Right now I am sitting in a desk chair, trying to keep my wrists and back straight, with both feet flat on the floor. Thinking about my posture is, however, interfering with my productivity, suggesting that bodily awareness is at odds with writing. Perhaps being a professor necessitates ignoring the body, at least to a certain degree. When I am at my ‘work station’ at home (this summer an undergraduate student is using my office on campus, doing god knows what on the puffy blue couch that won’t fit into the condo) I inevitably forget about my body, hunching inward to focus on my thoughts, shifting as always to the right hip. I am not aware of pain until I stop working to get more tea from the kitchen or let another contractor into the building for recarpeting estimates. I have stupidly agreed to become president of the condo board, imagining that I could run it like a dictatorship and impose my will. So far no dice, but there is still time.
My current afflictions—tight ribcage that causes a pointed pain in my back, tendonitis in both thumbs and wrists—were caused by the repetitive stress of answering e-mails and writing articles. Academic work is actually quite dangerous. In contrast, I have never been injured while doing intensive cardio or weight training. My knees have recently started to make a funny crackly noise, but they do not hurt and I am chalking it up to age. I also have boney fusion in my feet but that is a birth defect, giving me less spring in my step and making it painful to stand still for long periods of time. That is why I continually walk around the room while teaching, driving the students bat shit. I never explain myself because I am something of a tyrant in the classroom. My dream is to be called ‘Professor Hardass,’ but so far a series of less flattering nicknames have been applied instead.
Yesterday during ‘yoga date night’ (my partner could scarcely refuse this punishment after his repeated golf and poker absences), the instructor encouraged us to be aware of our bodies at all times, to be present and rooted to the earth while breathing in one nostril and out the other. Sorry but I don’t roll that way. I like yoga when I get to stretch, stand on my head, balance on the back of the unlucky person beside me, and finally fall asleep on the floor while the fan whirs and the traffic speeds by outside. Instead of clearing my mind, yoga gets me thinking and last night I was reflecting on phenomenology, a philosophical approach I definitely need to read more about. According to Iris Marion Young phenomenologists have often described the process of ignoring the body in order to undertake academic or other activities. She finds, however, that pregnancy is a physical condition in which the body is inevitably and almost constantly present. Pregnant women feel movements inside a body that is at once theirs and not theirs, even as they listen to jazz music or read a scholarly book. (Aside: I am a pro-choice activist so don’t get any funny ideas about my reference to maternal bodies as ‘not theirs.’). Young’s arguments are interesting because they suggest that the body can be omnipresent, and that this presence is (of course) gendered.
Feminist Figure Girl is making my body more if not entirely present. Right now, I have a new appreciation of my lats—they are ‘talking to me’ because I trained back before heading to yoga yesterday. It was great to focus on each muscle separately as I moved from the machines to the cables to the free weights, doing reps in an obsessive and satisfying way. I am not yet sure what kind of gendered, classed, racialized, and sexualized body is currently being produced but if I figure it out I will blog about it later.
Two things occur to me reading this. First, it strikes me that the only time we–and not just academics–really become aware of our bodies, normally, is when we’re in pain. Then like pregnant women, we can’t escape the ominpresent body, which is at once ours and not ours. Chronic pain sufferers, for example, often describe pain in ways as a living being at odds with their sense of self. Some types of embodiment (like pregnancy, of course) are obviously gendered, but there are other ways in which an omnipresent body transcends gender, too. I wonder, too, if in the past, both sexes were more keenly aware of their bodies on the whole–eg. the humoral theory predisposes a person to experience the body in terms of fluxes and flows on a daily basis. Second, your comment about academics ignoring their bodies reminds me of the the eighteenth-century great concern with the health of scholars. Tissot, for instance, believed that they were more prone to hemorrhoids and other problems of blockage because they neglected going to stool for long periods, were often hunched over preventing digestion, and weren’t working up a healthy (manly) sweat. Blockage, or no, I know that my thinking and writing posture is at odds with one that is ergonomically correct–and because of this, I end up in a vicious spiral of tension AND migraine headaches. I ignore my body at great cost, as it will inevitably force itself upon me; yet I cannot seem to change my habit as I will not get my writing work done in a timely fashion. The body and mind are in a constant struggle for dominance. Clearly I need a new habit wherein proper posture becomes as unconscious as working through discomfort, but how long does it take? And do I have time to retrain myself with so many pressing deadlines? Or, can I even be retrained? Does the conflation of bodily denial and meditation (eg. monks) reflect some physical reality that bodily comfort and deep thought are incompatible? You’re quite right: academic work is dangerous!