Back to somaesthetics

I outlined the development of somaesthetics in the Preface. In Japan, Shusterman became known first in the field of aesthetics as an author of Pragmatist Aesthetics, a standard-bearer for pragmatist aesthetics who considered rap music as a theme of aesthetics. He stayed in Hiroshima for one year from July 2002 to June 2003 as a visiting professor of Hiroshima University'. During that time, he gave many lectures at Ritsumeikan University and other schools in and out of Japan on the notion of somaesthetics, other than the aesthetics of popular art, and made an impact on the scholars of aesthetics, philosophy, literature, and education. I was able to discuss the relationship between the Eastern theory of the body and somaesthetics while conducting joint research with him.

The term somaesthetics consists of the Greek meaning body, and

“aesthetics,” as already discussed. While aesthetics is usually translated into Japanese as bigaku, I propose another word kanseiron, because of the content of somaesthetics that Shusterman presented.33 Kanseiron literally means a theory of aisthesis. Somaesthetics is a discipline of the critical, ameliorative study of the use and experience of the body, according to Shusterman.

What is ameliorative study? It simply means making a better body, which is not necessarily self-evident. Shusterman defined it as improving the acuity, health, and control of our senses.36

A premise of somaesthetics is that the body is a locus of aisthesis or a sensitive appreciation and self-fashioning. Somaesthetics structuralizes the care of the body, involving knowledge, discourse, practice, and discipline, which enable the improvement of the care of the body.37 This view that somaesthetics as a discipline is concerned not only with the knowledge and discourse related to the care of the body but also with bodily practice and discipline for improving the care gives us a sense of unusuality. Shusterman called this dimension practical somaesthetics.38

Behind this idea, there is a view of philosophy that is different from the conventional ordinary concept. Shusterman thinks about practicing philosophy. His standpoint overlaps with practical purposes characteristic of the Eastern theory of the body suggested in Yuasa’s theory.

I hear questions about and criticism of somaesthetics from time to time. For example, people have described it as optimism, hedonism, or a sort of orientalism. Shusterman is trying to respond to these seriously. While the optimismcriticism has been applied to his standpoint of ameliorism, he rejects the scheme of optimism versus pessimism. He himself is not an optimist who thinks everything goes well, of course; he does not think that if he were not an optimist, he should fall into pessimism. Beyond the simple scheme of optimism versus pessimism, he adopts ameliorism in order to overcome the faults and make matters better. Although he admits the value of pleasure in his ameliorative conception, he insists that he is not a hedonist, if the way of thinking that considers pleasure as the best and unique value is called hedonism.39 Further, concerning orientalism. Shustcrman is interested in the Eastern thought that regards even academic discipline as shugyo or self-cultivation. He thinks, however, that the origin of this idea could be found in the tradition of Western philosophy before modern times, so he is observing the spirit of pragmatism there.

I am interested in the correspondence between Shusterman’s study and Yuasa’s work in relation to the restoration of the aspect of practice in academia and the conception of a new philosophy. As Yuasa could not liberate himself completely from the framework ofWestern philosophy, he had the idea to create a new philosophy by connecting Freud and Jung, who showed an interest in Eastern thought. In contrast, while Shustcrman lives in the tradition ofWestern philosophy, he finds what is common to Eastern thought in the Western tradition. When this encounter takes some form in reality, a completely different style of philosophy would be presented. However, it would not necessarily be called the Eastern theory of the body any longer; rather, it would become a model for the practice of philosophy. Shusterman’s somaesthetics presents us with such a possibility.


  • 1 Shustcrman, R. trans. Japanese by Higuchi, S. et al. Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life [Pragmatism to tetsugaku no jissen], Tokyo: Seori shobo, 2012, p. ii.
  • 2 I had already considered this problem in “Eastern Mind-Body Theory and Somaesthetics” Imai, Y. and Wulf, C. (Eds.) Concepts of Aesthetic Education: Japanese and European Perspectives, Münster: Maxmann, 2007, pp. 88-96.
  • 3 Shustcrman, R. Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, 2nd cd., Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000, p. 268.
  • 4 Yuasa, Y. trans. English by Kasulis, T. and Nagatomo, S. The Body: Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987, p. 25.
  • 5 Ibid., p. 25.
  • 6 Ibid., p. 78.
  • 7 Ibid., p. 25.
  • 8 Ibid., p. 27.
  • 9 Ibid., p. 85.
  • 10 Higuchi, S. Shintai kyoiku no shiso [Thoughts of Body Education}, Tokyo: Keiso shobo, 2005, pp. 22-29.
  • 11 Yamaguchi, I. Bunka wo ikiru shintai: kan bunka genshogaku shiron [The Body living in Culture: Essays on Inter-Cultural Phenomenology}, Tokyo: Chisen shokan, 2004.

Ibid., p. 37.

Ibid., p. v.

Ibid., pp. v-viii.

Ibid., p. 16.

Higuchi, S, Sports no bigaku [Aesthetics of Sport}, Tokyo: Fumaido, 1987, pp. 126-127.

Herrigel, E. trans. English by Hull, R.F.C. Zen in the Art of Archery, New York: Pantheon Books, 1953. Trans. Japanese by Inatomi, E. and Ueda, T. Yumi to Zen, Tokyo: Fukumura shuppan, 1977.

Yamaguchi, op.cit., p. 109.

Ishida, H. Ki no Cosmology [Cosmology of /

Ibid., p. 139.

Ibid.,p. 141.

Herrigel, trans. English op.cit., pp. 17-19.

Yamada, Y. (Ed.) Ongaku suru shintai [The Musicking Body], Kyoto: Showado, 2008.

Yamada, “Ongaku suru shintai no kairaku [A Pleasure of the Musicking Body],” in ibid., p. 4.

Masuda, S. “Denshi gakki no shintaisei [The Embodiment of Electronic Music Instrument],” in ibid., pp. 126-127.

Shiina, R. “Ongaku no genshogaku [Phenomenology of Music]” in ibid, p. 52. Okada, A. Piano wo hiku shintai [The Body playing the Piano}, Tokyo: Shunjusha, 2003.

Ibid., pp. 288-289.

Ibid., pp. 290-291.

Ibid., p. 8.

Ibid., p. 9.

Ibid., p. 9.

Tsutsui, K. Nihon gata kyoyo no unmei [Destiny of Japanese Style of Cultivation}, Tokyo: Iwanami, 1995. Kimura, N. Seinen no tanjo [Birth of Youth}, Tokyo: Shinyosha, 1998.

Ariyama, T. Koshien Yakyu to nihonjin [Koshien Baseball and the Japanese}, Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1997.

I considered this problem in my article “Somaesthetics in Japan as Practicing Pragmatist Aesthetics,” in Malecki, W. (Ed.) Practicing Pragmatist Aesthetics, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014, pp. 203-215.

Shustcrman, Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, 2nd cd. op.cit., p. 268.

Ibid., p. 267.

Ibid., p. 276.

This was stated in the discussion after Shustcrman’s lecture at the Conference of Japanese Society of Aesthetics held at Hiroshima University in 2002. Cf. “Entertainment: A Question for Aesthetics” trans. Japanese by Higuchi, S. in Shintai kansei to bunka no tetsugaku: ningen, undo, sekai seisaku [Philosophy of the Somaesthetic and Culture: Human, Movement, Worldmaking}, Tokyo: Keiso shobo, 2019.

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