Policy and mission
Frequently Asked Questions
Unexpected Beautyby J.
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)
Perhaps the most famous statue of antiquity is the Aphrodite from Melos, "La Vénus de Milo". It has come down to us damaged, as a bilateral above-elbow amputee. This is a contentious way of describing a statue that has been damaged in the course of its existence. I chose it because it emphasises some thing about the appreciation of classical art, as it has passed down to us from the Renaissance. The appreciation of the armless Aphrodite is couched in æsthetic terms that not so much accept the damage that the sculpture has suffered, but welcome it. Clark (op. cit.) p. 83 writes of the statue '... the Venus of Milo makes us think of an elm tree in a field of corn.' He goes on to write (p. 84): 'The planes of her body are so large and calm that at first we do not realise the number of angles through which they pass. In architectural terms, she is a baroque composition with classic effect.' These quotations are interesting for what they tell about Clark as well as what they tell us about the Aphrodite. Notice that Clark refers to the statue as 'she' and also as a 'baroque composi tion' passing smoothly from the person to thing without a join showing in the argument. I believe that this is a significant ambiguity.
Aphrodite as she is, is the defining icon of classical sculpture, classical in effect because the drapery that, tied about her hips, falls to the ground hiding the bifurcation of her legs, fusing them together. In the statue the represented legs are more than fused because in the shaping of the statue they were never divided into separate members. Her falling drapery is the sculptor's solution to the problem of what to do about supporting a torso on legs. In most poses the naked human body looks vaguely ludicrous, a large mass of torso being supported on a forked- carrot pedestal. To stand at all the body must make continuous adjustments to the tension of postural muscles or it will fall over. If the impression of stability or of repose is important, one way to obtain it is to robe the legs in garments that disguise the inherent instability of the bipedal stance, producing the illusion of the torso being supported stably on a pillar rather than being balanced in unstable equilibrium on a pair of tottering props.
The columnar effect is emphasised in the statue of Aphrodite because it is lacking the arms. The left arm is missing from the shoulder, the right, as though amputated through the humerus. So the rising column, from legs, twisting subtly through heavy luscious hips, waist, shoulders, to neck and head, continues without the distracting brackets of the arms. In principle it might be possible to produce the sense of classical stability by posing the model with her arms pressed to her body or by veiling the arms, but it is very difficult to imagine a pose that would allow the arms to be apposed to the torso so that arms and chest could be carved from the single block, and still look like a pose that the body might have moved into spontaneously. In any case, however the arms are handled there would be a widening of the space, and the long decreasing taper from the ground to the head that we see in the Aphrodite from Melos would be lost.
It is worth comparing the Aphrodite from Melos with two other Aphrodites from classical antiquity, the Cnidian Venus and Medici Venus. These are less well known so it will be worthwhile to describe them. The Cnidian Venus represents a nude woman standing beside an urn. In her left hand she is holding a piece of drapery that rests on the urn. Her head is turned slightly to the left. She is standing with her left heel off the ground, her weight thrown over her right hip en déhanchement. Her right hand is held a few inches front of her genitals. It is hard to tell whether she is modestly concealing them, or if perhaps, she is subtly drawing attention to them. The Medici Venus is a somewhat slicker performance, less ambiguous, in comparison with the Cnidian Venus. She is covering her breasts and her genitals, her hands being held some distance away from the body. Of the two works the Cnidian is the more classical, cooler, less easily read, the Medici having something of the coy or teasing look of a skin-pic, in comparison; and to modern eyes at least, the pose of the latter looks contrived and rather awkward. Both lack the repose of the Aphrodite from Melos, the Medici to a greater extent than the Cnidian, and while it is most unlikely that the missing arms of the Aphrodite from Melos would have been posed to cover the breasts, and as there would be no reason to cover the already draped pudenda, it is unlikely that the presence of arms would be as irritating a distraction from the marmoreal simplicity of the statue as it is in the Medici Venus; but arms, however they were posed, would complicate the subtly twisting column. In fact the plinth of the statue has a square socket and it is almost certain that in its original state a pillar was fitted, into this socket, and the position of the left shoulder has been taken to imply that Aphrodite's left hand rested on the pillar.
Bieber suggests that she was probably holding up the drapery swathing her hips with her right hand, and it is possible that in her left hand she was holding an apple, the fruit which, not surprisingly, is associated with Melos. The motivation for this discussion is to argue that the statue of Aphrodite from Melos is beautiful in its damaged state, that it is conceivable that it may be more beautiful in its damaged state than it would have been if it had not lost its arms. If we revert to reading the statue as a woman the curve of the partially draped torso can be read as the response of the armless woman to her vulnerability.
There is a thread of evidence to suggest that throughout the history of representational art, beginning with the rediscovery of antique art in the renaissance, the idea of classical perfection requiring the simplification of the body to an armless torso supported by draped legs, has had its influence on painters. One of these is explicitly mentioned by Clark op. cit. but a careful scrutiny of the illustrations in his book suggests that Clark's example is not unique. The example discussed by Clark (p. 118--119) is Titian's Sacred and Profane Love. The figure in question is seated nude except for a drapery around her loins and one passing over the upper arm on her left-hand side. Her legs are crossed, the right passing behind the left, and she is leaning to the right supporting herself with her right hand. Clark writes of the figure: 'No doubt it has been inspired by an antique, and Titian has even broken the line of the arm by a cast of crimson drapery exactly where it would have been broken by time.'
A similar device is present in the Baigneuse de Valpinçon by Ingres. In this picture, used as the cover picture of my edition of Clark's book, a rather plump, rosy, bather seated on the most gorgeously sumptuous sheet, has her back to us. She is wearing a turban, and her head is turned to the right just sufficiently for us to see a quarter of her profile. Her left arm is wrapped in a towel, and all is hidden from view except the upper portion of the upper arm, revealing only that part which might have remained had the figure been a damaged classical statue, and emphasising the impression of a body made up of the torso. Not surprisingly her right arm is held close to her side. Looking through the remainder of the illustrations of Clark's book there are several other examples to be found of paintings and drawings where the artist has chosen to emphasise the columnar properties of the trunk either by breaking the line of an arm with drapery or by simply failing to complete the drawing of the arms.
I am not suggesting that everyone with an interest in classical sculpture is a devotee, but I am suggesting that an æsthetic exists, perhaps unconsciously propagated, in part from an appreciation of classical art as it now exists, that can predispose us to find the simplified torso beautiful. This should not be taken as advocating that we go about knocking off the arms of statues or for that matter amputating women's arms. Had the Aphrodite from Melos come down to us undamaged I am sure that critics would be extremely cautious about suggesting that it would be improved by having the arms removed; but it has come to us damaged, we are grateful that it is here at all, and by an attitude of mind, appreciate beauties it possesses in its damaged state that it might not have possessed but for the damage. I believe that this is the kind of feeling that most devotees have towards the disabled people to whom they find themselves attracted.
Other features of the body that are now regarded as defects were also valued in classical times. Aphrodite is said to have had a squint. It is not clear whether the squint was convergent or divergent; what is clear is that it was not held to detract from her beauty. Trevor-Roper notes that El Greco among other artists used the convention of representing mystics and saints with divergent squints. He suggests that the reason for this is that eyes focussed on close objects converge, on distant objects, diverge. Thus the more distant the object of regard, the more widely the eyes diverge to the maximum point, when focus sed on infinity, their focal axes are parallel. A mystic's gaze is focussed on regions that lie even beyond spatial infinity, and this is suggested by depicting the eyes as diverging even further in order to focus on these even more remote sights. It has been suggested that the converse of this argument is the explanation of the depiction of Venus with a convergent squint. The goddess of love is so introspectively involved with her own sensuality that she is not concerned with the appearances of the external world, her attention being directed only inwards or on matters near at hand, and that is why her eyes converge. Evidence that squints have been thought attractive by other societies is provided by the practice of Carib indians of mutilating the muscles that move the eyeball in order to induce squints artificially (Trevor-Roper op. cit).
The guilty aversion of the eyes from an impaired body is only one response, and history and anthropology provide evidence that people marked with one stigma or another have elicited a variety of other responses from other members of their societies. Hahn states that in many societies people whom we would classify now as disabled have been especially valued as performers, and that the entertainments in which they took part they were often naked, and the performances themselves often contained a strongly erotic component. The motive for tradition of keeping dwarfs at court may also have been in part erotic. There is a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria with Jeffery Hudson painted by Van Dyke.
Fiedler states that Hudson was presented to the queen at table, under the crust of a cold pie, presumably like the four and twenty blackbirds at a different court. Hudson was only 18 inches tall until his thirtieth year. He was a handsome man, though retaining childish proportions. He was a noted joker, not exactly a court jester, perhaps, but rather a jesting courtier, whose most notable practical joke was 'to make married men cuckolds without making them jealous and mothers of maids without letting the world know they had any gallants.' A typical gentleman of his time, he killed a man in a duel with pistols. He served the king as a Royal Courier. He was captured several times by enemies, and the last time on the Barbary coast by pirates. In later life he grew a further nine inches, as a result, he claimed, of the cruelties inflicted on him by the pirates, and he retired from court. Dwarfs were also desirable characters at the Spanish court at the time of Velázquez who made several paintings of court dwarfs.
I believe that underlying all these responses is an element of erotic fascination that has its origin in the setting of the lock of sexual preference. I believe that societies that are prudish about sex are ones that hide away those of their members that bear a stigma, while societies that are sexually liberated do not. I suggest furthermore, that the fascination elicited by the freak show, that gratifies the guilty curiosity of staring at human oddity, would not exist were it not for the prurience of the audience, which is a parallel of that obsessive but strangely abstract curiousity that adolescent boys have about anything to do with sexuality. I believe that the fascination with freaks and the associated guilt are sexually motivated. Bogdan following the traditional academic subterfuge that justifies the poking about in the murkier areas of life on the pretext of writing a book on the sociology of the subject, describes the embarrassment he feels, and shares with one of his students when they meet at a freak show. The objection to the freak show because it is an institution that demeans the human dignity of the participants may be in part a rationalisation of the guilt that arises, in fact, from quite other feelings. Hahn op. cit. mentions the fact that where disabled people are accepted in society they may become especially valued as sexual performers, a fact that may be the social conse quence of the association of physical stigmata, difference, and membership of a different sex.
We all wish we were beautiful, and the classical æsthetic suggests one solution to the problem of the presentation of the impaired body, that is to accept the changes that have taken place and to define an æsthetic that asserts that the impaired body can be beautiful, as beautiful as the finest masterpieces of classical sculpture. Further justification for this point of view is provided by the alacrity with which people have deformed and mutilated their own persons in pursuit of beauty. This deformation is once again a sexually motivated alteration of the body that enhances its sexual characteristics and emphasises the sex to which the person belongs. This is self-inflicted stigmatisation. Among such oddities as the deformation of skulls, inflicted on their children by a variety of peoples, including in the nineteenth century, the Chinook tribe of American Indians. The skulls of babies belonging to this tribe were shaped so that the occipital region was extended into a coconut shape with a distinct point at the apex. Flower mentions that occasionally a baby through illness or for some other reason escaped the process of distortion and grew up with a normally shaped skull. Such babies when they grew up never attained influence or dignity in the tribe and were sometimes even sold as slaves. The practice in China, abandoned only in the twentieth century, of binding and deforming girls' feet is well known. The scale of the deformity produced was extremely disabling but despite this the practice was extremely widespread. Flower describes the process of footbinding as follows:
The deformity is produced by applying tight bandages round the feet of the girls when about five years old. The bandages are about two inches wide and two yards long for the first years, five yards long for subse quent years. The end of the strip is laid on the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot and round the heel, the toes being thus drawn towards and across the sole, while a bulge is produced in the instep and a deep indentation in the sole. Successive layers of bandage are wound round the foot until the strip is all used and the end is then sewn tightly down. After a month the foot is put into hot water to soak some time; then the bandage is carefully unwound. Notwithstanding the powdered alum and other appliances that are used to prevent it, the surface of the foot is generally found to be ulcerated, and much of the skin and sometimes part of the flesh of the sole, and even one or two of the toes may come off with the bandages, in which case the woman feels repaid by the smallness and more delicate appearance of her feet. Each time the bandage is taken off, the foot is kneaded to make the joints more flexible, and is then bound up again as quickly as possible with fresh bandage which is drawn up more tightly. During the first year the pain is so intense that the sufferer can do nothing but lie and cry and moan. For about two years the foot aches continually and is subject to a constant pain like the pricking of sharp needles. With continued rigourous binding it ultim ately loses its sensibility, the muscles, nerves, and vessels are all wasted, the bones are altered in their relative position and whole limb is reduced permanently to a stunted and atrophied condition.
There have been a number of attempts to explain the origin of this practice. In traditional Chinese medicine there is a theory that beautiful children are produced by pleasing copulations, that the pleasure of copulation is enhanced by the folds in the lining of the vagina, and that binding the feet, causes the lining of the vagina to become more folded, but there is no empirical confirma tion for any of this and it cannot therefore be a real explanation of the phenomenon. Flower points out that the systematic deformation of the feet by shoes that were designed to be fashionable took place in contemporary Europe, and that the despite the relative painlessness of the deformation feet most people's feet were functionally damaged through the wearing of shoes that were designed not to fit, but to impose the symmetrical shape arbitrarily chosen as being fashionable. The anatomy implied by the fashionable shoe is depicted in a disconcerting drawing in Rudofsky p. 113, in which the large toe is the middle one, and this is flanked on either side by two smaller ones.
The other significantly disabling systematic deformation of the body was the wearing of tight-laced corsets. The crucial date from which the fashion of tight-lacing became pathological was 1823 when a patent was granted in London for the use of metal eyelets in stays. Before that time, apart from a few fetishistic aberrations in the middle ages and the renaissance when some corsets had been made of iron (Catherine de' Medici possessed one), the degree to which the waist could be compressed was limited by the degree to which the laces could be tightened, which was in turn limited by the strength of the cloth from which the corset was made. The laces passed through holes in the cloth itself. To be sure, the holes were reinforced with blanket stitching, but nevertheless if the laces were drawn too tightly they tore through the cloth, and the tension was released. In corsets fitted with metal eyelets the stress on the fabric was spread out over a larger area and thus they could be laced much more tightly. In the periods when tight lacing was fashionable, little girls were encased in corsets and as they grew, their bodies were moulded into the fashionable form, at the cost of severe reduction in health and vitality, and of severe incurable deformation of the rib-cage. A short description of the history of tight-lacing in the nineteenth century is given in the second chapter of Kern, entitled The sartorial attack on the body. Kern (plates 1 and 2) also shows photographs of the permanent effects on women's bodies of the longterm wearing of corsets. It is especially ironical that the very serious deformity shown in the plate 2 was caused by the wearing of a 'health' corset, the deformity produced being extremely exaggerated lordosis giving the figure in profile a very pronounced sigmoidal bend, a profile which would have been exaggerated still further by the wearing of a bustle. A woman with such a figure is depicted by Seurat in his painting La Grande Jatte.
In the same chapter Kern cites cases of women having their lowest ribs removed surgically to enable them to restrict the waist even further. This procedure is still carried out in America. Fussell reports a case of a woman having the two lower ribs removed for purely cosmetic reasons.
A sociological explanation of the systematic mutilation of women's bodies is really a variant of Veblen's theory of the leisure class. Women who have undergone mutilation to the feet or rib-cage are hardly capable of strenuous physical labour, and therefore can belong only to a class where the resources of the husband are sufficient to support her, their family, and himself. The mutilation therefore is a sign of belonging to such a class.
Evidence that the sociological explanation is implausible is provided by Flower op. cit. who reports that in some regions of China the majority of women had their feet bound. There is plentiful evidence that women of all social classes were tightly laced in the nineteenth century whether they were leisured or not. I believe that the real reason for the deliberate deformation of women's bodies is to emphasise the sexual differences between men and women: most women have smaller feet and smaller waists than most men, so emphasising the smallness emphasises the femininity. Most men are more muscular than most women, and a heavy musculature is therefore seen as a masculine signal, the more muscular the man the more masculine he may seem to be. There is ample evidence that the pursuit of extreme muscle development can be very unhealthy, especially if male hormones are used to accelerate muscle growth. Overdoses of hormones, and to be effective overdoses have to be taken, are especially damaging to the heart, but are also implicated in liver and kidney damage. Thus extreme physical modification is dangerous to the health of both sexes. A feature of the exaggeration of the male physique is that the intended audience is not the opposite sex, male body-building seems to be undertaken as a narcissistic exercise, or to increase the sexual attractiveness of the body to other men: most women report that they are not attracted to men with hypertrophied muscles. I believe that the reason for this asymmetry, women deforming their bodies to please men, men deforming their bodies to please themselves or other men, is to do with the innate tendency of men to use appearance as a criterion for selecting their sexual partners.
I believe that there is an interesting parallel between the experience of the devotee and those people, people we could describe as extremists, who prefer partners whose sexual characteristics are most evidently developed. People wishing to attract extremists are compelled to modify their bodies to enhance their sexual characteristics. It is important to notice that the extremist possesses the correct search image for sexual partners, and the extremism is to do with the choice of potential partners from the class. Both devotees and extremists are aware of sexual differences in terms of departures from the physical types to which they belong, the only real difference between the devotee and the extremist, if a man, attracted to women with wasp waists, balloon breasts, tiny feet, if a women, to tall, hairy men, with broad shoulders, bulky muscles, is that for devotees, the search image associates amputated limbs with the other characteristics of the sex to which he is attracted.
I conjecture that the formation of the ideal criteria against which potential sexual partners are measured is formed in two stages, the first stage is the identification of the class of candidates, the second is the selection among those candidates. Both devotee and extremist identify the class of potential partners correctly, but devotees and extremists make a parallel mistake by identifying unusual physical types as their ideal sexual partners, failing to recognize the range of natural physical variability, and in the case of extremists forcing the normal variants to deform themselves to fit in with an aberrant ideal.
The physical deformations discussed so far have been voluntarily or at least unconsciously undergone. Physical deformation is often caused through injury or illness. The rehabilitation of the person after physical impairment takes place in a variety of ways that together should attempt to provide some kind of compensation for the impairment suffered. Perhaps inevitably the loss of func tion is accompanied by a change in appearance, and this is the normal way of thinking about disability that arises from physical impairment. Equally legitimately, the alteration of appearance can be regarded as being accom panied by a loss of function. The approach to rehabilitation will be very different depending on which of these views is held by the people involved with the provision of aids and appliances. To satisfy the requirements of the disabled person two goals ought to be pursued at the same time: to provide aids that replace or can substitute for the function of impaired parts, and to provide aids that satisfy the desire to replace the appearance of the impaired parts.
In one area of application, prosthetics have been developed with the shared aim of enhancing defective function and of producing artefacts that are æsthetically pleasing despite revealing their function obviously and despite being undisguisably unnatural. I am referring to spectacles. Hardly anybody is surprised that fashions in glasses change, or that there is an enormous range of designs of spectacle-frames, objects which are much more than merely the structural supports for the lenses required to correct aberrations of sight. Fashionable designers like Dior and Armani provide the appropriate spectacle frames to coordinate with the design of the rest of the wardrobe. In common with many other fashionable artifacts the price of spectacle frames is entirely disproportionate to the expense of the materials or the cost of their manufact ure. What customers are paying for is the satisfaction of possessing something produced by a fashionable designer. The acceptance of spectacle-frames that have been designed to be æsthetically pleasing objects in themselves, and the expectation that such objects ought to be beautiful is a relatively recent phenomenon. This is discussed at length in "Coping with physical impairment: assertiveness versus reticence".
Recently, coloured contact lenses have been developed that change the appearance of the irises of the wearer, giving them spectacular colours that never occur naturally. These contact lenses appeal to the same tastes as the fashionable and expensive frames of conventional spectacles. There are probably some people who cannot understand why someone should draw attention to her disability by wearing the brightly coloured contact lenses, but the wearing of such lenses goes without comment in many circles, perhaps to the annoyance of the wearers.
There are thus two different strategies for coping with the disability: a reticent one that attempts to compensate for the disability as unobtrusively as possible; and an assertive one that accepts that it is impossible to compensate for the disability invisibly, and therefore attempts to make the compensatory apparatus efficient but also as æsthetically pleasing as possible. Obviously not everybody with defective eyesight has the money to be able to choose between the strategies, but many people are able to, and there is no general agreement about which strategy is the better one.
Perhaps spectacles are a special case. Much of our interaction with other people is mediated by making contact with the eyes: it is therefore impossible to avoid being aware of the glasses someone is wearing, and it is for this reason perhaps that the fashion for decorative spectacles has developed. You can't hide glasses so you might as well make the most of them.
The other commonly required sensory prosthetic is the hearing-aid. Many fewer people use hearing aids than use glasses, so perhaps the use of a hearing- aid is seen as imposing more of a stigma than the wearing of spectacles. With the development of electronics, hearing-aids have become smaller and less obtrusive, but there has been no development of the fashionable hearing-aid that parallels the development of fashionable spectacles. Indeed the suggestion that this is a matter worthy of comment might be seen as being in poor taste. Also, because talented designers have not been involved with the æsthetics of hearing-aid design it is hard to imagine how a fashionable hearing-aid that drew attention to itself as a beautiful artifact as well as fulfilling its function might be designed. Perhaps the artificial pinnae might be designed to be worn over the ears to gather sound like parabolic reflectors, focussing it on gilded microphones ...
The needs of people who other serious physical impairment may be satisfied by aids that span an even wider range of assertiveness. Some aids have the single purpose of disguising the impairment while making no contribution to reducing the disability. Such aids, glass eyes, purely cosmetic artificial limbs, serve no functional purpose, are the most extremely reticent. I believe that it is regrettable that people who have suffered irreparable physical disfigurement should feel themselves constrained by society to conform to an able-bodied stereotype without having an able-bodied function. Other aids allow the physically impaired person to replace artificially an injured part or to use the body in ways that circumvent the disability.
There are several strategies to reduce the disability caused through the loss of a leg. The strategy most favoured in Western Europe and North America is to supply a prosthesis that can be worn on the stump of the amputated leg and which to a limited extent replaces the locomotory function of the missing member. This can be regarded as the reticent approach to the circumvention of disability. In repose, the person's impairment and disability may be disguised almost perfectly; but the person walking with a prosthesis always has a limp. The gains obtained from wearing a prosthetic leg are in terms of avoiding the appearance of being physically very different from the average. The costs are that the gait has a more or less marked limp, so the disability is not fully compensated for and not fully disguised, and the use of a prosthesis is relatively demanding of energy: a person with one leg walking with a prosthesis has to work much harder than an a person with two. For the person to choose this approach to circumventing disability reticence must be very important.
The assertive alternative is to use crutches. This strategy circumvents the physical disability produced by the loss of a leg by using the body differently, employing the strength of the hands, arms, and shoulders, to replace the function of the missing leg. The costs of this strategy are the acceptance of a physical appearance that is always very different from the average, the hands are occupied with crutches and this makes it difficult to carry things; the benefits: no dead weight is attached to the body which lacking a leg, is in any case reduced in weight, and walking with crutches can be efficient, swift, and in the eyes of a few connoisseurs, graceful and sexy as well. There is a middle course, the use of a simple pylon or peg-leg. This can be a relatively light construction, which lacking a knee joint and the complicated hydraulics involved with stabilizing the knee joint and allowing it to flex, provides an alternative assertive method of locomotion that has the advantage of leaving the hands free. Among the assertive amputees there is some evidence of a desire to beautify crutches as there is to beautify spectacle frames. In her autobiography Louise Baker mentions that she used a pair of beautiful rosewood crutches, given to her by a friend, when, on leaving school, she made the valedictory address on behalf of her class.
Elsewhere she describes having crutches painted in different colours to match her different outfits. And other women amputees have mentioned in passing that they have had crutches made of more beautiful wood, usually rosewood, than is required for purely utilitarian purposes. There seems to have been little interest in obtaining prostheses that adhere to the assertive philosophy. One of the main stores of energy in the human leg is the Achilles tendon located at the back of the calf. In walking as the leading leg advances, the Achilles tendon of the following leg is stretched as the weight moves forward. The stretching puts the tendon under tension, storing a considerable amount of energy, energy that is released in the spring of the rear foot that transfers the weight forward over the leading foot, allowing the trailing one to be moved forward to become the leading foot for the next pace. The reticent prostheses do not store this energy at all and the waste of this energy contributes to the high cost of walking. The problem of storing this energy is made difficult by the need to provide a knee- joint to make the gait appear normal. It may be that a different type of prosthesis could be designed, that could store the energy stored in the Achilles tendon and released from it. It would probably have to be designed without a knee-joint, but with some other method of shortening it to avoid fouling it on the ground as it was swung forward, enabling the user to avoid the character istic circular step necessary when using a peg-leg. I believe that such a prosthesis could be designed to be very much more efficient than the conventional artificial leg. Of course it would probably look markedly different from a normal leg, and the same æsthetic considerations as those used in the design of spectacle frames would be appropriate in designing this new type of prosthesis to be æsthetically pleasing in its own terms.
A person who needs a wheelchair cannot be reticent about this need. It is important therefore that the wheelchair is carefully designed so that it can be propelled efficiently and so that it is adequately stable and manuvrable: there is every reason also that the wheelchair should be designed with æsthetics in mind, there is no reason why someone who needs a wheelchair shouldn't have a beautiful wheelchair any more than there is a reason why a person who wants a car should be forced to buy an ugly one.
I have attempted to argue that there is historical justification for the view that the incomplete or deformed body can be beautiful and sexually attractive, that the reticent approach to prosthesis is only one extreme of a continuum, leading from reticence of assertion; that if the assertive strategy is followed then there is a strong historical precedent for aspiring to obtain aids or prostheses that as well as being efficient at their function, are also beautiful artifacts that can, in themselves, give pleasure to the people who have to use them.
Notes and references
The sculpture of the Hellenistic age
The World Through Blunted Sight
Patrick Trevor-Roper (1971)
Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
Social Policy 18(3): 26--31 Can Disability Be Beautiful?
H. Hahn (1988)
Freaks : Myths And Images Of The Secret Self
Leslie Fiedler (1981)
Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, UK
Reproductions of two of Velázquez's paintings of dwarfs can be found at The WebMuseum of Paintings
...the setting of the lock...
Questions about the relationship between fetishism, devotion, and the origins of such feelings are discussed in "Is devotion a fetish?".
Freak Show : Presenting Human Oddities For Amusement And Profit
Robert Bogdan (1988)
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA
Fashion In Deformity
W. H. Flower (1881)
The Unfashionable Human Body
Bernard Rudofsky (1972)
Hart Davis &Co. Ltd, London
...tight-lacing became pathological...
Handbook Of English Costume In The Nineteenth Century p. 390
Cecil Willett Cunnington (1959)
Faber and Faber, London
Anatomy And Destiny : A Cultural History Of The Human Body
Stephen Kern (1975)
Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc., Indianapolis, USA
La Grande Jatte
A Reproduction of Seurat's Un dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte can be found at The WebMuseum of Painting
Muscle : Confessions Of An Unlikely Bodybuilder
Samuel Wilson Fussell (1992)
Abacus Books, London
Theory Of The Leisure Class
Thorstein Veblen (1908)
Macmillan, New York, USA
Out on a Limb
Louise Baker (1946)
McGraw-Hill Publishing Co, New York, USA The book is available online here
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