In 1665, Robert Hooke, polymath and member of the Royal Society of London, published his book, Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by the magnifying glass. In Micrographia, Hooke embarked on the first visual exploration into what would come to be called the invisible world, or, as he put it, the space inhabited by those “least of all visible things.” Hooke’s Micrographia described those details of the world obscured by the limitations of the human eye—minute aspects of minerals, sponges, ferns, fish scales, the stinger of a bee. It wasn’t by chance that Hooke coined the term cell by relating the living quarters of monasteries with those box-like structures he saw in close observations of a thin slice of cork. Throughout his text, Hooke consistently related these “invisible objects” to the larger human world of which he was a part. Structures of plants became pipes, the scales of fish became the tiles of a roof, and a stinger of a bee became a saber.
I’ve based this blog around associations like these. Mulling through biology, literature, anthropology, poetry, and painting, I’d like to think that this space matches the goal of ethnography originally outlined by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski: to exoticize the seemingly normal and to expose something everyday in the seemingly strange. Exploring any form of life with a membrane-bound nucleus and organelles, this blog functions as a space for meditations on those things eukaryotic and the associations they spawn—a eukaryography. Combining seemingly disjointed aspects of biology, the everyday, and the arts can let us relate the small to the grand, the particular to the universal, the microcosm to the macrocosm—from the lifeworld of a protist to cultural politics to the goals of fiction. Microorganisms in a Petri dish can be seen as elephants grazing, lymphocytes can seem like clouds, Italo Calvino can be perceived as a model for the new science fiction.
I received a BA from Bard College in anthropology and science studies, and I am currently a PhD student studying infectious disease ecology at the University of Georgia and work as co-editor of the Dialogues section of the journal EcoHealth. Being in the field and the lab working with pathogens, immune bodies, and vertebrate reservoirs, in addition to interacting with people and hearing their stories about environmental change and health, is a fantastic way to see the world constantly anew. And to paraphrase the poet Samuel T. Coleridge (in his case, on attending public chemistry lectures), these biological and anthropological experiences, be it through conducting an interview or using the microscope to observe cells in a blood smear, are great ways to “renew my stock of metaphors.”
While I’m no poet, I love reading forays into what one could call “literary” or “experimental” science writing, and I find Italo Calvino, Lewis Thomas, Miroslav Holub, Primo Levi, Devin Johnson, Hugh Raffles, Verlyn Klinkenborg, Annie Dillard, and Stephen J. Gould to be great examples and personal heros of these quasi-genres. Once I begin developing a greater familiarity with ecological and evolutionary thought and the world of the microcosm, of pathogens and lymphocytes, I aim to begin crafting a series of short stories on the evolution of specific traits in pathogens and animals. Think Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics or Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, but on why Giardia lamblia has two nuclei or why manatees are covered in tactile hair.
I welcome inquiries about the blog, and quest posts in particular, which can be sent along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for visiting.