Article ID: CBB000954231

Plastic Body, Permanent Body: Czech Representations of Corporeality in the Early Twentieth Century (2009)


In the early twentieth century, the body was seen as both an ontogenetic and a phylogenetic entity. In the former case, its individual development, it was manifestly changeable, developing from embryo to maturity and thence to a state of decay. But in the latter case, concerning its development as a species, the question was an open one. Was its phylogenetic nature a stationary snapshot of the slow process of evolution, or was this too mutable? Historians have emphasised that the question of acquired inheritance remained open into the twentieth century; this paper explores how various constructions of the individual as a phylogenetic episode---a stage in the race's evolution---related to representations of the body in the same period. A discussion of the work of the brothers Josef and Karel Capek offers a contextualised answer to the question of bodily representation. Karel Capek (1890--1938) explored the nature of the `average man' through two different organisms, the robot and the amphibian, epitomes respectively of corporeal permanence and plasticity. Josef Capek (1887--1945), along with other members of the Group of Plastic Artists, explored visual representations of the body that challenged cubist Bergsonian norms. In so doing, he affirmed what his brother also held: that despite the constrictions imposed by the oppressive political conditions in which the Czechs found themselves, the individual body was a fragile but fluid entity, capable of effecting change upon the future evolution of humankind.

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Authors & Contributors
Turda, Marius
Gundling, Tom
Dalbello, Marija
Burt, Jonathan
Weindling, Paul J.
Tilley, Helen
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Book History
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Science in Context
Bulletin of Latin American Research
Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism
Yale University Press
Central European University Press
Christoph Links Verlag
Duke University Press
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of Minnesota
Physical anthropology
Science and race
Human body
Human evolution
Zuckerman, Solly
Rutot, Aimé
Fraipont, Julien
Alter, Georg
Shapiro, Harry Lionel
Hlavatý, Václav
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
Czech Republic
United States
Great Britain

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