Henning Eichberg’s latest book is published by Taiwan Body Culture Society (臺灣身體文化學會) & Kant Publishing (康德出版社), in New Taipei City, Taiwan. It’s called The Study of Body Culture – Towards a Bottom-Up Phenomenology of Human Movement, and it has been translated into Chinese by Chuang Pei-Chi (莊珮琪) & Lee Ming-Zong (李明宗). The publication of the book is sponsored by the Ministry of Education of ROC, and it’s prefaced by Chairman Emeritus of Body Cultural Society of Taiwan, Prof. Xu Yi-Xiong (許義雄). It was released in February 2015.
Table of Content:
Body culture studies and phenomenology
1. Body culture
2. Explanation or understanding? Movement studies between natural sciences and cultural studies
3. Back to the phenomena (of sport) – or back to the phenomenologists? Towards a phenomenology of (sports) phenomenology
4. Do we need an existential philosophy of the railway? – Why then a philosophy of sport?
5. Stopwatch, horizontal bar, gymnasium: The technologizing of sports in the 18th and early 19th centuries
6. Dancing manias. About human energy
7. Wandering, winding, wondering: Moving in the labyrinth
8. Folk sports – traditional games
Nation and normality
9. The nation in movement. Turning the theory of the people down on the feet
10. The normal body. Anthropology of bodily otherness
Meeting the other: Some words between North and East – Introduction
Dualisms in question
Western intellectual life is marked by traditions of dualist, often dichotomist thinking – body versus mind, materialism versus idealism, nature versus culture, straight lines versus curved lines, classical smooth geometry versus fractal geometry, light versus darkness, progress versus tradition, life versus death. Dual oppositions can be useful, indeed, as they may open up for dialectical contradictions. And yet, dualism also tends to reduce the complexity of human life. This is the case when human bodily existence is allocated to natural science, reduced and dissolved into organs, tissues, and cells – and thereby detached from its cultural dimension, from the togetherness of human existence. Too often, materialistic approaches also fail to recognize the significance of energy, atmosphere, and Stimmung (voicing, mood) – which are misunderstood as idealistic concepts. Natural science tends to reduce the body to a static system of flesh and bones, making bodily movement disappear. And social science often defines body and bodily life as “just a construction” – by constructionism thus setting discourse and intellectual ideas absolute.
Eastern thinking has developed traditions, which seem to be vastly different. The energy of Chi for instance is central, but difficult to understand from a Western dualist perspective: Is it materialist or idealist? Is it about material reality or spirit? This is the more important as Eastern understanding of life energy is not pure philosophy, but has its roots in bodily practice – of moving, of healing… How can the philosophical wealth and the scholarly, phenomenological poetry of human bodily existence from Eastern philosophy enter into Western studies? – This question is relevant not only for Western scholarship. It may also, the other way round, become important for scholars in China, Japan, and Korea who are now entering the mainstream of – typically American style positivistic – science. Their peer-reviewed studies in international journals can often not be distinguished from narrow Western mainstream studies. What is going to be lost on this way?
And yet, the dichotomy between “West” and “East” does not hold either. There are multiplicity and contradictions inside each of them. Let us look at “the West”.
“Human being is the measure of all things” – said the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras. This word is broadly recognized as wisdom, but in current scientific reality it is handled inversely. Here, human being is not the measure, but it is measured by things – by stop watches, thermometers, pedometers, and other sportive or medical instruments, as well as by questionnaires, scales, and ranking lists. To which degree does this make us wiser about human life – and to which degree does it reduce our knowledge? How can we bring the human being back as measure of all things?
Another inner contradiction in Western thinking concerns movement. Many Western languages use the same word “movement” for bodily movement (like sport), emotional movement (like anger or laughter), and social movement (such as nationalism). Movement, thus, challenges the narrow academic understanding of the human body. Languages seem to be wiser than large parts of the biological and sociological science of the body.
All this shows that the opposition between Eastern and Western thinking is problematic, too. It may reproduce the reductive dualism. In Denmark, however, we have certain doubts to see the North just as part of the West. Hans Christian Andersen (An Tu Shung) created “The Little Mermaid” – really as a “Western” narrative? N.F.S. Grundtvig, Andersen’s contemporary and Danish nation builder, got important inspirations from early modern England in the West (and from Eastern orthodox Christianity), but his great project was a Nordic mythology. Asger Jorn, most famous Danish painter of the 20th century and eccentric philosopher, differentiated between the Nordic thing (people’s assembly) on one side and the Western polis (town, burg, castle, place of power) on the other as different roots of democracy. And he designed “triolectical” football, played between three goals, in order to oppose the at that time established East-West dualism of Cold War.
The North is not just Western. Maybe, some of these differentiations can be discovered in this volume.
Anyway, we need the dialogue between East and West, between North and East, between Danish and Chinese philosophies. That is what I hope this volume can contribute to.
Questioning the normal and the marginal
There is one more agenda lying underneath these collected studies of body culture. At the first glimpse, the volume seems to be structured according to the mainstream of academic writing: first method – then empirical cases – then overriding conclusions. However, the book can also be read against the grain, and this would correspond to my own biographical process: moving from mainstream to the margins.
When I, in the 1960s, started my studies in cultural history and continued later-on in the field of body culture, I focused on the history of technology and on the sociology of sport, both in connection with industrial civilization. This should contribute to a better understanding of our normality. Some of these observations can be found in chapter 5.
However, while studying mainstream phenomena, phenomena at the “margins” became visible. When turning from sport to dance, ecstatic dancing manias inside European culture could be discovered (chapter 6). When turning aside from the standardized straight athletic race track, the curved lines of the labyrinth attracted attention (chapter 7). Especially my Eastern and other anthropological studies have contributed to this opening: studies about Indonesian martial art pencak silat, about games of the rainforest Indians of Mentawai west of Sumatra, about Inuit (Eskimo) drum dance, about Libyan Bedouin games and sports under Gaddafi.
What thus became visible was a tension between the center which we take as given – industry, technology, achievement, Olympic competition, progress – and the eccentricity of human movement culture. Folk games question the universality of Western modern sport (chapter 8). If we consequently reject the concepts of “the normal” and “the marginal” as (neo-) colonial constructions, we rather meet normalities in plural. There is no normal body, there are only different forms of otherness (chapter 10). There is no normal nation, just a multiplicity of identities (chapter 9). And each of them demands recognition. Danish people’s identity is not more normal than Chinese people’s identity – and vice versa.
Det viktigaste är att vi är olika!
För anners vet man inte vem som är vem.
(The most important is that we are unequal!
Because otherwise one does not know who is who.)
By these words, Klara, 5 years old girl from Norway, tells us a simple, but important lesson. Bodies are unequal. Nobody – no body – is normal.
Correct answers and moving questions
And there is a third agenda lying underneath these texts. A critical phenomenology puts questions to the phenomena which we otherwise take as given. But what does this mean: to ask?
The positivistic mainstream puts great strain on qualifying answers. The correct answer is all that counts. But what about qualifying questions? And what is a question?
We may ask whether the raising of a question is a purely intellectual process, or how the body is involved. It makes a difference whether we state: “This is true!” – or ask: “This is true?” We raise our voice towards the end of the sentence – and all becomes questionable. What before had been sure, now becomes liquid, fluent. What before had been standing (and statement), now begins to dance… – and all this just by a modulation of the voice? As we seem to know very little about what it means to put questions, a dialogue between East and North and across any other borders may help.
Based on Chinese literary tradition, Lin Yutang wrote a philosophy about playful curiosity. He described the monkey as paving the way to the human being by his playful fingers. Finger movement appears as a bodily approach to questioning the world.
The German poet and phenomenological scholar Johann Wolfgang von Goethe rhymed:
So was freut mich alten Fabler:
Je wunderlicher, umso respektabler.
(This pleases me, old narrator:
The queerer [the more to ask, the more to wonder], the more meaningsful.)
And Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: q“Alle Wahrheit ist krumm” – all truth is curved. Truth is not straight. Is truth maybe just as curved as the question mark? – So there is stuff enough for cross-cultural dialogue.