Somaesthetics and its Nordic AspectsVol 4 No 1 (2018)
Somaesthetics and its Nordic Aspects
In my introduction, I want to focus on two aspects of this issue of The Journal of Somaesthetics: first, to describe the picture an open issue paints of the current field of somaesthetics, and secondly, to discuss the Nordic component of this issue.
The first issue of 2018 is an open issue without any thematic focus except that the articles have to position themselves within the theoretical or pragmatic field of somaesthetics. It is based on an open call with the intent to explore the field of somaesthetics from various angles. The majority of contributions in one way or another deal with art. Of course, this should not come as a surprise, because aesthetics has been connected to art reception since the modern rise of aesthetics as a scholarly field coincided with the modern rise of the autonomy of art. More recent developments in contemporary aesthetics have sought to bring aesthetics back to its original broader conception as concerned with sense-making and appreciation that finds expression in all of life’s domains. This development, however, has mainly been analyzed through objects – art and design artefacts, and seldomly by tracing human sense-perception and anthropological research. In this context, the concept of somaesthetics proves important, because it focuses on the aesthetic experience of the soma, the living, perceiving, purposive body, as an integrated aspect of aesthetic experience and a medium of research. Concurrently, the field of artistic research and arts-informed academic inquiry is rapidly expanding, yielding novel approaches and a renewed debate about how we should understand the notion of knowledge in aesthetics, in its academic and artistic ramifications. The vocabulary of somaesthetics seems to be able to embrace and facilitate this novel demand to aesthetics and knowledge.
In addition to this expansion of the aesthetic field, there can be seen another closely related development. As art increasingly embraces audience activation converting audiences from contemplating onlookers to participants and co-creators, so the field of aesthetics must consider the active participant as intrinsic part of the work of art transforming art into events of experience and consumption in line with other cultural artefacts and events. Seen in this light, aesthetics has to enlarge its methodical tool box towards a thinking through and with the soma as a perceptual and sense-making ‘organ’ in order to be able to capture the experiential, creative, and ameliorative dimension – not only of art making and art perception, but also of other cultural fields that rely on aesthetic perception.
The second point I wish to mention is that The Journal of Somaesthetics, founded from the outset in Aalborg University, Denmark, is now in a period of reorganization to emphasize its Nordic dimension by establishing a predominately Nordic editorial board. We hope this will strengthen the Journal’s contribution to presenting Nordic approaches to the many topics and applications of somaesthetics, but we aim to do so by also engaging with and publishing the best research in somaesthetics from scholars in the wider international research community. Although it is hard to generalize, Nordic research has a distinctive take on questions concerning somaesthetics because of certain features of Nordic culture and Nordic academic histories, practices, and aims. Noticeable is the interest for letting somaesthetic theory and concrete somatic practices permeate each other. The idea here is not simply practice as a mechanical application of somaesthetic ideas and concepts, but rather an academic research from within framed and observed, but always experienced practices. Practice should here be understood as either the investigatory measurements and activities of distinct professions and fields of research and/or the compassionate but analytical observation of and interaction with professional or everyday actions of distinct social groups. It is not surprising that in recent years there have been a significant number of research-oriented practical workshops in somaesthetics in Nordic countries.
One of this issue’s authors write from within the field of art and art research: Rasmus Ölme, a dancer and researcher, writes in his article “Suspension” about his practice-based research on the materiality and immateriality of movement, thereby investigating the performative relationship between the cognitive and sensory, movement and space, and artistic experience and academic theoretical conceptualization. My own article, “Into the Woods with Heidegger” can be categorized as arts-informed, academic research in that it is a reflection on an autoethnographic project documenting my encounter with some passages of Heidegger’s essay “The Origin of the Artwork” while helping an artist constructing a land-art piece. The project’s aim was to find common grounds between art theoretical and artist-practical work. The encounter has led me to the question, whether the soma harbors inherently ameliorable capacities via bodily self-reflections or whether the body merely is a performative machine for very disparate ideological content. In her article “Care of the Self, Somaesthetics and Drug Addiction: An Exploration of Approaching and Treating Problematic Use in Non-Coercive Settings”, Riikka Perala reflects on her work with drug addicts in the context of the Finnish social system. She proposes a somaesthetic understanding of drug addicts as full members of our societies and of everyday life. By shifting from the idea of drug addiction as an illness towards drug addiction as a (hopefully temporary) life condition, she suggests that harm reduction measurements can be seen in a Foucauldian light of “care of the self” and that somaesthetic awareness can occasion more positive ways of living and better tackle the addiction.
We also find in this issue Nordic contributions that take on more traditional topics of aesthetics. Martin Ejsing Christensen’s article analyzes Dewey’s idea of doing philosophy as an aesthetic, experiential practice by comparing it with Richard Shusterman’s idea of somaesthetics, and he implicitly transforms his writing of the article into an aesthetic experience.
Finally, Martin Jay and Ronald Shusterman use ideas from somaesthetics as tools in analyzing various musical and visual art works. In a short article, Martin Jay describes Ken Ueno’s work Jericho Mouth with Barthes’ distinction between pheno- and geno-song, the former being in the service of representation and communication, the latter as somaesthetic performance from a pre-subjective depth. Ronald Shusterman’s looks at the deterritorializing ambition and effect of a selection of urban artworks that disturb the familiarity of and expectations of shared social space and urban order. He argues for a metaethical effect of these works, because their perception constitutes a transitional passage because expected orders are momentarily annulled, the emerging void asks for an altered view and another perception of urban spaces. These moments of singularities are like jokes and laughter, opening an abys.
Falk Heinrich, Editor-in-Chief
Bodies of Belief / Bodies of CareVol 3 No 1 & 2 (2017)
This double-issue on Bodies of Belief and Bodies of Care originated in two conferences held at the Center for Body, Mind, and Culture, respectively January 2015 and January 2016. Only a few papers from those conferences, however, have found their way into this volume; the others collected here came from independent submissions to the Journal. We should begin by explaining the underlying logic that motivated the topics of these conferences and the papers of this double issue?
With respect to the question of belief, human bodies are shaped not only by their genetic endowment but also by the belief systems of the cultures in which they develop and function. Such belief systems vary from unarticulated background assumptions to ritualized practices and explicit doctrines or even to formulated laws enacted and enforced by social institutions. The beliefs that the human soma embodies and expresses are not confined to established social norms; they also include items of faith and commitment that are individualistic, nonconformist, or even antagonistic to the cultural mainstream. More than a mere instrument of compliance or worship, the soma is also a site and weapon of protest against beliefs we reject and find oppressive.
As to the issue of care, bodies are obviously the targets of one’s daily care in terms of personal hygiene, grooming, exercise, and proper nourishment. They are also objects of care in the sense of worry or concern, since we all suffer illness and death through our bodies. However, the sentient, purposive, active body or soma is also a subjectivity that examines and cares for the body as object, whether it be one’s own body or the bodies of others who one wants to help or comfort. We all need such curative help or comfort at some point in our lives; and some people devote their professional and personal lives to giving such care. Bodies need and give care in many ways and for many reasons: to overcome illness and disability, to address and alleviate dependence, to learn new skills and remedy bad habits, to inspire greater confidence for personal flourishing and greater social betterment.
Initially, it might seem surprising to group the topics of bodies of belief and care together. However, if we consider the matter more closely, we see a deep and substantive connection between them. In the first place, beliefs are what make care possible. Because beliefs are our essential guides of action, they are therefore indispensable for guiding our actions of caring for ourselves and others. Beliefs about the body – for example, beliefs about what foods, medicines, habits, exercises, etc. promote somatic health, well-being, and pleasure -- thus govern our practices of care for the body. Issues of belief and care are also linked in the reverse direction. The fact that we care for our bodies, both in the sense of practically acting to care for them and in the sense of worrying about how to care for them, prompts us to search for the best beliefs to guide such care. As the pragmatist C.S. Peirce argued, inquiry is inspired by the irritation of doubt, and it seeks to remove such doubt by establishing beliefs that resolve the particular doubt in question. Our doubts and worries about somatic health and various problems in the functioning and appearances of our bodies promote countless inquiries to attain beliefs that will guide practices to remove or at least mitigate those worries. The things that we care for thus inspire more attention and efforts to acquire correct and helpful beliefs. Although most of our beliefs are items that we simply take for granted and that guide our actions without our giving explicit focused attention to these beliefs, we tend to give more explicit attention to beliefs about things we care about most. Our bodily condition – how we feel, look, and function somatically – is an abiding center of care and concern and thus forms the focus of some of our most explicit and critically examined beliefs.
The following papers examine diverse issues of bodily belief and care from different perspectives. Topics range from autoimmunity and psychological therapy to religious belief, tattoos, and neoliberal institutions of health care. Most of the papers adopt an artistic somaesthetic perspective, examining their topics through the methods of literary theory, art history, and theatre studies. The present issue continues the Journal’s tradition of including an interview with a distinguished specialist whose expertise relates to the issue’s topic. On this occasion we are very happy to include an interview with ORLAN, specially commissioned for this issue and introduced by Else Marie Bukdahl. The interview was conducted in French, and we provide an English translation along with the original French.
Somaesthetics and FoodVol 2 No 1 and 2 (2016)
Food and drink, perhaps of all the objects to which we direct our aesthetic energies, fall most naturally within somaesthetic inquiry. As food and drink are literally consumed and incorporated into the body, our attention to these processes likewise works to break down the false dichotomies of inner/outer, body/mind, and self/world. It may be surprising then, that in the more than 15 years since somaesthetics was first proposed as a new discipline by Richard Shusterman, there has been little sustained attention devoted to food and drink within the emerging literature on somaesthetics. In the past few years however, as somaesthetics has matured into both a unique philosophical approach to aesthetics and an interdisciplinary methodology, work has begun to appear on food and eating from a somaesthetical perspective. In keeping with this direction, the Journal of Somaesthetics is proud to present this volume devoted entirely to exploring the implications of somaesthetics for questions concerning the cultivation, preparation, consumption and enjoyment of food.
Taken collectively, the contributions to this double issue exhibit the diverse array of food related topics that are pertinent to somaesthetics. From visual art, performance art and film, to experimental psychology and nutrition, urban farming, restaurant culture, wine, and Crossmodalism, the papers collected here illustrate the impressive range of topics, and disciplinary approaches, that comprise a gustatory somaesthetics. This special issue can also be seen as providing an important counterbalance to the literature in the philosophy of food that has to date been dominated by the questions of the art-status of food and the cognitive, expressive, and representational elements of eating. As a result, the living soma has all too frequently dropped out of these discussions. In narrowly attempting to establish the similarities between food and art, some approaches to the philosophy of food tend to lose sight of the unique insights that the aesthetics of food can provide for our understanding of all of the interrelated modes of embodied human experience. As the living soma is the irreducible site of gustatory and aesthetic experience, it is our hope that this special double issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics will contribute to forging a new direction in research into the myriad ways that human beings relate to food.
Somaesthetics and Visual ArtVol 1 No 1 (2015)
The body has long been an important theme in art, but in recent years somaesthetics has increasingly emerged not only as a way of understanding contemporary art forms (especially body art, performance, installation) but also as a perspective for enriching art-historical discourse and criticism in both Western and Asian cultures. By providing important insights into the embodied creative process and interaction between the viewer and artwork, somaesthetics can illuminate aspects of our artistic tradition whether of the Renaissance and Baroque periods or the classical Asian forms of calligraphy and inkwash painting. When somaesthetics is introduced into the world of art and art scholarship, it opens up “the golden cage of autonomous art”, providing room for a wide and dynamic range of interdisciplinary perspectives and research approaches. Many fine contributions have already discussed the somaesthetics of visual art (which somaesthetics shows to be more than merely visual), but there remain many important topics that require more study. This first issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics, seeks to make a useful step in the systematic and collaborative study of the soma’s role in visual art. We hope that this will stimulate further contributions in this Journal and elsewhere.