Flesh made light: investigating X-ray films

Still from Barbara Hammer's film, Sanctus, which shows an X-ray image of a head and torso in profile
Still from Barbara Hammer’s Sanctus, courtesy of the Medical Film Symposium

I’m flying back from a trip to the George Eastman House (in Rochester, New York), where I did a couple days of archival research. I thought I’d write a bit about what I was doing there and what I found, in the hope that capturing the experience here will help me organize my thoughts about it later.

I was interested in a physician-filmmaker named James Sibley Watson, Jr., who made a number of striking cinefluorographic (X-ray) films. I’ve been hoping that Watson will be the basis of a fourth chapter of my book, Depth Perception, which is about medical filmmaking. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of what, together, we think constitutes a body: mind, anatomy, disease, and, with the addition of this fourth chapter, skin. My argument is that it’s surprisingly difficult to make a medicalized body cohere on film. It takes tons of editing tricks, special effects, and dedicated equipment. In fact, it’s so difficult, I argue, that we should pause to consider whether the medicalized body exists at all.

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Dissertation advice

Photo of me holding a T-shirt that says "I survived Yale dissertation boot camp."
The T-shirt says "I survived Yale dissertation boot camp," which is a real thing that exists.

Recently, a much-loved friend asked me for advice on dissertation-writing, not because I’m any paragon of efficiency, but because she knew I’d struggled myself. She wanted to know if I had any words of wisdom about getting through the process with a minimum of pain.

My immediate impulse was to decline to answer, on the grounds that I am utterly unqualified to advise anyone on writing without pain. My next impulse was to solicit advice from my friends via Twitter, and I got some wonderful responses. There were some terrifically helpful practical tips, but one that really got me thinking was from my friend Franky Abbott, who suggested the importance of recognizing “that the dissertation is antiquated process training and not a reflection of your total worth.”

This is a truth that’s only become fully apparent to me in my post-grad school life, and I thought that this might be something useful I could offer to my friend. While of course I knew in a theoretical way that what I was writing was an exercise rather than a finished product, this knowledge meant little to me in the hothouse of grad school. Now, a couple years after leaving Yale, I see  that what I was doing was learning how to write scholarship. My dissertation is no great work of genius, I know that, but I feel no need to apologize. The world didn’t need another dissertation, but I needed the opportunity to learn to write one.

So here’s what I told my friend, and what I would tell myself if I could: You are more important than any damn dissertation.

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The iPad in academic settings: what I like, what I’d like to see

Woman using her cat as an iPad Stand
"iPad Stand" by Veronica Belmont

One of the developers here at the library asked me to tell him a little bit about my experience using the iPad in an academic setting. Here are his questions:

  • Where do you find your self using the device the most?
  • What do you really enjoy/hate about the device?
  • Is there anything that you think is really missing(software or hardware)?
  • How would you use the device in an academic  setting?
  • Is there any app that you think must be written for use in the academic setting?

And here are my answers:

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