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Lousy Sex

Creating Self in an Infectious World

By Gerald Callahan

Publication Year: 2013

In Lousy Sex, Gerald Callahan explores the science of self, illustrating the immune system’s role in forming individual identity. Blending the scientific essay with deeply personal narratives, these poignant and enlightening stories use microbiology and immunology to explore a new way to answer the question, who am I?

“Self” has many definitions. Science has demonstrated that 90 percent of the cells in our bodies are bacteria—we are in many respects more non-self than self. In Lousy Sex, Callahan considers this microbio-neuro perspective on human identity together with the soulful, social perception of self, drawing on both art and science to fully illuminate this relationship.

In his stories about where we came from and who we are, Callahan uses autobiographical episodes to illustrate his scientific points. Through stories about the sex lives of wood lice, the biological advantages of eating dirt, the question of immortality, the relationship between syphilis and the musical genius of Beethoven, and more, this book creates another way, a chimeric way, of seeing ourselves. The general reader with an interest in science will find Lousy Sex fascinating.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

A different version of “First Self ” appeared in Emerging Infectious Diseases I (2005). Different versions of “Layers of Self,” “Dreams of the Blind,” and “The Mysterious Visions of Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck” appeared in turnrow magazine under the titles, respectively, ...

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Prologue: Leonardo’s Dream

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pp. ix-xiv

He certainly hadn’t planned to spend his morning wandering around looking for inspirations, as though they might be startled from the shadows like mice. He kicked at a stone and sent it flying across the Via Mercanti. As he walked into Milano’s great piazza, pewter-colored clouds rolled in from the mountains to the north and blocked the sun. ...

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Origins: Where “I” Comes From

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pp. 1-4

Like the fossilized tooth of megazostrodon, beneath the enameled surface of the word “I” lies one of the great stories of our past—the origins of selves. Surely there was a time without selves. How and why did “I” evolve from not-“I”? What did the first “I” look like? ...

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1. First Self

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pp. 5-18

Slowly, purposefully, my mother unbuttons her blouse. The blouse is blue with small white flowers, and the tail is tucked firmly into the elastic waistband of her salmon pink pants. Beginning at the top and moving down, she works carefully at each of the small plastic buttons. ...

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2. Layers of Self

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pp. 19-32

I wasn’t expecting that. Sandy and I have been friends for years, but we have never spoken like this before. Sitting in the small gray cubicle where she works, her words fall like stones—solid, cold. ...

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3. Self in the Soil

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pp. 33-44

I’m not one for religions or religious experiences. But there is something here I cannot account for—something very old and very unusual. The carvings and paintings are part of it. They were surely done by human hands, but according to public documents no one remembers whose hands those were. ...

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4. Gathering Our Selves

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pp. 45-56

It is snowing, perhaps, and cold, surely. The streets are nearly empty. The sparkling flakes that fill the stone crevices are radiant with candle and gaslight. In a small villa near the city’s center, at Beatrixgasse-Ungargasse 5, a white-haired man in his fifties has just penned the final notes of what will someday be called the greatest piece of music ever composed. ...

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Middles: Childhood’s End

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pp. 57-60

Now that we, from mud and starlight and chromosomes and bacteria, have assembled rudimentary selves, where do we go from here? Only death ends the artistry of self-creation. ...

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5. The Opposite of Sex

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pp. 61-72

A couple of months into our electronic relationship, Lisa May Stevens sent me some pictures of herself. In one of these photos, she wore a black gown, showed quite a bit of leg, and looked like a southern belle—strawberry blonde, about five feet ten inches tall, hazel eyed. For all the world, like a southern belle. She isn’t though. ...

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6. Lousy Sex

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pp. 73-86

This morning, I am escorting a wood louse out of my kitchen and onto the lawn. It is early spring. The air is warm and full of promise, and as I launch the balled-up creature lawnward, my thoughts turn to sex. Unusual sex, mysterious sex, infectious sex. ...

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7. The Wizards of “I”

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pp. 87-104

November 1957. It’s cold, flesh-cracking cold. The barren steppes roll off into the icy haze, unmarked save for a few low clumps of dead grass and three or four brick buildings. Light like flint flickers over the plain and a polar wind slams at the bricks over and over. Nothing changes. It seems nothing here ever changes, ever has changed. ...

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8. Dreams of the Blind

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pp. 105-126

She looks like she’s spent the better part of her life on a barstool, smoking cigarettes, drinking watered gin, and waiting on her next exhusband- to-be. Hard and polished like the runners on an old sled. I’m glad it’s not my name she’s calling. ...

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This Is Not the End: Facing Up to Our Immortality

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pp. 127-130

Every day for billions of years, this world has tested every gene we carry. When genes failed those tests, people (or creatures that might have one day been humans) died. That makes for very powerful and very useful genes—to a point. And that point comes when we are no longer able to reproduce. ...

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9. The Mysterious Visions of Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck

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pp. 131-144

We’re seated in circled desks, so that each of us can see everyone else. We are here to discuss where selves come from. The seating arrangement helps to lubricate our discussions. At times, it lubricates other things as well. Janine, a dark-haired, attractive woman, has worn a dress to class today. ...

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10. The Rock Collector

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pp. 145-160

January 16, 1912, six days before my father was born, Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the southern pole of the planet. “Great God,” he wrote in his diary. “This is an awful place.” It was twenty-one below zero. The wind was blowing at forty miles per hour and howling in his ears like the dead. ...

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11. On the Lip of Immortality

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pp. 161-172

Across the street from where I stand, four men in their late thirties— dressed only in diapers—carry a coffin bearing a pregnant mannequin. As I watch, the falling snow turns them pink, then ashen. Suddenly, the mannequin shudders violently and strains to birth another child. ...

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12. Epilogue

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pp. 173-175

Leonardo, like most of his fellow men of science, believed mind and emotions throbbed inside the human heart. Vesalius maintained that human emotions and human intellect sparked inside human brains. Neither gave much thought to human thymuses, and neither imagined all the things they could not see or touch or hear or taste or smell beneath the stench of the preservatives. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322337
E-ISBN-10: 1607322331
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322320
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322323

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013