Punctual Selves, Punctual Death, and the Health-Conscious Cogito: Descartes' Dead Bodies

Economy and Society 41 (2):258-81 (2012)

Authors
Thomas Tierney
College of Wooster
Abstract
This paper reflects critically on the late-modern obsession with health by presenting Descartes as an almost ideal type of the health-conscious subject. Descartes’ life, works and death are interpreted from the unlikely combination of the theoretical perspectives of Charles Taylor and Jean Baudrillard. Despite significant differences, both of these theorists rely heavily on Weber's concept of disenchantment, and each develops a ‘punctual’ concept in their analysis of modernity. Specifically, the paper combines Taylor's ‘punctual self’, which can remake itself at will, with Baudrillard's ‘punctual death’, which presents death as a meaningless terminus. Viewing Descartes through these punctual concepts, it becomes clear that the extensive anatomical investigations he conducted throughout his career shaped his uniquely modern stance towards death and health. However, Descartes maintained an ambivalent relationship with traditional conceptions of death and health, which prevented him from fully embracing modern health-consciousness. The paper concludes with a reconsideration of Descartes’ ‘premature’ death, which invites critical reflection on the role that the predictable behaviour of health-conscious subjects plays in the ever-expanding biomedical order.
Keywords JeanBaudrillard  Charles Taylor  death  anatomy  dissection  health  René Descartes  Max Weber
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