Anatomy of Spectatorship: Tracing the Body in Body Worlds, the Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies

Rebecca Scott (beckyjscott@gmail.com)
School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
June, 2008
 

Abstract

Body Worlds is an exhibition of real, recently-deceased, dissected and posed human bodies. Far from being just educational, as Body Worlds purports them to be, I argue that the bodies are stripped of social and affective meaning in favor of scientific understandings. I conduct a genealogy of the exhibition, outlining its preferred reading and subject. I then explicate the process of spectatorship as a specific kind of seeing called the autopsic gaze. The preferred reading and subject and the autopsic gaze constitute a process of control of the body and its meaning. I refer to this as closure. Seeking to problematize closure, I develop a counter reading strategy, called critical spectatorship, which uncovers lost elements of the exhibition, called traces, that defy the preferred reading. I deploy critical spectatorship to construct a counter reading through the lens of affect. I also comment on different theoretical approaches to the body.
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