Body Landscape in Contemporary Cultural Field Topicality

UDC 130.2

Hanna Chmil
D-r hab. of Philosophic Sciences, professor,
academician of the National Academy of
Arts of Ukraine, Institute for cultural research
of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv

Abstract. The representation of body is in the focus of attention of postmodern and post-structural studies characterized by the turn to the phenomenon of embodiment. Body is becoming an object for manipulation, transformation, improvement, and cultivation. All this has brought the body to the forefront of contemporary philosophic thought.

Thus, the purpose of the article is to study the representation of body through the prism of modern models of corporeality that reflect the rising tension between the natural and cultural body and are based on phenomenological and socio-cultural approaches. Although the phenomena of body and embodiment have been in the spotlight of numerous research papers, two main approaches can be outlined: phenomenological (M. Heidegger, E. Husserl, M. Merleau-Ponty, J.Patočka) and socio-cultural (J. Lacan, M. Foucault, J. Kristeva).

For the representatives of the phenomenological approach, body is a general basis for human existence. This idea is, at the same time, a philosophical ground for the socio-cultural approach that regards the body as a participant of social processes in the context of their interrelation and interplay. Within the outlined tradition, I share the views of M. Merleau-Ponty who was the proponent of existential and phenomenological approaches to the problems of body and the discourse of embodiment.

Besides, he studied embodiment through the prism of the categories of existence and world, addressed the problem of meaning generated by the body and the issues related to the embodiment of socio-cultural senses. The concept of embodiment is radically different from the concept of material body as opposed to human spiritual values. Embodiment is a striving to overcome the duality of soul and body; to perceive a human as a whole entity, where embodiment is not equal to the physiological substratum.

Embodiment is a substantial category, an inherent part of our life, something we cannot refuse from under any circumstances. This paper is primarily concerned with the visual representation of body, body surface and erotic body. Contemporary philosophic discourse focuses on various forms of body manifestation and studies them from the perspective of socio-cultural approach.

V. O. Podoroha provides examples of such a body,

“…a naked, visible body, oppressed by touches; there is a disgusting body, body as meat, body of a wounded person, torn apart, flooded with blood; there is body as a corpse, some finite state of matter; there are bodies of slaves, bodies — robots, docile and submissive. At the same time, there are bodies that are objects of knowledge, objectified within a research project — a body without content, a deaf and flat surface…” [4, 70].

Such bodies as objects are widely shown in films (e. g. T. Burton “Edward Scissorhandsˮ, D. Lynch “Eraserheadˮ, “The Elephant Manˮ, “Lost Highwayˮ, “Mulholland Drˮ), installation, advertising, where a naked body is a driving force for trade ranging from fizzy drinks to cars. These bodies occupy nearly all cultural and discursive space, which results in the loss of phenomenological body.

In this context, M. Foucault regards the body as an object of power that creates a docile body in every epoch.

“Examination, surveillance, disapproval, prohibition, and control are some of the procedures of power that form a docile bodyˮ [6, 23].

“Grasping of the body and awareness of the body can be reached only through the investment in the body of powerˮ.

Clinic is one of the institutions forming a docile body. Clinic has become an important tool for placing the body into some frameworks and beyond them it loses its right for existence. Bodies that do not comply with the norm are exposed to strict surveillance. A range of repressive measures aimed at making them obey the norm is endorsed.

If these measures fail, the bodies are isolated, because the existence of bodies beyond the verity casts doubt on the absolute power of this verity. Consequently, the main challenge is to develop a new way of grasping the absolute truth, materialized in a set of mandatory rules. The spectator must not only perceive the body, but examine it, not only read and interpret the signs scattered over the body surface, but explore the places of possible constellation of symptoms.

The individuality of body as flesh is superseded by the typology of body as the locus of concentration of features — symptoms. The lived body “dies” in the environment of these rules and typologies, then individuality disappears not only as something unwanted but also harmful. The body is subject to clinical examination — eternally dead body, body as object, body separated from its owner, something that has become an object for research.

M. Foucault poses a question about the right for a clinical view of a human and gives arguments why a schizophrenic or any other clinical personage cannot be allowed to be himself and enjoy his schizo-body. My body can exist only inside a schizo-body as the departure from the norm.

Another type of body, body — canon, an illustration of the epoch of an “iconic turn” and the investment of body into power, has emerged due to television, virtual reality, and advertising. Ideal bodies surround a human everywhere, becoming more real than living humans.

A human is constantly comparing his / her body with the body — canon, because his / her body has escaped the human power as a natural entity and being alienated has turned into body as object. It is ruined and transformed in order to match the body — canon, as “the body — canon is an ideal norm” [7, 37].

Humans lose their phenomenological body by virtue of which they can exist, losing thus the connection with being, and immersing themselves into the virtual world. It leads to the necessity to return one“s body, to look for it among the multiplicity of bodies as objects. Socio-cultural situation makes humans realize the need to manage their body in order to turn it into an object [7, 59].

Besides, the contemporary status of human body is influenced by computer technologies that continue forming new body practices, adding therefore new distinctive features to the body landscape. Peter Greenaway, a British film director, argues that an excessive use of computer leads to the displacement of body from human practices and art. The appeal to the body of the creator and the spectator gradually disappears.

Consequently, as the activity of body in the production and perception reduces, screen is filled with escalating amounts of physical contact, sex, and violence. At the same time, computer technologies not only determine the appearance of new features of body, but also induce radical changes in the perception of a human being, contributing to the appearance of a “clicking human”.

“The potential of the human body is growing. It does not mean that a new finger will appear to ease mouse clicking, but some things that are taken for granted in cultural practices will insensibly change. New body artefacts alter the institutional status of the world and the way a human is assessed. The body begins to cognize the world in a different way [5].

Moreover, plunging into the virtual world of computers, a human being acquires an ability to change his / her body representation [1], eliminating the distance between him / her and the computer, including his / her body into the interface. Not only humans develop and master new technologies, but also technologies gradually penetrate into our bodies: artificial implants, implanted pacemakers, different prostheses. It has become a burning issue in the context of Russian military aggression against Ukraine, which has lead to deaths and injuries of thousands of young Ukrainian patriots.

Prosthetics, limb extension enable human beings to master their own bodies full of implants in a new way, to improve the abilities of these bodies, crossing the boundaries between the Self and Other, between the Virtual and External. The body turns into the machine and people must learn to operate it. But it only seems to us that we manage the body, because not everything is under our control, as the body “avoids the gaze” in a flow of senses, thus leaving us only with a ghost, the representation of body — “hollow body”.

V. Podoroha insists on differentiating between

“I feel” and “I master” [4, 143].

One can control only some parts of the body, while it is possible to feel the world in its variety. We can become body as object only if we separate ourselves from the world. Within philosophy of embodiment, the relations between the consciousness and the body are “the nearest vicinity” as the existence with the Other, which forms the horizon of other things [8, 139].

Body as object exists next to my body, it protects me from complete merging with the flow of life and dissolution in it: “The body exists, it is only that body we belong to and we possess. But the body does not exist, because we cannot find another referent for this body apart from ourselves” [7, 59].

M. Foucault explained the impossibility to dispose of one“s body using the example of pain. Pain simultaneously brings us closer and distances us from the body. No matter how hard we try to get rid of our body in order not to feel pain, we cannot do it and it means that everything what I know about the world is given to me through the body.

Body as object cannot be experienced, it is learned, changed, repressed,

“the body experience does not always become the experience of thought or it is better to say that the body experience is the experience of boundary of the mind (the way it is understood by Valéry), but such experience of boundary is experience-boundary, where the thought is trying itself in the same vein as something what this thought is: it is a weight of the body, it envisages the weight of this burden, which it is unable to measure and which is carrying itˮ [2,79].

The body — skin — membrane, which separates the internal from the external, does not allow us to get lost in an infinite flow of life: “there is no body apart from Body — skinˮ [3, 78].

Our interrelation with the world can be interpreted as the metaphor body — skin, because everything happening always takes place on the surface, in the boundary gap between mine and not mine, the gap that can be bridged only partially at the moment of touch. Body is always wholeness and in our pursuit of stopping it or possessing it we always grasp only its part.

Paradoxicality of the image of the body is accounted for its wholeness in the act of experiencing and its partiality in the act of its actualization. As a metaphysical category, defining the existence of a human being, the body as image is complete and, at the same time, it is in a continuous flow of incipience, escaping grasping and manifestation. This impossibility to “grasp” the body complicates the discourse about it, as any analytical discourse collapses.

Keywords: body, embodiment, body as object, body as canon, body interface.


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