Hoogland, R. (2002) 'Fact and Fantasy: the body of desire in the age of post humanism', in Journal of Gender Studies, Vol 11, No 3: 213 - 231.
[This article proceeds by discussing a number of case studies or 'takes' on matters concerning the body and the role of fantasy. At the most theoretical level, the discussion covers freudian and post-Freudian conceptions of the body. The role of fantasy, at the personal and cultural level is seen as integral to these discussions, despite attempts to proceed without it: fantasy permits us to conceive of other bodies, or of limits to creativity, which is essential for creativity itself].
Interest in the body is a fairly recent topic for debate, partly because of recent biomedical and technological advances. Nevertheless, the concept of the body is still enigmatic: it is conceived quite differently from common-sense in postmodern thought, for example. The problems emerge through a number of 'takes', which lead to an argument for complexity and interdisciplinary inquiry rather than any fixed answers, even postmodern ones. [Numbered paragraphs below follow the 'takes' of the author].
(1) A minor operation led to a [non-physically caused] loss of mobility in one leg. This is in turn led to the realisation that the body clearly involves 'the socio-cultural level where the rules and conventions of "appropriate" bodily behaviour are instilled upon individual bodies' (215). This shows the importance of 'the question of fantasy in the process of embodied knowing' (215).
(2) A number of films featuring different forms of lesbianism were shown to students, who were then asked to pick the 'most lesbian' one. They chose 'the only one without any on-screen sexual activity', resisting the identification of deviant sexual identities and deviant sexual practices. How had this happened? How is it also that gays and lesbians seem to be able to identify each other on the basis of minor body displays? ['gay radar' or 'gadar']. There seems to be a 'specific sociosexual habitus' (216) at work.
(3) Freud used two models to describe the human psyche, the first one distinguishing unconscious, pre-conscious and conscious systems, while the second one referred to different components -- id, ego, and superego. Freud actually described the ego as a bodily matter, 'a corporeal projection' (217). The body surface, the skin, acts as a unique receiver and transmitter of sensations from inside and outside. Even in the emergence of the individual subject, the body plays a major role -- the subject encounters the outside world through sense perception especially touch, and in its early phase, satisfaction arises directly from contact with the mother's body. This is an early Other body, which helps to define the infant's embodied existence [so this is a kind of bodily version of the mirror phase?]. The mechanism involves both identification with and separation from the body of the Other, both in a physical and in a 'phantasmatic' sense (217) -- as a result, the embodied subject 'is as much the product of imagination and desire as it is of sensual perception' (217). Indeed, some commentators would argue that the sense of the body arises from 'the social and symbolic inscriptions absorbed by the bodily ego' (218). The freudian notion of desire arises from the oedipal struggle which separates the subject from the first object of its love -- 'the subject's desire must remain unfulfilled and is, as a result, endless... the very constitution of the body/subject... must therefore be equally endless' (218).
(4) Modern daily life involves us interacting with a number of important physical objects. Indeed, we could be seen as embodying our selves using these objects and technologies -- extending our memories with computers, inhabiting our cars as if they were extensions of our bodies, and so on.
(5) Freud argues that the ego also organises ideas, which introduces a central ambiguity, a 'dual modality'. This informed his clinical practice which involved trying to read external bodily signs as symptoms of an inner psychic processes [close to positivism for some of his critics]. It is this conception that has been criticised by Deleuze and Guattari [which, roughly, involves moving away from 'scientific' conceptions in Freud, and also trying to reconstruct a much more general model of which the specifics of freudian theory would be one historically realized example].
(6) Deleuze and Guattari conceive of a 'body without organs ...[as]... no more than a surface structure to which no internal essence can be attributed, from which no deeper meanings can be wrested' (219). This is a body of becoming, 'an actualization of an endlessly proliferating range of practices, of linkages and separations among the heterogeneous flow of matter, organs, and processes' (219). [It is this very general conception of the body that offers an account of the general process out of which freudian bodies and common-sense bodies become actualised]. Deleuze and Guattari wanted to reject the importance of fantasy as well, as part of their rejection of depth or interiority -- but this seems to clash with the post structuralist notion of 'the self as discursive construct, of embodied subjectivity as a process of and in signification' (220).
(7) In classic Freudian conceptions, there are three 'orders of reality: the phantasmatic, the psychic and the material, none of which is more "real" than the others' (220). It is important that fantasy develops as 'the ability to image and imagine things that are not (yet) there' (221), driven by desire. Deleuze and Guattari develop a different concept of desire for their body without organs, a more general process of becoming, rather than trying to regain some infantile unity with the (m)other. Becoming simply means 'the establishment of relations among the psychical subject, other subjects, and various objects, among which there is no hierarchy of being' (221). Desire for them becomes a 'range of practices, of makings and doings, of becoming realities that are, rather than by yearning or lack, fuelled by the wealth of actualized experiences and mergers,... dynamic energy... and transformations' (221). However, this means that they lack an account of an [overall? fundamental? originating?] enabling force to drive this process.
(8) The lack of boundaries to the post human body is potentially liberating, but there are still limits rather than 'absolute freedom and boundlessness' (222). What is it that leads to embodiment and actualization? -- Hoogland's answer is the social realm itself, a a realm of 'fantasy, images, representations' (222). Any mode of becoming must take place against a background of rules [Hoogland cites Ricoeur on 'depth hermeneutics' here, which posits an underlying set of social constraints which generate both continuity and innovation]. 'Such regulatory frameworks ... offer possibilities for conformation and deviation, for sedimentation as well as innovation and thus... [are]... necessary for any creative impulse to take flight' (222).
(9) This may sound like 'theoretical bricolage', but it can be justified with a reading of Deleuze himself, discussing creation and innovation in the arts science and philosophy, and referring to necessary constraints and limits. He even refers to these limits when discussing creation in sports, seeing innovators such as Borg and McEnroe as operating against the background of an accepted style. This background is essential to understand actual historical embodiments more generally, thinks Hoogland. It is emphasised in Hall's work on identity [oh no -- I have always found this extremely weaselly], as a process of becoming, but within '"the limits of existing structures of representation"' (citing Hall, page 223). Bodies are seen as both processes and products of 'ethnic, racial and gender identities' (citing Balsamo, 224). Thus 'practices of embodiment can only take effect within structures of symbolisation, through signification' (224), although these structures themselves can be 'subjected to the innovative force and creative energy of the body/subject' (224).
(10) Even the Deleuze and Guattari body without organs develops through 'imaginary mergers with the Other' (224), which requires a role for fantasy. We can add this fantasy dimension to Deleuze and Guattari without reverting to the positivism of Freud: fantasy need not be some internal force or space, but can be seen as 'a dimension, perhaps, of the corporeal surface structure itself' (225).
(11) Embodiment depends on our ability to image and imagine our selves. It is both a 'material self-realization... [and an]... imaginary becoming' (225). It is this that needs to be researched, especially if we see the 'sociocultural domain' as product of 'public fantasy' itself. (225). Cultural texts help us to map and locate this domain, but also help 'the becomings of the body by offering the phantasmatic scenarios in which all sorts of potentially transgressive possibilities for creative innovation may be safely explored, ie without provoking immediate social sanction' (225). [A classic function of the whole realm of leisure, of course]. In culture, we 'get to know our differentially embodied selves' (225).
(12) Returning to the issue of recognition of lesbianism and 'gay radar', we can now see that knowledge of this kind can arise from playing out a scenario in fantasy. This is only possible given recent cultural 'specifically lesbian sociocultural scenarios' (226). These have been internalized, or 'incarnated' in the form of every day knowledge and practice -- this may be an integral process in the development of a confident deviant personality.
(13) Becoming any kind of self therefore requires this ability to fantasise and imagine realities in which one can play a part. The necessary 'bodily habitus' can equally be acquired through 'concrete connections with the Other's body, or by taking effect in fantasy' (226). Transsexuals indicate this very clearly. Transsexuality only became possible after the development of an effective medical technology in the early 20th century, and as knowledge of this technology spread, individuals came to see themselves as possibly suitable for the treatment. This was only available when the medical technology achieved a broader cultural circulation, which permitted individuals to speak of themselves as transsexuals: medical treatment was then able to offer a suitable 'material reinscription of the existing bodily habitus or corporeal text' (227). It is also true that those medical technologies arose themselves from imagined possibilities, 'dreams of gender design' (227).
(14) Modern consumer culture constantly urges us to modify our bodies, make them more beautiful or more healthy. This is not a new process, and can be found in the early development of optical instruments or other '"prosthetic" organs' (228), but now the possibilities have become democratised, and the techniques offer a literal embodiment as machines are inserted into our bodies -- we have literally become cyborgs, and developed 'the post human body' (228). These prosthetics become naturalised, although they also lead to an unfulfilled desire, as they make us more are aware of our own mortality. As a result, [freudian mechanisms of] fantasy will continue to play an important role in the development of medical technology.
In conclusion, genetic research brings even more possibilities. It is no accident that these possibilities are often located in the realms of science fiction literature, where fantasy has often been allowed to develop -- thus these products of fantasy 'may have therefore also be viewed as pretexts of evolving frames of scientific representation' (229). Given the importance of fantasy, writers and artists also need an input into discussion of the body, providing a genuinely multi-disciplinary resource for exploration.
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