Listicle

Here’s a distillation of he hypothetical thesis I am proposing in my PhD applications, arguments which also inform the work I’m doing in my MFA thesis.

  1. Our conception of the body is always a historically contingent conception. When we talk about material things that affect our thoughts and emotions, part of what we negotiate with is the doubling effect of capitalist logic. Logic like–metaphysical transcendence being carried through physical substances. Feeling is a product of inputs–even circulating hormones and neurotransmitters are seen as static building blocks of emotions/thoughts. The sense that we should have an endless capacity for feeling better, and that the experience of pleasure is the ultimate indicator of accomplishment. 
  1. Part of what’s interesting about writing about health subcultures is their narrative approach to the body-mind connection and their often oblique negotiation with racial, ecological, geographic, architectural, and economic influences on embodied happiness.
  1. The literary and aesthetic genres which form around these health subcultures are capable of resisting this quantifiable logic and the colonial conquest which is its foundation, but also are often active perpetuate it.
  1. Sianne Ngai theorizes “minor aesthetic categories” as capitulating lived experiences in late capitalism; similarly, health genres capitulate something fundamental–though often unnamed–about the world we inhabit.
  1. Siegfried Kracauer: “The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself.” (The Mass Ornament, transl. Thomas Levin, 1995; page 75)
  1. In addition to a sense–real or imagined–of participating in tradition, herbalist subculture and similar health practices permit a hermeneutic approach to the body in the here and now: a reading-into the body which doesn’t reduce its functioning to biochemical (or even social) factors.
  1. This hermeneutic form isn’t just pseudo-scientific, it’s incompatible with the constraints of scientific objectivity. But the cultures which surround scientific medicine tends to weaponize objectivity such that narrative healing modalities can be seen as nothing except pseudo-scientific.
  1. And yet, even popular culture circulates domestic practice, daily habits, and even objects as remedies. These remedies tend to be couched in some small shred of scientific evidence–look at Women’s Health magazine–or are so fully aestheticized as to become a doubly-sanctified commodity: handcraft-as-remedy.
  1. It is also possible that the hermeneutic meaning-making of an ailment enabled by herbalism’s energetic diagnostic system reflects medical under-determination of how a human body can be acted upon by material substances. That the impact of substances on physical functioning–and the impact of physical functioning of thoughts–necessarily requires a framework more nuanced (and literary) than the one enabled by biochemistry or pharmacology.
  1. Further contextualization of health subcultures with psychiatry could potentially open rich, nuanced explorations of the drug war and the devastating, cross-sectional epidemics of addiction. The criminalization of certain botanical substances also puts into relief the oblique ways in which health genres negotiate with indigeneity, colonization, and the historical vilification of traditional medicine.
  1. More than particular remedies which might bring psychological solvency, I think some of the most compelling connections between health subcultures and the mental healthcare crisis are obscured by the minutiae scrutinized in the former: they both reflect contextually-specific physical and psychological needs disavowed by institutional medicine and care-taking. 
  1. These are questions which acknowledge that care-taking and medicine are at times distinct from each other.
  1. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that thinking about that also requires a negotiation with the forms that spirituality takes in this disenchanted, neoliberal context