Armpits, navels, and nostrils. It’s funny that it took philosophy so long to discover the body in its particular fleshy monstrosities. Look back over the history of thought, even that very ‘navel gazing’ genre of the ‘what am I?’ post Descartes, and the breathing, sweating, pulsing body is largely absent. This is a fine vindication of a Foucaultian atmosphere: after all, how can we maintain that knowledge is a slow accumulation of the given, a mere expanding analysis of the periphery, when a nose needs to wait centuries for Nietzsche to be taken as an object of thought? Surely Plato had one.
Perhaps it’s because a certain ‘spiritualization’ or ‘rationalization’ needed to be carried through to some extreme point, namely when the box, at the bottom of which eternal meaning was promised, turned out to be empty. The body, whose language wasn’t understood because it didn’t seem to be worth learning, used to be an assumption, barely worth a word, which thought, once logos achieved, would finally eradicate. It is a lesson that we are still forced to learn over and over, as the unhealthy pedagogy of the body persists and keeps pulling us away from it: the lesson that the apparent slavery of the body, its affects and desires, is not something that we are born with, but something that we keep recreating in the name of ‘spirit’.
In the advent of cinema, the Hungarian thinker Béla Balázs saw the possibility of a new visual culture, in which the language of the body would be relearned in its immediacy and heterogeneity. And yet, even the screen ended up showing us just a sterile and ‘presentable’ corporeality, with its own twisted ideas of beauty and stardom. Even in our time, it seems, the armpits, navels, and nostrils are not something to be seen, and merely, maybe – to be thought.