The Recovery of Beauty – Prof Sander Gilman Lecture 18 October – ‘Stand up Straight’: Posture, its History and the Meanings attributed to the Upright Body

As part of the IAS The Recovery of Beauty programme, CMH directors Jane Macnaughton and Corinne Saunders are very pleased to welcome Professor Sander Gilman, visiting IAS fellow and distinguished professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University who will be delivering the first lecture in the series.

Professor Sander Gilman
‘Stand up Straight’: Posture, its History and the Meanings attributed to the Upright Body

Tuesday 18 October 2011
Lecture Room 201, Elvet Riverside, University of Durham at 6.15 p.m.

“When I was at university in the early 1960s there were a number of characteristics that we were taught defined the uniqueness of human beings: language, the opposable thumb and the use of tools, consciousness, emotions, and, last but not least, upright posture.  Over the past decades, more and more of these qualities (correctly or not) have been shown to be shared with any number of animals from the primates to the anteater.  Only upright posture has been maintained as the quality that defines the human, indeed, has come to be the defining attribute that draws the evolutionary line between the earliest human beings and their predecessors.

The talk will focus on a set of interlinked claims about posture in modern culture. Over the past two centuries it has come to define a wide range of assumptions in the West from what makes human beings human (from Lamarck to Darwin) and beyond to the efficacy of the body in warfare (from Dutch drill manuals in the 17th century to German military medical studies of soldiers in the 19th century).  Dance and sport both are forms of posture training in terms of their own claims.  Posture separates ‘primitive’ from ‘advanced’ peoples and the ‘ill’ from the ‘healthy.’ Indeed an entire medical sub-specialty developed in which gymnastics defined and recuperated the body (from Swedish and German Sports to Krankengymnastik to modern Gym Culture).  But all of these claims were also part of a Western attempt to use posture (and the means of altering it) as the litmus test for the healthy modern body of the perfect citizen.  Focusing on the centrality of posture in two oddly linked moments of modern thought – modern Zionist thought and Nationalism in early 20th century China – in terms of bodily reform, I shall illustrate how all of the earlier Western claims about posture (and the body of the ‘sick Jew” as well as the ‘sick man of Asia’) brings all of the earlier debates together to reform unhealthy posture.”

We very much hope that you are able to join us for this and forthcoming events in The Recovery of Beauty Lecture Series.

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