Reading the Body

A friend looks at you with an expression of concern and asks, “Are you OK?“ Your opponent on the playing field takes a moment to size you up before a key play. Airport security asks you to please stand on the colored markings with your hands over your head.

Your body is being read all the time and represented in ways that are often contradictory to your own representation. You, in turn, are a reader of bodies: body language, facial expressions, and gestures. But if bodies can be read, can they be misread? Are ideas of “normal” bodies biological or culturally constructed? Are you yourself without your body?

This class will tackle these and related questions through a cultural history of the body from the Enlightenment to present day. In learning how we read bodies, we will consider the body from a number of different perspectives: history, human geography, psychology, biology, and aesthetics. We will consider the ways that bodies are used to define and regulate the self and society—from the idealized bodies of athletes and models to surveilled bodies to Joaquin Phoenix’s disembodied digital love interest in the film Her.  Along the way, you will learn some of the many ways that academic disciplines intersect and inform each other and cultivate the skills and strategies needed to make more of these connections for yourself.