Beyond the Body
The final seminar will be syncretic. Now that the body has been presented as an entity bound and defined by culture, we consider efforts to transcend the limits of the body. Artists have long been fascinated by the “what-ifs” of the body. Those in the premodern eras imagined supernatural realms, where bodies lived beyond death. In the early twentieth century, inspired by contact with new scientific knowledge and the anxiety of modernity, artists and authors imagined laboratories where the human form was replicated, mutated, and turned monstrous. Our focus now turns to artistic deformation of the body, to sexual/gender-bending, and to prosthetic and cosmetic manipulation. Rather than manipulating the body to improve its looks and to align it with cultural norms (as in Seminar Three), many seek to bend those norms, to violate existing codes of beauty and propriety. In our current age, scientific advances have allowed individuals to modify their bodies to meet contemporary standards of beauty—or in some cases, to disrupt those standards (bodies are re-sexed and de-raced). Seminar Four will look at ways in which we have sought to live beyond the body. We move from the premodern supernatural to postmodern virtual realities and the manner in which new technologies have inspired a radical transformation of the very notion of “body” and its limits. Here we will explore the body less as a physical entity than a cultural text mapping out the anxieties of a postmodern world.