Theorizing the Body

The Vitruvian Man

by Casey Sloan

We rely on images of the human body in advertising, in art, in visual arguments, and, quite simply, in navigating everyday social life. Over the years, many philosophers and theorists have grappled with questions like: What constitutes the body? Can the body think? How is the body produced? Why are some bodies more socially acceptable or desirable than others?

Bathroom Stalls In Orange Is the New Black

 Poster for Orange Is the New Black. Various inmates look out at the camera from bathroom stalls without doors

Image Credit: Heroine TV


Given my fascination with what's visually acceptable and what's considered outré or even repulsive about women's bodies, I'm personally shocked that I haven't yet made time to talk about Orange Is the New Black, a semi-new Netflix Original Series. Season 1 appeared en masse on July 11, and I, for one, lost a few days of my life greedily devouring every single hour-long episode. The premise at first gave me pause. An upper-middle-class white woman, Piper Chapman, is incarcerated years after the fact for helping an old girlfriend smuggle drug money across some international borders. Trials and tribulations for her ensue in a women's prison. I was a bit concerned that the show would make light of its own topic and elide very real health, safety and human rights issues facing minority women serving time. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful, sympathetic way with which the show attempts to deal with sociopolitical issues. The cycle of poverty, drug use and LGBQT discrimination all get decent airtime, and, though I'm a bit removed from the experience, I can't recall many particular moments that made me cringe (though I do plan on using a later post to discuss the show's treatment of abortion).


An interview with Susan B.A. Somers-Willett (Part II)

Screen shot, Susan B.A. Somers-Willett, Wild Animals I Have Known pamplisest via Landmarks

Last week I posted Part I of my interview with Susan Somers-Willett. Today I'm excited to bring you Part II in which we continue to talk digital poetics and new uses of ekphrasis. Susan holds forth on other projects, including her work with UT's Landmarks prorgram and the Blanton Museum's poetry project. We also discuss her upcoming work that responds simultaneously to the recent Abu Ghraib photographs and early 20th-century lynching photographs.

On representing "the city and its women": An interview with Susan B.A. Somers-Willett (Part I)

  via "Women of Troy," In Verse on vimeo

A few months ago, I happily stumbled upon and blogged about poet, scholar, and UT alum Susan B.A. Somers-Willett’s docu-poetry project “Women of Troy.” Recently,  Susan kindly took a break from her busy semester of writing and teaching to have coffee with me. We talked about multimedia poetics, issues of representation, the complications of collaboration, and the role of technology in the poetry classroom. Because the transcript of our interview is rather long, you can read Part I of our conversation below. I'll post the second installment next week. After that you'll also be able to find the interview in its entirety on our "Views" page.

Reboot: Bodies of Evidence by Emily Bloom

Museum of Fat Love

Image Credit: The Museum of Fat Love

H/T: Layne Craig

Amidst massive media coverage of the “obesity epidemic,” visual arguments have emerged online that challenge the terms of the current debate.  One example is the website, The Museum of Fat Love, which presents a collection of photographs of smiling couples.  Similarly, Newsweek ran a series of photographs on their website titled“Happy, Heavy and Healthy” in which readers submitted pictures of themselves performing athletic feats.  Both websites called for volunteers to submit evidence that individuals classified as overweight or obese can live healthy, happy lives.  The use of visuals in both instances is striking—both websites are predicated on the understanding that overweight individuals have been misunderstood (perhaps even vilified) in the course of public debates on obesity and public health.

Create, Skate, and Destroy: Architecture in Motion

Thrasher cover, Love square

Rodney Torres, 50-50 through Love Sculpture, image from Quartersnacks

Street skaters love architecture. Few people other than architects notice or appreciate the designs in concrete, marble, metal, and brick that comprise a city, but seen through a skater's eyes, lines of movement appear everywhere. Ledges, stairs, hand rails, and even (or especially) smooth concrete and marble elicit a joyful recognition of possibilities. Rather than an agglomeration of static structures, the city becomes an invitation to motion; the skater desires contact with the hard surfaces of the urban environment. Assemblage of body, board, and buildings: a intimate becoming, in love with (the) concrete.

Visual Rhetoric, Inhuman Gazes, and the TSA

an image of a TSA body scan

Image via TripAdvisor

As the first big travel week of the holiday season approaches, there has been much discussion about the TSA’s new body scanners and “enhanced pat downs.” There is a lot to be said about both the scanners themselves and the images that comment on the controversy, so in this post I will highlight some points of interest to inspire discussion about conceptions of the gaze and uses of the image.

Written on the Body

A tattoo on a woman's eyelid advertises a web site
Image credit: via NYT

Well, after today I will absolutely stop poaching all my Viz. entries from the The New York Times, but their home page is currently trumpeting a story on "The Body as Billboard" that I imagine any reader of this blog would be interested in.

Miss Landmine Angola

Miss Landmine Angola is an art project by Morten Traavik designed to raise awareness for Angolan landmine survivors. Here’s the Miss Landmine Manifesto:

* Female pride and empowerment.
* Disabled pride and empowerment.
* Global and local landmine awareness and information.
* Challenge inferiority and/or guilt complexes that hinder creativity-historical, cultural, social, personal, African, European.
* Question established concepts of physical perfection.
* Challenge old and ingrown concepts of cultural cooperation.
* Celebrate true beauty.
* Replace the passive term ‘Victim’ with the active term ‘Survivor’

And have a good time for all involved while doing so!

The project is complicated, seeing as it is based on the controversial beauty-contest model, but it might serve as a useful classroom example for talking about the body and the ways it can be represented.

via: Boing Boing

The BMI Project

Fat-acceptance activist/blogger Kate Harding has assembled a collection of photographs to illustrate "how ridiculous the BMI really is." Each photo title states the person's BMI status (underweight, normal, obese, and morbidly obese), and the range of representations is both shocking and breathtaking. My favorite is Moxie, the morbidly obese cat with a BMI of 58.6.

obese cat

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