A few days ago, I ended my last post with a link to Defining the Question of Interiority, which discussed interiority, partially in terms of architecture but also in terms of blurring the lines between interiority and exteriority. This link quotes from another interesting source, The Body Within: Art, Medicine and Visualization (2009), which talks about the problematic nature of the interior and imagining one’s interiority as both material and invisible and intangible
Interiority is always based on something exterior, something with extension, something that cannot be internalized or appropriated. Things with extension are spatial (119).
In trying to resolve this relationship between interiority and exteriority, the inner self and the actual flesh and blood that surrounds, Jenny Slatman writes in Chapter 6 of The Body Within, “Transparent Bodies: Revealing the Myth of Interiority,” that “At first glance, we might be inclined to say that interiority is the space beneath the skin” (108). What is this “space”? Is it psychological? Is this interior traceable by brain activity? Seen by x-ray? Perhaps it’s at least a spatial and psychological concept and both visible and invisible. Visible because we do have an interior beneath the skin: our flesh, bones, internal organs, but also visible in psychological terms as well through actions and the motivations that seem to be behind one’s behavior. If, as Slatman continues, “Psychological and spatial interiority converge in this so-called phenomenon of bodily subjectivity,” then interiority is based on both one’s bodily experience and also one’s individual perspective and experiences in relationship to how one’s body interacts with cultural and national spaces (110).
I was thinking about these themes after finishing Suspicion Nation last week, Lisa Bloom’s analysis of the 2013 George Zimmerman trial. She brings up some of these themes implicitly in her critique of the legal argument the prosecutors presented to the jury and in her concerns about the cultural baggage and biases that led to Zimmerman’s acquittal and that continue to lead to a general suspicion of black men and racial others in the United States. How we understand or make assumptions about a person’s inner thoughts must be put in context of how we view his or her relationship to his or her body and the outer world. If interiority is the space beneath the skin or product of experiencing bodily subjectivity, then skin, or one’s skin color and the ethnic/racial meaning that skin connotes, influences how we understand a person’s inner thoughts, desires, fears, and motivations. Interiority is relevant to how we view a person’s relationship to the world and his or her right to protect and own space and have a place in this world.
Bloom mentions Stand Your Ground Laws, though not explicitly part of Zimmerman’s defense, to explain U.S. preoccupations with crime, race, and space. These laws “expanded traditional self-defense doctrine to allow those who felt threatened in virtually any location to use deadly force even if they could have escaped without violence” (Bloom 12). Such a belief in one’s right to claim space and protect one’s turf by any means necessary shaped Zimmerman’s defense and belief that he was reasonable in his fears of Trayvon Martin. Bloom argues that while Zimmerman was deemed reasonable in his fear and eventual killing of Trayvon Martin, neither the defense nor more importantly the prosecution gave a voice to Trayvon Martin’s inner feelings the night he died or gave any value to who he was as a human being, all of which influenced how the jury viewed these two men and what motivated their actions.
And much of that comes back to how we view interiority and what we believe lies beneath the skin. George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin as suspicious because of a combination of factors dealing with his anxieties about race, space, interiority as they figure in the “black-as-criminal image” that according to Bloom “has been with us at least since the nineteenth century, when explicit racism portrayed African-American slaves’ essential nature as ignorant and savage and in need of the ‘civilizing’ influence of the white man” (232). Zimmerman was allowed to feel afraid for his life, to defend his body and his turf. Acknowledgement of these inner feelings and respect for his bodily subjectivity allowed him to claim physical space and do so with lethal force. His innermost feelings or more accurately, his race-based paranoia, had a voice. His feelings, his anxieties, his desire to feel safe in his gated community were privileged above Travyon’s interiority and bodily subjectivity in court of law.
Charles Taylor writes in Sources of the Self that, based on a tradition in the West of respecting human dignity and one’s individual rights, “we [in the West] believe it would be utterly wrong and unfounded to draw the boundaries any narrower than around the whole human race” (6-7). But boundaries are drawn among members of the human race depending on whether or not we recognize one’s interiority. To have the law and society recognize these interior experiences as well as protect one’s bodily subjectivity allows one to claim rights and protect one’s space as sacred, untouchable. How do such rights emerge from this recognition of bodily integrity and subjectivity? How does it correspond to how we engage in our society and nation at large? These are questions I hope to touch upon in my next post.