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Metamorphoses of the Body

1998
Author:

José Gil
Translated by Stephen Muecke

Metamorphoses of the Body

Explores the relationship between power and the body.

This investigation of power and the body is a brilliantly original account of the nature of force as it functions in religious rituals, sorcery, political relations, and other social domains. Laying the foundation for an “anthropology of forces,” it is crucial reading for anyone interested in how bodies and power circulate in a range of human contexts and cultures.

“Metamorphoses of the Body is a brilliant and original analysis of the political and ideological status of the body as it relates to the empowerment and the constitution of the modern state. For Gil, if one is vigilant, one realizes that at the very heart of the problem of the nature of power, one is always confronted with the primeval power of the human body, with its intrinsic, indomitable energy.” Réda Bensmaïa, Brown University

This investigation of power and the body is a brilliantly original account of the nature of force as it functions in religious rituals, sorcery, political relations, and other social domains. Laying the foundation for an “anthropology of forces,” it is crucial reading for anyone interested in how bodies and power circulate in a range of human contexts and cultures.

For José Gil the body, with its capacity to translate forces into signs, is the source of power. Analyzing the language of mime and gestures, comparing magical cures to psychiatric ones, contrasting the flayed body of Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” with the anatomical body in Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, he develops a typology of metamorphoses of the body as they correspond to systems of signs.

The body also has a history, which has its effects on the formation of political powers. Why, for instance, did the first state organizations create an image of power concentrated in “the body of the king”? In an examination of the differences between so-called primitive societies and state societies, Gil traces the birth of the image of the body, and of its transformations as a political figure.

A major intervention that marks the first appearance of Gil's work in English, Metamorphoses of the Body gives us an entirely new way of looking at relationships between bodies, forces, politics, and people.

Metamorphoses of the Body

José Gil is professor of philosophy at the University of Lisbon and at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. He is the author of Un’anthropologia delle forze (1990), La Corse entre la liberté et la terreur (1991), and La Crucifiée (1986), a novel.

Stephen Muecke is professor of cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

Metamorphoses of the Body

“Metamorphoses of the Body is a brilliant and original analysis of the political and ideological status of the body as it relates to the empowerment and the constitution of the modern state. For Gil, if one is vigilant, one realizes that at the very heart of the problem of the nature of power, one is always confronted with the primeval power of the human body, with its intrinsic, indomitable energy.” Réda Bensmaïa, Brown University

“Steeped in the classic issues of political anthropology through close readings of the sources that have defined them, Gil provides an impressive synthesis of theories of power in the transition from tribal to modern societies. After all the recent baroque theoretical attention focused on the body, Gil reminds us how embedded this concern has been in ideologies of kingship and the emergence of the state.” George E. Marcus, Rice University

In its heady mix of ethnography and philosophy, Gil’s intriguing and highly unusual book makes you wonder why theorizing the meaning of the institutions of so-called primitive societies has virtually disappeare

and what such a terrible deficit implies for critical inquiry as a whole. Postmodernizing the legacy of a great lineage, including Mauss, Lévi-Strauss, Sahlins, Clastres, Deleuze and Guattari, Gil makes you realize all over again why primitive society is here to stay.” Michael Taussig, Columbia University (please call if edited)