“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Our bodies, God's hand, or the doctor's

Some people think of oil when they think of Houston. Some think of millionaires, some think Bush, some think Enron. But those plugged into the deeper level of American psychopathology think: breast augmentation.

Yes, more symbolic than the Menil, than Enron Tower, than Houston rap or dayglo lowrider graffiti, down in the dreamzone where symbol converts into matter and matter into symbol, is the discovery, in 1963, of a silicon gel breast “protheses” to replace the old sponges, the old transfer of fats. It was invented by Houston surgeons Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow. By this time silicon had already emerged as the techno-edge element, but while those Bell lab boys were playing with the response of silicon to light and electricity, Houstonites knew there was a better world a-comin’. A world of hi tech infantilization that would eventually sweep the country. Or as the account of the correspondence between Dow chemical and our Houston surgeons observes, soberly: “Although implants were first targeted at mastectomy patients, even Cronin and Gerow would have been able to surmise the general population's desire to use the mammary prostheses for enhancement as well.” The general population. The general population.

LI’s been reading Sander Gilman’s history of aesthetic surgery, Making the Body Beautiful, which has turned out to be full of interesting factoids, little lights on the grid where history intersects appetite. Race, sex, manifest destiny, all of those categories which are processed into abstractions in academia, find local habitation here: the Jewish nose, the Oriental eye, the African skin color. Irish pug noses and bat ears (for the English). Breasts – breasts reduced among the Brazillian upper class, breasts enhanced, to use Dow speak, among Argentinians (the people who have the greatest proportion of silicon implants in the world – 1 in 30 Argentinians. LI wonders if there is some correlation with Argentina’s claim to have the greatest proportion of psychoanalysts, too.)

Initially, LI picked up Gilman’s book because we were interested in the noses in the Danish cartoons. Noses are one of LI’s favorite subjects. Gogol’s short story is gospel around here – we believe it, we’ve seen it, the nose that tricks itself out in a uniform, that rises through the ranks, that takes on its own life. Gilman traces modern nose talk back to a Dutch anatomist, Petrus Camper, an enlightenment savant who introduced the nose to the Newtonian world of measurement. Quantifying over the nose angle finding its golden relation to the spine – a golden relations confirmed, of course, by Greek sculpture. (“The face is beautiful when the nose is parallel to the spine,’ explained one of his readers). And he who says angle soon says identifying index. As we all know, Modernity is all about indexes – you are your index. Fingerprints, skin color, nose angle, eye color, birth date, DNA profile. Try to escape that grid. Lichtenberg, at this time, could already feel the forces gathering in the very air – hence, the rather apocalyptic comedy of his anti-physiognomic satires. We’ve been lead by the nose to this point. And by the tits and ass too (oh, let us not forget buttock lifts, that Brazillian contribution to permanent youth!)

This is the world of the anti-tattoo – the surgery that leaves no scar, the liposuction that absorbs its trace, that unexpected dialectical resolution to the crisis of deconstruction.

Anyway, LI is now on the lookout for Hermann Heinrich Ploss’ ethnographic study of woman, Der Weib in der Natur- und Völkerkunde. I’ve apparently missed a veritable atlas of 19th century attitudes that would help guide me through Zola’s crowds, and even Henry James’ country house parties. Ploss, of course, knew that God traced his theogony through the body, blessing the conquering white race, of course. It was there in the superiority of the white woman’s “compact breast” with the “goat udder” of the black. About Ploss' work, this German bio of the man says: "Es wurde zum Standardwerk und - man muß wohl befürchten auch wegen seiner zahlreichen Abbildungen nackter Frauen - zum Publikumserfolg." (It became a standard work and a success with the public -- which one may well fear was also due to its numerous pictures of naked women." That fear of the public's appetite for naked women -- hmm, what to make of it? It all comes down to: Houston.

So what would Ploss make of better tits through chemistry? Would he be shocked that the compact breast was not enough, never enough? Or perhaps it is a compromise formation, the threat of George Clinton’s Black Planet attached to Barbie’s body?

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