Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Remind Me Again Why I Left Academia?

From the Journal of American Studies:

Elizabeth Klaver, Sites of Autopsy in Contemporary Culture (New York: State University of New York Press, 2005, $22.95). Pp. 180. ISBN 0 7914 6426 1.

The body—whether living, dying, autopsied, objectified or subjectified—has fascinated for centuries. Michel Foucault’s work on the body and medicine in The Birth of the Clinic (1963), Jonathan Sawday’s examination of the Renaissance body in The Body Emblazoned (1995), the essays in Donn Welton’s two-volume Body and Flesh (1998) and Steven Shaviro’s illuminating readings of bodies in film in The Cinematic Body (1993) are only a few examples of the array of work that has been undertaken on this subject.

Elizabeth Klaver contributes to this debate in many ways, first and foremost by offering new ways of reading contemporary culture’s relationship with the dead body. Talking of the Y-shaped incision that a pathologist performs on the cadaver to open the abdomen and chest (an act that she and a graduate student saw with their own eyes in an autopsy room in 2001), Klaver reflects on the meaning of tracing the shape of Y on a body, how it “etches the very point of the autopsy on the outer surface, enculturating the body as text” and how it “opens the book, authorizing the readability of an interior structure.”

This book indeed considers many sites of autopsy in novels, painting, theatre, film and television, inclusing Samuel Beckett’s Play, Patricia Cornwell’s novels and the O. J. Simpson trial. It explores autopsy as performance—as an action as well as an act for an audience. Apart from this theatrical aspect, the book also examines autopsy’s relation to the social. The use of the autopsy of John F. Kennedy’s body shortly after his assassination is appropriate, allowing Klaver to look into unorthodox sources such as the JFK autopsy diagram in the US National Archives and Records Administration, as well as fictional accounts of the autopsy such as Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK.

Klaver uses the idea of autopsy to explore our relationship with the body as a cultural sign, as a type of speech act, as myth and construct, as a philosophical problem, as a kind of subjectified material object and most importantly as one of the most contested sites of popular imagination. This book is an invaluable contribution to this still expanding field.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Hee. I missed that when I was reading my copy (yes, being an AmCan grad I still get the journal on subs as part of my BAAS membership). Ah, academia: such effort to produce the ludicrous.

It's not to disrespect the labour of scholarship, but who needs to know this? Its good, I guess, that it gets done - circuses and bread - but it's not exactly much to the sum of knowledge?

I might just read it though, bit of pop culture hobbeldegook.

cakes said...

Oliver Stone's "JFK" is 'fictional' - why didn't anyone tell me?

John said...

You're probably confusing it with the Warren Commission report.