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ERIC Number: EJ872610
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Jan
Pages: 12
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 18
ISSN: ISSN-1545-4517
Shusterman on Somatic Experience
Maattanen, Pentti
Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, v9 n1 p55-66 Jan 2010
Richard Shusterman's "Body Consciousness" aims at formulating a theory of somaesthetics and somatic experience. There has indeed been a growing interest in the role of the body in experience. Shusterman examines the arguments of six important writers who have been influential in this discussion. The emphasis on the body is natural for a pragmatist. The philosophical tradition since Rene Descartes has entertained the idea of the disembodied character of mental processes, but pragmatism lays stress on action that can hardly be disembodied. There are, however, different versions of pragmatism. Shusterman advocates what he describes as post-Rortyan pragmatism; that is, pragmatism after the so-called "linguistic turn" (Shusterman 2000, 83 and 102). The "linguistic turn" refers to a change in the philosophical discussion during the first half of the 20th century. Philosophers began to concentrate on the analysis of formal languages after the invention of mathematical logic. Ordinary language philosophers analysed how people use natural languages (for example English as opposed to artificial formal languages) and so on. Language was seen to be the major (if not only) vehicle of thought and "the" tool for formulating and solving philosophical problems. Shusterman has developed pragmatism in his own way, but language remains central to his theory. He even claims that John Dewey had already taken the linguistic turn, but as the author of this article notes, this turns out to be a hasty conclusion. Shusterman's somaesthetics takes the body as an object of aesthetic appreciation. He even has a special discipline dedicated to this. "Representational somaesthetics (such as cosmetics) is concerned more with the body's exterior or surface forms" (Shusterman 2008, 26). There is nothing wrong with that. The author contends that the limitation of his view is that this is the only role given to the body. Disciplines that Shusterman calls experiential (such as yoga) aim at making "the quality of our somatic experience more satisfyingly rich" and "more acutely perceptive" (26). The experiential dimension of different bodily practices aims at producing "inner feelings that are then sought for their own experiential sake" (26). What is missing is the world. The body is an object of experience, not an instrument of experiencing the world. If the task is to examine the role of the body in experiencing works of art, then the latter aspect might turn out to be interesting. John Dewey's "Art as Experience" does contain clues in this direction, but Shusterman ignores them completely. In order to see the positive role of the body as an instrument (rather than an object) of experience, the author contends that we must, in the first place, criticize Shusterman's notion of experience as "sensory perception," which is an empiricist, not a pragmatist, conception. Further, the notion of meaning is broader than that of linguistic meaning. John Dewey's way of putting these points is discussed in this article. By taking seriously Dewey's original insights about experience and meaning we can get further than Shusterman in understanding the role of the body in experience. This view can be outlined by examining what Shusterman (and the writers to which he refers) has to say about the object of knowledge, the character of experience in general, and the notion of meaning. In "Art and Experience," Dewey is quite explicit in stating that besides linguistic meanings there are other meanings used in art (Dewey 1980, 83-86). The examination of these non-linguistic meanings might give some insights into how they can be consciously used in making works of art (including music) emotionally expressive. The author concludes in noting that, as developed in "Body Consciousness," the main message of somaesthetics to musicians and music educators is that it is good to develop one's reflective bodily awareness and to keep one's body in condition by training it with, for example, the Alexander Technique. This is no doubt important, but perhaps there is more one could get from the consideration of the body and somatic experience.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A