Maybe it was the pre-train martini at the terrace bar in Grand Central, or the tasty grouper at Community on Broadway , or bumping into a couple of my old college classmates in the Station, or even bouncing over the rock-scrabble terrain of coastal Connecticut. But coming home late after a lively one-day event at Columbia last Friday, I felt just a little bit queasy.
Further thinking suggests that bodily unease, in more or less intense forms, was the common subject of the half-dozen talks given that day.
Perhaps it’s something about the current version of posthuman ideas of embodiment, through Harraway, Hayles, Latour, Serres, Morton, Bennett, & the other usual suspects, but it seemed as if we all were thinking, in different ways, about the physical pressure of discomfort and bodily change. Gil Harris, who spoke last, was of course the most explicit, treating us to the ripe taste of his current “becoming Indian” project about the physical experience of the Far East in the bodies and minds of early modern English travelers. Crystal Bartolovich, whose paper was read for her b/c of travel snafus, explored log-labour in The Tempest, with an emphasis on the congealing of physical effort into value. I spoke, as I usually do these days, about the disorienting impact of the deep ocean, and Bryan Lowrence, a Columbia grad student, spoke about “bare life” and its cultivation in More’s Utopia. Henry Turner expanded on his current work on Bacon, but with new (to me) emphasis on the laborious process of thinking and the effort required to create generalizations and propositions. (I thought of Funes el memorioso, who recalls everything in his world but is probably not very capable of thought — Bacon had his finger right on Borges’s paradox, & perhaps that’s where Borges got it in the first place.) Drew Daniel, who I’d not met before, gave a great talk on melancholy and suicide in Donne’s Biathanatos that also, to me, highlighted bodily unease. A great image of melancholy and suicidal thoughts as the storm outside an open window, against which one closes the shutter in order not to be tempted to leap.
So, what is it about bodily discomfort? Are we getting old? Not all of us, yet, in this group anyway. Are we following the Hayles/Harraway line closer to the biological?
Makes me think I need to think harder about sea sickness. I had a moderately intense day of mal de mer this past March in the Caribbean, which lingered, oddly, for days, as if my inner ear couldn’t really get clear of the sea. The thought of it now, and the thought of thinking harder about it, makes me feel…
Suppose that’s a good enough reason to pursue it.