Vulgar Errors residency in progress
My starting point for the residency at the Queen of Hungary project space (where I will be resident for a week in May) is to read Thomas Browne’s book ‘Pseudodoxia Epidemica’ or ‘Vulgar Errors’ alongside collecting contemporary news headlines and political rhetoric about work; exploring how work is foregrounded as the primary way to value people today. People are – to quote a suggestion from Hugh Aldersley-Williams – seen as ‘job units.’ I am thinking of this as being a contemporary ‘vulgar error’ and considering whether Browne has any tools to help dispel this.
In the build up to the residency I am conversing with Hugh via e-mail and posting the content/research I gather on my blog: http://www.ameliacrouch.com/news/vulgar-errors
I initially found reading Browne’s book quite hard. His language is sometimes difficult to understand…but I am starting to get used to it. Hugh suggested that I first read some of his chapters on animals, and it turned out to be a good tip. A lot of them are very funny! My favourite beliefs thus far, that Browne dispels, are that Swans sing more sweetly before their deaths, Peacocks are ashamed of their legs and that Storks are to be found, and will only live in Republics or free States.
Browne appeals, in different instances, to Authority, Sense, Reason and Experience to disprove – or at least query – the beliefs. In most cases he has more than one argument against the belief. For example he cannot totally disprove swans singing more sweetly before death but reasons that himself and other quoted authors have never heard a swan making a pleasant noise. Also he suggests that the shape of their wind-pipe provides no reason why it should be true.
“When therefore we consider the dissention of Authors, the falsity of relations, the indisposition of the Organs, and the immusical note of all we ever beheld or heard of; if generally taken and comprehending all Swans, or of all places, we cannot assent thereto.” (Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book III, Chapter XXVII)
I feel like I have really only just begun the process and so far am collecting newspaper articles and reading Brown in parallel. I am not worrying too much yet about how Browne relates to the contemporary content that I am collecting. Time will tell how the two will influence or inform one another.