Eccentric Torments – The Glass Delusion

I am in the thick of reading Brian Dillon’s excellent book Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives. There is an interesting passage on an imagined affliction I’ve never heard of before:

In the history of such eccentric torments, none is stranger or more instructive than the so-called ‘glass delusion’. From the late Middle Ages onwards, this remarkably specific and consistent notion appears time and again in the literature on melancholia and hypochondria. The patient, as the reader will have surmised, fantacies that he or she is made of glass, either in part or in whole. (In a series of related delusions, patients may imagine that they have lost limbs, that they have been turned into animals, that they are dead, that they do no exist or, as in the case of an unforuntae baker who was afraid to go near his oven, that they are made of butter.) This has predicatable consequences: the ‘glass man’ fears for his physical safety, avoiding not only hard knocks but in some cases any touch at all from another person, as well as such delicate operations as sitting or lying down. The broad outlines of the delusion – imagining that one is made of a brittle

substance – were not unknown to antiquity: classical accounts of earthenware men abound, but the spread of glass in the Early Modern period brought with it the possibility of thinking oneself made of less sturdy stuff …

The book features famous hypochondriacs including Darwin, Florence Nightengale, Charlotte Bronte and Andy Warhol, with a particular focus on the specific kind of craziness so completely epitomized by the Victorians. It’s a very interesting read.

Image: Broken Glass by Davetoaster

Hard Men/Soft Deaths – Wyatt Earp

Despite the expression “what comes around, goes around” there are a group of outlaws who had surprisingly soft endings, despite having lived extremely hard, dangerous and, in most cases, crime ridden lives.

During his eighty years of life, Wyatt Earp earned the reputation as one of the most fearsome cowboys in the West. Fluctuating between legitimate lawmaker and criminal, Earp’s claim to fame is his participation in the famous gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and his ongoing series of vendettas, most notably the Earp Vendetta, also referred to as the Arizona war. At various points in his career, Earp also worked as a “farmer, teamster, buffalo hunter, gambler, saloon-keeper, minder and boxing referee.” (source)

There are conflicting records

of how many people Earp killed during his wild old days, but there are some records that place the number somewhere between eight and over thirty (source):

  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 1900: “Wyatt Earp is credited with ten men, one of them his own brother-in-law.”
  • G. W. Caldwell in the introduction to his interview with Wyatt, 1888: “[Wyatt Earp] Has killed more than a dozen stage robbers, murderers, and cattle thieves.”
  • Los Angeles Tribune, July 1888: “[Wyatt] Earp has a cemetery which he has stocked with over 30 men, and no one seemed desirous of questioning his word.”

Despite his life of debauchery, Earp had a rather peaceful death in Hollywood where, at the age of 80, he died at home of prostate cancer (though the actual cause of death isn’t confirmed) with his common law wife at his side. He had a proper funeral with Hollywood Western actors serving as his pallbearers and was cremated and buried in California. When his wife Josie died nearly twenty years later, she was also cremated, her ashes buried next to those of Wyatt Earp. He never returned to Arizona after the battle at the OK Corral.

Image Credit: Richard Beal’s Blog

Dark Keepsakes – The Hollywood Legend Edition

On June 26th and 27th insanely rich fans of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Christopher Reeve will be able to pick up some collectibles at an auction just announced by Julien’s. Happening at Planet Hollywood in Vegas, eager bidders will be able to fight one another for some pretty insane ephemera. The more obvious stuff includes:

  • Tony Soprano’s bottle of Xanax
  • Christopher Reeve’s Superman costume (cape, bodysuit and tights)
  • Mel Gibson’s shield, sword and costume from Braveheart
  • The earrings Kate Winslet wore in Titanic
  • Mia Farrow’s nightgown from Rosemary’s Baby

The auction also boasts some items of the creepy, more personal variety such as Marilyn Monroe’s own bottle of Channel #5, pieces of her clothing, an x-ray of her chest and

her therapist’s couch. Many of these items come to auction by way of the estate of her late therapist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, which I’m guessing will earn a tidy penny from the proceeds. Apparently, Greenson didn’t earn enough from his long list of celebrity clients while he was alive, leaving his descendants feeling the need to pick the carcass clean (that’s sarcasm, by the way):

In 1960, Marilyn Monroe began seeing Los Angeles psychoanalyst Dr. Ralph R. Greenson at the recommendation of her New York therapist, Marianne Kris. Greenson had worked with many Hollywood celebrities including Vivien Leigh, Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis. Dr. Greenson started working with her when she started her work on the movie “Misfits”. As life got more complicated and her relationship with Arthur Miller changed and things progressed Monroe saw Greenson up to five or six times a week at his Santa Monica home office. (Source)

Image: Marilyn, Richard Avedon from amalanos

Classic Geeky Objects of the 20th Century

Ericsson Ericofon Telephone

1954, by Blomberg, Lysell and Thames. Made from ABS plastic. Typical eBay price: from £50.

The “Cobra”, nicknamed after its shape, was the first one-piece telephone. More than just a design gimmick, the innovative ergonomics ensured it was initially a success in hospitals and other environments where peoples’ movement was restricted.

Originally available in 18 colours, the phone also featured one of the first transistor buzzers, giving it a distinctive chirping sound rather than a traditional telephone bell ring.

The button on the base of the telephone depressed as the phone was placed down, hanging up the call. When the phone is picked up, the button is released, picking up the receiver: cleverly building automated functionality into the intended physical use of the object.

Braun Phonosuper SK4 Record Player

1956, by Gugelot and Rams. Made from sheet steel, wood and perspex. Typical eBay price: from £1000.

Like the Ericofon, which was co-designed by a non-designer (Thames was an engineer), the SK4 was co-designed by an architect, Dieter Rams. Originally designed to be a low-cost entertainment unit, the clever use of modern materials and minimal design ensured that the Sk4 – also known as Snow White’s Coffin – would become a design classic.

The use of sheet steel allowed a single layer to be wrapped around the front, top, and back, with the electrical components inserted from the bottom. This clever design removed the unsightly wiring normally found at the back of the unit, allowing an entertainment system to be positioned in the centre of the room as ‘furniture’ for perhaps the first time.

Standard record players of the time had a wooden or other solid cover that hid the complexities of the turntable when not in use. Although sheet steel was first considered for the SK4 lid, the design team found that it had a negative effect on the quality of the sound. So, for the first time, a transparent perspex lid was used, displaying the beautifully arranged controls in all their glory. This design decision was quickly adopted by other manufacturers.

Brionvega TS-502 Radio

1965, by Zanuso and Sapper. Made from ABS plastic. Typical eBay price: from £250.

The design duo Zanuso (another architect) and Sapper created many stunning objects, including the first

folding telephone (the Siemens Grillo) and the first European transistorized portable television, the gorgeous Brionvega Doney 14.

This stunning radio, measuring about 10 inches tall, folded into a cube and featured a slide-out carrying handle. Dubbed in the marketing materials as “the protagonist of its environment”, the unusual design ensured that people took notice wherever it was placed.

Still available with the same design today, 45 years later, the TS-502 proves that “classic” design is anything but classic: rather than creating something in-keeping with the style of the times, truly “classic” designs are those that break the mould.

Olivetti Valentine Typewriter

1969, by Sottsass. Made from ABS plastic. Typical eBay price: from £100.

Designed by yet another architect, the Italian Ettore Sottsass set out to create the “anti-machine machine”, in what could be see as the predecessor of the iBook and other Apple products that introduced office objects to the home.

Sottsass described his creation as “a biro among typewriters”, and later as “too obvious, a bit like a girl wearing a very short skirt and too much make-up”. Even so, his simply designed colourful typewriter became popular with many a budding poet and author, and was supported by a marketing campaign with art from Milton Glaser (of “I ♥ New York” fame).

In an attempt to simplify the typewriter as much as possible, it is rumoured that an early prototype of the Valentine only had a single case of letters (i.e. could not switch between upper and lower case), perhaps predicting the informality of modern-day SMS and email messages.

Olivetti are the only company that still manufacture manual typewriters.

JVC Videosphere Television

1970, by JVC design team. Made from ABS plastic. Typical eBay price: from £70.

Clearly influenced by the space race of its time, the Videosphere seems to embrace every constraint of the technology, and then adds a few more unnecessary ones for the heck of it.

An 8″, black and white television, the videosphere housing accentuates the curved tube screen, and adds unreachable controls at the top/back, together with a chain for hanging the TV from the ceiling.

A stunning, classic object that demonstrates how great design sometimes wins over functionality (though I’m not sure I’d actually like to watch anything on it).

Polaroid SX-70 Camera

1972, by Dreyfuss. Made from chromium-plated plastic. Typical eBay price: from £40.

The great Henry Dreyfuss, originally a theatrical designer, was asked to design the first camera to use Polaroid instant film.

Not only was it the first camera to use instant film, it was the first folding SLR camera.

And not only was it the first folding SLR camera, it was (in a later model) the first auto-focus SLR camera.

A stunning piece of engineering and design, the folding camera was designed to fit in a “gentleman’s pocket”. It rightly won many admirers: Andy Warhol was a fan, Charles and Ray Eames made a short film about it, and Laurence Olivier gave his only product endorsement to it.

Sinclair Cambridge Calculator

1973, by Sinclair. Made from plastic. Typical eBay price: from £15.

Sir Clive Sinclair, of lapdancing wife fame, named the stunning Cambridge pocket calculator after the original location of the Sinclair offices.

The Apple-esque minimalism on the outside was unfortunately not matched by equally stunning design on the inside. Although the prototype was built with standard gold-flashed nickel contacts on the switch, the production models used a cheaper tin-coated nickel. Switching the calculator on and off a few times smeared the oxidised tin across the contacts of the switch, quickly turning the calculator into an always-on version.

Photo Credits

  1. Ericsson Ericofon photos by Flickr user mollybob.
  2. Braun SK4 photo by Flickr user withassociates.
  3. Brionvega TS502 photo by Flickr user gentax.
  4. Olivetti Valentine photo by Flickr user Andy Martini.
  5. JVC Videosphere photo by Wikimedia user Wackymacs.
  6. Polaroid SX-70 photo by Flickr user Master of Felix.
  7. Sinclair Cambridge photo by Flickr user Berto Garcia.

Theo Jansen’s Kinetic Sculptures – A New Form of Life

I am absolutely spellbound by the work of kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen. He builds mind-blowing, intricate, skeleton-like structures that are so light weight, they come to life in the natural environment – animated by wind. They remind me of something from the Dark Crystal. In his own words:

Since 1990 I have been occupied creating new forms of life.

Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat.

Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.

When describing how they actually function, Jansen talks about “Storing the Wind”, a process that is really a feat of modern engineering, using very rudimentary materials:

Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach . This consists ofrecycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. This is done using a variety of bicycle pump, needless to say of plastic tubing. Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full. They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed. The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal. For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so. These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out. There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston. When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens. The beach animal’s muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer. Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on. This creates control centres that can be compared to brains.


STRANDBEESTEN_TRAILER from Alexander Schlichter on Vimeo.