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  • Objects and Others: Diverting Heidegger to Conceptualize Anorexia
  • Dorothée Legrand (bio)

Body, objectivation, transparency, being-in-the-world, being-with-others

According to Bowden (20121), anorectics’2 bodily experiences are characterized by a “corporealization,” which has notably been described as follows: “The exchange with the environment is inhibited, excretions cease; processes of . . . shrinking, and drying up prevail” (Fuchs 2005, 99). What is described here is melancholia, but a similar characterization would be applicable to anorexia. I think, however, that the notion of ‘corporealization’ is not fine-grained enough to capture the specificity of anorexic/pathological bodily experiences. To develop this point, I here propose to apply some of Heidegger’s key notions to the conceptualization of bodily experience (Caron 2008).

As currently defined, the term ‘corporealization’ involves assuming the view according to which the body is typically experienced as ‘transparent,’ whereas, atypically, “instead of being transparent, the body [regains] its materiality” (Fuchs 2005, 96). Because it dichotomizes bodily transparency and materiality, however, this view is unable to capture the typical experience of the body as a transparent material.

To capture what is meant here by ‘transparency,’ consider the way a window is (literally) experienced as transparent: Not invisible, it appears as that through which something else trans-appears (Heidegger 1955/1983). Quite similarly—or so I argue—the body is notably (and metaphorically) experienced as transparent: Not strictly speaking as that through which objects in the world trans-appear, but more precisely as that which frames and anchors the subject’s experiences to its bodily perspective (Legrand 2007, 2010a). For example, the viewer’s body is experienced in the fact that “the woman who is crossing the street appears smaller than the man who is sitting on the sidewalk in front of the café” (Sartre 1943, 357 [1969, 318]): Their seize is relative to and indicates the viewer’s own—transparent—bodily location. As this example illustrates, the body experienced as transparent is not itself taken as a perceptual object that would mediate or obstruct one’s experience of the world—the edges of one’s nose occluding one’s field of view are not transparent in this sense. The ‘transparent’ body is indicated to itself by the world that appears and is thus neither a present object, nor an absent one. Rather, as transparent, the body is experienced in its subject-hood, that is, as the bodily subject of the appearance of objects in the world.

The peculiarity of typical bodily experience is that, while the body is irreducible to any object—insofar as it is a transparent subject—it is nonetheless experienced in its object-hood as [End Page 243] material. To capture the multiple ways in which one may experience one’s material object-hood, it may be helpful to consider the multiple ways in which one may experience material objects in general. Here the contrast between spectatorial and pragmatic experiences of objects becomes relevant. Heidegger insisted that the less we stare at the appearance of a thing (Vorhandenheit) and the more actively we use it, “the more undisguisedly it is encountered . . . as a useful thing,” uncovered in its “handiness” (Zuhandenheit; 1927, 69 [1996, 65]). On this basis, it may be argued that there are at least two contrastive ways of encountering the body-as-object. One involves the experience of one’s body familiarly navigating the world and efficiently manipulating instruments (Zuhandenheit). The other, by contrast, entails the spectatorial observation of the body itself (Vorhandenheit).

These two modes of givenness of the body-as-object do not exhaust the multidimensionality of bodily experience, because—as we saw above—the body is also typically experienced as transparent, that is, as framing and anchoring the subject’s experiences. Acknowledging such multidimensionality, it is phenomenologically sound to recognize that experiencing the body as object does not necessarily prevent experiencing it as subject at the same time.

In particular, the handy manipulation of useful things involves both at once experiencing the body as object—a material that resists and is resisted—and as subject—a transparency through which the handiness of useful things is pragmatically encountered.

Even the spectatorial experience of the corpse-like appearance of the...


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