#eye #eye

Cassia Glynn Bray

I am personally no stranger to gut related woes. For as long as I can remember my emotional equilibrium has been intrinsically linked to my digestive system and my bowel movements. If my affect changes, the first part of me to notice will be my gut and she will communicate this to me honestly and unapologetically in the form of cramps, diarrhea, and constipation. In the gushing stream of confessions that make their way into our daily routines, our bodies are also humming their confessions. Bodies are dynamically archival in nature, down to our cells and DNA we are interconnected databases stockpiling information from our own and lifetimes past (Singh, 2018). These archives don’t just store they also confess their truths to us and anyone who will listen, and it is these confessions that I wish to explore.

Bernard’s dissected dog livers continued producing sugar even after they had been disconnected from the dogs’ bodies (Wilson, 2015). This demonstrates that a supposedly external substance can be produced internally and that organisms exist dynamically in conjunction with – as well as somewhat independently from – their external environments. When discussing somatic and non-somatic phenomena such as confessions, it is necessary to consider and define the difference between the somatic, the psyche, and the external. This task is complicated by the fact that the line between “mind”, “body”, and “environment” is essentially metaphorical. Landecker writes that rather than two concepts in a state of exchange, there is a “third concept” – metabolism – that is responsible for the dynamic production of both things, disrupting the idea of an organism/environment dualism (as cited in Wilson, 2015, p. 113).

There are many existing philosophical disputes with cartesian dualism as well, however I am inclined to use the clinical data for effective treatment of bulimia using antidepressants. Clinical studies investigating the effects of antidepressants on sufferers of bulimia reveal extensive interactions between the body’s organs and mood (as cited in Wilson, 2015, p. 62). Data exists showing that these antidepressants – commonly understood in terms of their effects on the hypothalamus to “re-boot” parts of the brain and cognitively to quieten harmful thought patterns – additionally act on the gut, which houses 95% of the bodies’ serotonin. In these cases, Wilson argues that the antidepressants are having a positive

psychological effect on participants by directly enlivening digestive flesh and viscera which reveals the psychic function of the gut (Wilson, 2015, p. 67).

The Hippocratic writers of ancient Greece referred to emotional states of hopeless dejection as melancholia which they associated with black bile, melania chole, accumulating in the liver (Wilson, 2015). Although today regarded as scientifically baseless, the notion of the four humours being connected to accumulations of bile within the body remained influential around the world for hundreds of years, and are the historical predecessors for contemporary scientific theories. Polyvagal theory relates to interactions in the anterior nervous system, a branch of the peripheral nervous system made up of the dorsal vagal, ventral vagal, and sympathetic nervous systems, which control the bodies’ fight, flight, and freeze responses (Kolacz, Kovacic, & Porges, 2019, p. 2). The theory posits that the ANS links the bodies’ digestive and immune systems directly to a spectrum of affects including joy, compassion, mindfulness, rage, frustration, shame, and depression. These historical and contemporary scientific perspectives demonstrate an inherent permeability within these systems and their willingness to be in conversation with one another.

Infant stomachs and bodies confess more than just their hunger, as demonstrated by the occurrence of rumination disorder or mercyism in dysfunctional infant-parent dyads. Babies with rumination disorder will intentionally use their abdominal muscles to bring up swallowed milk and food to hold in their mouths or rechew before re-swallowing (as cited in Wilson, 2015). This unusual behaviour is detrimental to the infants’ health and can lead to death from malnutrition. However, it is observed to be pleasurable and soothing to the child despite the infant having to experience the discomfort of forcibly regurgitating their meals, and the distinctive acrid taste of partially digested food. Children suffering from this condition usually either live in environments that prevent normal intimacy, such as neonatal intensive care units, or with a primary caregiver who does not or cannot connect with them emotionally. Williams suggests that this behaviour has a similar emotional purpose as the game of fort-da. The baby, angry at his mother for emotionally abandoning him but helpless to do anything about it, expresses his spite by repeatedly recalling the food she gives him and then casting it away again (p. 83). This game and the phenomenon of the phantasy show that, even before we have language or the critical thinking skills to describe our emotions, we can speak and confess through our bodies. The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein broadened and developed Freud’s concept of unconscious phantasy – mental representations of somatic events and instincts in the body – through her analysis of infants and children (Wilson, 2015). In the context of this essay phantasies are psycho-somatic confessions of the bodies’ needs for sustenance, safety, intimacy,

and sex. The most significant site of infant phantasy – confession – is the stomach (Wilson, 2015, p. 40). The unbearable pain of hunger and soothing bliss of having been satiated are the first objects an infant will encounter as she enters the world, the first human mind is a “stomach-mind” (Wilson, 2015, p. 40).

Over the years, my body and I have become confidants, although it isn’t immediately clear who is confiding in whom, since there is no concrete separation between me (mind) and her (body). The permeability of our relationship makes these concrete distinctions more metaphorical than actual, but as with my other examples making this distinction allows for a deepened understanding of the relationship between self and body. As I move through the world and the things I do and see affect me, I confess my innermost thoughts and truths to her through chemical reactions and chattering electrical impulses. She bears witness to these confessions, and she confesses in return with a collusion of hormonal changes, muscular contractions and releases, pops, gurgles, hums, aches, and pains. My autonomic nervous system ferries this multi-channel stream of communication, simultaneously a part of and messenger for the intersecting entities it connects.

Cassia Glynn Bray is a multimedia autoethnographic artist based on unceded Bidjigal and Gadigal land. Her work explores a range of topics, including mental health, the body, childhood and home through palimpsestic juxtapositions and the overwriting of reflections and sculptural objects. She is particularly interested in exploring the body as archival, vigorously dynamic, and conscious of its own agency.