Our HDS Board Member, Mary MacCallum Sullivan, provides a review of the article ‘The body as mediator’ by Dan Nixon.

"We in HDS who are engaged with the Human Relations and Counselling programme (HRC) understand ourselves to be ‘persons in relation’ (Macmurray, 1961, 1991); as persons, we are bodies. But, as was discussed in our CPD event back in late November, everything we are doing during this pandemic, we are doing online. Students or staff, we are all missing the embodied being-together of attending the course – ‘in person’. This article explores what we’re missing, and connects with the valuable work of Nicola Diamond on Merleau-Ponty that is background reading for the course." – Mary MacCallum Sullivan, HRC Training Committee Chair & HDS Board Member

The body as mediator

In a time of online working, (says Dan Nixon, writing in the online journal Aeon) ‘I’ve become conscious of my irregular breathing patterns; what my body does while I’m flicking through apps or reading on my phone, and how much tension I’m holding in my back and shoulders’.

In the article ‘The body as mediator’, he foregrounds the embodied experience of the dis-embodiment we all currently share, as we sit glued to our screens, day, day out, working, acting, through this pandemic.

‘It’s as though, when I enter into a digital ‘space’, my body as good as disappears…'

For Merleau-Ponty, as Nixon points out, the 20th-century French philosopher of phenomenology (friends with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre): ‘true philosophy’ ‘consists in re-learning to look at the world’.

Merleau-Ponty, claims Nixon, elucidates what we overlook when we don’t make the body central to our understanding of our relationships with others, and shows that we gesture and connect with one another through an expressive, ambiguous space of ‘intercorporeality’ – a space that exists among and between our bodies, and this grounds us as being ‘body-subjects’ before all else. 

From Plato through Descartes and the scientific revolution, Western thinking has treated the body as secondary to the mind, an object in a world of objects, but ‘the body is revealed … as the breathing, beating centre of our experience’.

Embrace the body

So we should seek to embrace the body, take time to breathe back into our bodies to ground ourselves and our being: ‘when I press my two hands against one another … [I encounter] an ambiguous organisation in which the two hands can alternate in the function of “touching” and “touched”.’ Which hand is touching and which is touched? It’s ultimately a bodily awareness of this ‘intertwining’ that fosters our sensitivity towards other people, Merleau-Ponty believed. Our capacity for ‘intimacy, connection and compassion rest on our perceiving one another: not so much an intellectual grasp of the other as a ‘conscious agent’ but the felt sense of this embodied, sensitive and vulnerable being before me’.

Nixon reminds us that ‘philosophy is not a particular body of knowledge; it is the vigilance which does not let us forget the source of all knowledge’.

A good read – straightforward, accessible, and not too long!

Click here to read ‘The body as mediator’ by Dan Nixon

HDS offers a Masters and Post Graduate Diploma in Human Relations and Counselling (HRC).  Find our more about these courses and all our professional training courses – click here.

Image credit: The Vision of Saint John (1608-14) by El Greco