"A Novel Body", 2016
This body of work explores in tandem several aspects of Europeanness, all subsumed under the question of what it is to exist within the boundaries of a geographical, political and cultural Europe while being unable to identify as European.
The idea stems from an excerpt of Milan Kundera’s Art of the Novel, wherein he claims that the novel is wholly a European invention. The European spirit, one that Husserl explains forthright as the seed of Greek philosophy (and all subsequent Western philosophies), is one that has been encaptured by the Great Novelist for centuries. Through the fluctuating borders of decades past, through economic upheavals and cultural insurrections, the European novel has remained steadfast as something studied, revered, and loved.
The “death of the novel” has been a popular lament for cultural theorists and philosophers of recent history, and the topic sees adequate space in notable papers even today. Claims from both sides of the argument have been propagated, with some scholars including Kathleen Fitzpatrick attributing the hysteria around such a decline of relevancy to fears about the changing landscape in media due to technological advancements, and in turn, behavioral changes in how media is disseminated and consumed. One constant factor in such developments is certainly the speed at which media is consumed, relating to Virilio’s dromology wherein the speed of creation and thus consumption changes the very nature of the object in question.
The juxtaposition of news article headlines with the cover (or body) of a novel is an inquiry into the fast and the slow. Within the realms of social media, headlines are bounced around with little scrutiny of facts or reason in a near instantaneous fashion. This gives rise to questions about how we formulate meaning about the world, and whether it’s a construct of content or of body.
The parallels that can be drawn from the way novels and media have transformed over the ages includes the very real concerns of a changing political climate in today’s Europe, and the implications it has on the bodies within such boundaries. Social theorists including prominent names such as Zygmunt Bauman have claimed that a certain European self-assuredness has fallen through decades ago, and it was this insecurity that caused a new European identity to be imminent. And as is the defining of any borders, political, spiritual, or otherwise, especially so from a space of insecurity, the creation of an “us” identity necessarily begets the unloved “other”.
We are more than bodies, just as stories are more than the cover or the title, just as the jumble of rumours and opinions that whirlwind from provocative headlines are separate from the contents of news. But in any given discourse where there is a dynamic duo of subject and object, the body is the primary thing that one can identify with, the thing that marks one as either the status quo or the “other”, as subject or object. Within the constructed borders of Europe, the human body finds new ways of disillusionment and alienation, of belonging and shame. Within continental Europe, the concerns over race or sex or other nuances are unique to this discourse, and these concerns change but are never fully alleviated as the borders flux with the ebb and flow of politics and culture.