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“Let him prepare the soul…”: Disagreement as Amputation

“Let him prepare the soul as a ready sacrifice to the Lord by earnest prayers…For it is not small presumption to dismember the image of God”

– 17th century (?) surgeon’s handbook, on how to advise the patient on the coming amputation

The above quotation is found in the book The Island at the Center of the World, which in often somewhat overly enthused prose tells the compelling story of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland, centered on the island of Manhattan – a forgotten, non-Puritan ideological root, in the tree of American history. An early Capitalist wonderland.

This sentence just haunts in all that it prescribes, evokes and circumscribes. I see its truth echo back down through the history of philosophy, literature and politics. Perhaps to get the sense of it one requires the descriptions of amputation that precede it, the extraordinary experience and act of limb severing:

There were many techniques, all of them hideous. Typically, the patient, fully awake, was placed in a chair with two men holding him down. The doctor would use his hands to “pluck up the skinn and muscles” of the limb in question, then, as one wrote, “we cut the flesh with a razor or incising knife…to the bone, the said bone must be diligently rubbed and scraped with the back of the sayd knife, which back must be purposively made for that effect, to the end of the periost which convereth the bone, may be lesse painful in cutting of the bone. Otherwise it teareth and riveth with the same, so causeth great dolour…This being done, you must saw the bone with a sharpe saw…” Without anaesthetic or sedative the horror was often enough that the patient died before the saw finished its work.

Aside from the cringe-worthy description, I want to point back to the quote at the top of the page. We are told by people like Lacan that there is a Big Other which symbolically constructs our universe. While I don’t favor his theoretical reductions and the dominance of the signifier, I think something is to be said for the general equivalences that map from our experiences of rational coherence, and the coherence of our body as a whole: agreement between persons help constitute a kind of body, not in metaphor, but rather a REAL body which involves the transfer of affects across the boundaries of our limited selves. Experiences literally travel from flesh to flesh, in waves because the mutuality of our flesh makes of us a community. In this way I think often there is an anaesthetic when it comes to occasions of disagreement and dissent, one in which we seldom have an eye upon the living body where amputations are falling. And where there is personal commitment, we often cannot see the extended limbs of sense with which that person is expressing themselves. When the handbook tells “It is no small presumption to dismember the image of God” our eyes must turn to the images of god that populate our mutuality of perceptions. And when we amputate we must really grit our teeth with a sense of just what we are cutting and why.

Cutting At the Body Politic

Now this may lead to some who have great desire for transformation to simply want to grit their teeth for the sake of teeth gritting, and chopping for the sake of chopping, usually those that disassociate themselves from the limbs that they are cutting. The Body Politic is desireously seen as diseased and need of acute address. For these I suspect, aside from the eros of violence there is a dream-for union with a New Body, floating there in the future. So much more I would think that we should look at the bodies around us, trace the lines of affect confluence, the mutualities of perception, the living wholes that shadow through.

I have in mind the example of Antigone who I often return to under questions of morality. She just will not cut that limb of her family as it possesses its own health, and the State will sever her all too willingly. I have in mind the discussions we have had on Kant lately, over at Mikhail’s place [Metaphysics and It Ethical Consequences.; Running The Red Light, Being Late For A Poker Game. ] which seem to come down to not whether Kant’s ethical framing can be rigorously justified, but rather that Kant is saying to those that love him something like “Its no small presumption…” And with this I agree. One disrupts the body with a great weight of consciousness, and should know what it is that one cuts, like the chiseler with marble. Even the experimenters with the body should appreciate the range of their actions, the richness of what they contribute. I have in mind as well the difficult and interesting questions surrounding Apotemnophilia and realize that given this post, though I’ve been putting it off I should probably finally watch Quid pro Quo (I wish they made these kind of transitive movies with more depth): 

It is important to see that even as Apotemnophilics look to sever their bodies, they do so as to form other bodies, microbodies, cross-transfers of wholeness, a kind of reaching of the “image of God” through imperfection. It is notable perhaps that those with the so-called Body integrity identity disorder (BIID) are predominantly white, middle-aged males who form a kind of idealized and banalized core of middle class Western society. A hideous perversion put on us by the perversions of Capitalism as some might have it, or alternate forms of corporeal development, selves made obliquely.

What fascinates me is the search for already present “images of God” body wholes, the circuits of completion that are already operating upon which we bring together our greatest powers. These are the viabilities of rationality, though many of them are nascent to awareness.

As Hölderlin concludes in “Mnemosyne” that last hymn of his sanity:

Himmlische nemlich sind
Namely, the Heavenly are
Unwillig, wenn einer nicht
Unwilling when one does not
Die Seele schonend sich
Take care of their soul
Zusammengenommen, aber er muβ doch; dem
Summoning-it-all-together, but yet he must; for him
Gleich fehlet die Trauer.
Thus lacking is lament.

It is only that “the soul” is ever not something in one’s possession, bled across others in time and space as it must.

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38 responses to ““Let him prepare the soul…”: Disagreement as Amputation

  1. anodynelite April 8, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Really great post, I love the way you bring BIID into it. I was reading about BIID not too long ago, and it’s one of those new (mostly male) hysterias that I think are fascinating in that they say so much about where we are in post-identarian feminism/politics.

    Where you have a feminist movement that eventually morphed into a sort of subset of queer theory, in a society in which the stable representation of “woman” has almost completely broken down, where more women are entering universities and the work force (and doing better while there) than men, where women have successfully invaded every traditionally “male” institution and taken over positions of power and influence, suddenly you get a new rash of male hysterias.

    Surprise surprise!

    It’s not at all surprising but somewhat disappointing that as “woman” has disintegrated into “women” and through this process more successfully de-essentialized themselves than men have, men have suddenly started longing for the “wholeness” of past representations. (Even in perverse ways, as in BIID) Of course they do! They were the ones that got to take the top of the binary. Men were the ones whose traits were valorized, no matter how ridiculous or destructive (aggression, homocidal tendencies, blind rage, sociopathy) they were.

    I think we’re seeing a sort of backlash that masquerades as pro-woman but is in fact just a nostalgia for the stability of the past, when men were “masculine” and women were “feminine”. What this entails, very obviously, for these types is that we return to a time before women could actively choose to act out sexually without being penalized for it and shunned by society. Sexual morality, in their minds, depends upon the pernicious lie that women are somehow psychologically less able than men are to act sexually, to be entirely responsible for their own sexual behaviors, that women need to be protected from sexuality *for their own good*.

    What I find really insulting about this is how unfounded the sentiment really is. If women are so threatened by everything, if they’re so much weaker than men are psychologically, why aren’t women the ones walking into workplaces and shooting everyone there? Why aren’t women the ones in prison? Why don’t women who have been abused and marginalized flip out and let loose in violent rampages, the way so many abused and marginalized men do? Why can a girl and a boy who were raised in the same family, the same community, the same values, end up so different–with the male in prison for a triple homicide and the woman living a “normal” life with a happy family?

    Is it really women who are in crisis?

  2. Dominic April 8, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I keep coming back to a comment I read once in an article about a school where a pupil had committed suicide, leaving a note which cited bullying and social isolation as the heaviest among the woes which oppressed her. Another pupil had said something like: “I don’t understand it. Everyone at this school is so friendly”. Undoubtedly that was true for her. I wonder whether she ever came to understand that it was not true for the child who had killed herself rather than go on existing in that same milieu.

    Let’s play the “there are two kinds of people in the world” game for a moment. The first “kind of person” thinks that society is an organic, functional, complexly interdependent manifold in which people in all their variety mingle and interact in richly polymorphous ways so as to produce a shared social reality. The way to make that reality better is to increase the richness and variety of the interactions that constitute it, to help people to let go of patterns of interaction that are mutually confining and life-diminishing, and generally to seek the increase of Life in all its wayward multifariousness. Theirs is a happy, optimistic, broadly tolerant view of human existence which tries, on the whole, to see the good in people.

    The second “kind of person” sees society as deeply fractured, riven along multiple lines, and structured by (rather than merely sustaining, or enduring) its internal conflicts. There is nothing intrinsically good about life, or about people; injustice is too deeply woven into the fabric of the world for any aspect of it to be taken on trust, or unequivocally affirmed. The “patterns of interaction” that the first sort sees as merely unfortunate, and capable of being surpassed through the local exercise of creativity and goodwill, the second sort sees as fixed in place by controlling interests that must be actively confronted and defeated before any real alternative will become possible; moreover, merely “creating a space” and letting whatever comes spontaneously fill it will most likely result in a repetition of whatever came before. For this second kind of person, the good is never what there is, nor is it a kind of untapped potential in the heart of human affairs just waiting to be set free. The good is something that has to be realized against the world, against life. As Geoffrey Hill puts it: “Evil is not good’s absence but gravity’s / everlasting bedrock and its fatal chains / inert, violent, the suffrage of our days”.

    Well now, I don’t wish to confine anybody to either caricature; clearly all sorts of both-and-neither positions are possible. But from the point of view of rational apologetics, it’s reasonably clear that the second sort of person (insofar as they exist) isn’t going to be terribly convinced by the arguments of the first (ditto) against the “presumption” of setting one’s face against the world, just as the first sort of person will most likely be horrified by the second’s tendency towards “Manichean” or apocalyptic characterisations of social conflicts. Surely the last thing we need is further escalation towards violence, bigotry and bad craziness?

    For what it’s worth, I think that something like “historical materialism” is still the best way of tempering the fury of the second sort, and framing a critical challenge to the affirmationism of the first. But I do also think that the very separation between the two positions points to a fundamental inconsistency in the way we experience and practice social life, an inconsistency not unlike that between the private anguish of the teenage suicide and the baffled complacency of her gregarious peers. Obviously that’s a melodramatic way of framing it. how much it has to do with class, the spontaneous hierarchy-formation of social groups, or the vagaries of individual neurochemistry I can’t surely say.

  3. kvond April 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Dominic: “Let’s play the “there are two kinds of people in the world” game for a moment. The first “kind of person” thinks that society is an organic, functional, complexly interdependent manifold in which people in all their variety mingle and interact in richly polymorphous ways so as to produce a shared social reality. The way to make that reality better is to increase the richness and variety of the interactions that constitute it, to help people to let go of patterns of interaction that are mutually confining and life-diminishing, and generally to seek the increase of Life in all its wayward multifariousness. Theirs is a happy, optimistic, broadly tolerant view of human existence which tries, on the whole, to see the good in people.

    The second “kind of person” sees society as deeply fractured, riven along multiple lines, and structured by (rather than merely sustaining, or enduring) its internal conflicts. There is nothing intrinsically good about life, or about people; injustice is too deeply woven into the fabric of the world for any aspect of it to be taken on trust, or unequivocally affirmed. The “patterns of interaction” that the first sort sees as merely unfortunate, and capable of being surpassed through the local exercise of creativity and goodwill, the second sort sees as fixed in place by controlling interests that must be actively confronted and defeated before any real alternative will become possible; moreover, merely “creating a space” and letting whatever comes spontaneously fill it will most likely result in a repetition of whatever came before.”

    Kvond: Because I don’t play the two-kinds-of-persons-games (and actually don’t like to talk about “kinds of persons” in general), I am actually interested in the kinds of BODIES each “kind of person” is actively engaged in and making. For me both the first kind and the second kind in your description are participating in active, perceptive wholes that they do not consciously acknowledge.

  4. kvond April 8, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Anodynelite,

    I don’t really read body-making and body-modification as a particularly gender specific act (though in the case of BIID I certainly do see the themes you bring out). My thoughts are very specific to the drawing of attention to the concrete acts of body-making, body participation that are engaged when even forming a view upon the world and communicating it. In the case of BIID and amputee love, this is not just a question of the breaking down of the body as a coherent whole (indeed there are fantasy projections), but also a matter of forming new bodies (for instance Apotemnophilia can be considered a particular internet phenomena, as on-line groups formed across space and time it seems has given the community a topological space upon which to graph the fantasy, and find confirmation).

    I only include BIID because it balances out the dialectic, so to speak. Indeed one is presumptuous when one dismember the image of God, but sometimes one should be presumptuous. Just do it, even in argument, tracing the veins and tissue to see where they connect.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. anodynelite April 8, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Stories about female student suicide are not a great example of the uniqueness of female social persecution, since more males successfully kill themselves than females, males are more likely to be bullied than females are, men are more likely to be beaten by men than women are, etc. That’s hardly a terrific example of how women have it significantly tougher than men.

    Why on earth people who acknowledge that there are good AND bad things in the world are invariably accused by the “second type of person” of being “affirmationist” is beyond me. It makes no sense. It’s just empty rhetorical posturing.

    Nobody, especially not Kvond, or me, has ever said we should “affirm” anything. All I’ve done is describe how I think things exist now and the ways in which these things can be changed as part of a *process*.

    There is no other world floating behind this one that we can refer to for our ideals. We only have this one, as it exists now, in the way it exists. We can only work/live within it. I’m not really interested in fantasy worlds where everything is nice and people are “perfect” in their behaviors. I can’t pretend I have some kind of privileged access to a fantasy world where people don’t have eyes or sexuality that I can use as a standard against which to measure this world.

    “for instance Apotemnophilia can be considered a particular internet phenomena, as on-line groups formed across space and time it seems has given the community a topological space upon which to graph the fantasy, and find confirmation).”

    Hmm…sort of like the “asexual” movement?

    Before, when I was talking about a specific type of male hysteria, I didn’t mean to imply there wasn’t a female correlate, or that women are excluded from the same situation, just that as things stand there are still lingering structural arrangements that render certain “tendencies” possible. I probably should’ve made that clear.

  6. anodynelite April 8, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    E.g. anorexia is still a primarily female, primarily white, primarily middle class affliction.

  7. anodynelite April 8, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Also, to think that someone who commits suicide and cites bullying in their suicide note only did so because of the bullying is clinically underinformed.

    By the time someone has committed suicide, they’ve probably been exhibiting signs of suicidal ideation for years. They’ve been severely clinically depressed (a condition that’s pretty tough to hide, although some parents don’t know how to distinguish between this and regular old teen angst), they’ve acted out in school, they’ve made admissions to their peers, they’ve withdrawn from social activities and retreated into themselves, etc. Most likely their lives at home were as bad if not worse than their lives at school were. On top of that, a whole host of genetic and biological factors are at work. (Depressed people are considered quite unreliable when it comes to their ability to read interpersonal exchanges. They may be blowing an unkind word or act from a peer way out of proportion due to their own internal struggles and insecurities. Externalizing depression is always going to entail some sort of projection. I know people who grew up in the lap of luxury with wonderfully supportive families and full access to top-of-the-line treatments who suffer from depressive illnesses, and people who grew up in Cracktown, U.S.A. who have no mood problems whatsoever and quite a healthy sense of self-worth.) Discoveries of genetic markers and the role of certain proteins have been changing the way we look at depression pretty drastically in the last decade or os.

    At any rate, a teen who commits suicide has been failed by the entire system, up and down the line–including their parents, their teachers, their peers, their communities, all of whom should have intervened on the teen’s behalf. Trying to reduce extremely complex phenomena like suicide to the idea that “the system is flawed” is both too easy and beside the point. Sure, the system is flawed. So do something about it. Push for reforms. Educate parents about the signs of clinical depression, and teach them to take suicidal ideation very seriously.

    I can do whatever I can to change things for the better, or I can sit and wait until the world is perfect. This is what they call a “no-brainer”.

  8. Dominic April 9, 2009 at 2:46 am

    I’m thinking of the suicide case as an example of a “parallax view”. The idea is that a real social antagonism manifests itself as inability to recognise that the antagonism exists on one side, and a view of the whole of social reality as structured by that antagonism on the other. The winners don’t know that they’re winners, or that there are losers; they think some people are just a bit unlucky, or socially incompetent, or irrationally miserable. The losers may be all three of those things, but because they are losers they also know something about the system that the winners don’t, namely that it’s a winners-and-losers sort of system in which it just isn’t possible for everyone to be a winner (in fact, for the winners to be winners, there have to be losers).

    Comparing winner females (happy, confident, thrusting-forwards) with loser males (lost, depressed, chaotic) will give you a pleasing, but false, image of how gender plays out in social reality. I think you get a quite different picture if you compare the winners with the winners and the losers with the losers.

  9. anodynelite April 9, 2009 at 4:04 am

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean, though I have read Zizek’s book. (Let me guess– the only reason why some people win and some lose is because of capitalism?) I don’t know anyone who can’t see that some people “lose.” Most people I’ve ever come into contact with are acutely aware of this, although I’m sure there is a blissfully unaware ignoranti with offices in every nation.

    I think we’re all losers, to some extent– some lose more often and with worse consequences than others. I don’t really see anybody “winning” much, and I’m not even sure what winning would entail. Unless you mean that simply having stuff is all that matters in the world, so people who have stuff always win. I disagree.

    Here’s my head-on view of schoolyard antagonism: I went to a *public school* in New York state in an impoverished district that was adjacent to a military base, a native reservation, and several prisons. So, uhhh, I’ve seen teachers beaten to bloody pulps and chairs thrown out windows and literal riots and police with dogs and metal detectors and sex scandals and abuse. I know all about what losing is, and how badly many males and females lose, in schools and in society at large. All I saw growing up was losing, really. In fact, I would wager quite a sum that the losing I’ve seen on a daily basis is as devastating if not more than anything you have. But that would just be a guess.

    When it comes to those who lose less badly and lose less often than others– male and female–these males don’t have it all that much better than women anymore, believe it or not, at least not in this country. There is still work to be done, of course…but I’ve had a chance to pretty extensively research gender-specific social problems, and it’s undeniable that politically, economically, and socially, many factors have improved greatly for women in the overdeveloped world. If you could name same areas where they haven’t, or where female “winners” still don’t have it as good as male ones, that might help make your point. Same with female/male losers.

    I never said women aren’t depressed. Nor did I insinuate that they don’t have problems. But as far as psychosis and violent acting out go, women tend to be far more “stable” under duress. Males: in general, they are taught to externalize. Females: in general, they are taught to internalize. This leads to a rough gender-division along the lines of socially destructive behaviors, and each tendency comes with problems of its own. Most experts agree that women are better at building social networks, asking for help and leaning on others for psychological support in times of need (a skill necessary to mental health) than men are. It’s time to take a good hard look at the ways our objectifications of males feedback into the system negatively, just as we already have begun to look at female objectification.

    I’m with Kvond: we need to look at everything as closely as possible, in the particulars–all the different disarticulations from the body that we’re responsible for.

  10. Dominic April 9, 2009 at 6:02 am

    I must admit, I don’t know what to make of male disaffection with formal education (although I understand it a bit), and am even more baffled by the affective project of female high-achievers. Good for them, I suppose, but GPAs don’t have a lot to do with the way I learned most of what I know…

  11. anodynelite April 9, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Yeah I don’t know about grade grubbing (it was more impressive that the women did well in school and had internships and jobs on the side) but working hard in school does set a pattern of behavior that’s rewarded in the workplace, which tends to prepare people for high-pressure jobs. Might also have something to do with leftover male entitlement–men don’t feel they should have to work for things, many expect to have success handed to them. Sort of the same way ivy league legacies just float by on the inflated grades and frat parties because they know they’ll get a job anyway.

  12. anodynelite April 9, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Going back to the original post–it’s interesting the way you refer to perversity, Kvond. I should explain better why I used the word before.

    I’ve always thought of perversity as really a sort of encrypted message about everything that’s repressed in the service of civilization, a liminal erotic state that is founded on a deep-seated dis-ease with everything that’s assumed to be “good” or “proper” w/r/t sexuality–not so much for its own sake, or for “transgression’s” sake, but as an outlet for everything irrational at the center of social normativity. Perverts are just those who express what the rest of us bury.

    In this way, when I talk about BIID being a sort of “perverse” longing, I don’t think this is entirely bad, nor do I attribute all perversities to Capital’s omnipotent reach and influence.

  13. kvond April 10, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Anodynelite: “I’ve always thought of perversity as really a sort of encrypted message about everything that’s repressed in the service of civilization, a liminal erotic state that is founded on a deep-seated dis-ease with everything that’s assumed to be “good” or “proper” w/r/t sexuality–not so much for its own sake, or for “transgression’s” sake, but as an outlet for everything irrational at the center of social normativity. Perverts are just those who express what the rest of us bury.”

    Kvond: I can agree with the spirit of this “message” but to push the point further although many “perverts” are perverts in the sense of transgression, quite often from the point of view of perverts themselves these are not messages from the repressed at all, but rather are constructive projects (as Deleuze might frame them). Yes, homosexuality (the King or Queen of the perversions) might express latent homosexual underpinnings of many normative, “straight” socializations, but I find the pervert much more interesting in the positive of their experience, the constructive embrace of a circuit of meaningful, but un-describable, behavior. I think at core, perverts are not rebelling, though they become rebels of a sort. It is a kind of wide-awake dreamwork, artists of a kind, artists of their bodies and lives. And as such, they are necessarily subject to the beautiful/ugly aesthetic binary determination, in the heaviest sense. Its always the case: “Look what they are making?!/!?”

    Anodynelight: In this way, when I talk about BIID being a sort of “perverse” longing, I don’t think this is entirely bad, nor do I attribute all perversities to Capital’s omnipotent reach and influence.

    Kvond: I’m glad to hear this. A big problem I have with much of the anti-Capitalist, Marxist style discourse is a kind of projective “health” upon society. Even David Graeber expresses some of this when he says that he distrusts heirarchial relationships because they all seem to end up as a kind of Sado-Mascochistic dynamic. And one cannot help but trace the three forms of “fetish” (Marx, Freud, African) to a kind of confluence of civilized picturing in which some imagine that if the right form of government was in place perversity itself would fall away. I do think that the eroticization of exchange does place greater consequence upon sexual acts, as sexual (they register on more levels, with greater intensity than they might otherwise), I think what is occuring in perversity is actually not foundationally sexual at all.

  14. Carl April 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    One of my best students ever was a recovering / recovered agoraphobic whose first serious piece of work for me was an extraordinarily fine-grained analysis of her brother’s eating disorder and the family dynamic around it. He had some food allergies, as I recall, their mother overcompensated, mealtimes became little theaters of power/love, etc. There was body image stuff but it was symptomatic. Part of his recovery was to get heavily into weight-lifting, which allowed him to regain his sense of body autonomy by reframing it.

    What’s striking about both the feminine and the masculine versions of body dissonance – anorexia, bulimia, obesity, body building, overtraining of various kinds, tattooing, piercing, plastic surgery, etc. – is how much of it boils down to power; but in the very specific sense of overcorrections by people who think they ought to have it but (think they) don’t. That is, it’s an effect of relative disentitlement. This then gets into feedback loops with brain chemistry to create more or less extreme versions.

    One way to see this is to look at the rise of body dissonance disorder rates among two groups: those whose entitlement was previously unquestioned (white men, but see Goffman on the dispersion of perfections that guarantees us all our portion of stigma); and those previously unentitled (black women, again a relative thing). Perhaps in these groups the imaginary Big Other and the imaginary body ideal are the strongest.

  15. kvond April 10, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Carl: “What’s striking about both the feminine and the masculine versions of body dissonance – anorexia, bulimia, obesity, body building, overtraining of various kinds, tattooing, piercing, plastic surgery, etc. – is how much of it boils down to power; but in the very specific sense of overcorrections by people who think they ought to have it but (think they) don’t. That is, it’s an effect of relative disentitlement. This then gets into feedback loops with brain chemistry to create more or less extreme versions.”

    Kvond: I have to say that though I take all your points, this description makes of such acts solely re-active and really out-of-control processes. And while indeed there are aspects of reaction, as there are in any number of human “feedback loop” discoveries, there is ever also and expressive and creative potential line in these processes as well. It is not simply the case of “overcorrection” mixed with “brain chemistry” leading to “extremes”. Extremes create normative territories as well. It could be that I don’t precisely read your meaning here, but I think this is what I would want to add.

  16. Carl April 10, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    No, you’re right. The problem is I’m too lazy to give up the easy communication the language of cause-and-effect enables, plus it often gets the job done in a rough-and-ready kind of way. So yes, there are many effective frames for each of those conducts, not all of them are pathological, and the pathological ones have integrity of a sort as well.

    I am interested in the sorts of contexts and discourses within which dramatic body modification becomes attractive as a site of creative expression (as opposed, perhaps, to the ritualization of group affiliation). I won’t say that’s always about being blocked in other dimensions, but so often it is.

  17. kvond April 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Carl,

    The reason why I bring this up is not really to make sure that the language is PC as that for both Spinoza and Nietzsche (and their modern advocates), whether someone is reactive or not is a determinative of whether one is working towards freedom or not. One works toward becoming more active, more self-determining. I can certainly see that this movement can come from “being blocked”. The question is, does one remain in a purely reactive state. Yes, someone might play the piano out of hatred for one’s father, but there comes a time when your play becomes something more than simply a protest or a rebellion.

  18. Carl April 10, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I think that’s right. On the other hand, I think at least Nietzsche’s notion of an undetermined self-determination is several points short of plausible and sends us off on a wild goose chase. Again, I need to know how ‘playing piano’ became available as a means of creative expression. Once we’re past the hated father (if that’s entirely possible) we still need a tradition, an audience, an instrument, and so on. We need an individualized notion of creativity. A certain native manual dexterity. A room of one’s own. Etc. At the end of a full network analysis how much room is left for acting that isn’t always also reacting? Is what we call freedom making virtue of necessity, as Bourdieu would say?

  19. kvond April 10, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Carl: “On the other hand, I think at least Nietzsche’s notion of an undetermined self-determination is several points short of plausible and sends us off on a wild goose chase.”

    Kvond: Agreed. Which is why I am a Spinozist and not a Nietzschean. He is too hung up on the self while providing a non-self framework of powers. But what Nietzsche does open up is the idea of affective determinations which exceed conscious focus.

    Carl: “Once we’re past the hated father (if that’s entirely possible) we still need a tradition, an audience, an instrument, and so on. We need an individualized notion of creativity. A certain native manual dexterity. A room of one’s own. Etc. At the end of a full network analysis how much room is left for acting that isn’t always also reacting? Is what we call freedom making virtue of necessity, as Bourdieu would say?”

    Kvond: Spinoza would say this as well, as he denies anything like “freewill”. When reading (and valuing!) the actions of another, we take them to be directing our attention to some aspects of the world. Any causal interpretation directs our attention away from the event to that which propells it. If we read the explanation of the piano playing as rebellion to the father, that becomes the reduction of the event, what it means to us. It gives us to “see” the father (and perhaps the father complex) as behind the music. The same would be said for all the other causal factors. But there comes a time when the music itself and our percieved relationship of the player to the music that gives US a texture, and capacity to act, beyond, or in addition to, whatever other features of the world we direct our attention to. Hell, we might even start tapping our foot or humming in time with the pianist. Is tapping our foot or humming only making virtue of necessity? Somehow that misses the mark.

  20. anodynelite April 11, 2009 at 12:56 am

    “Yes, homosexuality (the King or Queen of the perversions) might express latent homosexual underpinnings of many normative, “straight” socializations, but I find the pervert much more interesting in the positive of their experience, the constructive embrace of a circuit of meaningful, but un-describable, behavior. I think at core, perverts are not rebelling, though they become rebels of a sort. It is a kind of wide-awake dreamwork, artists of a kind, artists of their bodies and lives. And as such, they are necessarily subject to the beautiful/ugly aesthetic binary determination, in the heaviest sense. Its always the case: “Look what they are making?!/!?””

    Couldn’t agree with you more, and I love how you word this.

    Carl: I think you’re very right to point out that eating disorders have little to nothing to do with the common received-notion “it’s all because of those bad magazines with their unhealthy models”…eating disorders are (from what I’ve read and know) about control and power, primarily. And of course, I agree with Kvond that these little struggles and performances and affective spaces are creative acts, or at very least acts that create affective spaces that are rife with creative potential. But eating disorders are so nominally related to body-image, that many psychologists refuse to treat or diagnose them as anything other than a subset of OCD. They’ve also existed far longer than our print media have.

  21. Dominic April 11, 2009 at 7:38 am

    The one book I have on anorexia discusses it in terms of spiritual ascesis, which is how I think it used to be understood before it started to be understood as anorexia. It suggests, usefully I think, that one might continue this project in other ways once the “anorexic” stage has been passed.

    The relation to body-image is complicated; it’s the body “itself”, not its image, that is being worked on, but the image can be used for verification (or falsification, a stimulus for further work). The anorexic is certainly not someone who wants a normal body and has been duped by advertising into thinking that s/he doesn’t have one. But media images which demonstrate extreme bodily self-discipline certainly speak to, and might in some cases reinforce, the anorexic project. Some anorexics vituperate bitterly against celebrities who have “let themselves go”, given way to the body, lapsed from the struggle for perfection back into lazy putrescence. Here in the UK we now have entire publications dedicated to such lapses: so-and-so’s rampant cellulite, so-and-so’s enormous thighs. It doesn’t exactly help people to move on.

    Anorexia is often, besides being a “spiritual” project, a form of low-intensity warfare against those nearest to one, particularly those with responsibility for one’s nourishment. I do have to say, as far as “creative potential” is concerned, it is also often terribly dreary. Imagine shrinking the entire world down to the question of what you do or don’t put in your mouth. Great libidinal intensity! But lousy intellectual range. And starvation, while it gives you a certain physical acuteness, also makes you feel like shit, most of the time.

  22. Dominic April 11, 2009 at 7:40 am

    (Simone Weil’s anorexia, for example, is surely the most boring thing about her)

  23. Dominic April 11, 2009 at 7:56 am

    ((although here is a quite persuasive argument to the contrary, which links a lot of the things I like about Weil, “decreation” in particular, to her anorectic stance))

  24. anodynelite April 11, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Actually, there’s a reason that fasting has been a part of nearly every religious tradition since forever, and it’s because there’s an actual “high” associated with the advanced stages of starvation. It’s considered one of the easier ways to go.

    But where body-image is concerned in anorexia, that’s been proven, over and over, to be almost irrelevant– it has literally nothing to do with the etiology of the disease, it only appears as a justification after the fact (sort of the same way gay people now are getting married, as if marriage is the only way to be in love, as a justification-by-society of their particular proclivities.) The reason why an anorectic will rail against others who have “let themselves go” is because this feels like a betrayal of that person’s own sense of control over his/her situation, which they have projected onto other anorectics.

    Black metal is terribly dreary too, but you seem to think it’s creative.

  25. anodynelite April 11, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Also, it helps to understand the certain cultures anorexia is more common in.

    For example, I can think of tons of Italian-American anorexics and body dysmorphic workout-bulimics, and this is because of the highly oppressive function of food in Italian-American culture. The full-weight of the traditional family, with all of its internal condtradictions and vagaries, can be felt at the table. Basically, from the moment you’re born into an Italian-American family, you are force fed until you want to vomit, yelled at if you don’t finish your food, and then ridiculed if you gain weight. I never caught it but my brother is obsessed with food.

  26. anodynelite April 11, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    When it comes to thin celebrities gaining weight, in my experience it’s more likely to be normal-to-heavy men and women commenting about this. Mostly out of schadenfreude.

  27. Dominic April 11, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Well, black metal and anorexia have a lot in common, to my mind at least (there is in fact a French BM band called “Anorexia Nervosa”). There was nearly a chapter in Cold World on The Holy Bible, but I decided I wasn’t enough of a Manic Street Preachers fan to do it justice. I wouldn’t say it was creative, though – more like (potentially usefully) destructive, in a scorched-earth sort of way.

    I think you’re a bit quick about dismissing body image as a dimension of anorexia. I agree that it’s not enormously significant in the “etiology” (although I don’t think anorexia is “just” a disease, such that assigning it an etiology is sufficient to account for it). But it’s part of the picture for contemporary anorexics, and with some reason – not just as justification after the fact, but as symbolic support for the work in progress.

    The high one gets from fasting is only part of the economy of anorexia proper; and the longer-term effects of depriving the body of nourishment are pretty depressive. You get cold and miserable, and the world shrinks around you…

  28. kvond April 11, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Anodynelite: “But where body-image is concerned in anorexia, that’s been proven, over and over, to be almost irrelevant– it has literally nothing to do with the etiology of the disease…”

    Kvond: It must have something to do with the causes of the disease, but not a something that is as obvious and simplicist as it is made to seem. I know the issue quite complex. For instance there once was (perhaps still is) a photographic treatment strategy which involved photographing anorexic girls/women so that the could more or less objectively “see” how thin they had become, (photographic images being quite different than mirror images). I know that in some cases this actually had an effect. But, on the other hand there are now these pro-ana websites where girls to post their “thinspiration” photos of extremely thin girls and women (seldom pictures of themselves), and discuss/post in great detail their eatting patterns and ambitions. In such sites body image and community building actually come together in a new way it never could have before. I agree its largely an issue of displayed self-control, and in some cases perhaps we can say attempt to literally eat “nothing”, but body image does get folded into the project, at least contingently so.

  29. anodynelite April 12, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    A privately-funded group tried the same thing with addicts in San Francisco–in exchange for free drugs and clean needles they made them watch themselves in a mirror during the injection ritual so they would be forced to see how ugly/awful it all was. Some of them would say, oh of course that’s gross, but it seems that in the long run not too many of them really cared enough to stop.

    In the same way some anorexics become part of “thinspiration” groups and obsessed with images, others get overly interested in “health”, which usually ends up meaning they only eat vegetables or won’t eat anything with fat in it, or that they exercise for hours upon hours, to an extreme that is actually counterproductive and unhealthy. I would suggest that in both cases, anorexics are looking for something–anything–in the wider culture to which they can attach their obsession/compulsion and which will justify their rituals to outside or second-party thinking. Some of them probably do find great inspiration in fashion imagery; others in tennis, or endurance running. So when mom says you’re looking awfully thin, they can say well I’m an athlete, or I want to be a model, or whatever the excuse du jour might be. Same way with schizophrenics and religion (for how long were schizophrenics simply “mystics” of whichever religion their culture happened to favor?)–religion didn’t cause schizophrenia, but it masked or obscured or justified the symptoms as other-than-diseased for quite some time.

    So I find it hard to trace a cause-effect chain where media images end up *causing* anorexia. Maybe they feedback into it incidentally, or even sometimes quite significantly, but I don’t know that they alone could cause such a thing in an otherwise not-OCD person in the absence of other extenuating circumstances. I know this goes against conventional wisdom on the matter but so does a lot of research.

  30. anodynelite April 13, 2009 at 12:01 am

    I don’t think calling something a disease is necessarily a derogation, more a recognition of its medical treatability. Some of my favorite things are diseases.

    I also don’t tend to think of creation and destruction in terms of an either/or choice between divergent strategies.

    I would say that some of the highest magnitude or highest order intensities are ultimately products of careful and deliberate destruction, of your “self” and/or other things. But in this sense destruction is never a only a “scorching” but the creation of (a) new field/s. Where the interesting stuff happens… If you know what you’re doing… Sometimes even if you don’t.

  31. kvond April 13, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Anodynelite: ” I would suggest that in both cases, anorexics are looking for something–anything–in the wider culture to which they can attach their obsession/compulsion and which will justify their rituals to outside or second-party thinking.”

    Kvond: I think that when one tries to talk about “causes” of something like anarexia, one cannot be simple minded or reductive about it. And blaming fashion images certainly isn’t a path I would take. But I also don’t think that pro-ana sites are girls looking for “something, anything” that would justify their personal rituals to others. The communities and processes within those site deserve their own authority, and not being merely props for a personal ritual. I agree that such girls are looking to make contact with others, but that it what all community building is.

  32. kvond April 13, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Anodynelite: “I don’t think calling something a disease is necessarily a derogation, more a recognition of its medical treatability.”

    Kvond: Recognition of your state as a “disease” is complicated, in that this often serves as a half-way point for desires and behaviors that cannot exist as recognized morally/ethically on their own. The entire class of behaviours becomes either immoral, or is simply ignored. Getting into the DMS can actually be a boon to a group of persons, as it positions them within society (and to no small fact, makes all kinds of governmental and insurance funds possibily available to them). But it also seals off the entire subjective authority of your condition. No longer can you simply own it, be it, do it. It is being done to you. Homosexuals of course ran into this political difficulty. There may have been a sense that when homosexuality started being discussed as genetically caused at least they were being granted status as “persons” (“It wasn’t my choice, I was born this way!”). But of course, if it wasn’t you’re choice, then there is no choice for me to have to respect. I think that pathologizing anarexia or BIID has soemthing of the same consequences. It gives these persons a place in society, allows us a framework for discussing and caring about their desires, but it also removes the possibility of their own self-becoming, (not to mention what it does to oneself to picture one’s own state as merely a state of diseased or chemical disbalance).

  33. anodynelite April 13, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Hmmm…what about other OCD types, then? Say, the kind that focus on “germophobia” rather than foodphobia? I would agree that there’s a foothold there within our society for people with OCD to grab onto–I’m thinking of the type of imagery you see in advertisements for Lysol or “anti-bacterial” products (which, it turns out, is better at growing superstrains than anything), where the world is an icky place just crawling with germs. There’s never any mention that viruses actually build the immune system, just newscasts heralding in the latest supervirus that never quite happens. (I’ve even heard that during the early years of HIV/AIDS discovery, there were tons of OCD types insisting they were HIV + driving doctors crazy…) We have quite an large number of children and adults with allergies because they live in such overly sanitized environments.

    But which came first? Is is possible that the OCD is the underlying issue, with germs just taking an instrumental role? It does seem more common in some cultures than others, and there’s even been some research into genetic factors that suggest a strong biological component.

    I’m tempted to side with those who think of anorexia as more a form of OCD than I do those who want to turn it more into a capitalistically based perversion/pathology. I’m uncritical of the community-building tendencies of any group, diseased or not–this seems such a function of certain technologies, and mostly positive, to the point where it seems silly to expect otherwise.

    What bothers me is that people who don’t understand OCD might be unwittingly influencing the “narrative” anorexics tell to themselves and others about their own illness, by insisting that if they only saw more pictures of normal-sized women, and had better “size” role models, none of this would happen. This seems to be the reduction line that many feminists take, and while I understand their frustration with sexism in the media, I don’t think they are always helpful in their armchair diagnoses.

    I could talk all day about the DSM and its glories and woes–sex addiction isn’t in there yet, last I heard.

  34. anodynelite April 14, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Orientation is pretty difficult to talk about, but especially when it comes to biological factors–inside and outside of the community. Not my favorite can of worms for a lot of reasons, mostly because pissing people off is more fun when you don’t care for the people.

    Seems obvious that social pressure to conform to certain traits or standards leads to males experiencing orientation as more categorical, rigid, static–gay and straight. Females seem to experience orientation as much less categorical and much more fluid. Given that attempts at biological explanations for this are scant and/or not credible, the social one seems to fit. Especially given that in many other past societies male sexuality was experienced as very fluid, not fixed in orientation, perhaps even less fixed than female sexuality is now.

    Doesn’t feel threatening to me to admit that nothing about me has ever been static, but I guess for political reasons I understand the hesitation. I suppose it’s worth playing along until same-sex partners have the right to visit their dying partners in the hospital, and have full spousal rights when it comes to property and tax incentives and parenting.

    I still jokingly call out some “born that way” gays/lesbian friends when they get a little too fixated on Beyonce/have obvious crushes on butch celebrities. I find they’re still much more comfortable with their own “fluidity” than the straights I know well are.

  35. kvond April 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Anodynelite,

    I don’t have much experience with OCD so I can’t really comment. I would say in general there are two, or perhaps three ways of engaging a possible “pathology”. There is treating it as a physical aberration which means engaging the body/brain as a thing to be adjusted (chemicals, hormones, surguries, etc.), and then there is taking on the subjectivity of the person and using the processes (including the material processes) of subjectivity to steer the project/pathology. I remember (or at least I think I recall) that Joyce asked a famed student of Freud’s, what is the difference between my sister and me? (a sister who was mentally ill). And the answer was something like “You dive, she falls”.

    I think when treating the material side of the body (and I am not against this), we have to keep in mind that we are also constructing subjectivities, positioning how the person views themselves. Pills taken, for instance, are not just chemical acts, but also rituals which inscribe the subject within a program of subjectivity. I think that it is important to, when framing our view of these difficulites to respect the project/process as an expression, while still attempting to meet it on the physical level. We should not deprive the person the right of being a person who is actively engaging in a transformation. In the end perhaps it is a bit of an aesthetic judgment, are they falling, or are they diving?

  36. kvond April 14, 2009 at 11:37 am

    AL: “Females seem to experience orientation as much less categorical and much more fluid.”

    Kvond: Yes,I was just thinking today about how, in a simple minded sense, Deleuze and Guattari had to come up with something like the rhizome and such, if not simply due to the requirement of finding a mode of becoming that is not +/- copulative, as per male homosexuality. That is to say, it expresses their experience. And I was thinking how different tribadism (and overtly staged strap-on play) is from even these. What a shame it is that we do not have more female (if lesbian) metaphysicians. I always remember Cixious’ image of “two lips touching” not only an auto-eros, but obviously the requirement for speech itself. Its too bad that out of the whole French rave only a few Male metaphysical names have endured.

    I wonder what Hypatia thought.

  37. anodynelite April 16, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I missed these last two posts until just now. Very excellent points.

    I had a teacher who knew Cixous and told me I reminded him of her, which I took as a compliment (as I hope it was intended)…especially since this was before I had read much French psychoanalytical or deconstructive feminism so it wasn’t a studied similarity.

    I should dig up a copy of Laugh of Medusa and write about “speaking” with the body since it’s relative to these recent discussions.

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