Neglected embodied realist

by Arran James

Researching for work on embodiment and psychiatry I came upon psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin. Here is an extract from his paper ‘The primacy of the body, not perception’, a reply and intensification of Merleau-Ponty.

An artist stands before an unfinished picture, pondering it, seeing, feeling, bodily sensing it, having a … . Suppose the artist’s … is one of some dissatisfaction. Is that an emotional reaction, simply a feeling-tone? No indeed. Implicit in the … is the artist’s training, experience with many designs, and much else. But more: the … is also the implying of the next line, which has not yet come. The artist ponders “what it needs.” It needs some line, some erasure, something moved over, something … . The artist tries this and that, and something else, and erases it again each time. The … is quite demanding. It recognizes the failure of each attempt. It seems to know precisely what it wants and it knows that those attempts are not it. Rather than accepting those, a good artist prefers to leave a design unfinished, sometimes for years.

In this example, the design is new; it has never existed before, and neither has the next move. A bodily … can very demandingly imply something that has never existed before. And, if it doesn’t come, it may never exist at all, except as implied by a … .
[Page 349]

Should we think of this as an unaccountable intuition? Or can we think of the living body in such a way that it could have or be such information and such demanding novelty?

The body urges and implies exhaling after we inhale. It implies feeding when hungry, and defecating when digestion is done. Living bodies imply their own next steps. This implying and shaping of next steps is usually attributed only to repetitious processes. But we see that the body also takes on the elaborations of quite novel situations, and then it also implies a next step, and may shape one.

The living body is an ongoing interaction with its environment; of course it therefore is environmental information. The bodily … can contain information that is not (or not yet) capable of being phrased. But can we conceive of the body so that we could understand how it can contain (or be) information? It is not the usual use of the word “body.”