MedHum Monday Presents: Galileo’s Middle Finger

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Monday! Today we have an unusual treat. Galileo’s Middle Finger is Alice Dreger’s third book-length work in the history and ethics of medicine; her previous books are Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex and One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal. She also works as an activist in the area of patient advocacy and you can watch her 2010 TED talk, Is Anatomy Destiny?, online. Today’s post has been composed by two of the Dose’s brilliant reviewers, Hanna and Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. Galileo’s Middle Finger, they explain, uses Dreger’s own experience, as well as researched case studies in politics of science, to explore the role (historical and scientific) evidence plays — or doesn’t play — in advancing human knowledge and flourishing. But today’s review offers something new:

“As historians with an interest in both medical history and social justice work, we decided to read the book and have a conversation about it. Here is an edited version of that conversation.”
~ Hanna & Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

REVIEW IN CONVERSATION:

GalileosMiddleFinger_cover_0-300x453Anna: I first became aware of Alice Dreger’s work several years ago, and when I saw Galileo’s Middle Finger coming out, I was excited to see that she was going to tackle the question of science and social justice. I have an overall positive response to the notion of “evidence-based activism,” though having read the book I can’t shake the feeling that Dreger leans really heavily on the scientific method as a solution to social and political conflict — like, if only people would pay attention to the evidence we’d all get along. That activists would stop attacking scientists as anti-social justice, and scientists would stop practicing medicine that was contrary to human well-being. I’m just not sure it’s that’s simple.

Hanna: I had never heard of the author before this book. She’s an excellent storyteller. She does a very good job at breaking apart some very complicated scientific-cultural concepts, particularly walking through the vagaries of intersex really well without giving the sense of talking down to the reader — really common in this genre of popular science writing. Or of being bored having to stop and explain the basics — she is still finding explaining these concepts really interesting, which communicates itself on the page.

In terms of the conception of science, she’s very positivist about how evidence should be treated, like if you have evidence showing one thing or another go with that! We found this thing and it’s great! It reads as if she’s found a very satisfactory trial-and-error system for herself. But just presenting the evidence doesn’t always lead people to your way of thinking.

Anna: I hadn’t thought about it with that framing, as a very historically-specific view of empirical data collection. For me it was a question of, well, saying “evidence-based” is great, but evidence is never pure, it’s never without a bias or perspective. Like, at one point she writes about “the dangerous intellectual rot occurring within certain branches of academe – the privileging of politics over evidence” (139). Yes, sometimes one group of people is making claims completely not grounded in data. But sometimes we’re looking at the same data and drawing different conclusions! I’m not sure where these “certain branches of academe” are that she’s talking about — and she never really persuasively documents that level of “rot.”

What Galileo does offer are some pretty spectacular case-studies of personal vendettas and in-fighting in fields like anthropology, psychology, medicine — I don’t think this amounts to a pattern of retreat from the evidence so much as it does examples of shitty human behavior even in professional contexts.

Hanna: Nobody looks at evidence in a vacuum — you look at it in a whole collection of how else you see the world … ideologically, institutionally, ad lib into infinity. Pure research is not pure research, nor are conclusions, and none of those are presented in a scientific-cultural bubble. Popularizations add a whole separate level of complexity. They may not in the control of the person doing the original research, but know what you’re getting into — and don’t act surprised if people are upset about the way your research is used in the real world!

Anna: A scientist who draws an unpopular conclusion shouldn’t be professionally pilloried, okay, but it felt sometimes like Dreger glossed over the ways in which some of the individuals she profiled may have done sound science and faced unjust harassment — but perhaps for reasons that shouldn’t be overlooked. I don’t think Dreger, as an activist and patient advocate overlooks those effects — but in the space of these narratives it often feels like she’s constructed stories with scientific martyrs and social justice villains. Which I think unfairly undermines her larger point!

Hanna: It’s like she’s talking, at times, to what I think of as “the old school” of activist? Like she was talking to the people who told my college therapist she couldn’t couldn’t be a feminist because she was a dyke! Like, who quotes Camille Paglia anymore?

Anna: Well, Camille Paglia quotes Camille Paglia these days, but … ! Yeah, I mean, I felt like she was talking to a very particular set of academics and activists from the 1980s and 90s who had very firm sway on select subcultures within both academia and politics — but were never actually hegemonic. Like the chapter in which she talks about the researcher who supposedly attracts the ire of feminists for his theory that rapists are partially motivated by sexual desire in committing rape. I don’t think the “rape is violence, not sex” theory was ever as simplistic as she glosses it to be — nor do I think it saturated American jurisprudence and popular culture to the extent she argues. The people I know who do work in sexual violence prevention don’t seem to be arguing that sexual violence is not, on some level, sexual violence. It felt like a very forced dichotomy — scientists vs. feminists! — that doesn’t match with my own reading or observation in terms of how these conversations play out across multiple communities and platforms.

Hanna: Theory junkies. I mean, there are a few in every college. Either you were a fanboy for that sort of thing or you weren’t, and you took classes accordingly.

Anna: I guess what I felt like reading Galileo was, there’s this privileging not just of evidence — which I’m in favor of! — but also a privileging of certain ways of interacting with the evidence. I think of sitting in a discussion class and requiring students to ground their arguments in the week’s readings: “Where do you see this in the reading?” “Where are you getting this from?” But it’s important to allow for a multiplicity of lenses through which to look at the readings, and understand that people will make sense of a body of evidence in diverse ways.

Hanna: Dreger has got about three or four ginormous subjects — they’re book-length subjects and they’re huge and they’re complicated and whether it was her decision, or something she worked out with a publisher, she’s only got the space to nod toward all the complexities. And she nods — I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t know the complexity there! But I think this also goes back to what you were saying that you felt it was more of a book that was a collection of essays.

Anna: It’s really episodic – I felt more grounded as a reader when I thought of it as a collection of essays grouped around a common theme. She makes the case for robust science journalism at the end, and that kind of felt like a forced conclusion coming out of left field — related to the other pieces, but not necessarily a culmination or conclusion.

Hanna: There was no clear transition between topics. Every time I realized there was a shift, I wanted to say, “Wait! We were in the middle of something interesting with– Wait a minute!” I didn’t want to be led by the hand — I wish she’d picked any one topic because she was interesting on all of them! It’s not like she was suffering for lack of material.

Anna: And in each of the episodes, it felt like there was a martyr and a villain.

Hanna: Which is a problem. Why are we here discussing who was right or who was wrong in some of these cases? Because that shouldn’t be happening in a book like this — You shouldn’t be creating a martyrology then you’re stuck with a really inflexible framework.

Anna: Even starting out with the anecdote about Galileo’s finger on display in Florence —

Hanna: — That was wonderful! I think it’s totally worth pointing out that that was a wonderful anecdote!

Anna: It was! But framing the book with the story of Galileo’s martyrdom sets the stage for seeing these case-study characters as martyrs in the cause of truth … which means some of the effects of their work are glossed over. I’m totally against the type of harassment and baseless accusations some of these individuals faced; character assassination should not be the way forward. But character assassination happens across the political spectrum, and happens both to researchers and activists. It’s not always one camp against the other.

Hanna: In fairness, over-simplification is another hazard of trying to write about science for a popular audience — it’s very hard to know when you’ve explained enough. When can I stop explaining people? When am I treating people like they’re idiots? When is something common knowledge?

Anna: I guess what I mean is “define your terms”? Because take a term like “politically correct” or “identity activism,” both of which she uses. There’s no collective agreement about what that means, and when you employ that language you’re invoking a whole host of very polarizing arguments about whether those are useful terms — and for whom and to describe what. Maybe I’m just agreeing with you that it needed to be at least two books — maybe more!

Hanna: I’d say in the end result, we’ve certainly had a number of fruitful conversations around it, so it’s definitely worth the read.

Anna: I do agree — I think it’s a thoughtful and passionate contribution to the discussion about medicine and human rights, about expectations in different disciplines around research and evidence, and about how these conversations are (or aren’t) brought out of academia into the public sphere.

 Thank you to both Hanna and Anna, and to Alice Dreger, whose works have offered such incredible discussions! As someone who writes for the public, I can attest personally to the difficulties of compressing time–and express appreciation for the engagement of fellow colleagues and scholars.

We hope you enjoyed this “Review Conversation” as much as we did! Read more about Dreger’s work here.

 

 

 

 

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MedHum Monday Presents: Eula Biss’s On Immunity

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Mondays! Today, we review Eula Biss’s 2014 book, On Immunity: An Inoculation. Reboot Reviewer Anna Clutterbuck-Cook provides an insightful look at this work, and at the intersection of bodies, selves, and rights that makes up the debate over immunization. As presented recently on the Dittrick Medical History Museum blog, the drive toward vaccination was originally driven by community responsibility–and perhaps, now more than ever, that should be our focus.

Biss, Eula. On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press, 2014)
Reviewed by Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

Recently, in preparation for a different book review, I read Alice Dreger’s One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal (Harvard U.P., 2004) in which the author encourages us to question the Western preoccupation with bodily autonomy as the prerequisite to a fully realized self. By centering the voices of conjoined twins, who almost universally understand their physical inter-relatedness as compatible with their individual senses of self, Dreger challenges singletons to question why physical autonomy has such a privileged place in modern political and medical cultures. What can conjoined persons teach us about what it means to be human?

I thought of Dreger’s work while reading essayist Eula Biss’ haunting On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press, 2014). Like Dreger, Biss pushes us to reconsider our conception of individual bodies in relation to other bodies. In response to modern debates about the safety and efficacy of vaccination, On Immunity empathetically explores the anxieties of those who question inoculation — while ultimately challenging all of us to reframe the question in terms of community responsibility rather than individual safety.

Spurred by her personal experience weighing the pros and cons of vaccination for an infant son prone to allergic reactions and chronic sinus infections, Biss explores the history and science of immunity — and specifically of the human quest for immunity through vaccination. “It was not a good season for trust,” she writes of the first months of her son’s life — a time when the other mothers around her spoke bitterly of government ineptitude, media manipulation, and business interests compromising all sources of information. Like the women chronicled in Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound (Simon & Schuster, 2013), the new mothers in Biss’ community struggle with questions of expertise and evidence — who can be trusted, and what type of evidence is good enough?

Biss offers no easy answers. Instead, she troubles our individualistic approach to immunity, challenging us to consider the possibility that we inoculate not primarily to protect ourselves but rather to protect the other. “Our bodies may belong to us, but we ourselves belong to a greater body composed of many bodies. We are, bodily, both independent and dependent,” she reminds us (126). While we may have the legal right to refuse inoculation for ourselves or our children, Biss argues that we may have an ethical responsibility to place the safety of more vulnerable bodies — infants, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems — ahead of that right.

On Inoculation is an incisive critique of the very American individualism that bolsters the case against vaccination despite the medical consensus on the safety and efficacy of inoculation as a tool for prevention of infection at the population level. The American discourse around vaccination has, Biss argues, too often been framed in terms of protection for the vaccinated — protecting the body from being invaded by impurity rather than protecting others from the impurities we may harbor. (After all, who among us would like to imagine our bodies as carriers of death rather than vulnerable to it?). Too often, “we” don’t need to rely on vaccination precisely because we imagine never intermingling our bodies with “them” — let alone imagining “we” might be the vector, not the victim, of disease. The discourses and practices around vaccination, as Biss points out, too often map the fault lines of class, geography, race, and health. To recognize ourselves (or our children) as candidates for inoculation is to recognize that we are, inexorably, part of a body politic within which we can both harm and be harmed.

Questions of bodily autonomy and physical purity are also deeply feminist concerns. As Biss reminds us, pregnant and nursing bodies — like conjoined bodies — trouble our Enlightenment notions of independence, vulnerability, and personhood. The classical liberal self is imagined as a self-reliant being, and thus threatened or compromised by the introduction of ill-health and interdependence — disease threatens not only our well-being but our very ability to be counted as persons, as citizens. To acknowledge ourselves as vulnerable, therefore, is to acknowledge our selfhood may be at risk.

One way to confront such a threat is to retreat into radical self-sufficiency (“it was not a good season for trust”) — but another would be to question the usefulness of that liberal model, and consider whom it serves and doesn’t serve; whom that model leaves vulnerable — and whether we are comfortable with a world that conceives of personhood in those terms. It is this latter approach that Biss tends toward in On Immunity, though she provides no clear path forward. Instead, her capacious and empathetic exploration of the history and culture of vaccination prompts us all toward deeper reflection.

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Fiction Reboot Interview – MarcyKate Connolly, MONSTROUS

FictionReboot2Today’s Friday Feature interviews MarcyKate Connolly, a debut middle-grade author who tackles some serious tales. Monstrous is her first novel, which was released this past February. Today also introducing our newest blog contributor, Hannah Hunt, herself a writer and blogger at HannahHuntWrites. Welcome to both! Hannah got the opportunity to read Monstrous after its release, and as she explains, “it’s one of the best, most vivid fantasies I’ve read in a while. Cute, because middle grade, but smashing. Not to mention Connolly is smart.”

MarcyKateConnolly-Author-Photo-cred (1)Author Bio:

MarcyKate Connolly is an author and nonprofit administrator living in New England with her husband and pugs. She’s a coffee addict and voracious reader. Monstrous is her first novel. You can visit her online at www.marcykate.com, or find her on twitter at @marcykate.

Interview with MarcyKate Connolly:

  1. In MONSTROUS you’ve constructed your own fairytale; was any of that hard to create or flesh out? Were you worried about it sounding close to other, classic fables (i.e Grimm’s Tales, Disney classics, etc.)?

That’s an interesting question. I’m honestly not sure if it was difficult because I had so much fun creating the world; if it was, I didn’t even notice. From the very beginning I thought of Monstrous as Frankenstein meets the Brothers Grimm (a description that’s stuck), so I wasn’t worried about it being too similar to other stories so much as I was intentionally paying homage to them and occasionally turning them on their heads.

  1. What was the hardest part of drafting MONSTROUS before signing with Suzie Townsend?

I originally wrote Monstrous while I was pitching another book to agents. I had no intention of querying it, so the initial drafting process was quite freeing and quick. However, once I had a complete draft I started to feel the pressure of “maybe-I-should-query-this-book” and that made the subsequent drafts slower and tricky. Monstrous was the 7th book I wrote, and the 4th I queried to agents, so I was a bit discouraged by all the rejection on previous books while I was revising. I kind of psyched myself out a few times until I finally got the nerve to start querying Monstrous in earnest. Obviously, I’m very glad I did! :)

  1. What’s your favorite part about writing for a Middle Grade audience?

For me that age range was a time when books were a particularly huge and influential part of my world, and getting to write for kids who were like me is really exciting. Just being able to walk in a different, fantastical world for a while was (and still is!) an amazing thing, and I hope some middle grade readers out there will love my books in the way I loved the fantasy stories of my youth.

  1. Do you have any quirky writer habits? (Writing with a bowl of M&Ms on the desk, only writing after drinking coffee, writing at night/in the morning, etc.)

Well, I don’t do ANYTHING before I’ve had coffee, so that’s more of a life-quirk, than a writing-quirk :). I don’t really have anything specific that must happen for me to write, but I do find I can write more when I’m walking on my treadmill desk.

  1. What’s your favorite part of being a published author?

Talking to people I don’t know personally who’ve read my book, followed closely by seeing Monstrous out there in the wild!

  1. If you could have lunch with three other writers living or dead, who would they be and why?
  • Jane Austen because I love her books, and I’d like to ask her how Sanditon was really supposed to end.
  • Edgar Allan Poe because again, love his work, and I’d like to get the bottom of that whole mysterious death thing :)
  • Douglas Adams – I bet he would be an absolute riot to hang out with!

Thanks so much to MarcyKate for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”

About the Blogger:

HannahHuntPhotoHannah Hunt spends her free time writing about pickpockets, cyborgs, and global conspiracies. Just not at the same time. She’s served on the submissions review board for Flip the Page and the Wittenberg Review of Literature and Art, and has published several short stories. When she’s not working on one of her manuscripts, you might find her painting, burrowed beneath a pile of books, or plotting world domination. You can visit her writing blog at http://www.hannahhuntwrites.com/ or find her on Twitter at @hannahhuntwrite.

 

 

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MedHum Monday Presents: Adventures in Human Health

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and Medhum Mondays! Today’s post (re)introduces a theme we’ve treated extensively in the past–medical museums, collections, and the story of health.

I work at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. If you’re not familiar, you may want to check out the instagram feed–because that really will give you a sense of the breath and depth. But hey, why not a few teaser images:

Medical Museums have a tendency to be grouped into the category of the macabre, likened to cabinets of curiosities, rather than understood in the broader concept of museums generally. There is nothing at all wrong with that designation, but like natural history museums and art museums, the Dittrick medical museum tells a story about the human condition (in this case, often the human medical condition) in the face of technology. That story is as varied as it is fascinating: after all, being sick in 1810 and being sick in 1910 were rather different experiences!

The Dittrick collection contains about 150,000 artifacts, plus rare books and ephemera. What does an amputation set look like? Why and how was blood-letting used? How about the first tech of germ theory–or the first x-rays? Disease prevention, diagnostics, reproduction and contraception, even forensics: the Dittrick museum tells the human story behind the medical technology (including the ethics–or not–of treatment procedures). Our programming follows suit, and in fact, this coming Thursday we are presenting our annual (free) lecture on contraception history. Deanna Day will discuss thermometers and contraception, the contested ways in which women historically attempted to control their fertility. A week from Thursday and Sachiko Kusukawa from Trinity College, Cambridge University will discuss Vesalius, anatomy, and the Fabric of the Human Body.

Join us–at the events (see here), at the museum, or online @DittrickMuseum on twitter and Instagram… and see how a medical museum delivers Medical Humanities!

 

Posted in Collections and Outreach, Digital Collections, MedHum Monday, Medical History, Medical Humanities, The Daily Dose, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fiction Reboot Poet Interview: Stephen Kampa, Bachelor Pad

Sammie Kurty (author/contributor), signing in! For today’s Fiction Reboot Interview, I have the pleasure of fictionreboot2interviewing poet Stephen Kampa. He is a multi-tasking fiend, working as a professor at Flagler College, playing harmonica in a band (he’s fantastic, may I add), and, of course, writing poetry.  He has won four major awards for his poetry and was nominated for four more.  Stephen has two published collections of poetry: Cracks in the Invisible and Bachelor Pad, which was released last spring.  Today,  Stephen talks with us about the reality of meeting your idols, making sense of the world through poetry, and writing well. Welcome, Stephen!

Poet Bio: Stephen Kampa

KAMPA-1-300x200Stephen Kampa holds a BA in English Literature from Carleton College and an MFA in Poetry from the Johns Hopkins University. His first book,Cracks in the Invisible, won the 2010 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and the 2011 Gold Medal in Poetry from the Florida Book Awards. His poems have also been awarded the Theodore Roethke Prize, first place in the River Styx International Poetry Contest, and four Pushcart nominations. His second book, Bachelor Pad, appeared this spring from The Waywiser Press. He currently divides his time between teaching poetry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL and working as a musician.

www.stephenkampa.com

Author Interview:

1. If you could interview any poet, living or deceased, who would you and why? Who is your favorite poet?

That first question, trickier than it at first might seem, requires some interesting interpretive work. What would be the purpose of the interview—to meet someone talented, and perhaps famous, whom I admire? To keep the person company? To strike up a personal relationship? To learn more about the poetry? To learn more about life?

Were the point to be to meet someone talented and famous, I might be tempted to interview Dante or Horace, but in a way, I’m glad I can’t: how often are we disappointed by our heroes in the flesh when we discover they are human like us! Bad breath, poor table manners, a tendency toward arrogance despite all that humane hogwash in the poetry. Sidney couldn’t have been courtly and charming all the time, could he? Now, if it were to keep someone company, I would wish to visit Ovid in Tomis, ask him what his infamous unknown error was, and try to alleviate some of his loneliness and grief. (I have been reading his poems of exile lately.) I could go on about this—W. H. Auden, Byron, Heather McHugh—but suffice it to say that if I had to pick one poet to meet and talk with for some combination of all the reasons above, it would be Emily Dickinson. She probably would not enjoy it.

Oddly, I don’t think I would want to meet the poet I continue to consider my favorite, George Herbert, simply because I couldn’t bear it if he were not as beautiful a person in person as he is on the page.

2. I know you are also a part time musician. Does your poetry influence your music or vice versa?

I think those two parts of my life influence each other indirectly, and less in terms of particular techniques than in terms of what it means to live as an artist.

For example, music continues to teach me that you play the song, which sometimes means playing less dazzlingly than you are able because a flashy solo would ruin the beautiful, elegant simplicity of the song. All too often the temptation is to play the most technically complex, astonishing thing you can; you play one bebop solo on a country song, however, and what you’ve managed to demonstrate is not that you’re a great musician, but that you’re an asshole. The same can go for a poem: perhaps one does not use abstruse Latinate diction, virtuosic syntax, and elaborate stanzas when writing a lullaby. I suppose, in a sense, this is a matter of technique, but I don’t perceive it that way; I see it as a lesson in putting the art before the self, which makes it a matter of how I live my life—or, at least, how I want to.

To offer another example, poetry has taught me about the importance of technique and of expanding it until you can say anything you want, and this has been vital for me as a musician. Harmonica players often suffer from a limited understanding of music theory, a limited musical vocabulary, and an overreliance on the authority of the tradition, which is all a fancy way of saying that harmonica players too often resort to clichés. Naturally, one should be able to play classic blues riffs, but certainly that shouldn’t be all one can play: it would be like writing nothing but short anecdotal free-verse poems about childhood and nothing else. Again, one could argue that this is a matter of technique, but I think it has everything to do with growth, discipline, and that necessary restlessness I consider the mark of the true artist.

3. In your poetry, which is more important: the structure or the free flow of ideas? Or do you hold them to the same standard? 

Perhaps we might think of it this way: which is more important, the voice box or the voice? There is no voice without a voice box, but I’d go further and say there’s no such thing as a voice box without a voice: for a thing to exist merely as unrealized potential is for it, in the most important sense, not to exist at all. You can’t have a truly free flow of ideas without the structure that allows it to exist in such freedom. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because my thinking on this matter derives from Richard Foster’s compelling arguments for discipline as a means to freedom. Here he is in Life with God: “Only the disciplined gymnast is free to score a perfect ten on the parallel bars. Only the disciplined violinist is free to play Paganini’s ‘Caprices.’”) So, if we imagine a poem where the ideas are flowing freely but there is no underlying structure, I’d wager those ideas aren’t as clear, persuasive, or impressive as the writer believes them to be. On the other hand, when a writer manages to accomplish a structurally rigorous poem of intellectual vapidity, I wouldn’t call it a poem at all.

4. Are there any poets or poetry eras you use as a basis for your own work?

I like reading, and I “steal” from everyone, so this one is tough to answer. Most recently I’ve been dipping into the Latin elegiac tradition of Ovid, Propertius, and Tibullus, which nicely complements the reading of Horace’s odes that I’ve been doing for the past year or so. They all strike me as astonishingly modern: sometimes their psychology is so astute! I also appreciate the rhetorical caginess and the way those poems are embedded in a cultural context that makes them feel so public—in an extended sense having to do with civility, citizenship, and ultimately civilization—even though they are often ostensibly about the most private of matters.

5. Do you have any overreaching themes you want readers to find in your poetry? Or would you like them to derive their own ideas?

I believe once you finish writing a poem and send it out into the world, it no longer belongs to you (apart from the millions of dollars it will make you in royalties). Reading is an altogether strange transaction, one that is at least partly magical or alchemical, and if a poem I’ve written changes its elemental character in the consciousness of some reader who feels even a little gratitude for its existence, who am I to complain?

Let me add this: H. L. Hix, a deeply intelligent poet and critic whom I admire, writes, “The thinker’s task: to make sense of the world. The artist’s task: to make of sense a world.” I want to revise that to read, “The artist’s task: to make of sensibility a world.” No artist can do a better job of presenting the sense world than the world can, but I think we continue to come to art to immerse ourselves in sensibilities that respond to that world in enlivening and challenging ways. When we read all of someone, we feel we have come to know not only a body of work, but also a body, a somebody, a self in whose life and by whose mind we are engaged in quite intimate ways. As I tell my students, some of my best friends are dead. They died long before I was born.

6. Are you working on any new projects?

Yes, several. I’m a chronic starts-it-and-gets-halfway-through-and-then-starts-something-else kind of guy, and that unfortunate character deficiency extends to my writing life. Ironically, I’m currently working on a book of poems about character. I hope to call it Where There’s a Monster, which comes from an Ogden Nash poem: “…where there’s a monster, there’s a miracle…” I keep hoping that’s true.

7. Do you have any advice for discouraged poets wishing to publish?

Honestly, my best advice would be this: don’t worry about publishing, worry about writing well. Emily Dickinson, my choice of interviewees from your first question, hardly published during her life. Writing was more important to her than publishing, and it shows in the astonishing volume and accomplishment of her work. I tell my students if you want to be a rich and famous writer, write a YA trilogy with dystopian or fantasy elements and sell it to Hollywood: then you’ll be rich and famous. If you want to be a great poet, remember that every poem is not only a poem, but also practice for the few great poems you may be lucky enough to lodge in the language “where they will be hard to get rid of,” as Robert Frost put it. The goal, I would say to those discouraged poets, is not publication; it never was. The goal is art.

Thank you, Stephen, for joining us today! You can find Stephen on his website, www.stephenkampa.com. His latest poetry collection, Bachelor Pad, is available on Amazon and the Barnes and Noble online store!

What critics are saying about Bachelor Pad.

Front-Cover-Only“Rejoice! The young and frighteningly brilliant Stephen Kampa has already given us a stunning second volume of poems. The title Bachelor Pad offers a hint of the author’s winning modesty and wit, but hardly prepares us for the depths of his humanity. None of the perfectly-crafted poems here is funnier than ‘Homer at Home’ or more tragic than ‘Lana Turner’s Bosom: An Assay,’ and along the way are countless other subtly mixed moods. Here is a poet who looks into the existential abyss but sees love everywhere.”
—Mary Jo Salter, author of Nothing by Design

“Bachelor Pad is a gutsy and brilliant examination of a contemporary man’s single life. Love, lust, and loneliness tangle together, strengthening and warring with one another to form a complex and honest picture of desire in action. For the man who is looking for love in all the right places, ‘You’re yours to damn; / To find your sole reprieve / Takes someone else. That someone is inviting… / Now when the man I hope to be is writing / The man I am.’ But Stephen Kampa believes in love and so convincing is he that we too believe there is “A changeless love song hurrying to me, / Ecstatic in the static.’”
—Andrew Hudgins, author of A Clown at Midnight

“Stephen Kampa’s poetry features a rich variety of stanzaic forms and a wonderful wealth of verbal ingenuity—qualities that recall the work of fellow virtuosos from John Donne to Anthony Hecht. And in his love for and knowledge of music and movies, and in his bittersweet meditations on romantic love, Kampa may remind some readers of Woody Allen. A bounteous and resourceful writer, Kampa can also speak, as he does in such poems as ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘The Pocket Watch,’ with energetic concision. Bachelor Pad impresses from cover to cover.”
—Timothy Steele, author of Toward the Winter Solstice
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About the Contributor

sammieSammie Kurty is an English major in her junior year at Wittenberg University and a contributor to Fiction Reboot. She is a proud member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society. Sammie has been passionate about writing all her life and is about to complete her first novel, Sapphire Lake, a project she has worked on for three years. When she isn’t writing or reading, you can find her practicing makeup artistry or riding roller coasters. Twitter: @Shamtakee

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Reboot Review: Pretty Little Dead Girls

FictionReboot2Welcome to the REBOOT REVIEW–the book review portion of Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose! Today’s review concern’s Mercedes Yardley’s novel Pretty Little Dead Girls.

Reviewer: Lauren Swanson

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Byrony Adams, the heroine of Mercedes Yardley’s novel, is decidedly accepting of her fate to die. She had been reminded of her fate every day since her youth.   Every person she meets, greets her with knowingly somber eyes. Some respond with a desire to protect the young and beautiful Byrony, others respond by wishing to give her to that ominous end.

indexByrony Adams lives in a world where one’s fate is written in their irises and combed through their hair each night. Her world is not one where the question “why?” exists. Rather, “why?” is predominated by another question entirely: “when?” “Why is Byrony going to die?” is not and should not be asked. Rather, it’s a matter of “When is Byrony going to die?”

It may seem that a fate to die would prompt a lifetime of adventures and experiences, however, Yardley’s Adams is emotionally (and often physically) numbed by her fate. She chooses the road most traveled, ensuring that it is well-lit its whole distance. She proceeds, in most aspects of her life, with extreme caution. However, Byrony proves to be naively trusting in interpersonal relationships. She navigates her life with a confusing juxtaposition of cautiousness and naivety. This can be frustrating to the reader who is looking for solid character traits. (Though of course, the “real” world has its own confusing juxtapositions.)

The protagonist does, in fact, take a risk, albeit a late one. After surviving childhood and young adulthood, Byrony makes the bold decision that she is ready to fall in love. This decision seems to be a misguided choice in many respects. As a feminist reader, I certainly feel that every woman has the right to experience love (especially when they are in a constant war with death). But at the same time, Byrony seems to reject other opportunities for life fulfillment in exchange for a chance at love. Additionally, Byrony’s journey to find true love is brief and unrealistic as she experiences no trial and error or heartbreak. Perhaps, if I too were destined for untimely and gruesome death, however, I would be numb to heartbreak. In her fight with fate, Byrony’s life does seem to be filled with rather positive fate in love.

Making this declaration to love drives the plot because Bryony previously could not commit—her fear of death and fear of commitment entwined. However, her decision seems more of the same: she falls for the (not surprisingly) dark and brooding musician, Eddie. Darkness, we find, loves company… but their love is spun positively by Yardley. Byrony was told to run from her fated death, but instead she runs towards love (even though this might, in fact, be her fated death). It’s not always clear why…but this is, in itself, part of the mystery.

Yardley guides the reader with beautifully, albeit brief, descriptions of Byrony’s world. Nature, in Byrony’s world, is far more realistic than any of the mystical characters that Yardley introduces. Those characters (Syrina, Stop, Rikki-Tikki) and their interactions seemed forced; their dialogues seemed about as impractical as a woman being marked for death since birth. But while impracticality may seem to prevail, the tale does make the reader think about humankind. Who amongst us is also marked and fated for a tragic ending or a tragically beautifully life? Despite my reservations about Bryony as a character (and despite my uncertainty about the core message), I found the book enjoyable and readable. Looking for a quick read and an interesting spin on life, death, and love? Hear more about Yardley and her work here: http://abrokenlaptop.com/about/

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Lauren Swanson is in her final year as an English and dance major with a journalism minor at Wittenberg University. She is the Design Editor for the student newspaper at Wittenberg and has worked for VIP Magazine in Dublin, Ireland. She is currently a contributing writer for the online music magazine SoGutsy. She is extremely passionate about 18th century British literature, environmental studies, psychology, and creativity.

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Early Ectogenesis: Artificial Wombs in 1920s Literature

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and Medhum Monday! If you are a regular subscriber, you’ll know that reproduction (literally and figuratively) features pretty regularly. The history of birth links to key questions about humanity, monstrosity, self-hood and science. Today’s post comes to us from Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D. on ectogenesis and artificial wombs in the literature of the 1920s. Welcome Elizabeth!

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Tab IIII Casserius Tables, 1627

While the concept of artificial wombs may seem futuristic, the idea of creating a human being outside of a woman’s body is hardly novel.

In the sixteenth century, Paracelsus provided a formula with which to create a “homunculus” – an artificial man with no soul – in womb outside of a woman’s body.[1] This formula involves sealing a man’s semen in the womb of a horse for 40 days (or until it begins to live, move and can easily be seen), and then nourishing it daily with human blood for 40 weeks until it becomes a human infant resembling those born of a woman, only significantly smaller.[2]

The term “ectogenesis” – the gestation of human embryos in artificial circumstances outside a human uterus – was coined in 1923 by J.B.S. Haldane in his essay entitled Daedalus, or Science and the Future.[3] In his work, Haldane lists what he believes to be the six most important biological discoveries ever made. The list includes four discoveries “made before the dawn of history”: (1) the domestication of animals, (2) the domestication of plants, (3) the domestication of fungi for the production of alcohol, and (4) the altered path of sexual selection (that is, the shift to women’s faces and breasts as objects of men’s attention and attraction).[4] The remaining two biological discoveries cited by Haldane did not yet exist: bactericide, and the artificial control of conception.[5]

Haldane proceeds to provide a fictional essay written by an undergraduate student 150 years in the future (the year 2073), in which the student describes the birth of the first ectogenic child, which Haldane envisions would take place in 1951.[6] He then states that ectogenesis is “now universal,” and that in England, more than 70% of babies are born via artificial wombs.[7] Though he laments the demise of the “former instinctive cycle” of reproduction due to ectogenesis, he concedes that “it is generally admitted that the effects of selection have more than counterbalanced these evils.”[8]

Following Haldane’s publication, five additional works were published over a six-year period specifically responding to concepts found in Daedalus on topics such as ectogenesis and the separation of sexuality from reproduction; the benefits for society and the individual of scientific control of human nature; and the notion that humans’ biological and social behaviours were not natural, but naturalized.[9]

In Lysistrata, or Women’s Future and Future Women (1924), Nietzsche scholar Anthony Ludovici argues that ectogenesis is a feminist plot to escape not only pregnancy and reproduction, but also women’s domestic role, and potentially men themselves.[10] On the contrary, in his book entitled Hymen, or the Future of Marriage (1927), sexologist Norman Haire accepted ectogenesis as a way to liberate women from pregnancy, and to assist those who are unable to gestate.[11]

Despite his call to eliminate the biological family, socialist physician Eden Paul rejected ectogenesis in his essay entitled Chronos, or the Future of the Family (1930), insisting that women cannot be freed from pregnancy, at least in the foreseeable future, and considers the interuterine stage of gestation to be crucial for both the mother and child.[12] Likewise, in Halcyon, or the Future of Monogamy (1929) pacifist novelist Vera Brittain rejected ectogenesis, except as a last resort, claiming that the use of artificial wombs would jeopardize the welfare of the ectogenic children.[13]

Finally, in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (1929) X-ray crystallographer and molecular biologist J.D. Bernal contended that ectogenesis would be beneficial as it would replace imperfect human bodies with machines.[14] (Machines and human bodies had been linked at least since Rene Descartes and materialist Le Mettrie in the 17th century).

This literary debate took place primarily in the To-day and To-morrow book series – which includes the six aforementioned publications – and occurred within the context of some of the most prominent social concerns and fascinations of the 1920s: feminism and the role of women, and the movement for sexual reform.[15] Several works of popular fiction followed – most notably, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) – that predict utopian or dystopian worlds of the future that include ectogenesis.

Our greater understanding of the complexities of the human gestation process has, in a way, only made the development and clinical use of artificial wombs seem even more futuristic than they seemed in Haldane’s time, and are likely to remain in the imagination and consciousness of the public as they have for nearly 100 years.

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As Dr. Yuko’s post makes clear, the thought of reproduction outside the human body continues to influence culture, literature, and even practice. My own work looks at the birthing machines of the 18th century, and the fears of human replacement that resonated through the industrial revolution, and still today. From an article on the Japanese artificial womb appeared just this past October, to the recent movie Ex Machina to be released in April 2015, we continue to query the possibilities (and ethics) of man, mother, and machine.

ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist at the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education and is the founding and senior editor of Ethics & Society.

REFERENCES

[1] Scott Gelfand, “Introduction” in Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb Technology and the Future of Human Reproduction, ed. Scott Gelfand (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 3.

[2] Auroleus Phillipus Theophrastus Bombastus von Honenheim, aka Paracelsus, “Concerning the Nature of Things” in The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, Vol. 1, ed. Arthur E. Waite (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1967), 124.

[3] J.B.S. Haldane, Daedalus, or Science and the Future (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1924).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Susan Merrill Squier, Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 66.

[10] Anthony Ludovici, Lysistrata, or Women’s Future and Future Women (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1924). See also Rosemarie Tong, “Out of Body Gestation: In Whose Best Interests?,” in Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb Technology and the Future of Human Reproduction, ed. Scott Gelfand and John R. Shook (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 62-63.

[11] Norman Haire, Hymen, or the Future of Marriage (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1927). See also Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[12] Eden Paul, Chronos, or the Future of the Family (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1930). See also Aline Ferreira, “The Sexual Politics of Ectogenesis in the To-day and To-morrow Series,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 34 (2009): 42; Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[13] Vera Brittain, Halcyon, or the Future of Monogamy (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1929). See also Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[14] J.D. Bernal, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1930). See also Tong, “Out of Body Gestation,” 62-63.

[15] Ferreira, “Sexual Politics,” 33; Squier, Babies in Bottles, 68.

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