Somatic Criticism Project

by Adam Dziadek (Author)
©2018 Monographs 226 Pages
Open Access
Series: Cross-Roads, Volume 12


This book illustrates the problems connected with the body and the sign: the real body and the body of the text, somaticism and semiology (both as a general sign theory and in the medical sense as «symptomatology»). The author seeks to derive a more general principle from these two words, referring to the representation of experience in different literary texts. If we are talking about the representation of experience, we cannot, by any means, ignore the body that becomes the essential point of reference for human experience. This general principle aims at creating a matter of concept, a somatic criticism project, which is closely related to the issue of rhythm in literary texts - a rhythm understood as an intermediary between the body and the sense of the text.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Somatic criticism
  • 1. Principles
  • 2. Rhythm
  • 3. Anagrams
  • 4. Contexts
  • 3. Somatic writing, touching sense – Aleksander Wat
  • 4. Somatic style – Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki
  • 1. Somatic style
  • 2. Body and entity
  • 3. Body and word
  • 4. Body and rhythm
  • 5. Sound effects – about Joanna Pollakówna’s poems
  • 6. Listening as a somatic experience – about Edward Pasewicz’s verses
  • 7. The sonnet corpus
  • 1. Supplement
  • 8. Somatext: word, picture and rhythm
  • 1. Somatext and intratypography
  • 2. Intratypography and poetic texts
  • 3. Words in pictures, pictures in words
  • 4. Polymorphic text – about the typographic work of the Themersons
  • Bibliography
  • Index of names

← 8 | 9 →

1.  Introduction

The body in the culture and humanities of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries occupies a position which is exceptionally privileged, if not quite simply central. It is even said that it is a theoretical invention of the twentieth century, an idea underlined by sociological–historical research of this phenomenon1. If we take a closer look at the history of the body in the past century, we can clearly see the revolutionary changes it has undergone as a biological being and also as a socio-philosophical construct. Revolutions in the sphere of sexuality, which in gradual transformation, have released it from boundaries, rules and religious and ethical norms, and people finally recognise the right to enjoyment, which is today almost universally recognised and accepted. They also concern medicine, which during its development has learned not only to improve the healing process, to prolong human life, but also to transform the body, to shape and to improve it. The twentieth-century body also has other experiences in its memory that have never taken place in history before, such as the bodies massacred during two world wars, the bodies reified and exterminated in concentration camps, and the bodies deprived of identity and instrumentalised in totalitarian systems.

The body associated with the concept of the subject has become the central issue of philosophical and anthropological research. The work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (starting with L’Anti-Oedipe) and Michel Foucault (Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality), referring directly to politics and power, revealing the mechanisms of their functioning, will also constitute the basic point of reference in the reflection about the body and will determine the main directions of thinking about this phenomenon in anthropology, philosophy, sociology, gender studies, feminist literary criticism and queer theory.

Many of these directions in humanities studies were developing in the second half of the twentieth century. For example, the sociology of the body began to form in the early 1980s within British sociology2 and centred on social activities, social exchange, cultural representations of the human body, social nature of the spectacle and reproduction of the body and population in the social structure. The body is also understood here as a cultural representation of social ← 9 | 10 → organisation and power relations. In the postmodern era, the sociology of the body as well as many other disciplines (including literary criticism) were and are still being fuelled by other modes of humanistic thought – queer, lesbian studies, gay studies, dance studies and feminist literary criticism that created a completely new type of sensitivity (gender sensitivity) and made it possible to uncover such areas of knowledge that were previously completely ignored. They not only radically changed the way of reading cultural texts but, above all, they revolutionised the way we think about man and society.

At the end of the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we increasingly speak of the postmodern body, the perfect body, organised better than nature. This body is nourished, put through diets, exercised, built (body-building), regulated (regulating bodies as in Bryan S. Turner, who carefully analyses the body in the context of the latest developments and changes taking place in medicine), rebuilt (remaking the body – as in Wendy Seymour) or modified (body modification – as in Victoria Pitts)3. The body has also become plastic because it can be sculpted, tattooed (body as canvas, image and text), shaped, stylised; it can be modified in hundreds of ways4 and its natural form can be changed, endlessly improved. In visual arts, it is constantly subject to aestheticisation, but is also subject to defiguration or is mechanised (cyborgs, mutants). The human body went through a transformation into the posthuman body5, described in academic treatises or – exceptionally accurately – in poetic ← 10 | 11 → texts, as in Maria Peszek (from the CD Maria Awaria from 2008 – I consider this text as poetic, and not just lyrics, the verbal element of the musical text):

Kobiety pistolety

Są kobiety pistolety
i kobiety jak rakiety
chude, długie i wysokie
z wydepilowanym krokiem

Są kobiety bezzmarszczkowe
fit kobiety luksusowe
pielęgnacji wciąż oddane
z samych siebie odessane

Są kobiety pistolety
pielęgnacji wciąż oddane
z samych siebie odessane

A ja dla własnej wygody
zapuszczam swe ogrody
i kolekcjonuje wzwody
ja, metr pięćdziesiąt dwa

Są kobiety pistolety
i kobiety jak rakiety
chude, długie, opalone
z wydepilowanym łonem

Są kobiety doskonałe
z wyrzeźbionym gładkim ciałem
odmłodzone, odbarwione
całkiem z wieku odsączone

A ja dla własnej wygody
zapuszczam swe ogrody
i kolekcjonuję wzwody
ja, metr pięćdziesiąt dwa
dziko rosnącego nieba

Lubię skóry mojej smak
i fakt, że zawsze jestem na tak
i lubię też, w moich ustach słowo „fuck”

I lubię ten smak, gdy w ustach mam
słowo „fuck” ← 11 | 12 →

[“Women Pistols // There are women pistols / and women like rockets / thin, long and tall / with a depilated walk // There are wrinkleless women / fit women luxury / care still devoted / sucked up with themselves // There are women pistols / taken still to care / sucked up with themselves // And I for my own convenience / neglect my own gardens / and collect erections / me, one meter fifty two // There are women pistols / and women like rockets / thin, long, tanned / with depilated womb // There are perfect women / with their body sculpted smooth / rejuvenated, discoloured / quite from age drained off // And I for my own convenience / neglect my own gardens / and collect erections / me, one meter fifty two / of wildly growing heaven // I like the skin of my taste / And the fact, that I always am for yes / and I also like, the word “fuck” in my mouth // And I like this taste, when I have the word / “fuck” in my mouth”]

The ubiquity of the body in culture, the variety of forms of its presence, allows Bryan S. Turner to draw attention to the fact that we live in a “somatic society”6, in which all political, moral and personal issues are problematised in the body and expressed through the body. Turner also stresses that in the postmodern era, the body became the basic theme of civilisation under the somatic regime. Another sociologist, dealing with consumer culture, makes a significant travesty of Descartes’ words, and with a shade of irony states: “I embody therefore I am”7.

Within the humanities for many years now we have been dealing with the “somatic turn” (the term corporeal turn8 is also in use). In the work from the field of sociology of the body The Body, Culture and Society9, the authors recognise the designation as equivalent in the social sciences discourse and put it next to the “linguistic turn” and the “cultural turn” (it would be necessary here to add many others that went alongside those: the aesthetic turn, iconic turn, geographic or spatial turn, biological turn):

To engage with the somatic turn this book focuses on a series of ‘typical’ bodies that correspond to those substantive subject areas in which the meaning of the contemporary body (arguably) is most vigorously contested.10

In the context of somaesthetics, the body also appears in Richard Shusterman’s work The Somatic Turn: Care of the Body in Contemporary Culture (the somatic turn as an expression of the need to find a stable point of reference in a rapidly ← 12 | 13 → changing world; as a defensive reaction against uniformity, the body is treated with religious reverence but far from religion itself; the somatic turn as part of the aesthetic turn in contemporary culture; evolutionary crisis – the necessity of rethinking our relationship with ourselves and the world around us, the concern for the body)11. Brenda Farnell speaks of two somatic turns. The first somatic turn took place at the end of the twentieth century, inspired by the thinking of Foucault and focused on the body as a social object, and also on the experience of the lived body (here the inspiration was Maurice Merleau-Ponty). The second is Farnell’s proposal, which places emphasis on bodily movement, on people in motion and meaning; the first grows directly from phenomenology, the other is connected with semasiology (the human being as maker of meaning – the basic idea systematically developed in the work of Drid Williams in the field of visual anthropology and dance studies, exploring forms of meaning in motion)12.

It is significant that none of the disciplines develops the problem of the body or of corporeality based on the tools developed within itself alone – the sociological or literary criticism discourse moves towards psychoanalysis, philosophy or anthropology and vice versa. Such a problem cannot be explored on the basis of the homogeneous discourse of a particular discipline. I am not referring to the barren, obscure, overused and in recent times overly proliferous definition “interdisciplinarity”. To deal with the problem of corporeality in literature at present implies the necessity of referring to other areas of humanistic science – I underline the word “necessity” on account of the thematic ubiquity of the body in literature and contemporary culture, in works of criticism and in scientific papers from various fields of the humanities.

The same problem also applies to the area of knowledge of literature – and here also we have been dealing with just such a “somatic turn” for many years, as witnessed by the 1990s as well as recent years, which have also brought extraordinary interest in Polish literary criticism in the body and in corporeality13.

There have been many works rooted in various philosophical and methodological options. Amongst the most interesting are those that refer to methodologies ← 13 | 14 → completely new to Poland (feminist literary criticism, gender studies), which address the problematics of the body: Grażyna Borkowska’s Cudzoziemki. Studia o polskiej prozie kobiecej; Krystyna Kłosińska’s Ciało, pożądanie, ubranie. O wczesnych powieściach Gabrieli Zapolskiej; Ewa Kraskowska’s Piórem niewieścim. Z problemów prozy kobiecej dwudziestolecia międzywojennego, two volumes of collective works Ciało i tekst. Feminizm w literaturoznawstwie and German Ritz’s Nić w labiryncie pożądania. Gender i płeć w literaturze polskiej od romantyzmu do postmodernizmu14.

The following years also bring many thematic approaches, whose methodological foundations are heterogeneous (and of course they do not have to be like this), as they stem from different sources and methodological inspirations (many of these are collective works): Między słowem a ciałem, Ciało granice kanon, Codzienne, przedmiotowe, cielesne or also Cielesność w polskiej poezji najnowszej15. Two monographs deserve particular attention: Beata Przymuszała’s Szukanie dotyku and Anna Filipowicz’s Sztuka mięsa [this title is a play on words and can mean both Piece of meat and The art of meat] – both dedicated to poetry. The first of these constitutes a comprehensive discussion of the problems of the body and corporeality in Polish contemporary poetry in an interdisciplinary perspective (cultural criticism, philosophical, theological and literary criticism perspectives), the second – with the significant subtitle Somatyczne oblicza poezji ← 14 | 15 → [The somatic face of poetry] – in a very interesting manner tackles the question of “meatiness” in contemporary Polish poetry16.

The project of somatic criticism proposed by me is against the background of all corporeal turns of an atypical phenomena. This is not a work about the presence of the body in literature in a thematic, cultural or gender context. This is not the poetics of the body proposed by Catherine Cucinella, writing about textual and bodily convergence, poetic bodies or writing a corporeal palimpsest, nor is it a situation in which the word is made from the body (flesh made word), as it functions in the work of Judith Roof, who analyses DNA (including textual metaphors in the description of DNA aided by formulae of the type “book of life”, “code”, “alphabet”, “blueprint” assuring man of the existence of control over genetic processes)17.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2018 (December)
poetry and body poetic rhythm phonetic anagrams prosody sonnets visual poetry
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien. 2018., 225 pp., 13 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Adam Dziadek (Author)

Adam Dziadek is Professor of Literature at the University of Silesia in Katowice. His main research areas are the theory of literature, the history of literature and comparative literature, as well as the translation of scientific texts. He also deals with problems of editing and genetic criticism. He translated, among others, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy into Polish.


Title: Somatic Criticism Project
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226 pages