Turkey Diaries: Part VI (Traveling and Trans–Corporeality)

I’m back from Troad! For those to whom that name doesn’t say anything, that’s the ancient Troy area. It’s super cool to be in a country with such history everywhere. For instance, just a couple weeks back I visited the site of 3000-year old Gordion (as in, the place where Alexander the Great cut the Gordion knot, where King Midas turned everything he touched into gold, etc.) on a day trip from Ankara. And, here in Turkey that’s not even anything special as far as tourist destinations go. Just a quick cluster of pics below, including, for example, a pic of Midas (or possibly just a generic satyr), coins from the age of Alexander the Great, world’s oldest mosaic, and the grave tumulus of Midas (or, possibly his father Gordius). Being a bit of a history buff and coming from a country where we still lived in trees when these guys had a full-blown civilization going, I find this stuff really cool.

Anyway, I had a good time visiting Troad , too, and seeing the Aegean coast that the Turks kept telling me I should visit. I can confirm: it is nice. It was a whole lot of fun visiting this place and running a nice trail/mountain running race on the slopes of Mt. Ida, i.e. the place where the gods, according to Homer, watched the events of the Trojan War below them. And, I did manage to get some work done, also. A  few pics below, including views to the Greek Island of Lesbos:

Then, what the rest of this week’s blog post will discuss is the fairly new concept of trans-corporeality. It will once again include a response paper written by me for my class Culture and the Environment here at Hacettepe University. This is the last of my three response papers, so everyone can breathe a little easier from now on.

The pictures below in this post don’t really have anything to do as such with trans-corporeality but I wanted to include them here, since I think they form a nice continuum from last week’s ethnography post. All the pics are from my recent visit to the Ankara Ethnographic Museum, and they are interspersed amidst the text, just to give you some relief from the intense bombardment of hardcore material theory. Anything for my readers…

Response Paper on Alaimo, Stacy: “Trans–Corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature.” Material Feminisms. Eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008. 237-264.

Stacy Alaimo’s essay discusses the issue, or matter, of trans–corporeality. She approaches it from a vantage–point of various theoretical approaches (such as those by Barad and Haraway) but the theory also offers perspectives into ethical practices. The main argument in Alaimo’s essay is that when we think of corporeality, and matter in general, we should conceive of them as being trans–corporeal, i.e. as “movement across bodies” (238) as well as “traffic between bodies and natures.” (253) Specifically, this trans–corporeality relates to toxic bodies and “traffic in toxins.” (239)

The main implications of the above are that, first, from a theoretical point of view, viewing bodies as trans–corporeal opens up new possibilities for feminist scholarship to investigate the body as not only a discursive or linguistic creation but also as something that is inescapably intertwined, or, “intermeshed with the more-than-human world.” (238) This creates a “way out” for feminist scholarship (and ecofeminism, or, feminist ecocriticism) of the problematics of essentialism. And, second, from a practical and ethical point of view, she offers as one example of applying this theory into practice, the “precautionary principle,” (261) i.e. the principle that instead of a substance or practice having to be proven to be dangerous before it is implemented we, as scholars, students, and activists, should instead advocate for a substance having to be proven not to be dangerous before its implementation.

The above are the main arguments of the essay but I will next introduce, section by section some of the reasoning behind them and highlight some of the more interesting theoretical contributions, such as new viewpoints on agency, and the epistemological questions of feminist and environmental theory, that the essay includes.

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One of the first sights when entering the ethnographic museum is a painting of the Turkish nation’s founding myth, Ergenekon (where a gray she-wolf shows the nation the way out from their entrapment and into freedom). The painting below, called Ergenekon 2, is a modern rendition of the myth with, of course, Atatürk, showing the nation the correct path.

First, in the introductory section Alaimo introduces the concept of trans–corporeality. She begins by criticizing previous humanities scholarship “on the ‘body’” as being “exclusively” (237) based on a discursive approach and also notes the reluctance within much humanities scholarship to engage with nature, stating that nature has been “the abject” in feminist studies (238). Importantly, she emphasizes the importance of forging “material interconnections of human corporeality with the more–than–human world” as something that would enable “ethical and political” (238) interventions in a variety of issues. In the second section she discusses how feminist theory, because of its limited view of biology as something static, has so far neglected nature and its potential as an “ideological node” (239) and even problematizes one of feminist theory’s most important conceptual frameworks, the sex–gender distinction. Further, she demands, drawing on Nancy Tuana, that feminism “directly” engage “with matter” because that is the only way to “render biological determinism ‘nonsense.’” (241)

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See the likeness? Anyone? Or is it just me?

The third section discusses the material turn in feminist theory, and how the accusations of essentialism, so familiar to (eco)feminism, can be averted by realizing that matter is not “prior to discourse” (243) but instead something that is in a constant process of “extension, interconnection, exchange, and unraveling.” (244) The question of agency is brought forth in the fourth section; specifically, Alaimo explains how agency can exist even without what we traditionally conceive as subjects, in phenomena such as natural disasters and dirt. Interestingly, she here also argues for something like a rehabilitation of the concept of wilderness, if for no other reason then because the concept is strategically useful, as it would offer a place for the preservation of various more–than–human entities.

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Yeah man! Wrestling’s a real manly sport.

The epistemological questions of feminist and environmental theory are discussed in the fifth section, where Alaimo emphasizes the “ethical impact of epistemological paradigms and practices” (251) and how a feminist–environmental epistemology can pay more heed to the more­–than–­human world. In the sixth section Alaimo offers what she calls “maps of transit” to navigate “the traffic between bodies and natures.” (253) Her very practical example of trans–corporeality here is food, and more specifically, the practice of eating. She argues that eating is far from a simple activity that does not require reflection and should instead be seen as an activity where the borders between human and non–human blur.

A cluster of images from within and outside the museum, including a famous portrait of Mehmed the Conqueror.

 The final, seventh, section ends the essay with the concept of toxic bodies. Here Alaimo discusses the issue of toxic bodies and “traffic in toxins” as a convergence where “the interconnections between various movements, such as those of environmental health, occupational health, labor movements, environmental justice, environmentalism, ecological medicine, disability rights, green living, anti-globalization, consumer rights, and child welfare” meet when they are faced with issues such as “carcinogenic chemicals” (260) and their effect on individuals both human and otherwise. To Alaimo, “toxic bodies insist that environmentalism, human health, and social justice cannot be severed.” (262) This is because they allow both the reimagining of “human corporeality” (261) and enable the startling recognition that “all bodies are toxic.” (260)

So that’s it again! I’m posting this just after our mid-term exams in the Culture and the Environment course, so I’m again feeling a little apprehensive about how I did but let’s hope for the best. There’s now just three short weeks left of my exchange so the rest of December promises to be hectic.

Featured image (not visible in mobile theme) by me. From Geyikabayiri at the start of the Lycian Way long-distance hiking trail.

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