Course: Bodies and Artifacts

HC 431H

Professor: Joseph Fracchia

In a statement with which his contemporary Charles Darwin certainly would have agreed, Karl Marx noted in an offhand comment that ‘the first fact to be established for the study of history is the corporeal organization of human beings.’ This is quite a claim: for it entails the view that the histories of human societies and cultures are consequences and products of the peculiar corporeal organization of the human species. This focus on the evolved human body, the product of natural history, as the producer of culture(s) and therewith history, is the point where the insights and projects of Darwin and Marx meet. This point of intersection, accordingly, will be the fulcrum of this course. In the first half of the term, we will focus on “human corporeal organization” as the basis of human histories. Our focus will be on the ‘universal’ human body, i.e. the one that, regardless of its age, sex or race, any visitor to a zoo would recognize as human. Our goal, however, is not to develop a final or static definition of ‘human nature’, but to provide a general outline of those aspects of their corporeal organization that enable humans, as Marx aphoristically put it, ‘to make their own histor[ies],’ as well as those aspects that prevent them from doing so ‘as they please.’

During the second half of the course we will try to understand human worlds and their histories as products of human corporeal organization. More specifically, we will view human worlds as consisting of material, social, and cultural artifacts and attempt to decipher their corporeal roots. Here we will follow the guiding threads developed by Elaine Scarry who wrote of the body as the ‘interior structure of artifacts’. This course is intended to be exploratory and experimental; and it will require the integration of material from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Participants from all majors are both welcome and needed. Everyone will know a good deal about some aspect of this course, but no one (myself included) will know about everything. Thus, we will all have a lot to learn from each other. Required readings will be drawn from a wide range of disciplines and include: Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain; Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses; Galen Cranz, The Chair; a variety of excerpts from Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, paleoanthropologist Andre Leroi-Gourhan, geneticist Richard Lewontin, philosophers Mark Johnson, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, linguist Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, and some chapters from my current book project on this topic. Written work: a weekly journal of commentary on the readings and/or ‘botanizing on the asphalt’; 15-page paper; Final Reflections.