I just came across an old acquaintance in the library — on paper, that is. The February issue of Modern Philology opens with an intriguing article on Renaissance Bodies by Andrew Fleck of San Jose State University. I met Andrew years ago, when he spent a year in the Netherlands, doing research into representations of the Dutch in English literature at Utrecht University.
The article would have fitted seamlessly into the Bodies and Selves in Early Modern Culture course I’m teaching. In “Anatomizing the Body Politic,” Andrew Fleck examines the concepts of the nation and the renaissance body in the work of Thomas Nashe. He suggests a reading of Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller (1594) alongside Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica:
While it would be too much to read The Unfortunate Traveller as an actual medical anatomy, its constant recurrence to mangled bodies, dismembered limbs, physiological metaphors, and a clutter of corporeal images should remind us that Vesalius’s landmark text had initiated a new understanding of the body’s mechanisms and the operations of its various systems.
The article considers the ways in which Nashe was aware of this epistemic shift in medical and anatomical thinking on the body. It looks into representations of the body politic in terms of medicalized treatment, and looks at how these bodies in pieces in Nashe’s work relate to ideas of Englishness in the young nation state. A great read!