You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything

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How does commentary affect the world around us?

The Body As Commentary

I’m updating this thing sporadically only, because (in tribute to the talking heads) I’d rather only post when I have something to say. Anyway, I’m currently watching the Werner Herzog documentary Wheel of Time, which tracks Buddhist pilgrims migrating to Bodhgaya, where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Some of the pilgrims come thousands of miles in journeys that last several years, in part because they perform prostrations every step or two. In one scene in the film, pilgrims prostrating themselves along a mountain path are surpassed by people who are simply walking.

The contrast between the two figures’ progression made for a clear demonstration of the body as commentary. In each case, the individuals being filmed are traveling toward a particular destination. By enacting that travel in different forms, however, each individual makes a statement–comments on–the purpose of his or her journey. For some devotees, it’s not enough just to travel to Bodhgaya; the journey itself must take on a special form, realized through physical action that provides a comment on the actor’s religious dedication.

It’s hard to translate the body to the online realm: after all, one of the most egalitarian features of the internet, in a way, is that it disembodies all of us. At the same time, however, this can send us in search of an embodiment for the people or ideas we meet online, envisioning how people enact their beliefs in a physical realm. And at another extreme, many people make their physical selves highly visible online, providing extensive photo albums of their activities or fashions, offering additional information about what matters to the individual in question.

Our selves, then, comment on our priorities to some extent: the fashionista’s polished presentation, the runner’s lean arms, the bodybuilder’s impossibly thick thighs. And then, the rest of us, perhaps letting the body make another comment: that we are concerned, primarily, with something other than how we appear, but leaving that “something” undefined.

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Filed under: Commentary

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