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[xmca] Historical transformations, the body, and feeling whole (again?)

So I came across this interesting little bit about writing history in an
essay by Ivan Illich:

"The art of the historian consists in the interpretation of traces and
texts of those long dead. In
the course of my life as a medieval historian, something has fundamentally
changed in this task.
Before a recent radical transformation - roughly, in actio and passio - it
was possible for the
exegete to relate substantives and verbs to activities and things that lie
within the circumference of
his own sensed experience. After this radical transformation, that capacity
is lost. This watershed,
separating the historian from his object, becomes particularly clear when
the experienced body is
the subject of historical writing. Dr. Barbara Duden presents this
convincingly in reference to body
history of the experience of pregnancy. I myself am made dizzy. How deeply
the ways of speaking
and experiencing have been altered in the last two decades!"
(from Illich's "Health as one's own responsibility. No!").

I thought that this touches interestingly on recent questions about
historical transformations, mediation, and ties them to matters of the body
and feeling. This transformation that he seems to be talking about is a
transformation into a hyper scientific-rational (someone, please, a better
term?!) way of understanding the world, and, of course, one's body as a
part of that world. I took a look at what I could find of Duden's 1993
book, Disembodying Women: Perspectives on Pregnancy and the Unborn, and
found it a fascinating premise - that women experience pregnancy
differently (and more distantly) now then they used to.

I wonder if Illich's timeline may be off by a little, two decades hardly
seems like enough time for such a transformation, but maybe as part of
something larger and on a longer timescale.

Anyway, Illich's main point is that the current discourse of health (as of
1994, but surely true today) alienates people from their bodies, from
death, and thus from life itself. And I happen to be reading a short story
right now about the Death of the other Ivan Illych (by Leo Tolstoy) and it
seems that this is also precisely Tolstoy's point - that Illych is faced
with thinking about life and the possibility that his life, which had been
lived "*comme il faut,*" may not have been the proper way to live when one
truly confronts the reality of death. But whenever his thoughts turn to
this possibility, Illych avoids it by focusing his efforts on the ill
performing organ, possibly a floating kidney. His doctors also treat him
primarily as an organism, as a puzzle, and not at all as a man that is
going to die.

I won't tell you how it ends, but I do wonder about the problem of
*feeling*and what all this means for discourses of
*feeling*. have we (i.e., the social sciences) lost feeling to scientific
discourses such that our feelings are no longer experienced as *felt* but
rather as mere "symptoms" of some underlying (i.e. "more real") physical
reality ("I'm sad today - must be because my dopamine levels are low").

How to take feelings back from reductionist science and make ourselves
whole once more?


Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
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