Hypatia 18.3 (2003) 212-215
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Body Talk: Philosophical Reflections on Sex and Gender. By Jacquelyn N. Zita. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Jacquelyn Zita's Body Talk constitutes a kaleidoscope of approaches and issues relating to contemporary body theory. Ranging across topics as diverse as Magic Johnson's body and pharmacological "feminism," she skillfully massages her persistent concern to problematize the appropriation of postmodern theory in contemporary studies of the body. The book is organized into three parts: "Articulations," comprised of essays that focus on constructions and productive forces of certain kinds of bodies; "Disarticulations," exploring treatments aimed at dislodging or destabilizing certain conceptions of sexual and gendered identities; and "Rearticulations," devoted to attempts at reconfiguring body possibilities. Throughout, Zita pursues a concern to recalibrate the unbearable lightness of sexual being between the heaviness of materialist, biological reductionism and the etherealness of antiessentialist postmodern theory. Along the way, Zita skillfully crafts illuminating and somewhat deviously playful problems, for example, wrestling with the apparent category mistake of inquiring about the possibility of the male lesbian. She also engages various forms of experimental writing to transform the corpus of her text into a philosophical body, reinscribed and refigured in light of the insights she acquires. While claiming to take some critical distance on postmodern theory, Zita's work is largely shaped by it (particularly by the works of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Monique Wittig, and Julia Kristeva), and although the theme of the body and its materializations persists throughout, the book is chiefly a collection of essays rather than a contribution to the development of a sustained theory of the body. All things considered, it is a delightful read, and a work that has useful applications in courses. A scholarly apparatus of copious notes, an extensive bibliography, and a detailed index also make it a helpful resource.
Four essays in particular are likely to find their way into anthologies and readers for feminist theory and feminist philosophy courses. Two of these essays, "The Magic of the Pan(eroto)con," and "Prozac Feminism," are found in the first section, "Articulations," and hence focus on particular (perverse?) constructions of bodies found in popular culture and (increasingly pop-) medicine. The first essay explores how Magic Johnson has been magically rendered a pleasurable specter of "male transcendental physicality" (13), a "hyperabled male body [End Page 212] ideal" (14), and considers the peculiar accretions of meanings of Johnson's body in light of his HIV status and the nearly unparalleled corporate capital of his image. In "Prozac Feminism," Zita explores a particular construction that locates women's liberation in agile personality sculpting via the "pharmorg body," which enhances these bodies' values in the economies of labor and sex. Zita proposes to "talk back" to Prozac—a reference to Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac (1993) and Peter and Ginger Breggin's Talking Back to Prozac (1994), which form the basis of the "articulation" interrogated—by challenging "Prozac discursivity," which "recrafts our bodies under the paradigm of communications sciences" (78). "Male Lesbians and the Postmodern Body" disarticulates the concepts of lesbian and body as they have been figured in radical feminism and postmodern theory. Neither framework provides a satisfactory immediate response to the question of whether there could be male lesbians. Zita carefully sifts through the numerous problems that emerge when insisting that lesbians must be women, since the criteria for what constitutes a "lesbian" and what it means to be a "woman" are not wholly determined by possessing certain chromosome sequences, possessing certain physical characteristics, self-identifying as a woman, being recognized by others as a woman, etc. Finally, "Anzalduan Body" rearticulates the writing body/writing in Gloria Anzaldúa's well known "How to Tame a Wild Tongue" (1987) along with other writings, as Zita skillfully slithers in and out of those texts to create a writing body uniquely her own.
"Heterosexual Anti-Biotics"—another "articulation"—draws heavily upon the work of Butler and Kristeva. Zita explores the role of the "phallic signifier" in shaping and disciplining bodies and their boundaries, identifying "straight repulsion" (alternatively...