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Chang and Eng Reconnected

Chang and Eng Reconnected: The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture

Cynthia Wu
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 206
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  • Book Info
    Chang and Eng Reconnected
    Book Description:

    Conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker have fascinated the world since the nineteenth century. In her captivating book,Chang and Eng Reconnected, Cynthia Wu traces the "Original Siamese Twins" through the terrain of American culture, showing how their inseparability underscored tensions between individuality and collectivity in the American popular imagination.

    Using letters, medical documents and exhibits, literature, art, film, and family lore, Wu provides a trans-historical analysis that presents the Bunkers as both a material presence and as metaphor. She also shows how the twins figure in representations of race, disability, and science in fictional narratives about nation building.

    As astute entrepreneurs, the twins managed their own lives; nonetheless, asChang and Eng Reconnectedshows, American culture has always viewed them through the multiple lenses of difference.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0870-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    No one watching from the dock knew what Abel Coffin hid under the sheet that covered a shapeless but ambulatory form disembarking with him from the USSSachemin Boston Harbor on August 16, 1829. Coffin, a mariner who specialized in overseas trade, led the rumpled mass down the gangplank and into an enclosed carriage, whereupon he and the swaddled creature were whisked away. An article that appeared in thePatriotthe next day aroused even more curiosity about the strange cargo. The reporter announced that “two Siamese youths, males, eighteen years of age, their bodies connected from their birth”...

  6. Part I: Locating Material Traces in the Archives

    • 1 Labor and Ownership in the American South
      (pp. 15-35)

      A complex history looms behind the exhibition of unusual bodies for monetary profit. Susan Schweik’s account of unsightly beggar ordinances in the United States, colloquially known as “ugly laws,” shows how disability and class disadvantage have repeatedly converged from the late nineteenth century onwards. People with sensory impairments, amputations, and other disabilities have had to negotiate legislative measures taken against them to prevent their appearance in public spaces. These actions on the part of state authorities both reflected and informed popular opinions about the nature of work and self-sufficiency. Although the sphere of ritualized performance seemed to legitimate the labor...

    • 2 The Mystery of Their Union
      (pp. 36-57)

      Ruminating on the gazes at play in both the sideshow and medical laboratory, Susan Stewart observes that “it does not matter whether the freak is alive or dead.”¹ Anomalous bodies in whatever state have long been prized by entertainment purveyors and scientists alike. When Chang and Eng Bunker embarked on their first European tour, among the items traveling with them onboard the transatlantic steamer were embalming fluids. Their manager, Abel Coffin, was not going to allow an inconvenient circumstance like the death of the twins at sea stop him from circulating their body.² The connection Stewart finds between the freak...

    • 3 Strange Incursions into Medical Science at the Mütter Museum
      (pp. 58-78)

      When William Pancoast and Harrison Allen finished their postmortem examination of Chang and Eng Bunker, they made sure to record the body’s presence at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia before returning it to North Carolina for burial. The incisions from the autopsy were sutured, and the twins were suspended upright so that postmortem photographs—one full length and another a close-up of the incised areas—could be taken.¹ Next, sculptor and artist John Casani was hired to produce a plaster cast of the twins from the hips up, and this is now displayed in the Mütter Museum, a gallery...

  7. Part II: Reading Literature and Visual Cultures

    • 4 Late-Nineteenth-Century Visions of Conflict and Consensus
      (pp. 81-99)

      Chapters 2 and 3 cover how Chang and Eng Bunker’s corporeal body was interpreted by professionals and laypeople alike within medically oriented spaces. From Harrison Allen and William Pancoast’s report of their autopsy, to the experiences of visitors at the Mütter Museum, to the photography of Rosamond Purcell and William Wegman, a cacophony of voices and meanings crosscut the Bunker twins at every turn. We see that medicine, like all cultural institutions, is far from being a totalizing system of domination and regulation. Rather, it is a forum that entertains multiple voices, weighs and balances competing interests, and opens up...

    • 5 Asian Americans Bare/Bear the Hyphen
      (pp. 100-119)

      The nineteenth-century Anglo-American texts in Chapter 4 invoke Chang and Eng Bunker to reference a union of competing political contingents for an abstracted collectivist good. Whether it is to ease sectional strife after the Civil War or to resolve the tensions of class revolt, Mark Twain and Thomas Nast use the anatomical body to make claims about the body politic. Moving ahead, contemporary Asian American texts taking up this figure of conjoinment see such unions differently. As they explore the significatory potential of Chang and Eng, these texts reveal more skepticism about the promise of national unity precisely because they...

    • 6 Disciplining and Normalizing the Woman Subject in Contemporary Literature and Film
      (pp. 120-142)

      The sources I examine in Chapters 4 and 5 position racialized conjoinment as a recurrent metaphor in narratives about the composition of the nation and the state. These authors participate in compelling conversations about managing a polycultural public, either through negotiation or through coercion, in order to build an abstracted concept of “nation.” Starting with the 1970s, the appearances of Chang and Eng Bunker in the literary/cultural record began to depart from that well-trodden logic and turned to concurrent debates about gender, domesticity, and the sexualized dimensions of kinship formations in the United States. The technological advances that led to...

  8. Part III: Observing and Participating

    • 7 Our Esteemed Ancestors
      (pp. 145-170)

      We have seen how the figure of the white woman functions in contemporary fictional narratives about the flexibility and malleability of kinship. These moments that unravel heteropatriarchal models of the family in late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century fiction and film show how conjoined men trouble modernity’s atomized kin unit through the destabilization of liberal humanist concepts of personhood. The women companions of these twins then become the lynchpins on which critiques of normative family structures turn. Whether it is Nadine inAttachments, Claire inDead Ringers, Penny inTwin Falls Idaho, or the fictionalized Sarah and Adelaide inChang and Eng and God’s...

  9. Epilogue: Alone or Together?
    (pp. 171-174)

    In March 2011, the University of California, Berkeley, held a symposium in conjunction with the world premiere of playwright Philip Kan Gotanda’sI Dream of Chang and Eng. The play, a fictionalized account of the lives of the Bunkers with elements of magical realism, contained one hundred thirty costume changes for a cast of nineteen, and it ran for more than three hours with two intermissions. Asked why he chose to work with a student theater for this ambitious project, Gotanda emphasized the resources of universities and the openness of young actors to experimentation.¹ The highly polished production at Berkeley’s...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 175-196)
  11. Index
    (pp. 197-203)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 204-204)