Reconsidering the Life of Power

Ritual, Body, and Art in Critical Theory and Chinese Philosophy

By James Garrison

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Confucianism, Comparative Philosophy, Aesthetics
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438482101, 236 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438482118, 236 pages, March 2021

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents



Intercultural and Interdisciplinary Work: A Statement on Method

1. Subjectivation/Subjection

2. Autonomy and Appearance in Artful Ritual Practice

3. Confucianism and Li: Ritual Propriety, Music, and the Arts

4. Subjectality

5. Technique in Appearance

6. Somaesthetics

Final Thoughts


Offers a compelling intercultural perspective on body, art, self, and society.


Reconsidering the Life of Power examines Chinese perspectives on bodily self-cultivation and explores how these can be resources for working past the ritual scripts of everyday life. In recent decades, European and American thinkers like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler have called attention to the way that people live out ritual scripts in order to be recognized by other people such that they might survive. Philosophers in China, however, have a long history of considering ritual not just in terms of confining power structures but also in terms of empowering artistic self-cultivation. Out of this convergence, a response to Butler's The Psychic Life of Power becomes possible, along with fascinating implications for improving real-world experience.

James Garrison looks at art and aesthetics as a way of responding positively to the vicissitudes of everyday life. This means reframing ritual practice in domains like meditation, yoga, tai chi chuan, dance, calisthenics, fashion, and beyond as a kind of work that delves into and unearths society's long-accruing unconscious habits in a way that makes conscious one's everyday speech, comportment, countenance, and presence. The everyday body thus becomes an artwork, speaking in novel ways to the everyday self by revealing an alternative to the programmed ritual scripts through which most of us tend to survive. Reconsidering the Life of Power offers a compelling contemporary intercultural perspective on body, art, self, and society that bridges theory and practice by providing an actionable yet deeply philosophical approach to enhancing life.

James Garrison is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baldwin Wallace University.


"The volume is an inspiring read … it is already a commendable effort to make an ancient East Asian religious tradition seem fresh and relevant for important topical discussions in the humanities." — Religious Studies Review