Love’s Body Reflections on Fragmentation of the Body
The subject of the essays in this book is not the body as a whole, but rather its separate parts. As we fragment the body, we make its parts the subject of a fetish. Each individual part can become a focus of erotic passion, an object of fetishist adoration. On the other hand, the body as a whole is still the sum of its parts.
The partitioning that we carry out here brings to mind the worship of relics. Relic worship began in the Middle Ages with the adoration of the bones of martyrs and was based on the belief that the body parts of saints possessed a special power. In this respect, each fetishist, however enlightened he pretends to be, pays homage to relic worship.
At first, this dismemberment only happened to saints, in accordance with the belief that in paradise the body will become whole again. Only later were other powerful people such as bishops and kings also carved up after their deaths. In our cultural survey of body parts, we are particularly concerned with the history of those with “erotic significance.” Regardless of whether their significance is religious or erotic, they all attain the greatest importance for both the believer and the lover because of the attraction and power inherent in them. This way, fetishist heritage of older cultures survives in both the believer and the lover.
O Body, how graciously you let my soul
Feel the happiness, that I myself keep secret,
And while the brave tongue shies away,
From all that there is to praise, that brings me joy,
Could you, O Body, be any more powerful,
Yes, without you nothing is complete,
Even the Spirit is not tangible, it melts away
Like hazy shadows or fleeting wind.
Anatomical Blazons of the Female Body appeared in 1536, a newly printed, multi-volume collection of odes to each body part individually. These poems, praising parts of the female body, constituted an early form of sexual fetishism. “Never,” wrote Hartmut Böhme, “does it sing the ‘whole body,’ let alone the persona of the adored, but rather it is a rhetorical exposition of parts or elements of the body.” In these poems, head and womb represented the “central organs.” It was to be expected that representatives of the church scented a new form of idolatry in this poetic approach and identified a sinful indecency in this depiction of female nakedness:
“To sing of female organs,
To bring them to God’s ears,
Is madness and idolatry,
For which the earth will cry on Judgement day.”
This is how such condemnation is expressed in a document entitled Against the Blazoners of Body Parts, written in 1539. The poets of the Blazons were “the first fetishists in the history of literature.” “The Anatomical Blazons represented a sort of a sexual menu à la carte: from head to toe, a series of fetishist delicacies (and in the Counterblazons from head to toe a series of sensual atrocities and defacements). Such a gastrosophy of feminine flesh is only conceivable when the woman is not regarded as a person. The fetish of the female body involves the abolition of woman as such.” From this perspective, the Blazons would be womanless.
The poetic dismemberment of the female body satisfies fetishist phallocentrism, which, as Böhme points out, also lies at the root of male aggression. Today it would be called “sexist.”
“A woman is a conglomerate of sexual-rhetorical body parts, desired by men: one beholds the female body in such explicit detail that the woman herself is negated. A courtly, cultivated dismemberment of a woman is celebrated in the service of male fantasy.” Is the female body thus reduced to a plaything of lust?
Böhme’s analysis echoes much of contemporary feminist critique: The corporeal should be given homage only when it is united with personality, as if the body itself was something inferior. What Böhme refers to as “phallocentrism,” can be observed even in the context of advanced cultures: the progress of civilisation has been accompanied by an ever-increasing alienation of the body – this process is repeated in each stage of history.
Which brings us back to the Anatomical Blazons.
“There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom”: An awareness of the bodily that can bridge the separation between body and spirit and allow the body to be understood as a cultural- historical product has yet to develop. Everything that is exclusively erotic, however, joins together in praising the whole body:
So we would like to praise the Body duly,
Pay homage to it as to Lord and Master,
So that the sprit, that only nourishes thoughts,
Without body, neither happiness nor sorrow does excite us:
The Body makes its energy praiseworthy,
The force that completes us, consumes us…
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