Date of Award

Fall 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ingolf U. Dalferth

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Anselm K. Min

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Iain D. Thomson

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2019 Trisha M Famisaran


Art, Body, Existentialism, Martin Heidegger, Ontology, Phenomenology

Subject Categories

Philosophy | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


This dissertation begins by asking, what is the body, and how does one develop an understanding of the body? In this study, I aim to rework the notions of discursive practices and material phenomena, seeking to examine the relationship between the two in light of the work of art, so conceived within the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, in an attempt to deal with the question: “what is the body?” This dissertation avoids reifying certain normative descriptions of the body or constraining the matter of the body as strictly the effect of discursive power. I attempt a phenomenological observation about subjectivity and our capacity for meaning-making, which avoids a reduction to both materialism and discourse. My own approach to the topic seeks to gain an existential-ontological understanding of the body through the lens of disclosive affectivity, specifically when experiencing the work of art. I take as a starting premise that the situated nature of being human is fundamentally corporeal, in a way that is not reducible to either materialism or idealism. This dissertation also aims to see whether it is possible to maintain that bodies change the quality of the space(s) they inhabit and, in turn, to see how space affects the corporeal nature of an entity. In the course of this study, the matter of the body will unfold as more than an instantiation of materiality and more than an effect of language, for it exists and emerges, in its totality, as a kind of liminal space, one that is irreducible to certain categories of thought and analysis, as the experiences of what we will come to call the “lived-body,” which is the situation of the person asking the question of the body, is the very basis and possibility of questioning. This dissertation will demonstrate how it is that Martin Heidegger’s post-metaphysical conceptions of truth, especially those emerging out of a focus on the work of art, provide a means to conceive of the body beyond the matter/language binary prominent in much post-structuralist literature on materiality. In going a step further than being, by taking “being human” as the central concept in Heidegger, I aim to more fully understand corporeality through the lens of later Heidegger’s writings on the fourfold, art and space, and dwelling. There are numerous approaches to aesthetics and philosophy of art from which one can appropriate when inquiring into the nature of the body; an entity, I argue, that is constituted at the point of overlap between materiality and discourse. With a broad understanding of what encompasses objects of art, I see art as a means and a conduit for the perpetual reconstitution of the becoming self, as well as a way to make sense of the self. The work of art is powerful because it “un-conceals” and reveals truths in non-conceptual, non-verbal ways: art shows, it does not tell. When we think about what it means to be human, to be situated as a material person also capable of thoughts and emotions, this dissertation seeks to know how we develop, shed, change, alter, and deepen a sense of self and what is true. Art fulfills this role in its ideological function and its affective effect. The other contention is that this affectivity is possible only based on a very particular way of expressing what it means to be a material being, and I think this requires a shift from embodiment and body to flesh. Flesh is that part of ourselves that situates us as an individual and as an entity enmeshed in the world, porous to experience and affected by what we encounter. This dissertation draws a connection between flesh and the lived-body. We will see that art is born of the flesh, and the body is, in turn, affected by aesthetic experiences. Thus, art is a way to understand the mutually dependent ideas of world, flesh, and lived-body. The significance of this study, an inquiry into the nature of the body from an existential-ontological approach, is that it reaches for a type of relationality and ontological structure that bears on the social order, to set a foundation for how to approach issues of ethics and justice.