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Stimuli, signals and wireless telegraphy in Beckett’s novel Watt
Wolf Kittler

In a scathing critique, Beckett diagnosed Marcel Proust’s fabled term of memoire involontaire as a conditioned reflex in the strict Pavlovian sense, pure habit. His response: absolute, and potentially self-destructive freedom. In his novel Watt, he explores this possibility in a long series of experiments involving a man’s leftover food and a dog that is supposed to consume it if and whenever it becomes available. The question is: how to bring the food and the dog together. Answering this question Beckett shows that, under the condition of freedom, there is no such thing as a conditioned reflex. Dog and food can only be brought together via signals, and signals only operate within systems of coercion potentially bordering on torture. Constructing such a signifying system from its most basic level, Beckett replicates, as it were, the history of signals from optical telegraphy to railway and traffic signals up to wireless telegraphy.

in Beckett and media
Harlots and televising the realities of eighteenth-century English prostitution
Brig Kristin and Clark Emily J.

Unlike many period dramas, Harlots, a Hulu original show, does not feature professional medical practitioners, despite frequent references to medicine, disease, and death. Instead, the show’s writers weave the history of medicine into the everyday lives of its characters. Through a close reading of ‘Episode Two’, season one, we argue that Harlots decentres early modern medicine by portraying how syphilis and its bodily effects formed a regular part of life for Londoners. Building on historical studies of medical drama and period pieces, we use Harlots to consider the effect of depersonalised or sensational representations of disease in scholarship and popular fiction. By eschewing the perspectives of professional healers and moralists found in most studies of early modern venereal disease, Harlots reminds us of the everyday lives of sufferers and the women who acted as lay healers and medical experts. Harlots’ reenactment of the material realities of sex work invites viewers to consider the dynamics of a disease that was simultaneously stigmatised and commonplace. The syphilitic character appears for the first (and last) time in this episode; Mary Cooper, we are told, was once a prostitute of great renown. By the time viewers see her, it is through the lens of illness; we become part of the public space that observes and makes meaning of her diseased body. As with the episode’s other characters, we are forced to confront our own notions of gender, sickness, and profession, and the stigmas attached to each.

in Diagnosing history
Abstract only
Byrne Katherine, Taddeo Julie Anne, and Leggott James

This Introduction provides an overview of the collection of chapters, situates the book within the existing scholarship on medical television, and argues for the relevance of period TV in presenting the history of medicine as well as engaging with contemporary fears and debates about disease, the body, scientific research, professionalisation and the power of ‘the expert’, and more. A brief description of each chapter and the dramas under analysis (Outlander, Poldark, The Knick, Mercy Street, La Peste, A Place to Call Home, Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders, etc.) is provided.

in Diagnosing history
Open Access (free)
Balazs Rapcsak and Mark Nixon
in Beckett and media
Between theatre as cultural form and true media theatre
Wolfgang Ernst

If we combine sound philology and the archival contextualisation of Beckett’s oeuvre within his contemporary media culture with a radically media-archaeological reading of the one-act drama Krapp’s Last Tape, we discover a different poetics emerging from within the media-technological sphere of magnetophony. My non-historicist reading of Krapp’s Last Tape understands the Beckett drama as an operational function of the epistemic challenge posed by the manipulations of tempor(e)alities by electro-acoustics around the 1950s/1960s. Not only is the configuration of a human protagonist (Krapp) and a high-technological device (the tape recorder) a microsocial configuration in the sense of Actor–Network Theory or an ensemble in Simondon’s sense, but the close coupling of the human and the machine on the stage requires a more rigorous analysis of the cognitive, affective, even traumatic irritations induced in humans by the signal transducing machine. This chapter zooms in on the media message of Krapp’s Last Tape, and its approach is inductive in two ways: on the one hand, electro-magnetic induction is the technological condition (the arché) of possibility of the phonographic drama at stake in Krapp’s Last Tape, and on the other hand, in the sense of idiographic identifications of the real media theatre.

in Beckett and media
Science, faith, the law, and the contested body and mind in The Frankenstein Chronicles and The Alienist
Wright Andrea

The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015–2017) and The Alienist (2018–) belong to an expanding group of stylish nineteenth-century-set gothic mystery/crime dramas that variously combine history, fiction, and fantasy. They share common themes connected to class, social change, morality, morality, and gender, especially masculine crisis, but also a particular fascination with the body and the mind. Both are characterised by graphic scenes of violence, death, and disturbingly vivid depictions of human cadavers, alongside exploration and interrogation of troubled minds and tortured souls. Significantly, they are set against a backdrop of social reform and changing attitudes towards scientific progress and innovations in medical practice, The Frankenstein Chronicles during the first half of the century, and The Alienist during its final years. But progress and the pre-eminence of science are frequently problematised as those in pursuit of radical advancement are often morally ambiguous and prone to corruption. This chapter explores the resulting tensions between science, faith, politicians, and agents of the law. Furthermore, it engages with the series’ preoccupation with the nature of monstrosity and morbid spectacles of human vulnerability. It will argue that the body and mind are pivotal in the struggle between competing forces and that both are consistently contested and conflicted.

in Diagnosing history
The good doctor of When the Boat Comes In
James Leggott

This chapter considers the portrayal of medical practices and practitioners in the 1970s British historical drama When the Boat Comes In, produced by the BBC between 1976 and 1981. Set in the depressed town of Gallowshields in north-east England, and spanning the period from World War I to the Spanish Civil War, When the Boat Comes In is perhaps best remembered for its charismatic central character Jack Ford (James Bolam), but this chapter pays attention instead to the broader ensemble of characters. In particular, it focuses upon the character of Billy Seaton (Edward Wilson), first introduced as a trainee doctor. As time progresses, we follow Billy’s completion of his studies and his moral dilemmas about the community role of the ‘good doctor’. Although When the Boat Comes In is not remembered as a ‘medical’ drama, this chapter notes how many of its plotlines hinge upon health crises or questions, in a way comparable with other long-running serial dramas such as Poldark (1975–1977; 2015–2019) and Downton Abbey (2010–2015). But more than just providing historical texture or the motor for melodramatic turns of events, the medical issues woven into When the Boat Comes In are crucial to the show’s conceptualisation of conflicts between collectivism and individualism, and between socialism and capitalism.

in Diagnosing history
Early twentieth century surgery on screen
Allitt Marie

This chapter explores the depictions and representations of early twentieth-century surgical procedures in Casualty 1900s (2008–2009) and The Knick (2014–2015). These two dramas encourage a focus upon medicine that moves away from dominant images of Victorian surgery, to instead focus on key surgical developments introduced during the first decade of the twentieth century. Building upon the foundational idea that surgical knowledge is constituted by the visual, this discussion draws out the different ways that medical looking and learning is presented in these shows. Given the visual medium of television, there are certain challenges and opportunities for depicting and commenting on the nature of the ‘clinical gaze’. This builds towards an argument for the ‘surgical gaze’, which consists of different layers of looking, from surgeon, student, spectators, and audiences, and is complicated and manipulated by different surgical spaces, such as the theatre, auditorium, or viewing balcony. Engaging with representations of knowledge discovery and circulation, this chapter concerns the depiction of, and participation within, surgical education. Discovery and experimentation are often central, so it becomes a case of simultaneous discovery for both the surgeon and the audience: even the viewer can come away having learnt something new. The blending of the contemporary medical drama with the historical genre serves to heighten the immediacy and emergency of the surgical situations, opening up the subject matter and stylistic possibilities for historical drama.

in Diagnosing history
Open Access (free)
Julian Murphet

The electronic interlaced raster scan that composes a televisual ‘image’ was relayed to the cathode ray beam via an analogue signal from the broadcast video source. That signal amounted to a set of instructions, telling the beam how to behave as it was pulled in a line, magnetically, across the back of the phosphor-treated CRT screen. These instructions worked, irrespective of the imaginary ‘content’ of the image temporarily formed thanks to phosphor persistence, moiré induction and retinal retention. They worked through an electronic arrangement of post-human speed and the inbuilt conservatism of the psychological apparatus; as McLuhan puts it, ‘The TV image offers some three million dots per second to the receiver. From these he accepts only a few dozen each instant, from which to make an image.’ Beckett’s Quad is still the most extraordinary work of art composed for the televisual medium, and the only major work for the ‘small screen’ written in an act of imaginative sympathy with the raster scan itself. This chapter looks deeper into the implications of Beckett’s intuitions with regard to the analogue electronic arts as arts of time set to the measure of inhuman speeds and rhythms.

in Beckett and media
Televised historical portrayals of women’s shifting roles in medicine
Fogel Jennifer M. and Sutherland Serenity

Claire Randall Fraser, the heroine in Diana Gabaldon’s time-travelling book series Outlander and its television adaptation, practises as a nurse, healer, and physician in backdrops where women have historically struggled for recognition as bona fide medical practitioners. In settings such as eighteenth-century Jacobin Scotland, pre-Revolutionary France, colonial America, World War II European battlefronts, and 1950s–1960s Harvard University, Claire’s medical acumen proves she is a talented healer despite the frequent scepticism and disapproval of those around her. In all time periods Claire finds herself, she must negotiate the gender politics and cultural expectations of women’s gendered roles, which often results in Claire taking a stand to defend her medical expertise. This chapter examines the ways in which Claire utilises her medical skill – holistically and scientifically – as an avenue of agency and survival, and assesses the ways in which Outlander utilises communitarian ideology to service Claire’s modern-day progressivism and romanticise the historical narrative. The show’s presentation of gender politics across three centuries reminds historians of the back-and-forth shifts women have made as practitioners in medicine and science.

in Diagnosing history