Saturday, April 4, 2020

Rebecca Solnit - Postmodernist Body

The Missing Subject

Larry Wolf, Bed (2020)
The body described again and again in postmodern theory does not suffer under the elements, encounter other species, experience primal fear or much in the way of exhilaration, or strain its muscles to the utmost. In sum, it doesn't engage in physical endeavor or spend time out of doors. The very term "the body" so often used by postmodernists seems to speak of a passive object, and that body appears most often laid out upon the examining table or in bed. A medical and sexual phenomenon, it is a site of sensations, processes, and desires rather than a source of action and production. Having been liberated from manual labor and located in the sensory deprivation chambers of apartments and offices, this body has nothing left but the erotic as a residue of what it means to be embodied.

Which is not to disparage sex and the erotic as fascinating and profound (and relevant to walking's history, as we shall see), only to propose that they are so emphasized because other aspects of being embodied have atrophied for many people. The body presented to us in these hundreds of volumes and essays, this passive body for which sexuality and biological function are the only signs of life, is in fact not the universal human body but the white collar urban body, or rather a theoretical body that can't even be theirs, since even minor physical exertions never appear: this body described in theory never even aches from hauling the complete works of Kierkegaard across campus, "If the body is a metaphor for our locatedness in space and time and thus for the finitude of human perception and knowledge, then the postmodern body is no body at all," writes Susan Bordo, one feminist theorist at odds with this version of embodiment.

Section I. The Pace of Thoughts 
Chapter 2. The Mind at Three Miles an Hour 
Part iv. The Missing Subject 

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