In the name of the body: The body in discourse from Plato to Barthes and beyond

Angelo M Liberta, Fordham University


This dissertation began as an attempt to understand why literary theory came increasingly to be waged in the name of the body. In order to investigate this turn in literary discourse, I sought to inquire whether the body had shaped other discourses in similar ways, hoping that I could discover common patterns of development. My examination came to include readings of Plato's Phaedrus, William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Sigmund Freud's Dora (1905), Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Bronislaw Malinowski's Argonants of the Western Pacific (1922) and A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, and finally Roland Barthes's Roland Barthes (1975). My first essay on the Phaedrus begins with Socrates's observation that "every speech should be put together like a living creature, as it were with a body of its own" in order to argue that philosophical discourse must speak in the name of the body. I next turn to a consideration of political discourse in Measure for Measure. Taking as my point of departure Foucault's observation that "power has its source not in persons but in concerted distributions of bodies," I argue that the birth of political discourse in the play is based upon the differing ways bodies are used by both the Duke and Angelo. My reading of Freud focuses on how the body is used in psychoanalytic discourse to leave unexplained and unexamined aspects of his thinking, while allowing for ideas to be borrowed from other texts and disciplines. I next turn to a reading of anthropological discourse, where I argue that the body narrates for anthropology the problem of crossing cultural borders. Finally, I address Barthes's use of the body as a "mana" word, suggesting that the body is both what sets his discourse adrift and what allows the fragments of his discourse to cling together. I then proceed to a brief reading of Jacques Derrida's "Circumfession" to suggest that perhaps the body becomes an "economical machine" for repetition. Therefore, contemporary literary theory by turning to the body fails to acknowledge that it can only return to a discourse that has always already been repeated.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Literature|Classical studies|British and Irish literature|Theater|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Liberta, Angelo M, "In the name of the body: The body in discourse from Plato to Barthes and beyond" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9702146.