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BODILY (Trans)Formations

Daniel Nourry & Nikki Sullivan

“[T]he body should be understood not as a constant amid flux but as an epitome of that flux” (Csordas 1999: 1-2).

This issue of Scan takes as its guiding principle the idea that bodies, far from being bounded and inert flesh-sacks from which each of us navigates and negotiates our way in the world, are kinaesthetic ‘inter-sites’ of (un)becoming. It is in and through the regulation and codification of ‘flesh’ that bodies come to matter, that subjectivities are formed and transformed. Of course, claims such as this are by no means new. In fact, in the context of post-structuralism, such claims have more or less become truisms. But simply proclaiming that bodily being is the dynamic effect of historically and culturally specific processes of inscription contributes little to our understanding of the complex heterogeneous ways in which bodies and selves are formed and transformed. Likewise, the uncritical celebration of the alleged plasticity of bodies and selves all too often overlooks the necessity of engaging with the question of how, and to what extent, particular kinds of bodily practices performed in specific contexts may (and/or may not) challenge traditionalist accounts of the body as inert pre-determined matter.

The papers in this issue were chosen because each of them maps, in detail, a particular terrain of bodily (trans)formation, and each explores the relations between the (trans)formation of specific bodies of flesh, bodies of knowledge, institutional and social bodies. Dmitry Mikhel’s paper provides an account of a range of new cultural practices and modes of organisation in post-Soviet Russia and focuses in particular, on the ways in which these practices (and their histories) (re)inscribe the bodies of Russian citizens, positioning them in specific ways in relation to one another and to historico-political ideals. Nikki Sullivan’s work is an exercise in ethical problematization which takes as its focus the debates which are played out across - and which simultaneously constitute - the body of Michael Jackson. Paddy Hartley’s images and the somatic technologies pictured therein, blur the boundaries between enhancement and mutilation, reconstructive procedures and cosmetic practices, the marked and the unmarked, raising the question of the role such ontological categories play, and the effects they (re)produce. In “The Monster Body of Myra Hindley”, Cathy Hawkins explores cultural narratives of monstrosity particularly as they pertain to feminine embodiment, and the (en)gendering of criminality. Harminder Kaur’s “Producing Identity: Elective Amputation and Disability” examines the ways in which changing conceptions of self-demand amputation could be said to illuminate issues about bodily boundaries and the production of disability. Similarly, Margrit Shildrick’s paper challenges the normative characterisation of disabled bodies as necessarily non-sexual, arguing that in fact their very dis-organisation, and their necessarily overt contiguities with an array of others, better enables such figures to breach the boundaries and explore what lies beyond the normative limits. Petra Boynton’s work is also concerned with mapping the (trans)formation of sexual subjects. In her contribution to this collection, Boynton interrogates the marketing of sex drugs by big-pharma companies, the problems this poses to men and their partners, and asks what, if anything should be done about this. Robert Payne’s paper “Digital Memoires, Analogues of Affect”, engages with the interface between human and computer memory, in order to examine how the construction of memory in an online context could be said to flesh out the spectral, post-biological self, inscribed as a digital assemblage of context-specific contingencies. Drawing on a number of insights developed by Deleuze and Guattari, Greg Hainge reconfigures pain as in(ter)corporeal affect, as a positive accessory of desire, in and through which necessarily dis-organised bodies perform the work of (un)becoming. Lastly, Daniel Nourry’s paper critically engages with the complex anti-corporeal logic at the heart of Catholic subjectivity through an analysis of the crucifixion as narrative event.

Despite their seeming disparity, then, these papers each contribute to the claim that bodies are not neutral, natural, and unchanging objects, by offering detailed analyses of the many and varied practices and processes in and through which bodies - and by extension, selves - are formed and transfomed. In other words, the salient factor connecting them is a concern with the matter of body politics.