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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VORSTER, Johannes N. The problem of representationalism and the possibilities of rhetoric(s) of the body for consideration of a healthy community. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.4, pp.601-617. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article is concerned with the manner in which a rhetoric of the body, informed by the notion of representationalism, occupies centre stage in the South African society, allowing a politics of identity and a claim to "rights" to flourish. Subsequent to the era of Apartheid and its legacies of inequalities that have haunted this society and do not appear to have disappeared, the liberal strategies of human rights, identity, representation and equality cannot and should not be rejected but appreciated. However, when these strategies are driven by what can be called a "metaphysical ontology" translated into an essential identity between "thing" and "symbol" the solidified unity thus achieved, and which then pervades these categories, may not only prevent the embrace of difference, but may continue universals, such as the ideal, perfect human being, thereby replicating what in fact should be subverted. The question is whether this ethos is not pervasive of the diverse communities of South Africa, enhanced and cultivated by a governmentality that secures it in policies, in public statements and in the privileging of class. The objective of this article is not to answer this question, but to problematise the notions of representation and identity, as derived from an essentialistic paradigm, by juxtaposing the notion of rhetoric(s) of the body as alternative sets of strategies that could subvert identity politics steering towards polarisation, instead of a healthy differentiation. However, this does not imply rejecting or replacing identity politics. Instead of a rhetoric of the body infused and determined by identitarian categories, a consideration of rhetoric(s) of the body, incorporating discursivity, is submitted. In the first part, the notion of representation is problematised and its problematisation is elaborated and illustrated with reference to intersectionality, a trend that has developed within feminist circles, specifically to address the restrictions of identitarian politics infused by the categorical triad of gender, race and class. Following a proposal, specifically relating to intersectionality, the second part then elaborates on how poststructuralist approaches into discursivity may be deployed in theorising rhetoric(s) of the body. Although studies on the body have proliferated during the last 30 years, the objective here was to focus on the works of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu, not least because of their critique of the omnipotent subject, the mythological power of origins and the epistemic object, but also because of their concern with the interaction between symbolisation and reality within which the body is materialised. I argue that rhetoric(s) of the body allow for a celebration of difference that could treat difference in terms of difference instead of treating difference in terms of identity.

Keywords : Rhetoric of the body; body politics; identity; identity politics; representation; representationalism; essentialism; language and reality; habituated body; materialisation of body; difference; intersectionality.

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