Meaningful Sentience


Meaningful Sentience

Jason Round


Sentience is the capacity to have experiences, that is, conscious states.


How do you feel when you move? We can be so focused on movements and disciplines, on physical practice and goals and defining ourselves in relation to them that the feeling of a body in and of itself – even in those believed most corporeally ‘aware’ – is lost in the process.

Parts of bodies swell with blood, vessels protrude, tissues relax and contract, we stretch and pull and push, joints crack, click and rub, skin is scathed, liquids secrete from glands as platelets coagulate and waste products are excreted; sweat seeps shit drops piss leaks. In all of this there is feeling; there is sentience. Sentience too often painted by social and cultural interpretations whose words and perspectives are too inadequate to describe corporeal experience.

“The body in itself needs to be understood not simply as an object in the social world, but as ‘a sentient being whose primary relation to its environment should be understood in terms of [its] meaningful sentience.’ There still remains the Descartean odour of a perspective on the body as ‘volatile, disgusting and inimical; that traumatic kernel subject to chance, change, and death.’ It is not gone; not in society nor ourselves. Our celebrations of the body are often a vehicle for for something else, another ideology rather than the body in itself.

The body is objectified and used. We celebrate it for its aesthetics, it’s movement, it’s organicity, it’s symbolism of humanness, it’s sacredness, for what it attains and affords us; but rarely in and of itself.

How do these ideologies influence the narratives of bodily control that we create? What is tied up with the ‘taming’ of ‘It’, the desire for health, the aspiration for longevity (regardless of what is lost in the process), with cultural fears of death and eternal woe with regards to our mortality?

No one is ‘immune’ or exempt; not those who explore movement nor those who restrict it, those who celebrate nor abhor it, not the hedonist nor spiritualist, the scientist nor artist. No one is exempt.

If you live in culture, if you live in a body, it is of your concern.


Body Modification, ed. by Mike Featherstone, (London: Sage, 2000)

Body Matters: Feminism, Textuality, Corporeality, ed. by Avril Horner and Angela Keane, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000)

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