Territoriality and the Body


“We are each, inside of us, a country with our own mountains and plateaus and chasms and storms and seas of tranquility but like a Third World country we remain largely unexplored, and sometimes even impoverished, for want of a little investment.” –Dorothy Gilman, A New Kind of Country

A recent writer I was working with, an architectural graduate student, is writing about territory from an architectural perspective. The theoretical background he is using assumes the physical territory of land and buildings as a manifestation of power. His proposal did not include the idea of zoning or explicitly address how policy-making affects the territory and the territorialized, but it got me thinking about how our bodies are also countries: ideally, in a culture of consent, sovereign ones able to make and enforce our own boundaries without the permission, intervention or invasion of others.

Having studied a small variety of martial arts for over half my life, this kind of bodily sovereignty is something I have long identified as a positive value. Our culture is run by institutions, media, subculture and individuals (all of which are made up of people, so I shall not say “that”) WHO are also involved, whether we like it or not, with institutional level oppressions such as sexism, racism, homophobia, classism and others; because of this the ideal culture of consent is a long way off. I believe it is important to be able to protect myself from harm; having said this, I will also say that I would never carry a gun. As Sir Terry Pratchett would say, “If you want war, prepare for war.”

I have been thinking of this lately with all of the disastrously political discourse going on in this country; the all-out war on women the Republicans are waging; Evil T-Man (He Who Shall Not Be Named) fostering bigotry, racism and Islamaphobia; and some of the ridiculous anti-trans bills being considered in legislatures across the country (including the one in South Dakota that Gov. Daugaard just vetoed, thank God).

Why? Why is it so very hard to accept people who do not look Exactly Like Us? Why are the big boys so terribly afraid? Why don’t they see just how stupid it makes them look?

Meanwhile, why aren’t they ranting and raving about the things that really are a threat to the American Way of Life?

  • the lack of a living wage for millions of Americans earning by the hour
  • climate change that is going to burn our forests and flood our cities
  • the American terrorists who committed a mass shooting pretty much every day last year (and who look Extraordinarily Like The Men running the Republican party)
  • the amount of student loan debt that makes college grads indentured servants until it’s time for their children to go to college
  • our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, railroads, water pipelines, etc.

And the place where social/geographic territory intersects with the body? If we don’t clean up the land, the folks who live on it can’t make the kind of contributions their God-given talents and hard work should enable them to make.

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