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
Jevremović, Petar
Rudolf Kučera
Banta, Joshua Alexander
Wentzell, Emily A.
Weindling, Paul J.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Perspectives on Science
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of Psychiatry
Historia Mathematica
Open Book Publishers
Yale University Press
Duke University Press
Christoph Links Verlag
Central European University Press
Berghahn Books
Physical anthropology
Human body
Science and race
Science and politics
Hlavatý, Václav
Haddon, Alfred Cort
Zuckerman, Solly
Spencer, Baldwin
Regnault, Félix Louis
Morton, Samuel George
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
Czech Republic

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