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In the beginning was the big toe: Bataille, base materialism, bipedalism

Beaumont, M; (2015) In the beginning was the big toe: Bataille, base materialism, bipedalism. Textual Practice , 29 (5) pp. 869-883. 10.1080/0950236X.2014.987689. Green open access

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Abstract

This article goes back to Georges Bataille's ruminations on the big toe, published in Documents in 1929, in order to make a materialist case for the claim that this digit is, above all for evolutionary reasons, definitive of human beings humanity. It explores the contradiction whereby the big toe, in spite of its anatomical importance in distinguishing human beings from their ancestors and their genetic cousins, that is, from other hominids and other primates, has been systematically demeaned or denigrated in representations of the body. Following an introduction, the argument unfolds in two main sections. The first of these is anthropological or palaeo-anatomical in focus, and reconstructs the determining role of the big toe in the evolution of human beings as bipedal as opposed to quadrupedal creatures. The second shifts attention to the iconography of the big toe, and uses the Italian novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda to propose a reorganisation of the history of representations of the human body in terms of this digit; it looks at several Renaissance paintings in this light. Finally, in a polemical concluding section, this article returns to Bataille's reflections on the big toe and argues again for its central importance for a materialist philosophy.

Type: Article
Title: In the beginning was the big toe: Bataille, base materialism, bipedalism
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/0950236X.2014.987689
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2014.987689
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Textual Practice on 23 February 2015, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/0950236X.2014.987689.
Keywords: big toe, Georges Bataille, base materialism, bipedalism, Carlo Emilio Gadda
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1495942
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