October 9, 2006
Bodies in the Making grew
out of a conference held at UCSC last fall.
New book exploring culture's fascination
with body modifications features essays by 11 UCSC professors
By Scott Rappaport
Tattooing . . . piercing . . . anorexia . . . self-cutting
. . . plastic surgery . . . body-building . . . the use of life
extension technologies--these are all forms of body modification
that have become increasingly prevalent in today's culture and
mainstreamed in popular media.
A new book coedited by UC Santa Cruz professors Helene Moglen
and Nancy Chen, Bodies in the Making: Transgressions and
Transformations, explores our fascination with altering
our bodies, offering a fresh perspective on the widespread and
dramatic changes that have taken place over the past two decades
in attitudes about the body.
|A celebration of the publication
of Bodies in the Making -- featuring food, drink,
and brief readings by local contributors -- will take place
on Tuesday, October 17, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the UCSC
Women's Center. Admission is free. For more information,
call (831) 459-3882.
Is there anyone not at some time obsessed with aging?
asked Moglen, professor of literature at UCSC and a former UC
Presidential Chair. Is there anyone over 40 who is not
at least thinking about what it might be like to get some kind
of cosmetic surgery? Is there anyone over 60 not interested
in hearing about life extension technologies?
Drawing from a conference presented last fall by the UC Santa
Cruz Institute for Advanced Feminist Research, the book features
essays by 11 UCSC professors, six guest professors from around
the country, as well as contributions from a photographer, a
transexual author and actress, and a psychoanalyst.
Some of the essays explore ways in which media promotion of
makeovers and reality shows that promote the achivement of desirable
bodies may be linked to deepening forms of medicalization
that promote violence in the name of beauty. Other articles
address issues of involuntary body modifications--such as aging
and warfare--in the context of organ transplants, prosthetics,
and anti-aging technology, raising questions of who deserves
or who can afford a normal body.
A piece by City University of New York sociology professor
Victoria Pitts, author of the book Surgery Junkies: The Cultural
Boundaries of Cosmetic Surgery, focuses on cosmetic surgery
and tattooing--examining what these practices tell us about
self-identity and the values inscribed on bodies by the beauty
industry. And an essay by University of Kentucky professor Virginia
Blum contends that it is mainly through the normalizing
effect of television that cosmetic surgery is no longer simply
thought of as an expression of vanity.
The book also features several essays written in response to
a posthumous exhibition at UCSC of photographs, videos, and
mixed media by artist Hannah Wilke. From the 1970s until 1993,
Wilke produced work that examined the body and its representation--culminating
with a stark, moving series of photographs of her face and body
during her struggle and eventual death from cancer.
This is a book that tries to take apart easy value judgments
that name behaviors as normal or pathological, beautiful or
ugly, and voluntary or compulsory, Moglen noted.
There's nothing quite like it that is available now,
she added. The contributors are looking at a range of
practices that aren't usually linked: tattooing, cosmetic surgery,
life extension technologies, self-cutting. These are hot issues
right now, and they are very relevant to people's everyday lives.
Bodies in the Making is the second publication of the
UC Santa Cruz Institute for Advanced Feminist Research in a
series titled Feminist Provocations, published by
New Pacific Press. For more information, contact the publisher