Françoise Héritier inspired me…

For Christmas my mum bought me a thin paperback book titled “The Sweetness of Life” by Françoise Héritier (a French Anthropologist). I suppose it was just meant to be a stocking filler, but I read in an hour or so and it really got me thinking…

The terms Embodiment and Phenomenology will feature as an underlying theme to my future posts, so to get started, I will explain them.

In basic terms, Phenomenology deals with the analysis of consciousness by trying to understand the lived experience. To understand the lived experience of an individual, one has to take an embodied perspective, which means looking at the bodily aspects of human subjectivity. But of course, human subjectivity depends on many things such as the sensory and emotional experience of an individual. Clearly no one else can truly understand an individual’s embodied perspective because they cannot know, feel or experience what they do (this is a hotly debated topic in philosophy).

The-Sweetness-of-Life.jpg

I chose to use Héritier’s work as an example of this. This book is very different to Héritier’s other Anthropological writings. In one continuous sentence she lists the, ‘sensations, perceptions, emotions, minor pleasures, and major joys…profound disillusionment and even pain’ that have occurred in her life. She refers to these moments as ‘the flavour’ of her existence, and by doing this Héritier is presents us with a description of her own embodied experience of life, and it is beautiful to read.

Of course, as a reader, I am affected by the moments she describes and I connect to them emotionally because I relate them to my own embodied experience of similar things, but I still do not know what it feels like to be Héritier herself.

It is this that I find interesting.

Since I was young, I have wondered what it would feel like to swap lives with someone for a day – Freaky Friday style as I’m sure many people have. Other peoples’ embodied experiences are fascinating to us, not only because of what it would feel like to experience someone elses’ body, but because it would show us whether what we experience (through our senses for example) is the same as what other people experience. An example of this is the, ‘do we all see the same colours?’, debate.

Later in this blog I will delve further into questions like this to explore the concept of Embodiment. But for the moment, I will leave you with my own short list of moments (and this should explain where I got my blog title from)…

Eating pickles with everything

feeling the cold flush your cheeks on a winter day

scratching your head

laying out table places for a big dinner

giving someone a sideways glance

playing with a toddler

needing to touch everything in a shop because you are a tactile person

sitting on a friend’s bed talking about trivial things

seeing people in fancy dress on the tube

folding back the pages of a book

packing a bag to leave

feeling really clean after a hot shower

tickling someone

feeling nostalgic when looking through old photos

attaching a badge to your jacket

hearing footsteps in a quiet gallery

being able to remember the names of capital cities

calling home

remembering that you are healthy

shouting at someone who deserves it

looking at familiar hills around you

getting earwax out of your ear

grinning…

And the list could go on…

And finally… This video by TED-ed helps to illustrate the concepts of phenomenology and embodiment. Although it uses different terms, it demonstrates the difficulty in explaining conscious experiences…

Resources

  • Françoise Héritier (2012). The Sweetness of Life. 
  • The Video: TED-Ed (24th January 2017).

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