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Feeling the Fleshed Body

The Aftermath of Childhood Rape

Brenda Downing

In 1971, on two separate occasions, Brenda Downing was raped. She was in her final year of primary school. In the immediate aftermath, the shame she harboured, coupled with a failed disclosure the same year, meant she did not risk talking of her experience again until almost thirty years later and did not begin to address the trauma, held frozen in her body, for a further ten years.
In this book, she not only explores her long-term somatic response to the trauma of rape, but also examines the bodily responses of nine other women raped in childhood. Using a combination of somatic inquiry, writing and performance-making, her pioneering reflexive and embodied methodology reveals the raped body as agentic and subversive, with the capacity to express trauma through symptoms not always readily recognized or understood. Her findings have significant implications for the care and treatment of rape victims, for further research into the multiple impacts of sexual trauma, and for materialist knowledge-making practices.


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Chapter Three: What is somatics?


Chapter Three What is somatics? Woman, who has run her tongue ten thousand times seven times around her mouth before not speaking, either dies of it or knows her tongue and her mouth better than anyone. — Hélène Cixous1 Before proceeding further, it is important to situate my research within an embodied field of inquiry. This chapter will present some historical background concerning the field of somatics, examine some of the fac- tors influencing the evolution of somatics as a field of study, and provide a description of some of the component parts of this broad, body-focused area of study. I begin by briefly examining the etymological origins of the word somatic and by providing an overview of contemporary reflections of the origins of dichotomous thinking and, crucially for this research, the sepa- ration of the mind and body that took place in Western philosophical traditions in ancient Greece and seventeenth-century France. The chapter then explores the post-Victorian puritanical era and the early twentieth century for its renewed interest in the body with the emergence of body- focused social movements, and the practice of classical dance which evolved to include the Modern Dance movement. The chapter then moves to the 1970s and the work of Thomas Hanna. The remainder of the chapter exam- ines three major areas of study within the broad field of somatics: somatic 1 From: Cixous, Hélène, Clement, Catherine (1986). Sorties. In A Newly Born Woman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (95). 50 Chapter...

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