Day: September 10, 2009

body, mind … soul

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man'

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man'

Nietzsche famously said that ‘soul’ was just a word for something about the body. And, as I understand it, contemporary New Testament scholarship would tend to agree — it follows in the footsteps of Luther in developing an anthropology that holds body and soul together as a pyschosomatic unity.

And yet I still seem to be able to distinguish between a kind of inwardness — the ‘real me’, a sort of ghost in the machine — and the body I find myself inhabiting which is often constrained and limited in ways I experience as impositions upon the ‘real me’.

As if I wasn’t confused enough already, my recent dabbling in Levinas has turned up his suggestive attempt to relate my sense of having a soul distinct from my body (and mind) to my ‘face’:

The soul, reified as some-thing, is, phenomenologically, what shows itself in the nonreified face; it shows itself in expression and, in this appearing, has the structure or the glimmer [la pointe] of someone. That which Descartes makes a substance, all the while protesting against the image of the pilot in his vessel [nacelle], that from which Leibniz makes a monad, that which Plato posits as the soul contemplating the Ideas, that which Spinoza thinks as a mode of thought, is described phenomenologically as a face. Without this phenomenology, one is pushed toward a reification of the soul, whereas here a problem other than to be or not to be is posed, a problem prior to that question.* (‘What Do We Know of Death’ in God, Death, and Time)

I’m not sure I quite get it (I had to look up ‘reification’ for example). But it sounds great!

*For Levinas the question prior to Hamlet’s question — which (according to Heidegger) is just that of Western philosophy — of being or nothingness is the question of ethical relation, respecting the other. This, is what I find most intriguing about Levinas: by making ethics the ‘first philosophy’ he asserts the priority of relationships — a moral and (ultimately) theological question — over substances…