Archive for January, 2014

Mika Ojakangas “On the Pauline Roots of Biopolitics”

January 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Ojakangas, Mika 2010. On the Pauline Roots of Biopolitics: Apostle Paul in Company with Foucault and Agamben. Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, 11(1): 92-110.

Pauline  theology  seems  to  be  the  origin  of  two significant  tendencies  in  modern  biopolitical  societies:  1)  profanation  and instrumentalization of the law and 2) the demand of the liberation of bare life and its affirmation as the highest value. (92)

[…] the primary concern of both the Judeo-Christian pastoral power and biopower is the life of the herd/population. The aim of this power is  to promote  life:  “Pastoral power is  a power of care,” the  shepherd being someone who provides subsistence to the flock by taking  care of each one’s particular needs. Likewise, the role of biopower is to “ensure, sustain,  and improve” life, not only of the population in general but of each individual in particular. (93)

According to Foucault, the shepherd constantly watches over his flock, but in the Pauline ecclesia  there  is  no  such  shepherd.  Rather,  everybody is  everybody  else’s shepherd: “Encourage one another and build up each other” (I Thess. 5:11). Control  is  horizontal  as  well:  “My  friends,  if  anyone  is  detected  in  a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a  spirit  of  gentleness” (Gal.  6:1).  Does  this  egalitarian or  “democratic”  care then  mean  that  Pauline  theology  would  offer  a  point of  resistance  againstpastoral  power  and  thereby,  against  biopolitical  governmentality,  as  John Milbank  suggests  in  his  recent  article  entitled  “Paul  Against  Biopolitics”? This does not necessarily follow and in the next section I shall explain why. (95)

[…] within the biopolitical order the law becomes a mere tool. It has  only  instrumental significance.  Yet  it  is  precisely  this  theme  that  links Pauline  theology  to  the  modern  biopolitical  constellation  depicted  by Foucault.  With  Paul,  both  the  Mosaic  and  natural law are  reduced  to  mere tactics the aim of which is to arrange things in such a way that such and such ends may be achieved. (96)

The law, both the Mosaic and the law written in the heart,  awakens  the  sense  of  guilt:  “The  law  brings  wrath”  (Rom.  4:15); “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).  The end of law means,  consequently, the  end of the  knowledge of sinand  guilt. Therefore, neither  the  Mosaic  nor  natural  law  can  be  in  force  when  we  live  in  Christ. Christ  has  discharged  us  from  the  law  and  with  it  from  its  logic  of  debt through redemption, literally by ransoming (dia tês apolutrôseôs), which is in him (Rom. 3:24). When Paul criticizes the law, whichis a curse and a power of sin, he means the whole law—including the law of the heart. (97)

Agamben holds that the Pauline critique of the law includes a double operation of sorts. According to him, Paul first “renders inoperative” the law through the act of  katargêsis in which the law becomes unobservable. This amounts, in Agamben’s view, to what he calls the (sovereign) state of exception in which the law is in force without signification, as he explains elsewhere. Yet Paul does not stop here. Agamben  maintains that the  katargêsis of the law is  merely the condition of possibility for the authentic and, in fact, only possible relationship between human  life  and  the  law  after  the  resurrection  of  Christ  (in  the  “messianic time,” as Agamben puts it). This relationship is characterized by the  free use of  the  law.  By  “rendering  the  word  of  law  inoperative,”  Agamben  writes, Paul makes the law “freely available for use.” (98)

The  Pauline  Aufhebung of  the  law  rendered  inoperative  in  the “messianic time” means that the law also becomes an object of free use: “It is obvious  that  for  Paul  grace”  (grace  is,  for  Agamben,  one  of  the  Pauline figures  of  absolute  katargêsis)  “cannot  constitute  a  separate  realm  that  is alongside that of obligation and law. Rather, grace  entails nothing more than the  ability  to  use  the  sphere  of  social  determinations  and  services  in  its totality.” (99; Agamben, „The Time that Remains”)

Indeed, given the fact that the law means, for Paul, not only the Mosaic Law, but also tradition and natural law— freedom from the law signifies absolute freedom. For  a  person  liberated  by  Christ  from  the  law,  “everything  is  permitted (exesti)”  (1  Cor.  6:12). On  the  other  hand,  as  Paul  immediately  adds, “everything  is  not  useful  (symphoros).”  For  the  one  who  lives  in  Christ, everything  is  permitted  but  not  useful—  to  the  extent  that  all  other determinations and measures are cancelled in the operation of katargêsis, it is precisely  usefulness  itself  that  becomes  the  ultimate measure  of  mundane life. (100)

Even though Paul writes once in the Romans that the law is holy (hagios), it is nevertheless  the  holiness  of  the  law,  I  argue,  that  Paul  wants  to  render inoperative by the  katargêsis. Why? Because: if the law is sacred, it is out of reach  and  untouchable.  It  cannot  be  used  but  merely worshipped  and obeyed. Hence, by rendering the sacred law inoperative, Paul operationalizes it, restoring it to profane use. (100)

Thus, even though I fully agree with Agamben that the aim of Paul’s critique of the law is to make law freely usable, I do not subscribe to Agamben’s view that  the  Pauline  messianism  surpasses the  biopolitical  constellation  of  late modernity.  In  my  opinion,  on  the contrary,  by  rendering  the  law  and  the worldly  conditions  inoperative  as  a  whole,  and  thus making  them  freely available for use, Paul inadvertently gives a perfectarticulation to what both Milbank  and  Badiou  call  contemporary  “nihilism”  (utilitarianism, instrumentality, biopolitics, and so on). (101-102)

As  we  have  seen,  Foucault  posits  life at  the  core  of  both pastoral power and biopolitics. So does Paul in his epistles. For him, Christ himself is  zôêand  zôêis Christ: “For to me to live is Christ” (emoi gar to zên christos)  (Philip.  1:21).  We  could  cite  dozens  of  passages,  but  that  is unnecessary  as  the  fact  is  well  established,  and  it  suffices  for  one  to  read certain  passages  in  Romans  (2:7,  5:10,  5:21-22,  6:5,  6:22-23)  to  become convinced  of  it.  Foucault  also  argues  that  biopower  is  characterized  by  a certain “disqualification of death.” What else is Paul’s Christ but a figure of such  disqualification?  Indeed,  christos-zôê signifies,  for  Paul,  an  absolute disqualification of death: “The last enemy to be destroyed (katargeô) is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). With Christ, life is without death. It is eternal (zôê aiônios). (102)

Through the law, God takes life, whereas through grace, he lets live. He does not take care of life like a shepherd but judges it like  the  sovereign.  The  same  applies  to  Christ:  “It  is  the  Lord  (kyrios)  who judges (anakrinô) me” (1 Cor. 4:4). For Paul, in other words, both God and  Christ,  Father  and  Son,  are  lords,  sovereigns,  and  judges—not  shepherds. (102)

In his [Agamben’s] view both  the  juridico-institutional  and  biopolitical  forms  of  power  have  a common  (although  hidden)  foundation  in  the  notion  of  bare  life:  “The production of bare life is the originary activity ofsovereignty.” What then is bare life? In Agamben’s definition, bare life is characterized solely by the fact that it can be killed. Bare life is thus a sort of un-dead life that has no other form or content than being “exposed to death.” (104)

Moreover,  Paul  also  urges  his  addressees  to become  lowly  and “despicable:” “Let you become lowly together” (tois tapeinois synapagomenoi) (Rom. 12:16); thus, suggesting that instead of pursuing the good form of life (eu zên), those who live in Christ should now abandon it andbecome humble slaves,  representatives  of  the  mere  zôê exposed  to  the  continuous  threat  of death: “The messianic life,” as Agamben calls the lifeof the Pauline person living in Christ, means the “revocation of every bios.” (105)

Although Paul  identifies  flesh with vice and sin, the most fundamental characteristic of the flesh is that  it entails death. Indeed, for Paul, flesh meansdeath, whereas spirit meanslife: “To set the mind (phronêma) on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life” (Rom. 8:6). Whereas Aristotle and the Greeks  thought that vices (the Pauline  works of  the flesh)  entail shame, while virtues (the Pauline fruit of the spirit) entail glory and good reputation, Paul maintains instead that they entail  life  and  death:  zôê and  thanatos. (105)

Indeed,  the  Pauline  christos appears  to  occupy  a  place  on  both sides  of biopolitical rationality: first as a sovereign judge of  zôê, then as a liberator of zôê.  The  first  figure  is  the  son  of  a  wrathful  father-God (and  more conventionally, the father-God himself) who confines his subjects within the law  (“before  faith  came,  we  were  imprisoned  and  guarded  under  the  law” Gal. 3:23) that has no other function than to discloseone’s guilt and to subject one  to  what  Agamben  calls  the  “sovereign  ban.” The  second  figure  is  the son of the redeemer-God whose grace redeems us from thelaw and hence, from  death:  “[All]  are  now  justified  by  his  grace  as a  gift,  through  the redemption  that  is  in  Christ  Jesus”  (Rom.  3:24).  Thus,  this  second  figure (kyrios  christos as  the  son  of  the  redeemer-God)  renders,  as  it  were, inoperative  the  first  figure,  rendering  simultaneously  inoperative  the sovereign biopolitics in order that a new form of biopolitics (democratic and revolutionary) could  emerge—a biopolitics that  vindicates  and liberates the zôê of  the  entire  humankind  from  under  the  yoke  of  law and  death, transforming  the  law  to  a  mere  instrument  and  abolishing  death.  (Is  it  not precisely through a successful sovereign biopoliticaloperation, the slaying of Christ,  that  this  biopolitical  liberation  of  zôê became  possible  in  the  first place? God is the subject of violence through the sacred law and the subject of  liberation  through  Christ,  but  is  He  not  the  latter  because  He  is  the former?) (106)

In sum, if my analysis is correct, both the modern techno-instrumental view of the law and the world and the revolutionary (democratic) biopolitics find their  common  home  in  the  Pauline  epistles.  Contrary  to  Agamben,  who  in Homo Sacer  argues that this revolutionary biopolitics is the other side of the contemporary biopolitical constellation, however, I  would like to emphasize that  distinguishing these even as  two sides of the samecoin is increasingly difficult  today,  if  not  entirely  impossible.  Contemporary  biotechnology,  for instance,  is  not  only  a  paradigmatic  case  of  techno-instrumental  biopower (taking care of each and everyone, not like a good shepherd, but rather on the basis of a cost-benefit calculus developed for the sake  of the bare life of the late  modern  democratic  sovereign:  the  taxpayer),  but  also  a  revolutionary endeavor to redeem life, not only from the moral law (Milbank’s ius naturale) but also from death—its most fanciful dream still being the same as it was for Paul: the ultimate eradication (katargeô) of death. (109)


Nikolas Rose “The Human Sciences in a Biological Age”

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Rose, Nikolas 2013. The Human Sciences in a Biological Age. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(1): 3-34.

First, the contemporary life sciences – in genomics, in the understanding of the cell and the processes of development and differentiation, in molecular neuroscience – reveal multiple affinities between humans and other creatures, and throw new light on their differences. (5)

Yet alongside this reduction of life to the interaction of its smallest components, another style of thought has taken shape. This way of thinking construes vital properties as emergent, and living organisms as dynamic and complex systems, located in a dimension of temporality and

development, and constitutively open to their milieu – a milieu that ranges in scale from the intracellular to psychological, biographical, social and cultural. One of the key conceptual struggles in the sciences of the living – which one can find in almost every area – concerns the relations between these two visions. (5)

Hence, second, we have seen the ‘technologization’ of vitality in the life sciences. It is not only that to know is to intervene, although that is crucial: one knows life today only by intervening in it. (5-6)

Intervention is not just to know, but also to do: knowing life at the molecular level has been intrinsically related to an enhanced capacity to act upon it at that level. Life itself – that is to say, the living of the living organism – seems to have become amenable to intervention and open to projects of control. (6)

Paths to the creation of biological truths have been shaped by promises and predictions of the

biovalue to be harvested – enhanced crop yields, bioenergy, bioremediation, and, of course, advanced medical and health technologies based on biology. (6)

[…] a third feature of contemporary biology that calls for attention by the social and human sciences: the salience that the biological and the biomedical has achieved in practices of self-management and self-governance. (6)

To live well today is to live in the light of biomedicine. (7)

This is asserted via a mind-bending amalgam of the usual suspects from philosophy – Agamben, Bergson, Deleuze and Guattari, William James, Spinoza and Whitehead – together with references to Simondon and von Uexku¨ll and a few biologists or neuroscientists: LeDoux, Damasio, Ekman, the famous autist Temple Grandin, Libet, and of course the Buddhist neuroscientist Francisco Varela. These figures are called upon to support the argument that it is only by recognizing the true nature of human corporeality and the power of the affective that we will be able to free ourselves from an overly intellectualist and rationalist account of contemporary politics, economics and culture. Only then will we be able to grasp, and perhaps to intensify, the non-conscious, non-intellectual level forces that inspire resistance, creativity and hope. Biology is translated into ontology, ontology is transmuted into politics. We have seen a similar move in recent history, appealing to a different biology, with political consequences that, to say the least, should give us pause. (12)

A strange form of conceptual gerrymandering seems to underpin such ‘liberation biology’: biological claims evade critical interrogation where they seem to give support to a pre-given philosophical ethopolitics. This is a mirror image of the notorious tendency of life scientists to support socio-political arguments by transposing their research on flies or mice directly to the realm of human society and culture. (12)

And those from the social and human sciences rightly identify the impoverished sense in which, in these imaging experiments, ‘social relations’ are reduced to interactions between dyads that can be experimentally simulated in a laboratory and in a scanner (Cohn, 2004, 2008a, 2008b). (16)

Genomics has moved away from a style of thought that looked for single genes for specific characteristics, the ‘gene-for’ paradigm so criticized by social scientists, especially when it claimed to have discovered ‘the gene for’ an aspect of the human condition, such as homosexuality or bipolar disorder. While the Human Genome Project was initially underpinned by the idea that the sequence of the genome would be ‘the code of codes’ or ‘the book of life’ – the digital instructions for making a human being – the real itself intervened to say no. The evidence from sequencing of humans and other organisms simply did not support the view that genes were distinct units, each of which coded for a single protein. Instead, it became clear that each sequence of bases could be ‘read’ in many different ways, thus enabling a small number of coding regions to generate a large number of different proteins. (17)

This led to the first significant mutation in thought styles: a shift away from determinism towards a probabilistic way of thinking about the relationship between genetics, development, evolution, organism and life chances. (17)

We are moving away from the idea that each common disease will share the same genomic basis – even if a complex one – to a model where common diseases are the endpoints of many different, rare genomic variations. Even in conditions where we have a clear idea of heritability, such as certain forms of breast cancer, the proportion explained by what we know of genomics is small and the ‘missing heritability’ – which cannot be explained by genetics – is high, ranging from 50 percent for age-related macular degeneration, 20 percent in Crohn’s disease and around 95 percent in elevated lipid levels (Manolio et al., 2009). (18)

This is a form of argument that links to, but goes beyond, the important recognition that human capacities such as cognition and affect are ‘distributed’ – not the individuated property of singular organisms, but constitutively dependent on the webs of interactions among multiple organic processes within and between organisms and other entities in a locale. Of course this thought style operates in very different ways in different disciplinary domains, and there is no single way that the social and human sciences might make their links with them. But it is clear that such links will not be in terms of the relations of ‘body’ and ‘society’ – those enticing yet illusory totalities – but at a different scale. Not in terms of ‘the body’ or ‘the brain’ as coherent systems enclosed by a boundary of skin, but of bodies and brains as ,ultiplicities, of the coexistence and symbiosis of multiple entities from bacterial flora in the gut, to the proliferation of neurons in the brain, each in multiple connections with milieux, internal and external, inorganic, organic, vital, historical, cultural, human. Distributed capacities in milieux which vital organisms themselves partly create and which in turn create them and their capacities. (19-20)

Gregory Katz “The Hypothesis of a Genetic Protolanguage”

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Katz, Gregory 2008. The Hypothesis of a Genetic Protolanguage: an Epistemological Investigation. Biosemiotics, 1: 57-73.

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1971) saw in the genetic code the most primitive model of all forms of language, a universal prototype emerging from nature before culture appeared: a protolanguage from which natural languages may have derived through the history of evolution. (58)

Human and biochemical languages share several essential characteristics: both are structured, hierarchical, flexible and recursive. By this we mean that they are: (1) Structured in the sense that an utterance is not just a random juxtaposition of units, but that in some way it indicates the relations between these units. (2) Hierarchical in the sense that there are structural levels within the structures themselves. (3) Flexible in the transformational sense that there are many different ways to express the same meaning by moving units around and restructuring sentences according to certain rules. (4) Recursive in the sense that the same rules and structures may recur at different levels in the hierarchy, so that a structure may contain a substructure that is another instantiation of the same structure, in theory repeated ad infinitum

(Johansson 2005). (60)

Classically, linguistics distinguish between several structural levels: (a) a lexical level where words that are chained linearly are recognized and characterized; (b) a syntactic level where words organize themselves into a hierarchic system according to grammatical rules; (c) a semantic level where meaningful representations are attributed to syntactic and lexical structures; (d) a pragmatic level where language fits into a global context that establishes interrelations between sentences through a statement or a dialogue. These four linguistic levels may correspond to the four levels commonly used in molecular biology: sequence, structure, function and role (Searls 2002). (60-61)

Given such a large number of symmetries, Jakobson dared to formulate a bold hypothesis: verbal code could be the distant heir of genetic code, whose syntactic foundations serve as its model. The deeper structure of natural languages could derive from a biochemical ancestor embedded in the living cell. (61)

From a biological standpoint, the hypothesis of a hereditary capacity to learn any language implies that such capacity must be encoded in our chromosomes (Lieberman 1984; Jerne 1984). From this perspective, couldn’t this code, which is inscribed in DNA, contain a universal grammar that is common to all natural languages? (61)

Jakobson’s hypothesis is based on three observations: (1) Our linguistic faculties are rooted in the vocal apparatus, i.e. in a specific physiology; (2) Like the other organs in our organism, this physiology of language is genetically programmed; (3) There is a deep isomorphism between the grammar of the genetic code and the grammar of verbal codes. (62)

Generally speaking, a protolanguage was defined as a form of expression in which words are merely grouped in short utterances, with no grammatical support. Its characteristics are: no grammatical words, no long-range dependency within the sentence, no inflection, and no consistent order. Protolanguage is what we settle for when we are in linguistic trouble (Dessalles2006). It is a precursor of language, an intermediate skill between spontaneous primate communication and language proper, which is universally used in our species. (64)

Two opposite definitions of“protolanguage”have been proposed: one synthetic,

the other holistic. According to the synthetic approach (Bickerton 1998; Jackendoff

2002), the protolanguage had symbols that could be used to convey atomic meanings, and these proto-words could be strung together in ad hoc sequences. Language developed from such a protolanguage through the synthesis of these words into increasingly complex, formally structured utterances. On the other hand, the holistic approach suggests that words emerge from longer, entirely arbitrary strings of sounds—non-compositional utterances—via a process of fractionation. Such holistic utterances initially have no internal structure. They represent whole messages. The idea is that over time chance phonetic similarities are observed between sections of utterances, and if similar meanings can be ascribed to these strings, then“words”emerge (Wray1998; Arbib 2005). (64)

But why should the origin of natural languages be found only in humankind? The hypothesis of a genetic protolanguage breaks with this anthropocentric approach, suggesting that the emergence of a linguistic prototype occurred long before the pre-lingual era, and may date as far back as the end of the pre-biological era. (65)

The deeper analogy between what one finds in genetics and linguistics lies in the fact that the combination of elements that are devoid of meaning, and simple, not only results in something more complex but, more importantly, in something that contains a certain meaning.“The analogy between genetics and linguistics occurs at the level of meaning, and we cannot avoid using this concept of meaning to properly define the analogy”(Lévi-Strauss 1968, p. 18). (65)

Language was always believed to be a product of culture. Could it be a product of nature? According to the genetic protolanguage hypothesis, human observers may not be projecting linguistic frameworks onto genomic structures. Rather, it could be their linguistic faculties that reflect the grammatical structure of genetic code. In other words, the hypothesis of a genetic protolanguage could be more than just an anthropomorphic metaphor. The genetic code may represent“the Code of Codes”(Kevles and Hood 1992), i.e. the original matrix of all natural languages. (66)

The information–formation–function scheme expresses a coded relationship between a nested combinatorial order (genotype) and an integrated spatial arrangement (phenotype). In other words, the morphogenesis of life reveals the deployment of a semantic order. This is a relatively modest result, however, since there are two separate issues at hand: knowing if there is a meaning, and understanding what that meaning is. (67)

Based on immaterial combinatorics, the genetic code must be interpreted as a code capable of converting chemistry into syntax, messaging into a message, and signals into signs. The twentyfirst century has opened up a new epistemological era in the life sciences where the classic structure–function approach is shifting toward a new code-meaning scheme. (69)

Breaking with an anthropocentric approach, the genetic protolanguage hypothesis suggests a Copernican reversal: human observers may not be projecting linguistic frameworks onto genomic structures; rather, it could be their linguistic faculties that reflect the grammatical structure of genetic code. This universal genetic grammar would clarify why the evolutionary mechanisms specific to languages and to species are similar. It would also help to explain their polymorphisms and the physiological basis of natural languages. (69)

From an epistemological standpoint, this hypothesis may reconcile several theoretical models on the origin of language. Its confirmation from an experimental standpoint could enable significant advances in research into the existence of a universal grammar. Such research would also shed light on the process through which linguistic faculties emerge, and help us to understand the symmetries between the phylogenesis of languages and species. If this hypothesis were one day to be verified, linguistics would become a branch of biology. (70)

Categories: bio-, Gregory Katz

Joanna Latimer “Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons?”

January 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Latimer, Joanna 2013. Rewriting Bodies, Portraiting Persons? The New Genetics, the Clinic and the Figure of the Human. Body & Society 19(4): 3-31.

By suggesting how bodies are not, as previously understood, bounded, contained, homogeneous, fixed and integrated entities, the individual whole persons of humanist thought, made up of substance that is uniquely them, emergent understandings from the biosciences have the possibility of changing perceptions of the body, and thereby of the existence of human beings. That is, contemporary discoveries in molecular biology seem to trouble the self/not-self division that is the defining feature performed by the figure of the individual body. (7)

The new genetics thus puts into play an idea that ‘[w]ithin ‘‘us’’ is the most threatening other – the propagules, whose phenotype we temporarily are’ (Haraway, 1991: 217). Second, breakthroughs made possible because of new genetic techno-science offer ways of rethinking body-persons as made up of substance from a much wider gene pool, and of the body as the temporary and partial expression of a genotype. Within this perspective it is the DNA that is immortal, and the genes that are the ‘time travellers’, while the body or soma is just the transport vehicle, the hired car, the temporary and dispensable host for their reproduction (Olshansky and Carnes, 2001). (7)

Medical textbooks are full of such images. These portraits are classic depictions of a human figure in a specific pose, such as Londe’s portrait of hysteria (Figure 1). The figure is taken not so much to represent him- or herself, but as representing the disease category to which they are being assigned: the figure is being read as signifying the pathology. But engaging with clinical pictures as forms of portraiture is also important because, as Jordanova suggests (2000, 2003), portraits are mobile objects that circulate culturally and socially specific ideas about body–self relations and personhood. For example, Albert Londe’s portrait shows that the effects of hysteria are totalizing, so that the woman embodies the illness. But the form of the portrait also individuates, not just hysteria, but the body-self and personhood. (11)

Clinicians draw upon these clinical methods of assemblage and juxtaposition to differentiate when what is abnormal or unusual about bodies, parts, persons and even families, represents a phenotype. This is because for the most part, there is no genetic technology (molecular test) that can make anomalies visible at the molecular level (see also Reardon and Donnai, 2007). (13)

The relation that gets implied in how dysmorphologists construct their clinical pictures is between the particular features of a syndrome, the notion of a phenotype, and, as such, perhaps the expression of an atypical, aberrant genotype. At moments, it is this relation, the syndrome–genotype, that dysmorphology’s portraits evoke. The aberrations may be as tiny as a single gene defect. For example, where, to use the expression of one expert, ‘a bit of chromosome has fallen off and landed in the wrong place’. The suggestion implied by how geneticists assemble their clinical pictures, then, is that how people and their bodies look and function (the phenotype) may not just be evidence of a syndrome but also that the syndrome is the effect of a specific aberrant (but as yet invisible) genotype, a syndrome–genotype relation. (14)

The portrait in dysmorphology does not always reduce to the figure of an individual, rather the figure of a syndrome–genotype relation emerges in the partial connection between the assemblage and juxtaposition of materials deriving from different bodies. In the clinic the portrait makes a (temporary) space that cannot (yet) settle all the division and connections between all the parts across different bodies. And it is this that is the defining feature of some of dysmorphology’s portraits. The complexity and heterogeneity of the defining features of a syndrome need to be distributedfor them to stand as a phenotype, and the visible expression of the syndrome–genotype relation. Critically, what is implicit in these juxtapositions and dysmorphologists’ readings of them, is that there is something about the substance of the bodies of individuals that is not unique to them, but is shared, or at least held in common, to use Strathern’s term. What is exceptional is being able to make the portraits show that it is not simply a disease that is shared, rather it is the common genetic substance, the genotype, that is pathological, and that the syndrome is the expression, or phenotype, of this common genotype, distributed across different bodies. (18)

Rather, what dysmorphology’s portraits perform is that it is the syndrome–genotype that is made of fragments, not persons. (19)

At the same time, then, as the face of a child may be effaced (Bauman, 1990) by the genetic, the actors responsible for them – the clinicians, the parents – are not effacing their humanity even as they constitute their abnormality. It is the syndrome–genotype that does that. This means that at the same time as clinicians draw upon a notion that the child’s condition is biologically determined rather than socially or culturally conditioned, they hold to an idea that there is an essence to persons, that people have a real nature, that a child is unique and essentially human, despite abnormalities of appearances, appearances on the surface and in the depths of the body. In these ways the integral, discrete body is what helps to create the figure of the individual, but the individual, to be truly human, and transcend their bodiedness, must be able to ‘disembody’. (21)

The relation between the integral, contained, corporeal body and that of the autonomous individual helps perform the figure of the human. This figure of the human isthe cultural icon that underpins most contemporary forms of social organization in the West, including sociological theory itself (Skeggs, 2004, 2011; Strathern, 2006). But alongside this idea of the individuated body-self, runs the paradoxical and parallel seam of western thought that detaches rationality from the body: the individual, at moments of choice and autonomous decision-making, to be rational, must have knowledge from a singular, undivided perspective, a perspective that stands outside the plane of personal (that is bodily) action (Latimer, 2007a; Strathern, 1992). (22)

Against notions of the integral, contained body, individuals, to be fully human, also have to demonstrate a capacity for detachment. To attain the singular perspective of rationality, ‘man’ must be able to disembody. (22)

Paradoxically it is the figure of the person as integral body and a unique discrete consciousness that helps to portray the individual as human. To be fully human, and transcend their bodiedness, the individual must be able to detach rather than simply ‘disembody’, as many have read Descartes (Foucault, 1979). (22)

The human, once distinguished by this detachment of consciousness, is thus able to settle into a complex whole. Curiously it is not the envelope of the body, its form that can be caught in paint or a photograph, so much as it is this signing of a detachment of consciousness from bodily experiences that defines the individual. Yes, representations of the corporeal body must take up most of the painting, photograph or sculpture, but it is the capture of the character (the eyes, stance and gesture) that enliven the flesh and make these more than a representation of a corpse. To be seen as human, persons must exhibit characteristics, such as willpower, desire, vulnerability or moral strength. (23)

The figure of the individual is thus performed as a distinctive person who is much more than the sum of their bodily parts. This doubling of figures is one of the paradoxes of dominant body–self relations. (23)