Eastern body theory and somaesthetics

Shusterman’s somaesthetics is rooted in a critical insight into the theoretical background of modern academic philosophy. Shusterman wrote in the preface of the Japanese translation of Practicing Philosophy. “Asian culture has been more faithful to the idea that philosophy is a self-cultivating way of life aimed at perfecting humanity than has the philosophy of Western modernity, whose dominant model has been that of abstract, theoretical natural science. ... the book remains focused on the Western pragmatist tradition, which, I believe, shares some important principles with East-Asian thought and can therefore serve as a usefol channel for new philosophical dialogue between East and West.”1 This thought acknowledges the importance of “practice” beyond conventional “theory.” In particular, it is connected to Shusterman’s attachment of importance to the dimension of practical somaesthetics. In this chapter, I consider “Eastern body theory” while taking Shusterman’s philosophical background into account. By doing so, it becomes clear that there is no substantial theoretical framework for “Eastern body theory,” which is, more or less, a possible problematization of the East compared with the West.

A problem of Eastern body theory

In terms of Eastern body theory, the one developed by Yasuo Yuasa naturally comes to mind. Shusterman made reference to Yuasa’s body theory, which emphasized the concept of “personal cultivation” or shugyo in Eastern thought as “the philosophical foundation.”3 Yuasa stated in his book, The Body: Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory, “In the traditional Western views of the body, there is a strong tendency to distinguish analytically the mental from the somatic mode.”4 In contrast, he noted that the emphasis on the unity of mind and body is a characteristic of Eastern body theory. This is a commonplace discourse articulated as the Western dualism of mind and body versus the Eastern monism of mind and body. For example, in the field of the philosophy of physical education and sport, it is sometimes asserted that the monistic understanding or oneness of body-mind is quite important, rather than the dualism that places the body secondary to the mind. This way of thinking is, however, too coarse.

Yuasa insisted, “there is a marked difference in the methodological foundations of the theoretical organization of Eastern and Western philosophy. Unless we examine this point, we cannot grasp the uniqueness of the Eastern theory of body.”5 This signifies that the Western and Eastern theories of the body are not two opposite ways of thinking on the same premise, as if they are opponents on the same wrestling ring. There is a profound difference in the methodological foundations of the theoretical organization of Eastern and Western philosophies. Quoting Jung, Yuasa posited that the East had never developed a “metaphysics” in the Western sense, such as the work of Aristotle and Christian theology.6

Furthermore, Yuasa viewed personal “cultivation” as a revealing characteristic of the philosophical uniqueness of Eastern thought. He wrote, “To put it simply, true knowledge cannot be obtained simply by means of theoretical thinking, but only through ‘bodily recognition or realization’ (tainin or taitoku), that is, through the utilization of one’s total mind and body. Simply stated, this is to ‘learn with the body,’ not the brain. Cultivation is a practice that attempts, so to speak, to achieve true knowledge by means of one’s total mind and body.”7 This idea is from the Buddhist tradition. According to Yuasa, cultivation is a method to reach the wisdom of satori? The experience of satori could be realized not by intellectual speculation, but by shugyo or the training of the mind and body. This presents the idea of a unity of the mind and body. Such a unity would be found in Zen meditation, the performing arts, such as Noh drama, and the martial arts. The concept of shugyo is thus formed, such that “cultivation is practical training aimed at the development and enhancement of one’s spirit or personality.”9

To what extent can we realize the notion of philosophical study as shugydt We can accept the connection of Yuasa’s Eastern body theory to pragmatism because of the lack of metaphysics. The Eastern body theory would thus be able to join hands with pragmatic ideas developed in the United States as a liberation from the European philosophical tradition. Another point of view would be a paradigm shift in terms of the relationship between theory and practice suggested in the notion of shugyo. An innovation of the relationship, such as the combination of “theory” with “practice” or a “theory” spun out of “practice,” would correspond with Shustcrman’s idea of somaesthetics, including both the analytic/pragmatic and the practical.

The Western and Eastern theories of the body are different language games. It is not so easy to take a fi.111 account of the differences in the methodological foundations of the Western and Eastern philosophies. The theories of the body regarding martial arts, the performing arts, Chinese philosophy, and Zen Buddhism do not have their roots in the same problem framework as the Western theory of the body does. An interpretation of Japanese traditional performing arts in the framework of the Eastern theory of the body is not an Eastern enterprise at all, but truly a Western idea. I have pointed this out and criticized Yuasa in this aspect: while Yuasa drew attention to this point, he talked about the problem of the body from Zeami’s text on the unconscious basis of the Western dualistic scheme of the mind and body.10

A Japanese phenomenologist, Ichiro Yamaguchi, also took up Yuasa’s Eastern theory of the body in Yamaguchi’s book Bunka wo ikiru shintai: kan bunka genshogaku shiron [ The Body living in Culture: Essays on Inter-Cultural Phenomenology].11 He indicated the difficulty of studying the dialogue between different traditional ways of thinking and stated that the fundamental problem of the kind of meaning and value that an act of thinking by itself has in lite should be considered all over again. Further, he made an important statement that we should clarify the meaning of “new” and “after Descartes,” if we are trying to think about the possibility of presenting a new conception of the body from the Eastern perspective beyond the conventional Cartesian way of dealing with the body.12

This sort of problem could be found not only in the theory of the body but also in the historical situation concerning fine arts brought into Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period. We may be able to say that fine arts already existed before the Meiji period, if we only see the contents, such as painting and sculpture, as we had ukiyo-e and Buddhist statues. A peculiarity, however, of Western fine arts was being supported by theory or science—whose representative was aesthetics, already mentioned in Chapter 3 on the politics of culture. The question of “what is fine arts?” is not necessary to ask, if people only enjoy calligraphy, paintings, tea ceremonies, or flower arrangements. This question was asked in words in the tradition ofWestern scholarship. First, in the attention to the West, the Eastern theory of arts (e.g., Japanese art history) could possibly be a science. If we think about the Eastern theory' of the body, we probably' have to take this problem into consideration.

Let us take a look again at Yamaguchi’s The Body living in Culture. At the beginning of the book, he described his life in a foreign country’, Germany, through his own bodily' experiences. He became deeply' aware of being a Japanese in his contact with German culture, and he recognized that the motivational force behind such awareness and discovery was phenomenology.13 From his discussion of “Ki and the body,” “Shugyo of martial arts and the body,” “I-Thou relationship and embodiment,” “The Buddhist philosophy' and the body,” “The body in Zen Buddhism” and other topics, this book as a whole could be considered as an attempt to develop an Eastern theory' of the body.

On the other hand, we have to recognize that Yamaguchi’s consistent research method was Husserlian phenomenology, a Western philosophy. Yamaguchi considered Eastern thoughts using Husserlian phenomenology as an instrumental method. The phenomenology' as a method posits that the body embodies history as a basis of philosophy, which signifies that phenomenology' attaches importance to the connection between mind and body' and gives the philosopher his or her self-consciousness of life.14 This belief informs The Body living in Culture. This would be regarded as an Eastern theory' of the body, but it is not a privileged attempt for relief in the West during a predicament, but a concrete approach to the problem of his existence as a Japanese in the East.

Thinking this way, we may be able to say that the conceptions of the Eastern and Western theories of the body' are inappropriate. A way of thinking as phenomenology, constructed by' a Western thinker Husserl, contributes to the clarification of various arts of life created in the East. The clarification reversely'

Eastern body theory and somaesthetics 59 contributes to the development of phenomenology'. This is the matter we are facing now. Although it is not necessary to call it “Eastern,” we are able to say that, if we think about the possibility of an Eastern theory of the body in a positive sense, it would necessarily have to be in the style of Yamaguchi’s The Body living in Culture.

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