May 14 2009

Some More Thoughts On Sheppard Lee

by at 12:59 am

Adam Smith sees the biological limitations of a pure sympathetic response. To Smith, lived experiences are very much tied to the individual body, so one can never fully understand another’s experience because one individual never occupy the body of another. Mesmer’s ideas on animal magnetism, I argue, solve this problem by creating networks of bodies (hmm…”networks,” like what Laura Otis is talking about?) that can be linked via electrical impulses. Sheppard Lee similarly solves the body barrier divide that is put forth by Smith by having Sheppard Lee’s soul occupy the body of dead corpses. In this way, Sheppard Lee enacts a purely sympathetic response….and, yet, these instances of body travel still seem to problematize successful sympathetic encounters. For one, the fact that Sheppard Lee’s body is restored at the end is extremely significant. The entire narrative is written by this restored Sheppard Lee, and thus it seems as if even as Sheppard Lee inhabits the bodies of others there is still a marked seperation between Sheppard Lee and the body he inhabits. This may, again, be a result of the narrative–Sheppard Lee is writing this in hindsight, but it still prevents any true sympathetic exchange.

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Mar 31 2009

“Science Girl” or “Technology Girl”….

by at 12:30 pm

Next semester is going to come sooner than I’d like, so I’m starting to really think about this application process. I like Science and Technology Studies as a whole, but I know that my writing sample is going to have to emphasize one over the either (ie: more science-y, or more technologically based). So, I was thinking, will I “package” myself more as “science girl” or “technology girl?” (haha, I like them both actually….sounds like a nifty super-hero name). After much thought, I’ve decided that I’m probably going to submit a writing sample that demonstrates my interests in electricity and literature, that way I can have both science and technology: the electrical phenomenon is itself scientific, but it’s applications could also bring it into the technological sphere. I’ve really started thinking about this distinction between science and technology after someone in the audience at UVA asked for me to expand on that distinction, and I think that was incredibly helpful. It’s really quite simple–electricity, as a principle, is science, and it’s application is technological– but I don’t think I was explicitly thinking about the distinction. 

So, in light of all this, I think I’m going to stick with the electrical metaphor and magnetism that we see earlier in the century, rather than focusing on the more technological metaphors of bodies and machines that we begin to see later in the century. I’d like to focus on how notions of animal magnetism provide mental maps, which allowed for a more fluid understanding of race. I touch on this in my UVA presentation: when bodies are thought to be unified by an electrical principle, then the importance of skin is diminished. I’ve always wanted to write on Robert Montgomery Bird’s Sheppard Lee and now I think I’ll have my chance! Bird, himself a trained physician, was clearly informed by principles of animal magnetism with all the “body jumping” that happens throughout. I’m thinking about how Sheppard Lee’s soul enters the body of the dead slave. Oh, I’m excited! I miss early American texts (Sheppard Lee is 1835, I believe), and I think I can have the opportunity to get back into this period.

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