I’m in a graduate class unlike any that I’ve ever been in. As one of my classmates described it, “It’s actually quite nice to listen to someone much smarter than you talk for three hours.” The course is called Rhetoric and Desire, and on day one, we discussed some really interesting ideas about affect that I’m sure I’ll be pondering for the rest of the semester and eventually writing about.
But today I want to talk about bodies. We were talking about love and desire, and my prof said, “You fall in love with figured bodies — bodies with souls, but not souls alone. You can’t know somebody’s soul except through their body. You can’t extract someone’s soul. And you also can’t love only a body — if you love a body without a soul, a dead body, that is a problem.” And throughout the next ten minutes or so, he kept describing particularities about loving bodies.
The following night, I was continuing my way through Bad Feminist reading the essay “Reaching for Catharsis” (which I haven’t yet finished — I’m finding it to be so true that it is painful, like when your dentist pinpoints a cavity while scraping plaque off your teeth; so more on that essay later), and I got this passage, at the beginning of a new section:
It makes perfect sense that many of us obsess over our bodies. There is nothing more inescapable. Our bodies move us through our lives. They bring pleasure and pain. Sometimes our bodies serve us well, and other times our bodies become terribly inconvenient.
It was at this point that I began to rethink that quote that is often wrongly attributed to C.S. Lewis: “You aren’t a body. You are a soul. You have a body.” Perhaps I am both a body and a soul. Perhaps I do experience people primarily through their bodies, since souls are less readily visible — since souls aren’t often bared.
I have a lot of half-baked thoughts on this idea. Like how when I was watching my body (myself) do kettlebell swings in the mirror in the gym this afternoon I felt far less in tune to myself than when I’m using my mind (my soul? myself?) to try to figure out what Judith Butler is saying (and how maybe other people feel the opposite). Like how we seem to be a culture very much obsessed with bodies (from airbrushed magazine covers telling you how to sculpt and dress them to zombie TV shows and movies to selfies), yet we don’t seem to ever grapple with the importance of bodies. Like how this could possibly explain how weird it feels to lose 20% of your body weight, how this could be an identity crisis of sorts.
But I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that bodies matter. Let’s figure out how.
I’m back in the English building (not particularly surprising, since I’ve been making an effort to be here throughout the summer), finally back in my office (where I found these post-its to be the only thing they DIDN’T remove when clearing out our offices for the Language & Culture Center staff to use this summer — I hope they enjoyed them), finally visiting the classrooms where I’ll be teaching in a week (which lack HDMI cords — curses!), and orientation for first-year writing instructors is going on just down the hall.
Year four is upon us. Well, upon me.
Year four feels particularly odd since I only spent three years at undergrad. This place is beginning to feel particularly permanent. I thought about switching cubicles in my office, but I couldn’t — I’ve grown too attached. Since I opted for back-to-back MA and PhD (funded! I couldn’t turn it down!), I’m about to enter my fourth year of coursework. So in some ways, this is a senior year. Next year (and the next — funding!) I’ll be back, but it will be different — it will only be to teach and take comprehensive exams, not to be in classes.
I’m hoping to soak it up. This is quite possibly the last nine months I’ll spend doing focused study in several different areas (this semester: critical pedagogy, rhetoric & desire, and Mexican-American lit — probably one of my best semesters yet). I love learning. Sometimes I forget that in all the mania and panic that is graduate school, but I do — I love learning in classrooms, whether I’m at the front of them or parked in a desk. I hope to enjoy that this year.