Sensory Ontologies and the Methodological Use of Rudimentary Bodies

I want to write about the body, not as a metaphor, symbol, or representation, but simply as the body. (Eli Clare)

In a drawing by digital photographer Antony Crossfield (Lanugo, 2013), the viewer is confronted with the peculiar aliveness of magnified strands of hair growing out of the back of a kneeling body. Despite the undeniably human form of the presented figure, this body refutes categorization through its prominent bodiliness, which is provoked by the blurring of physical markers of age, sex, and gender. The figure is experienced foremost as a body. Lanugo portrays rudimentary body parts in such a way that they expose corporeal categorizations of gender, race, and ability as mere “phantom materialities” (Snyder & Mitchell, 374). Instead, hair, skin, wrinkles, and folds of flesh are here perceived as the only meaningful materialities of the body. The body’s rudimentariness envelops its viewer in a rare sensibility of perception; it thereby demystifies bodily norms as guiding principles for making sense of bodies. Crossfield’s drawing helps me to question standard ways of seeing bodies as meaningful only through categorizations of gender, age, or (dis-)ability. The artist’s digital visual language further allows me to explore the potential of the digital distortion of body images as a way of learning how to see beyond bodily norms and to gain access to the rudimentary significance of all bodies. My aim for this paper is to productively reclaim the body for a new materialist methodology that moves from a critique of immaterial bodies to a radical transformation of the relationship between embodied materiality and meaning. To face human bodies’ “defining elasticity,” I will employ queer and feminist theories of disability that engage in the body’s flesh, blood, bone, hair, and skin. Digital visualization will be explored as opening up new insights into the meaning of our bodies’ sensibilities and material realities.

References Eli Clare. “Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies: Disability and Queerness.” Public Culture 13:3, 2001: 359-365 Mairian Corker. “Sensing Disability.” Hypathia 16:4, 2001, 34-52 Sharon L. Snyder & David T. Mitchell. “Re-engaging the Body: Disability Studies and the Resistance to Embodiment.” Public Culture 13:3, 2001: 367-389