Flesh carries memories of theological passions. In Chris tian ity, flesh evokes
a creative touch, divine love, and suﬀering. More prominently, it alludes to
sin, lust, and death. To be described as living “according to the flesh”—as Jews,
women, and sexual minorities have been—is to be considered trapped in sin-
fulness.1 Outside Christian circles, in everyday uses of the term “flesh,” those
memories might be barely recognizable; but they are not inconsequential.
Desire and instincts are said to inhabit flesh, or even to be indistinguishable
from carnality. These associations have earned flesh a bad reputation— but
also the admiration of many followers of Eros.
Ironically, it is the religious aura of flesh that most troubles postmodern
phi los o phers, not its bad reputation. For them, flesh functions as an essence,
the self- identity of the body. As a subjective interiority, it fosters the illu-
sion of unmediated sensibility and thus of absolute truth. They also consider
flesh to be irremediably Christian, always haunted by the incarnation. Those
associations lead some thinkers to denounce flesh and proclaim the end of
the passions that “flesh” once named. These phi los o phers’ gestures may
be hasty, betraying irritability toward the per sis tence of Christian ideas in
Western thought, but their critiques cannot be taken lightly. Flesh is a con-
cept prone to metaphysical excess, used not only to demonize corporeality
but also to spiritualize it—in both cases losing touch with ordinary bodies.
Both Flesh and Not