Wednesday, 03 August 2005

How to Open an Academic Essay, Part VII: Ugh, or Why Can't I Invent What I Can't Prove? I desperately want to open the Jack London chapter I'm currently working on with the following clipping from the August 10, 1902 edition of The New York Times: QUEER CASE OF ATAVISM German Physician Tells of Two Young Men Who Ruminate Their Food BERLIN, Aug. 9—The Munich Medicinische Zeitschrift has an article by Dr. L.R. Mueller, head physician of the clinic at Erlangen, reporting a remarkable case of a family of ruminators. The father of the family died in the clinic of cancer of the stomach. His two sons digest their food like cows. The young men say that after a quarter of an hour the food returns to the mouth and is rechewed. After drinking water or beer the ruminating stops. Dr. Mueller believes the case shows all the symptoms of atavism. This short story captures all the confusions I confront in my chapter with an economy the chapter itself increasingly lacks. Plus, it almost reads like a poem. Most notable is the potential pun on the verb "ruminate" and its cognates. Less salient but more powerful is the strange causality created by the juxtaposition in the second paragrah. That "the father of the family died in the clinic of cancer of the stomach" is lamentable. But it has nothing to do with the fact that "his two sons digest their food like cows." Or does it? Given the headline's declaration that these two sons represent a "queer case of atavism," readers cannot be sure the father's stomach cancer is not the result of his own ruminative inclinations. Atavism, however, should not be heritable. During this period, the word "atavism" signals an acceptance of the work of criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso. For Lombroso, some people were "born bad." They were genetically inclined to steal, rape, murder and interpret texts literally. According to Lombroso's essay in September 1895 edition of Forum, the judge incapable of "personal mental effort," who cannot "give free course to those associations of ideas and emotions of which complexity is so great," is as dangerous to society as the thief, rapist, murderer or masked epileptic. "The judges," Lombroso laments, "pronounce judgment as if the crime formed the simplest incident in the life of the criminal." In truth, however, they have been ruminating their food and washing it down with beer their entire life. (How do you like them jarring apples?) Lombroso concedes the value of education while acknowledging the innate depravity of children: "We must admit that there is a tendency to crime at a very early age. Children are liars, thieves, etc. This tendency in well-born children disappears with a good education." In other words, contrary to Lombroso's insistence, atavism isn't a degeneration into a more primitive type so much as a bad education. "If only little Jimmy hadn't neglected his numbers, he wouldn't have raped, murdered, or had epileptic fits." Similarly, if only their father hadn't decided that pseudo-bulimia was the most efficient mode of eating, his children wouldn't ruminate their foods. What's my...
Daily Dissertation DetritusTM or Fear Crowds of Incorrigible Masturbators Many comments must and will be addressed. For now you'll have to settle for another installment of Dissertation Detritus.TM Today's examples come from early (1899-1901) issues of the American Journal of Sociology. First: A singular example of mental perversion, an absurd and immoral custom tenaciously held fast in mob-mind, has its genesis in the partisan zeal of athletic spectator crowds. I refer to the practice of organized cheering, known in the college argot as "rooting." From every aspect it is bad. It robs the athlete of his due meed of honest praise. The spontanteous burst of emotion is discounted by the artificial clamor. At best, it must be rated as a cunning suggestion intended to start contagious and irrational applause in the hypnotized mass of on-looks. It is a trap for the emotion of the unwary. (Howard 1912) Do you like the sounds of disgruntled high school juniors standing outside pep rallies? I do. Why else would I have spent countless hours I listening and producing them? Speaking of adolescent trauma: When many children are crowded together, the contagion of masturbation is much to be feared. One child insturcts another in this vice, and a few bad spirits are enough to infect a whole school among the pupils who are ignorant of the terrible and dangerous consequences of masturbation. (Morel 1899) What are these consequences? Readers of the AJS would have to have waited an entire year for the answer I can provide right now: Inclination and skill for physical exercises, as well as study, vanish. Disposition to idleness and to strange fancies arises, and while an ill founded self-esteem increases, the individual grows suspicious, unfriendly, and inclined to judge censoriously the demeanor of everybody toward himself. (Marro 1900) The always polite Antonio Marro then provides advice on how to eradicate the contagion of masturbation: Avoid too many eggs, and still more venison, aromas, truffles, drugs and all other such alimentary substances, which have the tendency to excite the sexual organs. What if I want to climb trees? In climbing trees it is useful to bring the most strain upon the soles of the feet set against the trunk of the tree, so that, the greatest pressure being in this direction, the danger is avoided of pressure against the thighs. Can I still drink coffee? One must also avoid coffee and alcoholic drinks, which have the bad effect of exaggerating the dispositions, already natural in such an age, to excitement of the nervous and circulatory systems. Build castles in the air? Young people should not be permitted to stay alone and give themselves over to building castles in the air. The first danger of such a habit lies in the improper formation of mental formations. Building castles in the air deteriorates itself the regular mental process of making associations. What happens if I become an incorrigible masturbator? When the impulses are more strong and unrestrained, as in individuals of vicious heredity, the cold hip-bath, sufficiently repeated, promises to check them....

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