Jewish Thought, Feminist Theory, And Volatile Bodies (Elizabeth Grosz)


Better late than never and with great pleasure, I just read Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism (1994). It’s all part of my little summer Deleuze swerve. Her focus is on the body, or rather the relations between body-mind-culture, and the relations between inside and outside, body and ego, and their “volitization,” a figure which Grosz does not beat to death.

While not uncritical of Deleuze, Grosz turns to him, a theorist of the virtual, as powerful resource for the corporeal turn perfected in feminist thought. Perhaps pretty old hat by now, but what caught me by surprise was how Grosz combines the biological and the idea of body images or schemata. I don’t know much, but I was surprised by what seems to be early (1994!) and prescient turns to biology and neurology, as well as to the image and to the imaginary, all of which I’m finding particularly useful.

My only critical caveat is this. In the chapter on Deleuze, the “body without organs” is presented as the notion of a body divested of images, representations, projections, and fantasies (p.169). The problem would be that I don’t see how this concept squares with the importance, an importance recognized by Grosz herself, that gets ascribed to the body-image in chapter 3 of her text. I guess the point would be to use the Deleuzian concept to show how labile a “thing” the body is.

That said, what I like most and a lot is the priority given to the body as a surface, as opposed to the figures of psyche, depth, and semiotic signification. The body is described as a writing surface for the inscription of social and political effects. While it sounds like Foucault the stronger debt goes to Nietzsche (p.122). What I also like especially is the way in which these different “things” or zones are presented as neither identical nor radically distinct, the way the inside and the outside, mind and body cross into and out of each other.

For my own purposes here at JPP, I’m going to identify and recommend in Grosz the legacy of Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze as a way to link up  feminist philosophy, religious thought, and Jewish philosophy.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Jewish Thought, Feminist Theory, And Volatile Bodies (Elizabeth Grosz)

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