The Politics of the Grotesque Body:The Body as a Site of Subversion and Resistance in Biblical Discourse

“A “grotesque” reading of biblical texts opens up a new constructive discourse on self and other and puts forward a framework of “otherness” that challenges religious and social “othering” and gives voice to the bodies and communities of different and mixed categories. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Ji Min Bang Brandeis University Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

The Hebrew Bible is replete with the imageries of grotesque bodies. In the book of Ezekiel, for example, not only are human bodies described as pierced, penetrated, and disfigured, but divine bodies are also presented as some kind of discordant assemblage of parts of different species. As a mode of discourse, the grotesque is also found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, particularly the book of Daniel where the body of King Nebuchadnezzar is depicted in zoomorphic terms. Despite a growing number of studies on the interdisciplinary construction of the concepts of bodies in the Bible, the classical and subversive ideological properties of the body and their politicized usage have remained unexplored. In my dissertation project, I will employ the concept of the grotesque, most fully defended by Mikhail Bakhtin and others, as a heuristic lens to examine the biblical texts where grotesque bodies not only evoke a sense of dismay and disgust in the targeted audience, but also critique social realities, subvert power relationships, and create a new world. In my dissertation, I will argue that biblical authors use grotesque representations of the body, constructed in the context of their ideologies and interactions with the wider ancient Near Eastern visual and literary culture, to critique the preexisting power structures of their times (e.g., priesthood and cult in the old temple for Ezekiel, the hegemony of Babylon for Daniel) and to deconstruct their social realities for the negotiation of power. I will also argue that their politicized usage of the body constitutes a kind of body politics that recasts the grotesque attributes of the body as sites of subversion and resistance. The present study hopefully contributes to the enhancement of the religious “literacy” of faith communities by providing a new conceptual framework of “otherness” that challenges religious “othering” and allows them to rethink the bodies and communities of different and mixed categories.