Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Movember: emodiment, incarnation and denying the body

So it's Movember. Or at least, it's November. And this year (for the first time) I'm growing a Mo. Years ago, I had a moustache and full beard, but eventually I shaved it off and have been quite happy with that. So why am I sporting facial hair again (for one month only)?

It's all to do with the male body, and my personal attitudes to the body. I've spent quite a big part of my life being afraid of human bodies. As a teenager, the Latin tag "sana mens, in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body) filled me with horror. I ate and exercised well enough, but why what seemed liked the core part of me (my mind) have to be shackled to an unreliable bag of bones, skin and blood? My first beard growth, around age 23, was partly an attempt to hide myself. Since then, I've married and had children; I cook, clean, have changed upteen nappies - to some extent I've come to terms with bodies. But that early view hasn't quite left me.

In the mean time, I've become very interested in theories of embodiment. In my working life, I've written on and off about the way that information is embodied (I have often quoted Katherine Hayles' view that in early cybernetics, "information lost its body") as well as on cyborgs, those transgressive mixtures of the technical and the physical. In my religious life, I frequently describe myself as having an incarnational faith (focused on the Christian belief that God became human at a particular time in a particular place, leading us to likewise focus on our own time and place), and I am increasingly interested in incarnational mission.

And the combination is more than a little bit hypocritical: to be a creature of the mind, but deeply interested in embodiment and incarnation. Of course, I'd hardly be the first man to have this particular discordance: many men are bad at their bodies. And that's why Movember is particularly striking: it's about men being just a little bit aware of their bodies, by doing something that men can do as men, and in the process also raising awareness of the diseases that specifically affect men. So this month I'm forcing myself to be a bit more aware of my body and the things it does. Maybe it'll have a longer-lasting effect.

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