I'm just a fat gal with a blog and an opinion. Well, lots of opinions.

Guest Post: The Beast at the Bath


Famed writer, artist, philosopher and all around mysterious princess “Holy Pigeon” continues to rock my world with her direct address of what’s wrong with the cosmetics industry and so I have re-posted it below for you all to enjoy:

Returning to my first maxim and its corollary, it’s obvious that cosmetic products cannot be curative and are, in most cases, useless. The inevitable question ensues: What’s the point of any beauty routine; what’s the point of even maintaining personal hygiene? Is it all just a programmed habit that can be unlearned? Is it all a great waste of time, money, and energy?

I believe that our seemingly narcissistic habits do contain a few redeeming qualities. Through our habits we express the need for sensuality and the need for ritual. These dual needs are a valuable part of human nature and should not be suppressed or ignored.

We seem to long for an understanding of our corporeal existence, how our bodies function, what purpose, if any, they serve, how we stand in relation to the mostly physical universe that we perceive, and how we can enhance our body’s performance and sensual experience. Our reason and our more abstract notions cannot exist without our senses. The senses, as detectors and creators of perception, are all that we have at our disposal in ascertaining any kind of truth. While we may have rejected sensual experience in favor of the presumption that our intellect or our so-called “soul” can exist separately, and that our body may just be a container for these precious intangibles, we undoubtedly have always had an intuitive understanding of how crucial our corporeality is; in the end we instinctively strive to protect and preserve the body above all else. We’ve demonstrated that bodily experience is paramount through our indulgence, and sometimes overindulgence, in various sensual experiences. The body needs to feel itself, to know others like it, and to distinguish between itself and the rest of the natural world. This is what sets us apart from those other potentially sentient beings, sophisticated computers and machines, which are projected to supersede us in the evolutionary scheme. No amount of programming could replicate the nuance of perception, experience, and the elaborate weaving together of emotion that the human senses, even with all of their limitations, are capable of producing. Evolution does not mean that the form is improved; it only means that the form is adapted to the environment. If the environment is harsh, the form is crude and so are its senses as, no doubt, the age of the computer machine will demonstrate.

Surely, then, our sensuality is not the cause of our foibles. If anything, it’s our attempted detachment from sensuality and the rejection of our natural instincts that’s the root of our self-destruction. A large portion of the human race has, for some reason, desensitized itself. Perhaps we are overwhelmed by the complexity of our capacities. Like the unflinching hand on the stove, a hand whose pain receptors have been damaged, we will get burned if we deaden the safe-guards that we have in place to detect imminent danger to our species. Moreover when we are unable to detect any danger we increasingly pursue empty pleasures, experiences that fulfill temporary desires at the expense of more lasting contentment. Here too our sensuality is not to blame because the sensual experience is not, by itself, the cause of insatiable and ultimately unsatisfying desires. If that were true, then other animals that also exist in the corporeal and that have similar capacities of sensory perception would be plagued with similar human miseries.

Desire stems from a refined misinterpretation of the senses, a notion that the passing experience can be contained and therefore made permanent. Our desires are ultimately thwarted by the impossibility of permanence, leading to a profound sense of loss and pain. Desire is rooted in that higher order of thinking that we’ve separated and elevated above the senses. If we were to give in to our senses, we would immediately recognize that we are giving in to a moment, knowing that the moment passes. But in following the flow of our senses we would engage with each moment as if it were the only one, and the notion of permanence would vanish, as would the notion of time itself. The opportunity for this organic exercise has been dulled by the legacy of our cultural history in the West, the Age of Enlightenment, in which the mind and body were viewed as separate entities (recall Descartes infamous “I think therefore I am”), the mind being vastly superior. This legacy continues, at least in spirit. It’s clear, however, that the parts of the organism cannot be separated meaningfully at the same time that the organism is constructed from a network of microorganisms, seemingly autonomous in function. This symbiosis between the parts and the whole is analogous to the relationship between reason and feeling – it’s impossible to separate and compartmentalize the two. There is no such thing as pure reason, devoid of feeling, and vice versa. If human beings are by nature sensual creatures, then a denial or suppression of the senses does us more harm than an indulgence in them.

Human beings are likewise prone to ritual. Ritual is the codification of sensual experience into cultural terms. By virtue of their repetition, rituals serve to produce and maintain a collective memory within specific social groupings, and thus they become a form of self-preservation for the collective organism. If sensuality is the expression of the individual engaging with itself and its environment, in ritual this form of expression is replicated on the social scale.

Bathing is a good example, as it is, more often than not, a ritual. In these postmodern times, when many of us sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, most of us hardly engage in activities that justify daily bathing. And yet most of us do take that daily shower or bath. Perhaps this practice is in reference to a collective cultural memory whose origins have been forgotten, at least on the conscious level.

It was not that long ago that bathing was a social activity. The masses did not have the luxury of a private bath and many routinely visiting public baths. Whether people convened at naturally occurring sources of water or whether they visited opulent bathhouses, it seems that the need to transform public repose into ritual preceded the need for hygiene. Indeed some bathhouses were far from hygienic, and the need for sanitation as well as the extent to which it has been pursued has varied with the times. Nonetheless, the association between health and mankind’s submersion into water is demonstrated in enduring practices, right down to the routine prescription of sending patients to healing resorts built around the locale of natural springs and the modern day spa.

The notion of health in this context is something more than the prevention or elimination of sickness. The spiritual undertones of the practice of bathing are evident. Submersion into water as baptism is a common rite of membership – whether it be into the tradition or into the institution of a particular faith – that unifies a specific group of people. Thus the need to access an unknown, seemingly pure and divine order is fulfilled on the human scale by combining attentiveness to the bodily self with social custom and interaction. Cleanliness, the ancient proverb tells us, is next to godliness. The sentiment may have been appropriated puritanically at times, but the fact that this expression remains in the cultural memory is a testament to the ardent manner in which we strive, with all of our senses, to understand that which is beyond them, and beyond our being.

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