Much has been made of the importance of the body as a site of social, cultural, and economic forces. From books like Judy Norsigian’s Our Bodies, Ourselves and Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body, to protests against ableism, gender discrimination, the curtailing of reproductive rights, and the maiming or destruction of black and brown bodies by law enforcement and economic exploitation, the body seems more on display than ever.
Yet, it can be easy to get caught up in the bigger picture and lose sight of the small oddities and minutiae that are unique and particular to each individual body. The placement of a mole, the ability to roll one’s tongue, how one appendage seems just a little longer than the other: these are the daily, personal realities that constitute our bodies.
Such focus is at the center of Anne Elizabeth Moore’s newest book Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes. Covering a range of topics, Moore’s collection seems to begin with the presence of the body in a larger political and economic sense. She embeds herself alongside Cambodian garment makers and relates the numerous risks this overwhelming female occupation faces to their bodies. However, Moore soon turns to her own body and dwells on a lingering condition that prevents her wounds from fully healing:
“They say it takes a body seven years to fully regenerate, seven years for a human to grow itself an entirely new form. Seven years to replenish a head of hair, grow near skin, and replace the cells of all organs. But that process had stopped for me, sometime over the last year. I made a frequent joke of it, because how could I not. But I really did wonder: how long did I have left?”
This bodily peculiarity is particular to Moore but the larger spirit of her rumination is a sort of thought everyone has likely had at least once. I remember the first time I became wholly aware of my bodily mortality. One evening I sat watching Night of the Living Dead on cable when I was in high school (not the first time I had seen the film) and became almost violently ill, sweating profusely, when it dawned on me that we were simply meat. What are zombies if not the ultimate symbol of the body’s eventual betrayal?
Moore explores the body and gives credence to the subtitle. She ranges across illness and disease and how the body can often stab us in the back. Though many external forces work on our bodies it is our internal machinery that can be more infernal. Her writing is clear and crisp and she has a sense of humor that’s so deeply embedded in her prose that often you don’t laugh at the punchline until it has come and gone. She excels at the long form of joke telling where the laughs don’t readily come but stick with you long after.
Where I enjoyed Moore’s work the best is at the juncture of body horror, a subtype of horror largely dominated by men. Body horror, in a reductive sense, is simply being afraid of what’s happening under the skin. This is a style that’s largely presented in film: think David Cronenberg or the B-movies of Frank Henelotter and Lloyd Kaufman, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, or the Z-level exploitation of Tom Six’s Human Centipede, but also shows up in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West-Reanimator.”
Think of the iconic scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien. A character has been impregnated by an alien entity and eventually gives birth, with all the accompanying blood and juices birth produces. The scene is horrific and is a clear analogy to the pains and danger of childbirth but subjected on a man. This, like much body horror, is something crafted by a male and inflicted upon a male, though it clearly maps the pains of the feminine on the masculine, hence making it something abhorrent. In one entry, Moore goes into detail about films depicting vagina dentata, the notion of a fanged vagina that devours not just men but all meat. The key aspect about these various films that largely fly under the radar is the female point of view, something Moore emphasizes in her essays. It puts a much needed spin that body horror is something not specific to one sex or one gender.
We all inhabit meat.
Moore’s collection is a fine example of writing about the body that takes larger issues of cultural, power, and economic issues and embodies them in the very vehicle we use to make it through the world.
Anne Elizabeth Moore will be appearing:
Saturday, April 29, 4 pm
Independent Bookstore Day Reading at Women and Children First
– moderated by Zoe Zolbrod, additional readers and FB event coming soon
Monday, May 1, 7 pm
Chicago release party at The Whistler
2421 N Milwaukee
Tuesday, May 2, 7:30 pm
Tuesday Funk at Hopleaf Bar
5148 N Clark
– with Mary Anne Mohanraj, Mikki Kendall, Mare Swallow, and Alicia Swiz