chapter  11
13 Pages

Surgical Saws and Cutting-Edge Agency

WithJack Hartnell

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Two professions give way into one. The surgeon is conflated with the woodworker, the body with the machine, and death with mechanical breakdown or fault. This was a common trope in writings on the surgical discipline in the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The only surviving witnesses to medieval and early-modern surgical procedures are the amputation saws themselves. A dichotomy emerges between ergonomics and practical use on the one hand, and ornament and decoration on the other. For the surgeon, presenting one's inventory proved that they were in possession of the tools actually needed to perform an operation, an aspect more important than it sounds. Surgical saws can be seen as both participants and eloquent commentators on the social worlds they actively witnessed. Their diverse forms of agency saw them fluctuate between ideas of intense beauty and intense function, a group of objects whose liminal liveliness makes them troublesome for historians to pin down.