Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative
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The desire to know the body is a powerful dynamic of storytelling in all its forms. Peter Brooks argues that modern narrative is intent on uncovering the body in order to expose a truth that must be written in the flesh. In a book that ranges widely through literature and painting, Brooks shows how the imagination strives to bring the body into language and to write stories on the body.
From Rousseau, Balzac, Mary Shelley, and Flaubert, to George Eliot, Zola, Henry James, and Marguerite Duras, from Manet and Gauguin to Mapplethorpe, writers and artists have returned in fascination to the body, the inescapable other of the spirit. Brooks's deep understanding of psychoanalysis informs his demonstration of how the "epistemophilic urge"--the desire to know-guides fictional plots and our reading of them.
It is the sexual body that furnishes the building blocks of symbolization, eventually of language itself-which then takes us away from the body. Yet mind and language need to recover the body, as an other realm that is primary to their very definition. Brooks shows how and why the female body has become the field upon which the aspirations, anxieties, and contradictions of a whole society are played out. And he suggests how writers and artists have found in the woman's body the dynamic principle of their storytelling, its motor force.
This major book entertains and teaches: Brooks presumes no special knowledge on the part of his readers. His account proceeds chronologically from Rousseau in the eighteenth century forward to contemporary artists and writers. Body Work gives us a set of analytical tools and ideas-primarily from psychoanalysis, narrative and film studies, and feminist theory-that enable us to read modern narrative afresh.
erotic looking is not necessarily so strictly categorized, and may be more nearly androgynous: male spectators take pleasure in male nudes, women in female nudes. But this pleasure involves sublimations, of the type involved in the admiration of the heroic body, which are put into question by art that seems to invite an explicitly homoerotic gaze, such as Girodet's Endymion, for instance. The female nude, on the other hand, seems to be an object of male erotic looking nearly from the beginning.
and wallows in excess" (6:442). The prostitute's body is by definition a storied body, itself enacting and also creating narratives of passion, lust, and greed as it passes through the social economy.21 Furthermore, its narratives directly involve the cash nexus, the exchange of money for bodies. This exchange is the prime force of the plot in Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes, which turns on Collin's attempt to capitalize Esther's beauty in order to provide Lucien with the million francs he
desire strikes the male in his desire. The male's effort to mark the woman's body results in the unleashing of a sexuality that is wounding to the male. The project of making the body semiotic repeatedly appears to be as dangerous as it is necessary. Balzac's persistent attention to the body-his "utopian" novel, Le medecin de campagne, is largely about the reform of the body-extends to a corpus of quasi-theoretical writings that he apparently intended to collect under the rubric Pathologie de la
fetishism converges with the Freudian, in an overheated economy that is both an erotic and a cash nexus. The department store of Au Bonheur des Dames-modeled in large part on Aristide Boucicault's immensely successful Au Bon Marchecomes into its glory as part of the transformation of Paris by Baron Haussmann (who himself appears in the novel, thinly disguised as Baron PROBLEMS OF THE MODERN NUDE 149 150 Hartmann) under the orders of Napoleon III. New avenues and boulevards are cut through the
which was a Tunisian cafe with authentic bellydancers-and a Hindu pavilion and a reconstructed Malagasy village, a Tahitian hut, complete with Tahitians making and selling native crafts (the women, however, were all old, expressly chosen to avoid scandal). More impressive was the Javanese Village, which the illustrated guide published by the Bulletin Officiel tells us was one of the great hits of the Exposition-a sentiment which Gauguin echoes in a letter to Emile Bernard, in which he explains