Friday, May 30, 2008

Goodbye 20th Century

Cruel Summer: Sonic Youth, circa 1988

20 years ago this summer, I was stranded in Evanston, Illinois taking courses in fluid mechanics and engineering dynamics. Everyday, walking down Sheridan Avenue to class, avoiding darting blackbirds and buzzsaw mosquitos, I would listen to my walkman. My mixtapes contained a combination of oddball artists, selections from Frank Zappa's Hot Rats, The Church's Remote Luxury, Soul Asylum's Hang Time, Glass Eye's Bent by Nature, Camper Van Beethoven's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, and fIREHOSE's if'n. I read something, somewhere, about Sonic Youth getting ready to release something in the fall. Although I would not visit New York for the first time until Summer 1990, I had always found something deliciously incomprehensible about Sonic Youth. How could a band that made such beautiful, crystalline noise come from a place as dank as dirty as New York?

Now, about the weather. The Chicago North Shore searing underneath the anvil sun. Ozone alerts. Superheated air thick with humidity.

Which reminds me of a tiny blurb in Byron Coley's excellent liner notes to the Deluxe Edition of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. Here's Coley describing New York in August 1988 when Sonic Youth was still recording Daydream Nation:
August 1988 was near the height of New York's crack fever. The sidewalks weren't just littered with burning mattresses, they were also choked with insane zombies who wanted some fast money. "August was HOT," Thurston [Moore] recalls, "I'm not sure if we had AC at that point on Eldridge yet. The lyrics to 'Hyperstation' pretty much detail my daily trajectory. Take a right out of the Eldridge Street apartment, a left on Grand, a right on Bowery, a left on Broome, a right on Greene. I remember writing the lyrics in my head as I cruised to the studio."
Unlike all the hyperbolic giddiness over dérives, where writers on urbanism and technology continue to go ga-ga over their nostalgic evocations of psychogeography, etc., this quote from Coley and Moore really speaks to the idea of using a medium to experience the city. Here, noise with lyrics like There's bum trash in my hall and my place is ripped really provide a visceral aural portrait of SoHo in its pre-gentrification thrall.

Sure, color me nostalgic for invoking Sonic Youth, cities, and music circa 1988. But this moment, this album, this quote, this weather .... so apposite.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Now Starring .... The Atomium

A little bit of industrial media archaeology. In his 1988 video for Front 242's "Headhunter", director Anton Corbijn combines grainy film stock, egg imagery (a la The Brothers Quay), and André Waterkeyn's Atomium (here and here) to create a video worthy of its subject.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

L'Eclisse/The Passenger

Two clips from Michelangelo Antonioni's (1912-2007) works. The first is a mash-up between the opening and ending sequences of L'Eclisse (1962). The second, the well-known tracking shot from The Passenger (1974).

Uncompromising War on Art and Architecture

From the anti-masthead to Die Storung, a new art publication from Columbia University's MFA program:

Slide Shows, Pt. 3

This presentation, for a class about Architecture during the Second World War, concerned two MoMA exhibits: Road to Victory (1942) and Airways to Peace (1943).  I specifically focused on the latter, especially in its relation to the establishment of a American postwar "air age":


This presentation, for the same class, was based on my thesis research at Yale University.  It concerns Erich Mendelsohn's, Konrad Wachsmann's, and Antonin Raymond's "Typical German and Japanese Test Structures" at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah:

Slide Shows, Pt. 2

Some more "eye-candy":

In this  presentation for a Art and Archaeology class about Islamic Cities, I talked about the very first aerial photographs taken of Samarra by the R.A.F. in 1918 and their subsequent inclusion in Ernst Emil Herzfeld's Geschichte der Stadt Samarra (1948):


This presentation looked to the 1954 crash of the De Havilland Comet G-ALYP as a chapter in the history of the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Slide Shows, Pt. 1

Now that I'm slowly coming up for air from finishing this school year, and not wanting to go without posting any longer, I've decided to post some eye-candy for you: a series of slides I assembled for various presentations I delivered this year.

In this presentation, I talked about the inclusion of an English Electric Lightning in a 1960 issue of The Architectural Review:



This presentation concerned how legal cases can be used to understand an airplane in its most fundamental conditions: as an object that moves at a high rate of speed and that changes altitude:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Game Space_2: Mirror's Edge

(See my previous post on this topic). EA is bringing parkour to a gaming console near you.



I suppose this was inevitable, given the media attention given to parkour. One wonders, however, if this game is better played in third person as opposed to in first. That way, the way a body moves through the city is better appreciated.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

History Versus Determinism


American Technological Sublime: The TRS-80 Color II 

I just finished reading Historian Jill Lepore's thoughtful piece on technological determinism from the May 12 issue of The New Yorker.  Technological determinism, for the uninitiated, is a belief that technology is a major historical actor.  Lepore, however, brings a much more focused meaning to the term, stating that "in its purest form technological determinism looks a lot like the nineteenth century idea of progress and holds that machines are the most important factors in human history, that they follow a fixed path through set stages, and they bring about social, political, cultural, and economic change."

Lepore's piece is ostensibly a review of two books: Maury Klein's The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America, and Robert Friedel's A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millenium.  However, these books are only background for Lepore's meditations on the idea of technological agency in the United States. Near the end of the piece, she identifies what she sees as the most pressing problem with Klein's book: a lack of historical context.  Lepore's piece, far from being a screed, thus becomes a type of corrective that gives us an idea as to how to counter technological determinism.

This, and other correctives are well known.  It is thus interesting how Lepore does not mention other histories of technology that do fairly well in avoiding issues of technological determinism (the work of William Cronon, Thomas P. Hughes, Merritt Roe Smith, and Wolfgang Schivelbusch immedately come to mind).  And because she is writing this piece from the point of view of an American historian, her invocations of Leo Marx and Lewis Mumford are totally apposite. 

And yet towards the end of the essay, buried in a paragraph dealing with, of all things, the TRS-80, Lepore brings forth a subtle call to arms.  She writes,
Measuring an invention only by its eventual effect obscures other possible outcomes and, finally, distorts the historical record.  That day in 1977 when my brother got a TRS-80, we thought it was some cross between a television and my sister's cassette tape recorder; we didn't shout, "Wow, the information age has arrived!"  Even the Tandy Corporation would have been hard pressed to see that coming.  It looks different now, of course; the TRS-80 wasn't a dead end; it was a big deal.  The challenge, in this case, would be to write a history that can explain both what we though then and what we know now.  A method that ignores our it-looks-like-a-television response will make it seem as if the information age were inevitable, headlong, and unstoppable (which might even be true) but will fail to prove it.
These are strong, quiet words that Lepore brings in defense of Friedel's book.  It's the first time since I can remember that I've ever seen historiographical and methodological issues in a mainstream publication.  But it does speak to an important, if not the solitary, charge in the writing of history. Lepore's statement is near-Benjaminian in its tandem evocation of past and present at the service of writing history.  But for those of us who struggle with making the writing of history more relevant, no words sound sweeter.   

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Anti-Architecture of H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

Literary works are especially pernicious when deployed as instruments of architectural criticism. So much so that even that most revered of writers, Leo Marx, is often taken to task for using the 19th century novel as a type of spatial critique. More recently, art historian W.J.T. Mitchell alluded to the spatialization of narrative as a new frontier in the annals of literary criticism. And yet he claims that the spatialization of narrative has been a consistent part of literary history: "[S]patial form is a crucial aspect of the experience and interpretation of literature in all ages and cultures. The burden of proof, in other words, is not ... to show that some works have spatial form but ... to provide an example of any work that does not" [1]

That being said, it does not bring us any closer to understanding how a novel can help us better understand issues relating to architecture and urbanism. While some may will still invoke the works of J.G. Ballard or Samuel R. Delany as examples of writers who tackle buildings and cities as the object of their narrative, we still are at the initial conundrum that informs this post: these, and other works are primarily representational in nature. The authors of the Concrete Islands, Dhalgrens, and Make Room, Make Room's of the world provide very little guidance as to how to operationalize their critique.

One way to approach this problem is via the architectural metaphor. Thus, some critics will deploy the language of architecture critique to analyze a narrative. The word "architectonic" is often use to understand a novel's expansive length, or perhaps even its materiality. On the other hand, an author's biographical facts are brought to bear: an early interest in architecture or urban planning is thus made an important critical fulcrum on which arguments are carefully balanced.

The works of the famously misanthropic fantasy novelist H.P. Lovecraft provide an interesting and plausible take on this situation. And this is the case not only because Lovecraft is one of those writers who successfully deploys architectonics and materiality in service of profoundly architectural observations. This is so because Lovecraft lived a manic intellectual existence where an unabashed love for historic preservation was counterbalanced by a deep hatred for modern architecture.

Timothy H. Evans, an American folklore scholar, has written about Lovecraft's personal involvement in preservation issues in Providence and New York. This interest, he argues, is also reflected in Lovecraft's writings. A decisive, malevolent undercurrent thus connects his xenophobia and his anti-modernist inclinations. This becomes especially noticeable in Lovecraft's science fictions. Evans thus writes:
Lovecraft's stories about extraterrestrials also rely heavily on architecture. A familiar sense of place, embodied in Colonial New England architecture, was central to Lovecraft's sense of security; hence, an actual Italian Catholic church may be an abode of monsters, as it becomes in "The Haunter of the Dark" (1935). But if "foreign" architecture is frightening, the ultimate embodiment of fear is non-human architecture, which has no relationship to familiar forms or aesthetics. Lovecraft criticized modern architecture for rejecting tradition and believed that a new architecture, to be livable, must draw on traditional symbols (a rather post-modern idea); it follows that architecture lacking in such symbols would be a terrifying embodiment of cosmic alienage [...] Lengthy descriptions of non-human architecture are used to create such an atmosphere in "The Call of Cthulu" (1926), At The Mountains of Madness (1931), and "The Shadow Out of Time" (1935) [2]
Others have detected similar strains in Lovecraft's work. The novelist John Banville, writing in a 2005 issue of Artforum, even notes when Lovecraft moved to New York in 1924 with his wife, he "found the city a great and, despite an initial period of uncharacteristic uncheeriness, terrible shock; the baroque metropolises of his fiction, infested with monstrous beings, are his response to the spectacle of New York in the early years of the Roaring Twenties." Banville then quotes a particularly gruesome bit from Lovecraft's "He" (1939): "Garish daylight shewed only squalor and alienage and the noxious elephantasis of climbing, spreading stone ... the throngs of people that seethed through the flumelike streets were squat, swarthy strangers with hardened faces and narrow eyes" [3].

Michel Houellebecq (Source: New York Magazine)

But perhaps the greatest enthusiast of Lovecraft's architectural pretense is French novelist Michel Houellebecq. His strange meditation, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (2005), plays up the architectural musings in Lovecraft's fiction. Houellebecq is so fascinated by this most "anti-literal" of authors that he begins deploying Lovecraft's own persona into his writing. At the beginning of the second section, Houllebecq (or is it Lovecraft?) writes,
The surface of the earth today is overlaid with a irregular, dense web of fibres, entirely fabricated by humans.
In this web circulates the life-blood of the social. The transport of people, of commodities, of provisions; multiple transactions, orders to buy, orders to sell, facts to be believed, other, more intellectual or affective, exchanges ... This incessant flux continues regardless of humanity, absorbed in the lifeless convulsions of its own activity.
[...]
At the intersections of their channels of communication, men build giant ugly metropolises, where each, isolated in an anonymous apartment identical to all the rest, believes himself the centre of the world and the measure of all things. But, underneath the excavated earth with its burrowing insects, very ancient and very powerful creatures are waking slowly from their slumbers. They were there already during the carboniferous period, they were there during the Triassic and Permian; they have known the stirrings of the first mammal, and they will know the agonized cries of the last. [4]
For Houellebecq, this Lovecraft-inspired threnody deploys the forces of architecture for a deeply cynical purpose. Houellebecq continues, this time commenting on Lovecraft's fascination with the Gothic:
Because the dream-architecture which he describes is, like that of the grand gothic and baroque cathedrals, a total architecture. The heroic harmony of the planes and volumes are felt violently; but also, the bell-turrets, the minarets, the bridges overhanging great chasms are overloaded with exuberant ornamentation, in contrast to the gigantic smooth stone surfaces. Reliefs and bas-reliefs and frescoes cover the titanic vaults which lead from one inclined plane to another, in the bowels
of the earth. Many recount the grandeur and the decadence of a race; others, more simple and geometric, seem to evoke disquieting mystical suggestions [5].
Here is an architecture of urgency. An architecture realized by Houellebecq's and Lovecraft's oscillations between the monolithic and microsopic, the decaying and the verdant, the dead and the living. This interplay of extremes is "An effect of scale, effect of vertigo. A procedure borrowed, once again, from architecture" [6].

The words "once again" betray Houllebecq's belief in the essential architecture that is Lovecraft's fiction. It is as if, in reading this most cryptic of authors through the critical lens of an unabashedly unpleasant French anti-liberal, one must admit that the darkest literary impulses carry forth an architectural imprimatur.

Lovecraft's literary predilections certainly echo the works of earlier avatars of the Gothic. In fact, his musings on style would no doubt remind a student of architecture of the strange, proto-modernist musings of Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc (who, in a particularly Lovecraftian take, signed all his documents with an ink rendering of a bat's wing). What is fascinating, if not totally convincing, is that architecture springs forth from a most unlikely of sources: the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

______________________________


Notes

[1] W.J.T. Mitchell, "Spatial Form in Literature: Toward a General Theory", Critical Inquiry, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Spring, 1980), p. 541
[2] Timothy H. Evans, "A Last Defense against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of Tradition in the Works of H.P. Lovecraft" Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 42, No.1 (2005), p. 118
[3] In John Banville, "Futile Attraction: Michel Houellebecq's Lovecraft" Artforum (1 April 2005) (available at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Futile+attraction:+Michel+Houellebecq's+Lovecraft-a0131433355)
[4] Michel Houellebecq, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Robin Mackay, trans (2004), p.10 (accessed at http://blog.urbanomic.com/dread).
[5] Ibid., p. 18.
[6] Ibid., p. 23.

Get Your Expectations On!



Yep, we've seen this before. For more on the film, go here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Canadian Prog Rock Power Trio Future Noir

In Yr. Landscape Pollutin' Yr. Goodz: Rush in the 1970s (Source: Lexrst Land)

Let's assume for a moment that there is a particular variant of Science Fiction writing out there that deals with "green" ideas about sustainability and the environment. Let's assume that this variant operates in a Marxian "middle landscape" somewhere between the techno-fetishist tropes of "hard" science fiction and the character-driven socio-environmental concerns of "soft" science fiction. Let's call this variant "Pastoral Science Fiction."

What, then, would fall under this variant? Certainly those novels, like Frank Herbert's Dune, or even Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, that have a significant landscape component. I would even hazard that the origins of this type of science fiction lie somewhere in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Harry Harrison, or H.P. Lovecraft (perhaps something like the latter's At the Mountains of Madness or The Whisperer in The Darkness).

I would also like to think that this fictional variant would provide something akin to an anti-technological impulse. A science fiction pastoral would thus give us overly green vistas, or even verdant fantasies of cities and landscapes overrun with flora and fauna. It would certainly remind us of a verse from Talking Heads' 1989 song, "(Nothing But) Flowers":
Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
Waterfalls
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it's nothing but flowers
For the sake of argument, let me offer a corrective to this and other visions of a sylvanic future. For the greatest critic of Science Fiction Pastoralia may not be a writer, but a band. And that band is none other than the Canadian prog-rock power trio, Rush.

Pictures at An Exhibition: Rush's Moving Pictures (1981)

The second track of Rush's most famous and popular album, 1981's Moving Pictures, is "Red Barchetta". This song is, in many ways, standard Rush fare. A near-perfect, Voltron-like assembly of musical prowess and technical sophistication (or in prog-rock parlance, "chops"), Rush's music is best listened while staring at laser beams in a room full of smoke, or marveling at day-glo images of Jimi Hendrix, marijuana leaves, or spacecraft under repeated exposure to black light. Red Barchetta begins with guitarist Alex Lifeson gently picking out major-key harmonics in his guitar's upper registers. Geddy Lee's fuzzed-out Rickenbacker bass follows, only to be accompanied by drummer Neil Peart's acrobatic percussion. The song alternates in a soft-to-loud progression that anticipates Pixies' and Nirvana's dynamic noodlings by, like, almost 10 years. Red Barchetta even features one of the most aggressive uses of roto-toms in a song: their tuneful, machine-gun progression follows in what is a swirling, manic pas-deux between Alex Lifeson's bridge solo and Geddy Lee's bass wranglings.

And then ... the voice. I remind you of slack-rockers Pavement, and their thoughtful invocation of Rush's must underappreciated and misunderstood element: Geddy Lee's voice. (In 1996's "Stereo", Stephen Malkmus thus sings, "What about Geddy Lee? / How did it get so high? / I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?"). So, what exactly does Lee sing about?

"Red Barchetta" takes place in an alternative, not-so-distant future where cars are outlawed. In fact, the inspiration for the song's lyrics is a 1973 short story for Road & Track by Richard S. Foster called "A Nice Morning Drive". In that story, Foster writes,
It was a fine morning in March 1982. The warm weather and clear sky gave promise of an early spring. Buzz had arisen early that morning, impatiently eaten breakfast and gone to the garage. Opening the door, he saw the sunshine bounce off the gleaming hood of his 15-year-old MGB roadster. After carefully checking the fluid levels, tire pressures and ignition wires, Buzz slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine, which immediately fired to life. He thought happily of the next few hours he would spend with the car, but his happiness was clouded - it was not as easy as it used to be.

A dozen years ago things had begun changing. First there were a few modest safety and emission improvements required on new cars; gradually these became more comprehensive. The governmental requirements reached an adequate level, but they didn't stop; they continued and became more and more stringent. Now there were very few of the older models left, through natural deterioration and . . . other reasons.

The MG was warmed up now and Buzz left the garage, hoping that this early in the morning there would be no trouble. He kept an eye on the instruments as he made his way down into the valley. The valley roads were no longer used very much: the small farms were all owned by doctors and the roads were somewhat narrow for the MSVs (Modern Safety Vehicles).

The safety crusade had been well done at first. The few harebrained schemes were quickly ruled out and a sense of rationality developed. But in the late Seventies, with no major wars, cancer cured and social welfare straightened out, the politicians needed a new cause and once again they turned toward the automobile. The regulations concerning safety became tougher. Cars became larger, heavier, less efficient. They consumed gasoline so voraciously that the United States had had to become a major ally with the Arabian countries. The new cars were hard to stop or maneuver quickly, but they would save your life (usually) in a 50-mph crash. With 200 million cars on the road, however, few people ever drove that fast anymore.
The story continues, ending with an account of the narrator going head-to-head against gleaming MSV's (Modern Safety Vehicles). In a tale of obdurant technology winning over new-fangled hard science, the narrator's MG roadster is able to elude the MSV's, so much so that these high-tech vehicles end up as piles of crumpled-up aluminum thanks to an engineered head-on collision.

Foster's Not-So-Red Barchetta, from a 1973 Issue of Road & Track (Source: MG Experience)

The image to the Road & Track story is consistent with the idea of Sci-Fi Pastorals. Here, an MG is seen cradled in a technicolor thicket of deciduous leafiness. In the background, two MSV's, strangely rendered as 30s-era gangster cars, collide amidst a wall of evergreens and a plume of noxious smoke.

As Rush's evocation of Foster's short story, "Red Barchetta" carries forth an even more anti-environmental theme. The song's protagonist uncovers the gleaming red hot rod stored in his uncle's garage. Geddy Lee sings,
I strip away the old debris, that hides a shining car
A brilliant red barchetta, from a better, vanished time
I fire up the willing engine, responding with a roar
Tires spitting gravel, I commit my weekly crime...
The lyrics paint a compelling image. Into the pristine landscape of an environmentally-correct future, a red gasoline guzzler vomits exhaust, rubber, and gravel. The end result is a near-Ballardian hybrid of human and automobile. Lee sings again,
Wind in my hair ---
Shifting and drifting ---
Mechanical music ---
Adrenalin surge ---

Well-weathered leather
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air
Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware
Though Geddy Lee would certainly not rank up there in the highest echelons of speculative fiction, "Red Barchetta" nevertheless paints an urgent image -- an image that anticipates the machine's reentry into the garden.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Two Skulls

Phineas Gage's Skull and Tamping-Iron (Source: Neurophilosophy)

On September 13th, 1848, sometime around 10:30 a.m., Phineas Gage, a foreman on the Rutland and Vermont Railroad, was the hapless victim in one of the best-known accidents on record. The story goes something like this: Gage, who was in the process of filling a freshly-bored rock with explosive, accidentally struck the powder charge with the end of a tamping iron. A tamping iron was a piece of metal, around three feet long, with a point on one end and a crowbar lip on the other. The purpose of the tamping iron is not unlike the rod used to pack the magazine of a muzzle-loading weapon, such a flintlock rifle. Gage was using the tamping iron in such a manner when an accidental explosion caused the tamping iron to fire backwards .... straight through Gage's head. The pointed end of the tamping iron entered underneath the left eyeball. The errant projectile flew backwards and was found about 30 yards away from the site of the accident. A report filed on 27 November 1848 by John M. Harlow, a physician attending to Gage's wounds, states that the explosion,
[drove] the iron against the left side of the face, immediately anterior to the angle of the inferior maxillary bone. Taking a direction upward and backward toward the median line, it penetrated the integuments, the masseter and temporal muscles, passed under the zygomatic arch, and (probably) fracturing the temporal portion of the sphenoid bone, and the floor of the orbit of the left eye, entered the cranium, passing through the anterior left lobe of the cerebrum, and made its exit through the median line, at the junction of the coronal and sagittal sutures, lacerating the longitudinal sinus, fracturing the parietal and frontal bones extensively, breaking up considerable portions of brain, and protuding the globe of the left eye from its socket, by nearly one half its diameter.
The rest of the story is well-documented. Gage apparently, and slowly, recovered from this wound and lived for another 12 years. During the time, he succumbed to various motor and neurophysiological difficulties. In fact, the strange case of Phineas Gage is often used to illustrate the effects of a severe brain injury.

Images of Phineas Gage's Injury (Source: Malcolm Macmillan, "Restoring Phineas Gage: A 150th Retrospective, Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 9:1 [2000]).

But for the purposes of this piece, its not the the strange circumstances that hold our interest. Rather, it is the hole caused by the errant tamping iron. In fact, it is only a series of representations -- a photograph of Gage's skull (see above image), and drawings showing the tamping iron in mid-trajectory through the head -- that give us any sense of the physical consequences of Gage's injury. These representations of damaged crania are necessary, for the subsequent medical records are apparently ripe with contradictions and errors.

Gage's injury reminds us of another famous head injury, this one from Bram Stoker's Dracula. In Chapter 20 of the novel, Renfield, the insane asylum inmate who eats vermin and other small animals, falls victim to Dracula's powers of hypnosis. Dracula, who has the power to control animals, offers Renfield an endless supply of food, provided that Renfield worship him in return. He capitulates, yet when he understands Dracula's real motivation for this bargain (to possess the innocent Mina Harker), Renfield refuses. Some type of altercation occurs, and in Chapter 21, Renfield is discovered with a bloody, suppurating wound to the head and a broken back.

Van Helsing and Dracula Square Off in Lobby Card for Universal's 1931 Adaptation of Dracula (Source: Waffyjon)

Van Helsing is called in, and after quickly ascertaining the situation, realizes that he must trepan Renfield's skull at the "motor area", presumably Broca's Area, the part of the brain that deals with speech. In a ghastly bit of surgical prowess, Van Helsing removes part of the skull, and Renfield is able to give the doctor some vital information about Dracula's shape-shifting abilities, as well as his ulterior, and deeply sexual motives. Unfortunately, Renfield dies. But some good has come of this, for Dracula has burned all written records regarding his visit and his affairs, and there would otherwise be no possible way to hunt down the murderous Count.

So here we have two skulls -- each bears its own type of testimony ... a testimony brought about by blunt force trauma. In the case of Phineas Gage, the actual injury to the skull (as shown by the entrance trauma underneath the zygomatic arch), corrects what has been a faulty record of this horrific injury. On the other hand, as Friedrich Kittler has remarked in Draculas Vermächtnis (Dracula's Legacy) (1993) Van Helsing's cutting into Renfield's skull with a toothed saw is an instance of data and information retrieval. He is literally accessing Renfield's data storage "port". The access to this information leads ultimately to Dracula's demise.

I echo Laurie Anderson's dictum, "It's not the bullet that kills you ... it's the hole", and only point out that holes in Gage's and Renfield's skulls provide a type of evidence that can meet the most stringent burdens of proof.