Corporeality and Culture: Bodies in Movement, edited by Karin Sellberg, Lena Wånggren and Kamillea Aghtan

Review by Veronika Schuchter

For Rosi Braidotti the “cartography is not the moment of movement [but] the moment of stillness” and functions as a navigational as well as dialogical tool and, most importantly, cartographies need to be exchanged.[1] This edited collection presents such a moment(um) of stillness which the editors and authors alike use to navigate as well as think and push through cultural representations of the body on the move, while keeping the concept of mapping and praxis-oriented analyses central throughout. If cartographies are tools to prompt dialogue, it is very fitting that this collection is the result of the Bodies in Movement: Intersecting Discourses of Materiality in Sciences and the Arts conference in Edinburgh in 2011 and affirms the editors’ commitment to “provide a kind of directional map of various nascent trajectories within this field” (xv), therefore functioning as pioneers setting up signposts and paving the way for other cartographers to follow not only in their footsteps but also leave predetermined paths and so create more complete atlases of the relationship between corporeality and culture.

The collection itself is divided into three main sections each of which is preceded by an introduction by one of the three editors and encompasses contributions by predominantly early career scholars comprising, as Anna Gibbs states, a “new generation of scholars address[ing] the motion, e-motion and sheer commotion of bodies in states of becoming and relation.” Corporeality and Culture works its way from affect theory, with particular emphasis on the visual and sight, to the erotics of the flesh (or the lack thereof) all the way through to the relationship of corporeality with power situated in a Foucauldian framework.

Section 1 encompasses a collaborative project by Fiona Hanley, Tami Gadir and Irene Noy that is the product of their conference performance in which the authors wanted to explore questions of bodily awareness while listening and speaking in a heavily technologically mediated conference setting. Their piece in the collection simultaneously marks a departure as well as a return to the very corporeal prerequisites of (academic) presentations though Aghtan in her introduction and the authors alike recognise the “logos-oriented context” (1) of the conference setting, and, I would argue, even more so of the medium of the book. The emotional response of the spectator is examined by Charlotte Farrell’s chapter in which she considers her own affective enmeshment with performance art and views tears as emblematic of a blurring of boundaries between the subject/object and inside/outside disrupting the body’s smooth surfaces. Resonating the previous articles, Xavier Aldana Reyes’ investigation of affective mobilisation of film studies calls for a more thorough analysis of the audience’s “visceral and involuntary reactions” that tend to be ignored due to “their perceived self-evidence” (45).

Section 2 is dedicated to the bodies at the margin and relies heavily on Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of becoming. Both Elizabeth Stephen and Rosemary Deller discuss pieces by visual artists in their respective chapters exploring the flesh and the erotic and necromantic appeal it might hold. The authors lay particular emphasis on the works’ strong focus on the technological mediation and interference of animal and human flesh, ultimately calling for an affirmative alliance of art and science. The ensuing two chapters mark a shift from performance and visual art to film and literature. The figure of the cyborg is central to Sebastian Schmidt-Tomczak’s analysis of Ghost in the Shell that illustrates how “[c]yborg politics is active” (89) and transformative, not embodying an omnipotent subject but rather demonstrating “the flow of information through which our cognition emerges and constantly reorganises itself” (94). In her discussion of Angela Carter and John Cameron Mitchell, Karin Sellberg draws upon Socrates’ and Plato’s notion of love as movement and Erin Manning’s concept of a “choreography of becoming” (102); the writers’ creation of affective choreographies and love’s connecting and dissolving nature are essential in the protagonists’ becoming.

“Texts, like bodies, do things, resisting categorisation or definite signification” (113) writes Lena Wånggren in her introduction to Section 3 setting the scene for chapters on monstrous bodies. Jasie Stokes and Peter Arnds are both concerned with the body and its potential as a site of subversion during war-time. The former’s reading of mutilated and compartmentalised bodies during the First World War in Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone is informed by a feminist historical and literary discourse. The latter explores the body as a site of resistance under the Nazi regime and, by drawing on narratives, illustrates various instances in which gestures can be read as embodied practices of resisting that regime. Ally Crockford’s careful dissection of monstrous bodies and the scientific gaze reveals a curious inversion of that relationship; the author argues that subject that is gazed upon turns into seducer and exposes the erotics of the clinical encounter. The collection’s final chapter by Douglas Clark is a study of the relationship between Emily Dickinson’s body and her work, withstanding the temptation of impressing the corporeal body on the author’s body of work.

The editors do an admirably clear and thorough job at guiding the reader with their detailed and thought-provoking introduction of each section, successfully pulling together seemingly heterogeneous contributions and thus providing a fascinating collection of contemporary corporeality.

[1] Braidotti, Rosi. “Vectors of Affirmation.” Central Saint Martins, London, UK. 10 March 2015. The 2005 London Graduate School Bloomsbury Lecture.