Imag(in)ing anatomy : dissecting difference through the art of surgery.
This thesis locates contemporary conceptualisations of gendered embodiment as a
particular effect of the historical projects of anatomy and surgery as they emerged in
eighteenth century Europe. Dissection, as a practice of surgery, sought to define
knowledge of the body through the isolation of its structures and parts. Disembodied
matter was articulated as evidence of embodied knowledge - knowledge concerning
notions of sexual and racial difference, inscribed through a surgical narrative. The
operations of the surgical knife in the dissection and isolation of matter were thus
implicated in the construction of anatomical knowledge through notions of cultural
Yet surgeons/anatomists were reliant upon artistic processes of representation in order to
disseminate and make intelligible knowledge of anatomy. The language of surgery as a
'scientific' discourse of the body drew heavily upon the representational language of art
during this period. The Enlightenment surgeon was presented primarily as an artist,
represented through a gentlemanly discourse of the liberal arts and social
progressiveness. Within the context of a scientific discourse of anatomy, the methods of
surgery were likened to the creative processes of painting and poetry. The anatomical
body, as the subject of the surgeon's inquiry, can therefore be interpreted as a specific
medium of representation, interpreted according to aesthetic ideals.
This thesis argues that the contemporary articulation of sexual and racial difference is one
effect of the surgical isolation of anatomical matter. The surgical view of the body as an
array of detachable and definable parts involved an imaging of these forms.
Contemporary investment in narratives of gendered and raced embodiment can be
understood as effects of the historical links between the theories and practices of the
visual arts on the one hand, and an Enlightenment discourse of surgery on the other. This
dissertation aims to assist a rethinking of that investment by revealing some of the
historical and artistic processes by which the material body came to occupy its position as
a privileged signifier of difference.