Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Morpheus Database: Reading the Data (Part 2)

The Morpheus Database (Mark 1): By the end of the summer this program will allow me to cross-reference data on transformations from over 100 classical, medieval and early modern tales for each form taken, sequence, reason for change, type of change and possible relevance for gender, disability, queer, race, class, animal and object studies.

The aim of the project is to help (1) translate my thoughts into more easily comprehended forms, (2) allow for a quick review of a large amount of texts & notes and (3) eventually to allow for the production of data-clusters where corresponding tales can be called up at the press of a search-key. For instance, as the database gets better, I'd be able to stack information on instances where a body was transformed via surgical intervention or where the resulting form was considered to be hybrid instead of a new whole. It will start rough, then change and change again.

Creating Queries

As my summer research period comes to a close, I have moved into a different phase of the Morpheus Database, compiling and theorizing some of the data that has been collected over the past few months.

While the Database is ongoing, I thought this would be a good time to share a few more Queries and graphs based on the some 650 instances of transformation currently coded from hundreds of Medieval tales.

Q6. Who Rules the World?

A6. "Man Shapes, God Creates"

The medieval sentiment that God creates and humanity shapes hits at the problematic but closely tied relationship between emergence and persistence. When a hunk of stone (or flesh) is formed into the shape of a person, is this a transformation of an already existent body or is this the birth of an entirely new being?

The literature sampled splits the difference. Medieval thinkers ascribed humanoids (48%) with the majority of the power in shaping and re-shaping the bodies around them. Divine agents (40%) nonetheless take dominion over a substantial percentage of the transformations.

Beyond the "rational" beings, the numbers drop off, but minerals (9%) effect a substantial minority of the changes, testifying to the recognized powers or "virtues" of stones, minerals, artifacts & drugs. Animals (3%) & Vegetables (1%) make up a tiny fraction of the actors of change, but are often involved instrumentally in the process.

 Q7. What Changes Your Life?

A7. Clothes

Moving on from actors to instruments (although the theoretical difference between them can be expounded and challenged), the results are far more split between a wide arrange of powerful bodies.

Clothes (30%) do seem to make the human, monster, object, etc. Well before the Early Modern fascination and fear of the power of clothing to effectively change the identity of an individual, medieval thinkers recognized that a change in the appearance of a thing often changed its qualities enough to constitute a real change in persona.

Blades (15%) and Eros (15%) tie for the next most powerful transformers. Blades (including knives, swords, and axes) are most commonly used to make changes to the physical body; strongly correlating to the codes for amputation. Eros (sex, desire and loyalty) are most commonly he cause for mental changes to the body; with madness of various kinds often sparked by some traumatic erotic fire.

Words (13%) and Water (12%) make a substantial showing in the data, largely within the realm of ritual. Words (rhetoric, vows, and name-changes) have well underlined by literary and performance study scholars for their ability to define and redefine a personality. Water (tears, rivers, springs, oceans, pools, rain) are also frequent agents of transformation both within ritual practices and more ecological means.

This statistic may need to be revisited later to account for the "transformative" status of such things as coronations, baptisms or marriage vows.

Drugs (7%) appears more straightforward than Magic (8%) in terms of cause and effect, but partially because of our current knowledge and philosophical paradigm. Both combine some knowledge of the recorded virtues of minerals, vegetables, blood sacrifices, the stars as well as a certain secret or even unconscious invocation of hidden powers.

Q8. They Cut Off What?

A8. A Penis

Blades being the second most used tool for transformation and amputation being the second most common "disability" on record, it is worthwhile to consider what body parts are being removed in all this hack-and-slashing.

The most common body part is the Penis. Whether identified as Eunuchs, Geldings or not at all, the production of castrated bodies in Medieval Literature is notably high. This will be an important statistic to underline the importance of "eunuch" models of transformation in my work.

Breasts are the 3rd most common body parts to be cut off, making alternative feminine or Female-to-Male (Ftm)-like bodies statistically significant presences in the data.

Heads as the 2nd highest percentage of missing body-parts are interesting, because as noted previously I did not count beheadings that ended in death. Thus in each of these instances the person lived on or were brought back to life via magic or miracle after physically losing their head.

The severing of Arms & Legs which make up the 3rd and 4th largest group of missing body-parts are significant not only because of their related disability-communities, but because they often relate to the person's subsequent ability to fight. When thinking abilism and disability in a period of close-combat, mobility and the ability to steer a horse or swing a sword are key factors.

The next most common body parts to lose cluster around the ability to sense or communicate with the outside world: tongue, nose, and eyes. In most cases these changes come as the result of punishment for seeing, saying or prying a forbidden thing or else as a preventative measure to ensure a person cannot speak the information they've gained.

Q9. Most Transformative Woman?

A9. Medusa

Women make up a significant portion of the bodies undergoing transformation in the texts sampled, and so I wanted to compile a list of the top players. Most of them are notably the passive or resistant recipients of much of this change, underlining the issue of agency in the gender split.

Margery Kempe after a series of pregnancies, develops a series of illnesses in which she loses the power of speech, sight, hearing and movement (in different arrangements). During several of these fits, she has visions of Christ who visits her, has sex with her and marries her. In the process, despite the outer signs of her body, she affirms a spiritual identity of a Virgin, taking on the relevant clothes and cultural signifiers.

Callisto undergoes a series of forced changes after being tricked by Jupiter (in the form of Diana) into letting down her guard. After he rapes her, she becomes pregnant. The angry Diana slays her supposed-virgin follower once it is discovered that she is with-child. Jupiter in turn makes her into a bear. Her adult child, saved in the fray, upon growing up attempts to hunt her; at which time both are transformed into constellations.

Philomela is likewise transformed via a number of violent attacks. Tereus, her brother-in-law, rapes her and cuts out her tongue so she cannot tell the tale. Subsequently she gets her story told on a tapestry she knits in captivity. After her sister kills, cooks and serves their child to Tereus, he seeks revenge on them and they women are transformed into birds as an escape from death and exile.

Medusa, famed for her beautiful hair, attracts the attention of Jupiter's brother Neptune. Like his sibling, he too rapes her in the sacred space of a goddess (Minerva) who likewise takes vengeance on the woman, changing her hair into snakes. In the process she gains the ability/curse of transforming all she sees into stone. Perseus subsequently hunts down and kills her, taking her head as a prize and a weapon (as it retains the power of turning flesh to stone). From her blood, however, springs a dragon, the Pegasus, a coral reef, and a family of snakes.

Q10. Big Men, Big Trannys?

A10. Jupiter & Jesus

The list of "Trans" or non-gender binary persons noted in the database are rather extensive. The list of persons included are interesting in many respects, but for the moment I will draw out just a few. Specifically, I will focus on a few persons that traditionally are figured in decidedly masculine terms.

Jupiter for all his over-articulated masculinity and insatiable sex drive for young women, in several instances takes on not only male lovers but changes his gender. Often the gender change occurs as a means to an end to gain access to women he wishes to deceive and fuck, but he momentary adoption of another gender station is nonetheless significant.

Jesus, a figure whose masculinity is so underlined that it was and is standard practice in many communities to write his masculine pronoun in the upper-case (His). Furthermore, with the prominence of crucifixes in Medieval art, the naked male body is strongly associated with the figure of Christ. Nonetheless, through word and symbolic images, Christ frequently is stressed as not only a feminine personality but having a female-like body across medieval literature.

The remaining retinue of "Big Men" who have some "Tranny" in them are clustered behind these figures. Besides Jupiter, Hercules, Achilles and Mercury are known to take on female-form. Under the sign of the cross, several of King Arthur's knights, Lancelot & Gawain, adopt feminine clothing and identities on their adventures and even in battle.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Morpheus Database: Running the Numbers (Part 1)

The Morpheus Database (Mark 1): By the end of the summer this program will allow me to cross-reference data on transformations from over 100 classical, medieval and early modern tales for each form taken, sequence, reason for change, type of change and possible relevance for gender, disability, queer, race, class, animal and object studies.

The aim of the project is to help (1) translate my thoughts into more easily comprehended forms, (2) allow for a quick review of a large amount of texts & notes and (3) eventually to allow for the production of data-clusters where corresponding tales can be called up at the press of a search-key. For instance, as the database gets better, I'd be able to stack information on instances where a body was transformed via surgical intervention or where the resulting form was considered to be hybrid instead of a new whole. It will start rough, then change and change again.

Dirty Numbers

With the first class of Disability & Ecology a week away, a theory seminar I am thrilled to be assistant teaching under the guidance of the fantastic David Mitchell, it is time to start unrolling the Digital Humanities project I've been working on over the summer months covering several hundred Medieval Tales of Transformation.

Thus, ending radio silence, I come back to my blog after months of research & coding, weeks of data-entry, and several days devoted to crunching the information --- all to make the Morpheus Database a reality.

The data is still "dirty" as I am continuing to add a more tales to the the spread-sheets, but currently with over 600 instances (and probably nearing 700 before the end of August), I can begin making some predictions.

I'll offer a number of queries of my database to demonstrate the type of information and charts we can produce. Because I will be tweeking certain aspects, combining some overly specific tags into more useful groupings and going back in to clarify the data to allow for further queries (such as on sexuality, pregnancy, social station etc.) - and because I don't want to publish the final findings just yet - I have left off the exact numbers for each of the charts. 

Q1. Who Transforms the Most?

A1. Lancelot

A very basic query, stacking the some 600+ instances of change in literature from Ovid to Shakespeare, reveals our Top Transformers.

Some of these names are rather predictable, like Jesus (tied for rank #4 with Sir Tristan) and Merlin (rank #3), but the other leaders caught me a bit by surprise. Shape-shifting knights (i.e. Sir Gowther, #6) and converts (Sir Palomides, #7) also host a respectable showing of transformations that range from physical, to mental, to social metamorphoses. 

While delving through many tales either written by Ovid or based on his work, Jupiter (rank #2) became an evident leader early on. Morpheus, Mercury and a few other gods are perhaps more well known for their transformations, but no one beats Jupiter for the amount of times he becomes something or someone else in order to arrange an erotic encounter with some mortal or demi-god. As will be seen in future posts, the relationship with Change and various types of Desire is strongly correlated.

When it comes to inconstancy however, no one changes his mind, clothes or body more than our man Sir Lancelot. As the best fighter, Lancelot must disguise himself to convince rightfully evasive opponents to actually do battle with him. As the best lover, the errant knight is constantly bent out of shape and out of his mind for his paramour.

 Q2. What Gender Changes the Most?

A2. Men (however...)

Men dominate medieval literature. They are the most commonly identified type of body in the whole database. It is not surprising then that men make up approximately 60% of gender identifiable transformers. While matching modern expectations of male agency, the medieval theme of the inconstancy and emotional-intensity of men is evidenced in the numbers here contrary to the more stoic and constant masculinity of the 20th century.

Women make a surprisingly strong showing in the data, with a solid 32% (approximately 1/3 of the whole set) and combined with other non-male genders holds off normative narrative expectations with a solid 40%.

What makes me most excited however is that Trans, Hybrid or Gender-Non-Conforming instances make up more than 8% of the total data-set. Why get excited by that? Well not only is that a statistically significant minority but according to the Williams Law Institute of California, Trans persons currently make up 8% of the total population of the United States!

Q3. Is Change a Choice?

A3. Depends on Who You Are

With the thrust of this research being aimed towards ethics and activism, agency and power has been an important area to monitor. I've created a whole series of tags for the subject, object, tool, relationship and class of the actors in a transformation so this area will be fleshed out in rich detail in the future.

A really brief sample of some of the information however can already support a few observations. Men still make up the largest group of those who undergoing change without their consent, with their consent and aid of another, and by their own will & abilities.

Contrasting the figures of men vs women (to take one area of comparison), we find that a woman is almost as likely as a man to undergo a bodily change against her will; or with the aid of another. The number of women that make a change to their bodies and lives of their own agency however is significantly less than men (even among the gods)

Q4. What "Inconstancy" (Disability) 
is Most Common?

A4. Mental Disability

Disability or various "Crip" bodies are prevalent across the texts. In fact Change-ability or "Inconstancy" and "Diversity" are the words and theoretical lenses through which medieval thinkers primarily regarded bodies that we currently identify under the heading of disability. Transformation towards the ideal was largely not viewed as "change" but "growth," "cleansing," "salvation," or being made "whole." The theological underpinnings here are inextricable from their medical science and sociology. 

Checking for metaphoric use and non-productive anachronism or cynicism regarding things like demonic possession, divergent mental states remains the most common form of disability-related transformation and perhaps the most common form of crip-embodiment in the medieval period. "Wood" or being "Out of your wits" for extended periods of time, corresponding with a significant change in behavior (stripping naked & running into the woods, behaving like a dog, falling into an incapacitating depression) occur with shocking frequency.

Amputation, perhaps not surprising to find in tales of knightly violence, was also incredibly frequent from surgical intervention or the affect of (super)natural phenomenon. This includes losing your leg, eye, tongue, breast, penis and even your head --- but only if you could still live afterwards; i.e. executions via things like beheading or dismembering were not coded.

Subsequently, we find a number of instances of blindness, deafness, muteness, paralysis and leprosy (to name large categories mentioned as the text names them), but once again require limitation and checking because of the common metaphoric or "spiritual" use of the terms to signify a lack of religious understanding or fluency. There is still a lot of data here to mine and to sort!

Q5. What about Non-Humanoids?

A5. All Things Transform

In the first or primary form, humanoids not surprisingly dominate the literature. But even if or when our target is the human experience, change depends on or is caused through the transformative activity of other types of bodies. There is the added dilemma of identity in tales of shape-shifting into or out of the human form

The two second highest transformers are those things which often intervene in and change human lives, the natural and super-natural exemplars: mineral & divine bodies. Whether a sacred relic or a demon spirit, the medieval world was full of enchanted things seen and unseen. Their descriptions range from mystic treatises to early scientific accounts of the virtues of certain stones or spirits.

This is not to discount vegetables or animals as power-players in the world of change, however, as with other areas of the database, my favorite or the most profound instances are not always the most common. As we will see as the project develops and statistics combine with theoretical contemplation and close reading, it is often through the rarest of gems that we come to better see the workings of most every occurrence.

As we look farther and deeper into this research the world will continue to transform before our very eyes.