Monday, February 24, 2014

Tiny Corporealities: Sinus Analysis (Part 1)


"Tiny vessels oozed into your neck
And formed the bruises
That you said you didn't want to fade
But they did and so did I that day"
Tiny Vessels
Deathcab for Cutie, 2003

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The Tiny Corporealities project is aimed at intense analysis of the body as matter entangled with meaning. Frequent observations will be journaled, tracing how "body," "thought," and "narrative" function as apparatuses by which corporealities emerge. Critical attention will be paid to how particular embodiments are formed and inform their social environment. 

This project arises from an engagement with a seminar 
“Alternative Materialisms" led by Prof. David Mitchell at G.W.U.

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Social Allergies

For the purpose of this study I have selected my sinus passages. In a previous post, I have explored how sinus attacks, infections and other allergies have shaped how I socialize with the world. A certain hesitancy to engaging openly in ecologies of flowers and mold-spewing puddles affected my interaction with non-human animals while also limiting my ability to share spaces with humans.

Looking back, I remember how at the age of six I sat alone in my mom's car during a particularly bad allergy attack at my sister's soft-ball game. "Taking deep breaths I close my eyes tighter. I rub them with my mitt. I wish they'd pop out, they feel too big for my skull. I wish I could just unscrew my whole head and put it somewhere until I was able to handle it again" (Social Allergies). Without actually cutting myself up, I feel the Tiny Corporealities of eyes and face distinguish from each other. I imagine the fragmentation and denaturalization of my body. Not only am I alienated socially from others, but from myself.

The work of starting this "Sinus Analysis" brings me into fuller relations with my body and the worlds that run through it. It will begin with what I know and feel but will explode out in many directions like mold in the wind. In the process, I hope to discover the many tiny corporealities that shape our bodies and our myriad interrelations.


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Maps of Things Unseen

My sinuses were selected for this study in part because of this inter-permeation of self and society, body and ecology, but also in part because of the mysterious ways these passages function (or refuse to function). Medical diagnosis and treatment for sinus debilities are so common so as to be innocuously normate. Medical science on the sinuses however remain largely agnostic.

Science offers descriptions of the sinuses: an array of cavities in the skull lined with soft tissue and mucus. Usually these passages remain open, modulated by "very fine hair-like cells called cilia. The cilia help drain mucus through the sinus passages into the nose" (American Academy of Allergies Asthma & Immunology). As cilia testify, sinuses are more than empty space or sealed off organs, but sites where different outsides meet different insides. Sinuses are unseen social mechanisms by which our body relates.

Despite the analysis of these mucus lined cross-roads, "The purpose of the sinuses is unclear. One theory is that sinuses help humidify the air we breathe in; another is that they enhance our voices." (Web M.D.). In other words, while the embodied matter can be mapped and the material affects traced, the materialism that brings together this Tiny Corporeality and the world remains an open question - an important concern come Spring allergies.

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Affecting Interactions

Many days I can ignore my sinuses. The feel of my cheek (maxillary sinus), eyes (ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses) and forehead (front sinus) become naturalized and forgotten experiences (AAAAI). Likewise, the way they shape my face becomes an assumed (pre-given) aspect of who I am. I am identified by others largely based on facial and vocal recognition, structured by my sinuses (AAAAI).

Yet on a day like last Tuesday, when the melting snow and radiant sunshine cause mold to spew into the atmosphere in southwestern Maryland, my sinuses make their presence known. The soft tissue lining my cheeks become inflamed as the mucus rushes to contain the spores(AAAAI). The resulting inflation builds the feeling of pressure around my ears, eyes, and forehead affection my sense of balance, concentration and ability to read.

The result was that I kept myself indoors for as much of the day as possible, with my face pressed up against an air-purifier. When I did go out to campus, my interactions with my colleagues were affected as well. Grimaces, frequent moves to rub my eyes or forehead, and a general lethargy as medication worked to combat the sinus pressure did not make me seem an approachable person that day. 

Sinuses demonstrate that our bodies are not our own, but exist as changing sets of social relation. Moreover for this project, sinuses bring us into intimate cognizance of a tiny thing with big affects.

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