Author: Davide Miccione
For centuries, amidst funereal invitations to think of them as prisons or machines inhabited by ghosts, bodies, as Hans Jonas recalled in a lecture on his relationship with the philosophical tradition, are the great absentees of Western thought. When he wrote it, now an elderly man, Jonas was referring to the philosophy he had trained in Germany in the 1920s. Yet today, a philosopher, referring to contemporaneity after Foucault, between phenomenological investigations and reflections on the hybridization of man-machine or the relationship between biological sex and gender, would have difficulty confirming those considerations that Jonas offered in passing as if they were taken for granted.
The prospect of investigation outlined above, which we could call a heuristic of presbyopia, leads us to think that if the philosophers were silent about it, it was because the body, seen and thought or not, continued to be there, to be present and even preponderant, and if they talk about it now it is because the body, our body, is disappearing. Our talk is becoming epigonal and evocative, we talk about it because the body is forced to explain it to ourselves and to those who no longer know what it is. With a perfect rebound shot, Baudrillard‘s perfect crime committed the perfect suicide. Instead of the disappearance of the world predicted by Baudrillard, it was us who disappeared aided by other instruments and other events. Instead of seeing the reality that stood before us, becomes simulacrum, and disappears, it was our body that became diaphanous and irrelevant.
2. The war of the bodies
Society makes fun of talking about the body as if it existed but, failing to recognize it, it finds itself indicating something else, thinking it is talking about that. In the well-known distinction of the Cartesian Meditations, Husserl writes “Among the bodies (…) I then find my body in its unique peculiarity, that is, as the only one not being a mere physical body (Körper) but its body organic (Leib). ”
Well: this discovery is becoming more and more difficult, so much to suggest that we are on the verge of a change of paradigm, of a historical phase in which the members of two general conceptions of the body and therefore, of necessity, of the human. If misunderstandings, intolerances, and sufferings meet on specific issues as is typical of non-philosophical societies (a perfect example of this two-year pandemic are the controversies on social distancing and the possibility of distance learning to be a valid alternative to that in the presence) under them the real clash is between men who conceive the body according to radically different categories.
A categorical transition is therefore underway: for some, the bodies have already disappeared, their own and therefore also that of others. Some of us are still located in a first paradigm (chronologically previous) and others in a second paradigm whose progressive validity we had not realized. Among the inhabitants of these different paradigms, we can agree on some things (almost a false positive) but the conceptual framework and the way of conceiving our subjectivity are so different than when the wheel of history returns, creaking, we find ourselves turning even unable to understand ourselves. It may be a pandemic or something else, but when something important affects us, the different foundations on which we build our action in the world decide for us which side we should be on.
The old paradigm is one in which we believe we are (also) a body, that body-mind on which Biuso has repeatedly returned as central in his recent writings on the pandemic. The German Leib precisely, the body as a center of the experience. Once again the presbyopia heuristic reassures us but only about the past: however many dualisms and objectification have been tried in the history of thought, the truth is that human beings have always thought of being a body more than they thought they had. a body. For this reason, we found being loved for one’s beauty (the appearance of the body we are) not offensive and often flattering, while being loved for our money or in general for what we have, we found it offensive.
3. Exercises of disappearance
A series of observational exercises can better make us distinguish the clash of paradigms. It is time to do them now because the second paradigm is gaining ground and very powerful corrective glasses may be needed to see it soon. There are many ideas and there are many social phenomena that allow us to grasp the body in the era of its disappearance. Each of them deserves an essay on its own, here as a matter of space we would limit ourselves to juxtaposing it to the others in its trend and meaning.
A reflection on plastic surgery on faces, as a function of alleged rejuvenation but with the effect of changing facial features what is it if not the apotheosis of Körper? My face is not me but something I possess and I must make it more appropriate to the value of youth as summum bonum. If I am not recognizable to friends (it has happened to me a couple of times that I do not see people recognized by acquaintances after the “stretching and inflating” operations) or to my own eyes, it doesn’t matter. If the coachbuilder touches up the car for me and manages to make it look like the next model, why should I complain? Am I my face? The answer, for centuries, would have been: yes. Now for many, it is not so immediate to think so.
Years ago I wrote about the end of boxing as a sign of the times.
According to one of the best books ever written on this discipline (which has always attracted the attention of writers and philosophers), namely Joyce Carol Oates’s essay On Boxing, the boxer would be characterized by the absolute identity that he manages to establish with his own body. It would be “more body than the others” and it would become so through the full knowledge of pain and fatigue. The disappearance of boxing and the downsizing of other sports based on fatigue (think cycling) as self-knowledge are, however, half the “thing” in front of us; the other half is the general disappearance of sports in the face of a huge number of people who move their bodies in the gym following a generic fitness that betrays the search for adequacy rather than testing with oneself right from the language. Fitness as a highly aesthetic discipline (intent on following in a naturalistic way the path that others take in a surgical way) and so scarcely experiential needed, to impose itself, a slide towards the objectified body.
In the new paradigm, however, the body is just possessed. It is the German Körper, in the anatomical-physiological sense. If the body is something I have, evidently the real I am not the body-mind that I am, but only what the body possesses: my mind. It could be pointed out that this “new” paradigm is, in reality, the “old” Cartesian paradigm and that there is nothing new but something enormous would be passed over, namely the fact that this intellectualistic hypothesis now, for the first time in history, is possible to experience it experientially on a mass level and the technochiliastic consequences that derive from it. The economic, technological, consumerist, even intellectual and academic system increasingly asks us to be just minds, puts us in jobs where bodies are not only useless but are even a hindrance, it provides us with entertainment where the presence of the body is reduced to eyes and with two fingers, it reminds us of the body not as a carrier of instances but as an accessory that can be paid for with gadgets.
Even body shaming, the recommendation to linguistically refrain from commenting on the body of others (for humorous purposes or not) despite its ethical comprehensibility and the goodness of its intentions is found perfectly in tune with the disappearance of the body. Do not comment, pretend not to notice the ugly body as well as the beautiful body (which would make the ugly body stand out) accelerates the disappearance of our bodies as social protagonists and approximates the age of the body as a mere bio-support of the minds.
Perhaps even more evident the phenomenon is shown in the disappearance of the space of the seduction of bodies in the culture of the American politically correct and in its progressive European metastases. Without prejudice to the rejection of violence and aggression in the relationship between the sexes with which every civilian person can only agree, the “positive” replacement model that is proposed and in part already implemented is interesting. A model made up of informed, ostensible, bureaucratic consents, which delimit the subsequent sexual developments of an encounter. An invasion of contracts into the most intimate aspects of human beings. The maximum evidence of this model of conducting interpersonal and seductive relationships is the elimination of body language and their weight. It is before that I must already know what I want and what I can do. The cold mind decides and the body just executes. On the other hand, when bodies become opaque to our own eyes, it is no longer possible for us to communicate with them and between them and the seduction, as the language of the bodies, of what they want when they want it, becomes a language that no one can speak or understand anymore. These, the bodies, blind and deaf, can only rely on para-juridical agreement or violence.
Thus confined sexuality, the performance of the objectified body subjected to the control of the typical performance of our times, it becomes uncomfortable concerning sexuality with simulacra (in the various forms that the web offers, divisible between explicitly self-referential and falsely intersubjective) which is proposed as the first choice and as a safer choice.
The road to sexuality and, even more seriously, to eros, is entrenched, through the web and specific applications, in a virtual itinerary consisting of mutual evaluation of suitable subjects, choice, knowledge, seduction (the rag that remains of it ) and even falling in love by postponing the encounter with the bodies (not with the images of the bodies made of pixels it is now, unfortunately, reported that one is not the other) as a socially tiring queue and fraught with dangers and frustrations. A passage, that to the reality of bodies, which becomes more and more tiring and less automatic.
A philosopher friend of mine celebrated the magnificent and progressive fortunes of the web, which he said well compensated for the social confinement of these years, pointing out to me how thanks to the web and its almost total expansion in replacing cultural and scientific events of this pandemic phase, he had been able to afford to participate in two exotic and very distant international conferences in which for logistical and economic reasons he would never have been able to attend. He, therefore, was convinced that he had attended a conference in Australia by staying in his apartment, with his wife and children in the next room, in front of his computer. He had therefore transformed the experience of a conference into the experience of remote listening to conference interventions. A full existential experience is transformed into its skeleton and only then we are pleased to have done it. The problem, in this case as well as in general, is not given by the poorly aged philosophers who “take their computer for heaven” but by the terrifying idea of witnessing the growth of future generations for which congresses will only be the “skeleton of the congress” because that is the only thing they will have known. After all, they will have previously had their semi-digitization experience at school and will have difficulty understanding what is missing even if it is explained to them.
The social phenomena of the last thirty years can all be lined up. They will all lead to the same place: the transformation of the body into a bio-support, to be progressively limited and circumvented where possible, placed at the service of our mind (which so understood is a mere abstraction) which is constituted as our real self. Keeping this principle firm, everything becomes clearer, what we have said and what we could still say. The attempt to put physical stores on the sidelines where our bodies are found in favor of telematic stores where our minds look at the infinite supply of goods. The idea of bringing the shows to our immobile bodies through myriads of platforms instead of moving towards the spectacle together. The idea of ”living” things by taking care of recording them for the future mind with our devices and not fully experiencing them with the body-mind of now. The replacement of face-to-face meetings with those in imago. The exercise of the relationship with others, of friendship and knowledge of new people, of the exchange of opinions, in absentia through chat et similia and not in the presence (with the obvious consequences in terms of destruction of empathy, and of the contemporary dialogic intelligence of which we see the fruits).
Only at this point can trans-humanism, the suggestions of immortality mentioned by Mark O’Connel in Being a machine, between hibernating heads and soteriological downloads of our mind on silicon become even plausible and, what is even more surprising, desirable.
If we are just minds, if we are the strings of logical reasoning it contains, a hard drive is our proper paradise.
The real problem is not the trans-humanist ideological production (yet another return of gnosis) as much as its propedeutic theurgy, this mass anthropotechnical exercise capable of forgetting the humans in which we have been inserted for some decades and in which we have been prisoners for two years.
Author: Davide Miccione