Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

By Sharlene Hesse-Biber; Christina Gilmartin et al. | Go to book overview

PART 5
Representations of the Body

The three articles in this section reveal the capacity of interdisciplinary analysis to expose the ways in which both contemporary and historical visual and discursive constructions of the female body have produced and regulated sexual and reproductive knowledge with detrimental consequences for women. Anne Raine's "Embodied Geographies: Subjectivity and Materiality in the Work of Ana Mendieta" exemplifies the complex and nuanced analysis made possible by the collapsing of disciplinary boundaries; art history here is transformed by its intersection with feminist work in psychoanalysis, cultural studies, ecology, and theology. Examining two major aesthetic conventions in Western art -- the female body and landscape -- Raine shows how at the intersection of these tropes the female body functions as "the site of negotiation between materiality, psychic drives, and social and cultural inscriptions." In tracing the ideological history of the female body used as metaphor for nature, Raine shows how the body is deployed both to "support and to resist discourses of patriarchal, imperialist and ecological domination." She reads in the hybrid land art/self-portraits of Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta not only the personal narrative of the artist's exile from Cuba, but also the collective narrative of imperialist domination of the New World and more recent struggles for personal and collective identity in the diaspora. Mendieta's identification with nature, Raine argues, is not an essentialist gesture but a political identification with "modern industrial America's excluded others." To understand the ways the body and subjectivity are experienced in this modern political landscape, Raine turns to psychoanalytic theory. The uncanny effect evoked by Mendieta's photographs of the body represented in and by natural matter points to an anxiety about separation and death, to a confrontation with the subject's alienation from the maternal body and from the security of an autonomous self. Raine expands the terrain of he maternal as represented in Freud and Lacan to include feminist theories of subjectivity based on the concept of the "matrix," the maternal body as an ambiguous and uncanny site of both a founding separation and a connection that survives through contiguity and touch. Mendieta's art demonstrates how theory, representation, and politics are all problematized by the subject's entanglement with the incomprehensible otherness of her own body in its strange and irreducible materiality.

In "The Power of the 'Positive' Diagnosis", anthropologist Rayna Rapp examines the capacity of patriarchal medical discourse to control critical reproductive decisions of couples undergoing amniocentesis. Combining a social science investigative approach -- based on a sample of forty women and their families, sixteen of whom she interviewed and twenty-four with whom she corresponded -- with a discursive analy

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