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The Apotheosis of the Dissected Plate: Michael Sappol Speaks at URI!

“The Apotheosis of the Dissected Plate: Spectacles of Layering and Transparency in 19th and 20th Century Anatomy”

As a part of the 2013-2014 English Department Speaker Series, the amazing Michael Sappol will be speaking at URI on Tuesday, April 15th, at 4:00pm in the Hoffman Room, 154 Swan Hall.

Well-known for his erudition, critical acumen, and playful considerations of the difficult and arcane, Michael Sappol is the kind of writer-historian who is able to make the seemingly remote immediate and urgent.

Sappol’s talk will be of interest to students of medicine and medical historians; visual artists; librarians; archivists; historians of the book; philosophers; literary scholars; and cultural theorists.



 Michael Sappol writes:

 This is a story about “topographical anatomy — a tradition of slicing and sawing rather than cutting and carving — and its procedures for converting bodies from three dimensions to two dimensions and back again. In topographical cross-section anatomy, the frozen or mummified body was cut into successive layers that were then transcribed and reproduced as pages of a book or a sequence of prints or slides (sometimes with the original slices preserved as a sequence of specimens for the anatomical museum). The topographical method influenced, and was in turn influenced by, flap anatomy (the technique of cutting out printed anatomical parts on paper or cardboard and assembling the parts into a layered representation of the human body). In the 20th century, medical illustrators and publishers developed a new technique of three-dimensional anatomical layering: the anatomical transparency — an epistemological/heuristic device which in the postmodern era has come to enchant artists as well as anatomists. I will argue that these anatomical productions — artworks, but also, exhibitions, toys, gimmicks, and other objects of consumer desire — are meaningful to us because the oscillation between the dis-assembly and re-assembly of bodies as images and image-objects, rehearses our own ambivalent relation to the anatomical body. It also rehearses (perhaps more mysteriously) our ambivalent relation to the planearity of anatomical images which serve as an effigy of self and other, and to the Flatland universe of layered planearity in which we imaginatively dwell. This talk features photographs by artist Mark Kessell.

Michael Sappol is a historian in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health), Bethesda, MD. His scholarly work focuses on the body; the history of anatomy; the history of death; the history of medical illustration and display; and the history of medical film. He is the author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies (2002) and Dream Anatomy(2006), and editor of Hidden Treasure (Blast, 2012). He currently lives in Washington, DC.


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