Issue 8.2, May 1993

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Essay Excerpt

"Embodiment as a paradigm or methodological orientation requires that the body be understood as the existential ground of culture-not as an object that is "good to think," but as a subject that is "necessary to be." To argue by analogy, a phenomenological paradigm of embodiment can be offered as an equivalent, and complement, to the semiotic paradigm of culture as text. Much as Barthes (1986) draws a distinction between the work and the text, a distinction can be drawn between the body and embodiment. For Barthes, the work is a fragment of substance, the material object that occupies the space of a bookstore or a library shelf. The text, in contrast, is an indeterminate methodological field that exists only when caught up in a discourse, and that is experienced only as activity and production (1986:57-68). In parallel fashion, the body is a biological, material entity, while embodiment can be understood as an indeterminate methodological field defined by perceptual experience and the mode of presence and engagement in the world. As applied to anthropology, the model of the text means that cultures can be understood, for purposes of internal and comparative analysis, to have properties similar to texts (Ricoeur 1979). In contrast, the paradigm of embodiment means not that cultures have the same structure as bodily experience, but that embodied experience is the starting point for analyzing human participation in a cultural world."

From "Somatic Modes of Attention" by Thomas J. Csordas