In Andrew Marvell’s ‘A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body’, the Soul longs to be raised from the ‘dungeon’ of the body, lamenting that it ‘fettered stands/In feet and manacled in hands’. In
Marvell’s chiasmic conceit, what you might wish to emancipate (a word itself hinting at handiwork), are the very things pinning you down. This is a version of the paradoxical joke known as the Irish bull, which I will use to explore the conflict between the freedom of and freedom from the body. Embodiment is thought of as finitude and limit, the necessity of the hic et nunc, or, as Michel Serres more folkishly puts it, the impossibility of sleeping on both ears at once. But the lesson of the Irish bull may be that embodiment is in fact my undoing, or even undoing itself. It is not my limit but what enjoins me to belong to my unbelonging, so that I am, in John Donne’s words, ‘he that hath not that earth that he is’. When what humans crave, voluptuously and insatiably, is to have no choice, the fantasy of embodiment as the given helps hem us in to that longed-for inhumation. I will recommend that we try to imagine giving up the fantasy of embodiment as givenness, and finding ways to accept our agoraphobic internment in the unconfined – a condition, not of embodiment, but (no such word) inbodiment (‘Here lies the body of John Mound/Lost at sea and never found’).