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The Post-Theory Moment of Body:
Re-materializing the Corporeal, Bridging Critical Idioms, Conceptualizing Art

Periodic Report Summary 1 - THEORY/BODY/POST (The Post-Theory Moment of Body:Re-materializing the Corporeal, Bridging Critical Idioms, Conceptualizing Art)

Summary description of the project objectives

The project is entitled The Post-Theory Moment of Body: Re-materializing the Corporeal, Bridging Critical Idioms, Conceptualizing Art. It seeks to study the role, uses and transformations of the body within contemporary reflection on post-Theory. It builds on current work on post-Theory and on body-related issues within the Anglo-American academic context, and it opens up to the French post-Theory moment, the German Kulturwissenschaft, philosophical life-narratives, body-oriented art discourses, and theoretical reflection regarding the senses. The project examines the body as a perpetually re-theorized political entity, as a common denominator of different types of literary and cultural criticism, and as a way of overcoming the divide not only among academic discourses, artistic practices and textual genres, but also between different intellectual traditions. The issues that the project investigates range from questions regarding how the body construed in the current post-theoretical phase of the humanities, to whether reflection on the body is a strategy shared by different post-theories. The project furthermore considers what post-Theory gains or loses through its preoccupation with the body and asks to what extent the body facilitates post-Theory’s mingling with explicitly political issues. In order to grapple with them, the project reads across a number of corpora: fundamental theoretical texts as well as the vulgate of body studies (readers, histories and introductions to Cultural Studies); texts which are “parasitic” upon artworks; philosophical life-narratives; and seminal philosophical texts regarding the senses. The analysis is based upon systematic close readings, as well as on combined approaches and contextualized interpretations in an interdisciplinary and meta-theoretical perspective. The study aims to address the specificity of each corpus, historicize it, and propose a narrative concerning the body within the post-Theory moment. It is organized in five sections:

• The first section of the study seeks to understand the various translations that the body has undergone in its passage from the first (Anglo-American) phase of post-Theory to the second (French) one. It examines to which extent French post-Theory sees the body as an Anglo-American post-modernist critical mannerism, and thus contestable if not controversial. The study attempts to see whether, in this context, the ‘body’ does not become a metonym for the ‘post-’ of post-Theory.

• The second section is dedicated to a thorough study of German texts focusing on cultural aspects the body. Parallels with Anglo-American and French texts are made, and specific body-related concepts are re-contextualized and re-historicised. Emphasis is placed on the manner in which these texts anticipate, reproduce, or translate post-Theoretical reflection.

• The third section examines specific artistic examples, and the role of the theorized body which lies within them, in order to clarify the idea of post-Theory through the eccentric and excessive uses of Theory. This section considers artistic re-theorizations of the body both as a crystallization of the oeuvre’s argument and as a tool for the broadening of its own domain. Given a context wherein conceptual rigor might be equal to free translation in non-verbal visual forms, emphasis is placed on the productive post-Theoretical transformations and misinterpretations of Theory as characteristics inherent to it.

• The fourth section examines the manner in which hybrid texts that narrate individual corporeal experiences relate to the narrative, to the theoretical and to the political, and how this can be read as a symptom of a post-Theoretical era. What is at stake here is the localization of the post-Theoretical element of these narratives without the theorization of all fiction, as well as the examination of the conditions under which post-Theory can be found to reside in discourses situated beyond the Theory reader’s horizon of expectations.

• The fifth section juxtaposes the two complementary yet distinct theoretical enterprises at work in the study as a whole; the first involving the study of the cultural translations of the body and the second moving back to its somehow forgotten materiality. Its focus will be on the manner in which post-Theory is shaped, exposed or dissolved in these enterprises, and the section will further focus on the consequences of the return to a supposedly ‘concrete’ or ‘unmediated’ body. In other words, what is to be seen here is whether post-Theory should be viewed as a pro-body or as an anti-body enterprise, as a remedy for, or a counterpart of the de-corporealizing abstraction performed by Theory.


Description of the work performed and of the main results achieved so far.

During the first eleven months of the project, the following two texts were produced:

• The article “Between Two Transplantations, An Adoption”, Contemporary French & Francophone Studies: SITES 18:2 (2014) 164-171. DOI: 10.1080/17409292.2014.900928. It is based on Jean-Luc Nancy’s statement that The Intruder by Claire Denis is not the adaptation of his text bearing the same name, but rather its adoption. It highlights the fact that not only the “natural”, but also the “adoptive”, relations between individuals and the body fall through. Emphasizing the manner in which Nancy’s text and Denis’ film explore the philosophical and narrative consequences of a virtually false adoption that cannot give birth to a film-descendant, the article sees it as the only form of adoption that could understandably be deconstructive. This article is being translated into French and will be published in an edited volume published by the University of the Sorbonne Press.

• A second text, based on a critical approach to the state-of-the-art and discussing some crucial aspects of the broader problematics of the project, was produced. This text will be used as the introductory chapter of the proposed monograph. It is provisionally entitled «Operating Intimacy in Philosophical Life Narratives» and resumes, through a series of close readings, a number of issues that emerged out of the first round of readings and analysis. It indicates that intimacy, as a concept, can become the thread which unites the various different sections of the project, uniting the material aspects of the corporeal, and bridging the gap between critical idioms and redefining art as a work of conceptualization.

Among the dissemination activities figure the following events held at the Slought Foundation:

• Can Democracy Not Be Secular? This event consisted in a philosophical dialogue concerning the limits of democracy in the light of recent events of biopolitical interest. The event featured Stathis Gourgouris (Professor of Classics, English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University) in dialogue with the researcher.

• Skin: Totem and Tattoo I. This event included curatorial and anthropological explorations regarding the boundary between the self, the world and society. The second part featured the anthropologist Lars Krutak, who delivered a public seminar on the art of religious tattooing and a response by the researcher.

• Skin: Totem and Tattoo II. This activity consisted in an archive of writings on skin selected by the researcher. This was part of the Slought Foundation’s policy for producing and sharing knowledge and featured texts by Claudia Benthien, Georges Vigarello, Elspeth Probyn, Charles Baudelaire, Steven Connor, Jean-Luc Nancy, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Erin Manning, Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, and Jacques Derrida.