The properties we might hope to find in any ‘travelling companion for life’ may be echoed in Bruno Latour’s concept of the “immutable mobile”: those objects or phenomena capable of travelling distances, across space and time, all the while retaining a fixed form and fixed effect, action or interpretable meaning. Money, maps, newspapers, books – these are all immutable mobiles. According to Latour, the fixity of these objects’ physical forms is central to their utility and function, preserving information for renewed visitation by a range of actors – in other words, “to act at a distance”. Presumably, any object expected to meaningfully accompany us through or for life ought to be similarly mobile and similarly immutable. Yet, the body is a highly mutable object – capable of changing markedly, sometimes unpredictably, across the life-course, in ways that potentiate change beyond our bodily boundaries.
The body’s effect on or in our lives is often muted by the prevailing Cartesian dualism that would siphon off our somatic capacities from those that govern our psychic, social, intellectual, or creative ones. In the dominant culture, where the body works as it “ought to”, it hums quietly, out of mind. Those of us, however, who have experienced any period of debility or disability – within a culture that would invisibilise the function of the normative body – know all too well how apparent the body and its effects can make themselves. Equally, those of us who have experienced any period of mental illness have felt all too well the limitations of the Cartesian epistemology; the knotted interrelations of psychic and somatic encapsulated by a more holistic notion of bodymind.
I have chosen the body as my (or, perhaps, our) ‘travelling companion for life’ to foreground what is so often occluded in our biographies (except for those who live with disability, those who labour with their bodies, and specific instances of gendered bodily labour). Through my body’s own cycles of wellness and illness, I have been compelled to adapt and take up non-normative rhythms of work and rest that, in turn, have shed light on the contours of the necessary and contingent in academic life. Most recently, via the repetitive ritual of exercise, I have found the body and its capacity for slow change to be a site of potent metaphor for the possibility of joy within sometimes taxing working life – what Foucauldian scholar of the body, Cressida Heyes, has referred to as ‘askesis’ or “the possibility of openness to self-creation…[and] practising ourselves into something new”.
Benjamin Weil is a PhD candidate researching blood donor activism surrounding the exclusion of men who have sex with men (MSM) from blood donation at University College London. Interests include; Science and Technology Studies; Queer Studies; Queer Science and Technology Studies; HIV/AIDS; Risk; Sex and Porn Studies; Citizenship Studies; Affect/Emotions; Social Movements.