Mission Statement

What lay on the pillow was a charnel-house, a heap of pus and blood, a shovelful of putrid flesh. The pustules had invaded the whole face, so that one pock touched the next… A large red crust, starting on one side of the cheeks was invading the mouth, twisting it into a terrible grin. And all around this grotesque and horrible mask of death, the hair, the beautiful hair, still blazed like sunlight and flowed in a stream of gold…It was as if the poison she had picked up in the gutters, from the carcasses left there by the roadside, that ferment with which she had poisoned a whole people, had now risen to her face and rotted it.
— Emile Zola, Nana (1880)

This quote served to open my doctoral dissertation, which considered depictions of the human body produced by a particular French painter in the 1860s.  It proved meaningful to me as I began to formulate my research project because it proposes a clear connection between the physical body and the more abstract political bodies of a nation, and it does so as part of a writer’s commentary on his society.  This kind of connection is not uncommon—the “body politic” often surfaces as an expression capable of addressing the complexity of modern nations by liking them to the unknowable corporeal practices of the human body. 

However, beyond these political metaphors, artists of all media draw on the consequences of their movements through the world being defined by the size, shape, color, gender, etc. of the body they inhabit.  These representations of bodies participate in forming different types of knowledge and in forwarding various conversations.  They may serve as entertainment in television or film, create new frames of reference for fashion and accessories, or perhaps draw medicine and science into dialogue with more mainstream conversations. In this respect, the nineteenth-century France of Emile Zola is not that different that the twenty-first-century world that we inhabit.

In the course of earning my Ph.D., I gained fluency in discussing how the body is represented in artistic media.  I have learned how history and theory might be used to pose questions that clarify and expand our views of what and how these media can produce meaning.  Though this site will, eventually, serve as an outpost for my professional writing portfolio, I want to use this blog to present commentary on the ways that our culture interacts with art and/or the body and the ways in which audiences consume them.