Language begins in and with the body, and much work has gone into naming all of its many parts, and describing their function and malfunction. But what do we have to say or write about our physical selves, about the complicated way we experience of our bodies? Love them, hate them, can’t escape them… Body and Soul, which focuses on narratives about illness and healing, came out at the end of last year, and includes The Right Thing to Say, a short story of mine about genetic testing. You’ll find it here.
In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body, co-edited by Kathy Page and Lynne van Luven, came out in April 2012 and is available as a trade paperback and e-book. I’m biased, of course, but this is a fascinating book and it was a huge amount of fun to put together. Each author’s essay focuses on one part of the body, and explores its function, its meanings, and the role it has played in that person’s life. We think of writers as cerebral types, but here they confront the suff they are made from with candour, insight and wit.
We are doing events for In the Flesh at the moment, and just as happened when Lynne and I were compiling the book, everywhere I look there seems to be a reference of some kind to the body, or a new and startling image of it.
Visual representation of the body may well have begun with a hand print on a cave wall; thousands of years of sculpture and mark-making and a hundred and sixty years of photography ensued. Now we have not only Antony Gormley, but the likes of Orlan and Damian Hirst, who use the body and its products to make their art… Recently, I stumbled across the work of Spencer Tunick, who, ironically given that his second name suggests an item of clothing, creates installations in which thousands of naked people take up similar positions or stances in a land or city-scape, and are photographed. Participants tavel the world to be part of these works and speak of a sense of liberation and a powerful feeling of being connected with others, and also part of something much larger than themselves. As for the spectacle viewed from outside, what to make of it? Why are all the people pink? Does Tunick mean us to think of the gas chambers? How is it to be him, dressed, directing everyone?
Buy In the Flesh:
In the UK: W H Smith
In the USA: Amazon.com