It’s been a lengthy summer of being away on holiday and reading. I’ve stumbled upon a few books which have reverted my attention back to the blog.
As a supplement to ideas of the body as a container, I’ve become interested in the notion of the body as a boundary, as described by Antonio Damasio in his book The Feelings of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. Within the book, he suggests that consciousness can be thought of in terms of two players, the ‘organism’ and the ‘object’, and in terms of how they relate to one another (2000: 133). In this instance, the organism, whether made up of one cell or billions of cells, is defined by its boundary, its separation from ‘what is in and what is out’ (135). In humans this can take many forms – for instance, the skin covering most of our bodies; the cornea that covers the part of the eyeball that admits light; the mucosae that covers the mouth. Damasio goes to great lengths to illustrate the differences. Although, as he points out, ‘if there is no boundary, there is no body, and if there is no body, there is no organism. Life needs a boundary’ (137).
Subsequently, as I read more about the distinctions between one’s internal and external environment I was encouraged to think about the inner-workings of my own body and the internal processes keeping me alive, whether I’m conscious of them or not. The aim of one’s internal milieu: the environment inside an organism, is to maintain equilibrium (or homeostasis), even though one’s external environment is prone to change in dramatic or unpredictable ways. In thinking about the body in these terms I was reminded of a case study I’d read in Art Therapy and Neuroscience concerning an individual called ‘Dillon’ who’d contracted Aids and had received art therapy as a way of conceptualising or making sense of his condition. Within these sessions, Dillon drew a large jellyfish (shown below). He warns us that if you get too close ‘it will sting you’ (Hass-Cohen & Carr, 2008: 275). Within the image, the outside contour of the jellyfish is blue, which Dillon describes as being peaceful. In contrast, the inside contour is black and contains black dots which he describes as being “shitty”, perhaps akin to the deadly virus swimming inside his body (275).
Dillon’s imagery is a profound illustration of how one’s physical boundary might become susceptible to external diseases, which in turn affects one’s inner world. The permeability of the jellyfish feels like an implicit representation of his failing immune system whilst also echoing potential anxieties about losing bodily control and an inability to regulate what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’. This illustration also calls into question my own understanding of the body within my own imagery, juxtaposed between something that is strong and self-sufficient and something that is fragile and delicately balanced – like a jar of clay.
Damasio, A., (1999), The Feelings of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, London: Vintage
Hass-Cohen, N. & R. Carr, (2008), Art Therapy and Neuroscience, London: Jessica Kingsley