The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush loungers. Some nudge you to sit up straight; some have you poised leaning forward; others have you slunk down and cozy. This is in fact the main criterion for your chair purchase: how does it have you sit? How does it situate you? What posture does it demand of you? 

So it is with all things — spaces, people, nature art. Everything stands towards us in such and such a way and, in so doing, inflects our posture. Nothing is neutral. Sure, some things stand towards us deadpan. And sometimes we stand towards others without interest or investment. But neither of these are neutral per se: they are the assumption of a posture, a very way of standing towards the world.

We know this, whether we know it or not, in social settings. Some people ask to be seen more or less ardently. You can hear their voice across the din of a bar; you can see it as they make the rounds, your eye drawn to them like a moon of Jupiter, perhaps despite yourself. But just as the moons of Jupiter are not uniform, each enjoying its own orbit, so it is with the posture of people. Which is to say, posture is not a just a matter of yes or no, visible or invisible, loud or quiet. The posture of things in the world is precisely the infinite variegation of life. We dwell in the nuance of postures, things leaning in and away, all asking for different things. 

"Big Mouth" by Marilyn Minter. Enamel on metal. 8x13'. 

Look at this painting by Marilyn Minter. Like most people, I assume, I have a strong visceral reaction to this — a guttural gasp. One might be inclined to say, Of course, you want to fuck it. But that's not it at all. The posture of this painting doesn't sit quiet, or even seductive, awaiting penetration. No, this painting is the very act of fucking. My reaction is not one of a subject wanting an object. On the contrary, my reaction is a participation in the sensuality: I am not taking it up, it's taking me up. And yet I'm not being taken per se. I am being taken up in its affect. I may be drawn to it but it's not grabbing me, forcing me, sullying me. Its posture is a frank invitation to its state of always already fucking.  

I think of John Berger's distinction between the naked and the nude. The nude, Berger argues, is almost always a woman who is there to be taken. She is passive, an object for our eyes, desires, and more. The naked, on the other hand, is when the person — almost always a woman — happens to be without clothes. As we take her in with our eyes, she is not passive; she is not there to sate our desires. She is who she is, goes as she goes — she just happens not to have any clothes on:

"To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. ( The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.
To be naked is to be without disguise.
To be on display is to have the surface of one's own skin, the hairs of one's own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.”

Art tends to seemingly sit still, an object for our gaze. But as you walk through any museum, you experience a wide range of postures, each piece standing towards you differently and thereby inflecting you this way and that. Rothko turns you inward; Pollock turns you outward; Bacon turns you inside out while Picasso splays you. That's why going to a museum is so exhausting: you've been through the ringer, turned every which way.

And yet one's posture is not fixed. It's necessarily circumstantial and therefore relational. How I stand towards you is no doubt different than how I stand towards a woman I fancy, a child, an unknown dog, a Nancy Meyers or Cassevetes film. Each body postures in its way which is inevitably inflected by what it encounters. Think of it this way: a toddler, teen, and old person are all situated differently in a lounge chair as their respective postures encounter the postural demands of the chair. 

So it is with art, films, or people. It happens all the time: you're at a party (do people still have parties?) with your amor. Someone in the room is loud, their laughter and gutturals ringing out. You are immediately annoyed and do what you can to duck and parry that dominating posture. But your amore, well, they kinda like that posture — and, next thing you know, they're hitting it off across the room. You're dumbfounded — until you remember that posturing is a verb, an encounter, and different postures go together better (or worse) than others. 

Consider the role of posture in cooking and cocktails. The chef, or barkeep, navigates the postures of ingredients — the way lemon juice mixes with the booze to create a sour is distinct from how a twist, with its oils, coats the booze. A squeeze and a twist: two different postures. This is precisely the job of a chef or bar tender: to negotiate the postures of the ingredients — and, hopefully, the postures of their intended audience. 

While posture is an aspect of any body, it is not a stable trait. Posture is a verb, a manner of standing towards and with other bodies and forces. Posture is a component of a body's style, its way of going which includes speed, temperature, intensity, and weight (which is mass inflected by a body's environs). One way to look at posture is as the shape of a body's style, a puzzle piece within a cosmic puzzle that relentlessly morphs. Even if bodies are in constant motion, they still have shape — or, perhaps, shaping.  

I think of when an old friend of mine and I would go walking through nature. She'd leave the path, touch everything she could, smell everything she could. Me, I would walk tenderly through the brushes, my hands often in my pockets, my feet on the trail. My posture was one of reserve, of letting the nature around me abound. Her posture was more, well, gregarious, active, her tendrils stretching out to the tendrils of trees — like the person who's louder at a party, she liked to be loud in her conversation with nature. Neither is right or wrong. There is zero judgment here. It's a matter of posture, of posturing.

We carry ourselves in the world in such and such a way which, in turn, inflects and is inflected by other surrounding bodies. The words we use to describe such posturing are demanding, accommodating, passive and active, obsequious, ingratiating. Each describes a manner of standing towards other bodies in the world. This act of posturing is one aspect of our way of going in the world: it's the shape with which we engage things. 

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The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...