Andrea Bachner

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20102011 Forum on Virtuality

Andrea Bachner

Comparative Literature

Ph.D., Harvard University

Cut Aesthetics: The Transcultural Prehistories of Virtual Corporeality

Cut Aesthetics understands itself as a pre/history of virtuality by investigating how the aesthetic and theoretical imaginaries of inscription, from the end of the 19th century to today, reproduce materiality as virtual. Inscription—the scene in which a material “body” is marked into signification—draws distinctions (between materiality and signification, between cultures, between temporalities) by availing itself of an archive of premodern and/or culturally different writing techniques (tattooing, scarification, stone and bone inscriptions). As such it subscribes to a translational (i.e. transcultural as well as transmedial) logic of the virtual: In the act of “translating” a material body into signification, the figure of inscription bars access to anything before its mark. By the same token, the supposedly primal scene of first inscription is unceasingly traduced into a series of copies.

This book traces a genealogy of inscription and its afterlife in theoretical discourses, such as media studies, theories of cultural difference, performance studies and queer theory, as well as poststructuralist ethics. It reads aesthetic expressions across different cultures as supplements and counterpoints to theory: from Latin American post-dictatorship art to the literature of the Malaysian-Chinese diaspora, from the figure of circumcision to reflections on the virtual in American popular film, from the global imaginary of homosexuality to thoughts of corporeality and mediality in contemporary German culture. Ultimately, by rereading the intersection of mediality and corporeality through the figure of inscription, it attempts to formulate an ethics of virtuality, a responsible way of scripting and decrypting materiality, mediality, and difference.