Body politics and the use of metaphor the cartoonist

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Body Politics and the Use of Metaphor The cartoonist Garry Trudeau, the artist behind the long-running Doonesbury strip, told Rolling Stone magazine that comics can provide special insights into current events. “What’s wonderful about a comic strip is the stories unfurl in such a tiny, incremental way that you can keep a story alive for weeks. . . . So I can insinuate some of these issues under the skin of the body politic” (Kidd 2010, par. 3). Comics, which at first sight seem to be a form of light
Democracy and Body Politics 137 entertainment, can provide powerful images of contemporary politics that the more sober and descriptive news articles cannot match. The capacity for insight comes both from the pace of comic strips, allowing characters and situations to develop over a long trajectory, and from the use of images. Sometimes the richest insights into human affairs come not from literal description but from images that use humour and indirect references. Cartoons and graphics have been used to analyze politics and to advocate, at least since the French Revolution. Of course, the use of imagery in politics goes well beyond cartoons, and metaphor is not restricted to comics or popular culture. Political theory draws deeply on metaphorical representations of social processes. A metaphor is defined as “a figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which it is literally applicable” ( OED Online 2011). A metaphor, then, uses one thing to suggest another, conjuring up some sense of related properties and parallel paths of development. The use of the body as a metaphor for political society has a long history. A.D. Harvey (2007) found examples tracing back over 25 centuries, from sources as varied as Hindu texts, Aesop’s fables, and Greek philosophy. The philosopher Al-Farabi, writing in the tenth century in Damascus and Baghdad, used the body as a metaphor for a well-run city: The excellent city resembles the perfect and healthy body, all of whose limbs co-operate . . . there being among them one ruling organ . . . . The parts of the city which are close in authority to the rulers of the city perform the most noble voluntary actions, and those below them less noble actions, until eventually the parts are reached which perform the most ignoble actions . . . although they may be extremely useful—like the action of the bladder and the lower intestine. (Al-Farabi, quoted in Harvey 2007: 13–14) The body provides an extremely rich metaphorical source for understanding political society. In the Al-Farabi quotation, the theme of interdependence is combined with that of hierarchy—the parts of the city need to work together in balance, but that is only maintained through a clear hierarchy, which relies, ultimately, on having only one ruling organ. In a prominent biological metaphor for Victorian society, “the adult middle-class (or aristocratic) man, representing the governing or ruling group, was seen as the Head of the social

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