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.

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