Last year I wrote about understanding my body; the natural extension is to talk about understanding other people’s bodies.
Unfortunately, this seems to be impossible. Health and sickness do not occupy everyone’s bodies the same way. There’s that friend who eats trash everyday and stays model-thin, and the one that eats painstakingly portioned salads and never loses weight. There are days when we look tired but we aren’t; there are pains that remain invisible. Incidentally, I’m going to the doctor next week for a pain I’ve now been experiencing for a year–and unless you’re very close to me, you probably had no idea about it (I’ll share more when I know more.).
A lot of this hopelessness stems from my philosophy class (what else?). Wittgenstein argues that we can never know we are in pain, but only be in pain. Conversely, other people can never be in the same pain that we are, but only know we are in pain. Thus, even when we put misleading visual clues aside and try to understand each other’s physical experiences through language, almost all of it necessarily becomes lost in translation. How am I supposed to turn a physical sensation, a state of being, into words? How can I ever know if you understand them?
One thought has allowed me to relax a bit on this, and that is: art exists. Art exists, and we are able to express our feelings and sensations through it. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been confronted with a painting or a song or a poem (or a blog post), and felt something because of it. We’re able to fall in love with or cry over people who never existed, to feel the excitement or sadness or pain (the emotional kind, at least) that the artist has infused into their piece. We can’t listen to heartbreak songs during a breakup. We look at poems and pictures about flowers and hope when we’re upset. We read Proust and think, someone’s finally put that feeling to words.
Our everyday interaction may be mired in miscommunication and misunderstandings. It may often seem we’re doomed to suffer alone. But I like to think that it’s possible, at least sometimes, at least for some of us, to talk about our bodies and what they experience and be understood.