Transparently, this article started off with a cascade of titles.
“Cultural somatics is dead”
“Who killed cultural somatics?”
“A farewell to cultural somatics”
You can probably sense my grief, disdain, and resolve.
I think the way I have been writing over the last few years, under the anguished moniker of ‘Selfish Activist’, these would be fine and great titles, but I’m also trying to sit with a bit more with what is authentic and generative. Trying to engage with the world from a different place.
That said, I will pull no punches. Maybe even less so than before.
So coming back to talking about: “what does it mean for a practice to be cultural-somatic?”
Well, you might instantly notice that this isn’t just a debate about: “what is cultural somatics?”.
The relationship between a noun that references a genre and the adjective that is connected to it is an interesting one in the history of capitalism and culture.
For example, Funk is a noun that mainly refers to a certain kind of musics that were emergently stylized from 1965-1985. And this also informs genres that are further offshoots such as G-funk and Modern Funk.
But “Funky” as an adjective actually is even more expansive and diffusive than the noun of Funk itself. Funky refers to a certain kind of feeling a piece of music has and it can apply across genres to music styles such as hip-hop, house, jazz, and so on.
Now where the machinations of capitalism come into play – the contradictions that develop when something starts to dissociate from its roots. You can have Funk music that is not funky. You can have soul music that is soulless. You can have jazz music that doesn’t have that jazz.
I feel similar about cultural somatics as a whole.
This of course calls into question what gives me the authority to say what is cultural-somatic in the first place.
The truth is, I don’t know.
From the beginnings of my public career that started in 2017, I put myself in a fucked up situation by 1) out of naivety, branding my work as cultural somatic therapy, cultural somatic healing, and eventually cultural somatics because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do as a ‘thought leader’ or ‘field innovator’ 2) wanting to create an open framework for individual and cultural healing that is based on the foundational observation that cultures are bodies made of bodies so change is necessarily a fractal process 3) desiring to be in a community of practitioners that have a core orientation to life’s questions through the lens of neurology, attachment, and animism, that can be trustworthy-enough to work and play with because they aren’t in a cult-like relationship with ideology.
Fast forward to 2021 and now we are in a time there has been a large scaling-up of politicized somatics as an industry as many expanded their platforms or even newly set up their businesses during the George Floyd protests of the summer of 2020 – and they have been efforting to maintain their work at similar levels or even grow it further.
A side effect of this has been the explosive growth of politicized somatics promoted to the masses through online social networks … and my honest opinion of them is that a lot of the products being pushed are … well … adaptations of Westernized i.e. watered down somatic practices that lack a commitment to innovation and rigor, simply applied to addressing newly-identified ancestral-cultural traumas, in order to serve a pre-existing ideological agenda.
Basically, I see that we’ve entered the ‘jiggy era‘ of politicized somatics.
Along with this has come with some people claiming Cultural Somatics as a lineage with hierarchical authorship and accountability to very specific political ideologies, which of course puts my 1) 2) and 3) all into deep disarray and confusion.
The thing is, as much as I can get down to a bit of Jay-Z and Biggie from time to time, respect their skills, I’m backpack rap kid through and through. I grew my taste for hip-hop by first listening to my father’s Thelonius Monk records and was one of the first people in my local to ever hear the Fugee’s version of “Killing Me Softly” on university radio long months before it exploded as a commercial hit.
So having said all of this, what is revealed to me is that there is a kind of pointed pointlessness to ask what it means for a practice to be cultural-somatic.
Yes, there is a theory to Funk. There are ways in which funkiness is about hiding Africanist and ‘tribal’ i.e. animist musical sensibilities underneath a Western/white musical structure and there are certain technical musical devices like ghost notes, swinging rhythms, blue notes, and so on that create the Funk feel.
But the ability to recognize Funk is different. It is much more of a felt sense thing – to be tapped into indescribable essence.
Following the same logic, I believe what’s most important is the ‘feeling’ of cultural somatics.
To me, cultural-somatic describes a certain kind of attitude to practice that is subterranean, slightly crooked but makes sense, and it gives you a deep belly mmm feeling – but it also might scare the shit out of the square parts of you.
When I open my dreaming vision to what cultural somatics really is, I see the dank basement where locals gather after dark and the music is hot on vinyl and the air of ancestors is thick inside the joint. I also see the artist who has managed to gain respect and following without compromising their craft at a foundational level.
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
If it ain’t a bit broken, it ain’t cultural-somatic.