Saturday, July 28, 2012

Marvelous History

I just finished up a marathon (4-day) conference of medieval things. This was mainly a literary studies crowd, and I found it interesting to be one of the few scholars there not working primarily on literary texts. I talked about the way that medieval authors of historical tales used artificial marvels to comment on truth and authenticity in historiography and to stake their own claims to precedence and authority as historians. 

One of the wilder aspects of medieval historiography is that there is a ton of freaky, bizarre, amazing stuff going on. Severed heads that tell the future, magical amulets, flying horses, subterranean cities, rains of blood, and sorts of other strange things show up. These things seem fantastical to us, but to medieval audiences, these kinds of phenomena differed only in their frequency, not in their inherent plausibility, from other, more mundane events. But marvels were important sites within a narrative where an author could explain or describe it in such a way to allow for a meditation on meta-narrative concerns. 

But I haven't yet figured out *why* marvels, in particular, allow for this kind of intervention. Their inherent weirdness invites lingering over, and can also provide a moment for the author to reassure those who might find a particular marvel incredible. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sims

Hey folks. Medieval Robots is back from summer hiatus. After finishing a draft of The Big Book of Medieval Robots, I needed some time off to replenish my word-hoard.

Serendipitously, CT over at Brand Avenue tipped me off to the exciting world of patient simulators. Rather than actors appearing in a Beckett play (my first thought), patient simulators are physiologically accurate human robots, like SimMan2(tm). These proxy patients squirt, spurt, secrete, excrete, expel, discharge, and produce a range of fluids and solids (including a baby and placenta), and display subtle symptoms (changes in pupil dilation, respiration, temperature, etc.) that correspond to a variety of medical situations. They're increasingly used in training physicians and nurses

One can only hope that they will appear in a horror film before too long. I can see it: a group of residents gets locked in the skills lab overnight, just as the hospital is evacuated for some compelling reason. The simulators attack the residents, subjecting them in turn to the same torture they have inflicted. The residents must use their skills to save one another, but realize that their time spent in the artificial environment of the lab has made them ill-equipped to treat actual people. Obviously, all except for two of the residents die, the sims are destroyed, and the surviving doctors swear to practice only on human patients.

But doctors have practiced on patients that they deemed less than fully human for some time. J. Marion Sims, widely regarded as the father of modern gynaecology, perfected a surgical repair for vesicovaginal fistula by operating repeatedly, and without anaesthesia, on a trio of slave women. Once he had perfected his technique, he used anaesthesia on his Caucasian patients.*

*Sims is a controversial figure. You can start reading about him here and here