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Bodies, Subjectivity and Cultural Identity


The clip, `Satine, the sparkling Diamond`, has a different storyline. There is a section of men who are so much fascinated by theappearance of the singer right away from when she is introduced fromthe roof. (00:53 sec). This is visual culture. They are clued to herbody and sparkling diamonds. The clip includes two genre musicalsand romance. Christian, who is a young British man, falls in lovewith the star actress Satine. (01:58 min)There is also playfulnessand self reference. The first and foremost question we should askourselves is `what is the body?` The answer to this question can bein various ways and perspectives depending on whoever is definingthis term. We can define the body from common sense perspective orbiological perspective. The body is viewed as an intricate ofconnection of enzymatic impulses and vital components that keep us.It can as well be defined as a system that keeps our fundamentalorgans as well as accommodates our individualities. Universally, weknow the body as an outward shell, which is a physical manner, ascompared to rationality or the mental perspective. Scholars havereferred to the body, in concrete biological terms, from a“biological determinism” perspective. After looking at thedefinition of the body, this paper will define, firstly thebiological determinism perspective. Secondly, it will explain thelimitations that come with this perspective and thirdly outline anddiscuss the meaning of the term `embodiment`, as seen in the clip ofSatine, `The Sparkling Diamond`. I have decided to choose thisparticular part of the video because people seem to be mesmerized by the body of a singer and her appearance in general. In particular,Christian is so much fascinated by the Satine. (00:12). We seeToulouse-Lautrec promising Christian the he will arrange a meeting ofChristian and Satine alone (01:58 min). Similarly, Moulin makes thesame promise to `The Duke`, his rich financial backer.(01:43 min).Here, there is a mixture of high and popular cultures. Doriss girlsand men men indulges themselves in a dance along with the singer inan exaggerated manner. (1:14 min)The costumes that the singer iswearing in the film is glitly and there is also complex choreography.This is seen as popular culture rather than high culture.

Biological determinism and the division of mind and body

Biological determinism comprehends the body as a structure that worksin specific (biological and chemical) ways. For instance, the woman`sbody is feminine because it is generally seen to work in a specificmanner, like reproductive organs and other distinct parts. On theother hand, a male body works in distinct other ways, for examplemale reproductive organs. Mostly, the perspective of seeing the bodyas precisely as a biological object has assisted to preserve in ourculture the thought that the body is different from the mind(Mansfield, N. and Giuffre,par). The clip includes musicals and films which shows romanceand comedy at the same time. As seen in the clip, the female body ofthe singer captivates the whole audience, especially the men.Christian falls in love with Satine who is a highly appreciatedactress. Here, we see more nationalities. There are women from ParisFrench, Christian is from Britain.

A mind is defined as a sequence of psychological or mental alertnessand diffidence. The body has been built on unfavorable wayschronologically, as the mind gets the positive terms. We can callthis the mind/body split or division, because the mind is moreadvantageous than the body. `Mind/body split` is a contemporaryphantasm in Western Europe and was maintained in the 18th century,particularly by the philosopher called `Rene Descartes`. Thisphenomenon has its roots to the culture of Greeks. Most spiritual orreligious beliefs ascertains that the mind is much nearer to theCreator than the body hence the belief that the mind is superior,almost holy and authentic, whereas the body is so lustful, it rotsand its nature is immoral which puts a stumbling block to the mind(Nicole, par).Disorientating the body from the mind makes most people perceive thatthe mind is so distinct from the body thus separate from theirenvirons and people around them. This is what is termed as autonomoussubject (Mansfield, N. andGiuffre)1.In the minds of the audience, they know Christian and Satine will endup happily ever after due to the hardships they have endured.(2:34)This is not so!

Due to the belief that the mind is more superior to the body, thesociety has failed to know the ways in which the body is overwhelmedby others and the surrounding world. The mind/body split can beobserved in our dialects, organizations as well as our ethos andprinciples. Take for instance the tradition of the stars, people aregiven star signs in the newspapers depending on the months and thedates they were born, (cancer, Capricorn, Aquarius Leo, etc.)and their characteristics. This is an advantageous effect onthe mind but not the body.

Every morning when one gets out of the bed, they shower and try tolook as attractive as possible. Most of them always stand before themirror just to see if their appearance is perfect and how they willappear to others. The question then is, is their appearance seen as`normal` to the culture? Does the way they cloth go against thesociety`s norms? This shows that culture, gender and even race has agreater effect on our character, emotions and feelings in our bodies.Factors such as race, social class gender and many others are thethings that may not agree that the mind/body split is ambiguous.Some philosophers say that the body and mind connection is notconcise, but there is a perpetual diffidence and togetherness betweenthe body and mind. They call it `disjunction and connection,separateness and intimacy`. In case this is true, then we need to askourselves this question of our subjectivity “when the body isshaped daily by cultural influences then where are lines to be drawnbetween the body and its external environment? To answer thisquestion, we look at it from scientific empirical evidence, whichsays, “Our bodies and minds are always shaped by our cultural andsocial environments, and that these cultural and social environmentsshape the way our bodies look and behave, which in turn shape ourminds and vice-versa”. Like in the clip, it is shaped in the mindsof the viewers that girls or women like diamond. This is when men arecaptivated by Satine`s admirable entrance as she sparkles diamonds.The musical of the singer is mis-interpreted by many. This ispostmodern culture.(00:13 sec)

According to professor Christopher Wills, culture itself could beforcing biological selection in reasonable ways. He says, “Therehas been, and still is, positive feedback between our culture and ourgenes that led to the rapid evolution of the most characteristichuman attributes the mind”.2This means that our nature, biology and even genes are structured byculture (Thwaites et al, 1994). Science has disapproved the ancientbelief that cultures we practice are exclusively an outcome of ourbiology and genes. Nevertheless, it disagrees with the generalassumption that the body is distinct from the mind hence recommendingthat the mind is actually the body`s part. Despite this finding,position of mind/body split goes on. Women are seen as inferiorbeings than men physically and in other ways. From these instances,biological determinism knows the feminine body, its worth andindividuality as vulnerable on the duty of ladies` bodies as objectsof reproduction. Men are always seen as rational and smart ascompared to women, who are regarded as weak and dependent.

Limitations with the biological determinism

Biological determinism does not show the manner in which morals andvalues are constructed culturally (Thwaites et al, 1994). This hascontinued the discrimination and inequality of gender, class andrace. For instance, black people have always been discriminated andregarded as inferior compared to white. This is all about the body.They were even made slaves of the white `bodies` in the past! Women`sbodies, in addition, were seen as objects for giving birth andbringing the children up. They were never allowed to say anythingbecause they were regarded as mindless people. Values and morals donot come from the `body`. Social construction position, suggests thatthe body and subjectivity are `politico-cultural` system`s product.Gayle Rubin says, “We never encounter the body un-mediated by themeanings that cultures give to it”. He says that biology itselfis a cultural concept. This implies that morals and values areimpacted by family, law and education. Besides social constructionposition, there is also a biological position. This argues that ourvalues and morals are determined by evolution: “On the one hand wehave selfish tendencies, which have obvious adaptive benefits,especially when we are in a competitive environment. On the other, wehave altruistic tendencies selected to encourage us to cooperate withothers, thus benefiting all”.

The second limitation of biological determinism is the lack of itnot taking account of the manner in which the body is affected by theworld surrounding it and others, as well as the manner in which oursubjectivities are structured. There is a recent theory which statesthat culture can actually alter our genes. Scientist professorChristopher Willis argues that “there are also plausible ways inwhich culture itself could be driving natural selection”. Theancient idea that the cultures we do is entirely brought by our genesand biology, has raised eyebrows recently by scientific structures.It dismisses the theory that the mind is distinct from the body aswell (Thwaites et al.)3.


The mind is not distinct from the body according to FrenchPhilosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty hence it is not distinct from theenvironment and others around it. The body and the mind areinseparable so we are `embodied` beings. There is no way a mind canwork without a body neither a body function without a mind. “Ourperceptions of the world are already constructed by culturalmeanings, beliefs, practices, etc. In a nutshell, there is nothinking without the body. Thinking (the mind or consciousness orperception) is incarnate.(Merleu-Ponty )4


In conclusion, our bodies and minds are entwined. In ourmodern life, where technology is so advanced, if you don`t like afeature on your body, you can rectify it through modernized ways aslong as you have the finances. This can be done through medical orcosmetology process. For instance, if you do not have a leg, you canhave an artificial one given to your body. But can you really modifyyour mind? Women seem to be a bit so obsessed with the way they lookas compared to their male counterparts. Though there are also men whowant more features on their bodies. This is embodied subjectivity.Just as in the clip `Satine, The Sparkling Diamond`, Satine makes anadmirable entrance thus captivating the minds of men as we seeToulouse-Lautre promising Christian that he will meet Satineprivately. Zidler also makes the same promise to his wealthyfinancial backer, The Duke. (00:58 sec)There is loss of context anduncertainty in the clip. The movie doesn`t end as the audienceexpected. Christian and Satine go through hardships but don`t end uptogether. (02:34 min)The film ends with Satine`s death, which was sounexpected. (03:59 min). There is a reflection postmodern culture inthe film since it comprises of generic blurring and inter-textuality,loss of context and uncertainty, playfulness and self-reference aswell as meeting of popular and high culture and death ofrepresentation.


Mansfield, N. and Giuffre, L. Week 3, (pg 427) :Post structuralism – The Big Picture.Original Lecture. i

Nicole, A. Week 7, (page 14):.Original Lecture, Exercises, Glossary and notes. ii

Thwaites, T., Warwick, M. and Lloyd D. 1994, (pg 14)Tools forCultural Studies. Melbourne: Macmillan Education Australia.iii

1Mansfield, N. and Giuffre, page 427

2New Scientist, 11 March, pg. 32

3Thwaites et al, 1994, page 14

4Marleu Ponty, 1962 page 42.

i Mansfield, N. and Giuffre, L, Week 3(page 427)

iiNicole A, Week 7(32)

iiiTwaites T., Warwick M. and Llyod D 1994.(page 14)