The Body in Society
The course aims to teach students how reading, writing, language and interpretation can extend beyond the analysis of literary texts to a range of texts and practices in everyday life.
In this programme it is meant to be a course that, through the body as focal point, helps students develop the ability to understand and analyse how cultural meaning is created, ie. how something which seems as “given” and natural as the body exists within circuits of meaning making. Besides written texts students will discuss visual texts, social media formations, cultural practices and public debates. They will build and use their competence in close reading and critical analysis to engage with “processes and practices of meaning-making”.
Why the body? The human concern with the body — knowing it, categorising it, valuing it,
representing it, taking care of it — stretches over the whole of history as we know it, and cuts across numerous disciplines or fields within which knowledge is created. Because of this mercurial question of how the body becomes a concern we have even witnessed the birth of a new field called Body Studies (albeit so far largely in Western academia), the disciplinary or even inter-disciplinary limits of which are yet to be demarcated. This course approaches its subject through the methods of cultural studies, recognising that in modern India the body has been a crucial site of cultural meaning making. Most recently we have been preoccupied with what the Covid pandemic has done to the ways in which we inhabit our bodies and interact with the bodies of others, all the senses (taste, touch, smell, sight,
hearing) being invoked in this discourse. How we inhabit public space, how we enter into
relationships, how we approach food and hygiene, what we are scared of and whom we
allow into our homes, the trust we place in medical knowledge, whose bodies are seen as
valuable, what happens when there are media visuals of cremations on the streets, how our
cities and infrastructure have to be reimagined, how we represent what the virus is doing
inside us, whether there is a ‘new normal’ — all of these ‘cultural’ questions emerge around
the body in danger of contracting this virus. That is, a “medical” problem is translated
across different domains of experience and it’s clear that an understanding of the
“pandemic body” cannot remain within a strictly medical discursive realm.
The body, while intensely personal, immediate and seemingly natural, simultaneously
participates in the discourse of culture and is addressed by institutions/systems that are
invested in social, political and cultural life. The course will teach students how to connect
these two imaginations, of “my/your/our” individual bodies and “the” body. It will get them
to engage with the idea of the body that can be written, read, represented; and they will
carry out cultural analyses of different kinds of texts that seek to do so.