Why do we need to call our bodies home?

leamirella's picture

(and this post has just showed me how important it is to save your work... I just lost my entire post!)

I came across this art exhibition called unmakeablelove (www.unmakeablelove.org) over the summer which I find quite pertinent to our discussions about gender, disability and how society views us. The exhibition is based off Samuel Beckett's "The Lost Ones". The viewer walks into a darkened room and is immediately confronted with images of dark bodies just roaming around this cylinder. There are various flashlights placed outside of the space and the viewer has the opportunity to shine a light onto these moving figures to see what they are. None of the figures have very distinguishable traits - there might be a hint of genitalia on one of them but it is not so obvious.

I made me think about how important our bodies are to us. They are important because society bases so many things about us on just our outward appearance. They are also important because we seem to be defined by how we look like and many a time, we are placed into 'boxes' based on just this outside appearance. Unmakeablelove made me uncomfortable by forcing me to think of the disconnect between my physical body, prone to society's harsh judgements and categorizations, and my internal mind which, while still prone to judgement, is an entity that can no longer be categorized in the ways that we have discussed. 

But imagine what it would be like if these bodies of ours no longer existed. If who we are is based on what we are internally. It seems like an abstract idea but if I said that we could create ourselves in a virtual space (as I am doing right now) it is quite tangible. Would we still be characterized? Does my online writing suggest that I am male, female, transgendered, crippled, straight, gay, bi, white, black, hispanic? I'm not quite sure that it does completely. I'm not quite sure that you can put this 'blog post' into a category. 

But my question here is really, why do we need to call our bodies 'home'? Clare speaks his reconcilation with his physical body and his mind as though it is so important. While our bodies help us eat, breathe, move, sleep etc. it doesn't do anything else other than put us into the categories that society sets out for us. So why is it so important that we cling to them? Why not just let our mind wander and our thoughts define who we are through simple writing and online communication? Why is it difficult for us to 'live behind a screen'?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

AmyMay's picture

Utopia? Intra-action Between Culture, Bodies, and Technology

I am very intrigued by your suggestion of a virtual world without bodies.  When we did our in-class exercise on utopia last week, such a world without bodies was all I could think of.  I agree with you that a lot of the issues we have discussed in class are necessarily tied to the body.  I feel that the problem lies in a disjoint between the cultural interpretation of an individual’s body and their experiences of subjectivity and embodiment.  If these are the two items that are out of whack, can we get them to coexist, and if so, how? Do they necessarily have to conflict with each other? If they cannot, are bodies or culture more important?  Which is easier to change? These questions remind me a lot of the religion vs. sexual identity question we faced in week 2.  In such situations where there seem only absolute solutions, can diffraction reveal a pattern in which these ideas peacefully coexist?

The way I see it, the body is culture.  As in Barad’s claim on academia, we cannot forget that the individual is not himself outside of culture.  The individual body experience vs. the cultural interpretation of that body are not opposing forces, but delicately intra-twined, each cocreating the other.  Eliminating bodies is eliminating a crucial social marker within culture.  It would quickly be replaced by other means of social stratification.  In this case, I am reminded of McDermott and Varenne’s point that every enabling act is also simultaneously disabling… though a world without bodies would open up new realms of possibility for gendered, raced, and cripped bodies, what about cripped minds?  We have talked a lot about physical disabilities, but not so much about developmental disabilities (at least not yet.)  In a world without physical markers, it seems that mental markers would become of even greater importance. 

Obviously, this vision of “utopia” isn’t perfect, as none of them are.  But what strikes me about this particular version is that it is not just an absurd reality that has no place beyond “The Matrix;” it is a cultural phenomenon I can see taking place right now.  Thanks to technology and that omnipresent authority—science—in many ways the body is becoming obsolete.  They make sex machines that can recreate the exact feel of a woman’s mouth that correspond to video… making women obsolete, as the host of this webisode claims.  You can buy at-home electrode machines that stimulate your muscles, creating involuntary movement that give you a “workout”.  As a psychology major, sometimes I find myself a bit disturbed with how some branches of the field simplify complex human cognition down o neurons and chemicals that can be altered with drugs, machines, and a little electrical prodding.  So is the body obsolete?  I think in many ways it is becoming so.  But technological and cultural changes are slow.  I think it is impossible to conceive of a world without bodies, even though in many ways we are moving towards it, because as technological and cultural shifts occur, we as individuals also change in our own conceptions of our bodies.  As Barad says, we are not outside observers, but actors within the system.  So if individual embodiment and cultural constructions of the body cannot be separated from each other, how are technological changes affecting this interaction?  How do you feel your own sense embodiment within the broader culture is changing/has changed due to advances technology?

I’ll start.  I feel like technology has created greater space between my body and other bodies, via email, texting, etc.  As a student, I often feel chained to technology, the internet, and most dearly my laptop, nourishing my brain while neglecting my body as if it were nothing.  I feel that technology has in many ways allowed for the continued stratification of gender roles, due to scientific findings that legitimate the brain differences between men and women.  I think it is technology that gives science the authority to claim such differences as fundamental and unavoidable, excusing/ignoring its own role in legitimizing stereotypes and prejudice, as if the days of sex-based discrimination ended in the 1970s.  However, technology has also given me access to body modification communities that empower me and give me a sense of corporeal agency.  Someday, technology will allow me to create a new body, without fearing death from childbirth. 

To answer leamirella’s question, for me personally it is not just my body, or just technology that are important, but how they intra-act.  My attachment to my body stems not just from what it allows me to do, or how my social identity is constructed upon it, but in how its capacities enable the social acts that form my identity (i.e as a student, woman, likely future-mother.)  This is fundamentally how I see the issue of embodiment—as a set of social acts, and from this perspective, it becomes very clear how disability could take such a toll on social identity, such as through the desexualization that Eli Claire discusses.  As an enabling and disabling force, technology is instrumental in altering the relationship between the body and social acts.  

AmyMay's picture

Utopia? Intra-action Between Culture, Bodies, and Technology

I am very intrigued by your suggestion of a virtual world without bodies.  When we did our in-class exercise on utopia last week, such a world without bodies was all I could think of.  I agree with you that a lot of the issues we have discussed in class are necessarily tied to the body.  I feel that the problem lies in a disjoint between the cultural interpretation of an individual’s body and their experiences of subjectivity and embodiment.  If these are the two items that are out of whack, can we get them to coexist, and if so, how? Do they necessarily have to conflict with each other? If they cannot, are bodies or culture more important?  Which is easier to change? These questions remind me a lot of the religion vs. sexual identity question we faced in week 2.  In such situations where there seem only absolute solutions, can diffraction reveal a pattern in which these ideas peacefully coexist?

The way I see it, the body is culture.  As in Barad’s claim on academia, we cannot forget that the individual is not himself outside of culture.  The individual body experience vs. the cultural interpretation of that body are not opposing forces, but delicately intra-twined, each cocreating the other.  Eliminating bodies is eliminating a crucial social marker within culture.  It would quickly be replaced by other means of social stratification.  In this case, I am reminded of McDermott and Varenne’s point that every enabling act is also simultaneously disabling… though a world without bodies would open up new realms of possibility for gendered, raced, and cripped bodies, what about cripped minds?  We have talked a lot about physical disabilities, but not so much about developmental disabilities (at least not yet.)  In a world without physical markers, it seems that mental markers would become of even greater importance. 

Obviously, this vision of “utopia” isn’t perfect, as none of them are.  But what strikes me about this particular version is that it is not just an absurd reality that has no place beyond “The Matrix;” it is a cultural phenomenon I can see taking place right now.  Thanks to technology and that omnipresent authority—science—in many ways the body is becoming obsolete.  They make sex machines that can recreate the exact feel of a woman’s mouth that correspond to video… making women obsolete, as the host of this webisode claims.  You can buy at-home electrode machines that stimulate your muscles, creating involuntary movement that give you a “workout”.  As a psychology major, sometimes I find myself a bit disturbed with how some branches of the field simplify complex human cognition down o neurons and chemicals that can be altered with drugs, machines, and a little electrical prodding.  So is the body obsolete?  I think in many ways it is becoming so.  But technological and cultural changes are slow.  I think it is impossible to conceive of a world without bodies, even though in many ways we are moving towards it, because as technological and cultural shifts occur, we as individuals also change in our own conceptions of our bodies.  As Barad says, we are not outside observers, but actors within the system.  So if individual embodiment and cultural constructions of the body cannot be separated from each other, how are technological changes affecting this interaction?  How do you feel your own sense embodiment within the broader culture is changing/has changed due to advances technology?

I’ll start.  I feel like technology has created greater space between my body and other bodies, via email, texting, etc.  As a student, I often feel chained to technology, the internet, and most dearly my laptop, nourishing my brain while neglecting my body as if it were nothing.  I feel that technology has in many ways allowed for the continued stratification of gender roles, due to scientific findings that legitimate the brain differences between men and women.  I think it is technology that gives science the authority to claim such differences as fundamental and unavoidable, excusing/ignoring its own role in legitimizing stereotypes and prejudice, as if the days of sex-based discrimination ended in the 1970s.  However, technology has also given me access to body modification communities that empower me and give me a sense of corporeal agency.  Someday, technology will allow me to create a new body, without fearing death from childbirth. 

To answer leamirella’s question, for me personally it is not just my body, or just technology that are important, but how they intra-act.  My attachment to my body stems not just from what it allows me to do, or how my social identity is constructed upon it, but in how its capacities enable the social acts that form my identity (i.e as a student, woman, likely future-mother.)  This is fundamentally how I see the issue of embodiment—as a set of social acts, and from this perspective, it becomes very clear how disability could take such a toll on social identity, such as through the desexualization that Eli Claire discusses.  As an enabling and disabling force, technology is instrumental in altering the relationship between the body and social acts.  

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