Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Friday, 9 September 2011

British Medical Journal Teratological Memoranda

Images courtesy of the BMJ Publishing Group,
BMJ 1889, June 8; 1(1484): 1288–1289.
Those of you interested in teratology - 19th century especially - will probably already be quite familiar with the British Medical Journal's Teratological Memoranda, but if you haven't had a spare hour or two to browse through their older archives looking for reports of "human monsters", we would like to direct you to articles such as this, which describes the birth of three monstrous infants, a pair of conjoined twins and a limbless child whose birth is attributed to the mother having "seen a fish she never thought existed". Perhaps the most interesting thing featured in both reports is the woodcut included with each, that of the conjoined twins especially. 

In placing the figure of the twins against a black background, the gap between them and the band of flesh which binds them together are thrown into sharp relief; their faces seem closer, within kissing distance, because of the space between them. Their position seems transformed into a sensual one by the intense nearness, which is itself born of that crucial gap. Contrasted with the harshly tactile description given by the author of his involvement in their birth, focused on his probing hands and fingers, in this image it is the lack of contact which is the more sensuous.

The image of the limbless child, on the other hand, is memorable for the almost wistful expression depicted on the baby's face, its humanity over emphasised as if to counter the anomalous form below.

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