The Body, My Body, Her Body

Estrangement, Intimacy, Difference, and the Question of Hannah Villiger’s Inhuman Gaze

Griselda Pollock

Among the bodies of this nature that is reduced to what belongs to me, I discover my own body. It can be distinguished from all other bodies because of but a single particular: it is the only body that is not simply a body, but also my body. It is the only body that exists inside the strata of abstraction that I have chiselled into the world in which, in accordance with experience, I coordinate fields of sensation in various ways.

Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations


Hannah Villiger was swiftly acclaimed as a major artist of her generation. Defining herself as a sculptor, from the early 1980s, she worked predominantly in a small studio photographing parts of her own body with a hand-held Polaroid camera. She delighted in the unexpected effects of its alternating bleaching and intensifying of colour and the uncanny strangeness of reassembling parts of her body in unforeseen compositions of limbs and objects. This had nothing to do with the radical antimony between the wholeness of classical sculpture and modernism’s favoured trope of the fragment. The body was no longer a discrete thing, but a topography of sensate consciousness, palpated by vision. The practice evolved over time, registering the temporality and hence the mortality of the body, whose changing forms served the measure of lived time, now punctuated for the belated viewer by a premature death.

None of the critical appraisals of this remarkable oeuvre, however, attribute any significance to the fact of this artist’s being a woman addressing a female body. Why should this matter? So many artists of the 1980s turned their back on the preceding decade of intense radicalisation of the repressed question of gender. Yet thirty years of feminist cultural theory lie behind us now, identifying the generalised image of the female body as one of western culture’s most recurring and yet complex sites of fantasy and disavowal. In a phallocentric culture, it is no easy thing to look at the female body, which has been by turns over-aestheticised1 or abusively distorted in accordance with the difficulties and pleasures it offers to the hegemonic phallic imaginary in which the female body signifies only under the logic of castration.2 Hence we inherited a paradox: what defines the body as female is the sexuality that classical western regimes of representation, none the less, erased.

This inheritance presents the artist who is a woman seeking to know her embodied subjectivity through a practice of representation ‘in the body’ with many challenging problems. Not the least of these is stated by the terms of my title. The body is a universal. My body is particularised, the property of a singular, hence historical and socially grounded subject, classed, raced, inscribed in time. Her body is not a universal since it is marked as gendered. Nor has it been allowed to be particular, since there is no acknowledgement of female sexual specificity in a phallocentric culture. Phallocentrism defines the feminine merely as the negative term, the lacking other of the One, the masculine, that is de facto synonymous with the universal.

Thus the body of woman is the fictional body of the other sex, in which there is no singularity, just variations on the same depleted yet desired otherness. To chisel out from the world the experience of the body that is my body, in, of, and from the feminine3, is to undertake a major and significant project. Such a project, none the less, has its resonances across the many practices by artists who are women during the twentieth, the modernist but also the feminist, century. The centrality of the question of sexual difference, politically, semiotically, culturally, psychoanalytically, philosophically and, of course, artistically is one of the deep threads of western culture in its current epoch, in the postmodern as much as its modern precondition. In this essay, I want to suggest some of the dimensions of that complexity that I sense being negotiated, unevenly and more structurally than consciously in the collected works that form the project we name ‘Hannah Villiger.’ She is not the originating and knowing cause of the work, but the site of its daily compulsion, enacting, performing, reviewing, and composing with materials that evolved into view over the time scale of almost two decades of attention to the space of the body. Curious as we all are to know the person, who died prematurely from the effects of a chronic condition, I want to set aside the modernist presumption of knowing the artist, in favour of the feminist covenant of reading the practice.

Her Body in Parts

In 1937, Meret Oppenheim sketched a reclining female figure, whose limbs and body parts were schematically reshaped as ovoids and cylinders. Transferred into oil paint in 1938, Steinfrau (Stone Woman) represents a schematised body decomposed into unarticulated, mineral parts. Alternatively, it is tentatively composed of stony elements. From within its straddle of painting and surrealism, we can pose an array of questions:
Is this an image of a woman turning to stone as she finds herself beached upon the deserted shore? Is it a picture of nature sculpture, composed by chance?

Is it a birth picture, an image of a female being coming to life as she is once again ‘grounded’ in the fluid of life? Or is it a death picture, an image of despair, a metaphoric re- presentation of the stranding of the blocked artistic psyche?

Is it the visualisation of depression? Is it an image of a sensation, a condition, a feeling, a state of mind, an idea? How did art make the image of the body capable of such rhetorical diversity? How is it that this artist has so refashioned the western iconographies of the female nude, typically allowed only in its function as Venus—the other sex—to evoke pathos, anguish, rest, or psychological interiority.4 Can we ask such questions about the body parts offered to us through the work of Hannah Villiger? Is her work about sensations of the living, or is it an ambivalent engagement with mortality, the inevitable companion of any dedicated search for the particularity of an ‘I’? Does her work, between painting, sculpture, and photography, invite empathetic readings, or strive to forestall them? What would such a disavowal of affect by the insistent grid of formality itself mean?

I have no simple answers to these questions and I do not believe the project of criticism is to offer the closure of finite answers. It lies in posing enough questions to allow what the practice provokes into view to enter the cultural frame of debate.

So, I shall start with questions which will later bring us back to a conclusion: What meaning should we attribute to the fragmentation of the body imago, given the deep, psychological function of the body schema as the means of fantasising a coherent, human subject, an I? Does the fragmented body imply a dislocated subjectivity or does it suggest the active undoing, destruction even, of existing visual ideologies of the body and gender that alone might offer a new ground for an active re- creation? Could both coexist to create the ambivalence of this oeuvre? Its aggression, its tenderness? Under the orders of art and medicine the body is treated as either form or organism. Psychoanalysis teaches us, however, that the body is never a simple matter of a depiction of anatomy. An idea of a body schema is the representational shell for housing the unrepresentable: it is the visible siting of the invisible domain of the human as process, what psychoanalysis names subjectivity, the verso whose recto, as it were, is the absence that generates not only desire, but the compulsion to repeat, the death drive that at the deepest level underlies the drive to make art, again and again. This implies that any and every representation of the body directly or indirectly touches upon both what it can only hysterically signify, subjectivity, and on sexual difference, itself created in the same movement of the constitution of the subject.5 Both take us back close to the very question of that hinge between desire and its negation, death. The practice of Hannah Villiger touches on all these points in ways that reconfigure their relations. It is here that the perplexing relations between the body, my body and a gendered body, her body, emerge as a historically and artistically significant problematic in the twentieth century. Then, for complex cultural reasons, the artistic subject itself came, in criticism and art theory, to underpin the act of making art in a profound and determining way, in direct proportion to the countermovement proclaimed by serious artists towards a disengaged, dispassionate preoccupation with form. Statements by Hannah Villiger conform to the modernist paradigm that I am questioning here. With simplicity and clarity, she explains the concept for her practice: visually sculpting the space around the body as an exploration of the question of being in the world within the realm of experience that can be properly claimed as hers alone. Yet, given the culture in which we live, a culture that universalises the relations between mine and his, but defines the feminine only as his other, what will it take to create a space for anything to be mine and hers, for the property of Being to be posed in the feminine case? If Hannah Villiger defined her practice for sixteen years as bound by only making art from what she knew, her ‘world’ in the Heideggerian sense, a world that was indexed by the instrument for being in the world, a body that was her body, by what means could she know herself through the practice of art that could never be just a simple mirroring, never anything we would simply name self-portraiture? Or would art only become a form of knowing ‘in, of, and from the feminine,’ in the daily process of working from the space of a difference that is not yet articulated in phallocentric culture, by means of a double act of alienation, of Entfremdung/defamiliarisation?

The duality lies in preventing the body we are shown through her work from conforming to what culture already knows as the female nude. She also had to deny herself as she worked any preconceived familiarity with her own body that was inevitably based on her already formed, thus fantasised, imaginary image of her own body that formed the inner skeleton of her psyche. Fragmentation in Hannah Villiger’s practice becomes the basic grammar for that double estrangement, forcing us, the later viewers, into a kind of unscripted looking at a body made totally strange and unrecognisable. This artist, like many other women before her, had to create a particular kind of practice, a procedure, in order to find ways to see around culture’s pre-existing representations, and in order to create a new terrain in which a she could inhabit her body as a subjective space and not as a seen object. It would seem paradoxically that in order to de-objectify the negated female body, a new kind of objectivity becomes a necessary preliminary step.

Close-ups of the Body in Parts

In 1917, the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz embarked on a project that would two decades later complete a huge archive of photographs now known as A Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe. In the intimacy of a sexual relation between the older man and the young American artist he was in process of promoting, Stieglitz and O’Keeffe performed a daring pas-de-deux mediated by his camera. With this mechanical prosthesis, he looked, at every part of her body, treating in turn and often in isolation, hands, mouth, face, neck, collarbones, armpit, torso, breasts, sex, thighs, legs, feet. What resulted, however, was a series of images through which, I would argue, the artist/woman Georgia O’Keeffe could discover, as if it were an unknown continent, her own corporeal specificity in a way for which art at that time offered no model. Despite the obvious sexism of Stieglitz’s exercise, I want to rethink what Georgia O’Keeffe saw, by looking obliquely down the sight line of her lover’s photographically mechanised gaze, looking from the place of the other back at a body from which culture had ideologically alienated her. At the very apex of an erotic/formal masculine investigation of the feminine other— early parts were exhibited in 1921 simply as A Woman—the artist Georgia O’Keeffe was enabled to ‘see’ an embodied image of herself, sexual and female, at the historic moment when many other women modernists realised the absolute necessity of knowing, or having the uncensored right to know, their bodies in order to be an artist.

In 1931, the British novelist Virginia Woolf wrote of two related experiences necessary for her to become a writer. One involved the murder of the culture’s sexless ideal of femininity: “the angel in the house,” the other “telling the truth about my experiences as a body.” Virginia Woolf felt that she never solved: “I doubt that any woman has solved it yet.“6 Was it only possible, at the beginning of the feminist century, to see one’s self seen indirectly? Contextualised by such a genealogy, Hannah Villiger’s work cancelled out the masculine other in order to pursue Virginia Woolf’s “truth about my experiences as a body” aided by the twin possibilities of postwar modern art: minimalism and per- formance art. She created her own pas-de-deux, but with a machinic other, with the photographic apparatus as a seeing instrument that was, none the less, kept within a visual range defined by the extension of the body from itself. It is here that I begin to understand Hannah Villiger’s statement about using this procedure to sculpt the space around her body. The photographic act involves and is defined by her own reach, involving the body in what Merleau-Ponty philosophically named ‘flesh,’ defining the visible as the entwining of vision and movement.7 The arm’s breadth holds open a space for a kind of visual touching; the photographic act then reproduces this as a form that then holds before the viewer’s carnal sight, projected onto its cinematic scale, the quality of being in the world, and being of it. The relations of space projected by that enlargement evoke a trace memory of the child’s visual world.

The radical disturbance created by Hannah Villiger’s practice is underlined by contrasting it with the work of Joan Semmel, an American painter of the first generation of feminist-inspired artists who worked on her own body as a hitherto unmapped landscape. This body is perceived not by the outside viewer, but from her own vantage point. Photographing her body and then painting it in an unusual perspective, the body represented, none the less, inscribed the viewing subject, the woman who looks at herself. The painting institutes a human, gendered gaze upon the body she inhabits even if the perspective severs the looking head from the seen body. We, the spectators, are situated in her place and acquire an intimacy with that look and that body. The mode by which Hannah Villiger realised her project, the confined space of a minimally unfurnished studio, the hand-held Polaroid camera producing its instant yet visibly emerging image, introduces something that unsettles the modernist paradox of impersonal objects which reflexively reassert an artistic identity. It is the question of the non-human gaze. Who is looking (at the resulting image) is severed by this process from what is seeing (the hand-held camera), or what looks (the camera) is distinct from who sees (the artist both plotting the shoot and appraising and arranging the resulting photographic encounters). It is that uncanny and, at times, traumatising dissonance that lures and agitates the spectator who is confronted with these formally arranged, elephantine fractions of skin, sometimes dense and smooth, sometimes ruckled or freckled, sometimes indented and protruded by the harder shapes of underlying bone. We must be more precise. Like the British painter Jenny Saville who produced a series of photographic images in 1995–96, Closed Contact, by pressing dislocated parts of her body onto a huge photocopier, Hannah Villiger cannot be said to represent her ‘body.’ The word itself conjures up a whole, complete, unbreached, an orchestrated set of parts topped by a head, and its resident ‘gaze.’ But no more is her work about the potential abjection of fleshiness itself, the substance for which Jenny Saville has sought an analogue both in paint and in the surreal effects of a giant glass plate pressed against her body parts. Hannah Villiger spoke of her own body as her material; she is thus both subject and object. She claimed that she was working „with myself“ (mit mir), yet the artist worked as well on a relation with a self that the artist did not yet fully know. It is that gap between the physical fractions and the metaphysical unity of the seeking, creating feminine subject beside herself that opens up the disturbance created through this practice. It is a logical inconsistency, but a productive one that invites both a Lacanian and a phenomenological reading. Yet both theoretical models, while necessary, fail ultimately to provide an explanation adequate to the fascination and shock these works create. The unease arises at the very edge of the beauty that an overpowering formal imagination constantly sought to reimpose, dissolving the disorder of their uncanny substance into the aesthetic knotting of elements into new forms our hungry eyes enjoy at an inhuman formal level. The distinctive moment of Hannah Villiger’s practice is not, therefore, the photographic staging of the body, but its secondary revision into the installation. The critical moment lies in her belatedly seeing what the camera found, in her selection and reorganisation into sequences, blocks, or catalogues. But these do not reveal a consistent pattern, a line of uninterrupted aesthetic development. Rather they unpredictably oscillate between a trenchant realism, a surreal photographic game of corps macabre, and the ascetic aesthetic of a minimalist formalism. Given this diversity or range, therefore, it cannot be at the obvious level of a line of formal experimentation and development from one to the other that the ‘thing’ that compelled her to make more images operated.

Getting Close and Carnal

One strange and improbable reference for such a project might take us back to the French Romantic artist, Théodore Géricault, who painted stilllife compositions of the severed limbs and heads of executed criminals with a dispassionate interest in the very qualities that sculpture so refuses in its marmorean or metallic hardness. In strangely disarming intimacy, the horror of Géricault’s stilllives of human remains is balanced against a curiosity that draws us to want to know what flesh really looks like. It seems that knowledge in art as much as medicine involves death. Géricault’s twentieth-century heir is perhaps Damien Hirst. Both are a far cry from the minimalist coolness with which Hannah Villiger operated to disassemble her own living body not merely into oddly disjointed limbs but skin landscapes and recomposed them into unrecognisable conjugations of no known being or creature. Yet the minimalist aesthetic was deeply invested with its own passionate detachment that enabled it also to operate at the hinge between the non-human and the human in order to show us something of the fleshly, the carnal body that has nothing to do with dead meat or the equally deadly medical gaze that for instance Mona Hatoum explored in her installation Corps Etranger, 1994, when she allowed an optical probe to investigate interior landscapes of her body, invisible to the subject’s eye and knowledge.

Hannah Villiger called her enlarged aluminium plates a skin. I find that arresting. We could say that the surface of the auto-developing Polaroid print doubles the qualities and variable colours of the skin as surface, as light reflecting, as light penetrable. What the non-human gaze focuses upon are the skin and even organs, like clitoris or vulva, the stretching skin of the pregnant belly. They become merely evidence of the extraordinary inventiveness of skin’s malleability into a myriad of forms, shapes and surfaces. Organs lose their function and thus shed pre-given meaning derived from the twin discourses of art and medicine in which the body is typically held. French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu theorised the skin as the primary support of the ego function, in contestation of the Lacanian foundation of the subject in the specular relation to the imago, the totalising image that retrospectively created the dis- integrative fantasy of the body in pieces, the corps morcelé. Hannah Villiger’s practice conforms neither to the specular imaginary whole nor to the terror or abjection of the fragmented body. Yet she sought to and created a visual analogue for a totally re-articulated and fractured skeletal other, attending to an ever more evident musculature still clothed in that strangest of all human parts, skin. Skin is the undecidable membrane between outer limit and inner surface. Skin is the outer extreme of our hidden insides and the charged boundary of the discrete body, the surface for recording our contact with and our differentiation from the world through its external impact by pressure, temperature, or prick. Skin is the borderline and threshold of connection and the sensation of a self/world exchange. Villiger’s work seems so anti-sculptural and yet is titled Skulptural: is her play with the skin surrogate of the Polaroid plate the means to allow skin a means of representation?

Body Art, or the Body as a Language

Hannah Villiger’s practice might, at some levels, be linked into the genealogy of what Italian art historian and artist Lea Vergine called Il Corpo Come Linguaggio8 Body Art, or the body as language, was a historically predetermined investigation by the artist into the question of being, of embodiment, of the body as the authenticating property of the self. Its favoured medium was performance, whose only survival depended on photographic reproduction. There is an element of performance and its reproduction in the practice of Hannah Villiger, especially since she is the private viewer of the actions and poses performed for the unseeing camera. A further link lies in the way her work reads like the creation from degree zero of a new alphabet composed of defamiliarised body elements. Each body part comes fresh and emptied before us, to be combined in an unfamiliar syntax that does not add up to the bodily grammar of western classical sculpture’s vision of the female body. In her catalogue Skulptural 1988/89, sandwiched between a series of images of feet and a beautifully choreographed meditation on her hand that I am tempted to title The Three Graces, Hannah Villiger placed a group of images of her thighs and pubic hair. This is a dangerous moment, placing the sex between feet and hands, suggesting a postmodern Olympia. Just as in Manet’s painterly gambit on the nude, female hair is the undoing of the classical otherness of sculpture. The two residual concentrations of hair on the human head and genitals are explored by Hannah Villiger in different ‘essays’ and here again the antisculptural interrupts the formal impulse. Just as the alliance of skin and Polaroid colour introduce a carnal texturing into the sculptor’s eye for arrangement, so her play with hair counters in one movement both the stony inhumaness of classical sculpture and the eradication of female sexuality from its vocabulary. Here, without declaration or emphasis, the radical way in which this practice stages the question of sexual difference and the body emerges unbidden but necessary. Yet it is the weakest link or moment in her work, since it takes us back to the visible staging of phallic concepts of feminine difference as lack, so at odds with the rest of the project that invites us to see the particularity of one woman’s physique. Hannah Villiger’s work also bears all the imprints of both the antiexpressionist, minimalist aesthetic and its eroticism of renunciation. Making sculpture through an industrial photomechanical process, enlarging prints onto aluminium plates and exhibiting series or blocks, successfully annihilates all signs of ‘expressivity’ of gesture, and hence of the artist as expressive origin of the work and its meanings. No hand has touched, moulded, or carved the body that the viewer encounters in a scale too vast for the intimacy of the detail that is caught in the disembodied viewfinder of the Polaroid camera. Thus no eye has seen what is registered either. The gaze inscribed into these works is non-human: a deeply minimalist aspiration so often pursued in the unrelieved objecthood of things and processes offered up to ‘pure perception’ by a subject defined as masculine through both detachment and identification with the materials and processes of working-class masculinity. How much more traumatic is it for the viewer to encounter, therefore, not minimalist blocks of burnished steel, or manufactured brick walkways, but fragments of a living, human body, distilled, distressed, defamiliarised, and changing with time and perhaps the ravages of illness, yet captured not in the cold stone or metal of conventional sculptural form, but in light registered as colour, that is, according to Luce Irigaray’s subtle feminist rereading of Merleau-Ponty, the very substance of a visibility that preexists seeing.9

To stage in art the duality of seeing and being seen through the prism not of culture’s definition of the difference that is attributed to the feminine, but that of a steadfast, relentless insistence on finding her own singularity at the intersection of ‘my’ and ‘her,’ renders strange the bodily spaces and places, members and surfaces that are made continuous by ligaments and the surface unity of the unbroken skin. Only thus does the bodily become the habitation of the gendered self, and not just the fantasied she. Here the body is made different through subjecting it to the other-ing look of art that registers the body of difference. Thus Hannah Villiger’s practice reposes in a disarmingly new way the difficult question of sexual difference. Here she plots anew the relations between a body, that is also my body, that is also her body. But beyond all that this art practice shows that we need to return to my opening questions and ask what it sought.

The Body and the Gaze

Thus I want to conclude by reviewing this practice through the late Lacanian psychoanalytical concept of the gaze. By 1963 Jacques Lacan had revised his classic, specular theory of the subject called into selfrecognition in the mirror phase. In Seminar XI, Lacan posited a remnant in the psyche, called the objet a, a trace of an archaic sensation of a connectivity whose severance is the condition of the subject emerging out of an undifferentiated flow of intensities and sensations. Like a chill wind that alerts the skin at birth to its emergence from its watery maternal envelope, the objet a is without shape or form or meaning. It’s a breath upon the outer skin of the subject’s forming psyche that reminds it of the cut by which alone it came to be a subject, a subject that in order to be must be cut away from that retrospectively imagined continuity. Objet a becomes the residual trace in the psyche through which a desire is born for what, through this process, is conceived only as lost. The gaze, is that which, in the field of vision—a field invested libidinally rather than perceptually—haunts us as lost. It generates within us a desire for the gaze that we then seek across the field of vision, even though the gaze has nothing to do with perception, with seeing or being seen in any phenomenological sense. At a time before it had shape and therefore memory, the gaze encompassed the mother’s look, touch, and her presence as the environing condition of our infant survival. The gaze is not a look, identified as another person looking. For Lacan it suggests the prehuman field of being within the Other, and it is a fantasy retrospectively created by the subject’s separation from the M/Other—marked at another psychic register by learning ourselves to be (an ego) defined inside our skins. Hence there is a dimension of this gaze that resonates with the maternal feminine. The subject necessarily exiled from that fantasy of the maternal being longs to be recovered (this is an English pun on ‘covered,’ as with a cloth, and ‘rescued’) by the gaze, to be found by the gaze, that in finding us again would, however, annihilate us. The condition of our subjectivity is being separated from it, and thus subjectivity is lined by the longing created by this condition of irrecoverable loss. This longing fuels the desire that animates the field of vision and aims the scopic drive at the seen world. It is this into which art tunes when it achieves the depth we call ‘affect,’ for it lures something of the gaze for which we long into the field of vision. Hannah Villiger’s work sometimes achieves that depth. At that depth, her images invite a psychoanalytical reading through the gaze as objet a. Her working process makes me ask: what was she trying to see by abandoning herself to an inhuman, machinic gaze that she used as her virtual chisel? Or rather, what was her practice trying to trap into the visible? What sensation was her work luring into view? What did she long for that made it necessary and possible to inhabit that studio, to return each day to that performance, that was also a pursuit? Beyond those works in which the disguise of a purely formal beauty is achieved, or in which a forced strangeness makes us all voyeuristic anatomists, what gets trapped into certain of her images, something that has nothing to do with the things we are looking at, but flows across the formal dimensions of surface, colour, and field? When critics write of the milky colours of the Polaroid, the particular diffusion of its reds, the way that shapes soften and bleed into the space surrounding them, they are teetering on that edge of sensing in the image, a beyond the visible dimension. Could this dimension, none the less, only be glimpsed by the creation ab nihilo of a space around the body, punctuated distractingly by the peculiar and unfamiliar visual vocabulary of the fractured body that was there to be held within, stroked by the gaze of the Other?


  1. Nead, Lynda. The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality.
    London/New York: Routledge, 1992. ↩︎
  2. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” 
    Visual and Other Pleasures. London: MacMillan, 1989. ↩︎
  3. For a fuller discussion of this concept of the feminine as the unrepresented space of feminine sexual difference, see Pollock, Griselda. “Inscriptions in the Feminine.”
    Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of Twentieth Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine. Ed. Catherine de Zegher. 
    Boston: MIT Press, 1996. ↩︎
  4. In Kenneth Clark’s foundational study of the nude in western art, The Nude (London: Penguin Books, 1956), the key categories of the body are Apollo and Venus, masculinity as self-possessed and mastered intelligence while femininity is only bound to her sexual desirability for men. In additional chapters, the nude is identified with categories of energy, pathos, and ecstacy. Significantly there are almost no female nudes in the first two categories but a greater proportion are found in the chapter on mindless ecstatic bodies. Thus to conjugate the female body and pathos is already a major break with the deeply embedded tropes of western representation of the body. ↩︎
  5. Of necessity I shall be using some terminologies unfamiliar to some readers. Within the space allocated, and because there is so much to say about this artist’s work, I shall not enter into long theoretical explanations. For those readers unfamiliar with psychoanalysis as it has developed into a cultural theory over the last thirty years, I offer an apology for what must seem like opaque statements. The purpose of invoking them is to gain access to those deeper levels of affect that we sense in front of certain kinds of art work. By referencing hysteria, I am invoking one of the key discoveries of early Freudian psychoanalysis, namely that desires and thoughts that are otherwise censored and repressed by the psychic apparatus, may be converted into bodily symptoms, by means of which the subject’s unconscious anxieties are ‘spoken.’ The whole phenomenon of drama, as well as the repertoire of gesture and expression in traditional figurative art rests upon our ability to read the body’s postures and gestures as signs, as signifiers of otherwise unrepresented emotions or conditions. ↩︎
  6. Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women” (1931). Virginia Woolf. Women & Writing. 
    Introduced by Michelle Barrett. London: The Women’s Press, 1979, p. 62. ↩︎
  7. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Visible and the Invisible. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Evanston/Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1968. ↩︎
  8. Vergine, Lea. Il Corpo come Linguaggio.
    Milan: Giampaolo Prearo Editore, 1974. ↩︎
  9. Irigaray, Luce. “The Invisible of the Flesh: A Reading of Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible —The Intertwining—The Chiasm.” The Ethics of Sexual Difference. Translated by Carolyn Burke.
    New York: Athlone Press, 1993, pp. 155–156. ↩︎