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Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In Agency and Embodiment, Carrie Noland examines the ways in which culture is both embodied and challenged through the corporeal performance of gestures. Arguing against the constructivist metaphor of bodily inscription dominant since Foucault, Noland maintains that kinesthetic experience, produced by acts of embodied gesturing, places pressure on the conditioning a body receives, encouraging variations in cultural practice that cannot otherwise be explained.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05438-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Imagine the graffiti writer. He swings his arm up over his head following the vertical extension of his body, then sweeps it in a half moon back down to his feet. His gesture, extended by the length of a spray-can, leaves behind a haloed line of paint, aDon the wall. In the magnified scope of the graffiti gesture, writing affords the writer an opportunity to impress the individual shape and vitality of the body’s motor power onto the contours of the cultural sign. Yet if the writer performs the motion repeatedly, his own body will eventually be inscribed,...

  4. CHAPTER ONE The “Structuring” Body: Marcel Mauss and Bodily Techniques
    (pp. 18-54)

    Ever since “Les Techniques du corps” (Techniques of the body) first appeared in print in 1935,¹ the name Marcel Mauss has been associated with the establishment of a field devoted to the study of gesture as simultaneously a biological, social, and psychological phenomenon. Mauss’s prescient contribution was to recognize that all three factors manifest their influence not only through stated beliefs but, even more fundamentally, through specific movement patterns, some linked to ritual and aesthetic practices, others to the manipulation of tools. Mauss was of course not the first thinker to treat bodily techniques as culturally significant; he inherited a...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Gestural Meaning: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Bill Viola, and the Primacy of Movement
    (pp. 55-92)

    During the last fifteen years of his life, roughly from 1945(Phenomenology of Perception)to 1958–1961 (the “Nature” lectures), Maurice Merleau-Ponty developed a theory of the gestural that has provided fruitful new directions for continental philosophy to pursue.¹ By combining a unique set of commitments—to Husserlian phenomenology, Heideggerian epistemology, Gestalt psychology, Marxist materialism, and Maussian anthropology—Merleau-Ponty inaugurated a school of thought that associates human understanding not with cogitation but withembodiedcogitation. He was interested in the body’s implication in what the mind thinks it knows. Indeed, it has become almost banal to claim that Merleau-Ponty is...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Inscription and Embodiment: André Leroi-Gourhan and the Body as Tool
    (pp. 93-129)

    It is difficult to imagine a theory of gesture that did not take the contributions of the paleoethnographer André Leroi-Gourhan into account. He was the first to treat gesture explicitly as a discipline (through which society imprints itself on the body) and a conduit of agency (through which the subject innovates and departs from the script). Yet, as significant as his work clearly is, his legacy has proved to be a contested one. On the one hand, Leroi-Gourhan’s chronology of prehistoric material culture has been falsified by the emergence of new evidence since his death in 1986; the account of...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Inscription as Performance: Henri Michaux and the Writing Body
    (pp. 130-169)

    In this chapter, I will make a transition from theory to practice, from investigations in philosophy and the social sciences to aesthetic experimentation in the gestural realm. Henri Michaux, whose work I will introduce here, was not a movement practitioner in the strict sense. He did not define himself as a dancer but instead thought of himself as a writer who approaches writing as a gestural routine. Like the digital poets studied in the previous chapter, Michaux was interested in how writing and moving overlap, how one influences the form the other takes. However, he set out to explore the...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Gestural Performative: Locating Agency in the Work of Judith Butler and Frantz Fanon
    (pp. 170-205)

    The philosopher who has presented the strongest case for approaching resistance as recombinatory and parodic is without doubt Judith Butler. In the realm of speculation, she has devised a theory that accounts in large measure for Michaux’s attempts to alter acquired gestural routines through reiteration. Michaux’s practice, however, constitutes both an actualization of Butler’s theory of the performative and an implicit critical commentary on it. The continuities between the two are clear: both are interested in the conditioning of human subjects, and both discover within this very conditioning the means to subvert it. But there are also significant differences between...

  9. Conclusion: Illegible Graffiti
    (pp. 206-216)

    The studies I have assembled here suggest that our gestures are neither natural nor inevitable but rather contingent expressions of the kinetic energy they organize. The kinetic continuum has already been segmented, sliced into operational or significant units, by the time we recognize movements as gestures, yet gestures nonetheless remain part of that continuum, pulled by the body’s tow. Gesturing is a motor phenomenon and therefore part of the natural world; at the same time, a gesture is a unit of significant, visible shape, a quantity of employable force, and therefore part of the cultural world. It is by gesturing...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 217-252)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 253-254)
  12. Index
    (pp. 255-264)