At a conference at the New School with a wide-ranging consortium of humanist scholars it seemed safe to assume Body and State: How the State Controls and Protests the Body was going to lead to a conversation I heard before. Down with the political patriarchy! Up with reproductive freedom! But it was anything but.
Sure there was an almost cliché lecture on the media and the globalization of Western body image but there was also discussion of prisoners as experimental soldiers and the first English translation of the Karma Sutra. The body was examined at its most expansive, and that brought me to a new more expansive view of reproductive justice. Oddly enough it was the lectures around death and the dead which made me reconsider the frame of how, when and if a woman brings life into the world.
The indeterminate moment of death mirrors that of life. Though there are evolving medical nuances for aspects of both, death is much more complicated than I ever took the time to think about.
I apologize if this imprecise, but based on Dr. Joseph Fins lecture a vegetative state is when there is loss of brain stem or the simplest actions like breathing while minimal consciousness is when there is still flickering upper level cognition like recognition. Recent research has found that even individuals lost in a vegetative state may still have limited consciousness. What a concept. Medical death is the cessation of the heart and lungs, the brain stem. But the body doesn’t stop completely blood flows for hours more, it is a day or two later the muscles relax a last time and the body continues to cool. Cells continue. Yet we call it death and no one really makes a fuss about it. Much like the moment of death is variable so is the moment of life. Yet there is so much less political upheaval around the moment of death.
Dr. Walter Laquer said that, “the dead have always and have never been enchanted.” And I think in a way the same could be said of life. Unto itself a fetus is a useless bundle of cells, but it is the life that families imagine for that bundle that makes it magic. What I think we all have to remember is that though there is a grey area in death and in life, it is the people who are very much alive that bring feeling and truth to both these moments. Reproductive justice at its core is about supporting families and their feelings and actions no matter what they believe, wherever their enchantment lies.
I know I forget this. I can blame a lot of things. But today I’m not going to. Today I’m going recognize that the body means so much more than just a body. Because really, at the end of the day science has its limits and we are left alone with enchantment.