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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


Although it may at first seem solidly a fixture of N ature rather than C ulture , the body is, nevertheless, both a biological entity and a social and philosophical construct. Because it is born, feels pain and pleasure, ages, and dies, the physical body can never be completely appropriated by the S ymbolic order. Although it may be “foundational of all symbolism” (Brooks, 1993, p. 7), the body is also precultural and prelinguistic. Whatever is not of the body, however, seems to demand that it be thought of in terms of the body. Thus, the poet William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1794) could refer to it as “the chief inlet of the soul in this age.” As soon as the body becomes an object of thought, it is reshaped by the I deology of D iscourse . Accordingly, Peter Brown (1988 , pp. 9–11) has demonstrated that early Christians commonly thought of women as “failed males” because their bodies had not managed during coagulation in their mothers’ wombs to amass the same quantities of heat and spiritual vitality that made men what they were. Just as the warmth of semen demonstrated the vital achievement of the male body, so menstruation was a sign of the failure of the female to process heat, which coagulated when it was not used. Still, a woman's surplus energy was necessary for its intended use in the nurturing of children, which did not, however, restrain Galen from ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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