Sunday, July 22, 2007

Body Intelligence and Awareness

In this continuing thread about Eros, Power, feminine energy, babaylan, I'm sharing another email from J who writes:

J: I think that I really want to write some poetry and develop some art work that draws directly from the body. An embodied poetry. I'd like to do this in a way that doesn't eroticize in traditional ways, e.g. trying to get a rise out of readers through mention of disconnected body parts, or setting up erotic scenarios in which the reader and writer are the voyeurs. In fact, I don't necessarily want it to be about pleasure, either. But rather more about the body's awareness and intelligence -- and perspective. What the body "sees," what it is trying to tell us, etc., despite all our projections upon it.

I'd like to experimentally "channel" my body's awareness into my writing. So I'd be drawing partly from my practice of meditation, where I realize that the pleasure, pain, discomfort, etc. arising from body sensation is primary (or as the Buddhists describe it, the first arrow) and what I think about it, project upon it, intellectualize or dramatize is all secondary (the second arrow, which we are advised to let go of). I want to know what information is carried in the first arrow. I say it's "impossible," because writing is already secondary, hah! But maybe there's an intermediate place.... ? Ah, well, art is the intermediary, isn't it?

This takes me back to something we had discussed before, about older Filipinas. I want to write something that engages (utilizes, draws on) erotic power within myself as an older Filipina woman. I mean erotic in the larger sense. I don't want to write about sexuality in older women, e.g. older women can "get it on," be "sexy," write about sex, have a young lover, be powerful in business, etc. ad nauseum, the old "Passages" schtick. I don't even necessarily want this to be about the power of the erotic. I want to listen: Does my body have intellect? Does it have ethnicity? IS it powerful? Or vulnerable? I want to listen to what my body wants to write. I want to know what it has to say, and what voice it says it with.

As a Buddhist, I also want to address what a few have claimed is a tendency for western buddhists to limit their practice to the western sense of "mind" (reading "mindfulness" wrongly); a tendency to practice meditation in order to escape from the body. When in fact the body may be the prime mediator for awareness.

My reply:

THANK YOU, J! for writing this down! this is also what I am struggling to articulate. Eros is not about sexuality per se although sexuality is part of it. I really like what you say about the body as prime mediator for awareness; and the western buddhist practice of mindfulness as an escape from the body's own intelligence.

As for writing being secondary...I've been reading David Abram and what he calls the "alphabetized intellect" is the same notion you are writing about here. That modernity (and literacy) has allowed the written word/language as a substitute for the primary experiencing of Nature (he means this in a very broad sense)... he calls to poets/writers to write this language back into the body.

Perhaps as we write from the body's intelligence, as Filipina women we can write and occupy our own subject positions as we come to own our feminine energy; recognize the cultural conditioning that has previously asked us to assimilate into a male ideal masked as the universal, neutral, human truth. (But even as I write this, I wonder how Irigaray's philosophy intersects with the concept of Kapwa/Ibang Tao; how the challenge to occupy a subject position is complicated by colonial history).

What has been helpful to me lately is Irigaray's take on women's lack of subjectivity under patriarchy... she writes that there really is no such thing as sexual difference because the sexual female identity that women often assimilate is already conditioned by culture to submit to male and cultural definitions of what female identity should be. She writes that women are conditioned by the culture to keep asking: Do you love me? And the question really means: What am I for you? Who am I? How can I return to myself?

Here's an extended quote from i love to you.

"More often than not the man gives no response. And in this order romantic courtship is not really a response since the woman is desired bodily, not spiritually and energetically …Libido is masculine, or neuter, so Freud claims. Yet there is a specific feminine energy, related more to communication, to growth, and not just to reproduction. Freud presents this as an immolation of feminine energy. This energy is to be sacrificed by man for the sake of his return to the serious matters of public life, culture, a science – activities, that, it would seem, need to be cleansed of every aspect of affectivity and sexuality by returning to a zero degree of libidinal tension. As far as the woman is concerned, it has to be sacrificed in order to annul her own existence and the problems she poses. Energy is not to be cultivated in two (i.e. male and female) modalities, two voices, two colors, two tonalities. It is to be sacrificed on the cross – writes Hegel – rising toward a so-called neutral truth, devoid of perceptive and sensorial qualities, an everlasting truth, alien to our bodies, living in the here and now.

"The Western tradition typically represents living energy as sacrificed to spirit, to a truth assimilated to immutable ideals, beyond growth, beyond corporeality; celestial ideals imposed as models so that we all become alike – our sensible, natural and historical differences neutralized."(100-101)

This is also connected to Levinas' concept of radical alterity...but more on this later.

Am sure this thread is inexhaustible. Thanks!

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