Uncanny Innards: review of Sawday, The Body Emblazoned [Book Review]

Metascience 9:179-182 (1996)
In a "parenthesis of fascinated horror" before "the complete discovery and subjection of the body to science", Renaissance anatomists and poets shared peculiar emotions of dread and desire towards the bodies they dissected and described. Jonathan Sawday's ambitious project is to evoke the common taboos, resistances, and fears which the human body provoked in its various early modern investigators, while telling "stories of terrible cruelty, which are tinged by a form of dark eroticism". He is justifiably proud of the historical range of his study, across medicine, cartography, literature, the law, myth, art, theology, social history, and philosophy. But he seeks more than a synthesis of these disparate domains, hoping also both to sketch a new grand narrative about conceptual, practical, and phenomenological changes regarding the body, and further "if not to dispel, then at least to explain" our own multiple, ambiguous feelings about our innards. Thus he marvellously maintains simultaneous attention to culture and psychology, combining high theory with historical precision in rare and risky fashion.
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