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Discourse 24.1 (2002) 120-149

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Body Snatching
an excerpt from Double Monster

David Bunn

This project is drawn from dead card catalogs. It is part of an ongoing work with the remains of the discarded card catalog of the Los Angles Central Library (which I possess in its entirety—acquired as surplus material when the library replaced it with an on-line version). Double Monster, 2000, a visual project shown simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles galleries with a seven-volume book edition, "twins" the Los Angeles library card catalog's remains with the obsolete card catalogs of the College of Physicians Library and the Mutter Museum, a medical museum of pathological specimens, in Philadelphia.

When I first visited the Physician's Library in Philadelphia, to view the obsolete catalog, I asked the librarian for any interesting stories he might have about the old catalog. He told me that once he had received a phone call from someone doing research on the subject of "grave robbing." The librarian explained that in Philadelphia in the 19th century there had been a lot of scandal associated with grave robbing. The medical community was deeply involved in autopsy research and teaching and, as a result, cadavers were in short supply. Physicians had resorted to paying for cadavers "no questions asked." The librarian went to the card catalog and looked up "grave robbing." He didn't find anything. He then looked up "cadaver" and "autopsy"—still nothing. A little perplexed he took the number of the patron and asked to return the call after a bit [End Page 120] more of a search. Then he went to the card catalog and began to look under every subject he could think of. Finally, deep in the drawers under "body" (quite a large subject category in a medical library) he found the related holdings, filed under "body snatching." The librarian speculated that at some point—he didn't know when—the relevant cards were moved from other categories and re-filed under "body snatching." I found the apparent shift from the more objective and formal sense of medical science to one of popular culture, as exemplified in sci-fi /horror movie associations, an inspiration for Double Monster.

In this moment of historical shift from a physical way of knowing to the virtual, Double Monster examines the physicality of the card catalogue as allegory for the physical body: dead, buried, then 'body snatched' and re-animated. Here, an obsolete card catalogue of real medical specimens is cross-wired with a discarded metropolitan library card catalogue of the popular, the fictional and the 'how-to.' Selected cards from the Mutter catalogue have been painted and drawn as commissioned medical illustrations by artist Madena Asbell. She has taken them, with all their type, script, creases and stains, and treated them as though they were organs and tissues. The illustrations are then grouped with typewritten found texts, which come to look and read like poems. The poems are followed by the constituent Los Angeles Library discards from which they are drawn. [End Page 121]

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(p.122) Body Snatching, Photograph. Detail: card catalog of the Library of the College of Physicians, Philadelphia.

(p. 123-131) Body Snatching, Acrylic, pencil and pen and ink on paper: College of Physicians, Philadelphia catalog cards. Medical illustrations by Madena Asbell.

(p. 132) Body Snatching, "Invasion of the body snatchers" Typewriter on paper.

(p.134) Body Snatching, "Invasion of the body snatchers," discarded Los Angeles Library catalog cards.

(p. 148) Remains of the discarded card catalog from the Los Angeles Central Library as it appears...


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