Iconoclasm and Vandalism Through the Body-Soul Vocabulary of Nilton Bonder’s ‘The Immoral Soul’

Abhishek VR
2 min readNov 28, 2020

· Nilton Bonder breaks with tradition when he uses the two terms ‘body’ and ‘soul’ in a radically original manner:

— ‘Body’ has as its primary aim reproduction and transmission of genes in the biological sense, and maintaining society’s mores and traditions through generations, in the social sense.

— ‘Soul’ is representative of the need to disobey society’s norms if they are perceived as obsolete or inimical to the long-term sustenance of the society itself. In the psychological sense, the ‘soul’ denotes the impulse to disobey worn-out rules, to venture forth in the quest for new lands, and the possibility of rebirth. In evolutionary language, the soul represents events of genetic rewriting and mutation.

· The body’s precepts are classified as ‘moral’ and the adjective ‘right’ is applied to them, while the soul’s pursuits are labelled ‘immoral’ and the adjective ‘good’ is preferred.

· Rabbi Bonder suggests that what is important in both the cases of the individual and the society is to maintain the tension between the ‘body’ and the ‘soul’, between the ‘right’ and the ‘good’. A shift of the equilibrium in favour of either ‘body’ or ‘soul’ is what Bonder terms ‘betrayal’.

· Now we introduce two terms ubiquitous in discussions on the history of art, though they are equally applicable in the history of ideas as well: the terms are ‘iconoclasm’ and ‘vandalism’.

· Vandalism comes from the Germanic people called the Vandals, who sacked Rome in 455 and destroyed art and sculpture.

· Iconoclasm comes from the Greek work ‘eikon’ meaning ‘icon’ and ‘eikenai’ meaning ‘to resemble’, and ‘klan’, meaning ‘to break’. Hence, an iconoclast is an image-breaker.

· Next, we endeavour to find a correspondence between these two terms and the body-soul dichotomy described earlier.

— An act of the body, driven by its frustration and feeling of claustrophobia, is vandalism, while an act of the soul, undertaken for the purpose of rejuvenation and reconstruction is iconoclasm.

— A vandal is blind and destructive, while an iconoclast is reconstructive, with an aim and vision.

· A vandal is an agent of the body but attempts to disguise itself as an instrument of the soul; an iconoclast cares little for any disguise. Where the vandal is cautious, the iconoclast is spontaneous.

· The vandal possesses a poor appreciation of, and little respect for, the structure he in the act of tearing down, while the iconoclast realizes that the now obsolete structure was itself once the product of the efforts of another soul that came before him — he salutes it as he brings it down.