Body.Meat of Flesh
The hand hangs limply down the side of the bath, just touching the floor and holding a pen between its half-spread fingers. This hand is the last outcrop of a body, that of Jean-Paul Marat. Having been mortally struck, the body is becoming something else. What do we see of this body (chair) pending its transformation into meat (viande)?
What we cannot perceive is when the transfer from Marat to Marat’s corpse occurs. That hand, and the position of the arm, might suggest a point of truce with the body. It can therefore be reasonably stated that a living-lived body may likewise be seen, a Lieb, in the moment of its repose. But it can also be said, in a knowledge of the facts, that a physical body observed, a Körper, is just another molecular object. Chemically composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sodium, potassium, sulphur and phosphorus, it is an organic machine just as Marat-en personne had described it: as Marat before he became meat, before he became personne. One prospect does not seem to preclude another. Indeed a third might be added: the body that we see is not Marat’s, present before me. Rather, it is the image of his body, the superficial representation of a carnal three-dimensionality, hence un-touchable.
What is “body”? What space does it inhabit?
Gilles Deleuze affirmed that in Bacon’s works, forces are painted. And yet, when confronted with these paintings, if we observe the circle surrounding the figure, the tondo which is at the same time the background, volume and territory projected around the body, we see not merely the forces to which the body is subjected, but the body as force, the body as the agent of a power inhabiting a space. What is “body”? What are its contract specifications? The body’s limit does not coincide with that of its figure: the body is projected into the meat of the world, extended and stretching along its outer field of action, even beyond. The unanswered question put by Heidegger is: “The body occupies a space. Is it delimited by that space? Where do the body’s borders arrive? Where does the body end?” The last word has not yet been said as to how far the power of my body may reach; nor has science dispelled the doubts surrounding this living enigma. The body is that complicated zip on the interface between exterior and interior, proper and improper, mine and yours. Oscillating all the time, with frayed outlines, it is as undecidable as a Möbius strip. The ancients were conscious of this: caro quaeritur. The body poses problems, it cannot be pigeonholed and it is impossible to catch it in the act. In this falsity of the body lies its shame: its being neither inside nor out, remaining forever on a threshold.
What is “body”? Who does it belong to?
The body’s organic mass may serve to repair other bodies only if it is seized at the right interval of transit from body to carcass, from man to cadaver. The dying body is perhaps today the most topical icon of the processes of redefined identity that gravitate on the question of the body as a whole. If it is a mere container of organs, an organ-machine available on the market, I may be allowed to ask who can claim possession of my body, inasmuch as it is or is not a thing. Are we really so sure that a person’s identity is linked to their cerebral casing? Don’t my limbs have memory? Actually, these questions are misplaced, because they are already bypassed by the urgency of reality. The in-corporation of the body with other matter, in its extreme forms of xenogeneic and facial transplant, already touches the idea of personal identity in its widest sense. And on the other hand, manipulation of the body is in itself a typically human activity.
What is the body? What is its substance?
The technological imprint extends the body’s threshold to unthinkable limits: the ear and sight potentially touch all of the Earth’s compass points, joining them into a single re-territorialisation. The body shown by the media is the result of an astonishing mixture of organic and non-organic. Dragged out of its physical limits, the body loses in substance and depth what it gains in surface. Having become at once the means and the end of communication, it has to be constantly changed, retouched and adjusted, in an exercise of textual composition. The theme is now no longer my physical body, but its public image, always expected to be worthy of the most up-to-date standards. The image is a widespread obsession of the lived body, associated with the likewise media-related manufacture of an ideal of youth and of static, halted health, for which the problem is not space any more, but time.
What, then, is the body?
The body is extended metaphorically too. In the Intersections of this issue, we try to give voice to some of the innumerable public and private perceptions of this vast region.