To speak of “the body” today is not to describe an organic substrate, a psychological being, a historical object or simply a living animal. It is instead to speak of the processes and conditions through which consciousness, vitalism, or “life” assimilates into its cultural and technical milieu and takes a material form; it is to speak of embodiment. This course investigates the uncharted territory of the body outside the organic, biological or corporeal conditions of the premodern era. It examines the chain of events, situations, and circumstances that disentangled life, so to speak, from its organic host and embodied it within its increasingly artificial environment. A special interest has been paid to the role of architecture and modes of interaction, or symbiosis, between bodies and buildings in the process of mechanization. From technologies of moving, sensing, and regulating to those of observing, measuring and documenting, biological and technical principles governing organisms and machines in the mid-nineteenth century began to converge within a set of standardized “prosthetic” mechanisms, materials, and devices in cities and buildings: wires, tubes, pipes, shafts, ducts, conduits and corridors. These objects, devices or machinery began to mediate the relations between organic materials, substances and bodies and their mechanical surrounding through movements, perceptions, and gestures. The hypothesis of the course is that the socio-cultural and technological transformations that have followed in the past Étienne-Jules Marey, Movement diagram of a running horse, circa. 1880s. century or so, far from a cultural or intellectual paradigm shift, are in the lineage of the processes that established and defined modernity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What has changed, instead, is a shift in direction: the mechanization of life giving way to the vitalization of the machine.
The course is a history and theory seminar that meets once a week for an hour and fifty minutes. During class, students will engage in dialogues and informed discussions around the week’s topic based on the readings and presentations. There will be an introductory lecture in the first class that would lay out the outline and key concepts of the course. There will also be a few workshops scheduled during the course of the semester to familiarize teach students with close reading, scholarly research, and development of a research paper.