Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

From Wisdom Inhabiting Bodies to Words Inhabiting Reality. Representations of Corporeality in Jewish Sapiential Literature

Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

From Wisdom Inhabiting Bodies to Words Inhabiting Reality. Representations of Corporeality in Jewish Sapiential Literature

Article excerpt

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. . . the existential point of view about reality cannot, it seems, be other than that of an incarnate personality. (Gabriel Marcel, Being and Having)

Introduction: traditions and directions in body studies

Having become many people's only source of identity, as well as "the privileged site of experiments with the self'1, the body is virtually today everybody's preoccupation; accordingly, being "the true historiographical menu of the day"2, body history is the centre of many a different cultural contexts of scholarship. Either envisaged as pure discourse by representationalists, researchers following in the line of Foucault antiessentialist understanding of the corporeal and looking mainly into the experiential reactions to a body which, with them, is completely structured by language, or conceived as a site of real experience by the presentationalists, followers of the opposite, essentialist direction of historical scholarship3, the historicized body is the subject of the most diverse monographs, ranging from the body at war, in pain, at work, in literature, etc. to the historicized body of the artist, of the Jew, or of the lonely. Even historically, body and history are categories mirroring each other, both being products of the modernist (Enlightement) project performing the objectifying of the body (in medicine) to correspond to the objectifying of the past (in history).4 This objectifying movement introducing a relation of possession between human beings and their body turns the body into some sort of a man's double; man - according to the Cartesian model grounding the symbolic construction of the body in modern Western thinking - no longer is his body but rather has a body. Since expressed by Descartes in the 17th century, this ontological cleavage between man and his body is the model for all conceptualizations of the human being in Western thinking or, to put it differently, for a fundamentally dualistic perspective opposing man to his own body - which however still is, by Daniel Le Breton's expression, the very time and place of human condition5.

Contextualizing the problem: Models of corporeality in Western philosophy

Referring to the character, at once mysterious and intimate, of the "bond between me and my body" which colors all existential judgments, Gabriel Marcel's pondering on the inseparability of existence, consciousness of self as existing and consciousness of self as bound to a body, as incarnate6, memorably echoed by Michel Henry's phenomenology of the subjective body, at once accounts for the human being's fundamental condition of incarnated subject and allows a way out of the aporia of Western thought - torn between philosophies of existence and philosophies of conscience, or rather between spiritualism and materialism, idealism and realism7. Basically, topping a whole tradition of body - soul dichotomous Western thinking, the modern age is committed to the representation of the human being as a baffling juxtaposition between a self or a subjective conscience and a material, objective, finite, contingent body.

Conversely, Michel Henry places, at the very root of reality, a subjective body.8 He urges - voicing up an unjustly ignored Maine de Biran and radicalizing a phenomenological approach to the body already introduced by Merleau-Ponty9 - the abolition of such a reduction of the human body to its objective manifestation, which he traces back to the archaic Greek worldview, insofar as all Western thought is basically rooted in ancient Greece's tradition of conceiving the human being as a paradoxical synthesis of two heterogenous fundamentally opposite elements: the eternal spirit and the contingent, finite body.

The Jewish solution: the physical as an extension of the spiritual, both deriving from divine utterance

Equally free from dichotomies is the view on man in Jewish tradition. Patterson (2005, p. …

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