This semester, however, I expanded the exercise to think about embodiment more largely, or how exactly we come to embody socially, historically and culturally crafted identities like gender but also race and class. What can we learn about social norms, cultural preferences or even religious devotion with attention to one body (mine)? How can we learn to interpret the terrain of physical bodies? What are the props, to conjure Erving Goffman, that bolster, and sometimes detract, from not only our “presentations of self” in daily life but also our presentations of social norms and our cultural habits? While Craig invokes Pierre Bourdieu, habitus and deviance in his excellent post on the radical act of painting one’s nails (if a dude, excuse me, a man), I evoke Sean McCloud (who employs Bourdieu on class) and R. Marie Griffith’s lovely discussions of historical and cultural work of bodies inDivine Hierarchies and Born Again Bodies respectively.
For discussions of embodiment, I made myself into the subject of academic inquiry (aren’t we already?), the object of the critical gaze of my students. Gender me, I said to my classes. Race me. Class me. And religion me, which is another post for a different day. The body, I explained encouragingly, is a political, social, cultural and religious map. It is physical, material and biological, but it is also the repository of desire, ideology, need, imagination. It is an object, and it is an idea. The body is the archive of the physical, the social and the metaphysical. It is the site of me, you and us. What do I, this body, in front of all of you, embody? I ask them beseechingly.
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