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.

No comments:

Post a Comment