Phenomenology and the Body

January 6, 2009

Since we’ve been talking about queer abstraction and what if anything that might mean, a lot of our (mine and Michael’s) discourse has come down to approaching the queer body (or queering the body) as a source point.

That makes me a little nervous, though, because sometimes I wonder if we aren’t operating with a sophisticated enough idea of what we mean by “body.” 

Body, as I see it, comes down to the modernist unit par excellance, the single being who does things and to whom things are done.  There’s a body/mind split to contend with, of course, but the body is ultimately the captial of an industrialized society.  A gay body is exactly that: a “deviant” body, a body that does things that are both possible but outside social norms for what the body should do.

But I am all in up in here about queer bodies, my view of the body having been adjusted (ruined!) by Gilles and Deleuze.   When I think of the queer body, I think of symmetrically rhizomatic desiring-machines.  I think of the nomadology of the body, and more to the point a kind of nomadology within the body.  The body is not a stable thing but an unsteady set of acts.  Bodies don’t have functions; they are functions. 

So I’m not saying a whole lot here so far other than that you should read Deleuze and that I’m smitten with continental cultural theory, but what I want to get to is how to use the body less as a proper object or starting point and more as a method.  To body or embody the act of queering something.   To rupture the settled belief that a body is a singular unit.  Why?  Because I don’t like where the reductionism of a lot of phenomenology leads. 

I want to get back to the body in a very real early ’90s artworld sense of the body as a politicized force rather than as something placed (for example) in front of a lens.  I’m more interested in the negotiations that go on to get a body in front of a lens than the resultant product anyway, ultimately. 

So where does that leave queer abstraction?  Right now, the way I’m thinking, I don’t think there can be such a thing, because abstraction is monolithic like the orthodox body.  It’s a means of reduction instead of, as I would’ve argued earlier, a means of disturbance.  Which means that maybe we need to go in search of a term to put after queer that is different, even only a little different, than abstraction.

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2 Responses to “Phenomenology and the Body”


  1. This is a great post. Other than say, “Here! Here!” or whatever they hoot and holler in the House of Commons.

    It seems to me that this groping about process (which seems both legitimate and productive) necessarily has to have a starting point from which to grope. The problem with gay iconography is that it’s some other group’s convention, which isn’t very outlier-ish (or queer) at all. And when you start with a cliché, it’s impossible to make work that prevents the viewer from moving back to signified–which is the antithesis of queer or a “moving away from.”

    So by starting with my own queer life (which is practiced outside the mainstream) and by moving as a rhizome grows (rhizomatically?) from that point seems to be a more productive M.O. All that being said, the body and its efforts seems to be a decent starting point (so could be the environments of its actions, but we can save that topic for a later post).

    I like your use of the term, ‘deviant body.’ I don’t know how familiar you are with statistics, but in a nutshell, most groups of things can be quantified into a bell curve (what’s called a ‘normal distribution’). A ‘standard deviation’ covers about two thirds of the population grouped near the center (the mean). Two and three standard deviations cover 95% and 99% of the population described respectively. Most things beyond two sandard deviations (the ‘tails’ on the bell curve) are considered outliers, anomalies, or freaks in everyday language. They are the midgets and giants, the mentally retarded and the geniuses, the femme gay boys who get bashed (unless they move to an urban gay ghetto where there are sufficient quantities of swishy guys to create a norm).

    So queer bodies are deviant bodies, especially (I would add) when they operate and play outside gay conventions.

    At this point, I guess my question back to you would be, if you can use D&G to dematerialize the body and focus on functions, why can’t you do the same with ‘abstraction’? If ‘abstraction is monolithic like the orthodox body,’ why can’t abstraction undergo its own deterritorialization?

  2. AdamFeldmeth Says:

    I imagine a battle cry: “Deterritorialize Abstraction!” or maybe a bumper sticker like those “Free Tibet” ones.


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