Some Forethoughts for a Study of Body Image

An image is the trace of an external body on this lived body in its spatial and temporal situatedness. That an image is a trace implies a confusion of absence and presence, such that that the external body can be made to appear to a lesser or greater degree of presence, even if it is absent in either space or time. This presence, though perhaps its paradigm is memory (the ability to make present the past), in its confusion implies extension, above all the extension of this body to a being-with an external body. Moreover, to make such an absence present is not to bring it into being or presence but precisely to determine the trace of the external body on this lived body as itself the externality of the external body.

For Spinoza the mind is only aware of its own activity and the activity of external bodies to the degree that it is aware of the activity of its own body through the affections whereby it is affected by or affects other bodies. But the mind is not external to the body, merely being the same body considered under different attributes of substance. To what degree then can we call an external body ‘external’? For not only is the mind aware of these bodies through its own body, but, moreover, individuality is not some simplification of the ego from its corporealization but rather bodies in their externality entering into a precise relationship to which corresponds an intensive, modal singularity.

This question is not the problematization of the existence of the external world but precisely the determination of the external world and the totality of bodies and their relationships which ‘world’ properly designates as external. In order for the existence of the external world even to be put into question implies an internality whose identity cannot break out of its enchainment to itself – an identity for which alterity and externality come from the far side of exteriority.

One way to breach this question is to consider the status of images in Spinoza. For mainly we understand images as external depictions or representations of a reality that is by definition there for all. But images for Spinoza are the traces of affections of the body in the two directions of mind affecting/being affected by body and body affecting/being affected by other bodies. That is, images occur at the border – or rather at the anterior determination of a border before there are borders – of self and other. In order for an image to become ‘external’ something very strange must happen – they must be anaesthetized.

An external image – a screen, a mirror, a sky, a portrait, a poem, that is any media in any manner of aesthetic mediation – is only the trace of this body’s having been affected by an externalized affection of the body that has been purged of any corporeality. You see you seeing yourself without realizing that it is your self that sees you. Where the ‘without realization’ is determined – this is the border’s first determination. A threshold becomes a wall when a body having been extended to an ‘external’ image cannot return to itself, having been walled off in the determination of exteriority.

Is this aesthetics? When I see the wind through the trees and the wind becomes the impression of a poem, for instance, in the ineluctable enigma of the wind’s longing through me for its loss do I only see my self seeing me without recognizing that this longing is my longing, that this self seeing me sees only the impossibility of its return to me or my return to this?

The wall at the border of inside and outside is not the skin of the wind but the screen and the television sky. The extension of the body then exceeds the body’s own delimitations – and what is extended is then not the body but the body’s skin past touch to the threshold where the outside is not touched but occluded in a false totality that excludes it, the body becomes an obesity, a combustible terrain, a consumer.

For, if all images are only traces on and of a body, then the paradigmatic example of this alienating determination of the outside is the body image and the warp and the weft on which it is weaved.

TBC

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