The Human Body as a Robot
Fritz Kahn was a gynecologist who became a spreader of medical knowledge, and was instrumental in the birth of science illustration. Sappol defines modernity as the advance from logocentrism to an age where image is the main tool of learning.
Body Modern is a study of the origins and development of anatomical infographics, narrated through a biography of Fritz Kahn, who fled from Nazi Germany to settle in the USA.
Unlike previous anatomical illustrations, Kahn’s images are not just descriptions. Drawings, texts, diagrams, and photomontages combine to create metaphors and analogies. In his most popular image, Der Mensch als Industriepalast, already an icon of modernity, the human body is depicted as a silhouette containing an industrial building in section. While for Le Corbusier the house was a machine for living, for Kahn the body was a robot inhabited by humanoids doing specialized work to perform the functions of organs. But his work exceeded this image, his ambition was encyclopedic, and proof is Das Leben des Menschen, published in five volumes.
This book is well documented but its conclusion is diffuse. Sappol timidly sketches a theory of the homunculus as a viral phenomenon. More interesting is the description of Kahn’s qualitative leap in picturing the modern world, though the Internet’s quantitative explosion has eclipsed it. The world is now an infinite succession of images, and we more than ever need Kahn’s capacity for synthesis, his clairvoyance, and his power of metaphor.