31 May 2010


Eight Attempts to Draw the Head of Lee Marvin

The preliminary phase of the Saint Marvin project. It is similar in tone only more complex than the Saint Bronson project.

20 May 2010

Neanderthal Art - pt. 1

 Early man, painting by Charles R. Knight 1874-1953

Czech artist Zdenek Burian, 1905 - 1981
The second image was used for the cover of a book called Prehistoric Man, published in 1960 it featured a 45 page introduction and 25 color, 17 limited color/black and white illustrations.
(see more on Burian here)

This neanderthal was done in 1909 by another Czech artist, Frantisek Kupka who lived from 1871 to 1957. It was done as an accompanying piece to the work of Marcellin Boule, a French paleontologist who studied and analyzed the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal skeleton that had been discovered in 1908. It was Boulle's claim that neanderthal was a savage apelike brute, accompanied by Kupka's illustration that colored the perception of neanderthals for decades to come.
(Alas, Marcellin Boulle is not the father of of Planet of the Apes author Pierre Boulle. That would be too amazing.)

It is these changing interpretations and representations of human ancestors that interest me as I believe they reflect the social atmosphere of the time they were created. I believe that the interpretations and explanations that paleontologists and subsequently the artists who interpret their findings are not scientifically objective (I do not think science ever is), rather they are a product of the social and cultural context of the scientist and artist. I'll post more as I find them, but many of the images online are uncredited. This could easily be the subject of a large book, and maybe it will be (or already has been?)

13 May 2010

Medical Empire

The idea of medical science as a project and projection of empire is something that is fundamentally anathema to U.S. self image of benevolence and democracy. Jeremy Suri, despite his conviction that the U.S. has always had the best interests of foreign populations and their “uplifting” at heart in it's actions abroad, might find it hard to argue against the overwhelming empirical evidence that medical research and subsequent treatment were employed when and seemingly only when the issues it sought to address were framed as problems or obstacles to the imperial project. Of course, Suri doesn't see the U.S. as "Imperial" at all. A case of "plausible denial" that would make his hero Henry Kissinger proud.

Modern medical science itself is much harder to disentangle than Suri's revisionist argument* (starts page 525) because it is so institutionalized within the frame of the benevolent scientific objectivity of modernism and liberal progress. In particular, the imperialism of medicine brings to mind the astronomical fees for medical care which appear to be in no small part a result on the cost of malpractice insurance. However, consider that the malpractice debate has been framed as a defense against subjectivity, against the individual doctor, thereby retroactively rendering the institution of medicine itself infallible. Specific people it would seem are the ones responsible for any lapses in the benevolence paradigm, and the field as a whole remains sacrosanct. Far less frequently is the question of a medicine or treatment as a whole questioned, because if mistakes were made it was within the frame of objective benevolence. One would nevertheless be hard pressed to claim that medicine is not fundamentally a positive project, not the least because modern medical norms are so strongly institutionalized, and it certainly does benefit a great number of people who would otherwise suffer from preventable illness and disease. My point is that it is largely assumed to be objective (as is most science "fact") when in fact it is very much a product of the cultural and historical context of its formulation and application.

My obtuse point here is that as long as the issue of medical science remains protected by the paradigm of objectivity it will be impossible to resolve the broad public health care issues that have plagued modern capitalist nations. It would seem then that providing widespread elective health care to the general public (rather than exclusively those who can afford it), which has everything to recommend it as far as I can tell, is to a great degree at the mercy of the paradigm of medical objectivity. Perhaps if the medicine could be re-envisioned as an ongoing project rather than an end result, which amounts to an understanding of the fundamental subjectivity of doctors, nurses, treatments, and patients themselves, then the actual benefits of health and medicine could be enjoyed by everyone who wished.

*this is the Google Books version and hence, missing some pages. If for some reason you actually read this far and are interested in the full Suri essay, I can send you a PDF.