attack on the body- Part 1

My current employers are really concerned with my insides. And my outsides. Mostly, they want to make sure I'm not one big sack of germs that will infect their precious kids. I don't totally blame them since the world has always (to some extent or another) been concerned with cleanliness or the appearance there of. But I exaggerate. I know they are really concerned with general health and well-being.

But really, I'm talking about HIV and Tuberculosis and Blake Butler's Scorch Atlas-- which if you haven't read, you should. particularly JD and LTW whose own work on bodies is related to Butler's.

Yesterday, while waiting for the results of my TB test, I finished reading Scorch Atlas. And it's hard not to have a visceral reaction to Butler's collection of shorts- all of which depict "the end" of times. His world is fantastic and creepy, filled with gnats the size of fists and eye sockets gone sour from too much sun. It's disgusting and nightmarish. On the level of craft, even the "topography" of the sentences is disorienting. Words are wrenched from their meanings and often turned into awkward verb-like things. All very uncomfortable. Hard to read. Almost in-human.

After all the depiction of sickness and infection in the novel, it was a sudden and odd relief to be told I don't have Tuberculosis. (Side note: the nurse shot me an eye-roll when I inanely emitted a 'woo hoo! to the results) My body was safe. My body was clean. No odd bumps or discolorations in my intestines. No swollen glands. Crooked bones. No milky nostrils. No bristly skin patches. Or soggy gums. My body was clean. My body was safe. Amongst the patients waiting for their results--the clinic serves (mostly) under served, impoverished individuals who are at high risk for infectious diseases--I could think only of the cleanliness of my own body. I couldn't even bring myself to pick up and read the free magazines for people living with HIV, lest someone think I have HIV. Yes, totally & utterly shameful. Despicable. I was inexplicably hyperphobic about disease.

And now, my a la Mel question: Why are we as writers and artists so interested in putting our bodies in positions of disease and violence?

In my own work, I have sewn into my face, my body and those of my characters. Butler's most haunting image, for me, is that of a woman (a mother) holding a hammer to her belly, her blood-eyes piercing her on-lookers. The violence against bodies is so common in our work. Our characters are beaten, raped, abused, tortured, disfigured, etc. And these are just the physical tortures. In a world where disease and sickness is everywhere and the pressure to keep the body clean is pervasive is writing about the ill body a form of resistance? a form of escape? what is it with the attack on the body whether as metaphor or aesthetic?

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