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Corpus mysticum digitale (mystical body digital)?: on the concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology

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The purpose of this article is to analyse the theoretical connotation of the idea of our digital body surviving the death of our natural body, advocated by such evangelists of digital afterlife as Bell and Gemmel. For this purpose, I will explore the seminal notion of ‘two bodies in one’ first analysed by Ernst Kantorowicz in his The King’s Two Bodies, which details the emergence of the legal concept by which the king has both a natural body and a mystical body (corpus mysticum) understood as the everlasting polity. To explore the possibility of applying this notion to ideas concerning the body in the digital era, I will elaborate on two additional concepts, namely, the concept of diarchy in traditional authority, as proposed by Rodney Needham, and Toyo Ito’s concept of the natural and digital body originating from his peculiar view of contemporary architecture. Through the method of abductive comparison, I will discuss the limitation of Bell and Gemmell’s concept of an everlasting digital body, and the intrinsic lack of institutionality upon which the very notion of the two bodies of the king relies. Finally, I will introduce the concept of the corpus mysticum digitale, a figure, which, in the time of the decline of the power of ritual, legitimises the dead as a collective entity that lives eternally, but anonymously. KEYWORDS: two bodies; ritual; Kantorowicz; virtual body; mystical body
Corpus mysticum digitale (mystical body digital)?: on
the concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology
MASATO FUKUSHIMA
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
ABSTRACT The purpose of this article is to analyse the theoretical connotation of the idea of our
digital body surviving the death of our natural body, advocated by such evangelists of digital after-
life as Bell and Gemmel. For this purpose, I will explore the seminal notion of ‘two bodies in one’
first analysed by Ernst Kantorowicz in his The King’s Two Bodies, which details the emergence
of the legal concept by which the king has both a natural body and a mystical body (corpus mys-
ticum) understood as the everlasting polity. To explore the possibility of applying this notion to
ideas concerning the body in the digital era, I will elaborate on two additional concepts, namely, the
concept of diarchy in traditional authority, as proposed by Rodney Needham, and Toyo Ito’s con-
cept of the natural and digital body originating from his peculiar view of contemporary architecture.
Through the method of abductive comparison, I will discuss the limitation of Bell and Gemmell’s
concept of an everlasting digital body, and the intrinsic lack of institutionality upon which the very
notion of the two bodies of the king relies. Finally, I will introduce the concept of the corpus mys-
ticum digitale, a figure, which, in the time of the decline of the power of ritual, legitimises the dead
as a collective entity that lives eternally, but anonymously.
KEYWORDS: two bodies; ritual; Kantorowicz; virtual body; mystical body
1. Introduction
Man is born, lives his life and dies, ‘being old and full of days’ (Job, 42:17,
King James Version). Except for those deeply indoctrinated by a powerful
ideology against it, ritual has been an almost universal way of dealing with the
unavoidable arrival of death and the stark reality of our finite lives (Hicks,
2001; Stewart & Strathern, 2010; van Gennep, 1960). A large chunk of classi-
cal anthropology has documented the vast variety of ideas – given shape by
such ritual practices – about entities that survive our physical bodies (Ahern,
1981; Huntington & Metcalf, 1979;inter alia). Nevertheless, the body has not
been considered as merely a vehicle for the life-essence, but also as a basis for
creating new meaning, including that of society, out of its existence (Douglas,
1973; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Merleau-Ponty, 1962). In this article, I will
pursue this line of thought in a slightly peculiar way – by focusing on the
notion that two bodies exist, united in one. This rather puzzling idea received its
Correspondence: E-mail: maxiomjp@yahoo.co.jp
©2015 Taylor & Francis
Mortality, 2015
Vol. 20, No. 4, 303–318, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13576275.2015.1083696
first thorough analysis, at least in the context of Western historiography, from
Ernst Kantorowicz in his magnum opus,The King’s Two Bodies, which centred
on the legal theory of the Tudor era in the United Kingdom (Kantorowicz,
1957).
1
The details of his analysis will be outlined later in this article; it suffices
at present to suggest the immense theoretical implications and potential, yet so
far less-explored, for theoretical development even beyond the context of
emerging political theology in the transition to modernity in Britain. Kantorow-
icz identifies a web-like relationship imbricating the problems of religious and
political authority, ritual, personhood, institutionality, and life and death.
Using this concept of two bodies in one, this article examines the validity and
potential of a set of recent arguments about online memory, digital afterlives
and virtual immortality. I will take up a seminal argument by Bell and Gemmell
about ‘total recall’, the recording of every life event as a lifelog and the creation
of a new type of body, so to speak, in the form of digital immortality (Bell &
Gemmell, 2009), as somewhat representative of a variety of proponents of such
a claim.
To bridge the seemingly impassable gap between these two distant thoughts,
this article provides two additional lines of reflection. The first is Rodney
Needham’s anthropological argument on the general tendency towards dualism
of authority and its relation to ritual practice (Needham, 1980). The second is
a parallel concept of two bodies in one, the relationship between the natural
and digital body, proposed by Toyo Ito, one of the most influential architects
in Japan (Ito, 2000a, 2000b). Needham’s argument is required to point out the
striking aspects of Kantorowicz’s claim vis-a
`-vis the more commonplace under-
standing of the relation between body, ritual and authority in anthropology,
while Ito is called upon to prove that there has been a different attempt to
think of the body’s dual aspect in terms of the contrast between its natural and
digital phase, exhibiting a strikingly different conception of temporality from
that of Kantorowicz.
This rather reckless attempt to compare such distant authors may easily lose
credibility without proper theoretical justification. One such justification is the
use of what I call ‘abductive comparison’, which I claim is not based upon
the predetermined comparability of elements, but upon the effectiveness of the
concepts created by such comparison itself. In such context, even the surrealis-
tic de
´paysement, ‘the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine
and an umbrella’ (de Lautreamont, 2011), is legitimised if any abductive
concept is created through it.
In this article, the concept expected to be created through such a procedure
is the corpus mysticum digitale (mystical digital body) – a digitalised version of
the original corpus mysticum, a Christological concept quintessential to
Kantorowicz’s thesis and the passionate focus of a variety of contemporary
thinkers, such as de Certeau, Schmitt and Agamben.
2
The invention of such a
seemingly bizarre concept is to cultivate a new, if narrow, pathway to bridge
these diverse realms of thought – from ritual, authority and political theology,
to the contemporary issues of the digital body and immortality. To avoid the
304 M. Fukushima
lengthy and multiple annotations required for such an exploration, I have put
them in the notes, while the main text is confined first to focusing on the core
elements of each of the three above-mentioned scholars to examine their
mutual conceptual relations until they are boiled down to the target concept of
the corpus mysticum digitale. The latter part of this article tries to assess recent
claims about digital death, the afterlife and immortality through the lens of this
concept to discuss what has been missing in the previous arguments on this
issue, while suggesting the possibility of situating the subject of digitality in a
wider theoretical scope not attempted thus far.
2. Needham: ritual and authority in dual sovereignty
Both the universality and the distinctiveness of the notion of two bodies of the
king should be illuminated in the light of a more general thesis about the rela-
tion among ritual, power and authority. In the field of classical social anthro-
pology, authority figures in the so-called traditional societies have often been
conceived as belonging to two distinctive realms. Needham has collected many
such cases in his anthropological work and has named it ‘dual sovereignty’
(Needham, 1980).
The introduction of his article – the description of the windows in the old
library of All Souls College, where figures of English kings are faced with
archbishops of Canterbury and the four Latin Fathers (1980, p. 63) – leads to his
main thesis: ‘a partition of forces to which men are subject into a diarchy defined
as jural mystical’ (1980, pp. 70–71). The evidence that Needham provides is
abundant, from Dumezil’s analysis of Indo-European myths, to the secular power
of the brother and the mystical power of the sister in Japan’s islands (1980,
pp. 73–88). Despite the well-known limitation of such a structuralist approach,
his proposal of an ‘elementary classification of powers’ (1980, p. 88) is also
attractive in distinguishing his king from that of Kantorowicz.
Interestingly, Needham hinted that this tendency for bifurcation might be
attributable to the dual functions of our brains; to do credit to this universal
claim of the bifurcation of the jural and the mystical, historical sociology may
show that this tendency multiplies itself. Max Weber’s exegesis (Weber, 1978)
of the further division of the authorities of both church and kingship, the for-
mer being divided between its legalistic bureaucracy and the countering
monasticism, the latter being bifurcated between political machinery and
charismatic divination, can be regarded as an interesting corroboration of such
a universalist claim.
3. Kantorowicz: The King’s Two Bodies
At a glance, Kantowowicz’s analysis of the King’s Two Bodies may seem to be
merely a further example of this universal tendency, yet the subtle difference
between these two schools of thought will reveal its pivotal importance for the
Concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology 305
following argument. As a historian of mediaeval political thought, Kantorowicz
noticed a seemingly strange formulation of kingship in the writings and law-
reports of the legal theoreticians of the Tudor era – the idea that the king has
two distinctive bodies, a natural body and a political body. At the beginning of
his masterpiece, he cites the work of legal theoretician Edmund Plowden, by
quoting his Reports, collected and written under Queen Elizabeth I:
that by the Common Law no Act which the King does King, shall be
defeated by his Nonage. For the king has two Bodies, viz., a Body natural
and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body
mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the
Imbecility of Infancy or old Age, and to the like Defects that happen to the
natural Bodies of other People. But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be
seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for
the Direction of the People, and the Management of the public weal, and this
body is utterly void of Infancy, and old Age, and other natural defects and
Imbecilities, which the Body natural is subject to, and for this Cause, what
the king does in his Body politic, cannot be invalidated or frustrated by any
Disability in his natural Body. (quoted in Kantorowicz, 1957,p.7)
The natural body of the king is his physical, mortal body, which will vanish in
due course. Yet the other body, the political body of the king, does not die and
lives eternally even after the king’s death. These two bodies are unified in the
existing body of the king. This seemingly bizarre formulation was very influen-
tial in the legal thought of the time, and Kantorowicz traces various historical
precedents to show how this notion of two bodies developed in English political
thought.
He argues that the development of this idea was stimulated largely by an
analogy with the duality of Christ’s divinity and humanity. In fact, even in the
twelfth century, the Norman Anonymous, an unknown cleric presumably from
Normandy, who wrote passionately on kingship, was insisting that the king had
a dual personality, that of nature and that of grace – which the writer calls
gemina persona, the ‘twin character’ (1957, p. 49). However, Kantorowicz notes
that this should not be understood as a sociological distinction between person
and office (1957, p. 59).
In this context, one of the most important features for creating such distinc-
tion of two bodies is the general notion of corpus mysticum, or ‘mystical body’
(1957, p. 15).
3
This concept at first meant the Eucharist or consecrated host
(1957, p.196) and then gradually changed into something like Corpus Ecclesiae
Mysticum, referring to the church as a corporation that survives the death and
substitution of its members (1957, chap 5). The rise of the notion of corpus
mysticum, he argues, is deeply entangled with the development of a new notion
of time. Time in antiquity was largely divided into two elements: aeternitas, the
divine eternity of God; and tempus, the finite time of mortal man. What arose
during the mediaeval era, however, was a third concept of time, aevum/aion,a
sort of continuity beyond our death (1957, pp. 273–284). Kantorowicz believes
306 M. Fukushima
that this new notion of time as a continuity beyond human evanescence led to
the idea that particular institutions, such as the church, would not die (non
moritur). This enabled the notion of corpus mysticum, merged with the idea of
continuity, to be gradually applied to various social institutions; personified
corporations, such as the church, city and country (1957, pp. 302–303).
The culmination of the development of these conceptual chains can be seen
in the context of kingship, Kantorowicz argues, in the idea that the king has an
immortal body, called the ‘political body’, which contrasts with his natural
body. The undying body of the king has its corollaries – its paraphernalia. The
crown (1957, pp. 336–382), the royal costumes used for funerals (1957,
pp. 419–437) and the symbol of the phoenix (1957, pp. 388–401) all represent
the continuity of the kingdom despite the mortality of the king.
4. Needham and Kantorowicz on ritual and time
Although Kantorowicz’s discussion of the genesis of the idea of the king’s two
bodies focuses rather narrowly on English legal thought, he also points out that
even in antiquity, a similar distinction can be found in more primitive form,
such as the borrowed notion of the duality of Christ to characterise ancient
kinship (Kantorowicz, 1957, pp. 439–446). He also shows that in France,
contemporaneous with Tudor England’s, there was the dual funeral in which a
king’s divine portrait and dead body were treated separately and given different
funerals according to these distinctions. He maintains, therefore, that this
dualistic tendency can often be observed (1957, pp. 419–437; cf. Ginzburg,
2001). At the same time, he repeatedly emphasises that, outside England, the
dualist tendency did not crystallise into a clear-cut concept of two bodies
(1957, p. 446). Had he read Needham’s paper, he might have generally agreed
with the universal tendency towards bifurcation, but he would not have thought
it enough to explain the particular development of the concept of the two
bodies of the king in England.
For a smooth comparison of these two authors’ thought, Needham’s cerebral
interpretation of the distinction between the jural and the mystical should be
translated into a distinction in relation to ritual. Needham’s examination of the
mystical indicates that it is but another name for the entity bound up with
the rigidity of ritual practice, while the jural can be defined as being relatively
free from such constraints so as to deal with the ever-changing issues of the
mundane world. Such reinterpretation leads us to clarify one of the most
intriguing points in Kantorowicz’s argument, namely that ‘ritual’ is not enough
to solve the problem of interregnum, the vacancy of the office after the death of
a king. Kantorowicz elaborately narrates the historical decline of the coronation
ritual in Britain. There is always a time lag between old and new kings, so that,
if a king can be a king only through the coronation ritual, the problem of the
vacancy of office cannot be solved. Thus, Thomas Cranmer, archbishop at the
time of Henry VIII, underscored that the royal ceremony was not necessary for
Concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology 307
the king to be king (1957, p. 318, my emphasis) and that, as part of kingship,
he already has two bodies, which evidently differs from all the cases in
anthropological research on kingship. In brief, one of Kantorowicz’s accom-
plishments has been to demonstrate the limitation of ‘ritual’ as the political
source of the king’s authority. Something more was needed.
Another difference between these two authors is the problem of time.
According to Kantorowicz, the legal theorisation was needed to legitimise the
continuity of particular institutions, such as kingship, as corpus mysticum (and
thus immortal). For showing such immortality, the notion of time, eavum/aion,
discussed above, and the material regalia – such as the crown as a particularly
durable material that survives the death of a king as well as a conceptual
symbol of immortal kingship – gained importance as the idea of the two bodies
of the king crystallised (1957, pp. 336–383).
4
This temporal aspect is what is totally missing from Needham’s argument.
Needham’s theory of bifurcation between the jural and the mystical does not
require any temporal legitimation because such bifurcation is hinted to be
brought about by our brain functions. According to Kantorowicz, the very
ritual was losing its power, probably at the time of the Reformation, accompa-
nied by a declining sense of the sanctity of ritual practice at large. This thrust
of Kantorowicz’s argument provides very intriguing material for us to re-exam-
ine the meaning of ritual, institution, continuity and so forth in the digital era.
5. Ito: the citizen’s two bodies
My conceptual round-the-world trip continues into contemporary Japan, where
Toyo Ito has been dubbed one of the most influential architects in the post-war
period.
5
Among his experimental essays on architecture, the city, and society at
large is a series of essays about the notion of our new sense of the body. In
1988, in a seminal essay entitled ‘The architecture that an android body
desires’, he proposed the idea of the ‘android body’ through the reading of the
classical thesis of Marc-Antoine Laugier (1977), an eighteenth century Jesuit
priest and theorist of architecture who suggested the origin of architecture was
the ‘primitive hut’ designed to shelter our body from the sunshine (Ito, 2000a,
pp. 453–454). Ito contrasts this image of the primitive hut on the riverside with
the contemporary city-dweller’s experience:
Yet the contemporary city-dwellers have already been equipped with the
sense of a body like an android. Because, in the forest of the city-space, these
mountain streams may be replaced, not only with streams of cars on high-
ways, but even with the invisible streams of electromagnetic waves, and in
the shade of the tree where people are supposed to cool themselves now may
find a forest of iron and aluminum with the sounds of synthesizers. (2000a,
p. 454 tentative translation by the author)
308 M. Fukushima
Ito insists that the kind of architecture required for contemporary city-dwellers
surrounded by iron, aluminium and electromagnetic waves is not the monu-
mental, classical edifice, but a temporary shelter, which he insists, fits our
increasingly android bodies (2000a, pp. 458–460). Ito used to be well known
for his lightweight buildings with temporary shelter-like structures; behind this
design lies the notion of this android body. His idea of the co-evolution of
body, city and architecture has gradually developed into the notion of the two
different bodies of contemporary city-dwellers.
In a series of essays, Ito describes the dual aspects of the body, using various
terms such as ‘android body’ (Ito, 2000b, pp. 25 and 50), or ‘virtual’ or
‘media’ body (2000b, p. 292 and p. 341). Ito believes in the growing duality of
our body and attempts to connect this bifurcation with the duality of city life
itself. Behind this process lies the increasing influence of consumer society, par-
ticularly that of the so-called ‘bubble economy’ of the Japan of the 1980s and
the advent of the digital revolution of the 1990s. Ito calls this aspect of the city
the ‘simulated city’ (Ito, 2000b, p. 142) or, using the popular trademark of the
American cling product, the ‘Saran Wrap city’ (2000b, p. 208). In this
seemingly homogenised state of city life, he, as an architect, detects an essential
difference from the homogenised space, the ‘universal space’ that architectural
modernists like Mies van der Rohe had pursued so vehemently.
He adds that this Saran Wrap city is both timeless and spaceless and has five
characteristics: homogeneity, transparency, fluidity, relativity and fragmentality.
The convenience store, he maintains, is a typical example of the virtual space
of the city. Use of artificial cling wrap as a symbol of virtuality based upon
simulation urged him to think that nature itself is bifurcated between the ‘real
nature’ that we know through our senses and geometrically abstract nature. In
his essay discussing Paul Klee paintings (Ito, 2000b, pp. 369–374), he tries to
demonstrate that Klee’s painting of shoals of fish in rapid torrents, streams and
whirlpools with similar wave-like lines that appear undifferentiated from each
other is intended to convey a new understanding of the doubling of nature in
relation to modern architecture (2000b, p. 327). The earth and water painted
in Klee’s works are the result of the interaction between real nature and geo-
metrically abstract nature (2000b, p. 173). Understandably, this dual concept
of nature corresponds with our notion of dual bodies, divided between natural
components and electromagnetic (or informational) components. Ito detects a
similar understanding of the duality of nature in Klee’s painting ‘Actor’s face’
where Ito believes that many dots and lines depicted in Klee’s paintings repre-
sent the flow of both air and water and the scanning lines on a cathode-ray
tube. He concludes that all of our bodies, architectures and even trees, each
with its own particular shape, merge into these two flows of nature (2000b,
p. 374).
Ito’s argument on the duality of bodies has obviously resulted from his
observation of Japanese society at the apex of the bubble economy in the
1980s, and his argument could have been subsumed into the then popular
genre of the sociology of consumer society, akin to Baudrillard’s (1994)
Concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology 309
conception of simulation and simulacra. However, one of the distinctive
features of Ito’s argument is his belief that the growing duality of the body
corresponds with the duality of cities and even that of nature. This is why he
discusses not only the Saran Wrap city but also the idea of informational
nature. He believes that this process of bifurcation should be reflected in the
practice of architecture.
6. Natural body and time in Ito’s formulation
Compared to the first two authors, there are a couple of novel elements in Ito’s
arguments. The first is the possibility of the transformation of our natural body
in the wake of digital technology. In contrast to the king’s political body, Ito’s
argument provides no reflection on the role of social institutions; he focuses on
the natural body per se, which he believes to be doubled by the power of
techno-science and information systems.
The second point is his understanding of the notion of time, which is quite
distinct from those of the previous authors I referred to. If his is largely in line
with recent discussions on the role of digital networks and virtual reality, his
radical position is reflected in his rejection of the distinction between the
temporal, mortal body (the ‘natural’ body) and our virtual body, which some
may believe immortal. Ito rather claims that both our natural body and virtual
body, so to speak, are ‘ephemeral’ – using a word he once made a motto for
his own architectural style (Ito, 2000b, pp. 55–70).
Ito believes that digital technology does not change the fate of our vanishing
body, even if it is digital. In this sense, Ito does not seem to be interested in
themes like immortality beyond death because even the seemingly permanent
modern skyscrapers made of ferro-concrete cannot avoid the fate of ephemeral-
ity. Even angels are, he might say, equally doomed to vanish in the course of
time. This formulation of the natural and virtual body, along with the underly-
ing assumption that these bodies are both ephemeral, can be contrasted with
recent arguments about digital memories after death. This is where Ito’s pecu-
liar thought may be a link between classical authors such as Needham and
Kantorowicz, and the theorizers of life and death in the digital era we are about
to discuss.
7. Corpus mysticum digitale
Our three authors tried to show that our bodies can be more than what we
are accustomed to, if in very different ways. Needham does not explicitly talk
about the body, yet his distinction between the jural and the mystical can be
re-interpreted, contra his cerebral interpretation, as the product of intersection
between the body involved in mundane practice and the body that is ritualised
or tabooed in sanctity. As his attention is towards the spatialised duality of
sovereignty and not the temporal transition of the body, the notions of death
310 M. Fukushima
and afterlife are not explicitly argued in his article. Consequently, while the
ritualised mystical body can be imagined as surviving its physical mortality and
living eternally in ritualised form, the situation of the mundane body is unclear
in his argument, because the jural, as an embodied institution, also faces death
and, as such, must also follow the process of ritualization. This theoretical
weakness is where Kantorowicz’s analysis of mediaeval kingship exhibits
impressive innovation. As discussed above, when a king dies, ritual is not
enough to allow the kingship to survive: a theoretical dualisation of king’s body
is required for the kingship to legitimately survive.
By contrast, Ito stresses a dual notion of nature. Rather than talking about
the death and afterlife of our bodies, he concentrates upon the transformation
of our natural bodies into two different layers, along with the parallel trans-
formation that involves the city and even architecture. This duality of nature,
however, is marked by his peculiar lack of a sense of continuity, in sharp con-
trast to the assumption of monumentality beyond temporal transience that is
very often observed in Western architectural thought. This is where we see an
interesting element in Ito’s understanding of digitality. For Ito, being digital is
largely a matter of a constant ‘flow’ of information, which he symbolises as the
lines crossing the face that Klee depicted. According to this understanding, the
digitalization of the body, even if it only adds a new layer to the natural body,
is still a part of the larger flow of the mortal body. He describes contemporary
sanctity as similar to a ‘shadow picture on the paper sliding door (shoji)’ (Ito,
2000a, pp. 249–250) repeating the theme of the nature that vanishes.
The tentative comparison of the trio thus far has shown a couple of intriguing
elements to be considered if we try to extend Kantorowicz’s seminal argument
into the realm of the contemporary issue of digitality and its relation to body,
life and immortality to the targeted concept of corpus mysticum digitale, the digi-
talised notion of the original mystical body. To reiterate, the concept of corpus
mysticum consists of three pivotal elements, which can be summarised as (1) its
extendability beyond the individual concept of the body to the wider realm; (2)
its temporality beyond the limit of natural body (eavum/aion); and (3) a dim
sense of sanctity differentiated from the more secular notion of collectivity,
such as the social, from socius, meaning companion or partner, as a collection
of individuals. Kantorowicz adds that these three elements both overlap with
and go beyond the limit of the ordinary function of ritual, shown in contrast to
the more universalistic claims in anthropology, such as Needham’s.
The comparison with Ito’s argument also highlights both the utility and
disadvantages of this concept when tentatively expanded to the digital realm.
What is visibly missing in the original concept of corpus mysticum is a reflection
on the possible bifurcation of our natural body under the influence of whatever
technology exists. By contrast, what is to be retained in the original concept is
its very basis of institutionality, both in terms of collectivity and continuity, shar-
ply contrasted with Ito’s ephemerality, which lacks both of them. Thus, the
digitalisation of the corpus mysticum should encompass the digitalised aspect of
our natural body while sustaining its original intentions. That is, this digitalised
Concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology 311
body should go (1) beyond the concept of an individualised notion of the body
to collectivity or institutionality, (2) which should also go beyond the temporal
limit of the individual body and (3) should bear a feeling of sanctity.
8. Bell & Gemmel: digital avatars and immortality (with a concluding
remark)
Now, we have arrived at our final destination, the digital body at issue. The
growing influence of digital technology, through which our personal informa-
tion, pictures and memories may digitally survive our deaths, has inspired both
academic and popular concern, which had led to the production of this volume
as well. Among this burgeoning industry, this section takes up the case of Bell
and Gemmell’s (2009) argument, based upon the project of recording all the
events of one’s life in something they call a ‘lifelog’. Bell and Gemmell record
everything to supplement the fragile capacity of their memories. They call their
plan ‘total recall’, and they claim it has dozens of benefits on many levels.
Their electric daydream has led them to the idea of creating a sort of virtual
self. ‘(W)ith such a body of information it will be possible to generate a virtual
you even after you are dead’ (Bell & Gemmell, 2009, p. 6). This idea is further
developed in the chapter discussing ‘everyday life – and after life’, where, in
place of traditional mementos and memories, they propose to create a digital
legacy made up of their digital records, which will create a sort of new image
(2009, p. 138). They elaborately narrate their attempt to re-create the image of
their close friend Jim Grey, and give him a sort of ‘immortality’ with the help
of e-memory (2009., p. 139). The pith of the idea is that, in addition to the
mass of personal records, they plan to use avatars and computer learning tech-
nology so that their image may interact with posterity and learn from that
interaction. This is what they call ‘digital immortality’ (2009, pp. 151–156).
6
Against this claim, discontents such as Mayer-Scho¨nberger (2009) have given
the strongest admonition about the growing danger presented by accumulated
digital records that cannot be erased. The concern of this article, however, is
not to participate in such ongoing controversies but to examine how this kind
of argument can be analysed in view of our concept of corpus mysticum digitale.
At a glance, we soon perceive a superficial similarity between their arguments
about the way in which the notion of temporarily going beyond the death of
the individual body is enrolled. No doubt this kind of conception of immortal-
ity is inspired by the advance of digital technology, in which digitality is con-
ceived not as its fluid aspect, as Ito underscored it, but as a source of
continuity or undeletablity enabled by its capacity to store data. In fact, this
resemblance is not thoroughly ungrounded or meaningless. Looking back to
Kantorowicz’s exegesis, the idea of the immortal body of the king was sup-
ported by two elements: the legal theorisation of the continuity of kingship and
durable material paraphernalia, such as the crown. Digital technology can be
312 M. Fukushima
interpreted as an extension of the latter part of such legitimation, without a
proper digital equivalent of the former.
Here, we can point out an irony of the digital era, which can be highlighted
when we reconsider the pristine role of ritual further. As stated above, a tradi-
tional funeral usually works to transform the status of the individual into the
collective category of the dead, principally as an ancestor. The individual goes
beyond the confines of the dead body, but as an entity that is socially anony-
mous, as traditional rituals change the person’s status from that of an individual
to part of the collective. Digital technology superficially guarantees a sort of
quasi-immortality, but it also retains individual identity, without anonymising
the dead. This is fundamentally different from what both the traditional rituals
and the legal theories of the Tudor dynasty were supposedly meant to accom-
plish. The king’s political body is needed because it is the institutional part of
kingship, to be immortal as a social institution, in our contemporary terminology.
In contrast, our digital body ala Bell and Gemmell or others can be technologi-
cally quasi-immortal while our private identity, the natural part of our body, is
not transformed into an abstract category as part of a large chunk of ancestry.
One may argue that this retention of personal identity even after death may
not be exclusive to our digital age. Portraits and photos are among the devices
used to preserve memory from oblivion (Hallam & Hockey, 2001). Yet
Kantorowicz underscores that the royal portraits should not be easily
interpreted as symbolising a king’s personal identity. According to his analysis of
the royal funeral in France, there was an expression of the duality between the
funeral for the decaying body of the dead king, and the more pompous funeral
featuring the glorious portrait of the dead king. Kantorowicz believes that this
royal portrait was indeed a sort of symbol of the continuity of kingship rather
than of the mere personal memory of the dead king (Kantorowicz, 1957,
pp. 419–437; cf. Ginzburg, 2001). Thus, while the proliferation of personal
images from painted portraits, to photos, to digital images should be under-
stood as signalling a sort of continuity from the past, the role of the traditional
ritual to wipe their identity out to craft the collective anonymity is equally
important to underscore.
Sharing similar aspects with ritual practices, the notion of continuity more
acutely matters in the case of corpus mysticum (the body political of the king)
because of the need of its transcendental aspect as a social institution with a
slight but undeniable sense of sanctity. In contrast, such notion of digital
immortality seems to lack this kind of defined relationship with institutionality
imbued with sanctity at all, against our (2) and (3) of corpus mysticum digitale.
Consequently, the digital body at present should probably be called, likened to
our previous neologism, corpus concretum digitale, (concrete body digital) as it
lives beyond our natural body with its concrete figure of digitally recorded past,
but without clear agreement as to its role in the social collective or any sense of
sanctity.
In other words, it seems to lack legitimacy, despite its quasi-continuity: the
vehement challenge represented by Mayer-Scho¨nberger’s proposal that amassed
Concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology 313
data should be automatically deleted is witness to this visible lack of legitimacy.
The imagined community of our digital body, a mass of avatars mimicking our
natural body and even interacting with the living after death, does not seem to
have gained the institutional support enjoyed by the political body of the king.
Even advocates such as Bell and Gemmell, involving a world of cognate digital
immoralists so far, do not seem to have realised the need to defend their idea
from an institutional perspective.
This is why these newly emerging digital bodies have still fallen far short of being
part of the large family of contemporary corpora mystici, namely the prototypes of
emerging institutions of any kind. Nevertheless, it all depends on how far this digi-
tal body, as a growing (con-cretus, ‘growing together’) body, may be approved as a
sort of newly developing institution. I am not so sure about their future. Some
may even suggest the possibility of bringing about a more society-like collectivity
by developing sentient avatars that interact with each other.
7
However, even these
arguments seem to be in need of a shared understanding of the Borromean knot
comprising (1) the role of the body as both the foundation and the cognitive
scheme of what the larger entity means, (2) the role and the limit of ritual for con-
structing the dead and (3) the socially shared and legitimised role of the under-
standing of what immortality means (a contemporary version of sanctity). From
such a perspective, the present level of argument concerning the digital body and
immortality appears to me to be both too individualistic and too obsessed with the
age-old mind/body dualism simply redecorated by technological enhancement. It
falls far short of answering the completely different set of questions aroused by the
seminal application of the concept of corpus mysticum to the digital realm in a
manner as theoretically fecund as its original version, which attracted such a list of
contemporary thinkers, from de Certeau to Schmitt. In fact, Kantorowicz’s own
reference to political theology was made with the intention of countering Schmitt’s
emphasis on the understanding of corpus mysticum in the horizontal way vis-a-vis
the latter’s more top-down understanding of it (Rust, 2012;cf.Agamben,2011;
Schmitt, 1996).
This is eloquent witness to the fact that a whole set of possible questions and
arguments awaits us, by tracing the less travelled path from the small island
rituals of Indonesia and the royal theories of two bodies, via vanishing architec-
tures to the growing number of digital avatars and our memories of the dead,
floating aimlessly in cyberspace.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes
[1] Jussen (2009) provides an overview of criticisms of Kantorowicz’s work, in terms of its
methodology, constitutional semantics, the author’s rather arbitrary use of evidence and so
forth. Kahn (2009) summarises Kantorowicz’s tacit argument as (1) the Christological
314 M. Fukushima
origins of secular constitutionalism and (2) the importance of the secular religion of human-
ity, contrasted with the stance of his contemporaries, Carl Schmitt and Ernst Cassirer.
[2] Kantorowicz’s pursuit of this concept of corpus mysticum is influenced by the work of de
Lubac (2007), who traced the historical changes in the meaning of corpus mysticum, and
sought to restore the Eucharistic origins of the essence of the church. Interestingly, the con-
temporary papal encyclical of Pius PP. XII, produced in his Pope Pius XII (1943), Mystici
Corporis, seems to return to the original sense of corpus mysticum by manifestly distinguishing
it from most ordinary associations in terms of its spiritual unity.Inspired by de Lubac’s
argument, de Certeau (1992) discusses the changing meaning (or absence) of the body in
the transformation of the notion of corpus mysticum. de Certeau schematises the change
from the union of the sacramental and the church, as contrasted with the historical body of
Christ, to the subsequent combination of this historical event with the sacrament, both of
which legitimise the church. According to de Certeau, this latter schema had the potential
to endlessly expand the notion of the body of the church. However, eventually the liaison
between the historical and the sacramental separated, which led to the formation of
antagonising camps of Protestants and Catholics, thus collapsing the schema.
[3] The cultural peculiarity of this concept is exemplified by the fact that it is difficult to locate
an equivalent in other religions. According to Dr Ryusuke Kuramoto, the words used to
refer to Buddha’s body (corpus mysticum buddhae?) usually refers to Buddha’s holy remains,
which are now maintained in stupas, or relics, in various parts of the world (personal
communication; see also Gombrich, 1988). In Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of the
Buddha’s body dramatically transforms into what is known as the trikaya, or three bodies.
This tripartite structure includes the dharmaka
¯ya or truth body, which embodies the
enlightenment; the sambhogaka
¯ya or body of mutual enjoyment, a body of bliss or clear
light manifestation; and the nirma
¯n
˙aka
¯ya or created body, which manifests in history
(Williams, 1989). However, these ‘bodies’ constitute a transcendental conception of
Buddha’s original body, and are not equivalent to the corpus mysticum that was later
expanded to signify the church as well as other institutional entities.Thus:‘But, in its
Christian guise, a common preoccupation or postulate, which excludes a priori any hasty
generalisation into other religious traditions, affects it entirely. Christianity was founded
upon the loss of a body – the loss of the body of Jesus Christ, compounded with the loss of
the “body” of Israel, of a “nation” and its genealogy.’ (Italics in original) (de Certeau,
1992, p. 81; cf. Ginzburg, 2001).
[4] Many anthropologists working on traditional kingship have been inspired by Kantorowicz’s
analysis, but tend to understand his as claims surrounding the separation between the
person and the office of the kingship (Feeley-Harnik, 1985; Hansen & Stepputat, 2006).
Huntington and Metcalf (1979) thus rearticulate that in the African Shilluck kingdom
detailed by Evans-Pritchard (1948), the person of the king (reth) is only the vehicle of the
office of the kingship and is called nyikang or an ‘immortal culture hero’ (Huntington &
Metcalf, 1979, p. 165). Mayer (1985) also describes the two thrones of Indian kingship,
where the royal throne contains dual aspects as both object and an institution (cf.
Tomisawa, 1985). However, these anthropologists seem to miss the subtleties of
Kantorowicz’s argument that the declining role of ritual during the Tudor era necessitated
the invention of the legal fiction of the body political (cf. Fukushima, 1991;2002;2010).
[5] Joining the genealogy of Japanese architects with global reputations, Ito has proven his
worth as a theorist of contemporary anti-modern architecture, well known for his futuristic
Sendai Mediateque. Since the completion of this building, he has been committed to
exploring a new architectural principle, largely inspired by biology to replace the modernist
theory of architecture.
[6] Bell and Gemmel’s rather unsophisticated argument about a digital immortality achieved
with the help of recording technology and interactive devices can be situated somewhere
between practical arguments about how to deal with digital remnants on the web on the
one hand (Baldridge, 2009; Carroll & Romano, 2010), and a series of hyperbolic claims
from the diverse branches of the so-called transhumanism on the other. The claims of the
latter extreme range from a technical singularity that goes beyond human limitations
(Kurzweil, 2006) to the possibility of biological immortality (de Gray, 2013; Rose, 2013),
to the uploading of our consciousness to a technological body (Koene, 2013; Merkle, 2013)
and on to mind-cloning and its diverse consequences (Rothblatt, 2013,2014; cf. Hansell &
Concept of two bodies in the era of digital technology 315
Grassie, 2011, for various criticisms of these claims). More sober, social science-oriented
approaches examine the proliferation of such digital images as the interrelation between the
self and the various aspects of its digital double (virtual identity, digital effigy, Internet
doppelganger) (Graham, Gibbs, & Aceti, 2013, p .134). Waggoner (2009) analyses the rela-
tionship between self and avatar in terms of an emerging new self-identity, while Bollmer
(2013) underscores its performative aspects imbued with the cultural sense of anxiety from
fear of the failed presentation of the self. These approaches, while seemingly diverse, share
a fundamentally mentalistic framework, represented by their pivotal adherence to the
problematic concerning mind, self and consciousness. Even the occasional reference to
the concept of body – such as that in Graham et al. (2013) on the distributed body through
the web – is immediately subsumed within the problematic of the self and its diversifica-
tion.The focus of this article is sharply distinct from all these claims. In fact, none of the
trio above was ever engaged in such a mentalistic argument. In fact, a question like ‘What
is the consciousness or self-identity of the body political of the king?’ is thoroughly non-
sensical in the context of discussing the institutional eternity of kingship. Rather, the pivotal
concern of the authors above – especially that of Kantorowicz – was how the body may
expand to the wider realm beyond its physical and temporal confines, especially to the
realm where theology, laws and politics interface. Presupposing this extensive capacity of
the concept of body – and its very specific mediaeval version (the corpus mysticum) – this
article tries to pose a question about how such proliferating images of the body, including
the avatars that Bell and Gemmel and others stress, can have any sort of institutional legiti-
macy, just like the churches and cities that were once identified as the extended version of
the mystical body. In this sense, the controversy between Bell and Gemmel and
Mayer-Scho¨ nberger is, albeit ironically, more adequate to my present concern than, say,
Rothblatt’s (2014) theoretical fantasy about the future of these mind-clones.
[7] Personal communication with C. Graham.
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Biographical Notes
Masato Fukushima is Professor of Social Anthropology and STS in the University of Tokyo. He
has committed to a wide range of researches on comparative religion, theory of body, learning
and cognition, and social studies of science and technology. Articles are to be published in such
journals as Social Studies of Science,Science as Culture, and EASTS journal.
318 M. Fukushima
... Its development is closely related to the concept of the "mystical body" (corpus mysticum) in Catholicism, which I do not discuss in detail here. 1 In any event, this legal theory sprang from a perceived acute need for legal clarification on the status of the kingdom when the king is dead. It focuses on the fact that the throne is vacant when the king dies, before the next one comes to the throne. ...
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