Lousy Sex

Lousy Sex

gerald n. callahan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgqw7
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    Lousy Sex
    Book Description:

    In Lousy Sex Gerald Callahan explores the science of self, illustrating the immune system's role in forming individual identity. Blending the scientific essay with deeply personal narratives, these poignant and enlightening stories use microbiology and immunology to explore a new way to answer the question, who am I? "Self" has many definitions. Science has demonstrated that 90 percent of the cells in our bodies are bacteria-we are in many respects more non-self than self. In Lousy Sex, Callahan considers this microbio-neuro perspective on human identity together with the soulful, social perception of self, drawing on both art and science to fully illuminate this relationship. In his stories about where we came from and who we are, Callahan uses autobiographical episodes to illustrate his scientific points. Through stories about the sex lives of wood lice, the biological advantages of eating dirt, the question of immortality, the relationship between syphilis and the musical genius of Beethoven, and more, this book creates another way, a chimeric way, of seeing ourselves. The general reader with an interest in science will find Lousy Sex fascinating.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-233-7
    Subjects: General Science, Biological Sciences, Health Sciences
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prologue: Leonardo’s Dream (pp. ix-xvi)

    He certainly hadn’t planned to spend his morning wandering around looking for inspirations, as though they might be startled from the shadows like mice. He kicked at a stone and sent it flying across the via Mercanti. As he walked into Milano’s great piazza, pewter-colored clouds rolled in from the mountains to the north and blocked the sun. The landscape fell into a flat brown lake. Leonardo kicked at another stone, missed, and stubbed his toe against the red cobbles. He cursed and hobbled to one of the benches ringing the piazza. Sitting, he lifted his injured foot onto his...

  5. ORIGINS:: Where “I” Comes From
    • [Introduction] (pp. 1-3)

      Like the fossilized tooth of megazostrodon, beneath the enameled surface of the word “I” lies one of the great stories of our past—the origins of selves. Surely there was a time without selves. How and why did “I” evolve from not-“I”? What did the first “I” look like? Like the lizard brain, underneath the layers of more sophisticated and more civilized “I” s, first “I” is still there. Underneath everything else, beneath all that we call human, among the rubble left when the lizard brain finally rules, it is there. There, my mother and I achieved purity.

      Then there...

    • 1 First Self (pp. 5-17)

      Slowly, purposefully, my mother unbuttons her blouse. The blouse is blue with small white flowers, and the tail is tucked firmly into the elastic waistband of her salmon pink pants. Beginning at the top and moving down, she works carefully at each of the small plastic buttons.

      “Mother,” I plead with her, “you don’t need to do that.”

      She smiles at me and continues unfastening buttons. Beneath her blue blouse, her padded cotton and elastic bra begins to appear. Her breasts swell pallidly above the brassiere.

      The room is not well lit. The curtains are drawn, as they always are,...

    • 2 Layers of Self (pp. 19-31)

      “Unfair,” she says. “That’s how it feels.” Her words ring with certainty.

      I wasn’t expecting that. Sandy and I have been friends for years, but we have never spoken like this before. Sitting in the small gray cubicle where she works, her words fall like stones—solid, cold.

      We’re together this morning because I asked her to talk with me about her MS—multiple sclerosis—a situation quite different from any other I know. Because she and her disease are so remarkable, I am trying to write a story about both, and about me.

      Outside it’s July. Trees full of...

    • 3 Self in the Soil (pp. 33-44)

      I’m not one for religions or religious experiences. But there is something here I cannot account for—something very old and very unusual. The carvings and paintings are part of it. They were surely done by human hands, but according to public documents no one remembers whose hands those were. The work is striking, especially in the apse behind the altar. There, the colors of the surrounding hills have been transferred onto nearly luminous wooden reredos full of Catholic symbolism. Above the altar, a blackened wooden Christ hangs crucified on a green cross. And over Christ’s head, the roof is...

    • 4 Gathering Our Selves (pp. 45-56)

      It is snowing, perhaps, and cold, surely. The streets are nearly empty. The sparkling flakes that fill the stone crevices are radiant with candle and gaslight. In a small villa near the city’s center, at Beatrixgasse-Ungargasse 5, a white-haired man in his fifties has just penned the final notes of what will someday be called the greatest piece of music ever composed. Beyond his windows, all of this goes unnoticed by the glittering crystals and the few men and women still moving through the snowy streets. But the moment will be remembered forever by millions of other men and women...

  6. MIDDLES:: Childhood’s End
    • [Introduction] (pp. 57-59)

      Now that we, from mud and starlight and chromosomes and bacteria, have assembled rudimentary selves, where do we go from here? Only death ends the artistry of self-creation.

      As we move from childhood toward another phase, “I”s must often adapt or disappear. The Fisher King’s wound, Beauty and the Beast, and perhaps all fairy tales speak of the loss of the child’s world and the hard slap of reality. For many reasons, children’s eyes see another world, one where anything and everything is real, one filled with chiseled princes and crystalline princesses, benevolent wizards, and one where human eyes, like...

    • 5 The Opposite of Sex (pp. 61-71)
      Lisa May Stevens

      A couple of months into our electronic relationship, Lisa May Stevens sent me some pictures of herself. In one of these photos, she wore a black gown, showed quite a bit of leg, and looked like a southern belle—strawberry blonde, about five feet ten inches tall, hazel eyed. For all the world, like a southern belle. She isn’t though. She’s an hermaphrodite from Idaho.

      And Lisa May Stevens is a friend of mine.

      We met about eighteen months ago, when I sent her an e-mail. At the time, I had gotten hold of an idea I couldn’t shake, and...

    • 6 Lousy Sex (pp. 73-85)

      This morning, I am escorting a wood louse out of my kitchen and onto the lawn. It is early spring. The air is warm and full of promise, and as I launch the balled-up creature lawnward, my thoughts turn to sex. Unusual sex, mysterious sex, infectious sex.

      Humans will use almost any excuse to think about sex. But wood lice will never be voted among the top ten reasons for this. Wood lice—rolypoly bugs, pill bugs, potato bugs, sow bugs—are those armor-plated crustaceans that scatter, on fourteen jointed legs, like cockroaches when the light hits them or, when...

    • 7 The Wizards of “I” (pp. 87-103)

      November 1957. It’s cold, flesh-cracking cold. The barren steppes roll off into the icy haze, unmarked save for a few low clumps of dead grass and three or four brick buildings. Light like flint flickers over the plain and a polar wind slams at the bricks over and over. Nothing changes. It seems nothing here ever changes, ever has changed.

      As if in argument, the center of this land of sleet and ice begins to burn deep orange. Miles off, the light gathers itself and roasts the thin air. Kerosene and liquid oxygen come together as though they have been...

    • 8 Dreams of the Blind (pp. 105-126)

      “Victor Delgado!” a woman in a cage shouts into a tired PA system.

      “Front!” The speakers rattle with her efforts.

      She looks like she’s spent the better part of her life on a barstool, smoking cigarettes, drinking watered gin, and waiting on her next ex-husband-to-be. Hard and polished like the runners on an old sled. I’m glad it’s not my name she’s calling.

      I turn my back to her and scan the men standing in this room with me to see if I can guess which one is Victor. The room is not big—wooden floor and the far wall...

  7. THIS IS NOT THE END:: Facing Up to Our Immortality
    • [Introduction] (pp. 127-129)

      Every day for billions of years, this world has tested every gene we carry. When genes failed those tests, people (or creatures that might have one day been humans) died. That makes for very powerful and very useful genes—to a point. And that point comes when we are no longer able to reproduce. When we can offer no more sperm or eggs, we have climbed out of the gene pool. No longer Darwin’s children, we must now fend for our selves, fight for our “I”s in a place we know nearly nothing about.

      The first three-plus billion years of...

    • 9 The Mysterious Visions of Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (pp. 131-143)

      We’re seated in circled desks, so that each of us can see everyone else. We are here to discuss where selves come from. The seating arrangement helps to lubricate our discussions. At times, it lubricates other things as well. Janine, a dark-haired, attractive woman, has worn a dress to class today. Just now, though, she seems to have forgotten that. Though I cannot see her from where I sit, Chad, another twenty-something student—seated directly across from Janine—has noticed. From now until the moment Janine crosses her legs, Chad will hear nothing I say.

      Most of us seated in...

    • 10 The Rock Collector (pp. 145-159)

      January 16, 1912, six days before my father was born, Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the southern pole of the planet. “Great God,” he wrote in his diary. “This is an awful place.” It was twenty-one below zero. The wind was blowing at forty miles per hour and howling in his ears like the dead. The men had walked for months in the worst weather on Earth. Their ponies had died weeks ago. A poor choice—those ponies. So the men themselves had pulled all their supplies over hundreds of miles of ice. And now the wind and...

    • 11 On the Lip of Immortality (pp. 161-172)

      Across the street from where I stand, four men in their late thirties—dressed only in diapers—carry a coffin bearing a pregnant mannequin. As I watch, the falling snow turns them pink, then ashen. Suddenly, the mannequin shudders violently and strains to birth another child. A man’s voice, tinny through the cheap public address speakers, calls out for an epidural.

      Beyond the now-anesthetized mannequin, an emergency vehicle rolls forward. On top of that vehicle stands a pale man with a shock of black hair. He holds what appears to be a flamethrower. Further down the street stands a long...

    • Epilogue (pp. 173-175)

      Leonardo, like most of his fellow men of science, believed mind and emotions throbbed inside the human heart. Vesalius maintained that human emotions and human intellect sparked inside human brains. Neither gave much thought to human thymuses, and neither imagined all the things they could not see or touch or hear or taste or smell beneath the stench of the preservatives.

      Regardless, each infused human bodies with human art and instilled in all of those to come a sense of something more than just the art, more than just the science. Even working with a small scientific pallet, they knew...


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