What is a body? – Workshop by cultural analyst Jules Sturm

October 2019

‘Why should our bodies end at the skin?’ (Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto)

In preparation of this workshop around embodied theories, the students contemplate the question of what a body is. With this question, cultural analyst Jules Sturm prompts the students to contemplate, experiment with, bump up against, and materialize propositions about how we can re-think or even un-think some of the ways we habitually see, read, experience our own and other bodies. To ask what a body is, is the starting point for a one-day seminar to engage in some important critical concepts from body theory that reveal the historical and cultural mechanisms of how we develop ethical values, political exclusions, personal habits, bodily gestures, and social effects/affects around the notion of embodiment.

The seminar uses as its foundation a few critical texts on the history and philosophy of the body. These texts reveal that the body remains always outside of thought, yet is not unthinkable. Theoretical discourses around the body help to realize how complex and difficult it is to change existing, culturally and materially sedimented embodied practices and attitudes towards bodies without understanding how they came into existence. The theories will further help to acknowledge that, paradoxically, cognitive approaches to the body are in fact also embodied. And simultaneously, that the body is always in excess of our ability to know its capacities and possibilities. We take this “escapade” of the body as a chance to formulate new ways of relating to and of imagining what a body could be otherwise – or what a body could be beyond the skin.

The goal will be to eventually take more notice of the often surprising and sometimes outrageous personal tendencies in our own bodily thoughts, gestures, and views about bodies, and to explore the use of a few concepts from critical theory with which to un-think and re-present the body within broader social or artistic practices. The concepts will come from critical disability theory, queer theory, intersectional theory, and feminist philosophy.

By Jules Sturm