The MWS Podcast 67: Richard Shusterman on Somaesthetics and the Middle Way

We are joined by the pragmatist philosopher Richard Shusterman, the professor of philosophy at Florida Atlantic University. He’s the author of several books including Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life, Body Consciousness and Thinking through the Body. He’s also travelled widely and is arguably something of a polymath having held appointments in other disciplines in the humanities. For example, he taught comparative literature in Israel , he’s been the Visiting Research Professor in Aesthetics in Hiroshima, Japan and he was an associate of the École des Hautes Études in Sciences Sociales in Paris. He’s also a professional practitioner of the Feldenkrais method and he’s perhaps most known for his contributions to aesthetics and the emerging field of somaesthetics and this is what we’re going to be talking about today.

MWS Podcast 67:Richard Shusterman as audio only:
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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

One thought on “The MWS Podcast 67: Richard Shusterman on Somaesthetics and the Middle Way

  1. A very interesting interview. I fear that some people may be put off by the length, but let me encourage you to devote that hour of your life to it, as it’s well worthwhile! I hadn’t come across Richard’s work before except as mentioned in passing by Mark Johnson, so it’s great to get this perspective on it. And it’s always encouraging to find a philosopher is sympathetic to the Middle Way. I will have a look at some of Richard’s books.

    I can see that this could be a good way into the Middle Way for many people, with the emphases being different from those in my own work (as well as different from Mark Johnson’s in the way Richard discussed): more direct engagement with bodily practice and experience, with the Middle Way perspective emerging out of that. I tend to see the Middle Way in much more epistemological and ethical terms, even though I fully recognise all the relationships to bodily experience that Richard discusses. From my perspective, though, I’d be concerned that if one doesn’t articulate the epistemological and ethical aspects of the Middle Way sufficiently, it can be too easily appropriated by approaches that are strongly motivated by dogma. Richard’s story about the Chinese newspaper article raises that issue: on the one hand one can see it as positive that somaesthetics can find a way past the barriers of political dogma, but on the other that suggests that it is unlikely to make a positive political or moral difference, and may indeed be used to help prop up or give legitimacy to official Chinese dogma.

    My biggest question for Richard is about the meaning of ‘meliorative’. If somaesthetics helps to make things better, by what standards does it do so? I appreciate that those standards need to arise within corporeal experience, and what I have striven to do in discussing ethics is to be understood in that way. Is somaesthetics also a basis for somethics and somaepistemology? Surely, too, such values based in experience also have a negative side that we need to face up to – the avoidance of dogma based on narrow cognitive assumptions? Again, that’s implied for me in what Richard said about obesity: but what does he think about the idea that the tendencies that drag us away from bodily awareness are dogmatic ones?

    I’d also like to ask Richard about his view of brain lateralisation and the work of Iain McGilchrist. If the right hemisphere is closely linked to bodily awareness and the left has the capacity to be focused on goals and representations in an over-dominant way, as McGilchrist suggests, could somaesthetics also be articulated as a matter of correcting the over-dominance of the left hemisphere?

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