Body Matters/Corpografías

Claudia Briones and Marcial Godoy-Anativia | UBA and NYU

On March 5, 2006, the Sunday editions of Chile’s two most important newspapers, El Mercurio and La Tercera, arrived at newsstands with their usual arsenal of cultural supplements and advertising circulars. Yet on this particular Sunday, the publicity insert for the Ripley department store chain showcased its spring fashion line in a series of photographs that featured denim-clad models with their faces covered, suspended by their arms and feet from a variety of mechanical contraptions—clearly and unambiguously making reference to specific methods of torture employed by the Pinochet regime during its 17 years in power for the express purpose of selling blue jeans. Almost immediately, local human rights organizations denounced the circular through an email campaign and local websites and threatened to call a consumer boycott unless the department store chain promptly removed the photographs from circulation and issued a public apology. Ripley quietly complied and, within a day or two, the matter simply disappeared from public attention, almost as if it had never happened.

One of the essays in this volume examines this incident not only to call attention to the banalization and aestheticization of horror that the Ripley’s ad circular performs, but also to interrogate a sociopolitical conjuncture, one in which the irruption of tortured bodies across a particular mediascape fails to generate responses capable of comparably efficacious contestation. What this analysis suggests is that critical understandings and deployments of bodies must not only concern themselves with the presence and absence of particular bodies from particular spaces, but also with the mechanisms by which these bodies are imbued with and stripped of their capacity to condense and convey the thick socio-historical significations that make them intelligible within fraught social formations. Attention to these mechanisms is crucial, not only for deciphering the ever-expanding proliferation of bodies made visible by the representational machinery of market-driven technoculture, but also for recognizing the strategies through which social actors, individual and collective, restore to these bodies the dense histories of domination, exclusion and violence that are so often erased or trivialized, but which are so necessary for imagining and constructing spaces of hope.

In some very concrete ways, the scholars, critics, artists, activists, and citizens featured in this issue of e-misférica—Body Matters/Corpografías—are all participants in a project that insists on making bodies not only visible, but densely so. We live in a time in which the market, medicalized visions of wellbeing, and the will to security produce contradictory images of bodies to be desired and consumed. These visions oscillate between over-determined utopias of corporal beauty and fitness and banalization through incessant commercialization; between bodies born with birthrights and others in need of self-improvement; between dehumanized masses of “countless” war casualties and detailed biographies of “true” victimhood; between those worthy of mobility and those assigned to confinement; between those bodies trapped in fear and those who are to blame; between bodies gripped by pain and others in the throes of ecstasy; between bodies presumed to be innocent and those that are always already guilty.

Against this backdrop, the contributions to this volume take on a dual task: on the one hand, they shed new light on hypervisible bodies; on the other, they make us see the import and effects of those deemed expendable.

Hypervisibility, we must recognize, is not only a result of marketing, tabloids or otherwise marked artistry. Several of the works herein also focus on the ways in which communities and movements envision and mobilize their own body politics and, in so doing, recur to their own essentialisms and canonizations, incurring the burden of their discourses of redemption and the costs and open-ended meanings of innovation. Yet, it is precisely at the juncture of such complexities and ambiguities that the work of the scholars, artists, and activists in this volume intersect. And while the tasks at hand are in no way easy endeavors, the critical enterprise of which they are part is undoubtedly necessary.

Claudia Briones (1957) is an anthropologist, a lecturer in the School of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Buenos Aires, and a researcher for CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas). She is also the director of GEAPRONA (Grupo de Estudios en Aboriginalidad, Provincias y Nación–Group of Studies in Aboriginality, Provinces and the Nation) and a specialist in ethnic studies and interculturality, with a focus on the political-cultural productions and rights of indigenous peoples. Recently she has been pursuing an interest in the expansion of and debates surrounding public spaces, as well as notions of citizenship, which has led her to analyze the politicization of culture and the culturization of politics in newly-emerging urban movements.

Marcial Godoy-Anativia is a sociocultural anthropologist and currently the Associate Director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University. From 2000-2007, he worked in the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean and the Program on International Collaboration at the Social Science Research Council. His recent publications include “Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Middle East Studies in the Aftermath of 9/11,” (with Seteney Shami), “We Are Living in a Time of Pillage: A Conversation with Carlos Monsiváis,” and Ciudades Translocales: Espacios, flujo, representación—Perspectivas desde las Américas (2005), co-edited with Rossana Reguillo.