Monika Rogowska-Stangret

The body is an important threshold concept for new materialist scholarship, genealogies, and cartographies (Rogowska-Stangret, 2017) that works through processes of de- and re- construction. The body as a philosophical notion bears the marks of a dualistic approach to it, principally conceptualized in Western thought as being opposed (and inferior) to the soul or mind. Dualism as such (mind-body dualism in particular) is rethought anew in new materialisms through its political and ethical implications. As Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin point out, new materialisms are engaged in “pushing dualisms to an extreme” (Bergson [1896] 2004: p. 236 in Dolphijn, van der Tuin, 2012) and in so doing, articulate two novel concepts of the body.

The first one is aimed at overcoming mind-body dualism, revealing how aspects once separated are in fact entangled, to the extent that one is no longer able to clearly and a priori demarcate differences between psyche and soma, reason and instinct, consciousness and unconsciousness, logic and emotion. This effort is visible in the notion of corporeality coined by Elizabeth Grosz (1987, 1994), where the body and mind are thought of as smoothly transforming into one another (without the possibility to precisely circumscribe the moment of transition). This transformation is illustrated with the model of the Möbius strip, where the “outside” and the “inside” become one another and are topologically “unorientable”. The entangled nature of body and mind is also present in texts by Rosi Braidotti, where she stresses the need “to acknowledge the embodiment of the brain and the embrainment of the body” (2017, p. 33), thus seeing both as not only interconnected and inseparable, but intra-connected, and impossible to detach from one another prior to their relation.

The de(re)construction of mind-body dualism is further “pushed to an extreme” in the idea of “gut” feminism by Elizabeth A. Wilson (2004), where the very organicity of the body (exemplified by the gut) is analyzed as writing and rewriting itself (“biological writing” and “the biological unconscious”) without a priori distinctions between psyche and soma, mood and gut, temper and digestion. There are important political imperatives attached to these reconceptualizations of body-mind dualism. They lie in the fact that epistemological and ontological categories are far from apolitical. The way we think of the world, establish and appraise distinctions has political meaning: they support power relations, challenge status quos, and reshape the world.

The second approach to the notion of the body is further engaged with the relationality of the body – its affective potentials, that is, the potential of the body to affect and to be affected, to move and to be moved, to feel and to arouse feeling. Thus, its active-passive qualities and dynamic structure, is associated with movement, possibilities to act and be acted upon, and to be formed and form itself. As Brian Massumi underlines: “what is commonly called ‘the body’ is the bodying of the event” (2014, p. 29). In this vein, Grosz develops her notion of the body as corporeality, meaning “a system, or series of open-ended systems, functioning within other huge systems it cannot control, through which it can access and acquire its abilities and capacities” (2004, p. 3). This theoretical move points to the fact that the body as bodily, corporeal, material is irreversibly linked to the materiality of the world – it is not only located in the world, but it is of the world. As Karen Barad writes: “’We’ are not outside observers of the world. Nor are we simply located at particular places in the world; rather, we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity” (2003, p. 828). Moreover, these concepts of the body enable thinking about human and more-than-human bodies and worlds simultaneously. It opens the space and time for thinking politically about relationality, alliances, flows, and blockages. In this regard, we may also cite Nancy Tuana’s concept of “viscous porosity” (2008) and Stacy Alaimo’s notion of “transcorporeality” (2010) to direct theoretical attention to the political aspects of flows and blockages: what/who flows and for what/whom, what/who is inhibited, etc. Tuana’s “viscous porosity” addresses the paradoxical nature of bodies and the bodily, simultaneously “viscous” (in inevitable relations, wanted or unwanted states of interconnectedness and interdependency, being stuck with something) and “porous” (having “pores” – openings that enable flows). Whereas Alaimo’s “transcorporeality” is aimed at “thinking across bodies” (2010, p. 2), thinking against or through divisions such as subject-object, to reveal the extent to which power relations circulate across bodies-environments and link social inequalities with environmental damages.

In the feminist new materialisms the autonomous, independent, separated, discrete, individualized notion of the body is no longer adequate to how the world and its complex entanglements are conceptualized politically and ethically. In so doing the notion of the body is somewhat erased, replaced by other concepts such as: the bodily, materiality, matter, or (trans)corporeality, which do justice to how the body is never one, but part of open systems (always already in plural). Nevertheless, it is important to think about categories traditionally associated with the body like: gender, sexuality, race, (dis)ability, ethnicity, to analyze how they are produced and reproduced through power relations that cut across bodies-environments, no longer confined within the vulnerable limits of the body. The opening of the body challenges anthropocentric approaches with more-than-human-worlds, mobilizes the urgent need to destabilize onto-epistemological and ethico-political hierarchies, and contributes to thinking anew about ongoing ethical and political concerns.

Keywords: the body, dualism, corporeality, transcorporeality, viscous porosity, politics.
Genealogies: material feminisms, affect theory, feminist political theory.
Antonyms: dualism.
Hypernyms: materiality, landscapes, material world.
Hyponyms: queer, racialized, gendered, human-non-human, (dis)abled bodies.
Synonyms: relationality, intra-actions, entanglement.

Alaimo Stacy. (2010). Bodily Natures. Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Barad Karen. (2003). “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, 3: 801-831.
Bergson Henri. ([1896] 2004). Matter and Memory. 5th ed., translated by N. M. Paul and W. Scott Palmer, Mineola, NY: Dover.
Braidotti Rosi. (2017). “Four Theses on Posthuman Feminism.” In: Anthropocene Feminism, 21-48, edited by Richard Gusin, Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.
Dolphijn Rick, Iris van der Tuin. (2012). New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press.
Grosz Elizabeth. (1987). “Notes Towards a Corporeal Feminism.” Australian Feminist Studies 5: 1-15.
Grosz Elizabeth. (1994). Volatile Bodies. Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Grosz Elizabeth. (2004). The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely, Durham, London: Duke University Press.
Massumi Brian. (2014). What Animals Teach Us about Politics, Durham, London: Duke University Press.
Rogowska-Stangret Monika. (2017). “Corpor(e)al Cartographies of New Materialism. Meeting the Elsewhere Halfway.” The Minnesota Review. A journal of creative and critical writing 88: 59-68.
Wilson Elizabeth A. (2004). “Gut Feminism.” Differences. A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15, 3: 66-94.
Tuana Nancy. (2008). “Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina.” In: Material Feminisms, 188-213, edited by Stacy Alaimo, Susan Hekman, Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who

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Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more

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New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more

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New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more

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New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more


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COST Action IS1307

New Materialism —
Networking European Scholarship on 'How matter comes to matter’

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