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Mary Shivanandan, S. T. D. Body Narratives: Language of Truth? The views ofPope John Paul II and Emily Martin, the feminist author ofthe article that forms the basis ofmy paper, converge in a remarkable way. Both challenge the Western liberal point of view. Both seek to present another view ofreality that is suppressed byWestern liberalism. Both focus on human reproduction as adversely affected by a partial view ofreality. Because there is such a convergence and because Martin's ethnographic analysis offers unique insights into contemporary thought patterns, her article deserves careful analysis .While Christian anthropology and especially the theology ofthe body as articulated by John Paul II finds the feminist solution as unsatisfactory as the solution proposed byWestern liberalism, nevertheless Martin has provided a critical method that can illuminate the Christian perspective. This paper will review first Martin's critique ofWestern liberalism , then her evaluation ofmedical texts that describe the male and female reproductive systems. This will be followed by an evaluation ofnatural family planning instruction manuals which offer a different description and interpretation ofmen and women's procreative LOGOS 3:3 SUMMER 2000 BODY NARRATIVES: LANGUAGE OF TRUTH?167 powers. Finally an alternative Christian view, based onJohn Paul II's theology ofthe body1 will be presented. Critique of Western Liberalism As an anthropological edinographer, Emily Martin deals with a variety of world views. Her interest lies in identifying what she calls "embryonic flashes of visions of social worlds that fly in the face of hegemonic conceptions."2 She gives as an example the laments Chinese women sing at weddings, which express the sadness at women's plight in Chinese families and kinship structures. Martin, with some other anthropologists, calls such expressions opposing the reality of the dominant or hegemonic group "resistance." While claiming "resistance" as evidence ofalternative views ofreality and the power of die human spirit to resist domination, Martin notes that some anthropological critics reject this view. Rather, they maintain with Michel Foucault that forms ofpower instead ofbeing repressive are actually productive. These forms of power provide the means of civilized life and their influence extends throughout the whole of society from education to the military. Any resistance can function only wiuiin the orbit ofthe dominant civilization and tells us not so much about human freedom as about power and power relations in the society. Martin categorically rejects this interpretation of resistance. At the same time she notes a generally accepted view among the opinion makers ofour culture ofthe impossibility ofbreaking out ofthe boundaries ofWestern liberal thought and action. She cites several articles and books that begin with the phrase "The End of . . . ," among them, Francis Fukuyama's The End ofHistory and the Last Man, O. B. Hardison's Disappearing Through the Skylight, and Bill McKibben 's The End ofNature, all published in 1989.3 Common to these books, according to Martin, is a"profound denial ofthe possibilities ofhuman agency to sustain the potential for fundamental social and [68LOGOS cultural change." Fukuyama sums it up when he claims the ultimate victory of the Western "idea" which encompasses "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization ofWestern liberal democracy as the final form of human government."4Western liberal/capitalist civilization is marked in his view by economic calculation, concern over the environment, unlimited technological solutions to problems, and gratification ofever increasing consumer demands. He predicts the "total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives."5 Martin finds McKibben's perspective, especially in The End of Nature, equally distorted. It extols a view of the natural environment in North America before the arrival ofthe Europeans as one of"pristine beauty" that has been degraded by our civilization. Now we live in a"post-natural world" in which there is no corner that has not been transformed artificially by man.6 No recognition is given, she counters, to alteration of the environment before European settlement. But she reserves her severest judgment for Hardison and his book, Disappearing Through the Skylight. He, too, is consumed with environmental gloom, seeing the price ofmodern man's success as the spoliation of die earth and its creatures. Man, himself, will be replaced by a "silicon-based creature" of pure intellect. Hardison prophesies diat diis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 166-193
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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