The Body Reconfigured

Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Der Weg der entwikclung (The path of development) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, vol. II. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.

Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Der Weg der entwikclung (The path of development) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, vol. II. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.

  • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Der Weg der entwikclung (The path of development) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen, vol. II. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.
  • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Die prinzipien der warmeschutzes (The principles of Thermal protection) from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen.
  • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Das Vegetative Nervensystem (The Autonomic Nervous System), tab. XI from the series Das Leben des Menschen: Eine volkstumliche Anatomie, Biologie, physiologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen. Published by Franck`sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1929, volume IV. Courtesy University of Pittsburgh Library System.
  • Fritz Kahn (German, 1888-1968). Muskel-u Klingelleitung in ihrer funftelligent Ubereinstimmung`` (Muscles and doorbell wire corresponding in five parts)
 

The Body Reconfigured

Annika Johnson

Kahn, The Life of Man (1923-1931)

The title of Fritz Kahn’s five-volume series – The Life of Man: A Popular Anatomy, Biology, Physiology and Developmental History of Man – reveals his ambition to synthesize new scientific knowledge into texts and images designed for a broad, non-specialist audience.  Kahn imagined the human body as a microcosm of both the universe and of the modern world: atoms, cells, and proteins performed their duties within a complex system of mechanical parts like workers in a great modern city.
 
A team of illustrators working under Kahn’s supervision produced the illustrations for The Life of Man, but establishing a uniform graphic language – something that preoccupied Kahn’s contemporary Otto Neurath – was not a goal.  Images for The Life of Man were appropriated from a variety of sources and no effort was made to create a homogeneous graphic style.  The diversity of image types – including microscopic photography, graphs, physiognomic illustrations, and three-dimensional photographs (complete with 3D glasses!) – expressed Kahn’s belief that different scientific concepts demanded different and sometimes multiple methods of visualization.
 
Comparative images dominated Kahn’s approach to scientific visualization. Such images emphasized process over realistic graphic renderings of discrete anatomical parts.  Kahn tackled the challenge of representing biological processes by transforming the body into a complex of machine-like organs assembled from gears, levers, conveyor belts and pulleys.  Unlike the plates of the Encyclopédie, which broke down processes into discrete stages and favored a “true-to-life” mode of representation, Kahn’s images encourage the reader to reconstruct the internal processes of the body by imagining the living organism to function like a well-designed machine.
 
The Life of Man established standards according to which the reader could measure progress and difference.  Numerous illustrations of bodies deemed abnormal or dysfunctional served to reinforce a norm.  Kahn’s definition of “normal” and his constructions of race and gender were based on long-standing visual traditions that will be encountered in other parts of this exhibition.  Physiognomic illustrations (strikingly similar to those developed in the eighteenth century by Johann Kaspar Lavater) are not completely at odds with Kahn’s mechanic illustrations: both types of image impose a standardized view of a normal body – often white and European.

Kahn, Man as Industrial Palace (1931)

To Fritz Kahn (1888-1968), the diffusion of scientific knowledge and its practical applications required compelling visualizations that transformed complex ideas into terms accessible to a modern consumer public.  Man as Industrial Palace (Der Mensch als Industriepalast), the image for which Kahn is best known, first appeared in 1931 in the final volume of Kahn’s series The Life of Man.  Created for a non-specialist audience, the image was intended to hang in the modern home or classroom.
 
Man as Industrial Palace graphically illustrates Kahn’s goal to define the workings of the human body “in light of modern science.”  The living body as it acts, works, thinks, and dreams is reconfigured according to the author-entrepreneur’s vision for a modern science and pedagogy that demanded a new approach to scientific illustration.  Rejecting the anatomist’s cadaver, Kahn’s illustration of the inner workings of the human body drew from the mechanical world of automobiles, cameras, and telephones that surrounded his middle-class readership.
 
The deconstructed bodies illustrated in the Encyclopédie may have contained much visual information about their subjects, but they revealed little about the function of bodily systems.  Kahn built up the body for his readers, beginning with the atom and ending with the senses, each component of which functions as part of a fully integrated mechanic system.
 
Kahn’s mechanic analogies are fraught with ambiguities: do they educate readers about their own bodies, or about the production and use of consumer goods that position their bodies in modernity?  Man as Industrial Palace presents a body of scientific knowledge that was also a microcosm of German society during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933).  Kahn’s hierarchical arrangement of the head and torso mirrored departments in a modern factory.  Men in suits debate in the centers of reasoning and decision-making, while women operate the switchboards of the nervous system.   Below, in the abdomen, uniformed laborers sort starches from fats in the guts of the body.  The educated, consumerist audience for such images more likely profited from the industrial complex than labored in its factories. For further images, please visit Der Mensch als Industriepalast: http://www.fritz-kahn.com/gallery/man-as-industrial-palace/.