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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

In this response, I would like to briefly explore Drew Leder’s theory of the absent body in relation to the class screening of metropolis and the discussion we had surrounding mind/body dualism in early body theory.

An exception to the Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological interrogation of embodied consciousness, Leder describes the phenomenological state of being as “marked by subjective absence rather than presence of the body” (Shilling, 59).  This absence of the body contradicts the assumption that as embodied subjects, our senses are always fully at work, whether introspectively or exercised through external motility. Moreover, according to Merleau-Ponty, the composition of our body schema heightens all actions, reflexes and senses into embodied consciousness.

This is of course important in the transition of carnal sociology and body theory from reflecting the body as simply a passive site to the notion that inherent within the body is vital lived experience. Nonetheless, Leder’s notion of the absent body introduces two main ideas of body theory and the relation of bodies to changing times.

1.      Body as location for the effect of rationalized society

2.      The implication of the removal of body consciousness due to rationalization

3.      The absent body and the removal of consciousness also alluding to the removal of the intersubjectivity that connects bodies in community (also related to actor network theory and theorization of subjectivity)

For one, the mechanization of experience that removes body consciousness through routine transfigures the body from an entity corporealized through social and historical interconnectivity to a passive site. During the routine of working on an assembly line, or even perhaps during routine tasks of surfing the web or driving, our reflexivity is paramount to bodily  consciousness and in order to successfully negotiate life we must succumb to the numbness of modern life. Our bodies must become locations for the effect of a rationalized society as we are rationalized beings taking part in organized tasks within modernity. This was reflected in Metropolis as the workers embodied their usefulness, robotic actions that do not supersede their purposes.

Secondly, in the current neo-liberal and highly organized society, the implications of rationalized numbness due to the absence of bodies are immense. In the chapter “Contemporary Bodies”, Shilling refers to one as world hunger and the adaptation of bodily reactions like hunger pangs that people in many countries adapt to in their daily lives. Hunger pangs become reflex and thus the signs that our bodies gives us to nourish ourselves are reduced to unproductivity, altering the development of adults and children in numerous ways.

Lastly, the absence of corporal consciousness reflects the untangling of the body, even momentarily, from its state of sensual, emotional, social and historical interconnectivity that defines its subjectivity and embodiment. This detachment from itself alludes to the detachment that can be a consequence of rationalized numbness,- detachment from intersubjectivity between other humans and removal from communal bonds that connect bodies. The absence of body elevates one above intersubjectivity to the immediacy of the present individual. This is reflected in many levels in Metropolis. The absent workers are not connected to one another due to the rationalization of their purpose and the gentry are similarly detached from the workers, living in a world of individualism and removal. This reflects the separation and alienation that is inherent within modernity, as the absent body is although not alienated from its subjectivity, the embodied consciousness is alienated from its ability to extend its consciousness beyond the present.

sorry this is late guys, just figured out some tech stuff.. see you guys in class!