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The Real of the Body


Some quick thoughts, seemingly not brought about by anything in particular. For French psychoanalyst Jacque Lacan there is a difference between reality and the Real; for the latter, to quote Mark Fisher:

“… the Real is what any ‘reality’ must suppress; indeed, reality constitutes itself through just this repression.”

Which is to say, the Real is the inaccessible, ungraspable Whatever that the very covering-up of is what sustains our day to day: reality in a sense becomes a necessary illusion. Otherwise we wouldn’t get anything done. Fitting then that folks like Slavoj Žižek and again Mark Fisher use the example of ecological catastrophe as glimpses of the Real; something happens out of our control (earthquake, increase of severe weather disasters, patterning as a result of melting polar ice caps—though I’ll leave alone the debate of how much of some of this stuff is actually in our control, bringing up names like Žižek and Fisher inevitably introduces questions in regards to capitalism that I just don’t have the heart to bring up right now, here) that re-jiggers our sense of where, exactly, we are in the world, and then a new status quo arrives to sort of paper over what turned out to be a really easy and flimsy break—and, side note, sometimes, these changes happen in order to keep things the same, like, say, the relationship between summers hotter than years past and record-breaking corpo-profits seem to be hand-in-hand and toward a specific direction: up and away from us.

But how about another Real, the body of any actual, literal planet is so large enough already. What about our own? Our own actual bodies, I mean, the heads and hearts and knees we occupy. I’m genuinely asking, here, cursory online searches haven’t given me much, but I’ve never claimed to be a good sleuth, or even one at all. (In fact I may be butchering already a lot of the Lacanian/Žižekian/Fisher stuff mentioned above, so just bear with me, please.) Let these following words and sentences, then, be a sketching toward this notion; do I have your permission to do so?

Consider an athlete, not even a particularly good one, just one who reasonably thinks herself generally healthy, muscular, and active, or at least more so if among the rest of her non-athletic peers, walking and tossing a ball up and down down the hall, our athlete is. Against the backdrop of this reality she has every expectation to do whatever she wants her body to do (run, jump, turn on a dime, etc. etc., pick any sport and related physical activity for our lass, here). She has confidence, basically. Consider, next, that her body has, and let’s pick this out of a hat, weaker knees than she knew to have to account for, and during practice one day she jumps and turns and lands badly in a way her leg and knee in agreement didn’t like and THUNK! she dislocates her patella. Let me tell you it fucking hurts. She gets taken to the ER and it gets popped back into place and all that but now here we are—sort of where my head’s been at lately. The Real of the Body: our poor athlete’s body knew, or rather, didn’t know it knew, its limit in regard to its knees; our poor athlete operated under the necessary illusion (her reality) that everything was totally fine and cool and she could do everything she needed to do during practice that day. Until she can’t. She now sits on her ass, too distracted to read anything, waiting for MRI results and an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon that’s still too far out and the suspense and waiting is eating at her emotional and psychic insides. She doesn’t know if anything’s torn or if she needs surgery. Just the word “surgery” is scary, too many “er” sounds, invoking images of a pit or dark creature at the bottom of said pit, a swallowing terror. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever play at the level she’d taken for granted ever again, or at all. Her entire subjectivity (for our purposes) is based on the (illusory and therefore necessary) fact that she could move her body however she wanted. Her confidence is basically shaken. Her entire relationship with herself and her body and her body’s relationship with the world is also basically shattered, out of joint, dislocated. There is no pre-Fall paradise of perfect body-confidence and autonomy for us to return to; she cannot go back. She’s fucking terrified. This is but a glimpse of the Real. Fitting that Fisher used words like “traumatic” and “fracture” when referring to what it’s like to encounter the Real through these kinds of catastrophes, ecological or bodily or otherwise. Whatever happens afterward is basically another papering over: we clean up the rivers but the factory is still upstream; we get the surgery or (with luck, with prayer, our athlete was never particularly religious but right now she is praying) we simply do rigorous PT but the spectre of that body-pain still haunts us. Because knees are an especially tricky and scary thing to get fucked up: scary and fucked up things can always happen again. And to know it, forever. That is your new reality. And it is fucking terrifying. Not to mention all the other possible eco- and body-stuff that can happen too, just because one catastrophe happened doesn’t foreclose all possible other catastrophes. One doesn’t want to be cynical or generally down here, but it happens sometimes. The Real of the Body; the horror of the Real. And we carry it in our bodies everyday.


About the Writer:

CX is doing what they can. All of their writing-things can be found also on Many Masks Press, and other places like other places.


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