Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




David L. Clark




We have seen a veritable explosion of commentaries, particularly in the last three years, on the distension of the American body. What is at stake and why such commentaries must so venomously and desperately assail the fat body are theoretical questions which remain obstinately unclear. And what is perhaps even more opaque are the psychological consequences this assailment holds for fat people. I take up, in this project, the task of thinking the fat body (and more specifically the fat male body) using Michel Foucault's theories of subjection as they have been respecified by Judith Butler. I cast here a consideration of where the fat male body tends to get located socially, how it tends to get identified and represented culturally, and what it means to inhabit a body determined to be fat and identified as "masculine."

This project asks how being fat distorts what it is to be male. Sander Gilman, who has emerged as the first to ask this question in a systematic way, tells us that fatness signals a whole array ofdistortions for masculinity. I was most intrigued, as I started to build this project, by what psychic or affiective impacts fat might have on the performance of masculinity. What I found was that the principal problem in interarticulating fat and masculinity for individual fat men, in public and in private, was complying with the demand that one reticently suppress any signs of distress over failing to comply with a model ofideal hardness.

I argue that the narrative of a contemporary "crisis of masculinity" might be one whose themes, in spite oftheir patent poJlitical expedience (the male establishment's imperative to recover by means of crisis a traditional model of "hardness" (see Robert Bly's Iron John) and its attendant privileges), are appropriable for a politics ofradical "re-figuration" which returns fire at a culture that compulsively denigrates the fat body as "gross" and destructively induces men to stifle all indications that they have been scarred by the mandate ofhegemonic masculinity.

This dissertation struggles to isolate the site ofthe fat male body (indeed in most circumstances an isolated and eschewed body) in order to observe and examine certain principles ofpresent subjection; to examine, more precisely, the principle of what Foucault terms ''the asymptotic movement," a disciplinary force which works on and in subjects, supplying the occasion and condition for subjecthood, by means of introducing to and into that subject a norm (in this particular case an aestheticallmorphological norm) which is barely approximable: a norm which remains forever fugitive.

If, as I contend, the current "obesity crisis" is not actually concerned with health, but with aesthetic standards, and if physical beauty is not something transcendental, not a quality somehow intrinsic to an object (what Aquinas called quidditas), but instead a privileged "material" morphology in fact produced and determined discursively, deployed according to a disciplinary principle ofmrresolvable imperfection, what is the purpose of so urgently and prolifically affrrming, as we have been in the West, that the haunting figure ofthe fat body is vilifiable because UJnhealthy? That is to say, if Americans so persistently label themselves the fattest nation in the world not precisely because a powerful uneasiness about public well-being incites them to do so, but because of a particular consternation regarding declining standards of personal discipline, waning principles of self-surveillance-if this is the case, then why do we continue to imagine that the "obesity epidemic" is about health? I insist that the urgency with which the corpulent body is pathologized is informed by the need to recover interpellative influence over intersticial bodies marked by culture as recklessly underdisciplined according to unachievable standards of physical beauty (hardness in men): bodies which, as I say in my opening, are so profoundly difficult to cohere and to correct.

McMaster University Library

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