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Contending with Affective Forces of Trauma and Body Topologies in Anorexia and Bulimia

Authors: Erin Clancy*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Social Theory
Keywords: topology, embodiment, eating disorders, trauma, viscerality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 1:45 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Virtual Track 4
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Critical human geographers have used topological thought to reevaluate the relations of bodies to/in space in non-Euclidean ways. In particular, geographic theorizations of the Möbius strip have undermined the gap between material and psychic space and conceptions of linear temporality. Expanding on this work, this paper theorizes a space of the topological body and attends to its visceralities in instances of those with anorexia and/or bulimia. This formulation of the body-space goes beyond thinking of the skin as a porous interface that complicates the internal-external divide. It enacts the two ‘sides’ of the Möbius’s surface as psychic-material, which are equally vulnerable in encounters to affection, impression, and harm—albeit unevenly. Certainly, the body, however psychically bent, tends to maintain its material contours. Yet, the psychic may also cause shifts in the material and visceral. What of a person who feels their body is disparate from its physicality? What ways of being and strategies for living thus emerge? Based on 19 interviews with women in recovery from eating disorders, this paper explores how these experiences of the body-space can engender alienation and disassociation (‘disembodiment’) or shock and pain (‘hyper-embodiment’). In particular, I delve into how these psychic events are often triggered by various traumas, which can radically alter physical spatialities and temporalities; how they transform, or impair, relations to other bodies and objects. Utilizing topology as such dynamizes the surface(s) of the body, rendering it a portal to fluctuating ontologies that can debilitate and disorient, or, alternately, reorient and galvanize.

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