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Bodies Physical and Nonphysical

Marx is not alone, I should add, in being intelligible within a metonymic tradition. We too are intelligible within it, for the legacy of metonymy is still with us today, still current in the debates in contemporary political theory, between, say, Michael Sandel and John Rawls, about the degree of coincidence between the bodily subject and the epistemological subject.[18] It is current as well, I would further argue, in the institution of literary criticism, in our shared habit of referring routinely to the "body" of the text, as if its epistemological horizons were objectively bounded: bounded by its contents, and bounded (most currently) by its material circumstances, circumstances generalizable into something called History, a whole at once social and textual. Metonymy dies hard, it would seem. Still, its longevity notwithstanding, such a cognitive form has not always been in ascendancy, and historically the material and the immaterial have been otherwise correlated, the image of part and whole otherwise configured.

In the Nicomachean Ethics , for example, the imagined whole turned out to have something other than a material body, and it answered to something other than a personal name. It was the community that counted as an integral unit for Aristotle, the community that represented the ideal of some fundamental and plenary wholeness. Not surprisingly, then, it was the nonphysical ideal of the community—rather than the physical body of the individual—that struck Aristotle as being in danger and in need of fortification against the fragmenting effects of the division of labor. Since there was no natural bond between the builder and the shoemaker, and between the shoemaker and the farmer, Aristotle worried that "a community or association between them would be impossible." Indeed, if it were not for that fortunate necessity, the necessity of "reciprocal exchange," which re-


united those separated by the division of labor, binding them together "as if they were one single unit," the always precarious whole called the community might otherwise "not hold together."[19]

I have highlighted the degree to which the bodily subject was not deemed an endangered unit (or a unit of concern) for Aristotle, not only to supply a foil to Marx but also to bring into focus a different epistemological tradition, one that, to my mind, stands less as an alternative to materialism than as a reminder of its limits. The example of Aristotle is especially instructive here. His well-known defense of concrete particulars notwithstanding, Aristotle was not willing to equate an epistemological entity with its physical embodiment, not willing to imagine the immaterial as being commensurate with, exhausted by, or generalizable from a material unit. In this regard at least, he was firmly within the tradition of ontic logos, a tradition prevalent in Greek antiquity and dramatized most memorably in Plato's Theory of Forms.[20] This subtle but crucial space of epistemological difference—a space left open (and left opaque) by the explanatory inadequacy of the material world—would persist for the next two thousand years, with obvious changes but also with significant continuities. It was kept alive, not least of all, by Christian theology, under whose auspices the explanatory inadequacy of the material world would become not only a point of contention but also a cause for celebration.

It was the "body" of Christ, after all—the body and its enigmatic materiality—that fueled the major doctrinal battles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The problem with the term "body," as exasperated church fathers noticed from the outset, was that it had "multiple" meanings: at least three, in fact, referring simultaneously to "the body of Christ in human form, the body of Christ in the Sacrament, and the body of Christ in the church."[21] The apostle Paul hardly clarified matters when he offered the following exegesis: "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread."[22] Augustine, puzzling in turn over this supposed gloss, thought that "the communion of the body of Christ" meant "the unity of the body and blood of Christ," which he interpreted as "the society of his body and members, which is the holy church in those who have been predestined and called."[23] The holy church as the "body of Christ" was indeed a central tenet of medieval


theology, but it was also a central enigma, as imperfectly grasped by human reason as it was imperfectly registered by the physical senses, a "body" in no way coextensive with the corporeality of its members. The efficacy of the church, its power to secure salvation for all, was based on this very incommensurability, this ineffable (but not unimaginable) margin of discrepancy between the two kinds of "bodies." For it was only in the midst of—and only in its nonreduction to—the mortality of physical bodies that the corporate church would shine forth in its immortal majesty: a body in nonphysical space, at once immediate and intangible, available to sensory apprehension and indeed sensory adulation, but hardly encompassed by its limits.

The enigma of the corporate church—the sense that it was somehow not just a body, somehow more than a body, though it was nonetheless a body—attested not only to the commingling of the material and the immaterial in medieval thought but also to the complex lack of adequation between these two orders of reality. As much as anything else, the corporate church was marked by its cognitive slipperiness, its refusal to conform to the bounds of the senses. Even so, it was less of an enigma, and less of a knotty theological issue, than the problematic materiality suggested by the other meaning of the "body of Christ," revolving around the character of the sacramental host in the Eucharist. Almost to a man, Christian exegetes rejected the cheap excuse that the "body" might be no more than a figure of speech. Almost to a man, they agreed that the body was material, a "real presence," and that, in the act of consecration, the bread actually stopped being bread and was "converted into the nature and substance of the flesh" of Christ.[24] What was unclear, however, was how this "conversion" came about. In what sense could the bread and wine be said to be the body and blood of Christ, and what relation did this eucharistic "body" bear to the historical body of Christ, the body received from the womb of the Virgin Mary and sacrificed on the cross? In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, these theological fine points would flare up into debates of the most gargantuan proportions.

Berengar of Tours, author of De sacra coena (On the Holy Supper ) and one of the chief antagonists in this controversy, argued that the eucharistic body could not possibly be that historical body, because otherwise it would "have been in existence already for a thousand years and more." Even if one could stomach the idea of eating some thousand-year-old meat, Berengar thought it unlikely that the body


of Christ in heaven would be daily cut up and "a particle" daily "sent down to the altar."[25] And, in any case, what did it mean to "eat" this Christic flesh? Guitmond of Aversa, an opponent of Berengar's, but like him driven by an overliteral imagination, began to worry about a mouse nibbling on the consecrated host. Would that animal be eating the "body of Christ"?[26] Clearly, these were questions not everyone would like to entertain. Berengar was condemned by a succession of councils and synods (fourteen in all). In 1059, he was forced under duress, in Rome, to recant his position and to affirm that "the bread and wine are the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ," even to the point where that body might be "ground by the teeth of the faithful."[27] This did not quite settle the controversy, however, which waged on for another hundred and fifty years, until finally, in 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council established the doctrine of transubstantiation (the actual presence of the body and blood of Christ "under the outward appearances of bread and wine"),[28] a doctrine that survived even the challenge of the Reformation, being reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in 1551.

The debate about the eucharistic body reflected not only the complex discrepancy between the material and the immaterial in medieval theology but also the complex discrepancy between "reason" and "sense."[29] As Galileo would say (in a different context), the Christian theologians were "able to make reason so conquer sense that, in defiance of the latter, the former became the mistress."[30] And so, even though the "holy mystery of the Lord's body" was not exactly comprehensible as a sensory phenomenon, the theologians were nonetheless able to argue for its rational defensibility.[31] The "rationality" at work here, then, would seem to be of a distinct, and distinctly premodern, stripe, not predicated on the evidentiary adequacy of the senses, and certainly not on the generalizability from the material to the immaterial. Within the terms of our discussion, we might say such a rationality was profoundly antimetonymic. The material and the immaterial commingled, that is, only in enigmatic apposition and not at all in explanatory adequation: it would be folly to start out from the physical bread and wine and generalize about the "body of Christ." Acceding, then, to the explanatory limits of the material world, the Christian theologians acceded as well to an order of reality only imperfectly fathomed by the senses.

This premodern rationality, with its tolerance for conceptual enig-


mas, was discernible not only in Christian theology but also in that most sober and unmystical of domains, jurisprudence. The complex discrepancy between the material and the immaterial would prevail even here, for it was here, as Ernest H. Kantorowicz has shown, that one would encounter the legal fiction of the "King's Two Bodies," a fiction kept alive for hundreds of years, providing one of the most important threads of continuity from the Middle Ages through Tudor and Stuart England and reappearing, as late as 1765, in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England .[32] And so the king too, like Christ, had a "body" that amounted to a kind of sensory mystery, a mystery that nevertheless did nothing to prevent the most determined as well as most virtuoso sort of legal reasoning, displayed, on this occasion, by the learned judges in the celebrated case of the Duchy of Lancaster (1562). The king, they reasoned, had a body politic at once inseparable from but also irreducible to the body natural:

So that he has a Body natural, adorned and invested with the Estate and Dignity royal; and he has not a Body natural distinct and divided by itself from the Office and Dignity royal, but a Body natural and a Body politic together indivisible; and these two Bodies are incorporated in one Person, and one Body and not divers, that is the Body corporate in the Body natural, et e contra the Body natural in the Body corporate. So that the Body natural, by this conjunction of the Body politic to it (which Body politic contains the Office, Government, and Majesty royal), is magnified, and by the said Consolidation hath in it the Body politic.[33]

The syllogism, self-announced as it was, was not strictly speaking sensible—if one defines "sense," that is, by the reckoning of the physical senses. Like the Christian theologians, the learned judges here seemed to be doing some fancy footwork with arithmetic and with physical concepts such as spatial location and extension. Bacon, confident New Physicist that he was, and supremely intolerant of such mysteries, complained that this was "a confusion of tongues [having] their foundations in subtlety and imagination of man's wit, and not in the ground of nature."[34] That confusion of tongues was tolerated even less, in the twentieth century, by Frederic Maitland, the great legal historian, for whom the King's Two Bodies had now become nothing but a joke. He would "not know where to look," Maitland said, "in the whole series of our law books for so marvelous a display of metaphysical—or we might say metaphysiological—nonsense."[35]


Maitland is right, of course. Or at least he is right within a particular cognitive universe, in which the "metaphysical" and the "metaphysiological" have come to mean the nonsensical, and in which "sense" itself has come increasingly to be equated with human reason itself. This conflation of sense with reason—a phenomenon traceable to the seventeenth century, to the new fascination with the physical and mechanical properties of the mind—would, in the succeeding centuries, profoundly transform the relation not only between body and mind but also between the mind and the world. Henceforth the mind would engage the world only in its material intelligibility, only through the evidence furnished by the physical senses, on the assumption that such empirical data would unlock mysteries elsewhere operative. Enlightenment rationality—linked most directly to secularization and more obliquely to Protestantism—might be seen critically, then, as an alternate form of mystification: the mystification of empirical reason itself into what Bacon called "the ground of nature." That "ground" was thus very much a materialist ground, giving pride of place always to the materiality of the body—or rather, to the materiality of the world as registered by the materiality of the body—a materiality which was then adduced as an account of the mind as well as an account of the world.[36] In sharp contrast then to the enigmatic apposition of the material and the immaterial in medieval theology, a relation of explanatory adequacy would now prevail, subordinating the immaterial to the material as a logical derivative, or perhaps even, as Michael McKeon suggests, as an "analogy."[37] Within the terms of our discussion, we might also call Enlightenment rationality an instance (and an especially long-lasting instance) of metonymic practice, operating always on the presumed commensurability between two ontological orders: between body and mind, between thought and world, between evidence tangible and empirical and inferences intangible and presumed.

To press home the distinction between the modern and the premodern rationality that I have tried to outline, we might point to one particular area of contrast, having to do with the postulate of "generalizability" and with the cognitive practices it underwrites. Unacceptable (and indeed inconceivable) to premodern reason as a hermeneutic relation between material and immaterial realms, this postulate has become, since the Enlightenment, none other than the founding tenet of modern rationality.[38] Unlike medieval cognitive practice,


then, which assigned to the senses no evidentiary primacy and to the material realm no explanatory adequation, Enlightenment rationality came into being not only through the elevation of the senses into evidentiary ground but also through the elevation of physical evidence into generalizable evidence. Now sense and reason, materiality and reality would all be strung together into a series of equivalences: symmetrical, airtight, mutually entailed, mutually reflexive. Materialism—understood as a dream of objective adequation—thus imposed on the world a new texture, thinning it out into a translatable order, a grid of inferable correspondences. No longer opaque, no longer a paradox of the sensible and the enigmatic, it would henceforth acquire a uniform comprehensibility, submitting without fail to empirical proofs and causal explanations. The collapse of reason into sense, in short, went hand in hand with the attribution to the world of a kind of anticipated (and therefore compulsory) transparency. We usually associate these imperial claims of reason with modern science, but such claims would seem to have been shared by a much broader spectrum of Enlightenment epistemologies. Modern materialism, in particular, would seem to stand or fall on those claims, for, embracing a physicalized world as its evidentiary ground, it would effectively invert the Cartesian mind/body dualism into an explanatory dualism, so that the material would be separated from the immaterial only to serve as its epistemological foundation, the foundation upon which the immaterial might be explained as a secondary effect.[39]

This Enlightenment tradition of physical evidence and explanatory adequacy was thus very much the philosophical tradition inhabited by Marx.[40] To be sure, he was witnessing its darkening moment, the moment when, as Foucault suggests, the field of knowledge was increasingly troubled by a new sense of "obscure verticality," of "great hidden forces" invisibly controlling the "visible order."[41] Still, this darkening world would seem only to have inspired and not deterred Marx, propelling him toward material explanations of antithetical clarity, if equal verticality. His critique of the commodity form (punctuated by the word "mystery" as a kind of incantatory accusation) was driven very much by an explanatory passion, by a desire to make sense of the world, to deliver it from its intolerable opacities through an attribution of cause. For him, the idea of an immaterial order—incommensurate with, inexplicable by, and nongeneralizable


from material facts—was nothing if not an intellectual affront. And as his grudging tribute to Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke made amply clear, not the least of the attractions of materialism was its epistemological certitude. Praising Bacon, for example, for the "rational method [he applied] to the data provided by the senses" and for his "teaching [that] the senses are infallible and are the source of all knowledge," Marx acknowledged that "materialism is the son of Great Britain by birth."[42] And as if further to underscore that kinship, he here had recourse to the same argument (and indeed the same vocabulary) that Frederic Maitland would use fifty years later, noting with some vehemence that "an incorporeal substance is just as much a nonsense as an incorporeal body. Body, being, substance are one and the same real idea."[43] It was this equation of "body" with "being"—and the casual relegation of the incorporeal to the realm of "nonsense"—that made for the explanatory texture of Marxist materialism, an evidentiary model predicated not only, as we all know, on the primacy of the economic but, just as crucially, on a conception of man as a "corporeal , living, real, sensuous, objective being."[44] As an entity whose physical wholeness was an undisputed given, the bodily subject thus stood at the very heart of the Marxist dream of objective adequation. The bodily subject was the locus of metonymy in Marx, we might say: the point of inferential projections, the point where he could derive his generalizations from matter to spirit, from part to whole, from a physical fact to a presumptive totality.

But to say that is also to suggest a certain tropism, a certain gravitational pull, between Marxist materialism and nineteenth-century individualism. For within an evidentiary universe of the physical senses, it is only the corporeal subject—only the individual as actualized by his or her body—that can ever be demonstrable as "real." As Marx says, "Since only what is material is perceptible, knowable, nothing is known of the existence of God. I am sure only of my own existence."[45] Only the bodily subject can ever stand, empirically and incontestably, as a founding unit of Marxist epistemology. And since the relation between the material and the immaterial is now one of explanatory adequation (rather than, as previously, one of enigmatic apposition), it is the bodily subject that must now stand as the ground of generalizations, the ground out of which bodily shapes can be derived for otherwise nonphysical bodies: "bodies" such as society, or such as class.


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