Moving Bodies

embodied minds and the world that we made

During the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, the members of the French delegation put on costumes and danced before the other delegations. In fact, in early modern Europe it was common for kings to take to the stage. The Habsburg emperors of Austria were all ballet dancers, and so were the rulers of Denmark and Sweden. But the most famous performers of all were the kings of France — Louis XII, XIII and XIV.

This book explains this rather odd behavior. Dancing, goes the argument, is a way of being. In order to be we must move. What is true for individuals is true for collective entities as well. The ballets in which the rulers of early modern Europe engaged were make-believe worlds which illustrated their power and majesty. This is how the sovereign state became visible, and how it came to be.

But movements allow us to do so much more. Although we usually think of intentional activities as taking place only in our minds, our bodies are always engaged. Indeed, bodily movements always come first. It is only by moving that we come to think, to know, imagine and will. These connections too are explored in this book. Thus we will encounter German nationalists who do gymnastics, Suffragettes who ride bicycles, and workers and freedom-fighters who march together in defense of their demands. And when we cannot move — such as when we are confined by the logic of industrial, capitalist, society — we do what it takes to break free, even if the consequences are disastrous.

Highlighting the connection between movements and intentional activities, this book picks up themes recently developed in cognitive theory and phenomenology. As such the book provides a critique of currently fashionable social theory. “Cultural studies” and “post-modern” approaches have paid far too much attention to what goes on in our minds, and far too little attention to the movements in which our bodies engage.

"On February 26, 1645, at the start of the negotiations which ended the Thirty Year War, a ballet, Ballet de la Paix, was staged and performed in Münster, in the German province of Westphalia. The performers were all members of the French diplomatic delegation suitably dressed up as soldiers, peasant, and various allegorical characters. After the opening night, the ballet was performed twice the following day, and a fourth time at the city-hall two days later, with local dignitaries and the wealthier residents of the town in attendance."
"On October 18, 1752, Devin du village was performed in the royal palace at Fontainbleau in the presence of Louis XV and members of his court. The composer and librettist was none other than Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher. The evening, by all accounts, was a great success. All the glamorous women in the audience were moved by the piece, Rousseau reported in his Confessions, and the next day the king could be heard bellowing out one of its main themes as he puttered around in his palace. Rousseau was the darling of fashionable Parisian society."
"On December 1, 1498, Vasco da Gama and his four ships made landfall. Spotting some natives on the shore, and eager to replenish their supplies, they launched their dinghies. Four or five of the natives began playing flutes, and they danced in the native fashion. Yet it did not take long for da Gama and his crew to respond in kind. 'The captain-major then ordered the trumpets to be sounded, and we, in the boats, danced, and the captain-major did so likewise when he rejoined us.'"
"On October 18, 1814, a high-school teacher, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, and a group of his students assembled at Hasenheide, a wooded area on the southern outskirts of Berlin. Jahn and his students wrestled, jumped across ditches, ran in labyrinths, balanced on beams and swung from parallel bars and trees. However, they were not only gymnasts, but also liberals and nationalists. In the evening, they lit bonfires, sang songs, and gave speeches. Although the French had been defeated, Jahn reminded everyone present, Germany was still divided into far too many separate political units."
“'To be' is always to be somewhere, to 'be there.' This can be understood as a concrete, physical, location, and then 'to be' allows us to describe what it is that we see. Everything that is in a certain place is in a certain way, and it is characterized as we attach predicates to it. Being insists on being described. But the locations can also be socially determined. This is the case for beings that are taken as equivalent to something else. Here 'to be' will tell us about roles, functions, jobs and titles. To be is to be a father, a buss driver, or a YouTube influencer."
"Consciousness is dialogical. From moment to moment we are talking to ourselves about what we are doing, what is going on, and how we feel about things that happen to us. Occasionally we may even do so out loud, startling people around us, but children often do so as a matter of course."
"The dictionary definition of 'to know' breaks down neatly into two separate categories, corresponding to a distinction between knowledge 'by description' and knowledge 'by acquaintance.' Or between 'knowing that' and 'knowing how.' Many languages, but not English, make this conceptual distinction obvious by using different verbs. Thus knowledge by description is what Germans refer to as wissen and the French as savoir, while knowledge by acquaintance is kennen and connaître, respectively."
"The only reason we can talk about what Santa Claus or The Silent Princess are like is that the imagination has created them. They are 'merely imaginary,' after all. And yet, that we do see something is obvious if nothing else from the fact that we often object to the way books are represented in movies. The leading man is 'much shorter than we imagined,' or 'we never imagined' the leading lady as a redhead. However, prior to objecting to descriptions such as these, chances are we did not actually have an original picture, derived from our readings, to compare with."
"The will is a kind of power. Something that is not the case will become the case once this power is exercised. It is not raining now, but a rain-making power will make it happen; the sun-rising power will make the sun appear, and so on. As far as the will of individuals is concerned, we talk about 'willpower,' and willpower is often compared to a muscle. To will is to flex a mental muscle which grows stronger through repeated use. Here the will is understood as a self-creating force which allows us to impose ourselves on ourselves, as well as on other people, and on our environment."

Book blog


Endorsement from John Sutton

The new cognitive sciences depict mental life as worldly, social, and bodily, not isolated inside the individual head. Erik Ringmar’s remarkable book brings mindful and moving bodies to life in striking historical case studies of dance and diplomacy, revealing the political and colonial violence …

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Judging a book

Cambridge just sent me three different version of the cover for the book. All are great, but there is one I much prefer to the others. …

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Endorsement from Shaun Gallagher

“This is astutely mixed with wonderful, entertaining stories from the historical record that help to make his argument. His analysis will appeal to anyone working in cognitive literary studies, dance theory, performance studies – but also the more mainstream political theory, philosophy, and cultural studies broadly conceived.”

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More emblems

I have continued to work on the idea of emblems that could start each chapter. It’s taken a long time to find the right images, and even longer to change them around in order to make them resemble each other. …

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