Thursday, 21 April 2016

Bodies and Words

Continuing in the spirit of over-ambitiousness, I want to try and present a basic ethical framework - whose philosophical soundness is of supreme indifference to me.

The problem, fundamentally, with life, is culture. What Marxists would call the superstructure; what psychoanalysts would call the super-ego; what semioticians would call a sign system; what Daoists would call the dao of society; what sociologists would call socialisation; what I would just call the institution of words.

Words ruin everything. They promote and manifest mystification and reductionism even as they are marshalled to combat them. They have a mysterious fetishistic power that constantly pushes them beyond their instrumental use into seeming like the point of everything, but they're not. Words just suck.

Yes I am using words now, and yes in my own way I am even trying to write well in the assumption that felicitous exploitation of words has an aesthetic or stylistic and not merely an instrumental or substantive value, but the important distinction, I think, is that I aim for the words to belong to me rather than for myself to belong to the words.

But who is this "myself" that is to be considered more important than words? Can you have an identity that is not fundamentally mediated and compromised by verbal constructions?

This line of questioning is often presented as profound and paradoxical, but I think the answer is fairly simple. I am my body, and everything that lives and comes from within it. Crucially, this includes emotions, which are considerably influenced by outside, cultural, normative, ideological wordy factors, but are not created by them.

I think this is the basic oversight of contemporary, "postmodern" critical social and moral thinking. It's very preoccupied with how so much is created by discourse, that it neglects the fact that humans have elements that pre-exist culture, and often transcend or overpower it. We're so used of being afraid of this phenomenon - the reversion to barbarian physicality and bodiness - that we neglect to consider its potential to re-ground us in life as something real - primal, visceral and non-video-gamey.

A few months ago I had a really bad and really intense weed trip (yes, I didn't know that was a thing either), set off by the sensation of being inside a computer game, that then proceeded to dramatically malfunction. I think this is what the prioritisation of words does to us. They create an enormously elaborate house of cards, which is at the same time an intricate network of rules - like (shitty) programming code that we have to live in. There's stuff we are supposed to do and to be, with an implicit danger that if we don't do and be it successfully enough, the whole edifice will crumble, and we'll become chimpanzees again. We maintain our superiority and our lives' stability by conceding to the realm of words, well - basically anything it wants.

Progressing in a career is like progressing in a computer game. So is accumulating sexual conquests, or scoring marriages, alternatively. Almost everything we do is a proof that we deserve our privileged standing in the animal kingdom or our human geographical or class or gender or whatever position. Almost everything is an attempt to fend off the "GAME OVER" legend from appearing in the middle of our screen, only with no returning to the last saved point or even being able to restart. Whether it's explicitly a fear of death or only implicitly with the danger of losing cultural prestige and legitimacy, the message we're terrified of hearing is "Nice try, but you don't make the cut."

Because the institution of words guarantees inclusion in exclusive members' clubs. Immediately in the club of humans, more remotely (sometimes, as per fortune's favours) in the club of middle-classness or Westernness or maleness or sanity or whatnot, and ultimately in the distant promise of "successful" humanness - whether it's the millionaire or the player or the scholar or the person who's made it to heaven. And, once more, all of these clubs actually suck.

Still, I do think we have a better time of it than chimpanzees, even with our 40-hour work weeks and stress and bullshit. And, doubtlessly, we do have need of culture and words to maintain an existence where we have ready access to food and are not generally in danger of having our heads bashed in. But, as already implied by this, all of these words and culture ought to be there for the sake of our bodies' needs which would otherwise be neglected, not the other way round.

Other things our bodies need, other than food and not being mutilated, are things like love, respect, moral integrity, spiritual engagement and self-expression. Food that tastes good rather than just sustains us - even dogs can tell the difference between tasty food and bad, it's not a question of culture. There are a whole bunch of bodies in the world, and all of the people who live in them need these bodies taken care of. This does not necessarily entail the elimination of pain, discomfort or anxiety, but it does necessitate that we do not accept wholesale misery, repression or even boredom as culturally or ideologically justified or required. Things can only be bodily justified.

Bodies rule, words drool.

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