Lesson No. 1: Writing From the Body

write on the body





Writing, as we know, is a very cerebral activity. In essence, writing transforms our thoughts, emotions, and ideas into visible symbols (letters, words, paragraphs) we can look at and understand what’s going on inside of our heads, more or less. One incredibly important aspect to this relationship between thoughts and self-expression is the body. If we didn’t have these bodies, then we wouldn’t have these brains.


One could say that the body is just something we have to lug around with us, a big mass of cells whose sole purpose is to carry our brains and make sure that they keep working so we can keep living. Without the body, there would be no brain, no thoughts to write out. In order to understand who we are as a person, we need to be able to see and recognize how our bodies function along with our personalities, and especially recognize where they are within our writing. Transforming thoughts into visible words isn’t possible without our bodies—our most important mode of communication.


One way to bring our bodies into our writing is to write about the body. What does it look like? What does it do for us? What parts of it do we like or don’t like? And so on. But what if we were to go deeper than that? What if we were to look not just at the body, but within it? Imagine what it would be like to not write about the body, but from it. In other words, let’s look at how we bring our bodies into the space and place where it can express what’s inside of us. Helene Cixous discusses why it’s important to bring the body into our writing. Philip Lopate gives narratives to the different parts of his body. Lia Purpura zooms her eyesight in close enough to other people’s bodies that at times she ends up in them. There is a multitude of ways that we can write about the body. We can use them as guides through memory, as a place from which we can start writing. When we bring the body it into our writing, when we write from our physical forms, we see where our bodies stand in society, and can eventually understand our identities in the context of the larger world.




  1. Cixous states how she refuses to “confuse the biological and the cultural,” and posits that “by writing her self, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her.” What are some of the ways in which you feel like the female body has been confiscated and what purpose to you see writing serving in order to give woman back her body?
  2. If we consider writing to be its own type of body (body of work, a medium through which we can exhale and express), what are the ways in which you think Cixous’s stance that she will not accept the idea of a “general” or “typical” woman relates to writing?
  3. In “Portrait of My Body,” Philip Lopate takes an inventory of sorts of his body in order to describe who he is as a person and what some of his experiences have been. More than just physical descriptions, these details convey different aspects of his identity. What are some of his main physical traits that Lopate points to in order to create his identity? And in what ways do you think identity is contingent upon the ways in which you think society “sees” you?
  4. Lia Purpura brings in flashes of other people’s bodies—both inside and out—in order to say something about the emotions underlying her observations. In comparison to Cixous and Lopate, how does Purpura write differently about the body, what type of language does she use, and how does she place her own body within this essay?



Writing Exercises

  1. Think of a time in which you didn’t feel as if you were being listened to or really heard. Write about that situation and what your body felt like while it was happening. What sorts of emotions were welling up inside of you? Draw on the five senses to discover and explain how your body experienced this type of silencing.
  2. List the top 3 traits of your body that you like and the top 3 that you can’t stand. For each trait, write a narrative in which those traits are a part of it. Go further than just describing what that part of your body looks like, but dig into a story that gives those parts a narrative.
  3. Go out into the world and sit somewhere where you can watch other people’s bodies. Jot down some notes or interesting observations you make. Now take those notes and write about how you can compare yourself to other people’s bodies. Look closely at certain details more so than a person’s entire body. Look closely at other people and see you can or cannot relate yourself to their bodies.



Weekly Deadlines

  • Saturday at 6pm:
    • All readings are to be completed
    • At least one discussion response is to be posted to the course website
  • Sunday at 6pm:
    • Weekly draft of essay(s) (no more than 1000 words total) is to be emailed to instructor and other participants
    • Responses to peer comments posted on the course website
  • Tuesday at 6pm
    • Responses and feedback to peers’ essays emailed to instructor and other participants


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