Issue 7 - Flesh
“Everything we are is at every moment alive in us.”
– Arthur Miller
“In the beginning was the word,” and then, only a little bit later, “the word was made flesh.” The Bible thus tells us that flesh and language are intimately, causally, related: this instance of flesh did not exist until it was spoken into life, transformed from word into material. Though flesh is connected to our concept of life, it does not necessarily equal living: sometimes flesh is just that which surrounds the bones. But flesh is more than simply body; it means something more than what is material about humanity. The word is used to describe family or kin, plumpness in anything, carnal appetites, and substance and reality. Flesh, also defined as “that which is opposed to mind or soul,” is subject to a personal kind of invasion or corruption, and can be a source of shame and contempt. Hamlet speaks of his “sullied flesh” and longs to shed his “mortal coil,” emphasizing his body at the base of an implied hierarchy. Our weaknesses of all kinds, not just physical, are expressed in the idea of flesh as both a barrier and an access point.
I’m interested in the relationship between flesh and word and the way that this relationship is manifested and unified in language, particularly in writing and translation. In the third issue of Her Royal Majesty I talked about the etymology of the word ‘metaphor,’ and I was surprised to discover that ‘translate’ has a similar etymology: “to
bring, to carry over.” Extending the Biblical word-to-flesh metaphor further, it’s possible to see that, in translation, words and flesh are both malleable entities: the word is fleshy, a supple substance of which our realities are comprised.
Virginia Woolf called for the reinvention of language by women and opened the way to new kinds of writing, new forms of “textual pleasure.” An exhibition of exclusively female artwork at the Centre Pompidou in Paris includes a series of letters on the premise that the form of the letter ascribes a specific relationship between people: a writer and a reader, a ‘to’ and a ‘from.’ The uncredited blurb-writer quotes Woolf in the introduction to the section of the exhibit devoted to letters, saying that letters bring with them “a relation to the body, to reading, and to the ‘other’ that is the central concern [of letter-writing].” The introduction goes on to explain that correspondence is, first and foremost, a form of address. I might stretch this to say that all forms of writing – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, play-writing, recipes, etc. – are forms of address, of communicating to an audience, of bringing the word to flesh.
I was talking to a friend of mine about the phrase “more than the sum of its parts.” As a devout atheist, he denied the sentiment behind this statement as it applies to human life: “but each part is important! there is nothing more, and no need for anything else! nothing is greater than the individual!” I agree to some extent – eyes and fingers and lungs are miraculous in themselves, yes – but without the intelligence to process movement, flesh is just flesh, words are rigid and inaccessible; nothing gets translated, “carried over,” or transformed.
I present you with this: a collection of words and images, of flesh and its opposites, and of words
and paint made flesh.
Harriet Alida Lye, Editor