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Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.2 (2005) 323-328



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Bodily Extremes:

the Role of Corporeality in the Shaping of Early Modern European Culture and Epistemology

Lehigh University
Daniel Cottom. Cannibals and Philosophers. Bodies of Enlightenment (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). Pp. 272. $50.00.
Andrew Curran. Sublime Disorder. Physical Monstrosity in Diderot's Universe (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2001). Pp. 171. £35.00.
Florike Egmond and Robert Zwijnenberg, eds. Bodily Extremities. Preoccupations with the Human Body in Early Modern European Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2003). Pp. 235. $79.95.

In recent years, the topic of corporeality has attracted wideattention spanningthe fields ofart, literature, cultural studies, history and philosophy. Studies in early modern Europe, and particularly in the Enlightenment, reflect this trend, forcingus to rethink many of our assumptions about the prevalence of the Cartesian tradition in Enlightenment thought. From various disciplinary vantage points and through the application of diverse methodological approaches,the three books reviewed here address the issue of the centrality of the body by focusing on its most extreme and unsettling expressions in early modern Europe (Egmond and Zwijnenberg), in the eighteenth century (Cottom) and more specifically in Diderot's work (Curran).

Bodily Extremities is a collection of essays that attempts to give an interdisciplinary perspective on the cultural history of the human body in early modern Europe. As editors, Egmond and Zwijnenberg's stated goal is to avoid what they call "internalistic methodologies" that often characterize literary as well as art history studies and instead to foster,by crossing disciplinary boundaries, a reflection on these disciplinary categories themselves. As a result, the essays vary greatly in focus and methodology, yet all concentrate on bodily extremities with [End Page 323] four central themes connecting them: honor/shame, bodily integrity, identity, and pain. The volume includes several interesting articles, especially thoseby Daniela Bohde, Robert Zwijnenberg, Florike Egmond, Peter Mason and José Pardo Tomás. They warrant a closer look.

Daniela Bohde's essay, "Skin and the Search for an Interior," concentrates on representations of flaying in the art and anatomy of the Cinquecento. Bohde examines several paintings and engravings representing the flaying of Marsyas. In doing so, she is able to very convincingly contrast Titian's painting (1570) with most other representations of the flaying, including Michelangelo's St Bartholemew from his Last Judgment (1534-41), that express a sixteenth-century conception of identity as covered or hidden by the skin which is considered a mere exterior. In opposition to that tradition, Titian represents the exterior and the interior as inextricably linked and skin as the bearer of identity and thus challenges the neo-platonic notion of self. But the most thought-provoking part of the essay resides in Bohde's interpretation of Titian's The Flaying of Marsyas as a representation of his very art of painting in layers, contradicting the disegno theory prevalent in his time. Thus "Titian pits not just two attitudes to the body against each other, but also two methods for producing art" (41).

Like Bohde, Robert Zwijnenberg's reading of Leonardo da Vinci's late work, Saint John the Baptist, points to da Vinci's theory of the soul as inextricably linked to the body which is promoted to a position of prominence: "Painting is in the first place about expressing and evoking emotions, with the human body as its point of focus, and as its basis the tight relationship between soul and body, or inner and outer" (56). He argues that in this very controversial and ambiguous painting, Leonardo da Vinci experimented with the possibility of conflating a multiplicity of personae who exist in oppositional relationships, i.e., the triadJohn/Bacchus/Gabriel, or the man/woman dyad in the unity of one painted figure of the human body. Thus painting represented both the "borderless character of painting" and the "intellectual and artisanal experience of the self of the painter," making it into an "intellectual self-portrait" (67).

Florike Egmond's historical essay, "Execution, Dissection, Pain and Infamy, A...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 323-328
Launched on MUSE
2005-01-27
Open Access
No
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