journal of Somaesthetics is a peer-reviewed, online, academic research journal devoted to research that advances the interdisciplinary field of somaesthetics, understood as the critical study and meliorative cultivation of the experience and performance of the living body (or soma) as a site of sensory appreciation (aesthesis) and creative self-stylization. https://somaesthetics.aau.dk/index.php/JOS/about