I’d like to think more about the phrase as a technology, as a unit, and as a part of various kinds of wholes.
This interest comes from the kind of historical work on language bodies that I’m working on, right now. The body’s entanglements are mediated by language in various forms: verbal, visual, oral, tactile. I’m interested in how different kinds of materiality emerge out of different narrative and linguistic contexts, and how different modes of materiality are negotiated in contexts of translation and in mixed-language medical texts. The history that I do, then, becomes a study not just of words, but of the relationships between, and the kinds of relationality that emerges from, an intimacy between language and physicality. Thinking about the relationship between language and physicality in the history of medicine recently raised a question for me: Where is the history of medicine? (I’m thinking of Bob Richards’s recent book of essays, where he asks where is a theory located?) So, at least for my purposes, where is health located? Is it in a text, a gesture, a word, a body, a feeling, an object? (The answer to this question determines what we take a humanistic understanding of health and medicine to be.)
My provisional answer, for a moment, and in the spirit of experiment: perhaps health is located in a phrase.
We can think of a phrase as a unit in multiple contexts: music phrases, fencing phrases, linguistic phrases, gestural phrases. (And these are just some of a much broader field.) In each case, the unit of the phrase is a chain of recognizable elements (musical notes, gestures, words) bound together, it’s a finite (usually physical) unit of action, and it’s repeatable. (And we can imagine other properties that we might associate with phrases.) Anyone with any experience playing a musical instrument know that it’s simultaneously a linguistic, sensory, and physical experience. (And thinking about experiences of music in terms of embodiment relating language and the material is, for me, similar to how I think about experiences of health.)
So, what happens when we think of health in terms of phrasing? We might think of health in terms of a set of ways of performing a body that incorporate repeatable, movable, translatable units of action or language from which the experience of health emerges. (This is more interesting, for me, than thinking about the history of healing as a history of medicine that often takes the form of stories of monolithic-systematic-wholes: biomedicine, “Chinese” medicine, individual disease categories, etc.) Health becomes a set of material relations between parts (phrases) and wholes, and those phrases can include activities like prayer, they can include words and names, they can include gestures, and they can include images.