Norbert Elias and swimming. A personal recollection (2011)

Let me begin with a characteristic and nostalgic anecdote. When he was teaching small seminars at Amsterdam University, Norbert Elias once told me, after class, that I looked a bit pale and should do something to invigorate my body. “You should do some physical exercise”, Elias said, “you seem to believe that the mind is the only thing that matters, but you have to pay attention to the well-being of your body as well.” When I appeared to be taken aback, professor Elias became adamant: “Do you know how to swim? Well then, I know what you should do. You should take a subscription to the Zuiderbad, that is the swimming pool next to the Rijksmuseum. You must go there every morning around eight o’clock. That would do you so much good.” The months went by, the admonition was forgotten and then, half a year later, I accidentaly ran into my old professor. Elias had not forgotten the conversation of many months ago and he asked: “And did you do what I told you to do? Did you take up a swimming routine? No, you didn’t? How stupid! You really ought to follow my advice, this is important!” I never forgot how concerned he was (and I never took up swimming). As can be seen in the beautiful movie on Norbert Elias by Paul van den Bos and Abram de Swaan, he started his days with serious exercises in his own swimming pool.

In his book on the civilising process the body omnipresent (….)

The opening paragraph from: ‘The Body and Learning in Elias and Bourdieu’. Lecture, delivered in collaboration with Bowen Paulle, on the Day of Sociology. Ghent, Belgium, May, 26th, 2011.