Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Habeas Corpus ("You must have the body")

The order issued by a judge to bring an imprisoned person to the court for consideration of whether the prisoner is being held legally is often referred to by the Latin words "habeas corpus".  The practice of examining the legality of an imprisonment is an important part of maintaining individual rights.  However, the English play "Habeas Corpus" was a sex comedy.  The production I saw was very funny and I was struck by the title's insistence on the fundamentality of the body in our lives. 

We won't be born without our parents' bodies.  We won't grow and move and eat and think without our own bodies.  When, as Bill Bryson so wonderfully put it, our atoms loose themselves from their bond and dissipate off, we will be dead.  We must have the body.

Sometimes, people who have trouble speaking in public are advised to picture their audience sitting nude before them.  The advice is supposed to assist the speaker in lowering the tension of speaking and make the audience seem less formidable. Our bodies are often used as reminders that we aren't angels and are actually animals.

When humans between the mid-teens and their sixties mix with members of the opposite sex, the presence and meaning of bodies is in the forefront of imagining, planning, and wondering. 

Using the book "Individuals" by Peter Strawson, my grad school class in metaphysics considered how the logic of our lives would be if what we saw would be controlled by a separate body from ourselves, rather like my viewing a monitor from a tv camera on your head.  We considered the logic of our lives as we know them if there were to be resurrection of the deceased that did not include their bodies.  We knew that some bodies would be quite old and decayed, not to mention those that were cremated.  We concluded that we are material beings and wouldn't know how to function without our bodies. C.S. Lewis says in one of his books that God loves material - He invented it.

This idea that we can't do without our bodies sometimes gets shelved.  Older people whose bodies work poorly may try to forget about the body.  Computer geeks and those addicted to long phone conversations may seem disembodied.  St. Francis of Assisi referred to his body as "Brother Ass" (Brother Mule, stubborn, slow, ponderous).  The earthly sides of us are sometimes very attractive to others, may be the subject of curiousity or lust.  But we must have the body, regardless of whether it is exciting or repulsive.

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