Symbolic Bodies

In Philosophy of Care Boris Groys explains in the present we have a "symbolic body" that is administered by large bureaucracies, the most powerful of which is the state.

Indeed, protection of our living bodies is mediated by our symbolic bodies. Thus, when we go to a physician, we have to present a passport or other identity papers. These papers describe our bodies and their history: male or female, place and date of birth, colour of hair and eyes, biometric photographs. Beyond that we must indicate our postal address, phone number and email address. We must also present our health insurance card or arrange to pay privately. That presupposes that we can prove that we have a bank account, a profession and workplace, or a pension or some other relevant social benefits. Not accidentally, when we go to see a physician, they start by asking us to fill out a huge mass of different documents, including a history of our previous illnesses, and sign our consent to eventual disclosure of our private data and waivers concerning all the consequences of our treatment. The doctor examines all this documentation before examining our bodies. In many cases, physicians do not examine our physical bodies at all – the examination of documentation seems to be sufficient. That demonstrates that the care of our physical bodies and their health is integrated into a much bigger system of surveillance and care that controls our symbolic bodies. And one suspects that this system is less interested in our individual health and survival than in its own smooth functioning.

Additionally, this is the best description of the symbolic body I've ever read. (It really helps to suss out the difference between the imaginary body and the real body in Lacanian theory.

Subscribe to [S][J][P]

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.