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Beyond the Body Proper includes nine sections conceptually organized around themes such as everyday life, sex and gender, and science. Each section is preceded by interpretive commentary by the volume's editors. Materialist, phenomenological, and feminist perspectives on embodiment appear along with writings on interpretations of pain and the changing meanings of sexual intercourse. Essays on these topics and many others challenge Eurocentric assumptions about the body as they speak to each other and to the most influential contemporary trends in the human sciences.
Labor is the source of all wealth, the economists assert. It is this-next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is also infinitely more than this. It is the primary basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself.
Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch not yet definitely determined, of that period of the earth's history which geologists call the Tertiary period, most likely towards the end of it, a specially highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone-probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Darwin has given us an approximate description of these ancestors of ours. They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.
Almost certainly as an immediate consequence of their mode of life, for in climbing the hands fulfill quite different functions from the feet, these apes when moving on level ground began to drop the habit of using their hands and to adopt a moreand more erect posture in walking. This was the decisive step in the transition from ape to man.
All anthropoid apes of the present day can stand erect and move about on their feet alone, but only in case of need and in a very clumsy way. Their natural gait is in a half-erect posture and includes the use of the hands. The majority rest the knuckles of the fist on the ground and, with legs drawn up, swing the body through their long arms, much as a cripple moves with the aid of crutches. In general, we can to-day still observe among apes all the transition stages from walking on all fours to walking on two legs. But for none of them has the latter method become more than a makeshift.
For erect gait among our hairy ancestors to have become first the rule and in time a necessity pre-supposes that in the meantime the hands became more and more devoted to other functions. Even among the apes there already prevails a certain separation in the employment of the hands and feet. As already mentioned, in climbing the hands are used differently from the feet. The former serve primarily for collecting and holding food, as already occurs in the use of the fore paws among lower mammals. Many monkeys use their hands to build nests for themselves in the trees or even, like the chimpanzee, to construct roofs between the branches for protection against the weather. With their hands they seize hold of clubs to defend themselves against enemies, or bombard the latter with fruits and stones. In captivity, they carry out with their hands a number of simple operations copied from human beings. But it is just here that one sees how great is the gulf between the undeveloped hand of even the most anthropoid of apes and the human hand that has been highly perfected by the labor of hundreds of thousands of years. The number and general arrangement of the bones and muscles are the same in both; but the hand of the lowest savage can perform hundreds of operations that no monkey's hand can imitate. No simian hand has ever fashioned even the crudest stone knife.
At first, therefore, the operations, for which our ancestors gradually learned to adapt their hands during the many thousands of years of transition from ape to man, could only have been very simple. The lowest savages, even those in whom a regression to a more animal-like condition, with a simultaneous physical degeneration, can be assumed to have occurred, are nevertheless far superior to these transitional beings. Before the first flint could be fashioned into a knife by human hands, a period of time must probably have elapsed in comparison with which the historical period known to us appears insignificant. But the decisive step was taken: the hand became free and could henceforth attain ever greater dexterity and skill, and the greater flexibility thus acquired was inherited and increased from generation to generation.
Thus the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor. Only by labor, by adaptation to ever new operations, by inheritance of the resulting special development of muscles, ligaments, and, over longer periods of time, bones as well, and by the ever-renewed employment of these inherited improvements in new, more and more complicated operations, has the human hand attained the high degree of perfection that has enabled it to conjure into being the pictures of Raphael, the statues of Thorwaldsen, the music of Paganini.
But the hand did not exist by itself. It was only one member of an entire, highly complex organism. And what benefited the hand, benefited also the whole body it served; and this in two ways.
In the first place, the body benefited in consequence of the law of correlation of growth, as Darwin called it. According to this law, particular forms of the individual parts of an organic being are always bound up with certain forms of other parts that apparently have no connection with the first. Thus all animals that have red blood cells without a cell nucleus, and in which the neck is connected to the first vertebra by means of a double articulation (condyles), also without exception possess lacteal glands for suckling their young. Similarly cloven hooves in mammals are regularly associated with the possession of a multiple stomach for rumination. Changes in certain forms involve changes in the form of other parts of the body, although we cannot explain this connection. Perfectly white cats with blue eyes are always, or almost always, deaf. The gradual perfecting of the human hand, and the development that keeps pace with it in the adaptation of the feet for erect gait, has undoubtedly also, by virtue of such correlation, reacted on other parts of the organism. However, this action has as yet been much too little investigated for us to be able to do more here than to state the fact in general terms.
Much more important is the direct, demonstrable reaction of the development of the hand on the rest of the organism. As already said, our simian ancestors were gregarious; it is obviously impossible to seek the derivation of man, the most social of all animals, from non-gregarious immediate ancestors. The mastery over nature, which begins with the development of the hand, with labor, widened man's horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown, properties of natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labor necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by multiplying cases of mutual support, joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to one another. The need led to the creation of its organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed by means of gradually increased modulation, and the organs of the mouth gradually learned to pronounce one articulate letter after another....
First comes labor, after it, and then side by side with it, articulate speech-these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man, which for all its similarity to the former is far larger and more perfect. Hand in hand with the development of the brain went the development of its most immediate instruments-the sense organs. Just as the gradual development of speech is inevitably accompanied by a corresponding refinement of the organ of hearing, so the development of the brain as a whole is accompanied by a refinement of all the senses. The eagle sees much farther than man, but the human eye sees considerably more in things than does the eye of the eagle. The dog has a far keener sense of smell than man, but it does not distinguish a hundredth part of the odours that for man are definite features of different things. And the sense of touch, which the ape hardly possesses in its crudest initial form, has been developed side by side with the development of the human hand itself, through the medium of labor.
The reaction on labor and speech of the development of the brain and its attendant senses, of the increasing clarity of consciousness, power of abstraction and of judgment, gave an ever-renewed impulse to the further development of both labor and speech. This further development did not reach its conclusion when man finally became distinct from the monkey, but, on the whole, continued to make powerful progress, varying in degree and direction among different peoples and at different times, and here and there even interrupted by a local or temporary regression. This further development has been strongly urged forward, on the one hand, and has been guided along more definite directions on the other hand, owing to a new element which came into play with the appearance of fully fledged man, viz. society....
By the co-operation of hands, organs of speech, and brain, not only in each individual, but also in society, human beings became capable of executing more and more complicated operations, and of setting themselves, and achieving, higher and higher aims. With each generation, labor itself became different, more perfect, more diversified. Agriculture was added to hunting and cattle-breeding, then spinning, weaving, metal-working, pottery, and navigation. Along with trade and industry, there appeared finally art and science. From tribes there developed nations and states. Law and politics arose, and with them the fantastic reflection of human things in the human mind: religion. In the face of all these creations, which appeared in the first place to be products of the mind, and which seemed to dominate human society, the more modest productions of the working hand retreated into the background, the more so since the mind that plans the labor process already at a very early stage of development of society (e.g., already in the simple family), was able to have the labor that had been planned carried out by other hands than its own. All merit for the swift advance of civilization was ascribed to the mind, to the development and activity of the brain. Men became accustomed to explain their actions from their thoughts, instead of from their needs-(which in any case are reflected and come to consciousness in the mind)-and so there arose in the course of time that idealistic outlook on the world which, especially since the decline of the ancient world, has dominated men's minds. It still rules them to such a degree that even the most materialistic natural scientists of the Darwinian school are still unable to form any clear idea of the origin of man, because under this ideological influence they do not recognize the part that has been played therein by labor.
What resemblance more perfect than that between our two hands! And yet what a striking inequality there is!
To the right hand go honors, flattering designations, prerogatives: it acts, orders, and takes. The left hand, on the contrary, is despised and reduced to the role of a humble auxiliary: by itself it can do nothing: it helps, it supports, it holds.
The right hand is the symbol and model of all aristocracies, the left hand of all plebeians.
What are the titles of nobility of the right hand? And whence comes the servitude of the left?
Every social hierarchy claims to be founded on the nature of things, physei, ou nomo: it thus accords itself eternity, it escapes change and the attacks of innovators. Aristotle justified slavery by the ethnic superiority of the Greeks over barbarians; and today the man who is annoyed by feminist claims alleges that woman is naturally inferior. Similarly, according to common opinion, the preeminence of the right hand results directly from the organism and owes nothing to convention or to men's changing beliefs. But in spite of appearances the testimony of nature is no more clear or decisive when it is a question of ascribing attributes to the two hands, than in the conflict of races or the sexes.
It is not that attempts have been lacking to assign an anatomical cause to right-handedness. Of all the hypotheses advanced only one seems to have stood up to factual test: that which links the preponderance of the right hand to the greater development in man of the left cerebral hemisphere, which as we know, innervates the muscles of the opposite side. Just as the center for articulate speech is found in this part of the brain, so the centers which govern voluntary movements are held to be also mainly there. As Broca says, "We are right-handed because we are left-brained." The prerogative of the right hand would then be founded on the asymmetric structure of the nervous centers, of which the cause, whatever it may be, is evidently organic.
It is not to be doubted that a regular connection exists between the predominance of the right hand and the superior development of the left part of the brain. But of these two phenomena which is the cause and which the effect? What is there to prevent us turning Broca's proposition round and saying, "We are left-brained because we are right-handed?" It is a known fact that the exercise of an organ leads to the greater nourishment and consequent growth of that organ. The greater activity of the right hand, which involves more intensive work for the left nervous centers, has the necessary effect of favoring its development. If we abstract the effects produced by exercise and acquired habits, the physiological superiority of the left hemisphere is reduced to so little that it can at the most determine a slight preference in favor of the right side.
The difficulty that is experienced in assigning a certain and adequate organic cause to the asymmetry of the upper limbs, joined to the fact that the animals most closely related to man are ambidextrous, has led some authors to deny any anatomical basis for the privilege of the right hand. This privilege would not then be inherent in the structure of genus homo but would owe its origin exclusively to conditions external to the organism.
This radical denial is at least bold. The organic cause of right-handedness is dubious and insufficient, and difficult to distinguish from influences which act on the individual from outside and shape him; but this is no reason for dogmatically denying the action of the physical factor. Moreover, in some cases, where external influence and organic tendency are in conflict, it is possible to arm that the unequal skill of the hands is connected with an anatomical cause. In spite of the forcible and sometimes cruel pressure which society exerts from their childhood on people who are left-handed, they retain all their lives an instinctive preference for the use of the left hand. If we are forced to recognize here the presence of a congenital position to asymmetry we must admit that, inversely, for a certain number of people, the preponderant use of the right hand results from a bodily disposition. The most probable view may be expressed, though not very rigorously, in mathematical form; in a hundred individuals there are about two who are naturally left-handed, resistant to any contrary influence; a considerably larger proportion are right-handed by heredity; while between these two extremes oscillate the mass of people, who if left to themselves would be able to use either hand equally, with (in general) a slight preference in favor of the right. There is thus no need to deny the existence of organic tendencies towards asymmetry; but apart from some exceptional cases the vague disposition to right-handedness, which seems to be spread throughout the human species, would not be enough to bring about the absolute preponderance of the right hand if this were not reinforced and fixed by influences extraneous to the organism.
But even if it were established that the right hand surpassed the left, by a gift of nature, in tactile sensibility, strength, and aptitude, there would still remain to be explained why a humanly instituted privilege should be added to this natural superiority, why only the better-endowed hand is exercised and trained. Would not reason advise the attempt to correct by education the weakness of the less favored member? Quite on the contrary, the left hand is repressed and kept inactive, its development methodically thwarted. Dr. Jacobs tells us that in the course of his tours of medical inspection in the Netherlands Indies he often observed that native children had the left arm completely bound; it was to teach them not to use it. We have abolished the material bonds, but that is all. One of the signs which distinguishes a well-brought-up child is that its left hand has become incapable of any independent action.
Excerpted from BEYOND THE BODY PROPER Copyright © 2007 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
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