Reggio’s corpus

In corpus, Jean-Luc Nancy articulates a complex, post-phenomenological account of the body. For my present purposes, it will suffice to say that Nancy’s corpus (not the body, corps) is not “the” body belonging to a particular individual or subject— nor for that matter, the order of signification. It resists such meaning in order to make sense, sense that does not quite make sense.

In one passage, Nancy describes corpus as a collection of singularities: many features that do not add up into a meaningful whole.

An other is a body because only a body is an other. It has this nose, that skin color, this texture, that size, this fold, tightness. It weighs this weight. It smells that way. Why is this body thus, and not otherwise? Because it is other— and alterity consists in being-thus [l’être-tel], in being the thus and thus and thus of this body, exposed all the way into its extremities. The inexhaustible corpus of a body’s features. (31)

I think it’s the first definition of corpus as such in corpus. He continues

The other will have come first, from the farthest, most displaced place, a corpus of features finally identified with “him”— yet remaining in itself unidentifiable: because these features are all foreign to each other, this arm and that chin, those hair and these hips, and this voice, and this……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

What an ellipsis! (There may be much to think of there…)

This arm, that chin, those hair, and these hips: we witness these singular features in Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors, a film of faces.


Nancy’s corpus is probably not a perfect match for Visitors. Reggio uses a score by Philip Glass that keeps the film squarely located in a the language of late modernist lyricism, at once both humanist and theological. I haven’t reviewed the film closely in some time, but it definitely bears traces of a nostalgic yearning for face-to-face contact in a pre-modern world free from alienation– certainly, that’s in keeping with his previous films.



The world stripped of people.

And yet… there is also something potentially interesting about the indefinite, ongoing taxonomy of faces presented in Visitors. These are not faces to be known, but merely visitors, passing by among others in an infinite succession of features, which Nancy describes as “all coming together [faisant corps] and being dislocated at the same time [ensemble]” (31)

There are other such facial projects– taxonomies, not portraits. (Nancy also has interesting things to say about portraits in The Ground of the Image.) August Sander, perhaps:




There is a lot to say here: features, clothes, light, stone, the many stones that bind and separate this body from other bodies, whose accumulation constitutes a corpus.

Would the Bernd and Hila Becher (whose work has never appealed to me) then be working on, towards the taxonomy of non-human features?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s