The Body as Site of Continuity and Change
Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice directs our attention to the body; it indicates the way that body can be both a place of continuity with culture, resisting change, and a place of openness to something that transcends and renews the present situation. This article considers aspects of recent continental philosophy which grapple with this ambiguity. Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the body as habitus, for instance, stresses resistance to change. Julia Kristeva hints at a transcendence that comes through the “semiotic” realm, especially through her concept of the rhythmic movements of the chora, but the wider the gap is driven between the maternal body and the cultural body of symbols, the more the body becomes resistant to change. For Emmanuel Levinas, the body is open to transcendence in the infinite moral demand of the other, although—as Luce Irigaray points out—change is limited through lack of communion with the other. For Jacques Derrida, the body is the place where something which is “always to come” breaks in to disturb the assumptions, exclusions and sameness of the present; this transcendence can be called “spirit”, expressed through images of movement such as “turning”, “flowing” and “burning”. The article concludes with a theological reflection: the Christian symbols of incarnation and Trinity express a participation of the body in “movements” of divine life (akin to the movement of spirit in Derrida and the choric movements in Kristeva), which hold out a promise of renewal in attention to the other.