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6 “TO PICTURE THE BODY” KAHN’S IMAGES IN THE POSTMODERN AFTERLIFE [Der Mensch Gesund und Krank] is a book dealing with modern man and written for modern people. It not only presents man in the light of modern science, but is also a modern book in text and illustration. It contains the basic facts of the modern science of man. . . . Anyone who owns the book . . . possesses a work which will teach him all that modern science has to tell contemporary man about himself. . . . It answers all the questions relating to health and a rational mode of life, with which modern man is confronted. —­GEORGE ROSEN, PROPOSAL FOR AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF DER MENSCH GESUND UND KRANK, CA. 1941, GEORGE ROSEN PAPERS, YALE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY (EMPHASIS ADDED) To take stock: in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, there was a demand for cultural productions that performed the modern and offered answers to modernizing questions: how to get modern with machines, pedagogy, state administration, music, clothes, and so on—­ and how to get modern with printed pictures, charts, diagrams, and designs. In some ways, this was just the continuation of a longue durée. From the sixteenth century (near the very creation of the idea of the modern ) to the last decade of the twentieth century, the performance of 164 | “TO PICTURE THE BODY” modernity was especially identified with print culture and its proliferating pictures, which represented every facet of contemporary life. The printed image, its modalities, styles, captions, subjects, and technologies of reproduction, came to signify the modern, whether it depicted futuristic fantasies of life in space or nostalgic scenes of home and hearth. As everyday life was increasingly remade into a venue for immersive, saturating image/texts, there came new moves and movements to modernize image production with new styles and subjects, new forms and technologies. One of the great accomplishments of this hydra-­ headed multi­ faceted cultural project was the modernist conceptual illustration —­ a device that worked to modernize viewers with its visual explanations of the material and cultural world and the human body. Fritz Kahn deployed and redeployed thousands of such illustrations . In collusion with artists, publishers, and readers, he developed the FIGURE 6.1. Modern media is much bigger than its readers. “A sensational finding!! The respiratory surface of the lung, with its 350 million air sacs, is so large that, spread as a newspaper sheet in relation to a human, it reaches the huge proportion of this newspaper.” Das Leben des Menschen (1926), 3:49. Artist: Fritz Schüler. National Library of Medicine. Copyright Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart. “TO PICTURE THE BODY” | 165 image as a way of knowing and showing the human body—­ and a way of taking pleasure in the modern and the modern condition. The human body coursed with the machine rhythms of the combustion engine and turbine generator, glowed with the smoothness of polished metal, plastic , industrial glass, poured asphalt, and concrete, pulsed with light, electricity, and X-­ rays. Turned inward on the reader, the busy traffic of the industrial city and workplace and the modern home figured effigies of the self: homunculi that referred back to the familiar activities and conditions and technologies of everyday life. There was an unstructured , open-­ ended cascading loop of image correspondences. MODERNITY’S DEPTHS AND SURFACES The new visual vocabulary in turn revised presiding ideas of the modern . Like a Möbius strip, it brought the surfaces of modernity into the depths of the body, and the depths of the body out onto modernity’s industrial, urban, and domestic surfaces. Interiority acquired its own industrial landscape and its own political economy. This undermined the cultural valorization of depth in the evolutionary , historical, and psychological order of things. Nineteenth-­ century romanticism bequeathed to the twentieth century the belief that wisdom is attained by penetrating deeply through surfaces and layers that obscure the true inner workings of things.1 The interior was mysterious, intractable, frightening, even menacing, but also beautiful and transcendent—­ sublime. But conceptual scientific illustration lit up the body, made its murky depths bright and legible. The inside story was almost too rational, too easy, too showy. I have argued that Kahn’s representation of agents within the body (the homunculus) modeled the reader’s own complex relation to figurative representation. The philosopher of mind Colin McGinn rightly warns us that the homunculus is a delusion, a trap we continually fall into.2 If so, it makes sense to wonder why that...


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