Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Philosophers With Bad Backs, Aching Teeth, and Nasty Rashes

I've been reading a lot of stuff, particularly on "Alas, a Blog," about body issues, and the general consensus seems to be that a lot of people don't understand why a lot of other people find certain natural bodily functions if not disgusting, then at least somewhat distasteful. The latest example of same is breastfeeding, and a lot of people have been jerking their knees saying it has entirely to do with sex, and I don't think that's the case. Either that or it's the general patriarchal revulsion for anything and everything biologically female. Oh, no, I think it goes much, much deeper than that.

My radical hypothesis is that the culture in general, despite loads of objectification of same, still basically hates bodies -- all bodies. Anybody saying differently is probably in a position where they're fairly comfortable in their own skin, and so don't really notice the counterpropaganda. That would be everything from mouthwash ads to hair dye to disposeable razors, to Jenny Craig to Viagra to most of the garment industry. Actively getting people to hate their own bodies for reasons superficial and not is a big, big business in this culture, but I also don't think they invented the concept; they're just exploiting it for all (the trillions of dollars) it's worth... Personally, I think this is dualism hangover, particularly that peculiar sort of Pauline dualism where everything to do with the soul (or mind) is pure and sacred, and everything to do with the body is defiled and profane. It's not hard to get from "defiled and profane" to "vaguely disgusting" in several thousand years...

Speaking as someone who legitimately does hate her own body, which forces me into a de facto uneasy dualism (man, do I ever like those "externalisations of the senses" -- thank you Marsh McLuhan -- I have access to) -- I'm pretty happy most of the time with my state of mind, but I generally despise what my body's up to. Not, of course, that I think there's really any difference, knowing as I do that I'm pretty much ruled by my mental biochemistry, but the English language still basically operates on the premise that dualism is real and so there really isn't another way of talking about it that wouldn't take this entry into the "lengthy philosophical tractate" category, which is not where I want to go with it.

My further elaboration is that the more you hate your body in general, the more you'll be likely to extend that out into generally disliking almost everything in the physical realm. As in the title, I'm picturing ancient philosophers with aching teeth, bad backs, nasty rashes, and one with a bum knee who limps a lot and spends a fair amount of time inventing new maledictions when called upon to walk any significant distance.

A lot of you are probably thinking I'm just having a fit of culturally motivated "image issues"; naah, those are just the icing on this particular strychnine-laced cake. No. I have genuine reasons to really despise my body. It, unlike most of yours, really doesn't do anything like what I want it to do, and so most of the time I exist in a state of uneasy armed physical detente. Right now, I've got a bit of a skirmish going on.

I've got cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia, which means in practice that my muscles are too tight (think like guitar strings tuned a couple tones too tight, and yes they behave about the same way), and that I twitch uncontrollably at times, I have crappy hand-eye coordination, and erratic fine- and gross-motor control, and that I'm sarcomere-deficient, and that the tension from some of my muscles pulling against some of the others can pull large portions of my skeletal system out of position, plus a raft of other things. I've had four surgeries to correct CP-related things, and one to remove my gallbladder. I have astigmatism and strabismus (hello, no binocular vision), and I'm slightly hyperopic in my left eye. (That used to be worse, but I hit a postadolescent nearsighted phase and my vision corrected itself.) I can't either stand or sit for very long without something hurting, no matter how good my physical condition is. I fell back in December and damaged the anterior ligaments in my shoulder, which caused the ball of the joint to move too far forward in the socket and start pinching muscles and nerves, and that's not completely healed yet. My kneecaps sit too high on the joints, and are prone to dislocating. My calves are atrophied, and between the way I walk and the sarcomere deficiency, there's not much I can do about it. I have gastric reflux (another symptom of the CP syndrome). I've already had to have my gallbladder out, despite being 15 years, a couple children, and many pounds outside the usual "fat, 40, and fertile" profile for gallstones. Besides having to watch my fat intake, because it still gives me indigestion, I am lactose intolerant and allergic to casein, plus there's something about eggs I can't tolerate really well, and I also have to watch things like bananas and potatoes that can contain lactose-like compounds. I get tension migranes. I have chronic sinus problems aggravated by a very severe mould allergy that manifest usually as six of my top teeth aching, three on either side. I have dysmenhorroea, and have ever since I started menstruating. I have (or had) toenail fungus, which again, is very common in people with CP. I went on a systemic antifungal, which is interfering with the hepatic metabolism of the hormonal contraceptive I use to control the dysmenhorroea, so I've had either menstruation or heavy spotting for most of the last month. (A total hysterectomy never looked so appealing.)

Those are just the chronic conditions. I get colds, flu and other illnesses the same as everyone else. I've had mononucleosis (which gave me splenomegaly and liver dysfunction). I get pneumonia on a scarily regular basis. I'm prone to yeast and urinary tract infections. (You know you're in bad shape when you pretty much know the location of your internal organs by mapping out what hurts.) There are probably other things, but I can't think of any off the top at the moment. You will note that none of those things is a superficial aesthetic consideration. Bite me. My body doesn't work right, and I want a new one. If I'm getting a replacement, I'll redesign the exterior, as well (why not?) but I'm not so unhappy with the superstructure as to find it anywhere near the source of my problems.

That kind of thing does tend to turn one into a quivering bundle of physical neuroses. The acculturated ones tend to centre around eating, excreting, and reproducing -- I'd wager that breastfeeding trips two of those subconscious squicks for a lot of people, and probably all three, since we all know what comes out the other end of an infant (Reason #20478 I Am Never Having Children).

This of course is not to excuse the particular philosophic paradox, because it's still bullshit, but I certainly do understand it. Those ancient dudes probably only ever felt like they were in their own when they were writing or arguing (I empathise), and the rest of the time they were probably annoyed about their aches and pains and whatever else. I feel your pain, brothers...literally.


Blogger luckluster said...

I, for one, enjoy watching breastfeeding in action.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Anne Johnson said...

You make me realize the insignificance of the only downer in my inbox: unemployment.

If it's any consolation, you're a superb writer, not a typo to be found, and deep thinking, all in one package!

4:34 PM  
Blogger Affixed to a Bird said...

I continue to hold out hope for reincarnation...but you knew that already.

3:33 AM  
Blogger spocko said...

First off, as my surprise English lesson teacher would say, "That Sucks!" http://s88172659.onlinehome.us/2006/01/that-sucks-surprise-english-lessons.html

Secondly, one of the things that often times gets missed in all this debate about health care is the work that SHOULD be done to cure chronic illnesses. Instead of spending BILLIONS of dollars on the various versions of some Purple pill, how about working on some other ground braking stuff.

I heard a couple of great interviews on Fresh Air (I forget who there were) where they talked about this scam that the drug companies need all this cash for new research. They are all just modifying the new patent for Prozac! All the really groundbreaking work comes from the NIH. And that is funded by TAXPAYERS!

Anyway I'm sorry your body isn't your friend and I agree with you that a lot of the Pauline duality (Spirit Good, Flesh Bad) keeps this stuff going. I'll never forget the amazing revelation that I had after listening to some women talking about how sex in some religions isn't a terrible dirty thing but is actually an act of prayer. I thought to myself the following: First. "What a great deal!" Second. "Why can't MY religion be that way!?" Third, "Is this religion dominated by men?" and fourth. "You mean that people an actually combine spirituality and sexuality!?"

I guessed that the religion is dominated by men but that is because at the time I didn't really know any women very well. I still had the parochial grade school view of sex and women. i.e. Women don't like sex, you have to trick them into it. Also I had the view that sex was only for marriage and babies, never to be used for any other purpose.
As you can imagine when I grew up and finally found women who didn't think sex was something terrible that they had to be tricked into I was astonished and relieved. But I think of all the priests and religious people who pushed that idea pretty hard. To both boys and girls.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Spocko, I'm a big fan of Ayaka's already, and I probably get more out of it than most of her hakujin fans, because the subtitles help me improve my Japanese. Sugoi da yo!

Yeah, my body isn't my friend. I do get a few payoffs every now and then, though -- I have really good associational connections in my brain, apparently, so I can make cross-linkages like nobody's business, I'm synaesthesiac, and I manage to really enjoy sex (most of the time, when I'm not injured, pulled muscles and sudden spasms notwithstanding, but that's a whole 'nother story). The religious types never got to me because I somehow managed to grow up not just secular but atheist. :)

6:25 AM  
Blogger A Tabla Rasa said...

I'm with Spocko - that sucks, indeed. I've been on both sides of the great health divide - I was fairly healthy until in my 40's, whereas my wife's always had problems. I slowly learned that she couldn't do things, no matter how slowly and carefully she worked at it, but I didn't really understand until my thyroid packed up and I couldn't get anyone to treat it. It really, truly sucks.

On the issue of breast-feeding, I think you're right that it's "dirty" (per Spocko) for more than the sex issue. Paul wasn't the first to go there, though. The Greek influence in the eastern Mediterranian was already well established, and when it was combined with the tribal mentality of the area, Paul just jumped on the waiting paradigm and rode it. So to speak.

But the Catholics may be the ones who are most to blame here. The whole female=filth equation came to fruition under their guidance.

Finally, I'd like to add that as an awkward youth I would have given a lot for a sacred prostitute to teach me how to perform that particular celebratory ritual.

3:06 PM  

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