Friendship in the Mesh


An excellent post on walking over at Tim Morton’s Ecology Without Nature has me revisiting the speculative implications of the Alexander Technique. I find this very exciting, because it points to a truth, in the very sense that Badiou uses the term when he says: there are only bodies and language — except that there are truths.

It also speaks to the ability to identify an ecological thought that is not simply another strange stranger.

To recap: Alexander Technique uses internal directions to suspend end-gaining on the level of kinesthetics. When presented with a stimulus such as “walk from A to B,” one first refuses to respond to the stimulus, then directs internally “let the head move up and forward” (the primary control) and, while maintaining this direction, chooses whether or not to walk from A to B. In practice, this leads one to discover the parts involved in supporting both the primary control and the stimulus “walk from A to B.” The ongoing investigation of these parts is called the means-whereby, which as it says, without telos.

Here’s the thing. If one sustains the primary control (which is a serious misnomer, since the directions for it are linguistically constructed without an agent to do the controlling), then the parts involved in doing anything cannot be totalized. The reason this works is because the primary control (primary commissive?) does not intersect with any form of doing. It is a supplement to any stimulus, but there is no form of doing that already includes letting the head move up and forward, and no form of doing that excludes it. It is what I have called a claim of nothing.

Now, no one would care about this claim except that it allows the withdrawn multiplicity of the body to act without being correlated to thought, even though one is still thinking. The result is that those things that function better without being thought will function better, not only in themselves, but from the perspective of the thinker as well. Not-A is freed from correlation in a way that A can identify as good, but only to the extent that the strangeness of not-A is maintained. One can gradually gain knowledge about the parts of a kinesthetic response, of course, but the strangeness is never fully absorbed. The not-A (Badiou’s existential seal of infinity) simply moves “further out.”

Because one can apply the Alexandrian directions in any situation (and in this sense they’re not really about posture at all), they amount to a reliable ontology or what you might call a strange friend — a friendship with the mesh. Like friendships in the ordinary sense, this one is contingently observed. A true friend will always be your friend, but no one but you can remember to call him up. Likewise, one cannot remember to remember to give the directions. They are ontologically true only as a verb.

Once you know this, it becomes quite interesting to use ordinary language. The word “I” is not in the directions, so to maintain the directions makes for an oddly provisional ego. Where, for example, does the stimulus to give the directions come from? I think Tim is correct here, when he says that an encounter with ecology is forced by our lameness. It doesn’t have to be that way, but there’s nothing like pain to motivate change.

There is an inverse to this, which is political: it’s always possible to make it more difficult for someone else to give the directions by repeatedly inducing a startle response. There is also the risk of turning the directions into a form of end-gaining in their own right. These issues are not immediately resolved by the technique itself. The main point I would like to make is that the reliability of the directions makes possible a friendship with strangeness that is neither heuristic nor metaphorical.

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