a working definition:
First, I think it is important to clarify exactly which kind of body I define in the following discourse. When I originally started considering “the body,” I realized there are many bodies—the body of a car, for instance, or a body of work. In this case, the body I am defining is a vessel that, at some point in its existence, was or is able to sustain life, especially human life.
In Professor Robb’s unit, I learned the a body is something influenced by what surrounds it. Not only evolutionary traits, as with traits such as height, race, and lactase persistence, but also with the body made of mind. Bodies often take on the traits of what is most familiar to them: a way of walking, how a body reacts in a difficult situation (would one put her body in harm’s way to save another, or would one save her own body?), how a body responds to certain cues. Because of this, each body has its own set of conceptual schemes, and each body is constantly changing and adapting to reflect its surroundings. A body is not stagnant.
A body is also a means of expression, as I learned in Professor Green’s unit. It was so fun coming to class every day and moving! Exploring how to use my body to express someone else’s story and emotions was an interesting twist for me—I’m used to expressing my own emotions through bodily movement such as dance, but embodying someone else’s experience (and seeing someone embody mine) was cathartic. Without expression, a body would not be fully present, so a body is something that has the capability to express emotions and experiences. Through this, it is also a tool we can use to connect our bodies to other people’s circumstances.
This may initially seem tangental, but bear with me: After taking another course this semester on Asian meditation texts, I have come to understand that this Buddhist principle of non-self, found in the Buddhist text “Buddhaghoa’s Comment of No-Self” from Sapere Aude highly relates to the principle of interdependency. The text says that “the word ‘chariot’ is but a mode of expression for axle, wheels, chariot-body, pole, and other constituent members, placed in a certain relation to each other, but when we come to examine the members one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense there is no chariot.” In a similar fashion, the “body” consists of different parts: a heart, a face, bones, fingers, and so on.
(As noted in Professor Robb’s On Definitions primer, it is not ideal to define something based on a list, especially an indefinite one like this, but something with body parts is likely a body, at least in some fashion.)
These parts that constitute the body are interdependent on one another, and this is another aspect that makes something a body. We do not call a leg a body if it is separate, by itself; a body must have multiple parts to be considered a body. It does not require all the typical parts to be a body, of course, as bodies come in many variations.
A body is also interdependent in the sense that it often relies on other bodies, whether for emotional connection, physical help, social interaction, or some other form of relation with another body. Humans are inherently social creatures; bodies rely on community. I also think that bodies are connected to one another, as we found in Unit 4 with Professor Tamura.
Because bodies are connected, they can also be taken advantage of by others, as I found in Unit 3 with Professor Fache. Like with Sara Baartman, bodies are parts of people that can be exploited, abused, and demeaned. Different bodies carry different privilege because of their inherent characteristics and how societies interpret them. Different bodies will have different characteristics, but a body is something that is perceived and judged by others.
In Unit 5 with Professor Bory, I learned that a body is something that holds and shares empathy as well as natural memory. I’ve danced for almost my entire life, and I’ve noticed that my body is trained to move in certain ways: to carry weight in certain places, to hold and release tension in certain ways, to extend and breathe and touch in certain ways. All bodies have this memory, not just muscular but mental as well, intrinsically woven into the fibers of our being. In Ralph Lemon’s How Can You Stay in the House all Day and Not Go Anywhere?, the dancers were told to break patterns and create a dance that was not able to be replicated. It was incredibly difficult. The body is something that adopts patterns and habits.
The body is something that holds historical significance. In Professor Luis’s unit, I couldn’t help but think about the number of inhabitants of Tenochtitlan and those that came there. There were so many bodies involved on both sides, so many that died in the process and so many more that survived but lost parts themselves as they carried the burden of the memory of the event. Those bodies had both a collective significance and also an individual, personal, perhaps forever unknowable significance. A body is something that has some sort of significance; it is something that is either documented or not documented, and that absence, although not always obvious, is evident.
The body is something that craves other bodies. Similar to the connection between bodies I found in Professor Tamura’s unit, in unit 7 with Professor Wills, I noticed the need for physical touch. Maybe it was because of this COVID world we live in today where bodies are prohibited to touch and closely interact. The AIDS patients cried when they received hugs. One of their last wishes was to hold their loved ones and be physically loved in return before they died. The body is something that needs other bodies.
Finally, in Unit 8 with Professor Denham, I learned that the body is a political weapon. I think of my best friends: leading protests in my small, ignorant hometown; training to be a part of the air force; honing artistic skills for the spread of environmental awareness; normalizing disabled bodies. The body is a political weapon not only through dramatic things like the suicides of the RAF or the boldness of women like Ulrike Meinhof. The body is a political weapon both through little actions we take every single day and through what we choose to dedicate our lives to.
The body is who we are; we are the body. We decide what that means. There is no definition of the body because we are ever-evolving, and we are all wonderfully unique. The closest thing to a definition might be that the body is something that cannot be defined.
Professor Robb’s On Definitions primer
“Buddhaghoa’s Comment of No-Self.” In Philosophical Issues in Early Buddhism, 225–26, n.d.