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Metamorphoses: Fictioning and the Historian's Craft

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

Language and flesh create each other. here you will find three stories, from three ongoing projects, that are each in some way about the metamorphosis between word and body. Each story is an example of my use of fiction writing as a scholarly tool: for understanding a map as a material object, for weaving lives from textual fragments, and for making a little world with little gods as a way of exploring a work of theory. Fiction, here, is an apparatus for paying new kinds of attention, as well as a vehicle for creating stories, worlds, and selves to give to others. Some persistent concerns in my fiction writing have deeply influenced how I pay attention to the documents I work with in my research: concerns with materiality and history, with the legibility of bodies, with fragmentariness and the transformative power of desire, with the nature of selves and flesh as constantly in the process of becoming, with voicing and with fiction as technologies of conversion. (I did not understand, before writing “The Gesture of Smoking a Pipe,” which you'll read below, that there was an important link in Vilém Flusser's work between physical gesture, selfhood, and the calling down of—and metamorphosis of selves into—gods. Now, the connection between movement, identity, and conversion is becoming central to my work as a historian.) Imagining materiality and metamorphoses this way—and practicing the metamorphosis and conversion of documents—has pointed me toward the ways that materiality and material experience emerge out of relations and relationships and the ways that the kind of orientations that relate bodies in space and time leave traces in our documents.

Type
Theories and Methodologies
Copyright
Copyright © 2017 The Modern Language Association of America

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References

Works Cited

The Casebooks Project: A Digital Edition of Simon For-man's and Richard Napier's Medical Records, 1596–1634. Wellcome Trust / U of Cambridge / Bodleian Libraries, U of Oxford, www.magicandmedicine.hps.cam.ac.uk/.Google Scholar
Flusser, Vilém. Gestures. U of Minnesota P, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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