National Hospice Month enjoys celebrations across the U.S. in the month of November, and such celebrations have taken many forms. One such celebration took place in my own living room, and was reminiscent of the home seminars Heidegger conducted at Medard Boss's home in Zollikon.
On November 5th, a gorgeous fall day on Long Island, NY, Emmanuel Falque presented his paper, "Toward an Ethics of the Spread Body," to an attentive audience comprised of philosophers, physicians, psychologists, nurses and social workers in an afternoon that one can only describe as extraordinary. Falque, professor of philosophy in the Institut Catholique de Paris, addressed professors of philosophy and graduate students from local universities (Fordham and SUNY) and several of my colleagues from my own medical center, and entertained searching questions and comments generated by his thinking on the body. Notable seminar participant and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, Ed Casey (fondly known by many as the father of continental philosophy here in the U.S.), received Falque's presentation with a warm enthusiasm and provocative commentary. Indeed, the paper, the presentation and the ensuing discussion among engaged attendees illuminated an already well-lit room.
Falque's paper takes the next logical step in his explorations of the body, flesh and phenomenology that he had already articulated in his fascinating study, The Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eros, the Body and the Eucharist (New York: Fordham Univ. Pr., 2016; henceforth WF). His paper begins in Spinoza's Ethics, and moves through his poignant experience on a Palliative Care Unit, where he situates the notion of the 'spread body' as the middle term between the Cartesian 'extended body' (res extensa), and phenomenology's own 'lived body.' Describing the experiences of doctors, nurses, caregivers and patients who interact in the comings and goings in a hospice setting, the concept of the 'spread' body, the body expanded (epandu), splayed, poured out shapelessly, comes into sharp relief. Indeed, Falque speaks of
...the thing-like strangeness of my own body rather than solely reducing it to the lived body, the struggle for life or the power of the organic rather than simply welcoming suffering, all open up onto the concept of the “spread body,” caught between the “extended body” and the “lived body.” [T]he body ‘is spread out,’ more than it is extended or lived. To repenetrate one’s own being does not simply come down to being incorporated in a physical or objective body (Körper) or to be incarnated in a phenomenological or subjective flesh (Leib), instead it means to be embodied in an organic flesh made up of nerves, muscles, digestion, secretion, respiration... things that can, like so much of ‘this is my body,’ remain foreign to me if I am not fully able to make them my own.
In these lines Falque addresses the inadequacy of the phenomenological 'flesh/body' binary that all too often accomplishes little more than rewriting the 'soul/body' distinction into post-modern terms (cf. his brief but crucial introduction to WF). Such a dualism disintegrates in the face of the 'spread' body.
In my reading of both WF and Falque's paper and his presentation of it, 2 important, if not completely novel notions arise: the notions of the 'my body' and the 'this is my body' as distinct phenomenological entities, that is, as distinct experiences. Though I am already appropriating these concepts for my own phenomenological dispositions of the phenomena of the body in medicine, the concepts trace their way indelibly into Falque's oeuvre. When he writes of the 'this is my body' in WF, the phrase is always italicized and linked to the Eucharist. "Eucharisticized eros," the 'this is my body' stands on the foundation of the incarnation: "Certainly, this is not, or not directly, a question of the eucharist, (this is my body), but rather of the Incarnation (the person of Jesus Christ)" [WF, 46]. In short, the 'this is my body' points already to the 'spread' body, yet a body nonetheless, however traced to ratification of the 'spread body' by the Incarnation.
When I think the 'my body' I think the human body I share with the body that appears before me; but as I experience it, the 'my body' has its limits in what it shares, or could possibly share, within a common humanity. The 'this is my body' is the body of my patient, spread out against the whiteness of clinical bed linens. My patient's body, characterized by its uniqueness impressed upon it by its very 'thisness', its 'haecceity', is completely other to me, and I cannot 'know' its excess, its surplus of being. Yet, this haecceity, the 'this is my body' initiates a call from its vulnerability, a call that calls unconditionally but without sovereignty from this middle place, middle-voiced (as it were, pace John Caputo), calling to get itself done: the very insistence of the spread body whose Levinasian imperative positions me, perhaps anamorphically (pace Jean-Luc Marion), and obligates me to a posture of presence before it. Where the 'my body' appears as a surface that I already know because of its metonymy with my own [my] body and its saturated reflection of me, the 'this is my body' has a gaze of its own which points to me, as only an other that is 'completely other' can. The 'this is my body' therefore is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones, yet it is irreducible to the 'my body'. I recognize it because its signification is given to me from a voice embodied in an organic flesh in a 'body language' that I speak, but it is a self that is not me, whose power (conatus, the centripetal vector that tends to undo the centrifugal spreading of the body) commands my agency.
The insistence of the spread body calls for the release of the event that constitutes an ethos and an ethics of a place between the Cartesian 'extended body' and the Husserlian 'lived body'. As Falque so poignantly has experienced and described in his paper, every 'body' on the hospice unit also 'knows' this. Perhaps the distinctive experiences of the 'my body' and the 'this is my body' might further qualify Falque's description of the surgeon who prods the spread body toward the extended body, and the palliativist who prods it toward the lived body. Because the 'my body' and the 'this is my body' cannot simply lay atop the extended and spread bodies, respectively, the spread body always has the last word, and insists on keeping just who is doing the prodding anonymous.
Just what is this unconditional call, without sovereignty or agency, swallowed up by the whiteness of clinical linens? Perhaps its voice calls not for a singular event, but a plurality of events, one of which is the brokenness of the world disclosed by the brokenness of the body---a brokenness of a body that can no longer do---now spread, poured out, emptied (kenotically?). It is a brokenness constitutive of the human body and the human predicament and calls for a proper formation of persons, relationships, and societies, a knitting of parts known to the Psalmist (139) of the knitter par-excellence.
Perhaps what appears as the spread body against the linens of the hospice recalls the reconfigured linens in the Johannine tomb, linens no longer configured for death, but reconfigured for and by a transformation. Poised between the res extensa and the 'lived body', the spread body whose finitude is laid bare before something new, enters into the incarnation itself, swallowed into a resurrection of God knows what. Nonetheless, "[t]here is a paradox here: the body finds itself all the more when it is lost...Or at least, we can say that the body is most present when it surrenders itself" (WF, 218).
The spread body is what I am and what I shall become.
I should not be surprised at all to find Emmanuel Falque's work engaged on this blog. His work is refreshing and courageous and has moved me through the limits of theology and phenomenology, a movement that has occupied him in his Crossing the Rubicon. The transgression of circumscribed disciplines is quite at home in the daily practice of medicine. A question remains: just where does medicine pitch its tent on the frontiers and intersections of theology and philosophy?