norayoung.ca | At the Corner of Technology and Culture

Body as Technology

Nun_HandsRecently, I interviewed Jeremy Stolow, a media historian at Concordia University who specializes in media, technology and religion. One of the points that I had to cut down for time was Jeremy’s idea that we can think of religious technologies as including not only things like religious books, or incense burners – the physical tools that accompany religious practice – but also our bodies themselves. In particular:

If we think about the way in which our gestures or our bodily movements can be organized and made to work in a machine-like function, for lack of another term, we can start to think of even human activities like breathing, and gesturing, and reciting, and other kinds of activities such as meditation, [then they] might themselves be thought of as, certainly techniques, and to that extent, maybe they belong in the larger family of ‘technology’.

I asked him about this partly because of my own life experience. I (and I’m not alone in this) think of yoga practice – and meditation in particular – as technologies. I hadn’t thought before about the idea of the performing body as a kind of technology, though. We tend to think of technologies as things external to the body, things that extend the body, but the idea of the body as a tool in the service of another goal makes total sense. We see this in sports, of course. We talk about the bodies of elite athletes as “machines,” think of food as “fuel,” but I’d mostly thought of this in a negative way, in the sense that we tend to objectify the body rather than just inhabit it. Or the way we’re taught from a young age to control the body and natural impulses. And yet, there’s not only a beauty in this (think of the athlete again), there’s a kind of freedom.

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