Body in the Language: of Self

Valuating from an anthropocentric vantage, the philosophic discourse of the West has long classified mind as independent of body, locating our capacity to remember, imagine and reason as distinct from and authoritative over the organic activity of our physical selves. Yet, we as human agents project right and left as well as front and back within our perceptual picture plane. We stand erect, rise up and fall down as we navigate a gravitational space. And we guide, speed, and halt objects as they move along trajectories (Johnson, 137-38). [continued below]



Body in the Language: of Self, visual essay, digital, 13 1/4 x 70 1/2 inches, 2014.

Move your mouse cursor over image to magnify.


Body in the Language: of Self, Panel 1, visual essay, digital, 13 1/4 x 23 1/2 inches, 2014.



Body in the Language: of Self, Panel 2, visual essay, digital, 13 1/4 x 23 1/2 inches, 2014.



Body in the Language: of Self, Panel 3, visual essay, digital, 13 1/4 x 23 1/2 inches, 2014.


If cognition results from the evolutionary processes of variation and selection, and has developed in concert with the functions of survival, reproduction, grouping and resourcing, then must it not follow that rational operations emerge from these selfsame interactions with our environment (Dewey, 212-13)? If reason is shaped by our perceptions, movements and manipulation of objects, then how do sensorimotor stimuli inform a shared informational code of abstract concepts, symbolic expressions and linguistic artifacts? And to what extent do body idioms–the vectorial and configural patterns through which we perform identity (Goffman)–render the metaphors by which we communicate and categorize moral or immoral behaviors of the Self, impediments or progress towards our goals through Time, and the emotional states which frame life Event?

Crafting a multimodal visual essay (screenshots and textual inquiry) on the computer desktop that is my canvas, I employ empirical linguistics (see Gibbs) to probe the image schemas particular to the topological structure of our bodies that link perceptual and motoric events to signs and syntax (Lakoff and Johnson). Just as a photograph mirrors for us our experience of self, calls attention to how our bodily gestures publically exhibit our private selves, and reveals the extent to which a social viewpoint impresses upon our self-image (Marleau-Ponty, 96-155), I propose that certain diagnostic words demonstrate an embodied mind by which the construction of meaning is critically connected to the environment we inhabit.

Works Cited

Dewey, John. Experience and Nature. Vol. 1 of The Later Works, 1925-1953, edited by Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1925/1981.

Gallagher, Shaun. How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005/2011.

Gibbs, Raymond. The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language and Understanding. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Howson, Alexandra. The Body in Society: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2004.

James, William. The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1890/1950.

Johnson, Mark. The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. The Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Malafouris, Lambros. How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement. Foreword by Colin Renfrew. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Les relations avec autrui chez l’enfant. Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire; The Child’s Relation with Others. Trans. W. Cobb. 1960, 55-56. In Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception. Evanston, ILL.: Northwestern University Press, 1964; 96-155

Zahavi, Dan. Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

Images Cited

Dreamstime, (accessed July 16, 2014). Body in the Language: of Self desktop photograph adjusted from © Pawel Opaska, ‘Panorama of a beautiful misty forest photographed at dawn’, ID#38868040. Body in the Language: through Time desktop photograph adjusted from © Songquan Deng, ‘Autumn forest with wood bridge panorama over creek in yellow maple forest with trees and colorful foliage’, photo taken October 24, 2010, ID#16696592. Body in the Language: for Event desktop photograph adjusted from © Alesnowak, ‘wood forest after fire disaster’, photo taken August 29, 2012, ID#28174620. Photographs used with permission under the Dreamstime limited Royalty Free (RF-LL) license.

Immediate Entourage, Immediate Publishing, (accessed July 14-18, 2014). Figures adjusted from “cutout people for use in architectural and interior design renderings” downloadable as .png files with alpha channel. Used with permission.

Artworks and essay © 2014 Devon Schiller. All rights reserved.

Category: Visual Essays