The Body as a Collective Home

“The body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies are never singular, but rather haunted, strengthened, underscored by countless other bodies” (Clare 11).

In “Exile & Pride,” Eli Clare touches on the different ways our body can encapsulate contrasting parts of the self and its experience. The metaphor of “the body as home” has many meanings, but the one that I think it offers a particularly powerful message is about the importance of personal and collective ownership and comfort in the body.

The word “home” has many connotations, and it is usually associated with words like warmth, family, belonging, and permanence. However, for those like Clare who had a very difficult and traumatic childhood, they can “abandon that body” (10). To me, this makes the body feel like a house, not a home. It’s a place you’re forced to live in, but it doesn’t carry the same implications of belonging and happiness. This is why I find the word choice of “home” so important — it pushes the idea that to be truly happy, we have to find peace within our bodies, becoming intimately comfortable to a point where we feel like we can fully be ourselves in this safe haven.

Additionally, Clare goes on to say that a body isn’t singular but plural in that it is defined, influenced, and underscored (or emphasized) by other bodies, aka other people. This idea of singular versus plural is interesting because it pushes the idea that we are not alone, even in our own body. One could argue that everything we are — what we think, do, believe — is influenced by our surroundings and the people around us. In this way, bodies are like an amalgamation of others, a complex and clashing combination of traits and beliefs that are pushed onto us, willingly or not. And this number is “countless” — we don’t know how many people have physically or metaphorically touched us. It makes me think of a reading from my Mythology course, where it explained that the brain is a thief, stealing ideas from myths and stories around it to build a “personal narrative.” In this way, the body also steals what’s around it, for the better or worse.

The words Clare chooses to describe the house can be interpreted through the lens of a body or a home. “Haunted” makes me think of a haunted house, or a place of horrors that inspires fear. A person can also be haunted by their past or current anxieties. This double meaning of the word paints a very vivid connection between body and home. Similarly, a house can be structurally “strengthened” and a person can be metaphorically or physically “strengthened.” This word comes with connotations of energy and power, very positive emotions. The dichotomy of both of these existences living in one body adds to Clare’s larger point about the body as “complex, complicated, and contradictory.” Our bodies house so much; they make up who we are and what we’ve done. Clare hopes that by viewing our bodies as a home we can feel safe in, even if we don’t fully understand it, we can strive towards an internal and external embrace of who we are.

2 thoughts on “The Body as a Collective Home”

  1. I can’t express how much I enjoyed reading this! I totally agree with you. I found this spot particularly interesting: “we don’t know how many people have physically or metaphorically touched us.” This sentence reminded me of the writing/reading motif in Written on the Body. When the narrator compares their body to a palimpsest with braille letters, this supports the idea of the multiple impacts others implore onto our identities. The narrator then describes that they like to keep their body rolled up, like a scroll. The narrator does not feel at home within their body, too insecure to fully blossom within their own identity. Their body, like you mentioned, acts as a “house” rather than a “home,” as they are constantly allowing others to enter and exit within their short-term relationships. Instead of renovating themselves, they attempt to adopt an undesired identity to please their lover. This is ultimately why their infatuation with Louise turned into obsession, wanting to become Louise rather than simply being themselves.

  2. What you said about the difference between using “house” and “home” when referring to your body was really eye-opening for me. Clare talks a lot about finding comfort in and reclaiming your body. You said “the body also steals what’s around it” and this made me think about how our experiences and stories can show up as physical markers on our body, whether it be through scars or tattoos. I also think our bodies hold emotional scars which can cause a disconnect between you and your body and lead to the haunted feeling you talked about.

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