… the body is not a thing, it is a situation …
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
The body, we have long learned, is not a mere neutral physical, biological reality, vehicle for an animating soul, or the underlying material substratum of a meaningful human existence. It is rather inseparable from the meanings it expresses, meanings that are themselves the expression and consequence of interventions and apparatuses of power. The body is a permanent domain of tension and conflict, but also of potentialities. There is then a politics of the body …
(What follows is a translation of an article published in the Madrid based newspaper, Periódico Diagonal, by feminist activist/writer Lucrecia Masson, on 08/04/2014)
Is it possible to think of the body as a space of dissidence? A body infested with organs, not always vigorous, not always young … We find ourselves before the necessity of an organic rebellion, in the literal sense: to stir up organs. It is presently an urgent proposition that of defending a rebellion of bodies; a rebellion which necessarily rejects the frontier between the normal and the abnormal body, the healthy and the sick body, the valid and the invalid body. A rebellion that must be defended beginning with the encounter, affinity, and the alliance between those inappropriate and improper bodies. Accordingly, these systems which organise us on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, corporal normality, mental or physical health, become structures which it is necessary to destroy, and this action of destruction should find us united, knowing that we are mutually affected and affecting and in a constant and complex interweaving.
Can we then understand the very body as a space of political action? From our different corporeal trajectories, to narrate in the first person, both singular and plural, the story of our corporal reality is a challenge that different activisms begin to call upon us to engage. Can we think of a collective story of our bodies? What are the apparatuses that produce inappropriate corporealties? Can we propose mechanisms to create new ways to produce desires, to produce beauties? And what tools do we offer ourselves to make our lives a more inhabitable and joyous space?
It seems to me important once again, now, to call myself fat, to call myself fat as a strategy of self-enunciation. Never lightly. And that this last adjective serve to substitute the paradox for a smile. To name oneself to become visible. To occupy the space to become visible. Visible, disobedient, dissident with regard to the norm that is imposed upon us by a society that standardizes and controls bodies and desires, that defines the beautiful and the healthy.
But why the necessity of making ourselves visible? Because vision is an apparatus for corporeal production, as Valeria Flores maintains, and there are ways of looking that produce bodies, continuously. And I add there are ways of looking that produce desires and ways of looking that produce beauties. The challenge is to construct new bodies, new desires, new beauties.
Before the question: why does being fat, old, functionally different (and the list could be long) place me outside the standard of beauty or corporeal normality? What renders me a dissident of the norm? I propose to exchange this question for another, and herein lies the political challenge: under what mechanisms is the normal body constructed? How much normalising discipline have our bodies supported? What techniques of domestication and regimentation make us desire to be normal and attractive at the cost of sufferings?
To construct an extensive body
We begin by letting ourselves be interpellated by the body itself. The interpellation that I defend is as much individual as it is collective. I need to ask questions of myself about my body, about the body of others, and to construct an extensive body, a space for action and reflection. It appears to me fundamental that we speak from our own flesh, this defective, insecure, frightened, anxious flesh; our flesh, that which is abundant, that which is scarce, that which hurts, that which is old, that which is sick, that which does not function, even that which dies …
Thus interdependence as the paradigm that begins to circulate. No one, whatever the corporeality which they embody, is truly self-sufficient. For this reason I think of struggle of complicity and affinity. I seek bounded and binding potentialities. I believe that it is vital and necessary that we encounter each other. It will be the encounter, the place of potentiality, the place from which to begin, the place of possibility.
It is necessary to contest the matrix that organizes us corporally. To unveil the artifact that constructs us as bodies, as territories upon which interpretations are inscribed. It is necessary to challenge these interpretations and to create, to imagine, to fantasize, to invent new narratives. There is a great apparatus of fiction that has it that our bodies are read as gendered, or racialised, or old, or incapacitated, or fat, or sick.
Yet even if we cannot lose sight of what is artificial, there is a reality which runs through us, which is such that my way of being is different the ways of others. We must narrate in the first person, in the first person singular as well as in the first person plural, the story of our corporeal realities. The idea of fiction does not impede the idea of trajectory, of reality, of corporeal experience. This reality needs to be told, collectivized. It is necessary to recuperate this experience, to assume our vulnerability and understand that this is a condition of being itself, and that one cannot be without exposing oneself, because we are not, except in interrelation.
It is important to call for strategies which begin from vulnerability, to place in it the potential for change; to shatter the discourse that demands of us that we always be strong and courageous, powerful, to want ourselves as such, to always be in step with a world that demands of us to be indefectibly ready and healthy to assume the tasks of production; this world out there that demands that we be useful. I do not think of goals, of acceptance, of tastes, nor of convincing anyone. Because I do not believe in redemptions or in evolutions, or in a barbarism converted into civilisation. I believe in searching, in passions and in the agonistic frictions of my very flesh which, in the encounter with others, has the enormous potential to render our existence a place more habitable and joyful, giving way to indomitable forms of inhabiting our bodies.
In memory of a dear friend, Amélia Morte, who danced so lightly through the lives of those she touched.