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8. On the significance of animate form

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Abstract

When I look at a living thing, what I see and what first occupies my attention is this mass, all of a piece, which moves, bends, runs, jumps, flies, or swims; which howls, speaks, sings, performs its many acts, takes on many appearances, assumes a multiplicity of selves, wreaks its havoc, does its work, in an environment which accepts it and from which it is inseparable. This thing, with its discontinuous activity, its spontaneous movements springing suddenly from a state of immobility to which they always return is curiously contrived: we note that the visible organs of propulsion, legs, feet, wings, occupy a considerable part of the creature‧s total bulk; and we discover later on that the rest of its volume is made up of organs of internal work, some of whose outward effects we have witnessed.Paul Valéry (1964c:31) ‘The patient I will show you today has almost to be carried into the rooms (sic), as he walks in a straddling fashion on the outside of his feet…. [He] sits with his eyes shut, and pays no attention to his surroundings. He does not look up even when he is spoken to, but he answers beginning in a low voice, and gradually screaming louder and louder…. At the end, he scolds in quite inarticulate sounds’. Now it seems clear that this patient‧s behavior can be seen in at least two ways, analogous to the ways of seeing vase or face. One may see his behavior as ‘signs’ of a ‘disease’; one may see his behavior as expressive of his existence. The existential-phenomenological construction is an inference about the way [he] is feeling and acting. R. D. Laing (1963:29–31; Laing‧s quote is from a case study by E. Kraepelin)

References

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