Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Miroslav Holub's Obscene Science and Literature?

Nude Mouse
For Science and Literature?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Pardon the nudity in the above photograph. While it may offend some community standards, it is not utterly without redeeming social value and therefore passes the 'Roth Test', first enunciated in Roth v. United States (1957) and elaborated in Memoirs v. Massachusetts (1966), which held that three elements must each be independently present for something to be considered obscene: (1) the dominant theme appeals to a prurient interest in sex, (2) the work affronts contemporary community standards on sexual matters, and (3) the work is utterly without redeeming social value.

I would argue that the nudity in the above photograph also passes the more restrictive 'Miller Test', set forth in Miller v. California (1973), which alters Roth's point number 3, such that for a work to be obscene, it must, overall, be without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value, for -- as we shall see -- the nude mouse has serious scientific value.

A few days ago, I posted A.D. Hope's poem "Tiger," which cites an epigram by Miroslav Holub as its motto: "At noon the paper tigers roar." I haven't found the source for that, but I did find sources on Miroslav and mice. According to
Holub was born in the town of Pilsen in 1923, studied medicine at Charles University in Prague, earning his M.D. in 1953 and adding a Ph.D. in 1958. He worked as an immunologist at the Microbiological Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Science. It was there that he bred a strain of laboratory mice that were hairless. They were called "nude mice."

Nude mice have two copies of the gene "nu" (for nude). They are not only hairless (and so are easy to spot in the lab) but, more importantly, they lack a thymus, the fleshy gland high up in the chest. Because nude mice have no thymus, they lack T cells. T cells are lymphocyes (white blood cells) that depend on the thymus for their development. (There are two main types of lymphocytes: B cells that mature primarily in the bone marrow and T cells that need the thymus to mature). Without the thymus, there can be no T cells.

It is the inherited (genetic) lack of T cells that makes the nude mouse an ideal research tool for scientists studying the immune system.
In this era of AIDS, one can easily see how a lack of T cells in a strain of mice would be useful for research on immuno-deficient diseases, so we are indebted to Holub for these admittedly nude mice, about which he even wrote a monograph, titled Immunology of Nude Mice, that I think should not be banned even by the restrictive 'Miller Test', given the work's obviously serious scientific value, a point implicitly acknowledged in the New York Times obituary for Holub, who died in 1998.

Before his death, and more controversially, Holub introduced mice -- possibly even nude mice -- into his literary works, e.g., a passage from an absurd trial depicted in the short, dramatic prose poem "Crucifix," from his book Intensive Care: Selected & New Poems, as we note here:
In his apartment he keeps -- as has been testified to by witnesses and proven -- he keeps, yes keeps, three cats, twenty-eight mice, five of them white, one iguana, and four, yes four, parakeets. He looks after them, feeds them, day and night. Yes, this . . . this . . . this individual, who has brought such affliction on his friends and neighbors, returns to his lair in order to let white and gray mice out of their cages and feed them on cheese, bacon, yes and bread and salt, in order to stroke, yes stroke with fingers soiled by so many machinations the warty skin of an iguana . . . (page 117)
If these mice are nude, then I confess that this passage might not pass either the Miller or the Roth test, for it neither possesses obviously serious literary value nor appears to have any seriously redeeming social value despite its probable ridicule of Communist show trials, for this little drama is too short to produce its possibly intended effect of sociopolitical critique. Perhaps "Crucifix" should be read in contrast with Korean author Jang Jung-il's longer work, "Pelican," which also features an absurd courtroom scene, Christ imagery, and even an explicitly sexual encounter (though not with nude mice) and yet clearly has obvious value for Korean literature and additional value as sociopolitical critique of the rightwing military dictatorships in recent Korean history.

One might also contrast Holub's use of possibly nude mice with the potentially nude mice in a passage from fellow Czech Bohumil Hrabal's book Too Loud a Solitude -- a passage from the tale of a man whose job in Communist Czechoslovakia entailed the pulping of books that the Communist authorities had ruled did not promote socialist values -- for these mice are both abused by being dunked into the watery mass of dissolving books and misused by carrying them obscurely into bars to frighten poor waitresses:
Today for the first time I noticed I'd stopped looking out for the mice, their nests, their families. When I throw in blind baby mice, the mother jumps in after them, sticks by them, and shares the fate of my classics and wastepaper. You wouldn't believe how many mice there are in a cellar like mine, two hundred, five hundred maybe, most of them friendly little creatures born half-blind, but there's one thing we have in common, namely, a vital need for literature with a marked preference for Goethe and Schiller in Morocco bindings. My cellar is constantly full of blinkings and gnawings: in their free time the mice are as playful as kittens, climbing up and down the sides of the press and pattering along the horizontal shaft. Then the green button sets the drum wall in motion and throws paper and mice into a high-stress situation, and the cheeping fades and the mice in other parts of the cellar suddenly turn serious and stand on their hind legs, prick up their ears, wondering what those new noises are, but since mice lose track of the moment as soon as the moment is over, they go right back to their games, to munching books, the older the paper the tastier it is, like a well-aged cheese or vintage wine. My life is so tightly bound up with these mice that even though I give all the paper a good evening hosing, which for the mice is like a daily dunking, they're always in a good mood and even look forward to their bath: they enjoy the aftermath, hours of licking and warming themselves in their paper retreats. Sometimes I lose control over my mice: I go out for a beer, lost in deep meditation, I dream as I wait at the bar, and when I open my coat to reach for my wallet, out jumps a mouse on the counter, or when I leave, out scurries a pair from a trouser leg, and the waitresses go wild, climb on chairs, stick their fingers in their ears, and scream bloody murder. And I just smile and wave a wet good-bye, full of plans for my next bale. (pages 15-16)
Yet even if these mice are denuded by being dunked into the dissolving, pulpy mass of paper -- and despite their being abused and misused -- they meet the exacting standards of high literary value and even perform a commendable social service by illustrating the absurd aesthetic tastes of Central European Communist authorities, who fail to share these rodents' "marked preference for Goethe and Schiller," so I would argue that this passage from Hrabal is not obscene even by the exacting 'Miller Test'.

I could go on in this vein, but at this point, I shall, mercifully, stop belaboring my point . . . whatever it is.

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At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That nude mouse had a worried look on his face (or perhaps he didn't appreciate the noteriety).
However, I do have a photo of Colonel James Cranford Hodges,United States Air Force; BS, MS (2), several USAF and Army advanced schools, PE (licensed civil enginer, totally nude splashing water in the bathtub, with a happy smile on his face.
There was no shame or worry on his one year old face. Fortunately, he was lying on his tummy. I think it turned up in his high school Senior Yearbook.
But it has no place on this blog, unlike your shameful photo of the poor mouse.

At 2:02 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Merry Christmas, Jeffery & family.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I wouldn't want to embarrass the poor colonel (and we don't know who might be looking at this blog).

But the information is useful toward pressuring Cousin James into using his leverage with NATO to land me one of those tenured positions in a European university.

I'm relying on him because Obama doesn't seem to be coming through for me on this.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Merry Christmas to you and yours as well, CIV, a greeting that you will also find on my Christmas Day blog entry . . . though less specifically to you and more generally to readers at large.

Anyway, a very Merry Christmas!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure I have that 1987 yearbook photot of that baby.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I hope that the baby's photo didn't make the Viola yearbook!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffery, oh yes, it was the Viola yearbook. I have 12 of them on my bookcase, 1987 included among those. And there is that lil bum right in the tub.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hmmm . . . now that James is a high-ranking officer at NATO, perhaps there's some money to be made from this photo.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would never do that to anyone. I just googled his name to find out what I could of what became of him. There was never any doubt he would be successful, but I had no idea until now just how much success he had actually attained.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I wouldn't either. Anyway, blackmail's against the law.

I suppose that you also saw the story of Uncle Cran's tornado experience? James plays a major role in that blog entry.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No I didn't, this is the only mention I found of him, although I really didn't look very hard. I had added Greg and Steven on Facebook and they made me wonder about James. He was much older than I...I had an embarrassing crush on him. Kinda funny to think about now; he got a good laugh out of me back then I'm sure. I was quite the little dork in 7th grade.

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Click here, and you'll find a photo of James at 12, surrounded by the results of a tornado's fury.

At 12, he probably wasn't yet the object of your crush.

Jeffery Hodges

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