Historians and other humanists who work with historical documents: Run, don’t amble, over to WNYC’s On the Media and listen to this week’s program, which is on the “Digital Dark Age” that may await us if we don’t come to terms with reliable means of saving and retrieving our digitally-stored data. Continue reading
One of the things about L.A. I’m really going to miss is reading the shrunken, vestigial, adware-addled Denver Post instead of the rich and lively LA Times, and one of the writers I’ll miss most is art critic Christopher Knight. Here’s his review of Caitlyn Jenner’s big reveal portrait by Annie Leibovitz on the cover of Vanity Fair published yesterday.
For all the advance buildup, the picture feels flat — a pedestrian celebrity pastiche of rather tired visual cliches. That’s too bad. Jenner’s courage in taking control of the public process of coming out as transgender is bold, and this will be the most widely seen initial image.
. . . . .
[T]he Vanity Fair photograph seems a missed opportunity — a picture from the past rather than the present. Maybe that’s because all its conventional, glamour-girl signals weigh down the lively fluidity swirling at the center of gender identity.
After describing work by photographer Catherine Opie and Judith Butler, and explaining that a more expansive and complicated vision of gender performance has been part of both the feminist and LGBT movements’ DNA since the early 1990s, Knight writes that the VF cover appears to have missed these conversations entirely. Instead, it’s a portrait of a 60-something woman by a 60-something woman that feels dated and conventional. “Leibovitz’s Caitlyn Jenner is a newfangled Vargas girl, one of those airbrushed cuties from the old pages of Playboy. Is that all there is?” Continue reading
I’ve been talking with a number of the other long-term fellows about the amazing fact that many of us have managed to gain weight while on sabbatical. Here we are, in Southern California, with its lovely weather and year-round fresh produce at local farmer’s markets several times each week, and we’re getting fatter! We’re getting fatter as we walk and bike to the library, and as we do yoga in the Chinese garden twice a week together (with classes taught by me and another fellow), and we’re all of us–or most of us, anyway–getting heavier!
Most of us live in places with winter cold and summer humidity in our real lives, and most of us drive a lot longer and further on a daily basis in our work commutes. Then there’s all of that day job tedium of teaching, meeting with students, and committee work that gets in the way of our running, walking, hiking, biking, and yoga, or what have you. Women and men alike have remarked on this unhappy side-effect of our residency here.
What is up with this? Continue reading
Today’s post is part II of a meditation on skin and ink inspired by Flavia’s recent adventures in body art. Part I is here.
Last week, the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library, Sue Hodson, gave a small group of readers a tour of some of the literary manuscripts from the collections that reveal the different ways in which writers wrote–some revised as they wrote in longhand or on a typewriter (Jack London and Charles Bukowski), others clearly didn’t save their drafts as their work was printed in clear, neat, meticulously spaced tiny letters on the page (Wallace Stevens). That was fascinating–it made me long to see the famous Mark Twain papers collected here.
More fascinating for the historians among us–or at least for me–was the conversation we got into about preservation issues. Hodson pointed out that the most durable and long-lasting materials for literary and historical texts are some of the oldest technologies like vellum and other parchment, whereas the newer technologies and media for storing information were some of the least stable and most ephemeral. In general, she said, the further you progress in time, the less stable the archival materials become. So, seventeenth and eighteenth-century paper made with rags is a much more stable information storage medium than cheap nineteenth-century paper made from wood pulp, and that wood-pulp paper is more durable than a great deal of later twentieth-century media. Continue reading
So many European medievalists and early modernists have Latin tattoos that I’m now declaring that this is A Thing. (I know: I’m probably the last to notice!) First, we have the example of the late, great (in bloggy terms) Squadratomagico, whose tattoo is on the back of her neck & which I have met in person (scholar, neck, tattoo, and all.) Then when I got to the Huntington, I noticed that a medievalist here has a mid-thirteenth century quotation from a manuscript tattooed on the inside of his left forearm.
Finally, we have Flavia, who has celebrated her fortieth birthday and her retirement from the job market alike by getting a Latin tattoo, also on the inside of her left forearm. Her tat says “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” or “Everything changes, nothing perishes,” which is a thought so lovely that it makes me cry. Of course it’s from Ovid’s Metamorphoses–what else? (Why the inside of the left forearm? I get the inside part, as it’s more protected from the sun and other injuries, but is the choice of right versus left merely a personal one or dependent on right- or left-handedness?)
I asked my tattooed Huntington colleague if he thought so many of his medievalist colleages had tattoos because medieval scholars in particular are accustomed to ink on skin through their work on vellum documents and manuscripts. (Vellum is a fine parchment made from lamb or kid skins, and is among the oldest paper-like technology we have for recording and preserving information.) He agreed that this might be an interesting connection, and also said that it’s pretty popular for people to get textual tattoos these days anyway. He also connected his tattoo to a major life change–in his experience, winning tenure, whereas for Flavia it was her fortieth birthday. Continue reading
Intersex activists have coined the insightful slogan, “No Body is Shameful®,” to draw attention to the shaming and forced cosmetic adherence to the idea of a “normal” body. Of course, here they are talking about people born with atypical sex development, like the one in 5000 infant girls born with MRKH Syndrome [Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome]. Since the nineteenth century, girls born without vaginas have endured the surgical creation of such anatomy. This reconstructive “corrective” surgery, described eloquently here by Esther Morris Leidolf, in a narrative she calls the “The Missing Vagina Monologue,” has never been done for the pleasure of the girl, but as her physician bluntly explained when she was only thirteen years old: so that she “could have a normal sex life with her husband.”
This is the kind of violence that The Vagina Monologues speaks to, even though there are no intersex characters in Eve Ensler’s play. It doesn’t matter (though it would be a good idea!). Watching the play encourages us to appreciate the profound refrain, “No Body is Shameful,” whether we have a vagina, want a vagina, like vaginas, or just love hearing the word spoken rebelliously and repeatedly on stage.
I like Reis’s point about the surgical violence done to women’s bodies for men’s pleasure. I know that many trans* people have embraced this kind of surgery as something that can make them whole or complete, but I sometimes wonder where the feminist critiques of allopathic medicine have gone sometimes in the trans* celebrations of the power of technology to alter people’s bodies through hormones and surgery. Continue reading
Because there are so many people here in California who are as hostile to vaccinating their children as many of Cotton Mather’s neighbors in Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century were hostile to inoculation, I thought I’d do a little research on three-hundred year old measles medical management. There was no such thing as a vaccination or inoculation for measles then, so let’s see what Mather’s 1713 advice on nursing a patient through measles looks like. (You can click on the link to see the full PDF of his pamphlet–it’s only four pages long.)
Mather offers loads of natural remedies for the symptoms of measles. Above all, he is against the “pernicious Method of Over-doing and Over-heating, and giving things to force Nature out of its own orderly way of proceeding. Before we go any further, let this Advice for the Sick, be principally attended to; Don’t kill ’em! That is to say, with mischevous Kindness. Indeed, if we stopt here and said no more, this were enough to save more Lives, than our Wars have destroy’d,” 1. Continue reading