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Record Type: Review   ID: 351

Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine

Stafford, Barbara Maria

 Body Criticism was 20 years in the making, and it could easily take 20 months to digest it. The author is Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago, and this is the third volume in what could be called a trilogy, the other titles of which are Symbol and Myth and Voyage into Substance. I can only try to capture the high points of this work, and this is best done in Stafford’s own words. In effect, this work is a history of perception beginning with the Enlightenment, which emphasized tidy logic and text, which resulted in subtle sensations and emotions being considered insubstantial (such is the stuff of exceptional human experience). Stafford calls for the development of nonlinguistic paradigms that restore the image to a position of high value. She calls it "a summons to create a new visual discipline or hybrid imaging art-science for the future" (p. 35), which recognizes the importance of touch, which modern microscopic and telescopic technology has devalued. But she does not stop with the simply tactile, but aims at "the growing importance ... of the insubstantial, the fluid, and the visual" (p. 39). Stafford says "Body Criticism focuses on key pictorial strategies for externalizing the internal. The difficulties of imaging the body illuminate that supreme representational problem: how does one seize the liquid inner and outer of things? How do we possess all that cannot be consumed, or subsumed, by words?" (p. 45). One could say Stafford’s work is about developing an alternative epistemology. The Western epistemology since the Enlightenment has become too rational and rarified and disconnected from the body. Paradoxically, by concentrating on the image, the nonlinguistic, Stafford hopes we may recapture fleeting instants of human awareness, many of them, I might add, being exceptional. In order to become more we must come to see, think, and know differently. Stafford gives the project a wonderful lift off.
Publisher Information:Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993, c1991. 616p. Bibl: 534-573; Chap. bibl: 480-533; 254 illus; Index: 574-587
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