Cite as: Discussion of the lecture Mary Cappello, Errant Foreign Bodies, ICI Berlin, 30 November 2015, video recording, mp4, 35:17 <>
30 Nov 2015


Video in English

Format: mp4
Length: 00:35:17
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Part of the Lecture

Errant Foreign Bodies / Mary Cappello

One of the most popular attractions in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum is the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection: a beguiling set of drawers filled with thousands of objects that had been swallowed or inhaled, then extracted non-surgically by a pioneering laryngologist using rigid instruments of his own design. How do people’s throats, lungs, and stomachs end up filled with inedible things, and what do they become once arranged in Dr. Chevalier Jackson’s aura-laden cabinet? Animating the space between interest and terror, curiosity and dread, Mary Cappello brings her own aesthetic of poetic apposition and wend to bear upon Chevalier Jackson’s methods and designs. This illustrated reading juxtaposes the inadvertent art effected by Jackson’s refusal to allow a foreign body to wander with meditations on Cappello’s queerly promiscuous body inside an MRI machine, or the incitement of cancer’s erratic time.

Mary Cappello is a writer and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Rhode Island. Her four books of literary nonfiction include Awkward: A Detour (2007, a Los Angeles Times bestseller), and, following Maya Deren, a ritual in transfigured time, Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life (2009). Her most recent book, Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them (2012), emerges from the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. A new suite of lyric essays on ‘mood’ and its affinities with clouds, ‘sonorous envelopes’, and dioramas will appear next fall. A recipient of The Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination; the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize; and a Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction, Cappello is a former Fulbright Lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow), and currently Holtzbrink Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.


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