Medieval Manuscripts

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It should come as no surprise that the British Library has an extensive collection of medieval manuscripts. Much of it has been digitized (as well as manuscripts from other time periods), and you can examine them in fine detail here. You can zoom in so close that you can see the fiber of the paper, every stroke of the quill.  It is seriously awesome.  The medieval manuscript department even has a blog dedicated to exploring the collection and posting the cool stuff they come across. Check it out!

Harmless

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This is a tailless whipscorpion, and no lie, just looking at it makes my skin crawl. I am actually going to scroll down so I can’t see it anymore. Hold on a sec.

There we go.

If looks could kill, that creepy thing would be lethal. But in reality, it is incapable of inflicting any sort of physical harm on a human being. It’s not poisonous, it can’t bite or sting you, it isn’t even a pest. It is the best example that I’ve seen of not judging a book based on its cover. But that cover is hard to forget. Seriously, if I saw that thing in real life I would run the other way. Perhaps to my loss.

A Fashion Statement

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We’ve all heard of fashion statements. Sometimes the term signifies some bold choice of jewelry or a particularly revealing outfit.But sometimes the “statement” is something political or philosophical. For instance, Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress made a bold statement about the nature of stardom and consumerism. The above pieces may look a lot more normal than a dress made out of raw beef, but they’re actually far more transgressive. These are prototypes made with pig skin, but the plan is to make them out of lab-grown human skin, specifically skin grown from the DNA of fashion designer Alexander McQueen. The statement designer Tina Gorjanc is making is a warning about the commodification of human DNA, but I’m personally more interested in the philosophical questions inherent in the ethics of using human skin. Many react with horror when they find out about books that are bound in human skin, and movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs have played on the horrors of human skin used for clothing, masks, lamp shades, etc. And that reflex is, I think, good. To violate Godwin’s Law, Nazi Germany shows what can happen when people get a little too comfortable with the idea of using human body parts for home decorative purposes.

But where does this sort of thing lie? This skin was never on a human body, or anything that had any sort of conscious life. Does that make it okay? Is it okay to grow other things in the lab, like organs? Is it okay to grow an entire body in the lab? Is it more okay if that body is complete except for a brain? And if all that is okay…then what exactly isn’t okay with using human skin that used to be on a human? Sure, murder is bad, but what if the person volunteered their skin? Is it okay to use a body or body parts for such an everyday artistic expression as fashion?

Thoughts? Leave them in the comments!

Ready For a Close-Up!

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I love spiders. I’m also freaking terrified of them. How those two things can be simultaneously true is a mystery to me, but many things are mysteries to me. I mean, look at this jumping spider! It’s adorable! (Appropriately, I got this photo from the Spiders Are Adorable blog.) And I’m generally okay with jumping spiders, ’cause they’re tiny. Anything bigger, though, and, not gonna lie, I’ll be yelling for the hubby to come take it outside. Not kill it, because I don’t want to kill spiders, because I really do love them…just put them somewhere where I’m not.

Anatomical Venus

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There are many objects that were created at other times in history that look strange, even horrifying, to us when taken out of context. The anatomical venus is one of those things. In these models our modern eyes see a rather sexualized image of evisceration, a woman seemingly in the throes of ecstasy even as her torso is splayed open and her internal organs hanging out. But that’s not what those in the renaissance saw. Instead they saw a tool to learn anatomy in an age of public dissections of the corpses of criminals. Female corpses were hard to come by and distressing to use even when available, so anatomists created these waxworks. The ecstatic look is the result of being modeled on women in religious paintings, whose expressions were due to divine, rather than physical or profane, throes of passion. The scientists who created the models considered the physicality itself to be divinity, and so their creations are equally ecstatic.

For more information about anatomical venuses, check out this BBC article.

Haunted Dolls on eBay

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You can buy a lot of weird things on eBay, and apparently haunted dolls are on that list. Like with most supernatural things, I can’t help but wonder about these dolls, and the people selling them, who have written elaborate descriptions of what the dolls have done, and even the names and stories of the spirits are haunting the dolls. (Which they know…how?) Are they sincere? Did they actually experience these things? Are they delusional, and they only think they did? Or have they come up with inventive stories to increase the amount of money they can get in for an otherwise unremarkable doll in an eBay auction? The cynic in me thinks it’s probably the last, because ghosts aren’t real but human greed is. yet there’s still part of me that wants to believe, that wonders what would happen if I bought one of these dolls…

Jumpin’ Jumpin’

HAPPY FRIDAY!

When I hear this song, I’m instantly transported back to my senior year at Yale. On Valentine’s Day I hosted a Valentine’s Day Massacre, a party for bitter singles, in my huge top floor single room. There were anti-love quotes taped up to the walls,  plenty of hard cider, and tons of people bouncing up and down to this and similarly romantically-cynical songs.

A little less than a month later I started dating the man who would become my husband.