Creepy Austrian Plasticizes

Body Worlds...was underwhelming. At times it was downright nauseating, mainly because they had the beat of a heart in the background of the main exhibition. Everywhere we went, thump, thump, thump, amplified. I felt like I was in a 1950s deterrent film about the horrible outcomes of drinking or sex or marijuana. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Bad curation, bad! In addition, since the "theme" was about the heart (though there were also lots of displays that were not specific to the heart), they had lots of tiresome cliches posted on the walls about the heart and extrapolated the biological to the social and emotional. Blah blah blah, love, heartache...blah blah blah. Such a cynic. I found it unnecessary and uncompelling.

Then there were the bodies. At first, I found it mildly intriguing. But after a while the endlessly dissected, bisected, flayed, butterflied, fileted bodies were just plain overwhelming. At first it seemed that they were only using male bodies, which I found odd. Later in the exhibit came the women's bodies, but now that I think about it, the women were always in "graceful" poses. There was one woman crouching and pulling a bow and arrow with her brain, inexplicably on top of her head, as though it were an elegant hairdo. It was beyond bizarre. Also, it seemed that every version of the female body managed to expose her genitals, which to be fair, none of the men got to have any modesty, either; but it's not that hard to keep women's legs closed, now is it?

The whole experience made me want to be a vegetarian, as the bodies looked like...well...duh, meat. I didn't feel the unease or uncanniness that I expected as I looked at organs and veins disembodied from their bodies. Nor did I find the contortions and displaying of human form as objectionable as I anticipated. There is something about the museum setting that allows for distancing, allows for one to feel as though one were an objective observer. This is something the Museum of Jurassic Technology plays with, at least, the idea of curation as forcing a reverence or respect for the displays, regardless of content. Though that analysis doesn't totally translate, because I'm not sure I felt "respect," but I did feel compelled to be "curious," even when slightly revolted. I found the cross-sections of bodies the most fascinating, as they better represented the interconnectedness of things for me (the horizontal slice).

Still, I did expect to feel differently at the end. Perhaps after a night's sleep (assuming I don't have nightmares), it'll be more coherent. I'm not sure I'm going to write an official "fieldnote" on the experience, so I am haphazardly sharing it here. I am curious to know more about this Von Hagens. I find the whole endeavor a combination of being highly suspect and also a classical scientific fascination gone slightly awry.


Sage advice from Savage Minds

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the pedagogy of anthropology. Mostly because I feel so much of it has been self-taught. My department, I think, is deeply invested in self-teaching. Sometimes I see that as active neglect (and I think it can be), but other times, it's satisfying to find one's own way. If I were being uncharacteristically optimistic, I might even suggest that it could be very individualized, and they may have quickly noted that I wasn't going to listen to them if I didn't want to, and that it was better to let me flounder and self-create. That may be too forgiving an assessment, but I guess I'm feeling generous at this hour.

Savage Minds has a short post on the near-far (or the fort-da, as I like to call it) of fieldwork. I find it challenging to figure out the relationship between my informants and me. I know the suggestion, "never turn down an invitation," is a good one. But sometimes, one finds oneself unable to go. I rarely accept an invitation and not show up. And I think I've been pretty good about following up with people when they extend invitations. Though I do have one mom, who has repeatedly invited me to stuff, and I've not gone. I feel quite lame about that... I know my other anthropologist friends have struggled with intimacy and distance in their fieldwork. It certainly came up for me in Morocco, and I still feel guilty about how I handled it.

A whirlwind turned maelstrom, but in a good way

As I've mentioned, fieldwork has been a wee bit sluggish (again with the abstraction of responsibility, by using the passive voice, for which my father (and HL?) would kill me, but I do it so well). I've been planning my LA departure for a while, but have contemplated the possibility lazily. Suddenly a slew of things are lining up, some of which I've actively set up (but more or less assumed would not come to pass) and some of which have been marvellously coincidental (right time right place, fingers crossed). I was debating the decision process with my dad, and he pointed out that if it doesn't work out, or I start it and then find it isn't working for my project, then I can always back out. I thought that was sound, and I rarely regret things I've done. I'm pretty good at re-figuring or re-purposing them to have some value. (Actually, I'm not sure I really regret things I haven't done...maybe a few things.)

I applied for a summer institute in San Francisco, at the time seeing it as a brief pre-cursor foray into living there. It's 2 weeks long and will give me (hopefully) a fair amount of academic guidance and support. Those are things I've felt quite lacking over the many, endless years of school. On top of which, I received a scholarship, which makes it slightly less foolhardy. And then, the room, which I hope to be offered, suddenly came open earlier...and now San Francisco may be the next phase of fieldwork. Itemizing the logic and justifications, some of which are more credible and substantive than others, would be tiresome. But there is a good possibility that my (full) time in LA is drawing to a close. And...though it's been hard and frustrating, in ways that might seem silly because it is the U.S. after all, I don't regret it at all.

Fieldwork tonight was pretty good. I always feel enthused and rejuvenated after this monthly meeting of moms. But the truth is, as I've learned many months over, the momentum seems to crash. I find that hard, building up and preparing for fieldwork, only to find a lot of dead ends. I'm curious to see if my work in SF will be more successful. It'll be informative if I'm able to make more substantive and continuous connections with parents there. If I can, it may confirm my suspicions about the structure of LA. Though if I fail there, too, I guess I'll just feel like it's me. Not a terribly good outcome.

Some of my best conversations happen in this setting. I find interviews can be so contrived, and in an ideal fieldwork setting, there would be daily ebb and flow of life that I would observe. I haven't managed to develop this really, though, with anyone. Is it because I'm a bit loathe to be anywhere with any regularity? I've gotten spoiled by the student lifestyle and the self-determination it allows. (As I've mentioned before, I tend to resist on principle rather than for a real good reason.) The minority women's health work has just evaporated. It's partly my fault, for not pushing harder, but it was a situation where no matter what efforts I made, they were met with resistance. I developed my fieldwork better, I think, in Morocco, when I was situated in a community -- and perhaps this was my mistake, refusing to distinguish a particular group of parents. I tried, by linking it to the schools, but the failure to make progress in that sphere took a long time to sort out and move past. And now I'm fully past the 6-month mark. I am worried about uprooting myself, but I do intend to return to LA monthly, and maybe I can keep the connections I've made (that are sporadic, anyway) while developing ones up north.


Not for the faint of heart

I found this in my listservs -- a woman photographically tracks her cervix daily. It's a bit intense. But it is a fascinating use of the interwebs. It's almost like a reclaiming of what internet pornography has started. It seems like it takes the intimacy of the human body and translates it into extreme visibility...or something. Not articulating this well, but it's so amazing and out there, that I had to share it. I'm not sure whether I should call this blog an NSFW (not safe for work) or not...is it lewd to look at photos of a cervix on company computers?

As you can see, I'm revisiting my email/internet research phase with vigor. I get so many emails about variations of things that I'm studying that it can be overwhelming. I'm really backlogged on the digest-forms of my listservs, and I tend to find it daunting to wade back through them. I try to write fieldnotes about the postings I find interesting, but it still can feel like a glut of information.

Somewhat following up on the earlier post -- Surveillance Society

I found this cartoon on the newsletter's site:

I find it interesting when public discourse engages with terms that I think of as existing predominantly in academic circles. I know that theoretical terms do not just appear from nowhere nor would I say that the public is too unsophisticated to make use of theoretically derived terms. It's just fascinating to me to watch the dissemination and evolution of concepts across very disparate social groups.

Badly-handled analysis of capitalism and health

My work in the U.S. forces the question of the role of capitalism and privatization in all spheres of life. I mentioned, many posts ago, the simplistic assumption (by some) that capitalism's "value" to drive health advances neglected all sorts of important aspects of health and may even be detrimental, if one's goal is to actually improve health outcomes for all.

I've been noticing that one of the gazillion listservs I'm on keeps sending business or company recommendations. The first one I noticed (and I'm not sure if it was the first time they've sent such a thing, or if it was the first time I'd remarked upon it) was a promotion for buying land in Ecuador. It was the strangest thing to me, about being able to live a certain kind of life in Latin America, among a community of like-minded people. It contained all sorts of admonishments about not getting scammed, some of which were amazingly simplistic about who "these people" were, but it also had an eerie colonialization feel. (I admit, I'm woefully under-read on colonialization theory (strange especially since I worked in Morocco, a place that to my uneducated eyes, seems to have all sorts of post-colonial connundrums), but I grasp the basics, I think!) The romanticization of both under-developed land and a place with few regulatory restrictions about health (this was the central gist of the email update) seemed extremely ill-thought out. (To be fair, the newsletter author pointed out that one has to be prepared to be self-sufficient as one wouldn't have access to the health care system Americans are used to. But it still sounded incredibly naive.) Subsequently, this newsletter has also sent out "coupons" for products and will make recommendations for some food or vitamin product.

What stands out for me, however, is that there's no self-reflexivity about condemning the majority of products (sunscreen is bad for you! vitamins contain contaminants! who to trust for pharmaceuticals!). And I guess what I'm trying to parse out is why some categories of things do not elicit the same scrutiny as others. I've written about this in other contexts -- why do government regulations of vaccines elicit anti-government reactions from some of my informants, but other forms of regulation do not?

In other words, the forms of libertarianism that come out of these reactions do not seem to be internally consistent. Of course, few of us are ever consistent, even when we think we've developed our belief systems carefully. But I think the contexts in which people react so strongly are revealing about other social and political convictions. And what I think I want to do is to uncover what these anxieties are about, to propose that there is a connection between the types of government suspicion and conspiracy theories I hear circulating among my participants that have deeper resonance and meaning for America today.

God, so bloody grandiose.