from "Writing and Multiple Intelligences," A Working Paper

by Gerald Grow, Ph.D.
School of Journalism, Media & Graphic Arts
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee FL 32307 USA
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The Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

The core elements of the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are control of one's bodily motions and capacity to handle objects skillfully (206). Gardner elaborates to say that this intelligence also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses so they become like reflexes. Along with these, you often find a high degree of fine-motor control and a gift for using whole body motions.

These abilities may not seem very impressive, at first glance. Bodily intelligence is not widely appreciated in our culture. Calling it an "intelligence" is almost startling, though less so after Gardner has called upon Marcel Marceau, athletes, actors, inventors, and dancers to make his case for a bodily intelligence.

Gardner cites a dancer's conviction that we all have the capacity "to apprehend directly" the actions, feelings, or dynamic abilities of other people, without help from words or pictures (228). Dancers and actors draw on this ability; so do architects, who speak of "feeling in their bodies" the mass and proportion of a building. Surely this ability is at work when I waltz out of an early Charlie Chaplin movie, feeling as though my whole being has been taught to dance.

What light does it cast on writing if you assume--with Gardner--that people function with a bodily intelligence of equal status to the linguistic and logical intelligences? Consider how many kinesthetic expressions apply to the experience of reading. We speak, for example, of being "touched," "taken," "gripped," "led," "held." We "grapple" with difficult subjects, and have "gut wrenching" experiences. Our stomachs turn. Our hearts leap. Our breathing quickens. We may tremble, sigh, and be "moved." These responses are rooted in kinesthetic experience. Jacobson presented evidence that all emotional responses are rooted in finely-tuned kinesthetic awareness. We know our emotions through the intelligence of the body; any writer who wants to affect the way readers feel must find a way to touch the kinesthetic intelligence with words.

Kinesthetic writing may be action oriented. It may also be tactile, motile, muscular. More subtly, the kinesthetic intelligence might be what makes a piece of writing feel down to earth, real, physical, sexual, funny, vital. If the kinesthetic intelligence is strong in a piece of writing, something beyond its thinking and verbal facility is likely to grab you at the gut level. It may affect you, move you, pace your responses. The writing may have a natural sense of movement. If you stopped to consider, you might say, "It breathes." Brown and Zoellner devote a few pages to analyzing the way Melville used a "dramatically kinesthetic rendering of mere process facts" to organize his description of the cutting-in of the whale (375). Their analysis illustrates a great kinesthetic intelligence at work in structuring a descriptive passage, as in: "This accomplished swordsman...makes a scientific dash at the mass, and with a few sidelong, desperate, lunging slicings, severs it completely in twain."

A writer who gropes for a way to say it that "feels right," may be seeking words that re-create the bodily component of an experience. This kind of writing is different from the translation of ideas or mental images into words; it is the creation of words which occasion a particular bodily experience, or which resonate with a complex and detailed bodily "map" of an experience. We may, as Einstein remarked in a famous passage, think not only with images but with elements of thought that are "of muscular type" (190).

Advertising researchers have measured certain physical changes caused in viewers of commercials: changes in pulse rate, blood pressure, and galvanic skin response. Surely writers create similar changes in readers. Writers may create very specific changes--physical, kinesthetic experiences--in the bodies of their readers, taking them not so much through a vicarious experience as through a subliminal but nonetheless real bodily response to the events recounted. Recent books by practitioners of various schools of "bodywork" document the extraordinary degree to which a "mental" activity such as memory or emotion is linked with highly specific muscular patterns. Older ideas, based on a compartmentalization of "mind," "body," "reason," and "emotion," have thoroughly changed in current psychosomatic practice. Though no single new paradigm has gained wide acceptance, what used to be dismissed mechanically as "the body" is now widely discussed (e.g., in Bliss) as a knowing, conscious, and wise organism which has a multifaceted relationship to other human faculties.

When we look for more information about the kinesthetic intelligence and its relation to an activity as "mental" as writing, we are likely to find help in current research on mental imagery and its effect on disease, massage and other body therapies, meditations based on breathing, and explorations that take place during deep relaxation (such as Autogenic training). Diamond describes how, in a healing method called Applied Kinesiology, it is possible to demonstrate how merely thinking a lie distinctly weakens a muscle being tested. For centuries, poets have been playing music on our internal organs; but current researchers glimpse only the grossest changes. The role of the kinesthetic intelligence in writing is still a frontier largely unexplored.

Gardner's thoughts on the kinesthetic intelligence do not take this direction, but the responses and memory of the body itself--the kinesthetic mapping, processing, and assimilation of experience--may prove to be a crucial factor in writing and reading. Perhaps we will discover that appealing to the kinesthetic intelligence, to "touch by mother wit/ things hid in their marrow-bones" (as Yeats put it)--plays a much more important role in writing than we now have the vocabulary to imagine. (Who among us has not been healed by reading--or writing--the right thing at the right time?)

The kinesthetic intelligence might be engaged in the writing classroom by closely describing an action, or by charcterizing a person through gesture, rhythm, and ways of moving. A period of writing could be interrupted by a kinesthetic experience, followed by another period of writing and a discussion of any differences in the writings. For kinesthetic experiences, you could do breathing exercises, lead the class in a simple part-by-part relaxation, or conduct some simple eyes-closed movement exercises of the kind described in Moishe Feldenkrais' books. Improvisations, such as Welfare Christmas, will also work: Using only mime, display an imaginary object to the class, then pass it to the next person who must transform it into a different object, again using only mime. Silent comedy offers a wealth of kinesthetic delights; Charlie Chaplin's shorts, such as The Pawnshop, The Immigrant, or Easy Street, are among the masterpieces now easily available on video.

Students can learn much from interviewing and studying those with kinesthetic gifts. The obvious examples come from athletics, gymnastics, and dance. But there is also the intelligence of touch that operates in gifted masseurs, chiropractors, and osteopaths. There is almost certainly someone in your community who practices healing by laying on of hands. Students can find kinesthetic intelligence in puppet masters, magicians, actors, martial arts practitioners, any in anyone with natural bodily grace. We are all products of the wisdom of the body; it is something knowable through sexuality and nowhere clearer or more powerful than in natural childbirth. Within the limits of your situation, these might make powerful topics for students to explore in writing.

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