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A 'language of the body': Weightlifting and (reptilian) rhythms of regulation

Hughes, Kath



This audio-visual presentation recontextualizes postmodern ‘punk’ feminist writer Kathy Acker’s essay ‘Against Ordinary Language: The Language of the Body’ (1993) as a critical experimental work of narrative autoethnography. It will be proposed that Acker’s self-documented antagonistic relationship to writing about the empirical embodied practice of bodybuilding, advances the methodological potential for what performative and experimental autoethnographic writing practices can do, through an affective understanding of what literary critic N. Katherine Hayles has termed our neurological process of ‘nonconscious cognition’ (Hayles, 2017). Critiquing the problematic limitations of using, what Acker refers to as ‘ordinary language’, for narrativizing an empirical, embodied, experiential encounter with tactile, material and cultural phenomena (‘After each workout, I forgot to write. Repeatedly. I…some part of me…the part of the “I” who bodybuilds… was rejecting language, any verbal description of the processes of bodybuilding’), Acker’s performative use of structural linguistic devices, in the essay, will be considered in relation to the author’s alternative nonverbal approach to ‘doing’ autoethnographic research; using an assemblage praxis of sound, embodied performance and rhythmic affect (Hughes, 2021). In performative audio-visual dialogue with Acker’s text, the author’s own decade and a half journey of practicing and coaching weightlifting (an element of embodied methodological praxis which has significantly contributed towards healing the affects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder), will be considered in line with emerging contemporary trauma research (Nowakowski-Sims et. al, 2023); towards exploring the potentials for re-making our body-selves through affective habituation to rhythms, repetitions and self-regulatory embodied practices. For Acker, writing in 1993,

'…we still live under the sign of Descartes. This sign is also the sign of patriarchy. As long as we continue to regard the body, that which is subject to change, chance, and death, as disgusting and inimical, so long shall we continue to regard our own selves as dangerous others' (Acker 1993).

This presentation will thus argue that by bringing the body’s ‘lively’ sensorial materialities into the affective and performative space of knowledge exchange, we can perhaps cultivate safer ground for knowing both ‘our own selves’ and others as far more familiar entities.


Hughes, K. (2024, March). A 'language of the body': Weightlifting and (reptilian) rhythms of regulation. Paper presented at 2024 International Symposium on Autoethnography and Narrative Inquiry, Online

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 2024 International Symposium on Autoethnography and Narrative Inquiry
Conference Location Online
Start Date Mar 1, 2024
End Date Mar 3, 2024
Deposit Date Mar 11, 2024
Public URL