fluidity and the fleshy self

A brief excerpt from Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke memoir, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, makes me return to the concept of fluidity and to an understanding of the self that moves beyond the boundaries of the skin to something entirely different…

“By this point I had lost touch with much of the physical three-dimensional reality that surrounded me. My body was propped up against the shower wall and I found it odd that I was aware that I could no longer clearly discern the physical boundaries of where I began and where I ended. I sensed the composition of my being as that of a fluid rather than that of a solid. I no longer perceived myself as a whole object separate from everything. Instead, I now blended in with the space and flow around me ….

When the shower droplets beat into my chest like little bullets, I was harshly startled back into reality. As I held my hand sup in front of my face and wiggled my fingers, I was simultaneously perplexed and intrigued: Wow, what a strange and amazing thing I am. What a bizarre living being I am. Life! I am life! I am a sea of water bound inside this membranous pouch. Here, in this form, I am a conscious mind and this body is the vehicle through which I am ALIVE! I am trillions of cells sharing a common mind. I am here, now, thriving as life. Wow! What an unfathomable concept! ….” (Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York: Plume, 2009, pp. 41-2)

By no means am I suggesting that we all aim to experience a stroke, just to get at this sensation, but it strikes me that this mode of being – a self without borders – appears always to be linked to some sort of disorder. The body in balance knows its boundaries. The self in balance is aware of its space and where it begins and where it ends. The rational mind shapes its reality and that reality has borders.

But what might happen if we thought of the fluid rather than of the solid? I know thinkers like Irigaray have trod on this path before, indeed, have staked their entire philosophical vision on the fluid, so there’s nothing new in this suggestion, but what might it mean to really embrace the fluid and what do we miss by our insistence on the solid? Is this why I love reading Cixous, Butler, Irigaray, Anzaldua, Kristeva and others so much?

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