Thursday, December 8, 2016
The Call of the Spread Body: From Anamorphosis to Anagnorisis, A leading-in to a Recognition
In the last two posts to this blog I have tried to describe the experience of the suffering and dying body, which, in turn, has important implications for personhood, the human person, human dignity, and an ethics for caring for those at the end of life. At first, it seemed as though the spread body could be thought through the this is my body, and distinguished from the my body. Unfortunately, the New Testament texts of the words of institution of the Eucharist clamored with such interfering turbulence, little communication could be heard over such deafening noise. Methodologically, the body had to be thought more deeply, more phenomenologically, and somewhat differently: the this is my body re-emerges, not as the spread body as such, but as its voice, its unconditional call. The this is my body might return to this analysis of the spread body, but for now, I am subsuming that term into the 'call of the spread body'---the pure call of the spread body, the unconditional givenness that inaugurates its entry into phenomenality, from, by, through, in and of itself. The call comes from two lungs, of the person and of the body, which is to say, it comes unconditionally without sovereignty from something both pushed apart and pulled together. Illness and dying drive the engines of these bidirectional vectors, which threaten the integrity of the body and the person.
Phenomenologically, I begin in my patient's body, a body threatened by life-limiting illness and dying itself. My patient's body is always the body of someone, a person; yet the very structures of such experience shout out for recognition and understanding that transcend the uniqueness of my patient. Still, I begin with a particular person who has come to me because I have promised her re-humanization, to restore her humanity lost to the paradigm of the cure (itself a promise to restore her to the health of premorbidity, the time before the illness). I have promised her not cure, but care, care of her body and of her personhood, her self. Paradoxically, she comes before me as fully alive but dying. Her life, her personhood, is replete with history, a past and a present; but a personhood irreducible to her story without remainder. She is always in excess of what could be said---language could never complete her. Nonetheless, the narratives provide the interstitium of her person and her place, the matrix she moved and moves within as she was and is.
Illness throws the body centrifugally so that the spread body, pushed apart, becomes palpable, visible, smell-able; simultaneously a natural, primordial vector pulls it back toward the center, centripetally, in a struggle to maintain integrity. My patient as person is along for the ride, as her personhood is threatened by the same vectors. My patient's body is at a distance from itself, receding from itself. This spread body calls me to itself: it is a call that shapes how it gives itself from itself and positions me (tells me where to stand so that I can decipher, discern, see it) it relationship to it. Because this call is from this body, it is this body's own call, for itself from itself. Having no agency of its own, though, its only recourse to itself is to get itself done, through my agency in the event of rediscovery and recognition. I am not obligated by any sense of duty prior to the call. The obligation that arises is called for by the givenness of the spread body whose singular thisness, which is for, by, in the 'itself' of this body that unconditionally makes a claim on me.
But this call, while only from, of, by, in my patient's own body, is not solely for me. My experience of it is the structure of its experience for anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, a body to touch. How does my agency, anyone's agency get the 'itself done' of my patient's body? This is the event, the event released: when I discover, recover, recognize, acknowledge the humanity and personhood before me, made to recede by the situation of the spread body in the hospice, the 'itself' getting itself done by my agency, finds in my agency of recognition and recovery its own self-recognition, recover, rediscovery. In conventional terms, this is 'healing'.
The key structures of the givenness of the spread body and its call are its directing of my gaze, for a [re]positioning and a recognition. When I speak of this positioning, the anamorphosis proper, "the aim here is to shift this gaze to the point of view...that, on the basis of which and according to the demands of this sudden phenomenon giving itself, would succeed in showing itself" (Jean-Luc Marion, in Givenness and Revelation, NY: Oxford Univ. Pr., 2016; p. 65; emphasis Marion's). "In this way, we better understand that the phenomenon can come at once from 'elsewhere' and from itself" (Marion, Being Given, trans. J. Kosky, Stanford: Stanford Univ. Pr., 2002, p. 124). In this instance, of phenomenalization, I provisionally place personhood 'elsewhere' and the spread body in the place of the call. Everything now in its place, my gaze, now oriented by the call of the spread body, its very thisness, intends what is intended by my patient's own gaze, looking back toward me, with unconditional purity of the call, calling for the release of the event of recognition: anagnorisis.
For now, I leave Aristotle's discussion of peripety and anagnorisis in the Poetics, and among the aesthetes; yet, in order to full explore the phenomenality of the call of the spread body, I will attempt to illustrate how 'recognition' works in those scenes where Odysseus makes his home-coming: for the anagnorisis called for by my patient shares similar structures. Of course, on the strictly mimetic (hence, ontic) level, Odysseus, the great tactician, with the assistance of Athena, steers events and the gradual unfolding of his identity until the catastrophe in the hall reveal him in his full regal stature. On the ontological level of Odysseus' movement from beggar to king, however, we are very much made privy to the tension of a beggar becoming a king again, in all its uncertainties and conditions. The chance that the beggar will remain a beggar threatens the return of the king.
With each unfolding recognition, first by the royal Argos, whose animality immediately connect him to Odysseus, through the recognitions of Eumaeus, Eurykleia, Telemachus, Penelope (who is the deal-breaker here, and whose steadfast love remains anchored to the royal bedpost), through the stringing of the bow whose plucked tone heralds the arrival of the Odysseus the king and bloody justice, the beggar is reunited to himself: personhood, identity is incrementally restored to the body of the king, now made whole, even renewed. Each successive recognition by others, brings Odysseus to recognize himself regained, made whole, in his former regal stature. Some may argue that these recognition scenes are charged with ambiguity, that perhaps not every character 'recognizes' Odysseus in the timeline I suggest; yet the stakes are high---recognizing the king in the beggar before the beggar comes into his own can be lethal business in Ithaka. A king must be kingly or he is not a king at all. The violence at Ithaka, the restoration of a king, is risky business, and is no stranger on the hospice, where bodies are under constant threat of violence, constant threat of being pushed further apart, splayed into unquenchable space. Those at the bedside, my patient's very own Eumaeus, Telemachus and Penelope, are invited by the same call---to my patient's return to Ithaka, the recognition of her own self in the recognition of others.
I do not direct, invoke, or otherwise prescribe the experience of recognition that my patient phenomenalizes. Recognition comes from her alone, and she alone makes use of the conversion of my gaze which she herself has converted, and my gaze, though constituting her wholeness which is for me, finds its way into her knowledge of herself and recognized as and for herself. I know nothing of her experience apart from my own experience of her self having an experience of recognition, recovery, and healing. I can know of her experience more concretely, as when she might tell me she feels more herself (if she can utter such words), or when she laughs or smiles. Or I might know this from a loved one, whose experience of being at the bedside of the dying becomes transformed, and perhaps informed by an ineffable hope, perhaps even in what Simone de Beauvoir, in her A Very Easy Death, has called a 'miracle'.
The call of the spread body takes the shape of a whispered phrase, whose contours mouth this is my body, whose urgency gives and shows itself. By my being present at the bedside, the solemn givenness of my patient's spread body disposes and poises me to enter into the phenomenality giving and showing itself unconditionally. Without an agency of its own, a call alone invites me into to the event harbored in suffering organicity whose blood vessels, fluids, discolored skin gains a voice from its self-donation. The call comes from the elsewhere, the distance of my patient's self and from the nexus of vasculature and other (barely) human tissue. The bilocations of what is pulled and pushed in opposite directions converge in a single phenomenality that enters my experience of a unity under threat of dissolution and extinction into oblivion. Of the experience of being expanded and splayed, which belongs only to my patient, I know only of its call for recognition, which elicits acts of healing.