names of parts in “my body a wunderkammer”

There used to be a medical condition called hysterical paralysis where, as you can imagine, the body was paralyzed but rather than by a broken back or whatever physiological causes there exist for paralysis it was immobilized by a psychological condition.  The victims had all of the symptoms–immobility, non-responsiveness to touch, etc.  One major and strange difference was that when one’s “leg” was afflicted, it was the linguistic idea of leg–which excludes for example “ass”– that was impacted and not the entire leg as a doctor would know it, which includes the what we would call the ass.  For this illness the way we talked about the body was more important than the body itself.  It seems to be the same situation for “My Body: A Wunderkammer”

In the home frame of the story a drawing of a body is outlined by the corresponding words associated with the fragmented parts.  Click on “shoulders” by her shoulders etc, and you get a kind of story about the narrator’s experience or perception of that body part that is often obsessed with the social weight of the parts more than with the function or the physiology of them. Thought of this way, is the “leg” as we think of it synonymous with the leg as a system of muscles and bone?  It seems to be different from, say, “light.”  In the case of light we know that is simply a small portion of the scale of electro-magnetic radiation that affects our retinas, which affect our brain etc etc.  But the “light” we talk about could be either the sensation of that reaction in the brain, or indifferent radiation itself.  One understanding co-exists with another in the same space, and we can use the word light to talk about either or both.

But in the case of bodies it seems entirely different.  We constantly refer to the brain when in fact, in some cases, we mean the spinal cord…  the heart when we mean the brain…stomach when we mean intestinal tract, etc.  The parts as we understand them in common speech and the organs we have discovered in medicine are completely different entities that share neither location, shape nor function.

This makes the decision to call the body a “wunderkammer”, or “cabinet of curiosities” doubly meaningful.  There is the personal reflection upon the body motivated by curiosity, the scientific investigation of it, and the strange tension between the two all of which are at play in this (and maybe every) text.


~ by dukerogersnelson on April 17, 2010.

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