Imprinting the body

Patterns of prior experience imprint how we relate to the new, and negotiate our body and its spatial relations to the environment we have not previously encountered.

Like making love with someone for the first time, the body starts its moves in its old familiar routine, unaware the previous pattern doesn’t quite fit with the new body below. A sort of re-wiring has to be performed in order to rid the limbs of its habituized responses. A process of re-learning to embrace the flesh of another must occur if a climax of harmony, balance and synchronicity is to be reached. For a moment the body relives the memory – the smell of the skin is that of the lover before, the hair and skin tastes similar and the muscles are of unchanged flesh – then, just as quickly, the memory is replaced by the shock of the new. We cannot sniff out something recognizable; the senses must abandon its relics, and clean house to make a room for this new body. Acceptance of all of its hows and whats and ises and is nots inform the level of the pleasure derived, and inevitably, the color of the memory made new.

Encountering anything new in life involves a period of discomfort, however long or brief in duration, and the necessary confession that we simply Do Not Know how to handle what is before us. Perhaps this is why we bring the old to bear upon the newly encountered. By re-membering, we can re-program our body and mind to take in and derive something tangible from this foreign experience. In linguistics this is akin to the concept of “prior text.” A “text,” in this case, is defined as any entity that can become embedded with signification. Barbara Johnstone, in her chapter “Prior texts, prior discourses” [Discourse Analysis], discussed how the concept of prior text can be used to understand the recognition of “something old” in “something new” (more on prior text).

A more academic application of this concept --- Each field has its own canon of valued prior texts that are (re)produced in its students/laborers. Thus those graduates with art history degrees are sought after for gallery and museum positions since the degree accreditation assumes “prior text knowledge” of the field’s valued canon. One can easily see how some disciplines make this process of teaching/learning necessary to its own survival as a field.

However, when something new is encountered that cannot be immediately explained by the past, we seek out the memories we can twist and turn to mix into an understanding of the present. For example, we may conjure up dead artists from long ago to make sense of a contemporary's practice, describing her methods as similar to "The Great Master Painter _____." Or, we reference specific artworks that we believe parallel a newly encountered work, "that reminds me of _____ by ____." Hence the mutation of artist names into styles, like "Judd-esqe" or "Warholian."

Warping the past to fit the current moment, calling up such memories elicits a moment of nostalgia for that prior experience, the prior text applied in the new moment. Milan Kundera paraphrased in Ignorance that “nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return,” derived from the Greek “nostos”- return and “algos” – suffering. When recalling a past experience, we know we cannot actually return to that moment of initial pleasure (hence, the yearning and suffering) wherein that experience was embraced and patterned into the mind and body’s history. There is a physical aspect to recollection that demonstrates our memories do not reside in the mind alone; prior texts are rooted within the body. Some massage therapists believe in the ability of myofascial release as a technique that can produce psychological benefits from the discharge of negative memories trapped as toxins within the fascia layers between muscle and bone.

Nostalgia is also described as a connection to home, or familiar experience. Hence sayings like, “I feel at home in your arms,” or “home is where the heart is.” Finding a home in a person…When the pleasure of new becomes warmth of the familiar, of another like our mirror image…this is surely what Pablo Neruda was referring to in his poem, “The Song of Despair,” when he repeated the line, “In you everything sank!” The weight of the past becomes heavy when regret is involved, and light, only when the whole of the body senses the pleasure of former experience in feeling out something new, renegotiating physical relationships through re-wiring psychological patterning.

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