Thinking through the Body in the 20th-Century United States

Friday, January 4, 2019: 11:30 AM
Hancock Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin–Madison
This paper examines late twentieth-century American visions of wisdom—not as an ideal—but rather as technê, or an “art of living.” It was at this time that a variety of popular philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual writers took issue with disembodied knowledge about social enlightenment and self-improvement and began endorsing various practices for cultivating, reproducing, and disseminating what they referred to as “wisdom.” Though diverse in educational training, religious background, and intellectual temperament, these thinkers endorsed forms of cognition and inquiry that utilized bodily rituals as a means for accessing human beings’ “inner wisdom” and for instantiating it in their lives. These practices were to provide a corrective to the dissociation between modern knowledge and experience, and a salve for modern problems. By emphasizing the role of the body in wisdom acquisition, these wisdom-seekers sought to challenge the persistent mind-body split in American intellectual life, while giving credibility and indeed authority to alternative ways of knowing the self and the world.
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