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

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Thank you and apologies

Hello all - first off we would like to apologise for the silence post-conference. It especially seems to jar with the fact that we have been very vocal about our desire to continue the blog and the online community inspired by this conference after the event itself.

However, the best laid plans and all that: graduation ceremonies, other commitments, and (best of all) holidays have kept all three conference organisers hopping over the last month, and we have not even had an opportunity to properly compose our own thoughts about the conference itself. However, the impressions it left were unforgettable.

Which leads to the second point: thank you. We want to thank our fabulous conference keynote speakers - Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Margrit Shildrick, and Peter Hutchings - for their outstanding contributions. If you were unable to attend, we regret that we can only give a hazy impression of the inspiring dialogue that took place between Rosemarie and Margrit on Day 1 of the conference, through both their keynotes and the questions that followed, which was regarded by many participants as one of the highlights of the day. However, we are incredibly fortunate that Jeffrey has posted a version of the paper which grew from his paper on zombie aesthetics, Grey (A Zombie Ecology) on his website In The Middle (he also wrote some lovely comments about the conference and his time in Edinburgh here). We highly recommend that you check it out.

Finally, we would like to thank all of our truly fantastic participants, those who gave papers and those who didn't, who were both equally a part of the conversation that took place throughout both days. You made your way from Europe, North America, andAustralia, to face weather which was, even for Edinburgh, pretty atrocious. Despite jet-lagged and waterlogged brains you delivered insightful papers and asked difficult questions and inspired discussion that was challenging, intense, and brilliant, and for that we cannot thank you enough. If you will be so patient as to accept our belated thoughts and thanks, and to wait just a little bit longer for information about the next stage of the Sensualising Deformity experience, we look forward to continuing that generous conversation and we hope that you do, too.

That reminds me - if you attended the conference and have written a post on your blog or website (or would like to) with reflections on the event, keynotes, panels, or general discussion, we would love to be able to share that with everyone! I know some people already have posted links on the Facebook group, and we will be setting up links on the blog as well to those posts, but if there are more please do let us know and we'll include them.

Thank you all again,
Ally, Maja, and Karin

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Some Conference Particulars

As the conference is less than a week away, we just wanted to post a few points for those blog readers who may be planning to attend but who have not yet registered. You will be able to register in person on 15 June; however, we will not have equipment for card payments. This means that you will need to ensure you have the registration fee in cash with you. There are cash points nearby, if you need them.

If you have any specific dietary requirements, we advise you to register as soon as possible in advance. Catering is all vegetarian with vegan options, but if you have any allergies (including gluten intolerance) and you do not register in advance, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to meet your requirements (note: all dietary needs outlined by those who have already registered have been taken into account).

A reminder again that due to the University's Open Day on 15 June, we will have a different venue each day of the conference. On Friday 15 June we will be located at the Old College on South Bridge, with registration to be found in the atrium outside of Lecture Theatre 175, and on Saturday 16 June we will move to the nearby 7 Bristo Square; registration will be set up in the main lobby for those who have arranged for a one-day booking on that day. A map with both venues marked has been provided on our Fees and Information page, which also lists some nearby restaurants, pubs, and places of interest.

Finally, we hope that as many of our blog readers are able to come as possible, since we would very much like to meet all of you, and we cannot express how excited we are to see so many of you within the week!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jessica Harrison: Carving, cutting, breaking, shaping, tracing, folding, skinning.

Jessica Harrison's artwork has been the object of adoration for at least one of the conference organisers for going on two years now, ever since first laying eyes on 'Broken', a series of small ceramic figurines that have been, in Harrison's words, 'modified, revealed and reshaped to show a soft and fleshy interior underneath the brittle and fragile skin.' But the grotesque beauty of Sophia, Emily, or Caroline is just one example of Harrison's sensuous engagement with the monstrosity of 'the body in space, the space within the body and the space in-between the two.'
Caroline, 2010;

Harrison describes her work as an attempt to 'examine how we can go beyond the traditional idea of the interior and exterior with some skin in-between, to explore a complex chiasm of surfaces and sensations that relate to and transgress one another. Rather than being a stable entity, the body emerges as one that is in constant flux, shifting, stretching, snapping, softening.' This exploration is is embodied in the titles bestowed upon her different series; in addition to 'Broken', Harrison lists 'Holding', 'Slicing', 'Splitting', and 'Looking' amongst her collections. The series 'Holding' is a particularly interesting exploration of sensuality and materiality of objects; Harrison explains on her Facebook page that 'the objects explore the shape of the felt, rather than the visual body.' Constructing intricate miniatures of household furniture based on casts of her own hands, the images connect and elide the objects with the body that gives them form.

Examples of each collection can be found on Harrison's website, where prints of the different series can be ordered; more extensive albums are available on her Facebook page. Images of Harrison's work is featured in the Spring, 2012 edition of Creative Quarterly alongside an interview, and she has upcoming exhibitions in London, Leicester, and Malta; if you are nearby, they would be well worth a visit.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson Seminar in Edinburgh

Way back in April (how the time has flown!) we posted about the fantastic Bodies in Movement seminar series taking place here in Edinburgh this spring/summer. We can now confirm that the first of those three seminars, featuring a talk by Scott Wilson and subsequent discussion, was truly brilliant. We would also like to draw your attention to the second seminar in the series, which is taking place on 14 June. This seminar will feature our own keynote speaker, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, delivering a paper and leading discussion on 'Disability, Gender, Bodies.'

The seminar series comprises a full afternoon of academic conversation, which offers the opportunity for an intensity of discussion that is not typically realised at conferences or symposia. With three respondents offering unique perspectives on the keynote paper, and a good span of time allotted for questions, we can highly recommend the seminar series to anyone local to the Edinburgh area or who may be flying in a day or two in advance of the conference.

Registration is free, but you must book in advance. For details or to register, visit the Bodies in Movement website. We hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Conference Venue Update

As the conference is rapidly approaching, we wanted to ensure that all delegates and potential delegates know where to find us on both days. Due to a conflict with the University of Edinburgh's Open Day, the conference will be in a different venue on each day. On Friday, 15 June, we will be in the University's historic Old College building, and on Saturday, 16 June, we will be in the nearby 7 Bristo Square on the main campus. The conference programme will be updated shortly with room allocations.

Below, we have created a map of both locations (you can see how close they are), and we have added a few nearby pubs and places of interest should you have some free time while you are in Edinburgh. You can click on the map to enlarge it and zoom in on different areas of the city.

View Sensualising Deformity Conference Map in a larger map

Friday, 18 May 2012

Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh Online Archive Launch

With a little less than a month to go before the conference, we sadly have to admit that blog posts have slipped, and for that we are sorry! Just a reminder that we are open to guest posts or suggestions so long as it related to the theme of the conference; you can reach us by e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook, and we'd love to hear from you.

Today, however, we'd like to share with you the exciting launch of a fantastic new resource from our very own Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh: The Sibbald Library's Online Archive. The result of a 2-year Wellcome Trust grant, the archive is in the process of cataloguing the RCPE's deposited collections to provide greater access to the public. Already, 8,000 items have been catalogued in the archive, and the project is set to continue until February 2013. The archive boasts 189 collections online, each with its own detailed collection level description and hierarchical description of all records.

Collections include sources from:

  • Joseph Black
  • William Cullen
  • Andrew Duncan
  • Edinburgh General Lying-In Hospital
  • Edinburgh Obstetrical Society
  • Francis Home
  • James Gregory
  • John Gregory
  • James Hamilton
  • John Hope
  • William Hunter
  • Alexander Monro
  • Alexander Morison
  • John Playfair
  • John Pringle
  • John Rutherford
  • Andrew St Clair
  • Scottish Medical Service Emergency Committee
  • Alexander Russell Simpson
  • James Young Simpson
  • Robert Whytt
  • Thomas Young
It should be pointed out that the collections are arranged according to creator rather than subject matter, although you can search according to date, person, place, subject, format, category, title, or even reference number (should you know it). Only a year in to the project and already the result looks to be a significant online resource for those interested in the history of medicine and the medical humanities; I'm sure that you, like us, look forward to seeing the archive in its completion in 2013!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Keynote Lectures: Titles Announced

Dear All, we are thrilled to announce our brilliant keynote lecture titles! The lectures will be followed by short response papers and an engaging discussion!
The titles are as follows:

Margrit Shildrick, “On Longing for the Monstrous: Some Precautionary Observations”
with a response by Karin Sellberg
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Seeing the Unusual: Thoughts on the Ethics of Showing Disability”
with a response by Ally Crockford
Peter Hutchings, “Monstering the 1970s: Deviation, Mutilation and Negotiation in American Horror
with a response by Maja Milatovic
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Zombie Aesthetics”
with a response by Kamillea Aghtan

The updated schedule can be viewed here!
Those of you who are yet to register - follow this link for registration and arrival details!

Finally, it goes without saying that we are very excited for the upcoming events and are looking forward to welcoming all of you to Edinburgh - less than two months left!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Bodies in Movement Seminar Series

As we are eagerly anticipate our conference and your arrivals, we would like to bring your attention to the Bodies in Movement Seminar Series, a follow-up to last year's Bodies in Movement conference organized at the University of Edinburgh. The Bodies in Movement (BiM) organizers are pleased to announce a series of three half-day seminars, continuing the innovative theoretical frame of the conference which will be taking place during May, June and July 2012!
According to the BiM organizers, each of these seminars will "spotlight the work of an established scholar who will present material related to pre-selected pieces of their published writing. This will be followed by three 15 minute responses, after which the floor will be opened to more detailed discussion of the various issues raised with all participants. Participants are asked to prepare in advance for these seminars by reading key material chosen by our invited speakers."
The preliminary schedule includes:

24 May 2012:
Scott Wilson (Media and Communication, Kingston University) will discuss his work on schizophrenia, neoliberalism and cinema.

14 June 2012: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Women's Studies, Emory University) will open a discussion on her current work in the field of disability studies and the humanities.

2 July 2012: Stuart Elden (Geography, Durham University) will tease out the intertwined geographical and material intricacies of Shakespeare's Coriolanus (and its recent 2011 cinematic counterpart starring Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler) with "Bellies, Wounds, Infections, Animals, Territories: The Political Bodies of Coriolanus".

As you can see from this engaging schedule, these seminar series are designed to delve into the "interstices of the humanities, materiality and the sciences, a rapidly expanding but also relatively recent field." The participatory nature of these seminars is aimed at developing new ideas which "address materiality in the intersection of the arts and the sciences, early-career academics and current students," so join the BiM series for an excellent discussion!
(Also - for those delegates arriving to the conference outside Edinburgh - you might have noticed that one of our keynote speakers - Rosemarie Garland Thomson - will be discussing her landmark work at the BiM seminar series so if you happen to be in Edinburgh the day before, this is the place to be!
For more information on the seminar series, a more detailed schedule, contacts as well as information on key texts, see the Bodies in Movement website.

Finally, attendance is free but places are limited, so if you are interested in participating, please e-mail the organizers below to book a place and receive more information!
Karin Sellberg ( Lena Wånggren ( Kamillea Aghtan (

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Rare, Beautiful, Disturbing

First: a reminder that there are only 10 days to register for the conference at the reduced rates. Advanced booking closes on 15 April, and we urge you to take advantage of this offer before it does: see the Fees and Information tab for details and links to the booking website.

Now, we'd like to thank one of our Twitter followers for the following link to Wired Science's sneak peek at the very recently released book Hidden Treasure. The book provides a brief glimpse into the unfathomable depths of the National Library of Medicine's extensive collection as part of the NLM's 175th anniversary celebrations. The Wired Science preview is comprised of images, film rolls, or texts which are distinguished by being rare, beautiful, and disturbing.

The cross-section is an intriguing one, and perhaps indicative of the close-knit relationship between the sensational, and the beautiful/disturbing. A mummified and mutilated hand from Eugène-Louis Doyen's Atlas of Topographic Anatomy (1911), its lines pronounced and severed, seems to be the visualised anticipation of some grotesque touch; the presence of a similarly disembodied hand clutching the shoulder of a bandaged patient in Joseph Jacob-Henri's sketch from Complete Study of the Human Anatomy (1831-54) perverts the reassurance of bodily contact.

The book itself, according to the publisher's description, is an exhibition of objects that 'glow with beauty, grotesquery, wit and/or calamitous tragedy'. Edited by Michael Sappol, the collection includes 'a series never before reproduced of hauntingly delicate paintings and illustrations of “monstra” collected in the early decades of the nineteenth century “from the museum of Dr. Klinkenberg” in the Netherlands; charming hand-painted glass “magic lantern slides,” which doctors projected in slideshows to entertain and help cure inmates at St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Insane; the mimeographed report of the Japanese medical team first to enter Hiroshima after the atomic blast'.

The illustrated "monstra" are exhibited alongside disturbing images of inhumanity, and the anatomical reality of our bodies themselves. The collection also includes x-rays from Adolph Hitler's medical records, illustrations of a man so often deemed monstrous that are unnervingly devoid of the bodily monstrosity depicted elsewhere in the collection. Each treasure is accompanied by a brief essay from distinguished scholars, artists, or physicians, including Lisa O'Sullivan, Mark S. Micale, Jeffrey S. Reznick, Benjamin Reiss, Shigehisa Kuriyama, Susan E. Lederer, and Rosamond Purcell, among many others.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Bio-Politics Video Journal

If you haven't already heard, earlier this month the new online video journal BioPolitics launched their first issue, Past and Present of Eugenics. The issue features a video dialogue between Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Emory University), one of our fantastic keynote speakers, and Ruth S. Cowan (University of Pennsylvania), as well as annotations by Rachel Adams, Paul Lombardo, Marisa Miranda, and Gustav Vallejo. The issue also features an interview with Nikolas Rose.

The dialogue "contextualize[s] and complicate[s] the current discussion of eugenic practices" by considering the history of eugenics in relation to contemporary narratives of reproduction and reproductive rights, engaging with issues of disability discrimination, before reflecting on the significance of eugenics and Nazism to modern medical practice.

The next issue of the volume will address the topic of Mental Illness and Leadership, featuring a video dialogue between S. Nassir Ghaemi (Tufts University) and Howard I. Kushner (Emory University), and the journal is currently accepting proposals for future video dialogues pertaining to political, cultural, and ethical perspectives on medicine and politics.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Monsters and the Monstrous

As excited as we are for the launch of our conference registration, we know that the level of interest the event has generated since September far exceeds the number of people who will be travelling to Edinburgh in June. While we hope to see as many of you at the conference as can make it, we also want to continue providing resources support for those of you who can't.

Which is why we are also excited to announce the publication of The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous, edited by Asa Simon Mittman. This sensational book looks to be a landmark release in the field of monster studies, and features essays by conference keynote Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (who brought the collection to our attention), as well as Patricia MacCormack, John Block Friedman, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, Dana Oswald, Debra Higgs Strickland, Karl Steel, and Peter J. Dendle.

Sufficiently weighty, both in mass and in content, from the looks of the table of contents and available excerpts, to justify the list price, there seems little doubt that the Companion will become a stable of monster researchers' libraries everywhere. In an emerging field of study, we can't help but gleefully imagine the shock and awe it will inspire in newly inducted students as it works its way into core course syllabi.

On a lighter, and more literary, note, we would also like to point out that this week marks the "12 Days of Monsters" on the Weird Fiction Review website. Posts by Jeff VanderMeer and Nancy Hightower have already touched on China Miéville, and throughout the whole week Pretty Monsters, a novella by Kelly Link, is available, as is a free download of VanderMeer's own Monstrous Creatures collection. Well worth keeping an eye on as the week unfolds!

Of course, a reminder that registration, travel, and accommodation info can now be found on the "Fees and Information" page here.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Conference Registration Now Live!

We are very excited to be able to announce that conference registration is now live! We are currently offering reduced advanced booking which will be available until 15 April, after which time the rates will revert to the standard prices. Of course we encourage you to take advantage of the advanced booking rates while you can!

You can register for the conference here. The preliminary conference programme is available here, and information regarding travel to and accommodation in Edinburgh can be found here.

Advanced booking rates (currently online) are as follows:
  • Advanced day-fee (unwaged) - £35
  • Advanced day-fee (waged) - £50
  • Advanced full-fee (unwaged) - £55
  • Advanced full-fee (waged) - £85
The standard booking rates are as follows:
  • Day-fee (unwaged) - £50
  • Day-fee (waged) - £65
  • Full-fee (unwaged) - £70
  • Full-fee (waged) - £100
Day-fee bookings will include access to the conference on the chosen day, as well as access to any additional events which may take place on that day. Please note that conference-related events on days for which you have not registered may carry a small separate fee.

Full-fee bookings include access to all conference events on both days as well as to the conference itself.

Information regarding such external conference events, including a conference dinner, will be made available nearer to the event itself. Please don't hesitate to contact us via e-mail at sdefconference(at) if you have any questions or concerns regarding registration.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Preliminary Conference Programme

At long last, we are very excited to present a preliminary conference programme! Keep in mind that this is still quite early days, but this should give you some indication of the wonderful and exciting papers that will be presented come June.

Registration is also in the works and we very much hope to have that information for you within the week - sooner, if we have curried favour with one assortment of gods or another. There will be an advanced booking rate for those who choose to register by a certain deadline, and we of course encourage you to take advantage of that opportunity if you are able. There will also be reduced rates for unwaged participants, and day rates.

We would like to point out that the monster workshop and film night events are also still in the organisational stage, so the timing may change as things develop. We will post more details as things solidify. If you register for the conference on that date or for both days, you will be automatically able to attend both or either event; there may be an additional small fee for anyone not registered for that date.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who submitted a proposal for the conference. It's difficult to really express how many truly fantastic papers we were sent, and how difficult it was to make decisions when constructing our panel sessions. We hope that as many of you as possible are able to still attend the conference, because if anything the quality and quantity of the proposals we received is an indication of the kind of exciting, innovative, and brilliant scholarship is being undertaken in this area at the moment, and we hope that you are able to come and participate in what will no doubt be a weekend of stunning academic ideas and discussion.

To that end, since we are aware that Edinburgh in June tends to be quite a bustling city, with quite a tourist influx, we have included a new page with details of accommodation ideas and travel details which you can find here, or at the top of the page under the "Coming to Edinburgh" tab. We hope this proves helpful, and that we can meet all of you in a few short months!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Monstrosity of the "Flesh" - Diederik Klomberg

By way of apology for our continued silence this month, we would like to make a peace offering in the form of a stunning piece of film art by Netherlands-based Diederik Klomberg: Flesh. For more of Klomberg's work, visit his website.

This 8-min short film offers what almost feels like a complete sensual envelopment, the soundtrack alone evoking a sensation perhaps akin to being bathed in amniotic fluid. The womb-like audio experience is paired alongside a mesmerising transformation of flesh as clitoris becomes ear, becomes bellybutton, becomes nipple. The film is a seamless mutation of the body in which folds, crevices, orifices, and unbroken skin melt into one another with a recklessness abandonment of the traditions of human form.

Flesh is a cinematic creation of the monstrous body in pieces, the body that is always already in the process of becoming both itself and its fleshly other. Each dissected, high definition pound of flesh becomes as alien as the Elephant Man's tumorous excess, or one of H.G. Geiger's biomechanical creatures. Each image is carved out of the healthy body to take on a life of its own; the breathing, pulsing soundtrack is not that of the body in-toto, but of a new, foreign body that quivers and grows as sphincters expand and an expanse of smooth skin crumples into canyons.

Since we are in the process of setting up registration and putting together a preliminary conference schedule, updates may be few and far between yet (although we hope to see a change in that pattern soon). Until then, treat yourself for about 8 minutes. There's really nothing quite like getting lost in a rolling tide of flesh and finding yourself confronted with the glorious monstrosity of a perfectly normal nostril.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Fantastic Films, Fantastic Bodies

Our deepest apologies for the delay in posts; naturally we have been stunned into silence by the quality and volume of the proposals we have received in the last few weeks (and months). There's still a few days left to submit your abstracts - see the call for papers for details - so we hope to see a few more yet.

We'd also like to hopefully make up for our blog silence by bringing your attention to a very interesting article published in 2006 in Offscreen - David Church's "Fantastic Films, Fantastic Bodies: Speculations on the Fantastic and Disability Representation". The article offers an exploration of representations of disability in films whose potential to render "positive critical readings and powerful depictions of disability" has often been neglected. In fact, the "fantastic" films that form the basis for Church's discussion - namely Freaks (1932), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Videodrome (1982) - are more likely to be the focal point for negative criticism regarding their depictions of exceptional bodies than anything else, and in the case if Freaks this has typically been the case.

Church opens by addressing such criticism, emphasising the importance of genre in influencing the way that such representations are read. He notes that
'Although fantastic films stimulate the imagination, many of them also stimulate the body itself through the devices common to “body genres” (i.e., horror, porn, and melodrama); Hawkins, for example, notes the predominance of body genre affect in art-horror, avant-garde films, and various “paracinematic” films that easily classify as fantastic. With the direct appeals to the viewer’s body made by these “low” fantastic texts (not unlike the fearful and tearful affect sought by freak show practitioners showcasing “monstrous,” exotic, sexually ambiguous, and pitiable human specimens), perhaps it is not surprising that they have been ignored by disability studies scholars seeking to displace the site of disability away from the material bounds of the corporeal body... [however,] disability studies focuses its probing and analytical gaze upon the “proper” (or “normal”) body of social realist films, largely ignoring the “grotesque” and “improper” (or “abnormal”) body of fantastic films, leaving a conspicuous gap in the discipline’s critical discourses'
Offering a lengthy dissection of three "fantastic" cinematic representations of extraordinary bodies, Church raises some intriguing questions regarding the legitimacy accorded or denied portrayals of disability based often primarily on the basis or exclusion of the context within which the portrayal is presented. He concludes by considering that 'the imaginative framework of the fantastic film moves the grotesque disabled body from the margins of representation and into the spotlight, much like the freak show performer on stage: an exploitative spectacle for sure, but one which might inadvertently point back toward our own cyborgian mode of spectatorship.'

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

"Freaky" terminology in Google's Ngram Viewer

Just a short post today about something that one of the conference organisers has been playing around with in liu of facing actual work. If you've encountered Google's Ngram viewer before then perhaps you have already thought to input the various words typically associated with the extraordinary body throughout history to see what you get. If not, then we'd like to share the following:

This graph represents the use of different terminology over time (from 1700 - 2000) as found in Google Books' digitized collection (click on the image for the full size, click on the in-text link for the details of search criteria or to run your own).

Breaking that down into labels which might, historically, have been associated with, or at least which now tend to be associated with historical/cultural conceptions of, extraordinary bodies - namely "monstrous," "deformed," "disabled," and "freak" - suggests some surprising trends in usage.

Below are a series of related breakdowns.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sins Invalid: Disability and Sexuality

This post is going to be a two-for-one deal, to make up for the fact that we've still not gotten quite back into our usual routine of 2-3 posts each week.

First, we would like to draw your attention to a project based in San Francisco but which is thankfully reaching its way across America and the Atlantic - Sins Invalid. The project itself is a performance-based initiative which  "incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities," according to the website's description, "centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized from social discourse."

What is even more exciting is that they are currently in the final stages of production on a 41 min film that reflects the project itself: Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty. The film is designed to, as they phrase it, "serve as an entryway into the absurdly taboo topic of sexuality and disability," a notion which pertains particularly to the aims of the conference, so naturally we are very excited to see the final result! The project is still looking for funding through a kickstarter campaign in order to complete the last details of production, and they offer incentives depending on your donation. As with any Kickstarter fundraising scheme, your donation only goes through if they reach their goal, and we certainly hope they do, so please check out their campaign and their website, and if you're lucky enough to be in the area, seek out one of their performances!

The second piece of news we have is more relevant for those of you in the Edinburgh area (or who might be in the Edinburgh area at some point). The Surgeon's Hall Museum will be open 12-4pm on weekends once more starting 31 March and lasting all the way until October. We can very much vouch for the quality of the museum, and it is well worth a visit. It could be a fantastic Saturday day-trip; not enough day-trips feature pathological anatomical specimens, and the team behind Sensualising Deformity thinks it's time to change that!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Call for Papers Extension

We have been incredibly blessed to receive a wealth of truly fascinating paper proposals over the last two and a half months. However, we must admit that when it comes to examples of academic brilliance, we are greedy, and so to maximise the number of proposals that we get to pour over, we have decided to extend the deadline for the call for papers to 16 February 2012.

"Sirenomelius, front and rear view", Human Monstrosities,
Hirst and Piersol (1893). Wellcome Library Collection.
We would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone who reads the blog, has submitted a proposal, or follows us on Facebook or Twitter to pass the word along to anyone else who might be interested - they now have an extra two weeks to work on an abstract!

As before, abstracts should be submitted to, and the full call for papers can be found here. We also have a page devoted to outlining specific strands of discussion that we hope to develop - here. Even if you are unable to submit a proposal or attend the conference, we encourage you to contact us or continue following the blog updates as it is our long-term goal to link this wide-reaching community of researchers together by mailing lists and other means once the conference itself has passed.

For the time being, we very much look forward to yet more brilliant paper proposals in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Freakery and "Aesthetic Traces"

If you happen to be interested in "freaks," freakery, and its relationship to nineteenth-century medical "monsters", we'd like to draw your attention to a fascinating article published in 2005 in the Disability Studies Quarterly, Sheila Moeschen's "Aesthetic Traces in Unlikely Places: Re-visioning the Freak in 19th-Century American Photography". The article, which is open access, offers an intriguing reading of the role that photography played in the creation and presentation of extraordinary bodies in the nineteenth century; Moeschen denies that fictive division which might separate the objective medical photograph from its public side-show counterpart, typically deemed to be more deliberately titillating. Instead, she suggests,
"The two traditions form a reciprocal relationship that illuminates their representational and political imbrications. The historical persistence to delineate between a medical and artistic "aesthetic" reveals a disconcerting bias towards privileging the power and credibility of the empirical realm over the artistic."
Moeschen points to the role that "sensation" played in separating the clinical photograph of medical monstrosity from the "freak portrait", evoking perhaps a distinction between the sensational props and posing of the visual construction of freakery with the potentially sensualised medical photographs which are marked by their nudity in order to reveal the anomalous body more fully to the viewer.

The article focuses on what Moeschen calls the "performative trace," which she sees as characterising the construction of both medical and sensational photographs of individuals with extraordinary bodies, creating "an alternate frame around these subjects that explicitly signals the perceptual and cognitive apparatuses ascribed to performance." She notes that
"The performative trace becomes another presentational "mode" employed, ironically in the case of the medical profession, to disarm these unusual bodies, endowing them with a quality of the ephemeral that ultimately promotes uncritical fascination; it promotes a kind of fetishistic voyeurism and illicit titillation."
The instability which this theatrical element introduces into these photographs is, for Moeschen, a deliberate strategy on the part of both medical and sideshow photographers to manipulate the "cultural and ideological value" of their subjects.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Welcoming 2012 (a wee bit late)

We are back! Hello, and happy new year, and our deepest apologies for such a long silence. It had been our intention to post a little bit over the holidays, but like most holiday goals we fell short and were lost in a well-spiced mulled-wine abyss for much longer than we expected.

However, to kick off the year we'd like to draw attention to a kind of companion post which ties in surprisingly well to our last post of 2011. This article by Susan Dominus was brought to our attention recently and seemed rather appropriate given the news we brought you around Christmas time of the successful birth of conjoined twins Jesus and Emanuel in Brazil.

Dominus' article, (and warning, it is quite a long-winded one), focuses on conjoined twins Krista and Tatiana Hogan in British Columbia, Canada, who, as craniopagus conjoined twins, raise quite a different question regarding subjectivity and separation. In many ways, the interest isn't any different from the traditional obsession with conjoined twins' shared experience and exactly how far it extends - experiments exploring shared sensation never seem to change much beyond the pinching and prodding of first one twin and then the other. However the notion of a thalamic bridge does seem to offer a uniquely complex set of questions regarding Krista and Tatiana's development and the prospects for their future identity.

The article also raises and glosses over some of those aspects of life as conjoined twins which have historically always seemed to hover in the shadows. While she specifically refers to the family's refusal to subject the twins to unnecessary medical study (“If one of them needs it for their health, by all means, they can do what they need to do,” said their step-grandfather... “But I’ll be damned if you’re going to poke and prod and experiment on them”), she also makes extensive reference to the response of the medical community to the discovery of the supposed thalamic bridge.

Similarly, the article appears to emphasise the girls normality, almost going so far as to suggest an absence of any spectacular element in their public lives (“Guests might have looked for a half-second longer than they ordinarily would, but they invariably smiled at the sight of the girls’ evident glee, just as they would at any other two small children”) and yet refers not only to the fact that the girls have been the subject of a documentary (on the National Geographic channel, to be precise), but also rather glossing over the family's pursuit of a reality television show.

This endeavour seems to be inspired by talent manager Chuck Harris, who in this interview is titled a “freak wrangler, manager and talent agent ”, and who refers to himself as  “the conductor of a symphony of wackos... When you need something strange and eye-popping and nobody knows where to look, I’m the guy to find it for you.”

While the idea that the twins may share more than just physical sensation is a fascinating one, and no one seems to deny that it poses brand new implications for understanding subjectivity and a sensed embodiment, their labelling on the part of one neuroscientist as “a new life form” and their engagement with a self-identified “freak-wrangler” seem to raise some unfortunately more familiar ghosts of the past.