The World Made Flesh [Social Aspects of the Human Body]

By Baird, Vanessa | New Internationalist, April 1998 | Go to article overview

The World Made Flesh [Social Aspects of the Human Body]


Baird, Vanessa, New Internationalist


A long the white corridors are garish, coloured illustrations showing parts of the body I hardly knew existed, let alone cared about.

They take on particular significance now, some organs and their functions especially so.

We make our way, down one floor, to the operating theater. Above its twin doors are strict instructions not to enter. A few yards a away, opposite the doors, are a couple of table with blue covered chairs. Here we sit and wait.

Not for the first time am I aware of a horrible congruence. I was in the early stages of putting together this issue of the NI on 'the theme of the body' and had just finished commissioning the main articles, when there was a phone-call saying that a close relative has been taken quite unexpectedly, seriously, ill.

He is now behind those swing doors, fighting for his life.

Strangely, during these hours, while his actual body is undergoing a massive medical assault, it's not his body that fills my consciousness. Maybe because it doesn't bear thinking about. But I don't think this is the only reason.

As I gaze out of the window, up to the dark, ragged fringes of fir trees on the snow-clad mountains, I think not of his body but of his love for snow. And as I watch the birds darting and weaving between the eves, their lives and gestures so vital yet vulnerable, it's his vitality, his spirit that fills my mind.

After ten hours in the operating theater the surgeon comes out. The operation was very tricky, but it's worked. The patient has age and strength on his side.

The next day we visit him. The first thing he does, in between all the tubes, and without a moment's hesitation, is to beckon and kiss us each in turn.

And it's perfect. The simplest, most direct way of expressing all the love, fear, relief, hope, gratitude. Bodily communicating what desperately needs to be said, but would take volumes to say in words.

Body politics

Returning to Oxford I find, on my desk, the piles of books I'd started reading on 'the body'. It's a trendy, 'hip' area of study these days. Much of the work is being done not by biologists but by philosophers, psychoanalysts and feminist theorists, drawing inspiration from French thinkers such as Helene Cixous, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida or Luce Irigaray. Debates on the 'materiality' versus the 'discursivity' of the body abound. And a lot of it is frankly impenetrable to the general reader.

I flick open one of the less jargon-bound collections and read: 'The body of woman is the site where culture manufactures the blockade of woman.' My mind quietly boggles at the prospect. Another text offers: 'Poststructuralist discourse analysis engages with the extra discursive of social reality (social practices, institutions etc) and of corpo-real bodies (their physical beings)...' Well, there you are.

I find it hard to relate these writings either to the feelings aroused by the personal experience of the body of a loved one at risk or to the subjects that lie at the heart of the New Internationalist's concerns. Issues like the right to the basic, vital things your body needs to survive: food, water, shelter, access to healthcare. The right not to have your body violated by others, be they oppressive regimes, employers or those with most clout within your family or community.

But there is a connection. These texts may not dwell on what bodies need, but they do examine what bodies 'mean'. And what bodies 'mean' in a particular culture or society actually plays a crucial role in determining who can have what they need in their lives and who can't.

More explicitly, inequalities in the world are established and maintained by the 'meaning' that we give different bodies.

It's often extremely crude. For example, in many parts of the world, if you are born with a female body you are automatically denied control over your own life. You are the possession of your father or your brothers or your uncles until you become that of your husband and later your sons. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The World Made Flesh [Social Aspects of the Human Body]
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.