THE BODY READER: Social Aspects of the Human Body by Ted--Ed. Polhemus

THE BODY READER: Social Aspects of the Human Body

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Do our genes determine our gestures? Is there a universal code governing emotional expression, body language, adornment? Or are we creatures of culture, learning the language of the body as we learn our native tongue? Ever since Darwin (and before) thinkers have debated these issues and opposing camps of biological versus cultural determinism have arisen. The Body Reader is a long overdue anthology of historic and contemporary thoughts on these subjects covering such diverse topics as body image, the pre-eminence of the right hand, tattoos, the naked versus the nude, garment ""systems,"" ""kinesics,"" ""proxemics."" The reader may well be overwhelmed at the various ways the editor has carved the subject into ""physio-psycho-sociological"" categories. Here the attempt to draw precise distinctions among the various schools of social science tends to confound--a problem Polhemus acknowledges in his helpful but sometimes excessive introductions. General readers will also struggle with the language/style/content of some of the papers relating body language to linguistics and semiotics. On the other hand, there are fascinating ethnographic and cross-cultural studies of the Nuer, a Nilotic tribe of the Sudan, of Eastern European Jews compared to Italians, of attempts to clothe the Masai, of the meaning of hair in the Bible, and in the final essay--a spine-chilling account of sado-masochism in body ritual among the Nacirema. The authors are a constellation of the famous--Darwin, Mead, Kluckhohn, Kroeber, Birdwhistell, Barthes. A stimulating, challenging col--lection which leaves the reader free to make up his/her own mind.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1977
Publisher: Pantheon