Body Terror as Territorialization


The notion of a body as an integrated, self-sufficient entity, with a boundary or limit that protects the interior from exterior forces is the grounding principle of all our definitions of a body, from the body politic to biological bodies[1] – most importantly, the human body. Human beings have therefore made deep analogies between the violation of the body and violation in general. From spatial violation as metaphor for sexual violation (for example, Acteon’s encroachment of Artemis’ sacred grove symbolizes sexual violation) to the infringement of a sovereign’s body as a violation of the body politic, humans have singularly used the body as the locus classicus of territorial invasion of all kinds. For humans, the loss of bodily integrity, the violation of the boundary between inside and outside, is literally the definition of violence (violence and violation share the same etymological heritage). As such, being bodily violated is perhaps the root of all human horror.

It is not surprising that the notion of bodily violation is ubiquitous in the horror genre: from Dracula to Alien, the idea that some supernatural/biological Other can enter our bodies is as old as myth and folklore, the most ancient and universal notion being bodily possession by demons. The sexual analogy is quite obvious of course. The relationship between bodily violence and sexuality can be traced from the birth of the human in the caves at Lascaux through the myth of the vagina dentata and on through Freud, Lacan, and Irigaray.[2] We could say that, following Deleuze, the violation of the body is the zero-point of biological and cultural being: life is but a constant territorialization, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization of bodies.

Perhaps the most interesting variations on this theme, and hence its continuing appeal and numerous interpretations, is The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.[3] In this story the notion of violation is interrogated through various liminalities: the alien spores do not simply enter the bodies of humans but snatch them; they reduplicate each human victim’s physical body as well as his/her memories and personality. What is not cloned is human emotion. Here we have territorializion, deterritorializion, and reterritorializion at work, replete with hermeneutical readings. The humans turn into dust after invasion and duplication. The alien beings will simply replace them. In the novel, a duplicate human states the obvious: this is what humans do-- they take over territories, kill the previous inhabitants, destroy recourses, and move on. Sometime they run out of territories to destroy, so they seek other ones to snatch.


[1] The classic study of the convergence between the body politic and the human body is Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The Kings Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, 1957). Foucault of course used the body as the location of all power relations or biopower.

[2] There is a historical trajectory from the myth/folklore of the vagina dentata to the English noun “snatch,” and notions of bodily horror as discussed below.

[3] The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based on Jack Finney’s 1955 novel Body Snatchers, directed by Don Siegel and starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, was released in 1956. There have been three remakes of the original film: Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978, directed by Phillip Kaufmann and starring Donald Sutherland; Body Snatchers in 1993, directed by Abel Ferrara, starring Gabrielle Anwar; The Invasion in 2007, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. A fourth remake is in the works.