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A Workshop on the Mouth

Virginia Woolf Building, Strand Campus, London

7 Dec

CENTRE FOR HUMANITIES AND HEALTH

In 1930 the heterodox French thinker Georges Bataille wrote an entry to the ‘Critical Dictionary’ of the journal Documents under the title ‘Mouth’. In it he wrote that ‘The mouth is the beginning or, if one prefers, the prow of animals’, but that ‘man does not have a simple architecture like beasts, and it is not even possible to say where he begins’. Noting that ‘among civilized men’ the mouth has lost the prominence it has among animals, Bataille nevertheless points to the way ‘the violent meaning of the mouth is conserved in a latent state’ and that under certain circumstances ‘human life is still bestially concentrated in the mouth: rage makes men grind their teeth, while terror and atrocious suffering turn the mouth into the organ of rending screams’. Bataille’s fantastical morphology of the body resonates with evolutionary considerations about the animal and human physiology, concentrated on the mouth and jaw, but also with psychoanalytic approaches; the ‘dream of Irma’s injection’ recounted by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, and offered as a model for dream analysis, revolves around the physician’s observation of the mouth of his unfortunate patient. It provides the basis for several psychoanalytic considerations of the phantasmatic dimensions of the mouth, for example in French psychoanalyst Pierre Fédida’s essay ‘Where does the human body begin?’, which also returns to Bataille’s heretical definition.

Bataille’s perspective contrasts starkly, however, with a contemporary status of the mouth and its ‘smile’ as an essential element of the ‘finest consumer object’ that is the body (Jean Baudrillard), and with oral health as a matter of aesthetics and social status, in the wider context of glaring inequalities in care provision.

How can these different perspectives be put in conversation with each other?

This question and this material will provide the basis for a cross-disciplinary workshop on the mouth involving academic staff and PGR students of the Faculties of Arts and Humanities and the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral and Cranofacial Sciences. The aim of the workshop is to provoke discussion in the interstice of speculative, fantastic, oneiric or fictive images of the mouth, on the one hand, and scientifically grounded, physiological, therapeutic and medical perspectives, on the other. A set of readings from Bataille, Freud, Baudrillard and Fédida will be provided as a focus and starting point for the discussion.

Anyone interested in contributing to the discussion and receiving PDFs of the reading material should contact Patrick ffrench (patrick.ffrench@kcl.ac.uk) by November 18th.


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