Your first body is the place you live in. Your second body is not so solid as the other one, but much larger. In her timely essay The Second Body (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99), Daisy Hildyard, the Yorkshire author and science historian attempts to capture the second body by looking at it as a part of animal life. Eventually, her second body comes to visit her first when her home becomes flooded.
What is the second body?
Your second body is how you are everywhere. In an era of globalisation and climate change, every human individual has a haunting presence all over the world. Your first body might be reading Big Issue North on the train, but your second body is stretching out over the horizon in train fuel emissions… this is literal. You could trace chains of contact, in direct touches, from your hands to other pairs of hands all over the globe. You don’t usually meet the people who stitched your underwear but you are touching one another through your second bodies.
You set the idea in the context of climate change. Did the concept exist before?
I always liked the medieval idea that the King had two bodies, a ‘natural body’ and a monarchic body. That sense that the human body is a secret and private thing, but at the same time, it’s public property – it feels right to me. More generally, I imagine that humans have always experienced some sense that we are more than a single body.
Were you influenced by existentialism?
No! Life feels too short to make myself read nauseated existentialist texts.
In the late 1950s CP Snow warned that the two cultures of arts and science were becoming dangerously separated. Do you see a distinction?
I believe that the distinction is not real, and rarely useful or interesting.
Last year your house in York was flooded. What did that mean for your two bodies?
I should have seen how I was affected by climate change, but I was too preoccupied by what was under my nose – muddy spoons, river creatures inside our shoes. It happened at Christmas and I had a young baby at the time. The flood felt like a strange holiday but I don’t know what I was holidaying from.
Do our bodies have to be reconciled in some way for us to be complete or can they co-exist?
At the moment, most people (myself included) can’t really be bothered to do much recycling or hold our governments to account over emissions. When we become clearer, in our own minds, about the impact and influence of our second bodies, things will be different.
You write “I still have a deep feeling… that thinking itself is often a waste of time.” Is writing a way of proving to yourself it’s not?
In my daily life I don’t do much thinking. I go to work, to the supermarket or the swimming baths, and I enjoy all that. When I am writing I am thinking more fully, and in some sense living more fully, but I rarely feel comfortable with it.