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Baroque Bodies and Representations of Modern Subjectivity

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Organizer: Annaliese Hoehling

Co-Organizer: Anna-Claire Simpson

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In her study The Culture of the Body: Genealogies of Modernity (2000), Dalia Judovitz locates the body--conceptually and materially--as a historically- and culturally-bound entity that has, nevertheless, been disembodied by Cartesian modern epistemological frameworks. Examining texts by early modern thinkers, however, Judovitz excavates the “baroque body” as an alternative paradigm for “conceiving and representing the body” not as a prosthetic or prison to the mind, but as integrative, always-becoming, as plural, and as attached to and constructing the world (12). The reward of considering the “baroque body” is to reunite the metaphysical and the physical in an understanding of modern subjectivity and identity as both contingent and provisional; to conceive of embodiment as materially expressive of culture and also as potentially transformative of social order. This seminar will explore the potential of the baroque body for configuring experiences of modernity, and to consider the ways interdisciplinary and transhistorical representations of, and approaches to, modern subjectivity might be productively compared through representations of the baroque body.

Baroque bodies respond to the Enlightenment’s “triumph” of the rational mind over the corruptible body. Baroque bodies are therefore “minoritarian”; they are excluded from subjecthood and interiority; they navigate via the surface and proliferate surfaces, which interact with, and are vulnerable to, the world that constructs them. Baroque bodies also inherently exceed the limits that modernity produces: they are hybrid bodies, raced bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies, trans bodies, child bodies, elderly bodies, and so on.  They are both invisible and overdetermined, spectacles and inscrutable. Although the “baroque body” as a term risks evoking a body detached from life, it is the inverse to which we refer: the baroque body’s entwinement with consciousness, sense and feeling should be understood here as an alternative to the body as a separate entity. The baroque body is never just a body.

From King Lear’s Fool to Mary Shelley’s Monster, from Kazuo Ishigiro’s butler Stevens to Get Out’s Chris, baroque bodies in popular literature and culture articulate experiences of modernity, reflecting the risks and myths of “otherness,” making possible the construction of normative modern subjects, even while the dominant paradigm would deny their capacity for creativity. They also disturb the stability of the modern subject, exposing the work of social construction and the consequences of materiality.

This seminar will offer new directions for engaging with representations of subjectivity and identity within modernity, isolating the baroque body as a site of cultural construction and social resistance. Importantly, positioning the “baroque body” as a framework may open new lines of inquiry that enhance other discourses that respond to the Enlightenment-produced crisis of embodiment.

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