1848: The Devil’s Violin

Paul Lormier - costume desig for Le violon du diable (1848)Costume design by Paul Lormier for the 1849 ballet Le violon du diable (source).

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1953: Description

Damon Davis - from Cracks (2020)

A description of what we would now call a depressive episode from a 1953 story by Jean Ferry, “The Traveler with Luggage”:

As a result of incidents still obscure to me, I suffered an absolutely atrocious mental breakdown in the first months of the year 19—, from which I had the hardest rime recovering. Having never experienced this kind of turmoil, I was deeply struck by its intensity; but a cenesthetic certainty guarantees my safety from the return of what I can only call a disease.

Weighed down by various work, for which I shared responsibility with very dear friends whom till then I had done much to keep, I suddenly found myself utterly, unremittingly unable not only to write a line, but even to perform any act of free will whatsoever. After voluntarily depriving myself of vacation, since I could not do otherwise, I spent several long weeks wandering the winter streets, no blissful idler but a hunted man, dogged by remorse and worry. I had neither willpower, nor the will to have willpower. I missed appointments with the most ridiculous excuses; I embarrassed several people who were counting on me, to whom I was bound by all sorts of ties, the least painful of which were not those of sincere friendship. I was ashamed of my incredible cowardice and, I repeat, this leisure tormented me with each passing second. Sometimes, quite rarely, I would forget it all, but almost right away, as a flood bursts a dam, the tower of misfortunes I’d built bit by bit with my own hands would suddenly collapse on me.

Image: A sculpture from Damon Davis’s series Cracks (2020).

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1912: Butterflies

Odilon Redon - Evocation of Butterflies (ca

Odilon Redon: Evocation of Butterflies (ca. between 1910 and 1912)

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1909: Seascape

Léon Spilliaert - Seascape Seen from Mariakerke (1909)

Léon Spilliaert: Seascape Seen from Mariakerke (1909)

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1778: Great Indian Fruit Bat

Bhawani Das - Great Indian Fruit Bat (ca. 1778–82)

Indian flying foxes are found throughout India. Like others of their species, they are gregarious and tend to form large social groups. With a wingspan of four to five feet, Indian flying foxes are very conspicuous in their open roosts in large trees such as banyan and tamarind where they spend their hours of rest. During the daytime they fan themselves with membranous wings, crawl over the branches, seek mates, defend favored roost location against other bats, and if a stranger approaches, they squawk and chatter loudly. Since they share their habitat with common birds of India such as the blue jay, crow and myna, the greeting chorus can be deafening. Just after sunset the bats begin leaving their tree roost for feeding. They return about two hours before sunrise after feeding on a wide variety of fruits, including figs, mangoes, guava and neem (Azadirachta indica), a tree native to India, whose seeds are dispersed by bats.

One colony of around 500 Indian flying foxes roosts in a huge banyan tree in the small village of Puliangulam, about 40 miles east of Madurai in southern India. The colony is considered sacred and treated with special care. When a team of researchers from Madurai Kamaraj University visited Puliangulam to talk to the local people about their beliefs concerning the flying foxes, an 80-year-old woman reported that the colony had occupied the tree even before her birth.

According to the villagers, the bats seek protection from a God named Muni who dwells around the tree. They never disturb the bats and do not permit others to do so even when only a glimpse is wanted. Those who do not heed the protests of the protective villagers may find themselves in an adamant quarrel; if a villager fails to protect the bats, even in circumstances beyond their control, they believe Muni will punish them. Punishment can be rendered in the form of a business loss, an accident, or can be as severe as a death in the family. Those who are punished approach the God and seek forgiveness by offering prayer and “pooja,” a customary ceremony (after “pooja,” sweet rice, coconut and banana is distributed to those in attendance). The villagers say that about eight such cases have happened. But while the live flying foxes must be protected at all costs, freshly dead bats found on the ground are taken for food, but only after prayers are offered to Muni.

Indian flying foxes are considered sacred in a few other villages in southern India, and several in northern India as well. [In southern India, the known flying fox colonies considered sacred are all near Madurai: Keelarajakularaman (about 56 miles southwest), Sri Vaikundam (nearly 190 miles south), and Ramanathapuram (approximately 62 miles west).] Even though some populations of these flying foxes are protected because of their sacred status, bats in unprotected colonies are killed as a source of protein and also because they are thought to possess medical powers.

There is no official protection for Indian flying foxes or the other two species of flying foxes in India, and in fact, The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 of the Government of India consigned them all to Schedule V–vermin. Misconceptions about them persist. Dr. M.K. Chandrashekaran, a member of BCI’s Scientific Advisory Board at Madurai Kamaraj University, and a group of colleagues, are working to change attitudes through education. Their highly successful biology exhibit in 1986 drew the interest of thousands of students, and even gained the praise of India’s Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and his wife. Requests to have the flying foxes of India removed from the list that officially recognizes them in the same category as poisonous snakes and rats are still under consideration.

—G. Marimuthu: “The Sacred Flying Fox of India,” Bat Conservation International, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1988).

Image: Bhawani Das: Great Indian Fruit Bat (Flying Fox), Pteropus giganteus, with both wings outstretched (ca. 1778–82)

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1908: I Dreamed I Was my Husband

1910 Wedding

The following poem appeared in several publications in 1908:

A Singular Tragedy

I dreamed I was a lady, and I was wooed by Me.
(The writer of this story you understand’s a He.)
I dreamed (I say) I loved Me with an absorbing flame,
And by-and-by I promised to bear my honored name.

I dreamed that “we” were married, and thought that I was She.
A most ill-tempered hubby I soon discovered Me.
I couldn’t wake Me mornings. At paying bills I slouched.
Me left I in the evening or stayed at home and grouched.

I dreamed I was my husband (and this time Me was She),
And, oh! the dance Me led I (oh! most unnatural Me!)
Me lived on bridge and Suffrage and left I all alone
In smokeless, homeless mis’ry, to pay the bills—and groan.

No longer could I stand it, this dream of double dread.
“Divorce!” says Me to I, and “Sure Thing!” was all I said.
I went to court, I parted, though how is hard to get.
The dream was o’er. In bed I cried: “Thank God! I’m single yet!”

Credit is given to the Philadelphia Ledger.

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2016: Big Storm Light

April Gornik - Big Storm Light (2016)

April Gornik: Big Storm Light (2016)

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1982: Press Operators

Russ Marshall - Press Operators, GM Fisher Body Trim Plant, Fort Street, Detroit, Michigan (1982, printed 1997)Russ Marshall: Press Operators, GM Fisher Body Trim Plant, Fort Street, Detroit, Michigan (1982, printed 1997)

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5650: The Last Day of Manhattan

Winsor McCay - The Spectrophone - The Last Day of Manhattan (New York Herald, Feb 26, 1905)

In 1905, the great comic strip artist Windsor McCay illustrated a series of satiric science fiction vignettes by the prolific author, humorist, and editor John Kendrick Bangs. The series ran in The New York Herald and other newspapers and featured the Spectrophone, a device which allows the user to see into the future.

Bangs extrapolated from the popularity of the phonograph, for example, and has his narrator see that by 1907 Vassar students have replaced their autograph books with collections of voice recordings—and that by 1914 nearly all the volumes in the Boston Public Library have been replaced with audiobooks:

This superb creation of the public spirit of the Hub architecturally still rested upon its present site, but within I found strange changes. Not only were my own books not to be found upon its shelves, but none others of modern authors. Upstairs, where there had once been reading rooms of rare beauty and of studious quiet, were lecture or reading halls in which people were read to Instead of reading for themselves. There was a service of current fiction, but it came no longer from printed pages as of yore, but from large phonographs placed high upon platforms having sounding boards upon them so that no word issuing from the cavernous megaphonic jaws should be lost….Withdrawing my eye from these large literary gatherings, I peered through the corridors of the building and was entertained to observe that for readers desiring books not of the current hour, there had been provided individual phonographs located in alcoves, into which cylinders containing the especial work desired were placed, and which were listened to In rapt attention through the usual insulated wires with rubber nozzle ends connecting the ear drum of the consumer with the cylinder within, exactly as the martial notes of Sousa marches are now conveyed to the public ear by slot machines in railway stations and ferry houses.

Elsewhere, Bang’s audiobooks are distributed by a version of the internet:

Winsor McCay - The Spectrophone - Reading in 1914 (Los Angeles Herald, Feb 26, 1906)

Continue reading

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9th Century: Mandrake

Mandragora - Pseudo-Apuleius - De herbarum medicaminibus (late 9th cent.) Kassel ManuscriptIn that valley which encompasses the city on the north side there is a certain place called Baaras, which produces a root of the same name with itself; its color is like to that of flame, and towards the evenings it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do it, but recedes from their hands, nor will yield itself to be taken quietly, until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; nay, even then it is certain death to those that touch it, unless anyone take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away. It may also be taken another way, without danger, which is this: they dig a trench quite round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small, they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need anyone be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet, after all this pains in getting, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that if it be only brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them.

—Flavius Josephus: The Wars of the Jews (c. 75 AD)

Illustration from a late 9th century manuscript of De herbarum medicaminibus, a work originally produced in the 4th century and ascribed to the Roman poet and philosopher Apuleius of Madaura; the attribution is spurious, however, so the anonymous author is now know as Pseudo-Apuleius.

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