BID Lecture 1: The Transgressive Body

Delivery Date: 03 February 2020 | lectures: Dr. Pavlos

Summary | What is transgression and what is its relation to convention, perversion, emancipation and the Symbolic Order? How is the Transgressive body displayed in mass media and how can we rethink of dominance and spectatorship? How is transgression linked to sexuality and religion and what is the political cost and fear of transgression?

Introductory Reading:

  • Jenks, C. (2003). Transgression. London & NewYork: Routledge. Pp. 15-48, and 82-110

Compulsory Reading

  • Bataille, G. (1986). Erotism: Death & sensuality. San Francisco: C ity Lights Books. Pp. 40-48, and 63-70

Recommended Reading

  • Sargeant, J., & Sargeant, J. (2008). Deathtripping: The extreme underground. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Soft Skull Press. Pp. 8-13, and 26-46
  • Richardson, N. (2010). Transgressive bodies: Representations in film and popular culture. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Pub. Pp. 1-22
  • Sargisson, L. (2000). Utopian bodies and the politics of transgression. London: Routledge. Pp. 1-5
  • Foucault, M., In Bouchard, D. F., & Simon, S. (1977). Language, counter-memory, practice: Selected essays and interviews. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. Pp. 29-52
  • Bataille, G., Hurley, R., Bataille, G., Bataille, G., & Bataille, G. (1988). The accursed share: An essay on general economy. New York: Zone Books. Pp. 89-110
  • Foster, H. (1996). The return of the real: The avant-garde at the end of the century. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Pp. 127-170
  • Spence, J. (1995). Cultural sniping: The art of transgression. London: Routledge
  • Batra, N., & Messier, V. P. (2005). Transgression and taboo: Critical essays. Mayaguez, P.R: College English Association, Caribbean Chapter Publications


Bring artistic examples that speak of the matters we are talking about throughout the week.

Transgression – originally connected to religion (trespassing limits)

Photo of Jesus (remade by Sandro Miller with John Malkovich)

4 meanings:

  1. denying of doctrinal truths
  2. rule breaking (violation of principles, conventions, etc)
  3. giving of serious offence

Carolle Schneeman – Interior Scroll (nakedness, ofending the art critic, etc) – she is the autor of the piece and, becomes therefore the agent of how she wants to be portrayed as a naked woman | the idea of having a “healthy body” which is very connected to hygene, scopophilia, “medicalized body”

Ex. in painting: Kandinsky transgressed the forms and themes of the canon of painting of his time

Every artists that breaks with the norm is transgressive

Bataille – “The Sacred Conspiracy”

Marcel Duchamp “License to Live”text

Bataille: we need labor to differentiate ourselves from other animals. Everything that disturbs, distabilizes labor becomes taboo

Paradox: work liberates us but now and then we have to liberate ourselves from it by trangressing taboos

taboo: something not to be talked about. It could be understood as a “marked” area, according to Peggy Phelan. Therefore, if you go there, you loose power. The “unmarked” situation holds more power.

Laws may have been a taboo previously (ex. incest). It is written by people in power

In art work: how taboos influence the fictions

dance: nudity/nakedness, duration. dance/non-dance, health related (cutting, body image, falling)

taboos – connected to cultural appropriation, to political correctedness

With the transformation of societies and changes of hierarchies, new taboos are created in language

Assujetissement – we become conscious of ourselves as subject through work; our consciousness of ourselves as subjects impels us to resist our subordination to work | transgression = desire for both sovereignty of subjectivity + extinction of subjectivity

Durkheim – 2 realms: profane and sacred

In the sacred realm taboos do not exist – God can bring damage and destruction. Certain positions of power are in a “sacred place”: eg. the president of a country when deciding to kill outside the war situation

Art does not have utility from the perspective of production. For Bataille it must exist because we must have an investment of energy with the useless. The engagement with something not “useful”from the perspective of production / consumption allows us to create our subjectivity.

5 defences (art)

  • aesthetic alibi
  • right of speech
  • estrangement defence
  • canonical defence
  • formalist defence

estrangement defence (Bataille) – expose people to the unknown, the unfamiliar

Transgression for the sake of transgression is not transgression, is work (Pavlos)

In order to analyse transgressional art, the context, the circumstances are to be considered (even more than usual)

reverse etnography – Marina A. does it by objectifying herself for 6 hours whilst participants do everything they want to her body in a gallery.

Documentary: “I only exist if you don’t” – Ann Liv Young

Can I discover the taboos of my own work?

Rebecca Schneider – “The explicit Bodies in Performance”

About the supposed saturation of transgressive art forms in the 70’s:

  • have the issues disppeared?
  • is the form really saturated?

How can I work with my taboo of “not wanting to deliver a message”, “not wanting to push an idea/ opinion into the spectator”

“Politics of Care”

Bring the works: Pornoklasta and Monstra, Anie Sprinkle