To put it plainly, “the body” is made up of a variety of concepts; it can take on many different meanings. The first idea that surfaces is the idea of a person— a human— and their body. Each of our bodies are all beautifully and wonderfully made; they are unique. This uniqueness is a foundational element to the body. My second thought of the body would be the body of water that surrounds land— the ocean. As a musician, I also find my mind drifting to defining the body as the body of a guitar. These examples, of course, can include more, which I have given below. This list is at the least bit exhaustive of “the body,” but it is a start.
- The Body:
- The structure of a person
- A person’s limbs, organs, and bones
- A form of communication
- A form of autonomy
- A form of expression
- An ocean
- An instrument
- The base (foundation?) of an item
First and foremost, we must note that the body must often be taken as a whole. The word “body” is truly a mode for expression of a vast amount of person, places, things, or ideas. In a Buddhist text from 5thC BCE, Buddhaghoṣa’s comment on self, a chariot is described. A chariot has a body, the foundational work of its being. A chariot is made up of axles, wheels, poles, the chariot-body, and other parts that create what a chariot is. The word “chariot” according to the Buddhaghosa is “but a mode of expression” for these items (225). However, if one were “to examine the members one by one,” the person would discover that no chariot exists at all. Rather, a wheel exists, or an axle or wheel. So we find that the body, to be considered “a body,” must be taken as a whole in most cases. The question of what constitutes a whole may arise, as a woman who had her leg amputated or a man without a kidney still are considered bodies, even with a piece of their body missing. To answer this question, I find that we must consider the basic structure to be there, as a structure is a form of body. Buddhaghosa incorporates the example of a tree, with all its branches, foliage, and its trunk. If we solely look at a leaf, we only see a leaf. If we see a branch, we are really looking at a stick. However, if you take the basics of what we consider a tree, a trunk and branches, we have the foundational structure of a tree. The body. A tree can have folidage, but in the winter many branches go bare— it is still a tree at this time, and so a trunk and branches are the base and are enough to constitute a body.
A tree is a part of our physical world, and some, like Dr. Robb, question what about ourselves and our world are tried and true; what is real? Under the Cartesian View, we know our own minds are real, but there is skepticism on the physical world that surrounds us— is that real? Although this question makes us ponder, the idea of the body goes farther than just ourselves, in my opinion. A body includes the non-living as well, like a paper, or the framework of a business, or the base of a ship. This is not to say that a body cannot be living, it can: a human, a tree; but life is not required to be a body (a decreased person in the coroners is still a body). Furthermore, a body is made up of multiple scars of its past. As we learned from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TEDx talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” there is so much more than one story. A body can convey a meaning, but that one meaning limits the interpreter unless the who perceives is given more insight than one story. The young boy that Adichie met conveyed to her a particular story; the boy’s body told a story through appearance, dress, stature, and mannerisms. This reminds me of Dr. Green’s Agusto Boal reading.
Agusto Boal taught the body with the concept of empathy ingrained within it. That the body does not hold just an internal function, but rather also feels and feeds on what is around it. (Feeding both literally (yum!) and figuratively.) Boal noted how the body had so much power in what it conveys. This is particularly highlighted in his image theatre, where actors create an experience through their actions, non-verbally, rather than through words— as it is most often seen. Participants were tasked with employing physical images, incorporating sculpted tableaux, and communicating their idea, message, or concept with just their bodies. [Click here for a personal story!] As a class, we delved into this art form by working with our workshop partner. Each pairing shared personal stories. These experiences are original to the teller, and although there could have been similar stories, no two stories were the same, nor are two bodies the same. Each body is unique and conveys itself in a different way.
We saw more of the body as a form of communication in Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight. Smith took on a multitude of bodies within her one body, and conveyed their perspective, their emotions of hurt, anger, and more, and communicated an overall message to her audience. Her body, unique as it is, was able to take a part of one of her interviewees and tell their story. She took her embodiment of others of different genders and backgrounds, and brought them together in unity. The story she told, connecting to Adichie, was not from one point of view either; rather, it was from multiple standpoints. She achieved this by changing her appearance, mannerisms, and dress.
The body takes on more than just a form of communication, as autonomy is again an internal characteristic that appears externally. The body is a form of this autonomy and expression. For instance, it is under my own autonomy that I attend church and express my faith as I do; my body allows me to do this as I internally believe and externally express. Under Constitutional law, I have this freedom of religion. However, in the past, there were many human rights that were violated, especially for Black people. In Dr. Fache’s unit, we read Le Code Noir where we touched on how a Black person’s body was not just physical, but it makes up who a person is. A person’s culture is implied with their body, as they use their body to express themselves. For instance, Jewish men often have beards as a representation of their religion. During the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Nazis ripped Jewish men’s beards off their faces to cause pain and disrespect their religion. Another example comes from those that follow Islam; followers use thier bodies to pray five times a day facing Mecca. This is an action special to their bodies due to their religious beliefs. Le Code Noir demonstrates the lack of autonomy when a person or group controls another both physically, but also culturally— and how that changes a person. Slave owners forced upon slaves a different religion than that of their native culture, and therefore took a portion of their history, and therein a part of their body (in a non-physical respect). Furthermore, slaves could be branded; a control of the body by marking it without consent. Sarah Baartman was not branded, but she lacked autonomy. Her body was hers to live in, but not hers to control. Because of this, I find that a body, in some sense, requires autonomy to express freely. Otherwise, it is not necessarily “your” body, but the person’s body who is controlling “your” body.
Although autonomy is a facet to the body, one never has complete control over how they are viewed. One can cuff their jeans and convey an idea on purpose or not, but nonetheless people will make their presumptions. In Rwanda, peoples’ bodies were analyzed to determine if they were Hutu or Tutsi. Even if they had papers, there were physical characteristics that would either convey the wrong race or make it much harder to hide one’s origin; regardless, the result was the same: death. A part of the body definition, I think, must be the requirement that the body is a perception. It is something that leads to interpretation and is something that can be seen or may not be seen. This connects to an idea taken from one of Dr. Tamura’s readings from Sontag; that oftentimes people see the other as someone to be seen, not someone who also sees. This is detrimental to our perceptions of other bodies, and therefore becomes a key part of the body as a whole. We must acknowledge that a body can see in some sense. If a person, they see with their own eyes and hold their own perceptions; if a framework for a growing business, it sees the business’ future goals and so on. It can see the present, as our eyes do, or perhaps see the future as a framework does.
So what is the body? The body is a structure, physically tangible or not, that must be taken as a sum of its parts, be able to be viewed with an open mind and from multiple perspectives— as each is unique— that holds
a past a history and contains a potential for the future. It oftentimes has the ability to express these past experiences in some way.
*italicized indicates a footnote that will be inputted at a later date.