Medieval inc.

The Middle Ages were full of bodies and heads. Bodies politic, corporations, incorporations, heads of ecclesiastical institutions, secular and regular bodies. The metaphor of the body was key to understanding everyone’s place in society, and the societies’ place in the universe.

The medieval world was breathing through the bodies of countless societies and organisations. Most of these organisations are still there, but the bodies are gone. The language of the abstract body or corpus has survived though. Companies still get incorporated, and businesses often have too many heads to count. Some people embody some ideas and values, corporate or not.

The body is a given, not an extra, and not a choice. Before 17th-century rationalism severed the mind from the body, cutting the caput from the corpus, the two relied on each other. The West had never managed to adjudicate between monism and dualism – the bodies got in the way. Plato and St Paul may have had their ideas about which ruled which, but embodiment, especially in the medieval Christian tradition, forestalled any attempts at reducing the body to the spirit/mind, or vice versa.

The age of disembodiment is upon us. Obviously, from a cultural-imaginative point of view only. Humans can’t thrive without bodies however much we seem to buy into the cyber-metaphors of late. You may see yourself like a stream of data running from node to node in an intricate network, or a pixel on the huge LED canvas of the world, but at the end of the day (and of many days, unfortunately), your body gets in the way, and then you realise that we’re all incorporated.

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