Each day I am witness to a drama called my body. Headaches, muscle aches, sores, cuts, abrasions, fatigue, arousals, heartburn and sinusitis. All the shocks that flesh is heir to. Nothing, so far, too terribly serious. No life-threatening disease. No broken bones. No amputations. No phantom limbs or prosthetic devices. No physical therapy. Just routine visits to my doctor for a physical once a year, a colonoscopy every five years. Future maladies must be considered as characters in a narrative that is still in development. And now that I’m old, it is inevitable that the plot will, as they say, thicken. It cannot help but thicken. No one gets out alive.
But why a theater ? Why that metaphor ? Are diseases characters in a tragedy ? Yes, absolutely. I like that idea. Diseases are characters. Awful, despicable characters with cruel but transformative powers. They themselves are evil, but the changes they bring about are quite often salvational.
Or should we consider the body a comedy ? I mean, look at it. It’s funny. The arms and hands are always looking for a way to justify themselves. If they’re not holding something they become awkward and embarrassed. They need to be encumbered to be unencumbered. The legs have an undeniable dignity but the feet are goofy. They just are. It’s the toes. They look so whimsical, and all they can do is wiggle. Genitalia can be summed up in a word : grotesque. But the real clown of the body is the head. The head is, essentially, an exaggerated coconut with an exuberant geography of runnels, pools, and freakish protuberances.
Tragedy or comedy, the body is not a sitcom. Its theater is more asbtruse. It smacks of country longing. Haylofts and heather. We should, in the words of Polonius, consider the body a pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral. If the body is a drama, it must be emblazoned with all the fevers native to its existence. The would include woodbine, ayahuasca , and Beaujolais.
The theatrical metaphor works best from the Cartesian point of view. This is the thought that the mind and body are separate. It is not new. It was popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. I am reminded of the medieval morality plays dramatizing a contentious dialogue between Everyman and a host of abstractions, such as Knowledge, Death, Good-Deeds, Beauty, Strength, Discretion, Five-Wits and Fellowship.
I like this idea. I like this way of framing experience. Here, for example, is a contemporary morality play by Yours Truly:
Everyman: I want to drive a car anymore. I want to fly.
Body: You can’t fly.
Everyman: Why not?
Knowledge: Because the body doesn’t have wings.
Everyman: Who asked you?
Discretion: Be nice.
Everyman: I’ll try.
Death: Hey, dude what’s happening?
Everyman: I don’t want to die.
Death: Don’t worry. I’m on vacation. But you do know, sooner or later, it’s going to happen. My advice is to party while you can.
Five-Wits: That’s actually pretty good advice. Have you had any of this Merlot?
Everyman: I quit, remember? I’m in a twelve step program now.
Alcohol: Oh sweetie, that’s too bad, we had some great times together.
Everyman: We sure did. I wish we could get back together some day.
Sobriety: Careful. You’re on a slippery slope.
Slippery Slope: Yes. Please get off.
Strength: I will help you.
Everyman: Thank you. You’ve always been a good friend.
Fellowship: We all get by with a little help from our friends.
Death: Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song and I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Ears: I hear you, man.
Mind: I’ve had enough of this. I’m leaving.
Everyman: Where are you going?
Mind: Anywhere. So long as it is out of this world.