In 1946 Paul Varléry writes the essay Réflexions sur le corps, in which he claims that everyone of us has at least three bodies in mind.
- The first body is therefore "my body", marked by pure experience without history. It is a body of the present, it gives us a feeling of presence that is not merely present but also potential. We are in the possession of that body every single moment and for us it represents the most important object in the world.
- The second body is the one that others see, it is an approximation facing us from portraits and mirrors. It is a body with a form, appreciated by craft and by art.
- The third body is the body we know and we can only get to know it by dissecting and decomposing it to parts; that is therefore the body of science and observation.
- Valéry, however, also suggests the Fourth body, the body that could be called "the Real body or an identical Imaginary body". The Fourth body represents everything that the first three are not, although it always appears together with them.
Our notions, our ideas emerge from characteristics and experience of the first three bodies but gain at least a visage of meaning through presupposition of an unknown object, a certain non-existence, a peculiar incarnation of which the Fourth body is. This is the body that can help provide an insight to the essential questions dealing with death, the source of life, freedom etc., since it is this body that is implied in all those questions. Valéry's Fourth body is therefore the one that constantly exists parallel to (within) body as subject (experience) and object, and it is as inextricable from it as "a whirlpool from the liquid that creates it".
The Fourth body is the real/imaginary body that always shakes the unity of each body and breaks every discourse about that unity. It is what is not but could be, nevertheless always somehow present in the images we have about the body, in our fears, in our desires and the speech we address our body and the bodies of others with. The poet's Fourth body is therefore a field where both horror of death and the joy of life are mirrored; the elusive entity unceasingly making us question and long. It is the unstable entity forming the basis for the production of bodily images and understanding of the body, always showing how the body is necessarily bound to something else and not to itself. Only by employing its elusive language, we can start talking about things concerning the body.
Taking into account Freud's suggestion that throughout the history, art is the one soothing our primeval sorrow at the fact that "we shall never completely master nature; and our bodily organism, itself a part of that nature, will always remain a transient structure with a limited capacity for adaptation and achievement" ; we can observe different modes in which the artificial enters to soothe that primeval sorrow; enters, of course, with all of its paradoxes and characteristics I will attempt to follow in this book. The impossible body is then the one to which the artificial offers the basic illusion that it can become possible and which with its characteristics becomes an ideal model of every day bodies. The illusion is a paradoxical one - on the one hand, it introduces new forms and possibilities of representation but it presupposes the non-existence of the body as such on the other.
Exploring the production of bodily images, I pay special attention to theatre; theatre is namely the artform, which throughout the history most consistently pursued the desire for impossible bodies. The representational dictate of the mechanic structure was most obviously recognized by the Romantics who were first to point to the relation between the form of the human body and mechanic form that seems to fit the criteria of the aesthetic representation much better than the unpredictable human body.