Living both north and south of the Tropic of Capricorn in Brazil, I had to get used to walking slowly and smoothly – otherwise I’d arrive sticky with sweat (and Brazilians are extremely fastidious about hygiene). In my native Scotland, we walk at a brisk, jerky, pace because speed and friction keep us warm north of the latitude of Moscow. In the days before mobile phones, when I still had my Brazilian tan, I sat for an hour outside Holborn Tube Station waiting for a friend and watching the citizens of London walk by. Generally, the White people scurried along, head-first, frowning, shoulders tense, neck at 45o; mostly, the Black people had shoulders back and walked with head high, evenly and upright. Of course there were exceptions.
Taking an African dance class in California (I’m White and, yes, I was hopeless) I observed a White American classmate with a very Irish name skip across the floor and asked her when she’d learned Irish dancing, because I recognised the movement. She said “what is that?” and told me her family had emigrated from Ireland centuries ago. I replied, “your legs remember”.
‘Muscle memory’ was a hot topic in those days and it was something we were well aware of in our massage class, led by our gentle, feminine New-Agey teacher – she’d burp as she worked, feeling it released the blocked somatic energy she was picking up – who summed up her philosophy: “when you bring peace to the body, you bring peace to the world”.
Although I try to do that, nowadays, I’m sorry to say, I tend to poke my neck out and scurry with the rest of my peely-wally compatriots but occasionally I am reminded (by all our stooped White elderly folk) to straighten my spine. And, when it’s hot, I still drag the back of my flip-flops along, like a good Brazilian, rather than snap them to my heels.
What’s the point? Today for Catholics is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, and bodies are on all our minds right now. The Italian cultural theorist and moral philosopher Giorgio Agamben critiques the church for failing in a duty which was recognised as paramount even by the Ancient Greeks:
“The first point, perhaps the most serious, concerns the bodies of dead persons. How could we have accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, that persons who are dear to us and human beings in general should not only die alone, but — something that had never happened before in history, from Antigone to today — that their cadavers should be burned without a funeral?”
As the main carer for two family members, one human, one canine, and as a vegan, I am well aware of the importance of bodies, especially right now. She can get cramped from sitting too long, her accustomed exercise, a short bus trip to the local town for mass and a potter round cafes and charity shops, greeting friends, curtailed by the powers-that-be. He’s probably getting more walks than ever but other animals are not so fortunate. All across the United States, pigs are being herded into gas chambers to cut their sad lives even shorter.
Unlike many new converts to animal liberation, I don’t watch footage of cruelty to animals. I know about our inhumanity. Instead I share the work of animal sanctuaries – and I invite you to do the same.
When I read that the bodies of our elderly, frightened and sometimes starving to death, were being discovered, alone and decomposing, in homes in London, I felt we had reached an end point in utter selfishness in metropolitan society.
Agamben, rightly, criticises the church for embracing the Covid Cult rather than the sick:
“The Church above all, which, in making itself the handmaid of science, which has now become the true religion of our time, has radically repudiated its most essential principles. The Church, under a Pope who calls himself Francis, has forgotten that Francis embraced lepers. It has forgotten that one of the works of mercy is that of visiting the sick. It has forgotten that the martyrs teach that we must be prepared to sacrifice our life rather than our faith and that renouncing our neighbour means renouncing faith.” (ibid)
Pope Francis, in his defence, has a long history of embracing those whom society repudiates as repugnant. As well as his ad hoc embraces, his annual washing of the feet of prisoners and the poor was only seized upon by the press when he became pope but for him it is nothing new – and he has publically urged respect and compassion for people caught up in prostitution. Nevertheless, I fear that the Vatican may have been overly conscious of its geographical position in the heart of Italy, so hysterically caught up in the Covid Cult and so tragically beginning to become aware that so many of its elderly were simply killed by well-meaning medics in a lethal combination of multimorbidity and iatrogenesis.
Women who advocate for reproductive justice (which should be against forced abortion and sterilisation; against state, social or economic pressure on pregnant women not to give birth; against pathologising natural somatic processes; against pro-birthers who do not support single mothers; and against any discrimination based on sex, race or ability) use the slogan OUR BODIES OUR SELVES! (Naomi Wolf, bravely, nuances the argument with a reflection on Our Bodies Our Souls.)
For human beings of any unselfish faith or philosophy, our bodies are not just commodities at the disposal of the state or the corporate forces of the market.
Thanks to Peter Griffin for releasing his image Faceless Mannequins into the Public Domain.