After seeing the Bodyworlds exhibit and after reading Shigehisa Kuriyama’s book The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine.
The Bodyworlds exhibit offers an unusual point of view for those who have never seen a dissection: plastinated corpses exposed in various positions–but it also dramatically reinforces the false but common notion of the body as an inert object. Kuriyama’s beautiful book reminds us that there are many other ways to imagine the body.
In the minds of the very ancient Greeks and Chinese, the concept of muscle barely existed. Homer’s Iliad speaks of sinews and flesh, but what moved their heroes were the gods. The ancient Chinese spoke of a vital force, “mo,” in poetic language: It could be slippery or rough, floating, hollow, flooding, hidden, leathery or faint. What moved human beings into action, illness or health, was always elusive, mysterious, perhaps divine. The importance of “muscle” that we take so for granted today came into common use only with the rise of the personal will, the individual as prime mover–the muscles, agonist and antagonist. Kuriyama offers the possibility of remembering another option. How much more inspiring to reach for the possibility of experiencing “body” as a relationship– breath, weight, balance–interactions with the world from which we can never be truly separated.