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

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.

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