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In a striking letter of October 18, 1932, the twenty-six-year-old Samuel Beckett, highly uncertain about his poetry, wrote to his friend, the poet and critic Thomas McGreevy: “I’m in mourning for the integrity of a pendu’s emission of semen, what I find in Homer & Dante & Racine & sometimes Rimbaud, the integrity of the eyelids coming down before the brain knows of grit in the wind.”. In the letter, Beckett draws a distinction between conscious, agential events (the brain knowing of grit in the wind) and reflex actions – the emission of semen in a hanged man [pendu], and the eyelids coming down without the engagement of the conscious mind.
This Companion offers the first systematic analysis of the representation of the body in literature. It historicizes embodiment by charting our evolving understanding of the body from the Middle Ages to the present day, and addresses such questions as sensory perception, technology, language and affect; maternal bodies, disability and the representation of ageing; eating and obesity, pain, death and dying; and racialized and posthuman bodies. This Companion also considers science and its construction of the body through disciplines such as obstetrics, sexology and neurology. Leading scholars in the field devote special attention to poetry, prose, drama and film, and chart a variety of theoretical understandings of the body.