Being In Pieces of Parchment (raw head and bloody bones)




That Words Do Not Contain the Thing In Itself ( Towards The Archeology of a Late 17th Century Anatomical Text Book)

I hold my breath, the last time I has a discussion about sensation with a doctor he drifted off and started reciting some sort of mantra on the subject that I could date to the early 17th century. Was he going to drink that urine specimen I had handed in at reception after I was gone to examine my vital spirits further?

Drawn from life. A senior neurologists. He had broken off the conversation and was correlating evidence and making a calculation. Vascular surgeon at this point will turn to diagrams and maths, make the calculation in silence. My neurologist liked to talk to himself as he thought, if he had been aware that I was capable of reading and placing his thought in context, he would I suspect have added a short modifying sentence, which would have allowed me to alter my thought and not place it in an older medical cosmos.

It ran for three to four sentences and was for the most part a literal 17th century reading. My dating is wrong (keep the error from its orginal post)  the event took place ten years ago. I was much closer to the sources then than now. The source I was familiar with was French the words were little different mid to late 17th century I think rather than early.

I contrast that with the small series of moves I have learned to use from the early 6th century. Clear difference, terse, more or less, It has to work.

They are drawn from one to one learning and a learning situation in which I am free not to have to provide an answer but can instead deploy the method I am more comfortable with, asking the stupid question.

I don’t know why you are describing the social structure as flat?

The more or less point comes up in the reply. It’s conected to other things but it gives the whole thing a very easy frame. You can use the general sense it gives and start to move around in the subject.

It’s a method of demonstrating something.

My neurologists method of demonstrating something to himself is far longer. Read and memorized but I can speculate its the same processes at work.

When I read late 17th century anatomy texts I was surprised to find the books themselves also had an archeology. They also stank. Long periods spent underneath oily light sources and fires. Soot stained finger prints. Some sources had an old series of bloody finger prints and blood stained lines when a passage was of particular relevance

Ghost of a movement marking the moment.

“The seconde [finger] hyght Index and Salutaris, as it hyght demonstratiuus, the shewer, For with hym we grete, and shewe, and teche all thynges.”
Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum (1535)


Index finger and the book a tool of demonstration in the anatomical lecture theatre.

First anatomical description of a chimpanzee contained these traces. Some passages were marked with a single blood stained finger print. Some were lined with it, the index finger marking each word in turn as it worked its way through a paragraph.

An index and referencing system constructed in the moment, as things unfold and become visible on the table. The surgeon switching between the book and the corpse on an anatomical table and seeking to remember, demonstrate and mark the movement of one thing to its other.

Or so I like to think.



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