Aside from narratology (e.g. the approaches of Greimas and Genette) and environmental theories of various kinds (e.g. those of Peter Sloterdijk or Henri Lefebvre) the human body, particularly as understood through phenomenology, and inflected by a feminist stance, is a key area of research when designing and analysing narrative environments. In the mutual contextualisation of the actantiality of narrative progression and environmental immersion, the human body can be grasped as an integrative actantiality and potentiality, its being and becoming, mediates and intervenes, draws together and pulls apart.
Human subjectivity is embedded in the world, the world being understood within a narrative environment frame as an enfolded set of narrative worlds (or fictional and factual story worlds) and world stories (i.e. lived narratives, ideologies or belief systems), with the body acting as mediator among these different ontologically-distinct worlds. By multifarious assimilations, sensorimotor interactions and their further processing, the body becomes transparent to the world we are living in and allows us to act in it.
Embodied consciousness may be characterised as mediated immediacy (Plessner, 1981). The tacit knowledge or knowing-how of the body implies all the taken for granted that has become part of our body repertoires, habits, and dispositions. We use the operative intentionality of our body as an instrument for understanding the other’s intentions. The body works as a tacitly felt mirror of the other. It elicits a non-inferential process of empathic perception that Merleau-Ponty called transfer of the corporeal schema and which he attributed to a primordial sphere of “intercorporeality”.
As Merleau-Ponty expresses it, the communication or comprehension of gestures comes about through the reciprocity of my intentions and the gestures of others, of my gestures and the intentions discernible in the conduct of other people. It is as if the other person’s intentions inhabited my body and mine his (Merleau-Ponty, 2002). In intercorporeity, the “as-if” structure of the body becomes the very medium of understanding.
Body as place; place as battleground
The body, which should serve as a reliable place from which to live, is under challenge, Susie Orbach (2019) suggests. The potentially commercial aspects of our bodies are being commandeered by a range of industries, including the cosmetic, fashion, style, food, diet, health, anti-ageing, wellness, surgical, pharmaceutical and fitness industries. Under these circumstances, body anxiety has become as fundamental as emotional anxiety, Orbach comments. She discusses this interwoven social and financial anxiety.
She argues that the terrain of the body is changing due to such developments as the #MeToo movement, artificial intelligence, epigenetics, egg freezing, selfies, Snapchat dysmorphia, the Kardashians, gut politics, womb rentals, implants and sex dolls, amongst other things. She suggests we are living in a post-industrial moment that lies between the difficulty of living in the bodies we currently inhabit, with their predicaments; and the promise of a trouble-free, near body-free, existence, in futures constituted by the algorithms of artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology.
The current bodily predicaments that Orbach mentions are anorexia, self-harm, the desire to do away with a body part, eczema, sexual identity confusions, fear of ageing and compulsive exercising,
Fuchs, T. (2005). Corporealized and disembodied minds: a phenomenological view of the body in melancholia and schizophrenia. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 12 (2), 95–107. Available from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/philosophy_psychiatry_and_psychology/v012/12.2fuchs01.html [Accessed 25 October 2010].
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of perception, translated by C. Smith. London: Routledge Classics.
Orbach, S. (2019). Will this be the last generation to have bodies that are familiar to us? Guardian Review, 24 August, 32–34. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/aug/23/susie-orbach-that-will-bodies-be-like-in-the-future [Accessed 1 September 2019].
Plessner, H. 1981. Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch. Gesammelte Schriften IV. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
edited 2 September, 2019 by Allan Parsons