In the opening chapter of my book, I discuss one of the most infamous scenes of Goethe’s last novel where Wilhelm leaves the anatomical theater behind to be introduced to a new chamber composed of prosthetic body parts. As I suggest in my chapter, thinking about the anatomical prosthesis was a way of thinking about the nature of the book as an intellectual prosthesis. Drawing on the long tradition of the metaphorical interconnections between books and bodies, Goethe was trying to imagine new ways of thinking about technological supplements to human knowing — how we understand books through reference to our bodies and how changing conceptions of books (or textual media more generally) change how we understand our bodies.
This nexus of books and bodies has undergone another leap forward today. Fast Company reports a new technology that will be able to print organs. The ink used will consist of a combination of hydrogel and cells printed out in layers of two-dimensional patterns based on a graphic model of, in this case, blood vessels. It is the latest (and frankly crazy) example of how print technology gives shape to the human body, a sign of the historically significant feedback loop between anatomy and media.
Being printed is no mere metaphor.