lunes, 30 de mayo de 2011

The Cartesian Problem of the Body: an introduction

Martin Heidegger and Nishitani Keijii

My work always takes place between disciplines. I firmly believe that the most interesting things happen at the borders of what is stable and safe. I do not see myself as a master of any of these areas, but a bridge-builder. By walking across the frontiers of philosophy, literature, arts and martial disciplines I have tried to find ways that connect and enrich these different practices. The most powerful foundation I have found so far to all of them is the body.
The body is, in my opinion, the neglected foundation of the self in the Cartesian, rationalist and idealist traditions of philosophy. Since Descartes conceived the body as a machine, controlled by the soul, and focused the ‘sum’ in the ‘cogito’, the body became a problem, a burden, an obstacle, and it is still seen as such for most schools of philosophy to this day.
For the martial arts there is only the body. Self-development through the body is one of the roots of the Sino-Japanese martial disciplines. I am aware that in my research on philosophy of the mind my conceptions of the body are very different to those of my colleagues because of my martial arts background.
This drew me to Japanese culture and philosophy, how they understand the European schools of philosophy, and more specifically to the Kyoto School. Not very surprisingly, they were very interested not only in German idealism and romanticism but in figures critical of the Enlightenment tradition, such as Nietzsche, Heidegger or Jünger. Some of them, like Tanabe Hajime and Nishitani Keijii even became students of Heidegger. But I also noticed a deep difference. All these philosophers belonged to the Zen Buddhist tradition.
Authors like Nietzsche - and following him Heidegger - had a different conception of the body than the Cartesian one. The body is present in many passages of Nietzsche’s work, but is not fully developed as a theme. The same notions of the body are present in Heidegger’s text, but they are barely mentioned.
Nishitani Keijii was one of the most important philosophers of the Kyoto School. He was student of both Heidegger and Nishida Kitaro, the founder of the school. He was deeply influenced by Nietzsche, too, and he made a revealing study of Nietzsche’s conception of the body in his book The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism. This book is revealing not only of Nietzsche’s position, but also of Keijii’s interests and problems. In his works the body is not much mentioned, but fully present; the difference to his German counterparts is his perfection and consistency. This is because in the Zen sect the body-mind relationship is a central theme. It is fully developed theoretically and practically in a holistic method. This methodology leads to a certain conception of the body, where it is the body itself who speaks. When Keijii mentions the body he uses, in a very Heideggerian way, a neologism. He renames it the ´mind-and-body´ (in the English translation, obviously). He himself states that this ´mind-and-body´ is the same as what Nishida Kitaro called the ´Historical Body´. Therefore, in the Kyoto School’s interpretation the body-mind relationship is not essential but existential. This means, there is not one essential relationship, but a process that can lead to certain unity (or fail in the path of obtaining it).
Influenced by this perspective the artist and monk Omori Sogen developed an interesting and unique practice. He was personal friend of some of the Kyoto School philosophers, and a Zen adept himself. He linked his shodo (Japanese calligraphy and painting) with his kenjutsu (Japanese traditional swordmanship) and his Rinzai Zen Buddhism meditative practice. He believed that there was a deep connection between each of these disciplines, and that practicing them together in a unified method would enable him to master all of them. On the top of this, he was a firm believer in the internationalization of his disciplines. He was the founder of the Daihonzan Chozen-ji in Hawaii, the first Japanese Zen Buddhist temple outside of Japan.
Omori Sogen and Terayama Tanchu
When in 2005 I met Terayama Tanchu sensei, Omori Sogen’s disciple and leader of his school after he passed away in 1994, something caught my attention. By a friend´s invitation, I attended a Shodo workshop, and what I found was very different to what I had expected. We did bodily preparation that included breathing exercises as one of the key components. I recognised the exercises immediately from my experiences in martial arts. When the master painted, I was shocked by the precise use of the body and the breathing technique. As far as I was aware, he was using what is called ibuki, a basic breathing technique used in martial practice, the same projected in fighting.
Afterwards, when a couple of months later I joined the school and practiced zazen and kenjutsu, everything became clearer for me. The breathing techniques ibuki and Nogare were the base of the whole practice, the bodily foundation of the ken, the zen and the sho. And the starting point for any theoretical explanation.
Back in Europe, I tried to make sense of all these experiences for my own practice. The obvious analogue in philosophy was Michel Focault. He was deeply influenced by Heidegger and Nietzsche, and was very interested in the Japanese experience, to the extent that he practiced zen under Omori Sogen. Sadly he passed away while developing these interests, although they are already very present in his late work the History of Sexuality. Certainly, Foucault was developing the tools to be able to think of a new conception of the body.
Trying to trace a new history for a different body, I look back to the key moment of the early European modernity. Guided by Bakhtin, I found an alternative to Descartes in Rabelais´ idea of the ‘carnavalesque’. The excessive body, the eating, the scatology, the full embodiment. Guided by Ortega y Gasset, I found yet more inspiration in Velázquez, the fencing painter, the painter who painted with a bold attitude, whose body movements can be seen in his brush marks, the painter who painted the dwarfs of the court in a carnavalesque, yet realist, manner, portraying the dignity of their disgraced bodies. The potential for a new body has always been there, and with it the possibility of a conversation between the European and the Japanese traditions, a debate fruitful for both of them. It could be antedote for the deadend that both analytic and continental philosophies have been in for the last century.
This problem was already noticed by people such as Ernst Jünger, a friend and peer of Heidegger. His criticism of the machine and dehumanization, which influenced the more widely known work by Walter Benjamin, was profusely read and discussed by the philosophers of the Kyoto School.
Nishitani Keijii on philosophy and Omori Sogen on art and religion are unique figures for a European researcher. They lived in a key historical moment for Japan and the world. They had a very strong relationship with European philosophy. They were in contact with key philosophers like Husserl, Heidegger or Foucault. They were very aware and well trained on their own tradition. They had an extremely original and successful practice, and they noticed what they personally, and Japanese culture more widely, could provide to the world. Their work presents a great opportunity to build those necessary bridges between Japanese and European philosophy. 

Licencia de Creative Commons
The Cartesian Problem of the Body by Juan Enrique Ordóñez Arnau is licensed under a Creative Commons

domingo, 29 de mayo de 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
By Gil Scott-Heron, RIP 

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the 
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

domingo, 22 de mayo de 2011

El Espíritu del 15 de Mayo

El 15 de Mayo de 2011 comenzó un movimiento llamado a regenerar la democracia en España y devolvernos la esperanza en sus valores. Después de una semana de combate sin violencia, sólo nos queda preguntarnos, ¿Y mañana, qué? 
Los resultados de las elecciones de hoy tendrán una fuerte influencia sobre el movimiento. Una victoria de los partidos mayoritarios, esto es, que mantengan sus posiciones con cierta soltura, y un no avance de partidos minoritarios sería un duro golpe moral para el espíritu de estas protestas. 
Yo, desde aquí, reivindico lo que he reivindicado muchas veces estos días de palabra. Este debe ser un movimiento inclusivo. Debe aceptar ser espíritu y no atarse a puntos de actuación concretos que puedan ser puntos de división. Debe dar puntos programáticos, una guía para el camino democrático que nos incluya a todos. Yo soy laicista, de izquierdas, ecologista y comparto muchas de esas propuestas de izquierdas que se han hecho. Pero si estas se incluyen en el Espíritu de este Movimiento del 15 de Mayo, traicionaremos a muchos que nos acompañaron en el camino. Muchas personas de derechas, neoliberales, monárquicos y católicos, con los que he compartido buenos momentos, para descubrir que sí, que tenemos muchas cosas en común. Y que ellos también están indignados con la corrupción, con la falta de valores democráticos de nuestra casta política, con los tejemanejes de la banca y las multinacionales para evadir impuestos y ganar dinero de manera ilícita, a costa de todos nosotros. 
Las instituciones políticas, comenzando por el gobierno y apoyados desde los medios de comunicación, se han dedicado los últimos años a ignorar esta indignación que recorría nuestro país. Ahora no pueden ignorarlo. Debemos continuar. La retirada es una derrota. Pero cuidado; la traición a su espiritu también lo es. Una traición a lo que nos ha unido todos estos días.
Por una regeneración democrática, por la dignidad de ser un ciudadano libre, por la demanda de la toma de responsabilidad política, económica y penal de los que nos han llevado a esta situación, 
Debemos luchar hasta el final, 
por el Espíritu del 15 de Mayo.
Licencia de Creative Commons
El Espíritu del 15 de Mayo by Juan Enrique Ordóñez Arnau is licensed under a Creative Commons


Emabajada de España en Londres, 20 de Mayo
Desde Londres, en apoyo a #acampadasol y a tantos otros movimientos de protesta en España, manifestaciones frente a la embajada española. Muy buen ambiente, bien organizado, los que vivimos aquí en Londres hemos podido por fin mostrar nuestra indignación y librarnos de frustraciones. Gente de derechas e izquierdas, de todas las generaciones, juntos por algo nuevo. Pelearemos hasta el final por mantener el Espíritu del 15 de Mayo.


domingo, 8 de mayo de 2011

El dolor y la práctica marcial

¿Es realmente siempre innecesario el sufrimiento? ¿Es toda experiencia valiosa en tanto que experiencia? Es claro que la experiencia sólo tiene valor en su apropiación, pero ¿Se puede sacar algo del sufrimiento, en esta nueva acepción que le doy? ¿Se puede uno apropiar de su sufrimiento y aprender algo de él? Y por último, ¿Puede extenderse las respuestas concretas para mi práctica marcial a un plano más general?

Mi propuesta pasa por asumir, primero, que el dolor es una percepción. No se percibe el dolor, el dolor es la percepción. El dolor es la percepción de una lesión en nosotros mismos, en el cuerpo que somos. El sufrimiento comienza cuando no podemos asumir este dolor, cuando el dolor no es aceptado. La línea que separa ambos comienza, por supuesto, inconscientemente, y bulle hasta la superficie de la consciencia como si tuviera vida propia en nosotros. La separación entre sufrimiento y dolor surgió como recurso (y en su efectividad reside el salto de la semántica a la ontología) para superar un problema en la práctica, en el entrenamiento marcial, frente al abandono del grupo de entrenamiento de profesores de un compañero. Su abandono vino dado por no ser capaz de soportar los entrenamientos, por el dolor que comportan.

Haciendo algunos experimentos con el grupo de karate de la Universidad que impartía, les propuse esta nueva ¿puedo ya decir ontología? del dolor. La lesión como el daño material del organismo, del cuerpo. El dolor como la percepción de una lesión, sea esta real o imaginada (que no imaginaria), tenga esta la magnitud que tenga. El dolor como el esfuerzo de`epoge` de la percepción, para la aceptación plena de la misma. El sufrimiento como fracaso de la aceptación, presente siempre, vencedor sólo en la rendición.
Con esta propuesta trabajaron más duro de lo que habían trabajado nunca, tratando de escuchar a su cuerpo (tratando de escucharse a sí mismos), trazando nuevos límites en las sensaciones, y aprendiendo a escuchar y a comunicarse con el compañero con el que trabajaban, que debía hacer lo mismo.

El cuerpo no habla una lengua fácil de aprender. Pensar que el cuerpo nos envía señales claras y distintas significa que o no hemos escuchado a nuestro cuerpo (y por lo tanto, asumiendo que yo soy mi cuerpo, no me he escuchado nunca a mi mismo) con atención o no hemos comprendido lo que nos decía. Las lenguas del cuerpo son múltiples, afines a tradiciones de la práctica y la higiene corporal.

Así como el fonema ´n´ es un universal lingüistico, desarrollado en todas y cada una de las lenguas conocidas, el dolor es un universal corporeo, como caminar, defecar o ver. Lo que no significa que, como es evidente en las lenguas, no esté culturalmente construído, inscrito en una historia y una tradición.
Esa percepción a la que llamamos dolor tiene orígenes múltiples, y miles de matices. No hay un ´canal del dolor´ ni una conexión fisiológica dedicada al dolor. No hay ningun objeto que podamos señalar y decir ´esto es el dolor´.

La clave creo que sí esta en el contenido de la misma experiéncia. La concepción y la práctica del dolor y el sufrimiento que llevo masticando una temporada acepta como valiosa toda experiencia (que nunca se da aislada, nunca puedes cortar aquí y allá y decir, ´he aquí una experiencia´). Creo que, una vez pensado un poco más todo esto, que sí, el sufrimiento tiene un valor. Lo que hay que sopesar es si ese valor merece la pena. Si es o no innecesario. Otra cosa es que sea o no ineludible. Y sí, creo que mi experiencia del dolor y el sufrimiento en el tatami de karate puedo extenderla a toda mi vida.

Mis textos de referencia para este tema han ido desde la literatura (Duras), la antropología (D. Morris sobre todo, pero también Le Breton) o incluso una vertiente más teológica (CS Lewis).

Licencia de Creative Commons
El dolor y la práctica marcial by Juan Enrique Ordóñez Arnau is licensed under a Creative Commons