O Corpo em Crise: Novas Pistas e o Curto-Circuito das Representações by Christine Greiner

Greiner, Christine. O Corpo em Crise: Novas Pistas e o Curto-Circuito das Representações. São Paulo: Annablume, 2010. 146 pages; R$29.00 paper.

Greiner’s Corpo em Crise (Body in Crisis: New Clues and the Short Circuit of Representations) is the sequel to her O Corpo: Pistas para Estudos Indiciplinares (The Body: Clues for Indisciplinary Studies, 2005). Written in a clear and concise manner, this two-part project offers an assorted collection of theoretical tools concerned with the epistemology of the body. Together they extend the work that Greiner has developed in collaboration with Helena Katz to analyze cognitive processes in dance. Under the concept corpomedia, Greiner and Katz propose that bodies and environments are constantly exchanging data, informing, and being formed by one another through processes of contamination. Through this lens, movement is seen as what enables bodies to act both as articulators of ideas and articulated media. In Corpo em Crise, Greiner shifts her attention to relations of alterity, positioning the theory of corpomedia in dialogue with Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the state of exception. The book, which includes an article by Katz, advocates that the understanding of the body as a body-environment continuum can teach us to see or recognize what has been long left unnamed, at the margins, or in the dark.

One of the achievements of this tight-packed book is the author’s “indisciplinary” way of choreographing concepts from distinct fields of knowledge, such as cognitive science, performance studies, and political philosophy, and of performing them in Portuguese. First, Greiner retraces the trajectory of postmodern and postcolonial authors who have problematized the split between body and mind and the representation of these relations through language. Yet, the crisis announced in the title refers not so much to the body-mind dichotomy. Instead, it centers on the “autopilot” way of segregating discrete elements into fixed oppositions ingrained in how we think and act: a regimen of training that articulates difference but excludes diversity (121-123). Subsequently, Greiner gestures towards destabilizing ways of translating self-other relations beyond abyssal dualities. The question of alterity formation gains a deeper dimension when the author debates the limits of the body in radical scenarios such as Abu Ghraib, Hiroshima, and dictatorial regimes in Latin America. Greiner is particularly interested in “the space that opens up when state of exception starts to become the rule” (36). Examples of what she calls grey zones or zones of indistinction (32 - 41), include concentration camps—where a collective body is pushed into sub-human conditions—and autocracies—where a sovereign body is granted a limitless use of power over the life of others.

Secondly, Greiner examines how perception, mirror-neurons, and affect influence the situated knowledge we construct of others. In doing so, she implicates the body in the production of meaning. Under the subheading “Circuits of Activation,” furthermore, she considers how movement shapes thinking patterns and how the presence of the body can be organized as a political action. In the last section, Greiner introduces one last puzzle associated with self-other relations: the immunization paradigm. While approximation, mimicry, consumption, and exposure can be seen as steps toward the translation of the other, the affirmation of one’s identity activates mechanisms of resistance against the threat of contamination. However, while immunization may function as a form of political resistance, by inhibiting one’s ability to engage or empathize with others, it can also put the sustainability of communities at risk.

As I read Greiner’s book, I cannot help but turn my attention to the transformative set of events cluttering the means of communication in the US from April 27 to May 2: the release of Obama’s birth certificate, followed by the announcement of Bin Laden’s political execution, and disposal of his dead body at high sea. Greiner’s considerations on the role that bodies play in negotiations of power relations have pushed me to question: How can we begin to understand (or theorize) the network of ideas that make these events intelligible? What are the metaphors that each of these bodies evoke in this geopolitical context and what effects do they produce? In this case, the light shed on the archival proof of Obama’s birthright rubs against the veil of secrecy surrounding the invisibility of Bin Laden’s corpse. Yet, I am most intrigued by the bio-political mechanisms of exception informing different aspects of this series of events. In the case of Bin Laden’s death, a state of exception is created as the body of FBI’s most wanted terrorist is identified (or included) within the homeland security discourse, only to be excluded from human rights laws (the Geneva Conventions). Meanwhile, sovereignty outlines another state of exception. In this case, the US commander-in-chief is able to defend a series of regulations governing his nation, while remaining immune to them. Beyond good and evil, these two acting bodies manifest what Greiner calls zones of indistinction.

Cristina Rosa is a scholar in the area of critical dance studies and a performer, whose areas of interest are Afro-Brazilian performative practices (e.g. dance forms and martial arts) and contemporary dance. Born in Brazil, Rosa received her Ph.D. in Culture and Performance from UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures in 2010 and is currently teaching at the California Institute of the Arts. Her current research focuses on the relationship between embodiment, knowledge production, and processes of identification, with an emphasis on both historiography and movement analysis. She investigates how the critical analysis of choreographed discourses helps us understand and transform our collective human experience.