The Wound and the First World War: `Cartesian' Surgeries to Embodied Being in Psychoanalysis, Electrification and Skin Grafting

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My research considers the crisis of technological modernity upon classical forms of subjectivity through the trauma of World War I. With reference to works by the artist Henry Tonks and photographs of surgical procedure, the paper highlights the fundamental principles upon which medical science discourse has traditionally sought to treat the subject: through the Cartesian mind–body duality, treating the ‘wounds’ of the mind and the body as separate entities. More specifically, it examines the new crisis in embodied being that occurred as a result of the First World War. The state’s treatment of the traumatized soldier attempted to recoup him through, what came to be known as the ‘contact barrier’. The nature of the wound, and the restoration of mental and bodily ‘contact barriers’, is in constant negotiation as the technologies of the state attempt to re-engineer the subject to perform the will of the state. Psychoanalysis, plastic surgery and electrification are interventions that are seen as having radical effects, although fundamentally conservative, in their attempt to recoup the mind–body by restoring the barrier between self and ‘other’. Tonks’ drawings reveal a tension between his objective anatomical education and the subjective trauma of the wound.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-61
JournalFashion Theory - Journal of Dress Body and Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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