I know that I’m not an intellectual in the true sense of the word. I like to dance way too much and I read way too slowly. This means that more often than I’d like, but then this is a lie, I discover someone whose works/writings are amazing and I am ashamed that I was theretofore unaware of it. Michel Serres is one of these writer/persons. The lie I mentioned above is that I actually live (in an academic sense anyway) for such discoveries. I remember not so many years ago having a similar experience related to Jean Baudrillard. Why is it always French philosophers? I don’t even read French, although I did finally achieve the high pass in French reading that was required for my PhD at Chicago.
Okay, more to the point here. I recently discovered the existence of Michel Serres book “The Five Senses” (1985, 2009) with the amazing subtitle “a philosophy of mingled bodies.” Clearly a must-read given my interest in the senses and my regular teaching of courses on the senses. It arrived yesterday and today I simultaneously devoured the intro and saag chicken at Kathmandu Restaurant in Nederland (talk about a wonderful discovery of a strangely out of place place) and now I am enthralled with the opening pages of the book itself. I had to stop however when I read the following paragraphs.
Who was this ‘I’?
It is something everyone knows, unemotionally and as a matter of fact. You only have to pass through a small opening, a blocked corridor, to swing over a handrail or on a balcony high enough to provoke vertigo, for the body to become alert. [Serres is referring to a personal anecdote of being trapped in a porthole of a burning ship.] The body knows by itself how to say I. It knows what extent I am on this side of the bar, and when I am outside. It judges deviations from normal balance, immediately regulates them and knows just how far to go, or not go. Cœnesthesia says I by itself. It knows that I am inside, it knows when I am freeing myself. This internal sense proclaims, calls, announces, sometimes howls that I like a wounded animal. This common sense apportions the body better than anything else in the whole world. (p. 19)
Coenaesthesia … common sense … amazing.
Sam Gill – August 27, 2010