My Body Reflections

John Crews

After reading Jackson's piece My Body I peeked at a copy of an anatomy book my neighbor Moira had lying about her coffee counter. I find it interesting, after the fact, that I immediately looked toward a so-called reference book. Who was I checking? I think my intent could be worded thus: Is that what the flayed body looks like? That act of checking the anatomy book is really indicative of my reading habits, and how they relate to the body of women. Pun intended.

Let me unpack what I mean. I was checking an anatomy book so as to feel better about the kinds of gender matters I had begun to think about. First, is the female body an automatic repository of meaning? Second, does The Body really look like a human body? Three, why am I asking these questions?

Hmm... is the woman, in her biological capacity to reproduce offspring, a cybernetic organism? In one sense, after reading Haraway and Jackson, I'm convinced. The female body is the cite of fertilization in humans. Genetic information from two parties, including the self same body (with the exception of egg-donors/ donor recipients) gets processed, transcribed, translated, acted upon. The results are what I call the miracle of birth. In one way, however, that's a useless thing to say. Every sexually reproductive being on the planet has a similar potential narrative.

But it is here that I think a little scism happens. I think that, tied into a notion of being the human cyborgs, women are popularly constructed as 'carriers'. Not contributors or artisans. There's a lot of gendered work that gets carried out if one thinks of the female body as a receptacle. Women, easilyb identified by their bodies, can be socially constructed as empty, or devoid of any number of important characteristics that signify power. Or the female body can be "filled" with meaning.

There's a long tradition of this. Carrier of sperm, carrier of information, carrier of ideals, et cetera. If you are familiar with Chaucer's Boece you might relate to Lady Philosophy of Lady Fortune. Or perhaps if you've visited a courthouse, you've seen Lady Justice, a female form in stone that's internationally known. But you'll notice that in relation to that woman form men are doing the filling. The carving. The work. The sex. Pygmalion redux? It's a total fallacy to think of aesthetics, a study or ordering of beauty, and automatically associate it with a woman's body. That's turn of the century morbid facination with the female body. But look at art, or any other popular visual signs, and thing about what kinds of semiotic work the woman's body is doing. And how it's doing it.

So looking at the anatomy book, my anecdotal one, or any physiology text (which we'll keep anonymous for now), it's interesting to note what pictures are explicitly male (universal) to female (contained). Speaking of traditions, Karen Newman, in her book Fashioning Femininity has an interesting take on this issue, i.e. the constructions of the female body or the gender body politic in relation to knowledge. I remember from the part of her argument I agreed with that as the female body became more and more constructed within growing disciplines of knowledge, certain characteristics lessened. Anyway...

I think at this point, I began to question why I was concerned with the accuracy of Jackson's etching. I figured that, gee, maybe she looks like that. Is that supposed to be an important thing?

One of my peers, Soñia (Gigi) Otalvaro-Hormillosa has been doing critical work on the de-re-construction of the female body. A lot of the ideological/ontological work that happens during her performances are addressed by the spectacle of her body. She talks to a body, the crowd, about how they address and construct her body, her self. I started asking myself, is that what Jackson is after. Is there any special work that is going on with artists like Coco Fusco, Devil-Bunny-In-Bondage, when the identity of the female body is not only explicitly personal, but explicitly public. The only kind of thoughts I have on that one is - can one look onto a female body without being suspended in some sort of wierd relationship to the self? I don't know. I find that Jackson's piece My Body is resisting confinement by providing a technically new space. The same matters that disoriented Glen Sandford seemed to provide me with food-for-thought. I mean, reading all of those little vigniettes attached to each bodypart image is a little confusing. It is also a fairly brisk reminder that there are infinite ways to make the human body as female signify. What I'm saying is that it's cool that her work made very little sense to me or to Glen.

Discussion of Patchwork Girl Overview Screen for Website Body and Self