University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Corporeal Epistemologies: Knowing and Body Across the Disciplines

Spring 2010
Instructors:  Alan Love (Philosophy) and David Valentine (Anthropology)
Schedule: Weekly for the first two sessions, biweekly thereafter
Day/Time: Tuesdays 2:30-5:00pm, starting January 19, biweekly from January 26 on
Location: 235 Nolte Center
Composition: Faculty and graduate students

Course Description:

Over the past few decades there has been an explosion of interest in the relationships between body and knowing, not least of which are the diverse layers of meaning associated with the terms ‘body’ and ‘knowing’. In this bi-weekly seminar we will investigate the body as both (and frequently, simultaneously) a subject and object of knowledge from a range of disciplinary vantage points through the medium of (relatively) recent book-length treatments. Working from different disciplinary perspectives (philosophy of science and anthropological linguistics), the instructors aim to facilitate conversations across multiple disciplines by reading broadly through the trope of “body and knowing,” including (but not limited to) recent philosophical analyses of perception, anthropological studies of medical practice, and cognitive science investigations of embodiment.

We begin the seminar with Descartes, the putative source of the modern separation of body and knowing, and then move into a variety of work involving intersecting (and often recursive) questions about action, emotions, perception, representation, cognition, understanding, robotics, and death that have informed philosophical, scientific, artistic, and literary production during the modern era. Some of the questions we hope to wrestle with are: How does the body operate simultaneously as a metaphor and a literal organism? Concomitantly, how does the simultaneity of embodied experience and its narration through language challenge a distinction between metaphor and literality? What kinds of knowledges are enabled through bodies and how does the evidence of embodiment and embodied states produce specific kinds of knowledges? How does re-centering “the body” in “knowledge” reshape what each of these concepts can mean? What are the physical limits of the human body and how do those limits shape human capacities for knowing? How have bodies—through those characteristics named as sex, race, ethnicity—been authorized or deauthorized as sources and/or consumers of knowledge? What do cross-cultural and historical accounts of the relationship between bodies and knowing contribute to contemporary thinking about the nature of the body? And how do both fantasies and plans for AI and human consciousness in machines rest on assumptions about knowing as inherently separate from the human body? Because our aim is to digest recent scholarship across disciplinary perspectives, participants will assist in finalizing the seminar readings at the first meeting.

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