Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The God On The Surface Of The Skin



Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies:

Toward the end of the 19th century, lack of affection during infancy and insufficient eroticization of the body's surface seem to have become the rule. The development marked a new phase in the "armouring" of the body. (The process Elias tried to describe in Process of Civilization.) The new body had no feel for its psychic boundaries; if it cathected its own periphery at all, it did so in a tentative, incomplete way. The body did acquire boundaries, of course, but they were drawn from the outside, by the disciplinary agencies of imperialist society. We can see why fascist propaganda and social practise places such great emphasis on setting boundaries of all kinds.

Christian Enzensberger (operating at his tentative distance) has identified an importan link:

Early capitalism must have brought on a more restrictive phase. Every upheaval of an existing social order, including our present industrial-technological revolution, inevitably generates immense quantities of dirt. Definitions become blurred, and everything threatens to migrate permanently to peripheral areas and turn into dirt. As a result, people proceed with extreme caution, paying equally strict attention to external and internal clealiness. With the advent of Puritanism, the skin's susceptibility to dirt must have become universal: from this point on, that is, the skin avoided every type of contact. Hygiene entered the scene as a form of piety (with the maxim "Cleanliness is next to godliness.")

"Individuals and the community used strikingly similar means to avert the new threat. The new nation-state gradually shifted its attention from the capital city to its border areas; eventually the state proudly envisioned itself as the place between Memel and the Meuse. Individuals began to monitor their own skins just as carefully and exclusively. The boundary of defilement slowly shifted from the inside to the outside, becoming increasingly sharp and sensitive in the process.


The "god within," who had supplanted the "god in heaven," eventually died himself. He was replaced by a "god without," who dwelt on the skin and whose name was Cleanliness.


Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather:

If, as Marx noted, commodity fetishism flamboyantly exhibits the overvaluation of commercial exchange as the fundamental principle of social community, then the Victorian obsession with dirt marks a dialectic: the fetishized undervaluation of human labor. Smeared on trousers, faces, hands and aprons, dirt was the memory trace of working class and female labor, unseemly evidence that the fundamental production of industrial and imperial wealth lay in hte hands and bodies of the working class, women, and the colonized. Dirt, like all fetishes, thus expresses a crisis in value,, for it contradicts the liberal dictum that social wealth is created by the abstract rational principles of the market and not by labor.

4 comments:

  1. (cross posting):

    "If, as Marx noted, commodity fetishism flamboyantly exhibits the overvaluation of commercial exchange as the fundamental principle of social community, then the Victorian obsession with dirt marks a dialectic: the fetishized undervaluation of human labor. Smeared on trousers, faces, hands and aprons, dirt was the memory trace of working class and female labor, unseemly evidence that the fundamental production of industrial and imperial wealth lay in hte hands and bodies of the working class, women, and the colonized. Dirt, like all fetishes, thus expresses a crisis in value,, for it contradicts the liberal dictum that social wealth is created by the abstract rational principles of the market and not by labor."
    Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather

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  2. "The "god within," who had supplanted the "god in heaven," eventually died himself. He was replaced by a "god without," who dwelt on the skin and whose name was Cleanliness."

    Dirt/cleanliness is the demarcation, the threshold between bourgeois home and outside world. Pollution, weakness, disease.

    This God demands so much of his subjects: purification and quarantine.

    Viennese Jews in their dirty kaftans, smelly arabs also in a surplus of clothing (are they clean underneath?)... all of them are dirty dirty dirty.

    I wonder if the odors of 'ethnic food' is relevant?

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  3. Yes the odors: I thought of that too: This used to determine the statius of NYC co-ops - whether you could smell cooking in the hallways.

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  4. I added McClintock to the post.

    Another interesting slightly related book: Laura Otis' _Membranes_ about Conan Doyle and other doctor-authors, developing the connection of their notion of urban crime and transgression to the pernicious microbe model of illness.

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