body


Film places the physical experience of the body (in motion) at the centre of perception.

– Emma Widdis. Visions of a New Land: Soviet Film From the Revolution to the Second World War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003: 71.

… in fascism, power had to express itself visually ….  the fascist aesthetic itself reflected the needs and hopes of contemporary society, …  the so-called superstructure was in reality the means through which most people grasped the fascist message, transforming politics into a civic religion.

… The ideal of beauty was central to this aesthetic, whether that of the human body or of the political liturgy. The longing for a set standard of beauty was deeply ingrained in the European middle classes, and the definition of the beautiful as the ‘good, the true, and the holy’ was an important background to the fascist cult.

… what seemed at first glance to have no possible connection to politics became politically charged through the connection between art, beauty and truth which lay readily at hand to be used by modern political movements.

… a certain public standard of beauty reigned all over Europe, one which fascism was to annex as its own. The rediscovery of classical antiquity in the eighteenth century set a standard of beauty which never lost its attraction for the educated [in many European countries in the interwar period who] saw it as their own particular heritage. They valued classical beauty of form whether of the human body or, to a lesser extent, of official architecture, as close to the sublime.

… it was the strength of fascism in general that it realized, as other political movements and parties did not, that with the nineteenth century Europe had entered a visual age, the age of political symbols, such as the national flag…. The populism of fascism helped the movement to arrive at this insight; the need to integrate the masses into a so-called spiritual revolution which represented itself through a largely traditional aesthetic.

… this aesthetic formed a bridge between the public and the private sphere…. The creation of modern stereotypes as standardized mental pictures which encompassed the whole human being, body and soul, was something new at the beginning of the nineteenth century…. Aesthetics played a determining role in stereotyping: every man must aspire to a classical standard of beauty, and as he built and sculptured his body (and we must remember the part played by physical exercise in the aesthetics of fascism), his mind would come to encompass all the manly virtues which the fascists prized so highly.

… significantly, such a body was not merely a fascist symbol, but one which had already been adopted by society at large. Here we are at the intersection between traditional, normative society, and fascist aesthetics; here the social and the aesthetic were not strictly separate one from another. The beautiful male body … projected both self-control in its posture and virility in the play of its muscles; it symbolized both the dynamic and the discipline which society wanted and needed. Here, order and progress, often in conflict, were reconciled through the symbolism of the male body …

Through stereotypes, fascism worked not only with abstract symbols but with living human symbols as well. The true fascist man must through his looks, body, and comportment, project the ideal of male beauty. Men of flesh and blood were given a symbolic dimension, a fact which added to the fascist appeal. Here was an aesthetic which was not confined to the public realm, but one which penetrated daily life.

… Aesthetics shaped the fascist view of man, of his surroundings and of politics. It was a cement which held fascism together.

George L. Mosse. “Fascist Aesthetics and Society: Some Considerations.” Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (1996): 245-52.

On the dramatic stage the method of interpreting a theatrical production lies with the actor who expresses the theatrical idea through the creative will of the director and gives it individual form. In cinema, because of its unusually high technological component — the quintessence of the machine and electricity — and because of the surprising significance of montage, the actor takes second place. In view of the fact that cinema must be based on a purely external (i.e. visual) artistic influence on the public the cinema artiste must learn to create the required impression not just by acting with the face but by acting with the whole body; by an expressiveness of lines.

– Kuleshov, Lev. “The Art of Cinema” [1918]. In The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, edited by Richard Taylor, and Ian Christie. London; New York: Routledge, 1994: 46.

… modernity is always citing primal history…. Ambiguity is the appearance of dialectic in images, the law of dialectics at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image, therefore, dream image. Such an image is afforded by the commodity per se: as fetish. Such an image is presented by the arcades, which are house no less than street. Such an image is the prostitute — seller and sold in one.

Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” in The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006), p. 41.

With all his tools man improves on his own organs, both motor and sensory, or clears away barriers to their functioning. Engines place gigantic forces at his disposal, which he can direct, like his muscles, wherever he chooses; the ship and the aeroplane ensure that neither water nor air can hinder his movements. By means of spectacles he can correct the defect of his ocular lens; with the telescope he can see far into the distance; and with the microscope he can overcome the limits of visibility imposed by the structure of the retina. In the camera he has created an instrument that captures evanescent visual impressions, while the gramaphone record does the same for equally fleeting auditory impressions; both are essentially materializations of his innate faculty of recall, of his memory. With the help of the telephone he can hear sounds from distances that even the fairy tale would respect as inaccessible. Writing is in origin the language of the absent, the house a substitute for the womb — one’s first dwelling place, probably still longed for, where one was safe and felt so comfortable.

What man, through his science and technology has produced in this world, where he first appeared as a frail animal organism and where every individual of his species must still make his entry as a helpless babe — ‘oh inch of nature!’ — all this not only sounds like a fairy tale, but actually fulfils all — no, most — fairy-tale wishes. All these assets he can claim as cultural acquisitions. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience, which he embodied in his gods, attributing to them whatever seemed beyond the reach of his desires — or what was forbidden him. We may say, then, that these gods were cultural ideals. Man has now come close to reaching these ideals and almost become a god himself. Admittedly only in the way ideals are usually reached, according to the general judgement of humanity — not completely, in some respects not at all, in others only partly. Man has become so to speak, a god with artificial limbs. He is quite impressive when he dons all his auxiliary organs, but they have not become a part of him and still give a great deal of trouble on occasion. However, he is entitled to console himself with the fact that this development will not have come to an end in AD 1930. Distant ages will bring new and probably unimaginable advances in this field of civilization and so enhance his god-like nature. But in the interest of our investigation let us also remember that modern man does not feel happy with his god-like nature.

– Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents [1930]. David McLintock, trans. New York: Penguin, 2002, pp. 35-37.

Seeing Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. Beneath the haze stirred up by the winds, the urban island, a sea in the middle of the sea, lifts up the skyscrapers over Wall Street, sinks down at Greenwich, then rises again to the crests of Midtown, quietly passes over Central Park and finally undulates off into the distance beyond Harlem…. The spectator can read in it a universe that is constantly exploding. In it are inscribed the architectural  figures of the coincidatio oppositorum formerly drawn in miniatures and mystical textures…. Having taken a voluptuous pleasure in it, I wonder what is the source of this “pleasure of seeing the whole,” of looking down on, totalizing the most immoderate of human texts.

To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the city’s grasp. One’s body is no longer clasped by the streets that turn and return it according to an anonymous law; nor is it possessed, whether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences and by the nervousness of the New York traffic. When one goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators. As Icarus flying above these waters, he can ignore the devices of Daedalus in mobile and endless labyrinth far below. His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was “possessed” into a text that lies before one’s eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god. The exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive; the fiction of knowledge is related to this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more.

– Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 91-92.

“… Colouring the world is always a means of denying it (and perhaps one should at this point begin an inquiry into the use of colour in the cinema). Deprived of all substance, driven back into colour, disembodied through the very glamour of the ‘images’, the Orient is ready for the spiriting away which the film [The Lost Continent] has in store for it. … our studio anthropologists will have no trouble postulating an Orient which is exotic in form, while being in reality profoundly similar to the Occident, at least the Occident of spiritualist thought. Orientals have religions of their own? Never mind, these variations matter very little compared to the basic unity of idealism. . . . “It is this same ‘all things are alike’ which is hinted at by our ethnographers: East and West, it is all the same, they are only different in hue, their essential core is identical. . . . If we are concerned with fishermen, it is not at all the type of fishing which I shown; but rather, drowned in a garish sunset and eternalized, a romantic essence of the fisherman, presented not as a workman dependent by his technique and his gains on a definite society, but rather as the theme of an eternal condition, in which man is far away and exposed to the perils of the sea, and woman weeping and praying at home. . . . All told, exoticism here shows well its fundamental justification, which is to deny any identification by History. By appending to Eastern realities a few positive signs which mean ‘native’, one reliably immunizes them against any responsible content. A little ‘situating’, as superficial as possible, supplies the necessary alibi and exempts one from accounting for the situation in depth. Faced with anything foreign, the Established Order knows only two types of behaviour, which are both mutilating: either to acknowledge it as a Punch and Judy show, or to defuse it as a pure reflection of the West. In any case, the main thing is to deprive it of its history. We see therefore that the ‘beautiful pictures’ of The Lost Continent cannot be innocent …. ”

From “The Lost Continent” in Roland Barthes, Mythologies [US ed. 1972], pp. 94-96.

Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and
place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed
in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came
upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed
they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in
solution,
I too had receiv’d identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should
be I knew I should be of my body.

– Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1856) from Leaves of Grass (1886 ed.), pp. 57-64.

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