Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gulliver's Urination: Another Conversation with Thomisticguy, Part 1 of 4

The following is a recording of part of another conversation with Thomisticguy - at this post - which stemmed from the following statement of mine on modernity: "My point here, in regards again to bodies, scale, limits and locatoin, is that the shift from ancient to modern involved one that fundamentally dwarfed and made irrelevant the human body, which was previously so central to man's understanding of who and how he was in the world. The modern body is dwarfed and made irrelevant (relatively) precisly because of the 'explosion' [to reference McLuhan] that occured as the defining moment of the start of modernity. The human body has no "real" rational relationship to the globe, and yet the globe sets the field of play, defines the location and/or deliniates the limits of modern life."

Thomisticguy's response was as follows: "Thank you for defining exactly what you mean by the shift in man’s understanding of himself. I will have to think about this. I do see a number of objections that could be raised to this theory. Let me raise a few and allow you to reflect on them if you wish to."

Parts 1-3 will be my response to Thomisticguy, which include his points. Part 4 will be expand on my central point from which the conversation hinged, and will itself be a recording of a previous part of the conversation.



Well, you're welcome for defining exactly what I mean. Its funny, in a general kind of way, how you finally came to see what I mean. I don't see a whole heck of a lot of difference between that statement and others I've made in the past, but its that and now that you seem to have connected with what I've been saying. I think its because we've made a conscious effort to understand each other rather than good ends, it seems. The main thing is, I'm happy that we understand each other in this regard. So, to address your points:

1) You wrote: "Many observers have noted that the modern age is obsessed with the human body. Far from the body becoming dwarfed into insignificance; the human body seems to have taken the driver’s seat. Additionally, we seem to have entered into a cult of youth where the young body is worshipped and being 'old' is denigrated. In the colonial period young men used to wear powdered wigs to make them look elderly. They also wore jackets that were cut the opposite of they way jackets are cut today. Today we broaden the shoulders to make the mid-section look smaller thereby imitating the young physique. In the colonial period they actually broadened the mid-section to imitate the 'spread' of middle age. All of these things seem to point to an obsession with the young human body because it epitomizes the human sexual powers."

This may not make sense to you at first, but I totally agree with you. I mean, there are multiple entire vacation getaways called "Hedonism," and people actually go to them! That's just one example; I also like your example(s) from the colonial period. Interestingly, though, the colonial period was modern. That the styles of that time are your examples of when sexuality wasn't worshipped is, to me, further evidence that the shift from ancient to modern wasn't a sudden and instanatneous shift.

Of course, such a statement indicates my making two apparently conflicting statements, that: A) modernity makes the body irrelevant, and B) with modernity comes an obesssion with the body. In a very general way, if I were to speak in medical terms (my prof. used to say that Architecture is like medicine), I take our current obsession with sexuality to be like a very bad reaction to an underlying disharmony, a disharmony which is itself very difficult to diagnose, since it is not directly observable upon medical examination of one patient's body and its workings.

What I mean when I say that the underlying disharmony is difficult to diagnose is that it doesn't really help to take the scientific approach in which you observe the phenomenon, make a hypothesis on the sickness and then try and definitively match the observable evidence with the potential diagnosis that you have in your mind. In other words, in this case, you have to bring with you an understanding of what it means to be human in the first place, of how the body and mind interact in relation to the things they apprehend, such as the epistemology of Aquinas: “Therefore sense, which is a power of the body, knows the singular, which is determinate through matter: whereas the intellect, which is a power independent of matter, knows the universal, which is abstracted from matter, and contains an infinite number of singulars.” ST I-II, Q. 2, Arts. 6.

This understanding from Aquinas is just one thing you'd have to take with you; we've discussed a number of others. I guess I'm just saying that you have to work deductively in this instance.

To apply this need for deduction to your specifically observed phenomenon of our obsession with the body, then: I'm saying that it does not lead to the foundational problems of our time to observe the existence of a vacation getaway called "Hedonism," and therefore diagnose modern man's sickness as having an unhealthy obsession with the body. With diagnosis comes a medical treatment. The most likely treatment for such a diagnosis, then would be to "suppress" the obsessive desires of the body with reason or religion, as you seemed to note. Such a treatment, however - if in fact the problem is as I've state in regard to the body, limits, scale, location...and the globe - would only exacerbate the problem! I think the only treatment is the Incarnate Jesus!

Summary of my point number (1), then: modern man, particularly contemporary modern man, is in fact obsessed with the body, as evidenced by his sexual permissiveness. It does not really help the situation, however, to observe his various sexually permissive behaviors, and react by "restraining" bodily desires, functions or sensations. If in fact the actual problem is the body's irrelevance, a reaction to which is man's obsession with his body, then the proper reaction is first to make the remember the importance of the body to our very humanity and to our identity ("how we view ourselves"), and then to properly order its desires and sensations - meaning that "restraint" might not be the right word for it...but yet restraint may or probably will play a role in even what I take to be the proper treatment of the sickness, so to speak.

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