The Truth of the Body
I had to get some blood work done this morning at my doctor’s office. I was struck, as I always am when I submit my body for testing, of the sense in which the body is treated as a confession by the medical establishment. I am always nervous about this process because I fear what truths my body will tell. I fear that I cannot hide my bad habits as they might show up in my body. I am reminded of a police procedural, maybe it is the CSI series, where it seemed like in almost every episode someone would say, “The truth is in the body.”
This week I was also having a conversation about the status of the body in Black Mirror, specifically in some of the episodes that produce cookies out of human DNA, which is to say, the DNA becomes digitalized in ways that produce a person in the virtual digital world. What strikes me about the cookies is that they are independent even though the person controlling the system can change the bodies of the cookies (as in USS Callister) and cause them great pain (White Christmas, Black Museum, Playtest). It seems to me that even in the digital world, the truth seems to be in the body. That is, the fact that the body suffers is a report on the conditions. The body is taken as material that exhibits a truth about the situation.
Of course, the phenomenological truths of the pain of the cookies is importantly different from the “truth of the body” in the fluids that medicine and criminal forensics test and decipher. My experience is often that the medical establishment takes the tests of the fluids to offer more “truth” than my reports of phenomenological experience (see here). In the first case, the truth of the body is limited to what the tests report and the body is forced into confession. In the second case, the body attests to a violence that appears to have a reality that is only located in the virtual plane, though its impact does not seem any less for all that. The report of pain in fact seems like the confession that the body is real in the situation of the cookies. While my body that is suffering no pain might be confessing its mortality in ways I don’t even know about in the blood tests.
For all our certainty that the blood tests offer true confessions, scores if not hundreds of cases have been dismissed on the basis of faulty forensics. It isn’t just that some forensic lab technicians are unethical (like this cocaine addict who tested blood samples for drugs between 2005-2013 in Massachusetts). It’s that the tests of the body are not such clear paths to the truth as television has led us to believe. “Just because it’s DNA doesn’t mean it’s good science,” the head of the Idaho Innocence Project argues in an article on forensics gone wrong Science Magazine a couple years ago.
I’m interested in thinking about the way that “the truth in the body” in the blood tests is out of our control in parallel way that the “body” of the cookie is out of its control, not as something disconnected from its thinking, or even as something for which it can have no response, but in a way that the body’s destiny seems situated in the body and also external to it. Is this not what it means to have a body?