Blesok no. 98, September-October, 2014
The Body as a Psychosomatic Atlas
(Several psychosomatic aspects in the works Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann and The Body by Hanif Kureishi)
The story in the novella Transposed heads by Thomas Mann, which myth-critically can be interpreted as an ancient initiation scenario of two friends, offers picturesque corpus of information for the understanding of the two types of corporeality. The story is about Nanda, member of the class Shudra (the lowest class of India) – portrayed as irresistibly attractive, thanks to his physical activity as a blacksmith and cowman, which provided him with “strong muscles” (according to the description, he has an athletic body type), which he often smears with oil, and about Shridaman who belonged to one of the higher castes in India, Brahmans (erudite, wise men). Shridaman unlike Nanda had a different appearance: a thin nose, mild pupils, sloping stomach (according to the descriptions, he had a pyknic type of body), in a word, a so-called Brahman (priestly) look. These two friends had different status and culturally positions within the community. In India, every caste has its own “dharma”, i.e. law and rules that each member is obliged to comply. Shridaman, because of Brahman origin, had been involved in the highest spheres of the community and had a high reputation because of his erudition. His friend Nanda is a contrasting example, not only because of his physical constitution, but his intellect as well – body displayed almost like the figure of the god Apollo, but without the ability to speak nicely and with more limited intellectual range. Mann, through the descriptions in the novella, presents two contrasting narrative identities. The only common thing between them is that they are long-time friends, “in coniunctio maxima”. Describing their mutual friendship, even from the beginning he initiates the congenital (inborn) and acquired (cultural) diversity – crucial for the vicissitudes that will shake the axis of their relationship.
If a brief description is made of the two types of corporeality, it can be summarized that the value of Shridaman stems from his head (intellect) whereas the value of Nanda from his body. Moreover, from the very beginning, Mann decisively presents a chain of descriptions that highlight the fact that those two friends have a different “value share” and “surplus”. “That was a body that undoubtedly serves as a supplement and a pendant to the smart and noble head, which is the main part of the whole, while on the contrary, in Nanda’s case, the body was the fundamental part, and head just a pleasant accessory.” If their behavior is illustrated through the “theory of compensation,” the logical understanding is that “defense mechanism in exchange of purposes” – can be differentia specifica of their relationship. “For instance, someone who is physically weak and who vainly tries to achieve his desire to become prominent with physical strength and fitness, satisfies his motivation to become prominent in some areas in which the bodily weakness would not be an obstacle, for example in the area of intellectual work.”
The eminent Indologist Chedomil Veljachikj, says that the Indian philosophical thought is primordially “phenomenological” and is founded on the basis of understanding of the consciousness, as opposed to the Greek one which is primordially “ontological” and is founded on the basis of matter. These differences are particularly important in the process of understanding Shridaman’s “formation” of the spirit, which would eventually go through some kind of a transformation. Is the Gnosticism orientation “minimizing” the ontological materialist philosophy?
Ab initio, the intimate “conflict” between Nanda and Shridaman begins on a sensory level when Zeta (daughter of the farmer Sumantra) has her ritual bath in the river Ganges. A naked female body appears in front of the two friends. Shridaman, knowing that he is not physically attractive (through psychological “compensation”), emphasizes his sophistication and tries to re-channel, i.e. to replace the strong bodily, libidinal energy, unlike his friend who instinctively watches closely all of her movements. On Shridaman’s call to preserve the sacred purity during the bathing ritual, Nanda replied, “You wanted to see the sky, lying on the ground. Now you see that sometimes a man sees the sky right at the point when he is standing upright and looking straight ahead.” The implicit allusion to the scene is the axial i.e. mythical classification: Uranus – chthonic universe, when the personality of Shridaman would be directed towards the sky, i.e. to the higher levels of existence, while Nanda would belong to the earth types, i.e. underground types of existence. But despite the overwhelming metaphysical messages of Shridaman, Nanda, although he has no such ability for insight into the deep intellectualism, manages to hear the suppressed message through the body language of his friend. With that, the intensity is enhanced when the older friend learned that Nanda had close contact with Zeta in the performing of a rite, when they needed to perform a ritual swinging (rocking) as she was chosen to be “Sun Virgin”. There is no doubt that they chose you to swing her because of your vigorous muscles.” – concluded Shridaman, hiding behind the screen of his own intelligence, transposing what he has already seen in a separate (private) forbidden zone. Zeta’s beauty, specifically her flawless physical appearance becomes a topic in the dialogue between the friends: “She acts, although she does not intend to.” – Says Nanda
Edmund Morris, in that context talks about the physical surveillance, observation (body watching). He underslines that the observation is often made even unconsciously. The ordinary conversation regularly sends signals for the corporeality of the individual with whom we talk. Except for the verbal communication, there is a body projection, although usually it is not placed in the foreground.
Hanif Kureishi, the author of the novel “The Body”, in his novel “Intimacy” – about the refined and painful dissection of male sexuality, points out: “The desire is the original anarchist and undercover agent – it's no wonder that people want to arrest him and keep him in a safe place.” Kureishi writes about the pleasures, which when are “excessed” simply distract the others, and for those latent embers of one individual (ID), which always require realization.
According to the Freudian theory, Shridaman’s ID was subjected to continuous moral “drainage”, so with the surrpresment of the bodily passions, the corporeality has became neglected. Freud argued that often it might happen a conflict between id, ego and super-ego.
The character of Shridaman is desplayed on exactly this kind of internalized “conflict”. With the procedure of “introjections” – the entering and conquering of moral principles, the body as reality becomes “invisible”, underestimated and consciously replaced with other (supposedly) more important objects. Nanda’s attempts to make his friend experience: release from “the love pain”, and coexistence between Shridaman and Zeta, are completed in accordance with the already recognizable social strategies. With the elite Brahman lineage, from which stems Shridaman, the somatic defects are covered and he becomes Zeta’s legal husband. The dislocation: biological-social value is affirmation that the mechanisms of the government (community) are governing the environment and do not allow the individuals to choose persons in accordance with their desires. Zeta will later reveal this phenomenon in the temple of goddess Kali:”… And that is the reason why, when Shridaman was approaching me at night I turned pale from sadness that it was him, and not the other one, and I closed my eyes so that I could imagine Nanda hugging me.” With this statement, she admits that as a woman she must respect the community with her husband, although deep down she desires the irresistible body of his friend Nanda. The marriage bed is the place where she has to respect Shridaman’s (forced) physicality. The satisfaction that she has a distinguished man, with extraordinary eloquence and involvement in the community, does not reflect her happiness. The thing that should look otherwise, but is subconsciously desired by all three entities, is the substitution. If Nanda would have been deprived of the congenital intellectual “underdevelopment” he would be able to fit in the higher social strata and to ensure better livelihood, and if Shridaman had the body, of which he would not be ashamed (for example, that of Nanda), Zeta would be fully satisfied.
During a joint trip all three stand before the temple of the supreme mother goddess Kali. The first one to get honor is Shridaman. In his prayer, he asks her for “regressus ad uterum” (a return to the womb): “Let me get into my mother's body and get back to you, to get rid of this personal ME, and no longer to be Shridaman whose every enjoyment is addled, because he is not the one who causes it “, so he cuts his head off in the temple. Nanda does this same “sacrifice”, after seeing what his friend did. The two severed heads and bodies, in a stunning setting are found by Zeta. She gets pledge from the goddess Kali that they will be revived. But in the apparently mechanical act of the merging of the bodies, that she is supposed to do, she makes a mistake, because she puts the head of her husband – Shridaman on Nanda’s body and Shridaman gets his body.The possibility of wrong “merger” (bonding) as an error of negligence, “gives in” to her subconscious desire, her husband to get forma optima (Nanda’s beautiful body). One can interpret this procedure much earlier, because Zeta already previously had done this “coupling” in her projection of Shridaman’s and Nanda’s body constitutions. That is the time when, in an affective atmosphere, Shridaman is completely open and admits that he was struck by the body he got from his friend: “I always wanted to have a body like this and when I touch the muscles of the hands, when I look at my shoulders and my beautiful legs, untamed joy overcomes me and I say to myself that in future I will raise my head quite differently from the way I did so far…” On the other hand, Nanda, by “losing” his body, is happy that he finally managed to talk articulatly and sensibly.
If this is a display of one traditional Indian community, the initial discourse emanates from the presentation of the views of the modern “market” model of man, it lies in the “satiation of oneself,” and thus in the need to escape from oneself, from one’s own body, identity… “The migrations” always end unsuccessfully: The person starts from oneself, through oneself, in oneself, in order (not) to get to oneself. Shridaman lucidly locates his value vis à vis that of Nanda: “I feared that you would be ashamed of my body, but also my former body could be ashamed of your head.”
In the novel “The Body,” the British author Kureishi illustratively provokes Adam’s “ fatigue” of existence from the very first pages. The suggestive review of the situation where Adam is could be summarized as follows in a generalized discourse: “The body reminds you of your painful existence,” and the exit from it: “Would you like to do something about it?” “The barging” of Adam with himself, begins with the desire to change the sick body that cannot give him the desired satisfactions. With the previous “mercantilism” between the ego and the reality, the formation of physical “homeostasis” would enable full realization of Adam’s ID. In this context, Adam, as an entity, is coaxial with his ID. He allows to it full approach to all existential cells, on which account he receives the desired satisfactions. The efforts of the modern man run on this ideological line: allowance of the body to enjoy, at all costs. The well-known psychoanalytic thesis claims that especially young boys in the post Oedipal stage have experience with the bargaining (i.e. first market): “That deprivation from the desire of having a mother would allow a child the entry into the symbolic order, such as the order of symbols, language, culture, id est. as a pattern of the Father… In order to surpass the fear, the child decides to leave the mother and in reward to gain the ticket for entrance in the world of the culture.” The descriptive aspects of representation of Adam’s body are indicators of the desperate condition of one sixty-year-old man and his wish to keep enjoying, identically with Shridaman’s unspoken, denied and hidden wish to have (possess) his friend’s body. Adam’s consciousness, is actually, a model of subject that is trying to “clash” with the body, instead of understanding it. The offer for migrating the body, received at his friends’ party, evokes interest in Adam, because he is offered a solution for the way out from the “boredom” of the matrimony.
The attached moral “armor” does not represent an obstacle for realization off all kinds of satisfactions in the postmodern period. Zygmunt Bauman, in the study “Postmodern ethics”, gives a description of these kinds of course with the syntagm “shackles which were once necessary and now are superfluous: one more illusion without which the postmodern men and postmodern women can live quite well.” Adam’s adventure, leaving aside the justification for the “long-lost” ethics, starts according to the agreement with himself and with the executors, but continues to develop as idiosyncratic aberration. “I was observing several bodies, but hopeful of finding something better, I continued moving. Finally, I stopped. I saw “my man”. Or, it looked more like he chose me. Strong and with classical beauty as any sculpture in the British museum, he was not pale, neither dark, rather slightly sun-baked, with nice, fat penis and big testicles. Finally I will have a body like an Italian football player: aggressive attacker, for instance center (position).” Here we see lascivious speech, which presents Adam’s consciousness towards a thirsty observation of the displayed bodies (body watching). That type of unconcealed interest could be in extremis interpreted as secretive scopophilia. One of the constantly observed bodies is supposed to be the new form of his identity. It is a physical body of athletic type and Adam’s eyes are turned towards its testicles. The fascination of the body for “rent” does not arise only as a result of the years that have piled up and the senility, but above all it arises from the evident relapse for the idea of the ideal body. That is why Adam (same as Zita) makes a decision which background is subconsciously predisposed for a longer period.
The body, in the frameworks of Adam’s life, gets a status of a fashion icon. It does not satisfy the need, rather the wish. The consumption “affinities” of the contemporary men are unlimited. Behind Adam’s hedonism we can find constituent “economy”. On a micro plan, a man first has to make an agreement with himself, in other words, he has to take into consideration the solid acquisitions for the concession that he has to make (theological aspect). When the market offers personal satisfactions as a product, the contemporary man is ready to “sacrifice” a big part of himself in order to experience them. “The wish is always directed towards objects.” – Julia Kristeva points out. Many psychoanalysts emphasize that later on, the subject can domesticate that same wish and then the object becomes a fetish. This phenomenon is generally connected to the inappropriate substitute of (the sexual) object, but in the contemporary society, people even start to treat the whole body as a fetish – as a subject of blind worshiping. These types of urges are induced by the psychogenetic nature. Ever since a young age, especially the newer generations are “seduced” by the myth for the ideal bodies of the famous people. This creates a solid base for famous people being comprehended as “idols” and their “sculpted and perfect” bodies being desired by these generations. The idea for sex appeal affects the individuals on autosuggestion, which makes them obsessed by the cult of the body as an object.
The indirect “hunting” of the attractive bodies does not always start with the physical touch. Jasna Koteska, in the framework of the study “Sanitary enigma”, emphasizes that it is not the body that touches anymore, but it is the look. The hyperbolized visualization of the body becomes especially essential when we think about the coitus. So, Adam talks about the youthful wish to “get in” the bodies of his sexual partners. Putting “parts of your body into the orifices of the foreign bodies” (as Adam says) opens wretched (sanitary) topic of abjectness connected with the body (according to Julija Kristeva’s theory). As much as the body is a generator of satisfactions, it produces same amount of “filthy” substances: excretion of different secrets, smells… Even the body orifices through which those body secrets are excreted are reduced to sexualization. Besides the normal sexualization, there is another well-known type of it called sexualization of the anal orifice. Adam experiences this type of sexualization due to his bisexuality…
Kureishi’s protagonist talks about “bodies without thermostat”, – he says that they exist without being consciously regulated and he labels them as embarrassment for their owners. “Some bodies are such an embarrassment for their owners – to be unpredictable as wild animals, or overheated by emotions, and there is no thermostat – that they not only starve or try to shape them but also whip them and punish them.” The discrepancy between the body and its “owner” is being actualized once again in the contemporary way of life. Now, the reason for the disunity is not the philosophical and the theological ground, but rather the stigma of one massimisystem. Sigmund Freud, the father of the psychoanalysis, analyses “the sexual over-estimation of the object”, in borderline cases, as a tendency for acceptance of all sensations that arise from the sexual object. When creating an image for individuals based only on their physical appearance, people tend to exclude the intellectual, rational power of perception, and the body becomes more attractive for “captivation” (as it were easier), than the whole person.
Often, a huge abyss appears between “the two genders” of a person. The academic psychoanalyze noted down a sequence of phenomenon of that type, starting with the theory of bisexuality (for instance, woman’s brain in man’s body)… Along those lines, what is illustrative is the surgeon’s comment when Adam is about to make a decision about his new form: “You are one male character who says that in his sexual fantasies he is always a woman. Yes… I understand what you are saying.” It looks as if Adam is not searching for a body with which he will secure his sexual “existence”, but a body which will be his subconscious sexual object. The intimate relationships with a line of men can be interpreted in two ways:
- as an idiosyncratic adventure with purpose the “forbidden” to be experienced and seen, at the expense of the moral distortion and
- as latent i.e. unexpressed bisexual potential…
The new configuration of Adam’s person, which reveals new sexual goals and types of satisfaction “unknown” for his real life, is impressive and that is why he says: “I was his pornographic toy that he was showing to his friends – intelligent, cultured homosexuals with whom I wanted to talk.” Adam’s new “physicality” did not impress only the men and the women who are his sexual partners, but it impressed Adam himself as well. In one of those meetings he will state: “She loved my body and could not get enough of it. Her satisfaction intensified mine. She and I were looking and admiring the body of the other.” The waste of the satisfactions prompts gradual loss of the appetite i.e. the wish. The new body (as a source of satisfaction), instead of achieving “renovation in melius”, becomes pornographic “toy” for the appetites of Adam’s sexual partners (as well as for himself). In that sense, Shridaman’s “self-control” over the body maybe recruits him in separated (limited) row, but at the same time it allows him to rule with his own body, and not the body to rule with him.
Here we can notice one essential anthropological phenomenon inaugurated by Erich Fromm. At the end of the essay “Values, Psychology and Human Existence”, Fromm ascertains that the man is supplanted from his essential place, in exchange with the phenomenology of the contemporary time. “The man turns himself into an object and worships the products made by his own hands: he is alienated from himself and had turned towards idolatry…” The alienation about which Fromm writes is actually Adam’s sexual initiation. If we analyze the text closely, we will see that Adam’s character experience double alienation:
- once before the transition into the new body and
- once as a “newbodier”
At the begging of the text, the body looks atrophied, foreign – “useless” for the normal way of living and satisfying the sexual urges, as well as in the end of the text – the body is already tired from “moving”, but at the same time it is foreign because it is not his. In both cases the otherness is a synonym for “the lack of oneself”. The culmination of this condition is every possible exit from the throbbing existence, even at the account of the personal disordered survival. Kureishi, with the presentation of number of these types of people – physical “mutants”, points out the mass and hysterical search for “shapes”, at the same time covering the shapes that are most liable to change – the identities. Shridaman, Nanda and Adam’s migration is actually migration of identity. That is why at the end of the both texts, the “owners” of the new shapes are not satisfied with the choice that they have made. They do not feel comfortable in their own skin (in the other’s skin) and even then do they realize that the change of the body had actually been unnecessary. The coordination between “the new parts” is being obstructed due to the impossibility for the new “me” to be clothed in new raiment. Eco says that the new “beginning” is not innocent. The impregnated integrity of the person leads to the cognition of the corporeality in different parameters. In this situation as well, the cognition comes when the consummation of the satisfactions will not give the expected result. “Matt and I were mutants, freaks, human corps – a fact which I was able to forget only when I was accompanied by the real people, those with death in themselves.” The experience makes Adam, Shridaman and Nanda acknowledgement subjects, i.e. helps them, throughout a personal example, to “go” inside themselves and to reveal all secret codes of their behavior, starting from the complex (spiritually-physically) of self-devaluation and finalizing it with he idea that the person has full integrity only when he/she is able to make a balance between “life” and “the one that is animated”. That does not mean castration of the bodily satisfactions on the account of the spiritual satisfactions, but it means mutual correlation between the two of them. “I was a stranger on the Earth, nothing and nobody, who did not belong anywhere, only a body, predestined to once again be a part of the nightmare of the eternal life.” This is how Kureishi rounds off his pathopoeia on the narrative subject which physicality is related to the aspects of satisfaction.
Mann’s novella and Kureishi’s novel present is a self-created, narrative relief about the imbalance between the “body” and the one that possesses it. Therefore, these texts are exceptional contribution to modern psychology and in a living hermeneutics of relations, which is yet to be the field of interest between the literature and psychiatry.
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Freud, S. (2006). “Sexual theory”. Skopje: Gjurgja
Kristeva, J. (2005). “Toccatas and fugues for the otherness”. Skopje: Templum
Котеска, Ј. (2006). Скопје: Templum
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Translated by: Martina Atanasovska and Magdalena Gjorgieva
1. The term corporeality, in the broadest semantic scope, means physical or bodily nature, i.e. it refers to the physiological i.e. material characteristics of the body.
2. Odbrana dela, „Pripovetke“, Tomas Man, Matica Srpska, Beograd, 1980, 195 стр.
3. „Психологија личности“, д-р Никола Рот, ЗИЗ, Београд, 1967, 133 стр.
4. Zita” in Indian means furrow.
5. Odbrana dela, „Pripovetke“, Tomas Man, Matica Srpska, Beograd, 1980, 208 стр.
6. ibid. 210 стр.
8. „Интимност“, Ханиф Курејши, Или – Или, Скопје, 2005, 37 стр.
9. „Психологија личности“, д-р Никола Рот, ЗИЗ, Београд, 1967, 14 стр.
10. Odbrana dela, „Pripovetke“, Tomas Man, Matica Srpska, Beograd, 1980, 246 стр.
11. ibid. 230 стр.
12. Odbrana dela, „Pripovetke“, Tomas Man, Matica Srpska, Beograd, 1980, 253 стр.
13. ibid. 256 стр.
14. „Тело“, Ханиф Курејши, Табернакул, Скопје, 2006, 1 стр.
16. „Санитарна енигма“, Јасна Котеска, Темплум, Скопје, 2006, 63 стр.
17. „Постмодерна етика“, Зигмунд Бауман, Темплум, Скопје, 2005, 9 стр.
18. „Тело“, Ханиф Курејши, Табернакул, Скопје, 2006, 32 стр.
19. „Токати и фуги за другоста“, Јулија Кристева, Темплум, Скопје, 2005, 212 стр.
20. If the body secret are not culturally labelled as filthy.
21. „Тело“, Ханиф Курејши, Табернакул, Скопје, 2006, 42 стр.
22. ibid. 31 стр.
23. ibid. 66 стр.
24. ibid. 59 стр.
25. „Антропологија – хрестоматија“, уред. Слободанка Марковска, Сузана Симоновска, Догер, Скопје, 1999, 331 стр.
26. „Тело“, Ханиф Курејши, Табернакул, Скопје, 2006, 123 стр.
27. ibid. 152 стр.