Unhealthy and Dangerous Lifestyles – and the Care of the SelfVol. 6 No. 2 (2020)
Riikka Perälä and Max Ryynänen, Issue Editors
The way aesthetics, the body, and lifestyles – or for this theme issue, unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles – come together offers a lot to ponder. In this theme issue, we want to explore the possibilities of somaesthetics as a discourse and/or a platform to prompt discussion and produce novel ways to think about addiction and other unhealthy lifestyles.
We have leaned on an idea that addiction, or any other disease or lifestyle that is risky for an individual, cannot be explained only through biology or psychology. Rather, they are supported by, and they are part of, cultural patterns of thinking or social representations (Moscovici 1984), that make our practices sensible (Shelby 2016; Lee 2012; Hirschowitz-Gertz 2011; Barber 1994). What is more, they are also sources of pleasure, even if they are harmful, and that is what makes them so difficult to handle – both on the individual level and at the societal level (Sulkunen 2009).
The Burden of Disease (GBD) reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) provide data on mortality and loss of health as a result of diseases, injuries, and risk factors for all world regions. In WHO’s web pages it is stated that noncommunicable diseases (NCD), driven by e.g. unhealthy lifestyles or environmental factors, kill 41 million people each year, or 71% of all deaths globally. Tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from an NCD. Sociologist Pekka Sulkunen (2009) has referred to this as a problem of lifestyle regulation by modern consumption societies. These societies accentuate individualism, authenticity, and self-control as key virtues of the individuals, but, at the same time, they lack the tools to control these individuals and their un-desirable lifestyle choices. (The on-going corona pandemic serves, of course, as a good example with people going to underground parties and refusing to wear a mask, even though they could spread a deadly virus in doing so).
In this theme issue, we have, through and with the help of somaesthetics, endeavored to put a spotlight on the pleasures, dangers, and aesthetic experiences that are connected to unhealthy and dangerous life practices. Our wish has been to to shed to new light on factors that drive these harmful lifestyles as well as to provide new ways to think about their role in the society and in the life of individuals. We see that there is considerable potential for somaesthetic thinking in finding solutions for curing and caring people who battle with addictions or other lifestyle related conditions (see also Perälä 2018).
People sometimes drive fast just for the thrill of speed. Sometimes, we believe, this thrill is about feeling the speed in the stomach and getting goosebumps. Sometimes, for sure, it is about environmental aesthetics – how landscapes move, how the hands feel the changing roadwork through the steering wheel, how the body seems to be “flying” through the environment. Sometimes, this reflects behavioral models of certain subcultures or lifestyles to which the individual desires to belong. Heli Vaaranen (2004) writes about fast-driving young males in her study on the decadent romantic ethos of these communities, where being a bit crazy, “going all the way”, was considered the point. Driving in their cars, young males built their identities and developed solidarity with each other, to the mutual benefit of all members of the community. Rock music has traditionally been about excess and rebellion and heavy consumption of drugs and alcohol one its main components (Oksanen 2012). “We learn to [w]e learn to drink, smoke, and take drugs because others show us not only how to do it but also how to enjoy it”, writes sociologist James Barber (in Shelby 2016).
The articles of this theme issue view dangerous and unhealthy lifestyles as they occur in three areas of life that are hard – for the individuals and for society: addiction, suicide, and eating disorders. Societies suffer both on the individual plane, as well as a whole, from all these phenomena. Often, these practices are outside of semiosis, i.e., they lack “sense” and rationality, as Sulkunen (1997) has written about addiction. Often, we explain them with the term “disease” (Barber 1994): if not biological, then at least, of “the will” (Valverde 1998). As our articles show, however, these are also ways of thinking and habits of life that suck individuals into their maelstroms as well as provide them with communities, meaningful perspectives, as well as feelings of pleasure.
Some people, for example, train hard, apply extreme diets and eat growth-enhancing substances to look like statues. These are not just bodybuilders. Practitioners of aerobics also endanger their own health through practices, that do not even make them look “good” in any mainstream way, but only to the others in their “tribes.” Anorexia lurks as a side-track in this dangerous lifestyle. This problematics is in the center of Henri Hyvönen’s article “Care of the Self, Somaesthetics and Men Affected by Eating Disorders: Rethinking the Focus on Men’s Beauty Ideals”, which is a study of six autobiographical narratives of eating disorders (ED) from the perspective of caring for the self. It is a theme the late Michel Foucault made visible in his History of Sexuality. In his thought-provoking article, Hyvönen focuses on the dangers of self-stylization by stressing the role of “local social groups” in the formation of men’s ED’s in his empirical data. As he shows in his analysis, for his informants, eating disorders were not a way to achieve some abstract “masculinity”, which is usually provided as an explanation, but a process through which they could be accepted in particular subcultures. Pragmatic somaesthetics, for its part, could contribute to the establishment of local groups and communities that could provide young met with safer bodily self-care practices, according to Hyvönen.
Different hobbies and professions, indeed, offer different tracks for unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles – and often in ways that are connected to aesthetic issues. Skateboarders – the rolling parkour-practitioners that have roamed our streets since the 1970s – try the impossible, with style – and break bones while being filmed. Rock stars are in constant danger of making alcohol and drug consumption a dangerous habit, and the lifestyle that provides too little sleep but the excitement of life on the road has taken down many performers (Oksanen 2012).
One could, of course, also ask if there are artistic products or genres that are hard to understand deeply without using risky substances. Anyone can understand on a basic level what Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead are about, but is there another level of understanding, another way to interpret their music when one is “experienced”? We do not think that is the case, for example, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797-1798), even though the bizarre story – one mariner kills an albatross, then sea monsters seize the ship – was written by an avid opium user. While Coleridge used opium as a relaxant and an antidepressant and wrote Kublai Khan (1816) directly under its influence, it is hard to say if he used the drug as a creative enhancement. There was no culture to contextualize it or make it meaningful.
In the wave of 1960s psychedelia, it was different, as the drugs were brought to the scene by psychologists like Timothy Leary. His “The Psychedelic Experience” (written with Ralph Metzner, 1964) was not based only on the aspiration to revolutionize perception and experience, but also to incite a political revolution with the help of substances. We try to understand original contexts in art, too, when we discuss the baroque and distant scenes where our favorite films come from. Will people someday take substances when they try to understand 20th century popular music?
Some of the connections mentioned here are the background for Robert Jones’s article on the experimental drug use of William Burroughs, “The Body is a Soft Machine: The Twisted Somaesthetic of William S. Burroughs.” In his text, Jones goes beyond the analysis of poetry to examine the whole dangerous lifestyle of beat poets, with Burroughs in the lead, along with his readings of, e.g., Reich and Jones’s notes on Richard Shusterman’s somaesthetics. Jones uses the term “twisted somaesthetics” to describe Burroughs endeavours to break free of societal control with the help of substances. The lifestyle does not offer physical well-being, but, nevertheless, serves for Burroughs a way to find and explore new ways of being and criticize contemporary forms of how we experience and use our body.
In the most extreme case, dangerous and unhealthy lifestyles might just be about death – one’s own or someone’s else. The key topic In Heidi Kosonen’s “Suicide, Social Bodies and Danger: Taboo, Biopower and Parental Worry” in Films Bridgend (2015) and Bird Box (2018 is the radical act of denying life and the way this is presented in films. Even though suicide is considered a taboo in Western cultures, it is often handled in films. These films, in turn, are sometimes considered dangerous as e.g. portraying suicide is easily seen as risky and as an invitation to join in death. Kosonen uses a biopolitical framework of Michel Foucault to understand what is going on in film representations of suicide. According to her, most Anglophone films have adopted medical institutions’ views of suicide. They portray suicide in medical terms and frame suicide an anomaly of the mind “through diagnoses, stereotypical and even pejorative depictions of a variety of mental illnesses from depression to psychopathology”. On the other hand, suicide is depicted as a force of nature, which is uncontrollable and understandable, as the victims are not there to explain themselves. Both these frameworks are stereotypical and do not portray the heterogenous reality on the background of suicide. In the worst case they might enhance prejudices and make it harder for ones living with mental illness to seek medical assistance.
At any rate, the main question for us editors, when we started to edit this issue, was: Can a person use dangerous substances, and – against all prejudices – take care of himself/herself in such a way that aesthetic concepts like harmony or holistic pleasure would make sense? As we have shown so far, the answer is not straightforward. Unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles do give pleasure for individuals and, also, a way of life with friends and communities backing your lifestyle. However, at the same time, people often look for a way out these lifestyles.
In her article “Unhealthy Lifestyle or Modern Disease? Constructing Narcotic Addiction and Its Treatments in the United States (1870-1920),” Irene Delcourt studies the history of interpretations and cures for drug addiction. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries narcotic addiction was considered a lifestyle and the result of bad lifestyle choices of upper and middle-class people. It was also believed that, by “cleansing the body” and removing inappropriate surroundings and habits the compulsion towards intoxication would disappear. A concept of rehabilitation started to appear in late 19th century medical literature in connection to both narcotic abuse and alcoholism treatment strategies, as well as sanatoriums, predecessors of contemporary “rehabs”, as places where addiction was cured with the help of a residential setting, long-term therapy – several weeks to several months – and a mix of psychiatric and physical care.
In the course of the 20th century, this comprehensive view was, slowly, replaced by a more pessimistic approach, according to Delcourt. As faces of addiction became poorer, narcotic addiction was no longer considered to be a lifestyle, but rather an incurable disease, or a criminal proclivity that could not be controlled with treatment or rehabilitation, but, rather, incarceration. In the beginning of 21st century, we find more and more biomedical framing of addiction. From the point of view of somaesthetic it could be asked, was something missed in this process, and could we learn something from the holistic approaches of the 19th century? As Delcourt writes, comprehensive rehabilitation still exists, but it is reserved mainly for “well-offs”, taking place in private addiction clinics. At the same time the majority of people suffering from addiction have to settle with state-sponsored treatment programs, which offer very little help or no help at all for their patients besides medication, not to mention a promotion of healthier lifestyles, ways to take care of one self or a groups one could belong and find new forms of existence (see also Leppo & Perälä 2016).
Crispin Sartwell’s text “What the Drug Culture Meant”, which ends our theme issue, is an autobiography of a political philosopher who has come a long way from being a juvenile delinquent to being one of the most read American philosophers of culture. Sartwell says that he learned criticality through his years of marginalization, and he claims that his experience with drugs has left a valuable trace on his philosophical work. From the point of view of this theme issue Sartwell’s essay has three central points. Firstly, drugs, particularly marijuana and psychedelics, had cultural and counter-cultural meaning and separated the youth who used them from their parents and teachers. Drugs were also aesthetic and provided Sartwell and his friends with music to hear and arts to consume, a whole lifestyle. Finally, drugs were political, signaling anti-authoritarianism or an entire rejection of "the establishment.". “The whole thing” was not fun and great all the time, Sartwell admits, but at the same time he misses part of this culture and the feelings it created.
The question that arises is, what other “things” could offer same kind of a comprehensive world view and feelings of belonging to contemporary youths and young adults – or us adults – besides substances? Are there available forms of resistance, which do not destroy those who want to resist? Could somaesthetics as a discourse and/or a platform be helpful for raising discussions about the techniques of the care of the self in these respects? We hope that our compilation of essays offers insight on this.
One of our central conclusion is that we easily forget that even those people who have, in one way or another, seem to have lost control over their lives – or at least some part of it – have and want to have meaning in their lives and being in control over their lives. For example, substance users and other addicts have hobbies, and they work hard on controlling and/or medicating their addictions through self-care. Many have also succeeded, as the studies of natural recovery without treatment have shown (Klingeman 2001). For many, art has been a central form of self-care and a pathway out of addiction (We know the number of addicts in the history of arts and popular culture.) Sport, too. People can also stop driving insanely – and they can quit smoking.
In this theme issue, we have been interested in connecting social sciences (that have a connection to medicine) and the discussion on somaesthetics (the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of the body), with film studies, literature studies and gender studies. Doing this, we have wanted to explore the possibilities of somaesthetics to provoke discussion and produce novel ways to think about addiction and other unhealthy lifestyles. We, at least, have learned a lot in our dialogue with the contributors.
This issue also contains Noora-Helena Korpelainen’s review of Vinod Balakrishnan and Swathi Elizabeth Kurian’s Somaesthetics and Yogasūtra: A Reading through Films (2019) and Stefano Marini’s review of Richard Shusterman’s Bodies in the Street (2019), “Urban Aesthetics and Soma-Politics: On Bodies in the Streets: The Somaesthetics of City Life.”
Somaesthetics and BeautyVol. 6 No. 1 (2020)
Somaesthetics and Beauty
Beauty is a cornerstone of philosophical aesthetics, perhaps the fundamental one. However, if beauty performs a long-living philosophical role, ever since Plato connected it to the truth, it encounters serious problems from Modernism onwards. Some of the most visionary intellectual sensibilities from the end of the 19th century noticed the changes that turn beauty into an antiquated concept. For example, Paul Valéry, who in 1928 asked whether “the Moderns still make any use of it,” concluded that “the Beautiful is no longer in vogue.” Increasingly seen as a phenomena in entertainment, beauty never recovers to regain its former philosophical glory. On the other hand, the ambiguous decline of true beauty and the parallel rise of pleasure or sensation-seeking beauty continues to pose a concern to aesthetic thought. To be sure, the aestheticization of everyday life blends economy and aesthetics, industry and style, mode and art, consumpation and creation, mass culture and elitist culture. But how does this aestheticization of the contemporary world affect the very experience of beauty?
The lack of borders within the aesthetic field rebounds on a corresponding unlimitedness in our ability to perceive. Similarily, the question is: Has the beautiful become too broad and thus too superficial a concept, or does the sentiment of beauty help us to differentiate our perceptions? Mapping the conceptual potential of beauty points not only to a revaluation of modern and contemporary art and artistic ways of challenging traditional beauty, but it simultaneously emphasizes the need for focusing on the sensible, perceptive, and bodily experience. The primary question remains, how, despite trivialization, beauty may still (or again) refer to an aesthetic experience that manifests itself in the sensing body, both as originating from the body and as appearing in a meaningful embodied experience.
In this issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics, we collected contributions from various fields exploring experiences of beauty vis-à-vis aestheticized phenomena in everyday life, design, art, urbanity, and elsewhere. We did not want to limit contributions to specific fields or methods of inquiry but included contributions from various relevant fields and their epistemological perspectives (aesthetics, arts, health studies, sports, and natural sciences).
The issue starts with Stefano Marino’s interview “Beauty from a Pragmatist and Somaesthetic Perspective: A Conversation with Richard Shusterman,” which presents Shusterman’s approach toward the significance of the notion and experience of beauty for somaesthetics.
The first section of articles that focus on existing theories on beauty. Anne Elisabeth Sejten’s “Beauty Trouble” provides an introductory analysis that traces the concept of beauty as an epistemic turn toward sensibility in which beauty seems to have disturbed rather than stabilized the autonomy of aesthetics. These discussions about beauty allow her to identity conflicting features in four shifting concepts of beauty from the foundational century of the Enlightenment until today and, thus, to argue that the concept of beauty has had a persistently dynamic and vital role in aesthetics.
Tanehisa Otabe’s article seeks to establish a counterweight to Kant’s transcendental theory of beauty by bringing to the fore Herder’s almost forgotten work Calligone. Herden counters Kant’s dualism with a kind of monism that does not accept Kant’s distinctions between, for example, nature and art, nor the distinction between the beautiful, the agreeable, and the good. Herder’s ambition is an integration of aesthetic experience and beauty as the fine art of living.
Finally, in “The Beauty of Mathematical Order,” Esther Oluffa Pedersen presents a study of the role of mathematics in beauty. Drawing extensively on Greek philosophy, she discusses how mathematical beauty connects not only to the aesthetic theory of Kant but also to creative works in modern design and poetry. Mathematics appears to be a key to understanding the Platonic and Aristotelian notions of natural order and creation, which again prove to be relevant to the understanding of somaesthetics.
The second section comprises articles that deal with the human subject’s own bodily aesthetic experiences as a participant of a participatory work of art, or as the somaesthetic relationship between dancers, audiences, and sites, or as the aesthetic experience of the athlete. In his article “Can There be Beauty in Participatory Art?”, Falk Heinrich characterizes beautiful experiences as the lived intensity that appropriates the participant by positioning him or her as one constituent of a situation that consists of a multiplicity of other constituents such as the site, the conceptual framework, and other people.
In his article “Challenging Urban Anesthetics: Beauty and Contradiction in Georg Simmel’s Rome,” Henrik Reeh addresses the experience of beauty in cities. Reconstructing the prevalent role of the blasé attitude in Simmel’s view of the metropolis, he highlights how, surprisingly, Simmel elaborates on a contextual or even conflictual notion of beauty in Rome around 1900. One hundred and twenty years later, Reeh returns to a particular park in Simmel’s Rome and demonstrates how somaesthetic qualities are decisive sources of beauty in the contemporary city as well. His article includes experiential and artistic materials that aim to strengthen somaesthetics in the realm of academic research.
In their article “Performative Somaesthetics: Interconnections of Dancers, Audiences, and Sites,” Suparna Banerjee and Jessica Fiala discuss somaesthetic authorship and agency in dance, its audience, and “embodied encounters with sites.” Through a discourse on two case studies, TooMortal (2012) by Shobana Jeyasings and Dusk at Stonehenge (2009) by Nina Rajarani, they explore what happens at the aforementioned intersection.
John Toner’s and Barbara Montero’s “The Value of Aesthetic Judgements in Skillful Action” inquires into the world of sport and the role that skill has in it. Toner and Montero claim that still, not much attention has “been devoted to an evaluation of the aesthetic dimension of sport from the performer’s perspective.” They address this issue by covering aesthetic experiences that athletes experience and analyzing their value and use in sports.
The third section deals with beauty and ecology. Else-Marie Bukdahl’s article “Aesthetic Challenges in the Field of Sustainability: Art, Architectural Design, and Sustainability in the Projects of Michael Singer” insists that beauty is not merely a contemplative concept but is to be constructed. Singer’s work is to be understood as an artistic action that regenerates nature and creates landscape and architectural projects in which artistic and ecological goals were integrated into the construction process.
In her article “The Aesthetic Enchantment Approach: From “Troubled” to “Engaged” Beauty,” Sue Spaid introduces the aesthetic enchantment approach, which enhances the scientific cognitivism stance on beauty by adding a performative dimension to it. An example of this is the active commitment of citiens in citizen science approaches to ecologically degraded sites, which add a bodily aesthetic dimension that is pertinent for ameliorative aspects of the sentiment of beauty to the cognitive dimension.
Falk Heinrich, Max Ryynänen and Anne Elisabeth Sejten, Issue Editors
Somaesthetics and SoundVol. 5 No. 2 (2019)
Somaesthetics and Sound
The intertwining of sound and the body is fascinating and multifarious. Until fairly recently, sound has mainly been studied in terms of listening, sound reproduction technologies, and acoustical measurements. In turn, the body, especially that of someone producing sound with their voice or with an instrument, has commonly been approached as a physiological entity. Lately, however, the embodied and experiential aspect of sound has increasingly gained ground in research and pedagogy as well as in the arts. In a short period of time, studying the experience of listening or producing sound has generated a number of fruitful approaches and methods for sound studies. The field has, so to speak, “come of age.”
However, the advancement of this field in recent years does not mean that it would not have existed before. Numerous pioneering studies focusing on the sound experience of human beings have been published, some well before the turn of the millennium and some more recently (e.g., Benson, 2003; Bicknell, 2015; Burrows, 1990; Eidsheim, 2015; Ihde, 1976, 2007; Jankélévitch, 1961/2003; McCaleb, 2016; Neumark, Gibson, & Leeuwen, 2010; Vitale, 2010; Welten, 2009; Winter, 2009). The number of published articles and books on the subject is increasing, as exemplified by extensive anthologies such as The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (Pinch & Bijsterveld, 2011), which considers sound and music to be experienced “in such diverse settings as shop floors, laboratories, clinics, design studios, homes, and clubs, across an impressively broad range of historical periods and national and cultural contexts” (Pinch & Bijsterveld, 2012, para. 1).
Research of speech and singing is another field of sound studies that was almost completely focused on exact sciences, such as phonetics, anatomy, physiology, and acoustics. During the last decade, however, the spectrum of approaches has expanded considerably with publications such as the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies; a book series called Routledge Voice Studies; and a number of carefully crafted articles, anthologies, and monographs. An impressive example of the broadening of this field, which would have been unimaginable ten or twenty years ago, is the recently published Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies. This book identifies six modes or domains of research that may be transferable to other fields of embodied or experiential sound studies as well as somaesthetics:
1) prompts (texts, artistic forms, everyday practices that the voice performs or executes),
2) performance (what comes into being during vocal engagement, including sounds, their character, silences, and the trajectory along which these elements unfold),
3) material dimensions and mechanism (the physicality of the voice and its function),
4) auditory/sensory perception (the part of the vocal feedback cycle that is concerned with auditory and any sensory perception of voice, including auto-perception),
5) documentation, narrativization, and collection (the modes of research that focus primarily on voice in the form of the secondary forms of documentation and data collection), and
6) context (the meta-context within which we understand the other domains, and, equally importantly, the domain that affords and limits insight into a given phenomenon). (Eidsheim & Meizel, 2019, pp. xxiv–xxvi)
As Eidsheim and Meizel (2019) note,
initiating the process of mapping the territory and naming the six domains is only a first step in a much larger project: the collective work of charting voice-related areas of scholarship and practice for the purpose of facilitating new entry points for scholars and illuminating connections across fields. (p. xxvi)
Substituting “voice” with “sound” might make the six modes or domains of research, as well as this statement, relevant to broader study of the sound–body relationship.
A journal issue on sound and somaesthetics is an ideal medium for disseminating some of the subjects of research, approaches, points of view/being, and methods for studying the embodiment of sound. As the field is in the process of expanding and researchers are finding new options for interdisciplinary study, such a journal issue is only one of the numerous platforms through which this fascinating area can be developed. It will be interesting to see how the increasing interest in the embodied experience among sound and voice researchers will change the utilization of somaesthetics as part of these approaches as well as how this tendency towards the body in sound studies will encourage scholars of somaesthetics to address sound-related themes in their work.
In this issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics, contributors from various fields explore sound as manifested in the body, as originating from the body, or as a meaningful, embodied experience. The focus is on the body-aesthetic or somaesthetic dimensions of sound, music, and the voice. The articles deal with improvisation, playing instruments, singing, theatre, and the philosophy of sound. In most articles, sound is approached from the embodied experience of the sound producer (i.e., the player or singer). Some authors base their reflections on their own experiences, while others use research material they collected through interviews and discussions.
In her overview article, Anne Tarvainen maps out the most interesting writings in the field of somaesthetics, music, sound, and the voice. She introduces Richard Shusterman’s texts on these subjects and presents the writings of other scholars who apply somaesthetics with sound-related approaches. The aim of Tarvainen’s article is to offer some entry points for readers interested in applying somaesthetics to research and/or artistic practices involving music, sound, and the voice.
In his article, Stefano Marino focuses on jazz drumming and improvisation. He links his analysis to somaesthetics and pragmatist aesthetics and points out that improvised music can be understood as somatic knowledge. Marino articulates the bodily nature of improvisation, highlighting the thoughts of numerous theorists without neglecting musicians’ perspective on the subject. Marino concludes that jazz drumming is comparable to other somatic activities, such as yoga, because it is equally practiced for cultivating somatic consciousness and exhibiting sophisticated use of the body.
Focusing on the lived experiences of two professional musician-teachers, Grace Han studies the essential role of the body in practicing the cello. Traditionally, becoming a professional instrumentalist in the field of classical music has been conceived as an endless repetition of instrument-specific skilled movements. These ideally result in automatic, habitual routines that allow the musician to shift his or her attention toward abstract musical ideas. In her interview-based study, Han questions this conventional dichotomy, instead understanding the everyday work of a musician as a vehicle for self-understanding through imagination, bodily awareness, and liberation.
Drawing upon the currently growing body of research on music as an experience of embodiment, Salvatore Morra focuses on the Tunisian lute, ʻūd ʻarbī, and its “sounding Tunisian.” Understanding the senses as inseparable from one another, he explores “the notion of Tunisian sound in relation to touches and bodies of ʻūd ʻarbī players and the meanings they construct.” Morra first introduces the ʻūd ʻarbī and the tradition of playing it and then describes the embodied process of building, hearing, and touching the instrument.
In her article, Charulatha Mani describes the artistic process of composing “Sonic River,” a vocal piece co-performed with another singer. This work is based on the Karnatik (South Indian classical) musical tradition. During the vocal and somaesthetic process, Mani explores the development of her own bodily awareness and links these reflections to the yoga tradition. Mani criticizes the patriarchal tradition of Karnatik music, which ignores the bodily experience, and discusses how to democratize the vocal practices of this prestigious music culture.
In his article, composer Peter Bruun looks at the theater project “Sound of the Audience,” which he executed in Copenhagen with two directors, a musician, and a group of local residents. For three months, the group rehearsed a performance in which the performers acted like an audience, producing audience sounds such as speech and coughing. Then, the work was performed in front of an actual audience. The article is based on the composer’s own experiences as well as conversations with one of the participants. In it, Bruun ponders whether there can be music without sound. He looks at the function of music in community-making and discusses the function of music between and among people in a world where music distribution is largely digitized. He concludes that music is a fundamentally communal bodily activity that “begins in the flesh.”
Based on interpretations of Klangfiguren (“sound figures,” commonly known as Chladni figures) by the early German Romantics Novalis and Johann Wilhelm Ritter, Alexis B. Smith traces the universal language of nature, described by Novalis as the “true Sanskrit.” This language, which is closely related to music, contains sound, writing, and meaning simultaneously; like in Sanskrit, there is no longer a separation between objects and their names, nor between humans and nature. Drawing upon the properties of Sanskrit and Ritter’s scientific and poetic narratives about the sound figures, Smith argues that sound figures have a prominent role in The Novices of Sais, in which Novalis develops Poesie as a universal language and sound figures are alluded to through poetic, metaphorical imagery.
Anne Tarvainen and Päivi Järviö, Issue Editors
BODY FIRST: Somaesthetics and Popular CultureVol. 5 No. 1 (2019)
Body First: Somaesthetics and Popular Culture
As the highbrowed critics of the mass culture debate (Ortega y Gasset, Adorno, Arnold) mocked popular culture audiences throughout the 1920s, 1930s and the 1940s, Hannah Arendt stepped up to defend the ‘masses’ in her essay “Crisis in Culture” (1959). Arendt reminded the intellectuals that we all need entertainment. She criticized the critics of mass culture by saying that the biggest threat for art is found in the philistines, who snobbishly take art to be only education and civilization—which is not the most fruitful way of thinking about art—and who so use to it for example to build class difference.
2019 intellectuals are not polarized in the same way as in the early 20th century, but an echo of the discourse of the ‘philistines’ of the debate keeps haunting us. We constantly face a rhetoric pointing to ‘active’ viewer of movies, of art projects which activate people in the suburbs and the need to be an active consumer and not to just go with the flow. Could the obsession with the active audience be considered to be one form of the neoliberal? It is definitely, at least, a philistine way of approaching culture. Where the word active is used about audiences, and when it is not pointing to works of art where audience participation is encouraged, it is also not hard to note, that in today’s society that means intellectual activity, not physical—and that often being active means that one consumes culture with some kind of connection to something we might label highbrow. It is not that we’d laugh actively or that we’d dance actively in the disco, it is that we’d for example reflect actively on the environment or the society, or that we would reflect actively on politics.
Without debasing our needs to reflect on political and environmental issues, it is hard to understand what is wrong with just getting entertained?
When families cue to the roller coaster in the amusement park or when teens go to watch a movie, which they assume will frighten them and make them nearly jump off their chair, they consciously want to activate their bodies. We find this interesting. The active body is central in many aesthetic inventions and it has motorized the development of countless aesthetic phenomena. Contrary to highbrow arts and the work of academic philistines, popular culture has not been shy about this. The breakbeat in rap music was developed to extend dancing in parties. Many clothes are either autoerotic or designed to arouse others. And for those who are interested in people reflecting on things actively, of course these bodily traditions have sparked and fueled also active analysis and reflection.
Discos and amusement parks are obvious examples of popular culture, where the body is really the priority, but then there are other forms of culture where the active body is if not central, then at least quintessential for the practice. Think about action films and the way you can feel tickling in your sole when Tom Cruise climbs the Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible—Ghost Protocoll (2011). Think about horror films where disgust and chills in the spine are central for the experience. Don’t forget how romantic novels warm up the chest and how if nothing else than at least nodding your head is an integral part of listening to live jazz music.
It is not, though, that these forms of culture would only be contemporary. In the classical debate in Indian philosophy on the rasa (emotive affect), the 11th century Kashmiri philosopher Abhinavagupta notes the physical side of the experience of theatre by analyzing how sight and hearing, when well stimulated, can sublimate the audience spiritually (spiritual elevation so follows somatic stimulation). And if you think about it, Aristotle’s ‘catharsis’ nails the physical effects of drama. Today we know that the audience of Greek spectacles came to the ‘show’ like they would arrive to football matches, often late and drunk. (One could think that his theory is as much about popular culture as it is about art with the capital A, the Greek culture was so different from ours.) Aristotle’s way of borrowing the term catharsis from the medics of his time, who talked about bodily purification, is no coincidence. And it is an allegory which is easy to understand. The way good drama, thrillers and horrors of fiction massage our stomachs is a commonplace for modern and postmodern (wo)man.
Sometimes it feels even that popular culture is mainly about the production and consumption of bodily effects. Jan Mukarovsky wrote about ‘aesthetic functions’ in his Aesthetic Function, Norm and Value as Social Fact (1936), and discussed a lot of folk and popular art in his work. Mukarovsky’s function is of course semiotic, as Mukarovsky was a member of the Prague School, but the concept is also very appropriate (and not in dissonance with Mukarovsky’s work) for discussing bodily effects, which are produced to us in popular culture and which we seek for when we enter the realm of popular culture. What is the function of horror or circus? A lot of it is found in the realm of the body.
Anyway, whether the body really comes first, like in the amusement park, or whether it is just integral/quintessential for the practice, we’d like the reader of this volume to think for a while about the role of the body in entertainment, mass culture and the vernacular.
Walter Benjamin writes in his analysis of urban Paris and its poets, “Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism” (1939), how traffic, factory work, new media (photography, film) and Tivoli shared the same rhythm and shocking nature. The body was also central for Richard Shusterman’s theory of rap music (Shusterman 1992), where its function of ‘moving the ass’ sparked the later discourse of somaesthetics. But what we’d like to think of here, in this introduction, is the fact that the body is in so many ways involved in leisure and entertainment, that we might need a small moment for just thinking about it and nothing else. The examples mentioned earlier are just a start when one decides to accept that the body could be seen as the key for understanding the whole field of the popular. It is more like we’d need to ask: in what ways is the body important for this and that practice? The bottom of our stomach gets massaged when we watch an entertaining ice hockey game (ice hockey journalists often talk about the catharsis of the game, especially in relation to hockey fights) and sometimes we want to listen to music which resonates with our pulse. List your 10 major uses of popular culture and think of their bodily extensions. We believe you might surprise yourself.
This volume includes texts by 7 authors, who are Davide Giovanzana, Scott Elliot, Noora Korpelainen, Adam Andrzejewski, Janne Vanhanen, Sue Spaid and Max Ryynänen. Their texts touch upon issues like Ballard’s/Cronenberg’s Crash, the everyday practice of yoga, the bodies of popular art works, provoking images of violence, and the way media imagery distances us from the bodies of the ones who suffer. We are not describing their texts in a Reader’s Digest fashion as we believe that it is more interesting for you to go straight into their thoughts. The texts do not always follow our intuitions in this introduction, but the spark was given by some of the thoughts mentioned here. We are very happy to provide you this set of texts, which circulates around the topics explained above, and we have already learned a lot during the editing process
We hope you, as the reader, enjoy the texts of Body First: Somaesthetics and Popular Culture as much as we do.
Jozef Kovalcik & Max Ryynänen, Issue Editors
Somaesthetics and TechnologyVol. 4 No. 2 (2019)
Somaesthetics and Technology
This special issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics contains articles that deal with the aesthetic relationship between technology and the soma. Special focus was intended on the applications of somaesthetic theories and practices on the design and evaluation of technology, and their comparison to other theoretical frameworks. Instead, we have mostly received contributions that are discovering somaesthetics. Regular and invited submissions went through a peer review, combined with editorial suggestions. We hoped the submissions would focus on the theory and practice of somaesthetics. What the articles have in common is their focus on the techno-social materials and themes.
Migration, for example, is an important socio-dynamical construct. In the artistic work INTIMAL, Ximena Alarcón Díaz explores the soma expressions of Colombian migrant women in telematic sonic improvisatory performance work. The design of the system has been informed by several interdisciplinary practices including embodied music cognition and deep listening, as well as an oral archive with testimonials from Colombian migrants. Alarcón presents data from field work with migrant women and two experiments with groups improvising to the oral archive, while being recorded with optical motion capture and sensors for breathing and muscle activity. Based on the results, Alarcón presents the design of the system.
Recently, virtual, augmented, and mixed reality had tremendous momentum. It is widely accepted that soma-based experiences will be an important design goal for these techno-social extended realities. We (Erkut and Dahl) present an approach of teaching virtual reality interactions, as used in our embodied interaction course for master’s students at Aalborg University. In order to help the students to develop the designer skills necessary for successful development of virtual interactions, the course includes theory on soma-based design, movement exercises with focus on first-person experiences, and a practical workshop jointly with students at the Danish National School of Performing Arts. We present four student projects from the course and discuss them in relation to experiential somaesthetics.
Two invited papers aim to highlight new voices in the field. The Doctoral Committee papers from the 2018 Movement and Computing Conference were invited, revised, and organized by the guest editors. They together expand the bounds between body, brain, and environment to inanimate objects and matter in the environment.
Kensho Miyoshi highlights the potential use of kinesthetic empathy in the context of design. Can the designers feel kinesthetic empathy to objects as much as they feel towards people? Beyond their function, could the quality of object movements evoke feelings useful for design? The author applies kinesthetic empathy to the perception of kinetic objects, with the aim of revealing the relationship between object movements and our embodied and empathic reactions. Kinesthetic empathy could open a new perspective on our embodied and visceral response to dynamic objects and environments, in relation to somaesthetics.
In the second doctoral work summary, Garrett Laroy Johnson and his colleagues focus on techno-social construction of ensembles in designing responsive media. Within their work Lanterns, they show how people and augmented pendant lamps together form an ensemble and how people are entrained with the Lanterns. Based on the concept of ensembles, the authors summarize their design tactics and investigations, which provide insights about the embodied experience with respect to technicity.
The highly speculative essay by Monica Yadav combines the diverse fields of neuroscience, philosophy, and theatre into a techno-social bound between body, brain, and environment. Specifically, technology, seen as a surface, produces in reflection an encounter of the triadic relation of body-brain-environment with itself. The author proposes that the triad is in both a material and virtual relation, where material and virtual are allelic pairs.
This issue includes an insightful interview with Kia Höök on her new book Designing with the Body, conducted by Dag Svanæs. Not only did Höök “shop for” and transfer somaesthetics into actionable research in somaesthetic interaction design, but she also produced and documented beautiful soma design exemplars and literally “moved” an international research community with her effort. Svanæs, another strong mover on the importance of the body in interaction design, brings out fine details of the book in the interview. Both the book and the interview are highly recommended readings in soma-based design of the current and future technologies that shape us.
The last contribution is a book review. Max Ryynänen critically assesses the anthology Aesthetic Experience and Somaesthetics edited by Richard Shusterman containing thirteen articles. Ryynänen discusses a selection of them concluding that the notion of somaesthetics, on the one hand, offers an accessible and necessary conceptual platform for thinking and practicing with and through the body, but that, on the other hand, the contributions are in danger of losing philosophical rigor and depth that could be regained by connecting to the field’s philosophical foundations as elaborated by Dewey and Shusterman.
Compared to the first call for papers, the issue clearly is very different than we the editors have first imagined. The contributions challenged our disciplinary competences, indicated many future directions, and took us to reach out for reviewers in many different fields. We hope that they will have the same effects on you, including slowing down a bit and feel the fundamental question of interaction design with your entire soma: “what if …”.
Cumhur Erkut and Sofia Dahl, Issue Editors
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.