Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Symbolical Head

Phrenology is my favorite quack science. Brains mapped and personalities felt as physical bumps. Heads and persons laid bare.

Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) invented 'craniology' which became 'organology' which was renamed by Johann Christoph Spurzheim as "PHRENOLOGY." Essentially, phrenology assumes that different traits and functions are located in different parts of the brain. Because the distribution of the features across the brain are so regular, they can be mapped on models and conversely, read on actual human heads.

Four things should be considered true according to Gall,as outlined in The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular
1. Human moral and intellectual faculties are innate;
2. their function depends on organic structures;
3. the brain is the organ of “all faculties, of all tendencies, of all feelings”;
4. “the brain is composed of as many organs as there are faculties, tendencies, and feelings.” (quoted in Samuel H. Greenblatt, “Phrenology in the Science and Culture of the 19th Century” Neurosurgery, 37:4 (1995) 790-805.)

While it may no longer be quite scientific to treat the shape of the cranium as the cause of behavior, feeling, and temperament, phrenologists were some of the first to declare that the mind was located entirely in the brain, now a scientific given. They also suggested a fragmented model where different areas of the brain were responsible for certain tasks or sensations -a simplified, but not inaccurate understanding according to modern neuroscience.

So here I am eating some trader joe O's this morning, reading about phrenology when I noticed something about the chart...

Besides the demanding directive to "know thyself," under the right eye of the model, there is the word "language" written in the well of the socket. It is precisely where I have charcoal gray scars from running into a copcar going fullspeed on my bicycle on mushrooms.


What does it mean that I have blackened scars on the exact portion of my face that corresponds directly to my strength, my medium and mode? Is it as simple as saying that the mangled region is the cause of my anxieties about writing? I was fascinated by language long before the accident. My obsession with words and their function is as old as those large dark circles under my eyes. What change can a tear in the most precious phenological nerve cause? Is it causal or a facial manifestation of a preexisting tension? I've already gotten over the melodramatic allusion of having a black facial scar but now this?? Phrenology and scars both carry the weight of being irreversible.

Where is Orson Squire Fowler when I need him?

Probably in some heaven of octagonal building somewhere or perhaps in his Golgotha of Gothem? He and Henry Ward Beecher ran phrenology offices, examination room and a museum known as “the Golgatha of Gothem” known for its massive display of over 1000 human and animal skulls, and casts from the heads of “the most distinguished men that ever lived” out of a building on 27 E. 21st St in New York.

Old Orson could probably answer a lot of my questions right now. Just check out his fantastic architectural plans for the Octagonal house.

He wanted to build in globular or cycldrical forms as he saw in nature, but saw the costs of building as too high. Octagons were better than squares, it seems. They are incredibly efficient structures. Easy and cheap to heat and cool, as they have less surface area.

And this one was out in Hayward until it was torn down for a highway annex.

A utopian model taken up by Southern grandeur, in Natchez, Mississippi.

Plus he was a vegetarian and advocated for health reform.

Can I get a head massage and a diagnosis please?

1 comment:

disney.farm said...

saw this at the fine arts bookstore a couple days ago. looks really kewl.