Bone White Clean
/1/ – Porus origins
I devoted an early entry to the subject of Anorexia previously as well as one on Skeletal Ontology – here I am working out a possible synthesis of those arguments via my new found philosophical program – transcendental materialism. So to begin again:
With Skeletal ontology, I discussed that while Nick Cave’s Australia set western The Proposition deals with barren landscapes – there are no skeletons only skeletal structures – unfinished houses, bullet riddled shacks, the eerily empty wire baby crib, a cavernous hideout et cetera. In the film I argued that this exemplifies the unnaturalness of skeletal structures – they are to be added on to where as, with organisms, it is a sign of reduction – of decay.
The strange discrepancy here is included in the romance of the west at large – the idea of settling into undiscovered territory as if that means it is also uninhabited. The important point here is at least two fold:
First, we must take note of the fundamentally unnaturalness of human existence, which we can discuss via Lacan’s term antiphusis (or anti-nature). As Adrian Johnston explains, human existence is always-already unnatural due to the fact that we are born into the cage of language, every bit of our life, even before we are completely conscious of it, is shot through by signifiers we cannot grasp.
Secondly, The Proposition also points out the related matter of the unknowability of our own origin. In multiple texts, such as Civilization and its Discontents, Totem and Taboo, Moses and Montheism and in particular the case of the Wolf Man, our own creation must remain an obscure fiction. Again, as I discussed before, Kant echoes this in his piece Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.
/2/ – The thin body as Real
Connecting this to the anorectic body is less strenuous then one would initially think. At first we can take the sharing of the word skeletal quite literally, that the skeletal body, is simultaneously natural, as it is literally closet to our ‘natural state’ which is, oddly, a rotting corpse, and yet unnatural because such a bodily state is unhealthy. This confusion is again illuminated by Freud when in Civilization and its Discontents, he argues that aside from the sexual instincts connection to propagation, as tenuous as that tie is, human existence is driven to death. This death drive (trieb) is not as literal as it sounds, not suicidal, but suggests that humans do not exist to simply prolong their life, humans continue to exist because they wish to choose how and when to die.
In my previous entry on anorexia, I discussed the work of Massimo Recalcati and how he connects the ‘anorexic passion for the mirror’ to the objet petit a, the little piece of the real. Recalcati argues that the anorexic subject wishes to erase this dimension, this part that is ‘in you more than you’ from the body, so that the subject’s being would then correspond directly to the physical apparition in the mirror. As Zizek has pointed out, the mirror image is a desubstantialized image, it is flat which, is even better than hollow. Flatness, in psychoanalysis in particular, is the sort of original state of being: from Freud’s simplified vesicle in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to Lacan’s famous ‘man-omlette or lamella.
In regards to anorexia Lacan pointed out, and Bruce Fink reminds us, that it is not that anorexics do not wish to eat, it is simply that the wish to eat nothing, to litteraly consume nothingness itself. Fink goes on to say that anorexia should never be viewed as simply an interruption of the natural process of eating, but should also be taken as a particular manifestation of a larger psychological array – such as paranoia or obsession. Gabriella Ripa di Meana takes this fact to its logical conclusion in her text Figure of Lightness, and identifies a series of different anorexics.
/3/ – Barrens
Aesthetically the scenic skeletal and the corporeal skeletal find shared territory in the barren. The barren appears as simultaneously that which once had life and that is covering over life as well as invoking multiple categories of barrenness through temporality – the suddenly barren (the nuclear wasteland) or the rotting barren (the desert, the tundra).
Immediately we have the specter of the other before us – the possibility of an external cause of desolation in relation to, or perhaps opposed to, an interior decay. The experience of the anorectic subject is startingly familiar – in “Triggering Determinants in Anorexia,” Recalcati discusses how the subjects refusal to eat, particularly in terms of the infant, serves to divide the givening sustenance of the other from the other’s love – essentially when the food is refused, in the youth’s perception, the remainder is love. Aside from this external attack, there is, as has already been mentioned, the force of the internal drive, the objet petit a, which perpetually destabilizes the subject’s spectral image.
Here is the unbearability of anorexia proper – the desire to reduce the body beyond that object which is purely formal and cannot be shrunk via starvation. The issue of course, is that the attempt is to shrink the physical body, the mindless matter of physicality, that, like a strange ineffective shell, attempts to cover objects that are fundamental extimate, as internal but placed outside. The subject reduced to the pure bit of its subjectivity is the absolute other (Time Driven, p. 45). Our being is perforated then, not only by language thereby making our bodies unnatural because of symbolic invasion, but the very ‘ourness’ of our body is false – countless eyes our embedded in our flesh.
The barren body, like the barren screen then, is fundamentally porous, the material is flawed because it can never cover over the no-material, it is a think cover on a too-large skeleton. Similarly, with the cinema screen, it is often the fact that we see more of ourselves in the picture, (there is porosity taken effect, our investment in the skeletal, the exigent object) and less the actual aesthetic covering.
/4/ – Flatness and its limits
In Ranciere’s The Future of the Image, (a text, while partially resembling his previous efforts which blended anecdotal history and philosophy, seems to mostly fall from its intended mark) there is a long and circuitous discussion of the image and of depth. Ranciere points out the association of flatness with modernity since Clement Greenberg – the abandonment of the third dimension (p. 103 of The Future of the Image).
In the chapter entitled “The Surface of Design” Ranciere discusses Peter Behrens, the German architect and designer, and his relation to the symbolist poet Mallarme. Contra to Greenberg, Ranciere points out how the flatness of modernity was always sabotaged by the Dadaists, the Pop artists and so forth (p. 104). There is a shared surface for both, (again the threat of techne), a shared surface for the designer and the poet (p. 107).
How can art ever really escape techne, if the space of the production line and the flat canvas allow for the glow of work, is the truth more than work, then production whether it is engulfed in capital or not? Again we seem to be enslaved by the extimate – by the embedded eyes pushed even further by the capitalistic engine of fashion, or the artistic engine of design, depending on how one views it.
In some sense, it seems that the haunting flatness of modernity, of the wasteland will not leave us. In the “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger discusses Van Gogh’s painting of peasant shoes and the world that is opened up by it. According to Frederic Jameson the shoes are “one of the canonical works of high modernism in visual art” (In The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism).
Jameson of course addresses Heidegger’s critique directly. He addresses the aforementioned gap, between the world and the earth as “meaningless materiality of the body and nature.” Yet, as we have already seen, materiality, even when it seems blank and meaningless, is host to a parasite, that of the Real, the objet petit a.
/5/ – Extimacy at its limits
For a glow of work, we might wander into awkward territory albeit intentionally so. Here I am taking of the pregnant nude and even pregnant pornography. Could there be an image that so threatens embodies and yet simultaneously threatens exigency? The pregnant body naked always causes a stir. The above photo in particular as well as Britney Spears and a host of other celebrities.
There is, perhaps to return to the unknowability of our origins, something particular blatant about the pregnant body, something too close to the proverbial Darwinian pool. Or is it simply that it is too obvious a signal of hetero-reproductive sexuality?
The image is not overly three dimension but four dimensional – invoking time, the genesis of the species itself in its physical size. It is in this sense that the extimate again threatens the flat land of the anorexic. Isn’t the advent of pregnant porn even more threatening, the extimate and the sexual bound together?
Leonard Nemoy’s Full Body Project and Carson Cresley’s How to Look Good Naked are recent attempts to combat the culture of thinness that they see as rampant in America. However, anyone can guess that media portrayals of thinness do not simply lead to thinness, as anorexia is evidence of a deeper psychological issue as already mentioned. The large nude is only going to appear monstrous to the anorexic subject, beauty cannot be tied to it as the aforementioned gentlemen assert.
Isn’t it also interesting that Recalcati’s studies found that anorexic subjects experience an invented separation, some kind of strange mourning from being separated from what they are used to – a kind of melancholia. Again eximacy and anorexia find each and circle around the pregnant nude – the nude is a bearing of the internal which cannot be contained – that which is exactly lived through the anorexic’s habits. The lesson from the nude is that we must let the eximate leave while always caring for its distance from us.
Filed under: Freud, Lacan, ontology, psychoanalysis, Ranciere | Leave a Comment