The Impossible Body
author: Bojana Kunst
title: THE IMPOSSIBLE BODY
impressum: Ljubljana, Slovenia: Published by Maska
UDC: 792.028.3, 792:1
© Bojana Kunst
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PREFACE Part 1 BODY LOSING ITS MYSTERY Battle For The Mode Of Physical Visibility 1.1 Battle of the Amphitheatres 1.2 Theatre of Machines 1.3 Ideal Automaton: the Clock 1.4 Anatomy Theatre 1.5 Physiognomist Perspective and Its Realization 1.6 Theatre and Sensation Producing Machine Part 2 AUTOMATA OR ARTIFICIAL BODIES Enlightenment Automaton and Romantic Marionette 2.1 Movable Anatomies 2.2 Romantic Automaton: Fear and Fascination 2.3 Magnetism and Electricity 2.4 Philosophy of Nature 2.5 Marionette Never Plays Dumb 2.6 Dreading Olympia Part 3 AUTONOMOUS TRANSPARENT On Kinetic and Dynamic Body 3.1 Body as an Engine 3.2 Kinetics and Dynamism 3.3 New Sensibility 3.4 Übermarionette or Banishing of the Body 3.5 Utopias of the Natural Body: Emergence of Modern Dance 3.6 Organic Is Mechanic CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY INDEX
In 1946 Paul Varléry writes the essay Réflexions sur le corps, in which he claims that everyone of us has at least three bodies in mind. The first body is therefore "my body", marked by pure experience without history. It is a body of the present, it gives us a feeling of presence that is not merely present but also potential. We are in the possession of that body every single moment and for us it represents the most important object in the world. The second body is the one that others see, it is an approximation facing us from portraits and mirrors. It is a body with a form, appreciated by craft and by art. The third body is the body we know and we can only get to know it by dissecting and decomposing it to parts; that is therefore the body of science and observation. Valéry, however, also suggests the Fourth body, the body that could be called "the Real body or an identical Imaginary body". The Fourth body represents everything that the first three are not, although it always appears together with them. Our notions, our ideas emerge from characteristics and experience of the first three bodies but gain at least a visage of meaning through presupposition of an unknown object, a certain non-existence, a peculiar incarnation of which the Fourth body is. This is the body that can help provide an insight to the essential questions dealing with death, the source of life, freedom etc., since it is this body that is implied in all those questions. Valéry's Fourth body is therefore the one that constantly exists parallel to (within) body as subject (experience) and object, and it is as inextricable from it as "a whirlpool from the liquid that creates it". The Fourth body is the real/imaginary body that always shakes the unity of each body and breaks every discourse about that unity. It is what is not but could be, nevertheless always somehow present in the images we have about the body, in our fears, in our desires and the speech we address our body and the bodies of others with. The poet's Fourth body is therefore a field where both horror of death and the joy of life are mirrored; the elusive entity unceasingly making us question and long. It is the unstable entity forming the basis for the production of bodily images and understanding of the body, always showing how the body is necessarily bound to something else and not to itself. Only by employing its elusive language, we can start talking about things concerning the body.
Similar to the manifestation and presence of Valéry's Fourth body is the impossible body I am chasing and investigating in this book. Like the Fourth body it is an undefinable and elusive notion, present only to make us think and to encourage us to asking the right questions about the body. The impossible body is one of the manifestations of the unstable field, employed to denote the basic longing that functions as a basis for the production of bodily images, the mode of body's visibility, its representation and performing. It is what the history of art recognizes as the ideal body but is at the same time more than that. There is a certain basic tension comprised within it: it is that which is impossible, which cannot be and which does not exist but it nevertheless defines every representation and production of bodily images. It is a product of a traumatic desire for the ideal body, and in quest of its realization it flirts with the God and it flirts with the Devil. It is the longing for the body without limitations, without the threat of death, spatial and temporal boundaries, without definiteness and gravity, where the artificial most often proves to be the mode in which the body could exist and function. Taking into account Freud's suggestion that throughout the history, art is the one soothing our primeval sorrow at the fact that "we shall never completely master nature; and our bodily organism, itself a part of that nature, will always remain a transient structure with a limited capacity for adaptation and achievement" ; we can observe different modes in which the artificial enters to soothe that primeval sorrow; enters, of course, with all of its paradoxes and characteristics I will attempt to follow in this book. The impossible body is then the one to which the artificial offers the basic illusion that it can become possible and which with its characteristics becomes an ideal model of every day bodies. The illusion is a paradoxical one - on the one hand, it introduces new forms and possibilities of representation but it presupposes the non-existence of the body as such on the other.
With the dichotomy of the physical and the artificial (most often manifested in the shape of an automaton, a machine) we are thus following the footsteps of the modes of production of bodily images, the shaping of the body visibility, predictability, transparency and understanding of the operational. In this book, my intention is primarily to reveal how deeply the artificial is inscribed within our understanding of the physical and how - for quite some time now - it serves as a grounding of different modes of production of bodily images, forming strategies of bodily representation, which are just as present today (however, with different technological means) as they were in the past. Exploring the production of bodily images, I pay special attention to theatre; theatre is namely the artform, which throughout the history most consistently pursued the desire for impossible bodies.
Until the end of the 18th century, Descartes' definition of the machine animale represents the basic model of explanation of the body and consequently influences the forming of bodily images or, we can say, the mode of perspective that gradually penetrates under the disclosed surface of the body. At the same time, it also sets the basic paradigm governing modern visibility of the body - the paradigm of the body as mechanism, where the body gains status of a field of knowledge, research; a field where dissected information can be obtained. Transparent body of the Enlightenment, disclosed and spread in front of us in anatomy theatre and ritualized dissections, is a disclosed natural object, a demonstration of bodily operativity, a disclosed encyclopedia of organs and muscle; a body, then, which can be classified and organized within a regulated system. The disclosed body is a demonstration of causal operativity, functioning in accordance with a universum of order. Machine - or the mechanism - that provides the disclosing in-depth anatomical incision with a moral and aesthetic legitimacy, therefore represents the rational biomechanical principle of explanation. Transparent body, by analogy with the machine, represents a certain organic encyclopedia, disclosing the body as a self-functioning mechanism within which we can also observe the causal determination of the body-soul relation. Precisely because of the disclosing of the body secrets, in the era of the Enlightenment we are already facing the beginnings of the modern body concept - the disclosed body establishes itself as a field of knowledge, a field of dissected information gained with its disclosing. Despite the beginnings of the modern body concept, the body is still disclosed in the mid-field between phantasms (bound to the 17th century metaphysics) and shaping of the scientific perspective. The demand for the physiognomic proportionality of Enlightenment bodies is not accidental, it is a result of a shameless anatomic classification, a demand to catch sight of everything invisible under the visible surface; anatomic phantasms demanding the predictable as well as a finite order of individual fragments. Because the Enlightenment body is always disclosed in relation to some other, impossible body that becomes the general criterion of the outside/inside dialectics. By disclosing, we bring the hidden upon the visible surface and thus reveal the illusion; in the Enlightenment, this is the task of the physiognomist, the person in whom the trivial and the scientific understanding of the body come together.
The analogy with the machine, revealing the disclosed body chiefly as a causal and controllable mechanism, thus juxtaposes the image of the body with the criteria of a mechanic structure and mechanic functionality, as well as with the criteria of the mechanic form, also directing the image of the impossible, ideal body; starting to define aesthetic criteria of the body representation. Such representational dictate is hidden in Diderot's essay Paradoxe sur le comédien, where control over sensibility, which the actor must emit to play authentic emotions to the best of his ability, shapes the actor into a machine that produces emotion, into an impossible body of strictly trained universal emotion, into an artificial network of signs. The representational dictate of the mechanic structure was most obviously recognized by the Romantics who were first to point to the relation between the form of the human body and mechanic form that seems to fit the criteria of the aesthetic representation much better than the unpredictable human body. Kleist demands replacing the human figure by a much more accomplished (and figurally reliable) marionette, while Hoffman discusses the ambivalence of the relation between the body and the artificial. Such intervention upon the figural form of the body and its replacement by an artificial structure (that from today's point of view seems extremely modern and comprises a lot of characteristics of figural replacement and transformation of the body taking place in avant-garde) reveals a different comprehension of the automaton. From a demonstrational topos and a general Enlightenment metaphor of causal operativity, the automaton gradually transforms into a self-regulative engine, into a dynamic energetic structure marked by a developed self-operative kinetics and power. The development of science and technology in the 19th century caused machines to increasingly take over the industry, brought man and machine into a relation of every day coexistence, at the same time replacing mechanic machines by the engineeric ones. Thus the body is forced to adapt to the rhythm of machines, their dynamics and power, face their ever so sophisticated form as well as the need to effectively adapt to the new kind of coexistence.
In the era of the Enlightenment, the analogy between the machine and the body reveals itself as a transparent demonstration of operativity; at the beginning of the 20th century, however, transparence is a means of discovering the increasingly artificial essence of the body. The shift towards the artificiality of the body is a direct consequence of the 19th century body/machine relation suddenly juxtaposing strategies of the aesthetic representation of the body with autonomous artificial forms, organic kinetic systems the body was gradually becoming a constituent part of . At the end of the 19th century, the body is faced with mechanisms interfering with its way of life, reshaping its muscular mass, rhythm, energy, directing it to adapt to a new functionality and form. The more transparent the body seems to us and the more we master it under the invisible surface, the more artificial it appears, an empty form with its real carnal equivalent gradually becoming superfluous: like the skin, obscenely hanging over the open body in the Enlightenment atlas of anatomy. This replacement of the body, this cultivation of the body into an impossible body, is one of the essential aesthetic strategies of body representation in avant-garde theatre. At the same time, it is also becoming an aesthetic, ethical and political ideal of every-day bodies, granting the body an aesthetic autonomy by transforming its basic premises.
Following Derrida's thought "thus, whatever can be said of the body can be said of the theater," all the essential pieces on theatre, concerning actor's representation and the manner of his stage presence, involve a continuous revelation of desire for the infallible and effective theatre body, granting beauty and perfection to the theatre act. This desire is primarily mirrored in the continuous demand for the 'control over actor's sensibility', achieved by meticulous training of the body (Diderot), a transformation or even replacing of the body with an artificial structure; the ideal paradigm, then, which throughout modern history not only reveals itself as an ideal of aesthetic representation but also as an ideal of life for every-day bodies. On the one hand, this continuity shows how closely connected is the body on stage (since the founding of the bourgeois theatre that disqualifies the universal theatre relation between up and down) to the image and functioning of the mechanism; how the mechanism establishes itself as a guarantee for a successful theatre act as well as the means of abstraction and visual proportionality of theatre itself. In each essential question concerning theatre formation, 'what comes first - emotion or its consecutive form', glitters the functioning and the form of a mechanism, an artificial structure, a marionette, as the form which ensures a successful representation, an ideal relation between the inside and the outside, the clarity and one-way direction of the message. Last but not least, it also provides the abstract theatre visuality, independence and equality of theatre signs. On the other hand, however, it reveals the specific image of the body anatomy that only when amalgamated with the form or the kinetics of the more and more sophisticated machines, it establishes the autonomy of body signs and an independent expression of bodily form. But this is the autonomy of the body, conditioned by a dynamic elusiveness of the artificial structure; it is the one for which the clarity of the sign is no longer a priority. This also represents the essential paradox of both the movement and the organic/mechanic transformation of the body - the latter does direct attention to the body and places it in the centre, but at the same time it is losing it; not only the body is becoming an abstract, elusive entity in space and time, its very autonomy brings about the tendency for its dissection, finally bursting out in modernist performances, dance and other forms of theatre. Each exposition of an autonomous body is at the same time its ex-position. Artaud was very much aware of this paradox. His demands for the very source of theatre and return to the theatre and the body as the "archemanifestation of power and life", represent a furious attempt to return to the original body, subordinate to no other discourse. Artaud is then searching for that original representation no authoritative speech, no project of domination has yet controlled; by doing that, he on the one hand approaches Craig's and Kleist's searching for the origin of theatre but at the same time radically departs from it. His concept of the body outlines the boundaries of the body, the absence of the body that cannot be understood as an original expressional entity. In Artaud's case, the project of freeing the body in theatre thus appointing the body the only autonomous presence of theatre space (and life) is accompanied by a dreadful realization that there is no existence without the body. Always in Artaud's footsteps, the brutal doubt of the body that does in fact allow an exemplary approach to the origins but its presence is always present as pure difference (Derrida), with no possibility of repetition. When talking about theatre of cruelty, Artaud is fascinated by the ritual, but fascinated in a very peculiar way: he demands the body in its delirium, an acoustic fluctuation of meat, however, not in the role of the representative but in the absence of its representation: he always rejects accepting this body as his own. Such ideas and interpretative consequences of the elusive body predominantly influenced the radicalized body of modern performance and the shaping of its different discourses: within a performance, the body is established as a disarticulated body, a dissected body, the exposed body, a body without organs, perceived and offered as the object of desire, transference and fluctuation. Artaud then with his principles and his traumatic personal experience (whom God has stolen the body, says Derrida) abolishes this last totality utopia of the avant-garde, a utopia of the new (organic/mechanic) body capable of representation without the remnant. The body of the avant-garde theatre is then the one that is still not aware of the fact the biosphere of the world is shrinking, that consequently the biosphere of the bodies is shrinking, that it is in fact the last - though thoroughly transparent - still wholesome body of the enthusiastic and collective utopias capturing modern world at the beginning of the 20th century.
At the Dresden International Hygiene Exhibition in 1930, German public first had the chance to see the X-Ray Man, a model of a standing man with his hands in the air, totally transparent and with lit-up, colour-changing glass organs. It represented the sound and light centre of the spectacle "Miracles of Life", a carefully disclosed glass anatomy over which a banner was hung, with the following words on it: "Man is astonished before the sea that knows no repose, rivers, the spectacle of a starry sky and he forgets that of all the wonders, it is he that is the greatest." But that was not an image of an autopsied, bloody body, disclosing its secrets shamelessly dissected, it was a purified transparent (translucent) model of man, based on classical figural proportions with dynamic, lit-up organs. A body is therefore nothing more and nothing less than a pure technical and artistic masterpiece, it is the substituted body, and only as a substituted, artificial and totally transparent body, it can reveal the miracles of life, with its hands in the air symbolizing the connection between up and down. The image of the artificial body at the beginning of the 20th century is not only a consequence of the basic longing for the impossible body, it is also the aesthetic and political ideal, it is a common trivial metaphor, an aesthetic, political and ideological stereotype, which by revealing the miracles of life more and more becomes the basic specimen of every-day bodies.
The X-Ray Man serves as the last image in the row of body images in this book. It is the translucent image that, metaphorically speaking, the gaze of a physiognomist was looking for in the bodily cavities of wax figures set asunder; it is the absent body that has always been set as a traumatic desire and the image before the limited human figure by the inexorable dictate of the mechanism and ideal automaton. It is at the same time a demonstration, an artistic artifact and a model of life of the real bodies themselves. At the beginning of the 20th century, it is the field, where it seems that the artificial and the natural are amalgamated in a glittering translucency. Within it, anatomy is at work again, but no longer the Enlightenment shameless classification nor scientific anatomy (isolated in pathology laboratories of medical institutions for quite some time now). This new anatomy is a pure aesthetic strategy ('transcendental anatomy,' Schlemmer would say), composition and linking of geometrical organs, establishing the body as a pure technical artifact. The craftsmanship of anatomy is replaced by sophisticated X-rays, the causality of the machine is replaced by the dynamics and magnetism of a modern engine. Although the body is still introduced as a model, a creation, it is no longer theologically bound to the universum, it represents a vision of progress, knowledge and science, a successful synthesis of machine and man, a vision of the future. But this model, this creation, this cultivation of the mechanically organic by methods such as movement, exercise, eugenics etc. also discloses concepts and mentality within which this new transparency was formed: brutal racist and fascist politics where the transformed model of the body is perceived as a perfect manipulative, predictable and controlled body. Mechanic paradigm as the one determining the desire for the impossible, unlimited body is therefore directly connected with the problem of predictability and control of the bodily. On the one hand, it does disclose new strategies of the body and new aesthetic possibilities of its presentation, but on the other hand as soon as the impossible body becomes a model of life for every-day bodies, the entire political machinery of reshaping, predictability and modeling of the body intervenes.
Both the radical experience of the body as a transparent predictability and the danger of its political organic-mechanic idyll, and the elusiveness of the increasingly transparent body contribute to the fact that today we can no longer talk about fascination with the body as a (natural or artificial) whole. One of the reasons is doubtlessly the altering of the man/machine relation, which is completely ambivalent today and the border between the two is no longer clearly outlined. Donna Haraway discusses how today our machines are unpleasantly alive as we are alarmingly inactive. It is not clear anymore who is produced and who is not. What is changing is primarily the status of body as an object, which can no longer be comprehended as a totality either by discourse, form or image, we can no longer capture it within a mirror to behold Apollo's reflection. Interactive technologies and remote operativity have affected its relation to space and time, the body has long since lost its mysteries and is now becoming an entity of information. The body is not the bearer of the network of signs anymore, a machine for production of feelings, nor it is a formal visual construct (avant-garde, visual theatre). It can have a status of an interface, a tool which in symbiosis with robots - machine interfaces - passes through different media and spaces in front of our very eyes (Stelarc, Marcel.li); it can merely have a status of meat cut into in symbiosis with medical technology (Orlane); a status of a machine, roaming the boundary between life and death connected to other medical machines (Slovene performer Ive Tabar): it is no longer necessary that the body is full and connected with thought. In contact with advanced technologies and modern science, it gains the status of the ultimate territory, the territory of pure here and now, it is the elusive presence and absence, a moving locus of different locations and psychologies, where its elusive presence playfully garnishes it with numberless different epiderma and identities. Art and science go hand in hand, they are both becoming arts of the possible, their objects have a similar ontological status, they are simulacra, the existent without predecessors. Art and with it theatre are thus juxtaposed to an indefinite number of new possibilities and challenges; physical engineering present in some of the most talked about technological performances is primarily a reflection of encountering digital environment where traditional physical and biological boundaries are invalid; it is the field of the invisible, of the self-regulative chaos, where we are no longer in a position to discern operativity and causal logic; where the structure is not bound to anything and where image and presence are one.
In stating that the body, landscape and time are gradually disappearing from the scene , Baudrillard unintentionally finds himself in the vicinity of Aristotle's definition of theatre categories which - confronted with new communicational and cybernetic reality - are left to transformation and extinction. How the scenes are being transformed and what is taking their place is what I am trying to discover, chasing the impossible body, where at first it seems that walking the edge we are only about to fatally stumble across our carnal, useless, demystified body. But the statement about the useless, obsolete body should not necessarily be viewed in the light of desire for transcendence of the body by means of technology (thought, soul, mind), as the finalization of the modern age dualism, with the final objective resembling the Borg collective from science fiction. Through the history of art, the very presence of the impossible body shows us that we are also dealing with the disclosing of hidden traumas and desires of the body in its confrontation with representation, body's relation to the presence and the image this presence reveals or, we can say, through which the body should glitter in a certain way. Today's use of technology and collaboration between science and art offer the body unimagined performative possibilities, the body is becoming the locus of different locations and physiologies, it is neither bound to the epidermis nor to thought, it exceeds the limitations of space and time. It is this very duality that forces us to ask ourselves, how the body is going to endure in a symbiosis with different technologies in the future: how will it retain that primeval tension between what is not and what could be, contained in the poet's Fourth Body.