Monday, April 21, 2014

Tiny Corporealities: Shared Objects (Yolk)

"Why do you always carry that egg around?
Is it yours? Can I see it?"

Stephan Lance, 2007

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.


Today, I present my Tiny Corporeality for a seminar on Alternative Materialisms. In part, the project has already happened. If you read my blog ( you have already become an intimate with the object of my study. Yet we are here today, on a place in time marked on the syllabus as "presentations." What is the work of this for a materiality we continue to carry with us and continue to think through? 

As I see it, we come together today to make our Tiny Corporealities present. (1) We make them present, as in current, to ritually mark time in an ongoing process of change. (2) We make them present, as in performative, to signify and become a source of shared meaning for the group. (3) We make them present, as in existent, to open our bodies up and make them a real part of a shared corporeality. Hence the terror and hence the critical ethic act of being an academic, especially one working in disability and material studies. We come together to surrender our knowledge and our bodies, so that we can enter into a shared discourse. We make ourselves vulnerable, so greater intimacy can occur.

And yet what happens when that intimacy is rejected? How might our presentations fail - not as individual works for academic acclaim, but as a corporate act? What are the stakes, the precarious lives that may come into being by making our corporealities present? What responsibilities come with our shared objects?


Last week, our seminar participated in the shared viewing of an Austrialian Independent film, Yolk., directed in 2007 by Stephen Lance. Together we stood witness to the coming of age story of a adolescent girl, struggling to gain access to intimacy while living under the diagnosis of Downs Syndrome. Developing the hots for a local boy, she works to make her body present to him in new erotic ways. As a sign of her burgeoning fertility, she begins to carry around an egg - an unfertilized reproductive vehicle of a chicken - that brings her own tiny corporeality, her ovula, out into the open, to be seen, touched, and shared.

In a key scene, the boy and the girl walk alone into the woods, a familiar symbol of sexual intercourse and female interiority. Sitting down together, the boy asks "Why do you always carry that egg around?" "It's a baby," she responds holding it out for him. "Is it yours? Can I see it?" Reaching towards her, his hand touches the egg, her surrogate child, as it rests in her palm. Gingerly stroking it, it's hard not to feel the thrill of intimacy. What does this shared touch mean? Where might it lead?

Conscious of the state of shared excitation and vulnerability, the girl reaches out for the boys hand and begins to stroke it in like fashion as he touched her egg. Touch goes both ways. The male does not just enter into the female sphere and leave unaffected. The feminine enters into the world of the masculine. The disabled enter into the world and ecology of the abled. Penetration goes both ways as boundaries are torn down. As we become present, naked, vulnerable to another, so too are they revealed to us.

The boy pauses for a moment, a few frames where many possibilities open up for them. Then in an act of rejection and abjection, he pulls out. Withdrawing his hand, his apparatus of contact with her egg, he stands up and walks out of the bower of the woods. The egg of a disabled girl can be a shared object, of academic and even personal interest. But this girl, this child, this crip is too much. 

How often does this happen? The objects of study, especially in new materialism, post-humanism, and object studies become momentary points of contact between us. Yet how frequently does the moment the object brings us back into the politics of the human, we withdraw? The tiny corporeality of an egg can become present, but at the expense of dealing with the personal life of the body that shares it with us.  Our intimacy is precarious and contingent.


These are the stakes of our presentations: to turn shared objects into shared lives and corporate ethics. We could have kept our study of our tiny corporealities private, within the realm of neoliberal self-knowledge and self-care. By making our bodies present, we mark a radical openness that signals that my body is not my own, nor only my responsibility. To better know it, to give it life, and to give it political power we need to move from the dichotomy of subjects (invisible eyes) looking upon objects, into a sense of inter-subjectivity and inter-corporeality.

At first, in my Sinus Analysis (Part 1), I articulate the parameters of my study as concerned with sinus passages. The series of tissue-lined holes in my skull. Sensitive to a variety of penetrating agents, the cilia, very fine hairlike cells, allow for things to enter into my body or else participate in an inflammation in my head, known to me as a sinus attack, where my body attempts to assert its isolation by rejecting the entrance of pollen, mold, and other problematic guests. The sinuses as a cite where the outside and the inside meet, fold into each other or differentiate, of potential openness and alienation interested me.

In part 2, I consider the Frozen Environments of Maine. With the budding of the cherry-blossoms in Washington DC, my tiny corporeality restricts my access to the open air and society by debilitating me with pounding head-aches, disoriented vision, and clogged passages. How might my head's relative clearness in a colder and less fecund environment up north be a way that my tiny corporeality directs my movements? Rather than concentrating on the alienation I feel in the District, I could see how my sinuses as engaging me ever deeper in the eco-system of New England. Might I have, in a perhaps different sense than Wallace Steven's snow-man, a "mind of winter?"

Dwelling in and on New England, in part 3 I recollected my Perfumed Tears at my partner's Installation as Pastor of a local Church. The movement from isolation to intimacy has its costs, and I paid part of that in tear-drops. As this Church community opened itself to accept my partner as its new minister and leader, they covered their bodies and the air with alcoholic vapors smelling of rose and lilac. Sensitive to these chemicals, by opening up my heart and my sinus passages to be present and the ceremony, my body began to cry as the collective acts of celebrating my beloved and chemically overwhelming my head left me crying in the pew. The tears were sincere, I observed, but not my own. My body was not under my control, but subject to the material affects of the environment.

While the debilitating act of crying was acceptable on this occasion, usually the management of Public Allergies (part 4), becomes an aspect of our open interaction with others that we are supposed to manage privately. As a literal cost of participating in the public arena of work or the Church, for instance, we are expected to keep our emotions and our allergies under control by paying for medication or using our own Personal-Time-Off to wallow in our lack of productivity. This is how the fiction of private and public, between our bodies and our corporate responsibilities are designed to be kept separate. 

Looking through the Eyes of the Poor (Part 5), part of the fear in presenting and sharing our tiny corporealities is that we feel how we are trespassing the social agreement laid down by capitalism: that our problems are our own to manage. By opening ourselves up to others we make the silent (or not so silent) statement that we need their help. This threatens others by not only demanding that we cannot do it alone but that they too are dependent on their environment to succeed. Money (the ability to pay for medication to treat our bodies) and success (grades and the like) are ways that we distinguish ourselves from one another. What we say in opening up our bodies and our stories to others is that we want them to take part in the telling. Our economics, our ecology of bodies, meaning, and power are not capable of being pinned down to my abilities or disabilities. 

If my Tiny Corporeality project is a success, as I hope it will be today, it is because we as a community surrendered our bodies, so that they might become shared objects, and from shared objects into shared lives and shared stories. We move from bodies, texts, or a world that we analyze into a corporation that we form and transform together. If I am to breath clearly, during and after presenting, it will be because of you, because of us living and breathing together through all the social allergies, head-aches, and attacks.

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