I am on the thin side: fat women and food – Part Two

December 8, 2008 at 6:23 pm (Fróðleikr, Ríta) (, , , , )

The title of this series is from a song by the Dresden Dolls. The song has really nothing to do with the topic of these posts at all, but it does serve as insight into a certain type of crazy that’s been eating my brain for years. In other words, I am approaching the issue of Fat Acceptance from a place where “thin” is a word that could be directed at a woman who weighs 100 pounds from a woman who weighs ten pounds more. A facile point, I suppose, but one that I think needed explaining.

Further Note: I have actually developed this post into a paper for a philosophy course I am taking.

Update: The paper was very well received (an A) and I was encouraged to re-work it so that I might submit it as part of a writing sample for graduate school.

Never ready-to-hand

Never ready-to-hand

I have always disliked Heidegger, for his self-made language. It has none of the poesy of Dodgson, none of the smooth usefulness we take from Shakespeare. It is a mess of self-declaration and self-definition and circumlocution. A “word salad”, as a professor of mine once remarked, not in reference to Heidegger, but about the extremes of post-modernist academia.

I am grown to appreciate him. It is impossible for Heidegger to hold his views and to speak in useful language. I, on the other hand, not quite convinced that language as a universal tool is completely exhausted, can summarize him to make my point.

Historically the self is an object. For Heidegger, this idea is fundamentally incomplete. It does not take into account that we are submerged in the world at all times. Whilst we are successful at thinking objectively, this conceptualization rests on the assumption that we can view the world from an objective viewpoint, and that viewpoint is necessarily outside the world.

The mistake is in thinking that this “view from nowhere” is the most fundamental conception of reality. We do not project ourselves outside of the world, but rather, are forced to conceptualize, are thrown outside of the world into that viewpoint, when something in the world is not as we expect.

To wit: the hub of Heidegger’s philosophy of the self is usefulness. A thing that does not work the way we unconsciously assume forces us to see that thing not as a part of the world, but as a thing-in-itself, something we can consider conceptually. When that thing can be made ready-to-hand, unconsciously useful, it can be re-integrated back into the world.

We form this web of unconscious assumptions about the world, and so we form our world as our world forms our selves. And so for Heidegger, the self is not a noun but a verb: the manner by which we form and are formed by our world. (“Being,” in Heidegger’s parlance.)

Problems that are not yet solved are not re-integrated, thus spring philosophy and science. Problems that cannot be solved cannot be re-integrated, thus obsession and madness.

Anorexia, for a Heideggerian, is the inability to make a certain aspect of the self unconsciously assumed. It is a thing of hyper-objectification, of hyper-consciousness.

For how could the self be something we are comfortable with? How could Being be objectified? It is in the nature of Being that it can’t be an object.

You can take it further and project anorexia into the philosophy of Sartre, whose opinion was that the self can never be declared, not because it can’t be objectified, but because the self is a nothing, that we can’t declare who we are, but only what we are not. It is only because he cannot declare, “I am thin,” that an anorexic can only declare, “I cannot be fat.” If an anorexic only wished to be thin, he would not have to carry on through simply thin into dangerously thin.

It is not fat but the declarations made about what fat is that an anorexic wishes to avoid. An anorexic is screaming, “I am not fat!” into the ether, meaning all sorts of “I am not”s, such as “I am not lazy,” or “I am not ugly,” or “I am not self-indulgent.”

But it is the inability of the anorexic to make this nothing comfortable that leads me to believe that Sartre did not understand the fundamental unhealthiness in his philosophy. It is his very ability to deny what he is that makes the anorexic ill. It is the very inability of the anorexic to declare, “I am thin,” to himself, despite the fear and worry of those who surround him, that makes him push the nothingness that is his self outwards, that makes him say, “Look, I am not fat!”

If Sartre is correct, it is useless to tell the anorexic what he is, for he will never internalize it: there is nothing there, and so nothing to be characterized and nothing to recognize a statement about itself. It is also useless to tell the anorexic what he is not, because what he is not is not enough for him; he desires to be thin, the anti-fat, but cannot declare himself so, because there is nothing there to be spoken about.

Heidegger also seems to be of little use, at first glance. There is something that cannot become unconscious to the anorexic; how are we to help him? It is his very problem that he cannot give up objectification of himself, that he is too conscious of some aspect of his relationship with his own body. Examining the problem will only make him more conscious of it.

The solution seems to present itself: distract the anorexic. Place him in an environment in which the only problems with which he must concern himself are not related to food, or exercise, or body. Surround him with, not pedagogues who point out his behaviour to him – behaviour of which he is already too conscious, pointed towards objects already too clearly presented to him – but with people who do not worry about the objects of his worry. Give him no choices. If Heidegger is correct, he will cease eventually to conceptualize eating or exercise. They will become ready-to-hand.


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