Work That Body!
This Introduction to Cultural Studies enlists an exercise meme in order to flag the physical and interpretive work we perform on ourselves, the monitoring we extend to others, and in so doing reproduce, modify or contest cultural norms. Consider. What does it mean to “work that body”—in the gym, on the job, on the streets, in the sheets, and so on? What sort of bodies are we working to fashion? What imperatives are we responding to? What cultural codes direct the meaning and value we assign to other’s bodies? Fiction, film, personal testimonies, (social) science, and cultural critique offer provisional answers to these questions. Our investigation begins with two body technologies whose contours and functions are described by Foucault. The first, discipline, is designed to fabricate “useful”—i.e. well trained and productive—individuals who can be counted on to abide by and enforce societal norms. The second, biopolitics, regulates populations so as to maximize the well being of “the people” by withholding life to the point of death from “others.” We will consult these cultural critiques and critical responses to them in examining an array of contemporary U.S. body work. Where, why and how do you locate yourself in relation to any of these body technologies? Topics include: torture, mass incarceration and racial profiling; assisted reproductive technologies; body modifications (eg., cosmetic surgery, weight loss programs, pumping iron, and other exercise regimes); hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery and the requirements for accessing them; and new biotechnologies that dissolve the boundaries between human and animal, organism and machine.
A course packet and the following texts are likely to be required reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; Katherine Dunn, Geek Love; Octavia Butler, Dawn.