Existential concerns around health today take on a much wider set of issues as we intra-act with antibiotics, nanoparticles and untested chemical cocktails through the food we eat, the make-up we wear, the new sofas we sit it in or the environments we dwell in. We are more acutely aware today of how we are in nature, and nature, polluted as it may be, in us. The projects collected under the research area of Toxic Embodiment offers important and under-researched aspects of environmental humanities, the environmental health dimension as a wider concern of transcorporeal effects in humans and across other species.
Toxic bodies are certainly an urgent environmental concern: plastics seeping hormones into bodies, industries leaking toxic waste into rivers, weather bringing traces of contaminants to breast milk in Arctic climes—the transcorporeal transits of toxicity spares no one and no place, it seems (Alaimo 2011). Yet alarmist views of toxicity are themselves cause for alarm: what normative views of bodies get (re)produced in these narratives? What would a pure and clean body be? How are subjects and communities forged in toxicity as “boundary object”? (Star & Griesemer 1989; King 2001). Moreover, the idea that toxicity (and toxic human and more-than-human bodies) must be expunged from our lives (detoxed) in order to return to some pristine or pure state, points to a whole underbelly of important feminist questions: How are we, with our consumerist lifestyles and “normative intoxications,” complicit in these toxicities in the first place? And “how is it that so much of this toxic world… is encountered by so many of us as benign and pleasurable?” How might the intimacies of toxicity instead invite “queer loves” (Chen 2012: 207-211)?
An investigation into toxic embodiment demands that we think precisely about what toxicity is and what it means – for different constituencies. This entails with some necessity difficult postdisciplinary and more-than-human humanities conversations to take place, including science and science studies, cultural research into patienthood and body studies, human/animal studies, sexuality and transgender studies, and queer feminist theory. Feminist and other critical forms of medical humanities meet the environmental humanities in the Seed Box research on Toxic Embodiment.
We explore the analytics of “transcorporeality” (Alaimo) with radical interdisciplinarity, expanding the scope of the humanities with art, politics and science into a critical and creative form of posthumanities from where a more-than-human humanities can reinvent itself. Attending to toxic embodiment, we study variously situated bodies, land- and waterscapes and their naturalcultural intra-actions with toxicity. In starting from a cyborgian (Haraway 1991) view to the impossibility of purity, we include technoembodiment and put into question dichotomist and normative notions of disease, sickness, health, life, dis/ability and epidemic, toxic versus the natural body, and the human vis-a-vis the posthuman (Braidotti 2012). Interfaces of (non/human) organisms, pharmaceuticals, sickness, pollutants, breathing, public health, biopolitics and environmental issues guide our inquiries into ways in which both nature and technoculture, the discursive as much as the material, form and transform the our toxic embodiments.