I have recently read Toombs’ paper “the lived experience of disability” as Massey mentioned it in her discussion “Talking of Space-Time.” Toombs recounts her experience as a person with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis and how this disability has affected her sense of space and time in many different ways. Namely, she explains loss of mobility changes one’s experience of ‘surrounding space, alters one’s take-for-granted awareness of (and interaction with) objects, disrupts corporeal identity, affects one’s relations with others, and causes a change n the character of temporal experience’ (20).
I highly recommend this paper a read for anyone interested in understanding what the world is like for a person with a disability. How one’s sense of their surroundings and themselves changes dramatically.
Toombs speaks of the body as not a device separate from our consciousness or sense of self, but a entity inextricably tied to how we experience the world. In her own words, ‘I am embodied not in the sense that I have a body – as I have an automobile, a house, or a pet – but in the sense that I exist or live my body (Toombs, 1992)’ (10). She goes on to say that the “lived body” is ‘the center of one’s system of coordinates’ (10). She believes that the lived body is the locus of our intentions (11), whereby our body reacts to concrete situations. There is a goal for every interaction, our body responding to an object or an object responding to our body to produce an outcome. ‘From my center outwards the world around me arranges itself in terms of near and far goals’ (11), getting a glass of water can be seen as an immediate goal but not if the tap is two kilometres away.
I particularly liked Toombs’ observations of Merleau-Ponty’s bodily space. She explains how through habitual tasks (much like Seamon’s body-ballets) we incorporate objects into our bodily space. Her example of a woman who wears a long feather in her hat or a 6’7″ man (like myself) who both automatically compensate for their new dimension when traversing a space expertly highlights this theory of expanding and contracting bodily space. Toombs briefly touches upon the phenomenon of “phantom limb”, a remarkable situation where a person feels the presence of an amputated limb despite consciously knowing it has been severed. “Phantom limb” is experienced when tasks that previously featured the limb in a pivotal role are experienced again with the same intentionality. Altering one’s intentions can flip this habitual mindset, re-configuring our body-ballet with the environment around us to compensate with our new bodily space.