(n) - the whole physical substance, a distinct mass or group, the main part

Where and how does the physical human body enter textual spaces, and in what ways does the human body itself become a text?

In regards to the print text - human body interaction, French writer and theorist Roland Barthes evokes the notions of the "pleasure of the text" and the "the fires of language," or of the print text as having the human form of our erotic body. French feminists Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray seek to achieve a uniquely feminine language, one in which writing is intricately tied to the body and its erotic pleasures; and Korean-American poet Theresa Cha gestures towards deliverance through language in her mixed-genre text Dictee.

When considering cyborgs and the interaction between human and electronic bodies we notice how electronic bodies - most notably at the level of such portable devices as the cellular phone and walkman, but also at the larger level of the TV, the microwave, the computer (especially with the recent explosion of email and Internet use) - have become both physical and virtual extensions of ourselves and our human bodies.

Returning to specifically textual spaces, we also see how electronic hypertext, and its tendencies towards fluidity, interactivity, non-fixity, and non-linearity, works to reconfigure the relationship between author, reader, and text, or the relationship between human body and textual body.

Such considerations about the interaction between human body and electronic spaces lead to the notion of mapping meaning through language, or the way in which bodies move and write themselves into space. Mireille Rosello comments on Michel de Certeau's poetics of the relationship between a walker of the city and her or his surrounding urban environment, and then relates the browser of an electronic text to a traveler who navigates the space not of a physical environment but of weightless information.

With the possibility of deconstructing and reconstructing gender we must also consider the way in which an understanding of our own human bodies is mapped through language, and the way in which we currently and most commonly equate sex with the biological body in order to differentiate it from the social construct of gender. In thinking of gender as performance, contemporary theorist Sherry Turkle discusses the possibility of performing alternative genders (those which differ from what has been associated with our biological bodies) in the anonymous - or masked - communities of cyberspace, particularly of MUD and MOO environments.

My project on Visions of an African American Identity discusses literary representations of the way in which the individual human body is gazed upon and read like a text, and how individual subjectivity is both formed through and informed by the continual interaction between the external gaze and its internalization.

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(Image of man's face c. 1991 Lancaster Group USA)


Web page written and constructed by Laralynn Weiss, Georgetown University