Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Body?

"The gaze is no longer reductive, it is, rather, that which establishes the individual in his irreducible quality. And thus it becomes possible to organize a rational language around it. The object of discourse may well be a subject, without the figures of objectivity being in any way altered. It is this formal reorganization, in depth, rather than the abandonment of theories and old systems that made clinical experience possible; it lifted the old Aristotelian prohibition: one could at last hold a scientifically structured discourse about an individual"(xiv). The Birth of the Clinic--Michel Foucault writing on the "advances" of medicine in the early 19th century.

With the movement to a more "rational" view of medicine, doctors, scientists, etc were able to make the body knowable--inside and out. The body as part of a human was able to occupy a space that allowed it to become both object and subject. The individual became definable because one could cut inside and look upon the organs. This in turn opened a discourse, medicine, creating a science that was able to define the individual. And this opening turned the subject into object. This discourse that finally looks at the human body as an individual thing is precisely the discourse that enables groups of human bodies to be thought of as numbers. If we open enough human bodies, we can create a language about a normal anatomy, and this is precisely what every other body opened should resemble.

In a way this bucks what I suspect many of us like to think about ourselves as individuals. We imagine ourselves as subjects. And we do not take well to be coming objects. But in the context of medicine that is too often what occurs. How many news shows, articles, etc have been written about why Drs need to spend more time with their patients. There is a call for a discourse that acknowledges each subject as a subject. However, modern medicine does not seek to create subjects rather is seeks to turn subjects into objects. A body that does not fit in with other bodies is interesting in it's abnormality.

Think about this in the realm of birth. In a hospital, there is a preset system in place. When you enter the doors, and go to the maternity ward, you hang your subject self at the door. There is no room in this space for a subject who is not an object. The nurses have a script so to speak about the proper procedures. At some point, your body is deemed to not be proceeding in a normal way. You are now about to enter the realm of an abnormal birth. The goal from this moment on is to bring your individual body into line. You are not an individual. You are a body gone wrong. A body that is not conforming the way it should. Your body will undergo procedures all designed on a rational discourse created from the data and statistics of thousands of other female bodies.

Of course the other side of this coin, of course, lies another discourse that is based on a cultural assumption of what it means to be natural. In some senses, this idea also has much to do with making certain assumptions about groups of bodies: Women's bodies are designed to give birth.


Horacio said...

It's interesting: the idea of the subject becoming an object (or subjected) under the gaze of science.

Interesting too that the surgical opening of the body (literally with a scalpel) opened a discourse (medicine) that would deal with yet another opening: that of birth from a (mother's) body into (the baby's) life.

great post, i'm really enjoying this writing fest.

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

Like the connection in the middle. Of course one opening could be argued is more artificial....but that leads us back to the whole debate about nature anyway.

And I think Foucault is right on with this idea of science being a gaze that subjects. Butler plays with this a bit when talking about gender. It's an area I wish she has pursued a bit further.