Leaving the body behind

by natothompson


We are leaving. A spirit rising out of its corporeal shell, we look down on our arms, legs, hairstyles, and mouths, at a distance. Yes, that thing we call a body remains attached to how we understand ourselves, but it is also, just a part of this larger thing that we can be. We know now with growing clarity and simultaneous uneasiness that the mind can travel in ways that our physical selves simply cannot. And that realization is spawned by a growing human landscape of zombies. Bodies roaming without their minds unmoored. A growing world of people caught up in some internet or cell phone alter-universe while their limbs continue to work in the tangible built environment. We have been a zombie too. We see ourselves mindlessly on our phones walking obliviously into the street. Caught up in a conversation, we step off the curb into oncoming traffic, oblivious for a second, that our torso remains in motion. We see ourselves texting in a car, driving down a freeway at 70 mph, strapped into the seat, our hands no longer at the wheel, flying at huge acceleration with the mind temporarily on hiatus. The body keeps going. Faster and faster. Careening without a pilot.

Feels like yesterday that this behavior was a bizarre aberration. The disembodied act itself a living signpost for the mad and deranged. But the sands are shifting under our feet. The understood criteria that governed behavior in public making way to accommodate those whose minds are temporarily elsewhere. We hear voices, but they are not meant for us. We see a person in line gesticulating a little and talking. Are they off the deep end? We see a white chord coming out of their ear or perhaps some blinking blue tooth apparatus, and our thoughts shift. Their voice we hear, but it is meant for another place. It reverberates in our world like an echo, a piece of accidental sonic detritus, meant for that other disembodied place we have no access to.  Their words a strange reminder that we are here and they, are not.

At the present rate of change, even philosophy can barely keep pace. Theorists Deleuze and Guattari spoke of a body without organs, the poetry of such an idea  mystifying for many of their readers. A tantalizing prospect of a networked series of desires that moved through bodies and machines with intensities and flows but no specific human subject to speak of. But today as we watch the city sidewalks and coffee lines, subway rides and freeway traffic, congest with the cranially eviscerated, we become aware of the elsewhere hoard that is the embodied truth of their prophetic words. The zombie film has come alive as the world of the public becomes increasingly cluttered with vacant corporality.

There are futures to come. For what does it mean as this profound realization gravitates towards our ways of seeing the world? This geologic landscape inevitably takes on a tentative status. Yes, we will live in the world, but it will no longer be the only world we can live in. And yes, this body is ours, but it is not the only manifestation of ourselves that we must possess. For a while it most certainly will remain a primary option, but what of those that rise up to secondary and third status. Places, bodies, other realities that our minds can reside in. How long will the temporalities of being on hiatus be?

But the body remains. Vacancy does not mean death. In fact, it means a different form of hungered life. For the body’s needs grow as well. It hungers. It sleeps. It atrophies, gets pregnant, grows cellulite and hair, becomes host to viruses, has teeth that decay, hearts that pump, it urinates, defecates, ejaculates, menstruates, masturbates. It is a body with organs that has a complicated relationship with its cerebral partner. That body strapped into the car will suffer and be crushed on impact. The body that walks into traffic suffers a similar fate.

And as the mind continues to accept that this vulnerable corpse must be protected, the world around us will shift to accommodate the zombie multitude. Parks with people in sunglasses staring, twitching, in seats as they talk and play in games and meeting rooms elsewhere. For those invested in keeping the body in motion, there will be outdoor workspace/gymnasiums where work is done both for the body and mind. Treadmills and mobile walking tracks of the undead. Driverless cars. Homeoffices that are beds.

There are futures to come where the mutability of the body without organs will become an inescapable tangible reality. Let us prepare.