Regina Favre *
Concepts and practices are historical devices. I believe that practices and knowledge of the body, as they are currently conceived, have their roots in mid-nineteenth century Europe, and are a byproduct of the industrial society. The transition from craft production to industrial production completely remodeled artistic and cultural traditions, conceptions of form and language, values, the appearance of cities, streets, houses, their interiors, which required a new use of the body in order to produce and incorporate this new reality. The pressure caused by such intensification and industry’s problems and benefits immediately shook former ways of using the body.
At the same time, among other philosophic and scientific transformations, Darwin’s evolutionary theory promotes the biggest revolution in man’s self-image since the beginning of history. Darwin’s theory removes the Creator once and for all and shows men their animality and adaptive capacity. Thus, a continuous chain of bodies within an evolutionary process becomes evident to everyone.
With Darwin, the body becomes real and accessible for the first time. Species anatomically solidifies behavior and functionality, which enables bodies to individually mold.
How industrial capitalism and modern knowledge of the body grew together
Capital and its power, initially, were visibly configured by family fortunes propelled by new industry. But that was only the beginning.
With every transformation of power, of meaning, of industrial technology, of transport speed, of modes of production, and of money distribution, new notions and practices regarding self-regulation and autonomy of the body urgently demanded to be formulated as an antidote to the first signs of stress of the culture or emotional illness like those that were starting to be observed at that time.
The same speed could be seen in the multiplication of body techniques that, in fact, were not just techniques, but rather methods that reflect the different perspectives of the body needing to regulate itself.
The invention of youth, also at the beginning of the century, counts enormously as a very important social configuration of subjectivity and is doubtless a whole other chapter to be included in the subject of the body.
Research and experiments conducted by both independent individuals and small groups in Europe broke the boundaries of the academic and medical environments, the traditional places of knowledge. Resisting the body model diffused by the Berlin Physical Education School, they were fundamental in developing body practices and theories which basically molded this new culture in the short time between the twenties and the end of World War II.
These young precursors who, in order to open the sensibility of their bodies to the events that constellated around the period, were experiencing their somatic potential as a tragic deepening of the bodily lived present opposing the rigid, authoritarian, dangerous, and sterile form of the body molded by the Germanic militarist education. They should be considered the zero point of the future body culture that will affect all of us. Elsa Gindler, whose groups were frequented by certain psychoanalysts, among which include Reich, is paradigmatic in this new mode of subjectivation of the body that begins to be configured precisely at this time.
Escaping the looming destruction, attracted by the promise of democracy in America, these European pioneers, who in two decades had already become creators and practitioners of these new body conceptions, migrated to an environment where this new culture would find total embracing in the philosophical tradition of American pragmatism, in the values of the body and of natural life celebrated by the literature, self-discipline, the religious experience and the enlightenment, and mainly by the immense prosperity and optimism of the post-war.
Out of this encounter, there flourished in the United States, in the middle of the fifties, associated with the social philosophy of the time, the culture to which we consider ourselves to belong, and about whose matrix we should perform a critical operation, so that we can make it usable for the present formative problems. At that time, also, American culture was pointing to a road of expansion throughout the entire planet.
Fordism and the serial shaping of bodies
Philip Cushman explains the function of this super-expansion. “For the United States, one of the tasks in the 1950s was to convert its powerful international war machine into a viable international peacetime economy. This was not an easy task, and at times the country floundered in recessions, with the specter of the Great Depression never far from consciousness. But in the decades immediately following World War II, the U.S. economy learned one of the economic lessons of the war: in order to stay out of a depression, twentieth-century capitalism had to base its economy on the continual production and consumption of goods and services.[…] Therefore, big business had to develop ways of selling goods that were not essential or well-made. In other words, the nation was now dependent on producing and selling nonessential and quickly obsolete products, services, and experiences that consumers could not save enough to afford. In order to allow consumers to purchase these products, banks had to develop new forms of easy credit. […] Purchasing rather than saving; indulging, rather than sacrificing, became the predominant style. […] People learned about new post-war conveniences from radio, magazines, and newspaper ads, so did the increasingly powerful print and electronic media teaching people how to handle their lives and finances. Continuous new households were needed to stay scientific, modern and healthy. So a new configuration of the self-had to be constructed.1
1. Philip Cushman, “Constructing the self, constructing America”, Cambridge, MA, Perseus, 1995, p. 77. 3
How this shaping force is perceived in Brazil
Nicolau Sevcenko observed how this new configuration affected Brazilian perception. “With the first World War, the European film industry collapsed and the United States inherited everything, creating a virtual monopoly of production, distribution, and world-wide exhibition. With the emergence of talkies and the unbelievable rise in production costs, small studios went bankrupt, and only the big Hollywood corporations survived. Studio systems were developed through rationalizing, optimizing, and considerably reducing costs, and as a promotional tradeoff the myth of the stars was created. Hollywood movies created and spread the movie star standard of beauty like dogma, which became the main promotional levers for new consumption habits and lifestyles identified with the “American way of life.” Vinicius de Moraes, Brazilian poet and diplomat, wrote a poem in the same decade called “Love Story, Hollywood, California2,” in which his whole life is reinterpreted as a succession of Hollywood clichés. The way to sit, drive a car, look at a girl, watch the sunset, hold a cup, flirt and get rejected, eat fast-food, call the waiter, the clothes he wears, go bowling, a sarcastic grin, a mood swing, lighting a cigarette with the flip of a lighter. All of it came from the movie screen. The poet feels like his life does not come from the interactions with those around him, but rather from a team of unknown technicians on the other side of the hemisphere. This is no exaggeration. Film is a complex art, a product of revolutionary visual communication techniques, such as close-ups, emotional effects from editing resources – such as rhythm, sound, music, facial and body expression, the glamour of youth, athletic choreography, make-up, hair-styles, wardrobe, scenery and more than anything the overwhelming power of sex appeal.
All of this amplified on a colossal screen radiating its silver, hypnotic brilliance in the darkness of the movie theater. That which Hollywood carried out to its ultimate consequences was the discovery, in great part undertaken by the Surrealists and Expressionists who escaped Europe in the thirties and found work in California, that movies are an art for the eyes and the unconscious body, and not the intellect and verbal discourse.
When the children of Daddy Knows Best grew up…
We can see, then, how the post-war America of the fifties got its glamorous international version, first from this cinematographic self-shaping highly coveted by all. Finally, in the sixties, subjective shaping of youth spreads with movies and music: the rebel who doesn’t want his parents’ lifestyle, the previous formatting that was rigidly shaped by the consumer society’s entire set of values and behaviors. From modern art, modern dance, the Actor’s Studio’s way of acting, and Beat Literature to rock culture, the feminist movement, the hippie movement, the psychedelic movement, student rebellions in ’68, counterculture, and alternative culture, there was a jump.
Among young people, by the end of the sixties, another way of conceiving the body and new practices of the self-have been designed. At this very moment, the legacy of the Germanic body resistance movement becomes useful in combating the hegemony of the rigid Protestant model of body shaping in the American post-war era. In the wave of new social movements, body practices brought by European Humanist immigrants, start to have a large role in the deconstruction of the uses of the self profoundly devalued by this generation and in the composition of new uses for the body. Groups, classes, and friends identifying with the spirit of these practices and ideas gather, mostly in New York, the Melting Pot, coming up with new ways of interacting, working, living, having sex, and eventually, conceiving the family and gender, money, education, race, culture, politics, and power.
The New Paradigms Return to Europe
Driven by the same faith in change, adventure, and self-challenge to the bottom of oneself, this new body culture, influenced in the United States by Reich’s libertarian ideas, who also immigrated with these German pioneers, as reshaped in the United States since the late fifties, is exported back to Europe. And there it finds the seeds left behind by Reich that were already bearing fruit out of the many educational, therapeutic, and psychotherapeutic tendencies that were already open and eager to be mixed with the American model. This new culture quickly proliferated as collective ways of living and doing, cultural and artistic expressions, urban and rural communities, groups for personal growth, psychotherapy, body practices, and political activism.
In the seventies, as much in Europe as in the United States, practices and methods were exercised as group or psychotherapeutic activities, body manipulations or exercises, went through an astonishing multiplication. People were eager for change, changing their bodies. They formed groups, sought therapies, wanted to become therapists.
Group leaders exercised an extraordinary influence over people’s lives. There was an ideal of creating a separate world, so-called alternative, which could influence the system from the outside to the inside.
Meanwhile, below the equator…
In Brazil, since the mid-sixties, Tropicalism, as an artistic, literary, and political movement has expressed the urgency for us to rid ourselves of our conservative traditions, walking against the wind, with empty pockets3, and incorporating the new industrial growth, reformatting our bodies and absorbing this new worldwide reality that was exploding in the magazine stands. Here, a deconstructive and proliferating force was arising, similar to that which emerged around Berlin during the First World War when these body ideas had just begun. With the lethal atmosphere of the Latin American fascist dictatorships, many Brazilians exile themselves, either politically or existentially. The affinity with these Brazilian needs at that moment, certainly, opened us up and attracted us to these new paradigms of freedom through the body that were gaining importance, mainly, in England, fertile soil, then, for new patterns of behavior.
Many were sheltered in this “London, London”
In 1975, some people who had been marked by this experience, upon returning to Brazil, participate in founding the body psychotherapy program at the Sedes Sapientiae Institute, in São Paulo. In the eighties, in search of professional training, some groups could be seen forming workshops in Brazil with representatives from body psychotherapy schools that had already been organized internationally and were spreading throughout the market. And in the late eighties, a growing number of people connected to those schools already formatted as businesses, representatives of professional Reichian and neo-Reichian training, had already been instituted.
But we cannot fail to mention the forces of invention, of joy and freedom that continued to be expressed in certain groups and encounters of this generation of professionals and activists called Reichian, faithful to their roots, producing fruits that have continued and diversified.
Theories and lives in Brazil: specific conditions
These ideas and practices have made sense in Brazil, in a very peculiar way, different from what happened in Europe and the United States. At first, they joined with the forces that culturally fought the destructive effects of the dictatorship on people’s lives.
It is well known how psychoanalysis, a certain kind of militant psychoanalysis, which was highly developed both in Brazil and Argentina, played an important role as an ally in this culture of political resistance. So it was quite natural that certain generous divans in Brazil embraced the cause and gestated the so-called newborn Reichian movement. Thus, it is also evident that, given such affinity, the Reichianism that initially caught on in Brazil was that of Character Analysis, in its variations, considered in his time, the thirties, a political and methodological advancement compared to Freud’s ideas.
J.A. Gaiarsa, sworn enemy of psychoanalysis and with great access to the media, plays an important role in creating a field where a whole generation has been introduced to a de-psychoanalyzed Reichian culture. Even so, the first major assimilative effort in the Brazilian body psychotherapeutic field of the seventies was the search for a respectful theoretical framework responding to the preexisting ‘psy-culture.’ What happens is an attempt to assimilate a psychoanalytic basis for its practice, to also find a place for notions such as the id, the ego, the superego, unconscious, and transference. However, the body in all its force and wonder remained untouched theoretically.
The new capitalistic and the new theories and practices of the body
Capitalism, breaking national boundaries, began to operate in a global and integrated manner. The familiar narrative, the background for our lives and ” London, London” refers to song by Caetano Veloso. soundtrack for the psychoanalytic view, appears now as a small part of the world-historical narrative and social history requires its importance in the hermeneutic of subjectivity.
This demonstrated that there was a theoretical and methodological response to the patriarchally-based industrial capitalism and its effects on subjective bodies, and another quite different response, which demanded the formulation and invention of new modes of taking advantage of our biological heritage and then organizing new functional modes of living the new worldwide reality.
Character Analysis and The Function of the Orgasm, central to Reichian theory and practice, responded to the needs of subjective formations produced in capitalism during its industrialization state. The repression of sexual energy and its subsequent reinvestment in the “character,” with the reduction of “orgastic potency,” the “neurosis,” it was a matter of the patriarchal model of industrial society with its mode of production based on this Oedipal way of operating relationships by repressing the libido in an authoritarian way. The “rigid character” organization in this authoritarian body was the focus of Reich’s attention, politically and clinically, functionally connected to his notion of armor.
The coexistence with the familiar models certainly carries on, but now other broader and more general forces move the structuring of the subject. Now, no longer repression, but rather lack becomes central. The new force is a combination of the market’s and large corporations’ interests.
So, emphasis on repression must then become our target for deconstruction. And the building up of a comprehension of the capitalistic strategy, capturing desire and stimulating the perpetual lack of something that would fill and complete us, has to be operated. Images and media begin to play the leading role, as we shall see.
In the early eighties, we began to have access to ideas about contemporary capitalism, brought by Guattari, whose visits to Brazil contaminated us with a Spinozian feeling of immanence and life power that always produces what still does not exist. Even if we did not delve deeply into his studies, we breathed with him a new emerging reality, mainly driven by a new joy with the end of dictatorship and the arrival of fresh air that rose with the Workers Party’s (PT) inception.
Later, in the nineties, the notion of multitude, brought by Toni Negri, as a vision of a new social reality appears in a world that has become fully globalized. It emphasized our existential experience as molecularized, fragmentary, in the struggle for self-organization and connectivity within new minoritarian modes of life and work, disconnected from jobs and the family in their becomings. A new social and body strategy is needed to carry out a new struggle.
This vision and the speed of contemporary capitalism make it evident that bodies and their worlds form and re-form, continuously, following very precisecollective rules.
These philosophers would call such rules the social production of subjectivation modes and were described as being developed by the market, in the interplay of powers, values, and commercial interests, as selected shaping modes. That was a revelation.
But what continued, to my great frustration, was the need for a body concept as a biological autopoietic process that could accompany practice, intimately connected with the process of body production. Such a body concept should be part of the self-management of this same process in our particular lives in the world, and should honor life’s most primary laws. I’m talking about a need to contemplate the body as the solidification of behavior within an evolutionary understanding.
Speaking in the first person
Between 1985 and 1992, a new position in the clinic, in teaching, and in life imposes itself as a problem upon me. After reading the recently published Emotional Anatomy, precisely in 1986, I discover the author, Stanley Keleman, and get close to his concept of the formative process. This reading worked as a satori for me. With him, I could finally access a visual and incarnate concept of the body as a process that stretched from the beginning of this planet’s biosphere, producer of and produced by physical and collective processes, channeling and secreting itself as a protoplasmic force, continually, through biological forces present in each particular life, generating and sustaining environments as a response to a connective and formative innate need. I could see Keleman as a true contemplative Western thinker in the Darwinist and Pragmatist tradition, an American, gestated in the body culture of the New York fifties. My whole movement towards him came, of course, from the dissatisfaction with the character-analytical visions, but mainly from my difficulty in finding a precise body practicability among the ideas valued by Guattari that I had visited, such as metastability in Simondon, body-without-organs in Deleuze, autopoiesis and enaction in Francisco Varela. However, these ideas enlightened me and contributed to my break from Reichian cartographies.
My choosing Keleman was a fortunate choice. I immediately began to have all of his books translated and published. I began to correspond with him, and finally, in 1992, started to attend his workshops in Berkeley, California. This contact lasted for 15 years and was long enough for me to devour it, digest it, and assimilate it … anthropophagically, in a Brazilian way. At that very moment, I dreamed of losing a child in a crowd, and soon after, of the image of an old body personified by Kazuo Ono, who appears in a fetal position lying in a bathtub full of mud.
The juvenile illusion of individuality was going away and giving rise to a recently conceived body to form a maturity made of multiplicities and becomings. Finally, I could identify myself with a model for working in the clinic, doing research, and teaching, within a body philosophy that allowed me to think and act as part of a larger reality. 8
Keleman’s formative vision and his methodology
This section refers to a set of ideas taken from Keleman’s books, unpublished papers from seminars, the website www.centerpress.com, workshop notes, many personal emails, conversations, and clinical interventions.
Keleman’s formative vision resonated for me with the immanent spirit of Chaosmosis, present in William James’ pragmatism, from which he considers himself a descendant. As he says with his contemplative biological language, “we live in an organic ocean, a living sheet called biosphere, and as living systems, we, organisms, do the same thing as the biosphere as a whole: we stretch, shrink, form sub-organizations, just like single-celled organisms. This is the way we cultivate connections with the world and also form internal connections of subsystems of the self.” We are motile and pulsating. Evolution has endowed us with a voluntary cortical system. Its voluntary effort stimulates the body’s living pulse in order to grow new synaptic connections. This voluntary formative effort has to be learned as a personal daily exercise. Sometimes, the help of formative clinical action is needed in order to make it regular in ordinary life, which continuously requires from us the reception and organization of living responses.
“Using voluntary effort, we create a behavioral chain, the accumulation of a critical mass of axons that makes anatomic memory, which we experience as subjectivity.”
“With practice we learn to differentiate and mature our inherited embodiment by strengthening and forming synaptic connections and, in the process, intensify and vivify our experience of being at home in ourselves.”
“Repeated voluntary acts produce excitatory spikes that are the initial phase of forming new neural connections. These internal somatic connections strengthen a feedback continuum of intra-organismic contact with different intensities and amplitudes.”
For Keleman, this is the primary source for organizing the experience as somatic form. He affirms that “Voluntary cortical-muscular effort stimulates the growth of axons. These axons form a connecting structure called synapses, connecting the body wall to the cortex.” That’s how the brain and muscles work together.
“As we voluntarily retain, for moments, a shape, an expression of our behavioral flow of actions and reactions to events, internal and external, we make a distinct muscular frame, a thickening and thinning of the body wall with its unique excitatory pulse, and consequently, with its unique expression, its unique connection to the environment, its unique experience.”
This is the first of the five steps for his Bodying Practice that follows his formative vision of the growth of each particular body throughout its life, through which we manage and practice the voluntary over the involuntary, in the operation of the production of differences on the received forms, whether from evolution, whether from somatic maturation, whether from social identifications, whether from defense reflexes to unbearable intensities, whether from emotions, whether from ways of connection. With Bodying Practice, we will recognize the present somatic form of a behavior and organize it muscularly, operating micro-movements upon it and receiving the sprouting of morphogenic effects of these actions upon it, metamorphosis in action. Out of this self-identification with the present somatic form, if we consider the expression and language of the living, we establish an immediate experience of the self upon itself, an immediate certainty of the presence to the event, a true epistemology of the body. We will be selecting in the behavioral flow a form that is digitizable in the language of the live pulse of biological forms configured by that state of form, implied in this singular act of presence, capturable by that nervous system, sub-cortical and cortical. We should add that this form can be enveloped by words, words fished out of the sea of words where we were born and live, also having been molded by them.
In 1985, Keleman said, in his absolutely anatomic language: “When we use cortical-muscular voluntary effort to make distinctions in our somatic shape, we reorganize our structure by making more layers and connections. When motile patterns are given stability and duration, the organism experiences something new taking shape within itself. Inherited reflex expressions as startle, stiffening, reaching, grasping can be differentiated, and in the process, new connections and subjective experiences are generated.”
For Keleman, “to be bodily present is the soma’s most urgent task.” With this, he claims that we face formative problems all the time and try to find a solution that is the organization of the shape of the self, functionally unique, and belonging to us as a response to events. And it requires volitional effort over the soma.
The cortex influences bodily responses. Through this process, brain and body form a subject-object, a subjective-objective relationship. The brain and body weave a personal self out of the inherited body, a body that did not exist before. “The consequences are immense since it makes the body and its behavior personal.”
Keleman uses the ideas of neural re-entry from the well-known neuroscientist Gerald Edelman to describe this process as one in which the brain maps the body’s actions and then makes neural variations on these maps. Then the maps talk to eachother and share information. This is the way that, for him, the brain stabilizes muscular action.
And Keleman, extending his own ideas, says that “when there is new behavior, new action patterns, the brain has to make lots of new neural maps.” Thus, in Bodying Practice, he uses this innate neural process of reentry to recombine behaviors and stabilize them.
Morphogenetic potential, or metamorphosis, for Keleman is not an act of faith or a poetic act, but rather management with a pragmatic handling of life as it is configured in anatomy experienced by each body.
We can steal this wonderful formulation from him and put it to use in the fabric of collective networks of all kinds. Keleman does not come to these conclusions, nor is he interested in them, because he does not consider, from his conception of politics, the social fabric like Deleuze, Guattari, Toni Negri, and others, who think this planetary ocean in an immanent and radical way.
Toni Negri: Us, the multitude
Toni Negri makes precious assertions that allow us to orient ourselves in the new social landscape, which we use here to produce difference in Keleman’s tapestry.
“People is a modern idea and multitude, a post-modern idea.”
“Multitude is a whole of singularities.”
“The thought of modernity operates in a two-fold way: on the one hand, it abstracts the multiplicity of singularities and unifies it in the concept of people; on the other hand, it dissolves the whole of the singularities that constitute the whole of multitude into a mass of individuals.”
“The multitude is always productive and always in motion, and constitutes itself, productive society, and a general social cooperation for production”
“In the concept of multitude, the notion of exploitation will be defined as exploitation and boycott of cooperation between singularities, not only between individuals but mostly in the exploitation of networks that compose the whole, attacking and molding its connectivity.”
“Multitude is a concept of power (potenza) that produces by cooperation. This power not only wants to expand, but, above all, it wants to solidify as body.”
“Multitude is an active social agent, a multiplicity that acts, not as a unity like people, which we see as something organized. In fact, it is an active agent of self-organization.”
“Cooperating living labor appears as a real, ontological, productive and political revolution, which has turned all the parameters of ‘good government’ upside down and destroyed the modern idea of a community that would function for capitalistic accumulation, are now just processing interconnections for creative actions.”
“The dispositives for the production of subjectivity that find in the multitude a common figure, present themselves as collective praxis, as always renewed activity and constitutive of being.”
“When we consider bodies, we not only perceive that we are faced with a multitude of bodies, but we also perceive that each body is a multitude. Intersecting the multitude, crossing multitude with multitude, bodies become blended, mongrel, hybrid, transformed; they are like sea waves, in perennial movement and reciprocal transformation.”
The metaphysics of individuality (and/or of personhood) constitute a dreadful mystification of the multitude of bodies. There is no possibility for a body to be alone. It could not even be imagined. When man is defined as individual, he is considered as an autonomous source of rights and property. But one’s own does not exist outside of the relationship with another.
It is worth mentioning Spinoza’s famous affirmation: “We can never know just what a body is capable of.” Thus, multitude is the name of the multitude of bodies. We can deal with this definition when we see that multitude is power.
However, the body as a bodying process of reality must go together with understanding the process of constituting the multitude. We must, therefore, reconsider this discussion from the viewpoint of body, of constituting the body. With Negri, we should always bear in mind that the multitude is a whole of singularities translatable in terms of body. From the viewpoint of the body there is only relation and process. The body is living work, therefore, expression and cooperation, thus building material for the world and history.
The multitude is power, genealogy and tendency, crisis and transformation, hence always leading to the metamorphosis of bodies. The multitude is a multitude of bodies. It expresses power not only as a whole, but also as singularity. This points to the need to learn how to shape oneself, always in new ways of functioning in present connections and resonances. The multitude honors the auto quality of the living, always toward the realities that do not yet exist.
In the Multitude, despite Keleman
Identifying oneself with Biology, as it is understood today, helps one to see that the organization of the living is molecular and in continual self-production and connection, exactly like the multitude. It is with this feeling of awe that we must approach this vision, not with a scientificist eye.
Through Keleman, we realize that there is a protoplasmic formative ocean, a molecular multitude channeled by this body made of tubes within tubes as described in Emotional Anatomy, from which individuating bodily processes form themselves, generating temporary particular membranes of themselves out of a constant dialogue between the body and its brain as the materialization of the lived experience.
This vision of an oceanic reality can be extended to contemporary reality when considered, as has become apparent today, as a common planetary field of bodies and ways to shape them in their connections with other bodies in the social processes. Each body is a multitude, always channeling and processing environment, always in relationship to other bodies. The idea of singularity is there. And also that of metamorphosis.
Keleman’s formative vision of bodies and their worlds is at the same time so similar and so different than the immanent conception.
In the black forest of his world, the formative man cultivates his body, his myth, and his powerful intuition with autopoietic forces, within work, creation, family, close friends, intensely shining, far from the contamination of the world, at the same time influencing it.
This personalogical conception stems from strong Heidegerian and democratic roots. How to translate his vision of a somatic subject in constant production into a story that is not only familiar or even democratic, but is above all historic, worldly and in network, as it can be seen today? These are different problems to be formulated, different strategies, and, above all, different battles to be fought.
The Imitation Reflex and the Startle Reflex: Where the snag is.
In the Imitation Reflex, the body contracts and expands instantly facing any object, situation, quality, anything, as effect of attention, imitating it in order to know in oneself what that thing is. That is the perception of the non-self and at the same time a kind of phagocytosis of forms. In this way, through repetition of motor patterns, it can become our own.
The startle reflex, in turn, is an organismic response for dealing with emergencies or threats or challenges from outside or inside the body. It is a complex process that begins with simple reflex responses to excessive intensities and involves a predisposition toward more complex forms depending on time, source, duration and intensity of the unknown.
This response is intended to be temporary. When the danger passes, the organism returns to normal. However, this same response can become a habitual state in such a way that its organization remains as we move from one event to another. It becomes a continual somatic pattern.
Somatic patterns, whether dysfunctional or functional, are processes of self-perception, a way of feeling, acting, being, and knowing the world. They affect all the tissues, muscles, organs and cells, as well as thoughts and feelings. They are more than mechanical, they are a form of intelligence, a continuum of self-regulation.
In 2007, Keleman said, “Patterns are a phenomenon of the layers and tubes of the somatic architecture and they affect the body as a whole. They are intrinsic and involve muscular states from the tips of the toes to the top of the head. Muscles and organs are not only contracted or relaxed, they are organized in a behavioral configuration that is always connected with the environment and other bodies.”
The impoverishment of subjective biodiversity: our target.
Keleman’s formative views present us with a model of the soma which, coupled with an ecosophic vision ( Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies.), can be seen as a place, a living place, a living evolutionary architecture in the systems of the biosphere and human networks.
But this organism, ours, has a much richer possibility than any other living organism, a continual self-construction with molecular elements of what is exchanged with the environment, whether they be physical elements, meanings, behavior, or images.
Today, the startle and imitation reflexes spread globally, in an unprecedented manner, like a virus, through communication networks, especially images, be they news or models of behavior, which now surround all of us.
Each layer of the soma requires formative time and reliable environments to form itself in becoming and to operate upon the creation of differentiations that functionally connect us with the environments of the global network, near or far, of which today we are part, both locally and generally.
It is precisely upon those formative times and reliable environments that the capitalistic strategies occur with their malignant effects.
The embriogenetic forms, the constitutional forms, the development forms, the forms of self-protection, attack, emotions, matrices of gestures and actions, all emerge from the depths of the formative ocean in every organism and trigger at the right time from the ancient wisdom of the soma. These forms, however, already emerge in a global, post-modern, capitalist world, regulated by the interplay of powers and values that immediately capture and channel them into networks of meaning, molding them and shaping them somatically, not just in an incorporeal way.
Each new biological form that emerges at each moment, in the continuity of every human body is immediately threatened by forces of exclusion and immediately finds at its disposal forms and ready-made ways of functioning, tested by market selection, manipulated by opinion polls and supported by technologies created by the brightest minds.
These molding forms are all around us, filling every space of our perception, offering themselves to produce in us the illusion of inclusion in this world. These forms not only shape our somatic and existential form, but our desire for future and our connections.
They are “fast forms,” like “fast food,” misleading our hunger for living, elements to be used in the construction of new ways of existing, which we are forced to aggregate facing the sudden and continual breakdown of ways of being and existing, an effect of fragmentation of the startle reflex on us as biological response to the excessive speed and the dizzying threat of exclusion generated by global capitalism. The global environment, as we can see, does not offer formative times nor reliable environments, continually attacking the aggregation and connectivity in our bodies.
These threats are intensified by images which are continually bombarded by the industry of mass communication. Images of inclusion, prestige, security and happiness alongside images of exclusion, hardship, violence, loss of property, and social existence, not to mention the loss of life, which constantly terrorize us, are continually broadcasted. On the one hand, the startle reflex, on the other hand, the imitation reflex are continually triggered.
The instantaneous time of the global world does not give us time to form lives which result from the processing in the organismic factory of a particular life, and catapults us toward the easy solutions offered by “fast forms.” They are all for sale. They are all sorts of objects and services that are actually subjectiveborders, ways of living, dressing, relating, thinking, imagining, loving, desiring, functioning, producing, generating life stories.
They shape us and connect us to larger processes. These models of existence are characterized by being easily digestible. They apparently save us the effort, time, and trouble of writing our own menus of being and living in the world from the digestion of the necessary events.
And they come with a powerful marketing operation which makes us believe that consuming them and identifying with them is essential to set our territory that continuously melts at the speed of information and new developments. This is apparently the only way to belong to the global network and avoid the risk of physical or social death, due to disconnection with the processes of continuity of life.
Under terror, the reflex is activated imitation.
The high level of attention mobilized by the techniques of communication feeds the potential for fast identification with the forms, which, in turn, feed the operation of the molding machine senses of the bodies, which became a major force in the movement of values of contemporary capitalism.
These “fast forms,” paradoxically, have the feature to acknowledge our lack of self-reference and our helplessness, becoming dependent on their compulsive consumption always in search of relief announced in relation to our constant anxiety to exist.
Unless we can reverse the situation.
Formative thought and method working for a micropolitics
However, in order to produce a truly individuating operation, we need to revise our concepts about the body and how the process of body production comes about. We need to always contemplate the interplay of present biological and social forces with which a particular body shapes its own embodiment. Furthermore, we need to pragmatically put this knowledge into action in our own lives.
Ten years ago, Keleman wrote me a personal note: “the living process is fully invested in the continuation of embodiment itself. For this reason, it is in constant dialogue with itself, and this dialogue is always about what to do about the immediate situation. The body speaks through sensations, feelings, motilities. However, it needs to talk back to itself so that it can influence its behavior. Thus, the body has the power to influence itself, molding itself into actions, inhibiting itself or acting in relation to itself. It does this through an elegant feedback system that we call the brain. The body organizes itself to talk to itself, secreting for itself this organ that is capable of getting back its patterns of action and talking to itself about them. That means there is always a relationship with the body itself, mediated by the brain.
This relationship occurs in the same manner that the body regulates its own metabolism, movements, motility, its way of making alterations and regulations in the shape of its expressions. This reveals that the principal concern of the body is not only to survive, but surviving through a relationship with itself.”
Evidently, life and evolution have not given us such a wonderful inheritance because we are individually special, but because this inheritance allows us to increase the strength and diversity of that very inheritance – in us and in the pool of life. However, we already know that contemporary capitalism and its inherent violence of its functioning acts against such an inheritance, constantly trying to capture this life power and turn it into a consumer of images, the “fast forms,” perversely threatening us with exclusion through its concentrationist dynamics, attacking the real connections that compose with our formative process, leading to the elimination of differences, driving towards homogenization, and consequently weakening the pool of subjectivities.
A composition: the cartographic practice and the bodying practice
According to the teachings of Guattari, mapping these mutant social landscapes—those which we are part of, both globally and locally—means describing them in detail along with their mutations and speed of flows that cut them, recognizing the genealogies of bodying in each ecology, detecting the species of “fast forms” that infect these environments and weaken their formative power. And, from there, inventing possibilities and strategies to work on them.
As we apply Keleman’s “bodying practice,” the great secret of evolution hidden within us reveals itself as a life protector against the theft of that which allows us to keep producing diversity. The “bodying practice” requires a meditative attitude that is, at the same time, active over oneself. As we apply the five-step “bodying practice” to the “fast forms,” we will: identify the configurations that captured us (Step 1); recognize their anatomy, their limits, their forces and tendencies (Step 2); use the micro-movements on the somatic surfaces of the shape, to then intensify them and de-intensify them through micro-movements on the edges of the form, in small increments (Step 3). Then, we rest. In response, there will emerge from the depths of the organism, as in an organismic dream, outlines of a new subjective contour.
Afterwards, we should repeat this operation many times. We will try to solidify and embody this new shape through keeping the new definition of the body walls and their subparts. As we activate this formative operation, at the same time we will be dealing with the disempowerment generated by the startle reflex—which has given way so that the “fast forms” could parasitize us—and also regenerating the imitation reflex, so that it fulfills its original function of recognizing environments.
We will therefore see, through the above-mentioned micro-movements over the areas previously identified, muscularly configured, how we will be surprised by new shapes, more present, more connective, and more effective, as recombinations and mutations of recycled and revitalized “fast form” molecules (Step 4). Finally, we will deal with stabilizing the differentiations and testing their functionality within new landscapes of meanings and connections (Step 5), muscularly stabilizing them and connecting them with the flows of the present.
Therefore, I understand that clinical practice and education that seek to deal with contemporary somatic subjectivity, have to be understood as a micropolitics, that is, as a way of supporting the territories for the creation of unique bodies, of areas within large networks that are resistant to the acceleration and seduction of the society of the spectacle and that, unlike the general tendency, constitute themselves as zones of slowness in the social fabric.
* This article was published in the Cadernos de Subjetividade, 2010.