Archive for June, 2011

what is a body?

June 2, 2011

Mais, non. The question, in fact, is what is a corpse? Because a corpse is everything that we all shall inevitably, and unavoidably, be. Our bodies are a transitory home to a finite consciousness. Everything we think and express will be expressed during this period of bodily consciousness; and everything we think and don’t express, well, that is lost to the finality of death.

You walk along the street, you see the roadkill remains of a blackbird. What are those remains – they are the essence of blackbird. The blackbird exists only as it is perceived in its bodily form – there is nothing beyond the form that suggests it is a blackbird. If consciousness could survive annihilation then its very formlessness, the shapelessness in which our thoughts and ideas must exist, would transcend the idea of taxonomic definition. Thus, anything that exists of blackbird after the corporeal demise of blackbird is no longer blackbird: it must be abstract spirit. But this does not exist. Abstract spirit is an impossibility – our spirit is the individual, unique result of the machinations of our living consciousness, as defined by individual and unique experience. But our own individuality only lasts so long as we can comprehend it, once we fail to distinguish ourselves from the fleshly heap of bodies that is the deceased, then we lose our individuality and we return to this pre-conscious state of non-existence, or at least of non-comprehension (by which point existence is impossible, anyway: if you are incapable of comprehending, you are incapable of existing because an existence defines itself as a conscious separated from the mass of life that is the Other, and not the colonial Other, but the Other that is everything outside our ego and our id, the temporary essence that sustains our bodily selves and that we must assume sustains all other bodies – because what arrogance! to suggest that our bodies are the only bodies aware of their limited, reductive bodiliness).

Was the ego once part of a universal whole, as Freud states it could have been? Perhaps. But only before it is capable of defining itself as an individual – which is perhaps the state at which our consciousness exists as an infant, before self-cognizance presented itself to our developing minds. But, we can only remember as far back as cognizance allows – we cannot talk of a point in which we were unable to distinguish our selves from the external world – and what use is it of hypothesising on a state of being that nobody remembers (because it predates the very concept of being able to remember) but that we all must have experienced, and that may very well be uterine (are we an individual when we are born? who can say conclusively – nobody, it is impossible).

So, the blackbird can only be defined by its body. The tiger only exists as it is seen as a physical form. We cannot imagine that a blackbird exists in any other form except that of the form of the blackbird. The tiger also cannot be a ‘spirit’, tiger must be a form. So what of the human? The human must also simply be a form – a taxonomic clarification. Just as we cannot perceive of blackbird in any other form than blackbird, so we must assume that blackbird cannot perceive of human in any other form than the human form itself. If a ‘human spirit’ is translocated into the body of a tiger, it must be a tiger, there is nothing to suggest that any self-consciousness (that we pride ourselves on possessing which elevates us from the animal kingdom) would remain. Of course, the suggestion that a blackbird can comprehend the human in the same way that a human can comprehend a blackbird is absurd – the mental capacities are so vastly incompatible. But just because our consciousness is so far advanced that we can self-analyse, as the blackbird cannot, does not mean that our consciousness can survive in any meaningful way beyond the death of our bodies.

Bodies are the batteries that power our individualities; and if these batteries die, no matter the power, necessity demands that the individual too must die. So the roadkill remains, are they truly the remains of blackbird? Yes, they are vehicle through which the notion of blackbird is expressed. But they must also be a generic body. The actual notion of blackbird dies as the mental faculties of the body of blackbird dies. The corpse that remains is the shell that housed the idea of blackboard – the body of the human is the shell that housed each individual – but it must therefore be the generic body. All bodies must be a generic manifestation of their taxonomic individualities. When the monarchy is dead (and, as a brief aside, may it be soon!) their wholly reverend bodies will no more define the human consciousness as that of the unknown soldier, as that of you, or as that of me.

And, of course, is not this idea terrifying? The notion that nothing our bodies and our consciousness are able to express are capable of prolonging the pretence that is our unique individuality. Everything we know of the past comes to us through words – through the utterances of untrustworthy bodies – the mind wants always to transcend its bodily confines, but they must be confined by what our body is capable of expressing. Love hurts because the inability of our body to be immortal dictates that love must always be unfulfilling – the idea of a shared totality, of reciprocal lives, is transitory and we know it cannot be forever and so there cannot be such thing as ‘the one’, there can only be ‘the one’ as we perceive it in our brief lifetime, which is far from long enough if we are to fairly assess whether or not we are destined to remain together – destiny is severely restricted by mortality. Destiny does not exist. Things do not happen for a reason. Destiny would like to exist. Things would like to happen for a reason. But we live too short a time for this idealist fiction to become reality. Existence hurts because it is the best inadequacy we can attain – we know we cannot express ourselves beyond the limited confines of our body. Emotional pain is expressed through bodily experience. We hurt, but it is not really a physical pain, we think of it as a mental pain – but is there really such a thing? Our consciousness cannot really hurt, but it can feel itself restricted by the limited emotional capacity of the body. An inability to express ourselves beyond the terminology of the bodily inevitably leads us to the feeling of unfulfillment. Anybody who dies with claims of fulfillment is a liar.

So, what is a body? It is no more than a corpse given the brief impulse of life. Prior to self-awareness we may well be an ego attached to the world beyond our ‘selves’, but so far as our memories can say, we might as well have been a corpse, a partition of the universe in which no individuality exists (and what is this generic body if not the corpse of humanity? – the corpse that cognizance attempts to define, but will unavoidably be overwhelmed by annihilation, at which point the body returns to its role as generic signifier of humanity). The body becomes self-aware for a few short, hopeless years. And we are corpse far longer than we are an individual. Ceremonial cremation of a deceased relative is no more a destruction of the signifier of that individual than it is the destruction of another indistinct, fixed representation of humanity.


post-script: Johnny and Emily may some day be united with one another, but surely their time apart must have been the most intense aspect of their relationship. When Johnny could maintain the image of the essence of Emily; and Emily the image of the essence of Johnny – their emotional, physical union only serving to undermine their own expectations. Destiny, the idea that one is meant for this course of life, can only truly exist so long as the destination is unreachable. Once reached, all kinds of reality set in.