The Disproportionate Body
1. The Patchwork of the Body
The Shy Body, The Tense Body
The body is a troublesome thing.
Our body never changes directly by our own will. It is awkward and resistant to change. Not wanting others to see it, we conceal this ugly body. Why is this ugly body of mine so full of tension? I am quite disgusted and am beginning to dislike my body.
It starts with the teenage years. This is the period when one’s voice begins to fully come out and when oil starts to accumulate on the skin of one’s face. Here and there, small patches of hair begin to grow. Or, for girls, the breasts start to take form, the stomach starts to cramp and, among other things, blood begins to seep out.
There are the aches and pains of the body. I never know when these attacks will come, but whenever I have to face them, I can only deal with them with a passive defense. From the time when the attacks occur to when they leave, I must strive as much as possible to soothe the pain and only through some effort, can I come to terms with it. I am miserable and powerless in this defenseless existence. In this way, one’s body is always holding on to this state of unease.
Moreover, there are things more disturbing than this. That is, one cannot ever fully see one’s own body. We cannot see inside of our own body. Personally, to what extent can we really see our body? Take, for example, the hand and the arm or moreover, the armpits, which one can never fully see. When one shaves one’s armpits, the eyes and neck become tense and one becomes quite fatigued. If one uses a mirror, the image is reversed, so one must use intuition. Since I am a man, I deal with my body hair by shaving my beard or mustache. I remember when my armpit hair first started to grow. I strained myself to try and fully see that hair until my shoulders became very tense and I had to use my imagination. Also, there is the stomach. Here as well, if we try to fully view it, we need only attempt to look down to just below the stomach and it becomes quite difficult to see. For women, perhaps this is the most cared for part of the body, or perhaps just below that point is the part, which they don’t want to care for. Maybe, if one had never used a mirror, this part of the body would never be seen. Whether concealed or not, that part of the human body can never fully be seen.
Although we cannot see our back or the back of our own head, the most disturbing fact is that we cannot see our own face. If we use a mirror, we only see our postured face or our “I’m making plans” face. We cannot see that naked face, which only strangers and passersby can see. That emotionally wavering face is the face that is continuously exposed to other people. I have no control over that face and this realization frightens me. In the past, people would wear a soft hat or conceal their face with their hair. Even now, in some cities and some societies, people conceal their faces with a transparent veil. However, if we look closely at this, we find that the main reason is merely that it is their custom.
The philosopher Nietzsche wrote that, “The farthest thing from us is our own self.” If we imitate this quotation, isn’t it true that I am saying that one’s own body is the farthest thing? One can only see a fraction of one’s whole body and one cannot see inside of one’s own body. Using X-rays and a stomach camera, a doctor told me, “This is your stomach.” But, those pictures and the experience of the reality of my stomach were separate. Concerning the body, our sensory information is scarce.
If we think further about the idea that our body is far from us, is becomes very frightening. Also, by thinking and thinking about the body, the perception of our body can change at our convenience.
Recently, I have begun to experience the feeling that my body is withering. When I was 21 and lived in Tokyo, I especially felt this same sensation. I couldn’t move in ways that I wanted to nor did my voice come out, as it should have. That was a very terrifying experience. I was scared of many things and lost many things as well. My body was definitely withering. Not even one good expression would come to me and I suffered from extreme irritation.
Recently, the modern Butoh dance group, “Butoh Judan Byatsukoshya,” has stopped performing due to the untimely auto-related death of one, Ms. ___ Aoyama. Ms. Aoyama wrote about the feeling of the body’s inability to move properly and I think that everyone of us can readily understand that feeling. In particular, the experience of “freezing up.” Not only the feeling of the body being nervous or shy, but the fact that there are various cases of bodily obsession that petrify us. For example, touching someone else’s body can be frightening or having a strange person close to us begin to touch our body can be frightening. Or, the panicking awareness of the feeling that others can smell one’s own body odor or bad breath (“the oral cavity nerves”). Moreover, there is the syndrome of having to take a shower or shampoo oneself in times when one’s skin is sticky or oily. Perhaps there are people who, when they find their weight to be outside of the their average range, see themselves as unattractive and start to diet in order to be slender. In this way, there are people who have no control over their eating habits…My existence is side by side with these conditions.
This book, “Chiguhaguna Karada” is yet to appear in English. Washida, Kiyokazu currently teaches at Osaka University and regularly publishes works on ethics, clinical philosophy, phenomenology, fashion and cultural studies.
I think my translation is sufficient, but could be improved. The subtly of the Japanese language is a struggle to work into English. Thank you for reading.