Reading the Body: Johann Caspar Lavater and the Tradition of Physiognomy

Saturday, March 1, 2008 – 09:00 to Monday, March 31, 2008 – 17:00
Osler Library, McGill University
Organized by Interacting with Print

In his Essays on Physiognomy, Johann Caspar Lavater (1741–1801) defines physiognomy as “the Science of discovering the relation between the exterior and the interior.” The Swiss pastor proposes no less than “to decipher the original language of Nature, written on the face of Man, and on the whole of his Exterior” and “to trace a few of the Characters of that divine Alphabet.” This practice of reading the body, of interpreting facial features and expressions as signs to be decoded, draws on a long tradition, which begins with Aristotle and continues to inform modern sciences such as Emotion Psychology and Physical Anthropology.

As this exhibition wants to show, both the elaboration and the distribution of this physiognomic knowledge depended heavily on media other than the human body. Manuscripts and printed texts and especially images were called upon to render the body legible by illustrating the hidden relations between human physical features, character, moral disposition, animal traits, ethnicity, cosmic order, and divine providence. However, what qualified as signs, how these signs were to be decoded to count as evidence, and who was entitled to interpret them, depended on which scientific methods and cultural techniques were considered to best “promote the knowledge and the love of mankind.” Condemned in Diderot’s and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie as an “imaginary science” and praised by Lavater as the “science of sciences,” the history of physiognomy — and its deployment through the medium of the illustrated book — has much to tell us about the intersecting fields of science and art in the eighteenth century and their mutual quest for a universal legibility, whether of books, bodies, or images.

Reception to launch the “Writing in Company” Rare Books Exhibition

Thursday, April 10, 2014 – 17:00 to 19:00
4th floor lobby, McLennan Library Building, McGill University
Organized by Interacting with Print

wic_image_webInteracting with Print, in collaboration with the Rare Books and Special Collections of McGill Library, launches the exhibition “Writing in Company. Forms of Collaboration in Artistic Works and Scientific Knowledge (1700-1914)” with a reception and special presentation, to be held from 5-7PM on Thursday, April 10, on the 4th floor of the McLennan Library Building. Hors d’oeuvres and light refreshments will be served. The presentation will begin at 6PM. Space is limited—we kindly ask that you let us know by April 9th if you plan to attend.

About the exhibition
In its production, as in its circulation, print relies on a web of institutional and personal interactions. Collaboration is integral to print’s very existence. This exhibition aims to demonstrate the essentially collaborative nature of print and thus call into question the commonly perceived equation, “one work = one author.”

Shaped by the contexts of sociability in which it takes place, collaboration factors into a wide array of practices, from simple parlour games to institutional protocol. It arises from the definition of a group identity, confirming this identity or questioning it through rebellion. As the expression of a community of thought, collaboration is inherent to scientific undertakings that surpass the competence of an individual, or of artistic visions that transcend disciplinary boundaries.

Whether concealed in anonymity or institutional patronage, or, on the contrary, revealing the signatures of all participants, collaboration invites us into a fascinating exploration of its innerworkings. Collective creativity occurs in delicate balance between unity and diversity, partnership and competition, equality and power. A more or less explicit reflection of interpersonal cooperation, collaborative work often contains, within the laboratory of its production, references to other works and themes. In this way, the complexity of collaborative projects is often increased through intertextual and intermedial dialogue, fostering the production of new works.

“Writing in Company” features examples of collaboration among writers associated with the rise of popular literature (novel and theatre), among writers and illustrators, among members of a salon, an artistic movement, a religious order, an academic institution or a scientific expedition. The performing arts may present the most striking example, illustrating how even the interpretation and the mise-en-scène become integral parts of the creative process.

Curators: Stéphanie Favreau and Adina Ruiu, under the direction of Marie-Claude Felton (McGill University), Ann-Marie Holland (McGill Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections), Nikola von Merveldt (Université de Montréal)
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