Monday, March 1, 2010

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Completing a PhD is a pretty intensive activity. You spend a lot of time reading, writing and talking about your project. There is a portion of time-pie left over for sleeping, eating, and watching B-movies, but much of this is also spent thinking/obsessing about your thesis.

In this situation it is easy to forget about the body, or, at least, to discount its importance in the scheme of things. My foot cannot write a chapter, ergo, my foot is useless! This reminds me of René Descartes' famous comment "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). If you factor into this equation the almost constant use of the computer, one can begin to feel rather like a disembodied brain on a stick.

Or in a tray...

All concepts of mind/body dualism, however, depend upon the continuing health of the body concerned. At least, this is what I came to realise after waking up vomiting wretchedly this morning. As I hung my head over the latrine, I contemplated how one can only believe one's body is secondary when it is working properly. Rather like power, which is most noticeable to those who perceive they do not possess it, physical health is largely invisible to those who have it.

In reality, the absence of body equals death. Which is why it might be nice to live in this movie:

Ah, just think of it. What freedom!

Of course, you would be stuck in a tray.

In her essay "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?" Allucquère Rosanne Stone comments that:

"no matter how virtual the subject may become, there is always a body attached. It may be off somewhere else - and that 'somewhere else' may be a privileged point of view - but consciousness remains firmly rooted in the physical" (p.93 of Cybersexualities).


"It is important to remember that virtual community originates in, and must return to, the physical. No refigured virtual body, no matter how beautiful, will slow the death of a cyberpunk with AIDS. Even in the age of the technosocial subject, life is lived through bodies... forgetting the body is an old Cartesian trick, one that has unpleasant consequences for those bodies whose speech is silenced by the act of our forgetting;that is to say, those upon whose labor the act of forgetting the body is founded - usually women and minorities" (p.94).

Before we celebrate our imagined transcendence of the physical, we should ask ourselves where we think our bodies have gone. And would you really want to do without your body? I would just like to thank my stomach for reminding me of these important issues.

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