This paper aims to explore the image of the hunched posture, which recurrently
appears in the works of Théodore Géricault, Otto Dix, and Charlotte Salomon, and to conceptualize it as a visual paradigm that signals the violence of normative power found in contemporary biopolitics as defined by Michel Foucault. I will investigate the significance of the hunched posture in the discourse of the body in modernity, particularly in relation to fragmentation and normalization in social and art-historical contexts. Through this analysis, I seek to articulate the power of the hunched posture to question upright figures as the normalized image of the human being fostered by biopolitical administration.
Working in turbulent times from the French Revolution to the Restoration, Géricault’s motifs are expressed in a range of figures from male nudes, warriors, corpses, and bodies with severed limbs to the insane. Those figures mark the woundedness, failure, and deprivation of the canonical image of a socially formulated body, all at the culmination of colonial projects and at the transition from sovereign power to state power. Dix, a returning soldier wounded in the First World War, painted people living on the fringes of society such as veteran cripples, prostitutes, dancers, and circus performers in the decadent reality of postwar Germany. These figures of people living on the fringes were later transferred to his depictions of hunched saints and Christ’s Passion after Dix was expelled from the academy by the Nazis. And, finally, Salomon created an autobiographical picture book Leben? oder Theater?: Ein Singspiel during her life as a refugee in the South of France before her death in Auschwitz. In this autobiographical work, the difficulties of her life as a German Jewish woman living throughout the 1930s and ’40s are desperately illustrated, involving as well the chains of suicide in her family.
In their works, hunched figures appear among bodies in various violent circumstances, especially among those who are devastated from within by the loss of physical and psychological reality, a loss produced by a collective orchestration of violence over human life in modernity. Collectively, these three artists’ representations of devastated hunched figures embody the crucial phases of the development of the modern state. They inscribe the time when sovereign power is increasingly transformed into a dispersed mode of power in biopolitical form, when violence takes shape more and more as an invisible power that normalizes and controls the human body.