Monday, September 28, 2009

David Attenborough's BBC Collection goes online.

Fifty of Attenborough's selected favorites are available to watch from the BBC.
This is a great collection of work by an equally great naturalist.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Music of the Week: Battles - "Tonto"

Music of the Week this week is the band Battles. They have some very good stuff, but also one of the most annoying songs ever, which is I suppose the price to pay for some form of success these days. So I will not torture myself or you with their song Atlas, although the video for it is interesting as it features the band in a mirrored room not unlike the one on the cover of Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting. This band, though, reminds me more of Soft Machine, perhaps because of the placement of the drums but also because of the style of play and composition.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Herculine/Alexina Barbin & Caster Semenya

"In the midst of the happiness that intoxicated me, I was frightfully tormented. What was I to do, my God, what was I to decide on?"
--Alexina "Herculine" Barbin

Thus wrote the mid-19th century hermaphrodite Alexina Barbin not long before taking her own life. At the time Barbin was born, it was customary for the child to have their sex chosen for them at birth, and to simply be raised as such. By the time Barbin died, the question was in the hands of legal and medical authorities. Barbin was raised as a girl in a convent orphanage and in the convent. When she reached maturity, she chose to go into teaching, a profession which required an initial medical examination. During the routine and invasive examination it was discovered that she had both male and female characteristics. These attributes had apparently been missed in all previous medical exams, but when it was time for her to leave the protection of the convent, the diagnosis changed and with it an entire social apparatus emerged. Ultimately, Alexina, as she referred to herself, was forced to live as a man. After writing her memoir, she committed suicide in a Parisian hovel.

It is certainly difficult not to think of the current controversy over the runner Caster Semenya when reading back over this text, and to consider how little distance there is between the Alexina and Caster in terms of how they are being diagnosed and regulated, at least by some. This BBC "World Have Your Say" is interesting in that regard.

Michel Foucault brought Herculine's story to light with his book Herculine Barbin, which collected Barbin's memoir and associated medical, legal, and literary documents.
He wrote in his introduction:

"Do we truly need a true sex? With a persistence that borders on stubbornness, modern Western societies have answered in the affirmative. They have obstinately brought into play this question of a "true sex in an order of things where one might have imagined that all that counted was the reality of the body and the intensity of its pleasures.

For a long time, however, such a demand was not made, as is proven by the history of the status which medicine and law have granted to hermaphrodites. Indeed it was a very long time before the postulate that a hermaphrodite must have a sex ---a single, a true sex--- was formulated. For centuries, it was quite simply agreed that hermaphrodites had two. Were they terror-inspiring monsters, calling for legal tortures? In fact, things were much more complicated. It is true that there is evidence of a number of executions, both in ancient times and in the Middle Ages. But there is also an abundance of court decisions of a completely different type. In the Middle Ages, the rules of both canon and civil law were very clear on this point: the designation 'hermaphrodite' was given to those in whom the two sexes were juxtaposed, in proportions that might be variable. In these cases, it was the role of the father or the godfather (thus of those who 'named' the child) to determine at the time of baptism which sex was going to be retained. If necessary, one was advised to choose the sex that seemed to have the better of the other, being 'the more vigorous' or 'the warmest.' But later, on the threshold of adulthood, when the time came for them to marry, hermaphrodites were free to decided for themselves if they wished to go on being of the sex which had been assigned to them, or if they preferred the other. The only imperative was that they had then declared until the end of their lives, under pain of being labeled sodomites. Changes of option, not the anatomical mixture of the sexes, were what gave rise to most of the condemnations of hermaphrodites in the records of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Biological theories of sexuality, juridical conceptions of the individual, forms of administrative control in modern nations, led little by little to rejecting the idea of a mixture of the two sexes in a single body, and consequently to limiting the free choice of indeterminate individuals. Henceforth, everybody was to have one and only one sex. Everybody was to have his primary, profound, determined and determining sexual identity; as for the elements of the other sex that might appear, they could not only be accidental, superficial, or even quite simply illusory. From the medical point of view, this meant that when confronted with a hermaphrodite, the doctor was no longer concerned with recognizing the presence of the two sexes, juxtaposed or intermingled, or with knowing which of the two prevailed over the other, but rather with deciphering the true sex that was hidden beneath ambiguous appearance. He had, as it were, to strip the body of its anatomical deceptions and discover the one true sex behind organs that might have put on the forms of the opposite sex.....
Here is a document drawn from the strange history of our 'true sex.' It is not unique, but it is rare enough. It is the journal or rather the memoirs that were left by one of those individuals whom medicine and the law in the nineteenth century relentlessly questioned about their genuine sexual identity. ---Michel Foucault, 1980 [1978]. Herculine Barbin: Being the recently discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Pantheon Books.

from BBC News: "Makeover for SA gender-row runner"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Music of the Week: Joy Division (Live)

Joy Division performing September 15, 1979. The songs are "Transmission" & "She's Lost Control." Ian Curtis was probably one of the few with a stranger dance style than David Byrne.