Mark Dery: Post Mortem

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Mark Dery is guest blogger du jour until August 17. He is the author of Culture Jamming, Flame Wars, Escape Velocity, and The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium. He's at work on The Pathological Sublime, a philosophical investigation into the paradox of horrible beauty and the politics of "just looking."

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Worshippers of Morbid Anatomy: Just as I'm warming to my task, my time on the Boing Boing marquee is over. I'd hoped to squeeze in posts about the pornographic rapture of Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Theresa (don't you love the sweetly sadistic smile playing at the corner of the cherub's lips as he hovers, poised to plunge the golden spear of holy desire into Theresa's "very entrails," leaving her "all on fire with a great love of God," moaning with the "surpassing... sweetness of this excessive pain"?) and about the hallucinogenically beautiful sculptures in the Borghese Gallery, carved from seemingly infinite varieties of marble: snow-white Carrara, perfect for modeling the soft swell of a breast, the curve of a flank, a chin-dimple; busts of cardinals made of pink marble mottled with white blobs, giving their heads the appearance of being sculpted out of, er, headcheese; marble the color of blood sausage, marble the color of raw salmon, marble green as mint jelly, purple as eggplant, marble flickering with blue and gray veins, Pentelic marble, Parian marble, and let's not forget Phrygian marble, a psychedelic rock that the Victorian writer Henry Hull described as "one of the most curious, as well as handsome varieties of marble with which I am acquainted," a mineral delirium of "banded layers of silicious limestone of various shades of green, verging on blue or gray, alternating with others of a pure white...contorted, waved, or foliated in a remarkable manner..."

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If I'd had time, I would have walked you through the Museum of Pathological Anatomy in Florence and the taxidermic Eden of the Museum of Zoology in Bologna, its wall-eyed creatures leaking stuffing, unloved by anyone except the occasional devotee of what the postmodern theorist Steve Baker calls "botched taxidermy." Did I mention the bizarre, Ed Gein-ian anatomical preparations of the 18th century naturalist Girolamo Segato, in the anatomy museum at the Ospedale Carregi in Florence? (A "maker" after Boing Boing's heart, he crafted a handsome table, inset with what looked like polished stones but were, in fact, human organs, preserved, cut into geometric shapes, and fitted into a colorful mosaic. When Segato proudly presented a local noble with the results of his handiwork, the squicked-out noble declined.) And then there's the incomparable museum of teratology and pathology, just a building away in the same hospital, with its mind-altering waxes of skin diseases and its wet specimens of congenital deformities, a Boschian garden of unearthly (yet all too human) things, unforgettable, almost indescribable. And then there's the Museum of Veterinary Pathology and the Ercole Lelli waxes in the Palazzo Poggi, both in Bologna, and...and...

Postcard From Rome, Basilica Di Santa Maria In Cosmedin, Reliquia Di San Valentino

Happily, I'll be blogging about all these things at Shovelware, so if my posts over the past two weeks have whetted your interest in the Pathological Sublime, do drop by. Blogging for Boing Boing has been thrilling, if exhausting. As I said in my opening post, the collective intelligence of Boing Boing's hive mind is among the smartest readerships anywhere. Of course, every wise crowd has at least one troll-tastic Master of His Own Domain, the all-knowing and tirelessly punctilious offspring of George Costanza and Felix Unger. Nonetheless, I'm immensely grateful to those of you who took the time to offer constructive critiques, suggest alternate angles of attack on my subjects, or point me toward stones left unturned in my research. To you I can only say: mille grazie---and then some.

IMAGES (from top to bottom): Sculpture of head with tumors, Museum of Teratological and Pathological Anatomy, Florence; Botched taxidermy, Museum of Zoology, Bologna; Wax model of hydrocephalic child, Museum of Teratological and Pathological Anatomy, Florence; Postcard from Reliquia di San Valentino, Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.


  1. Of course, every wise crowd has at least one troll-tastic Master of His Own Domain, the all-knowing and tirelessly punctilious offspring of George Castanza and Felix Unger.

    It’s “Costanza,” as I’m sure you know, dearest M. Dery.

    Thanks for the blogging, it was incredibly interesting…. looking forward to the book.

  2. I have had great difficulty enjoying (or enduring) lengthy posts on BB in the past; I’m usually not in a lengthy-text mood when I’m tripping through the entries here. Previous guest bloggers have at times caused me to click away after only a paragraph or less, my eyes glazed as with Super Glue.

    However, you, sir, have managed to keep my attention and, further, fascinated me with your writing on topics I would never have said I had an interest in. Very well done. Thanks for your contributions.

    BTW: The link for Shovelware needs fixing (and I’m not sure I’ve done it correctly here). It currently appears to have two URLs grafted together. Grafted together in some hideous, unearthly fusion of protocols and top-level domains, infested with file directories and sub-directories and crawling with the waxen maggots of —

    Ah, but I’ve gotten carried away. I don’t know what happened to me.

  3. Mark Dery- Castanza!Were you perhaps thinking of “significant shrinkage” as apropos?Felix Unger was the the nit-picking,anal retentive,neatnik? I wonder who on earth you are referring to.I tried the link to Shovelware,looks good,will continue to enjoy your posts.Thanks for your all too short visit.Look over your shoulder,Castanza’s doppelganger is watching you.

  4. #7-TAKUAN-Costanza-Jason Alexander-Duckman so swift and subtle.The characterization is spot on.So where is Cornfed Pig when you need him?

  5. Thank you for the intricately detailed and extremely well-written posts on such scintillating subjects. Sorry the pack turned a little ravenous and snarling at times. They’re just like that sometimes, especially with the guestbloggers.

    You should get a coffee mug or something that says, “I survived two weeks of guestblogging at boingboing.” It appears to be one of the most grueling rites of passage known to man. Congratulations! You passed!

  6. @2: High praise indeed. Thanks!
    @4: Nice of you to say. Wasn’t familiar with that reference by name, although now that I follow your link, I realize I’ve seen his stuff on the cover of THE QUICK AND THE DEAD: ARTISTS AND ANATOMY, the catalogue for a wonderful exhibition, some years back. So, thanks a jillion.
    @9: I haven’t mentioned Crappy Taxidermy, but it’s a fun site. Would have liked to have dug deep into Baker’s notion of “botched taxidermy,” which he theorizes in depth in his writings on animal studies. What did it mean, I wonder (besides the obvious Gein-ian subtext), that Norman Bates was a taxidermist? Food for thought…

  7. @10: Very much appreciated. That Pinker thing really earned me some IED’s. They’re still fragging over in that comment thread. Glad to know a few of BB’s millions found my drive-by essays useful.

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