“Like football, surgery is basically not that difficult, but it is simply difficult to do.”

“Like football, surgery is basically not that difficult, but it is simply difficult to do.”

If we ask him the most obvious question, Gertjan de Vogt, poetry critic and coordinator of sciences and arts at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam, is often neglected in everyday life.

What exactly is a fingerprint?

“I still don’t have a definitive answer to that, I’m afraid. But let me try: a fingerprint is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional shape. A falsification of reality so to speak. A fingerprint is the most neglected part of the human body and at the same time the most important part of it, meaning That you can read the unique human identity.

“Why did I have to dedicate an entire book to her? Well, in the summer of 2015 I went to the United States to give a lecture on the French poet Charles Baudelaire. I landed in Chicago and had to put my hand on the fingerprint scanner to get into the country. But the scanner did not work. I got nervous, my hands sweated, and it seemed like I didn’t answer the officer’s questions correctly.

“I was taken into a room with a false ceiling, fluorescent lighting and noisy air conditioning. There were also only women wearing the niqab. The officer disappeared with my passport. I looked closely at my fingertips and thought: What went wrong? That’s when I wondered how we got to the point where we can Recognizing ourselves through fingerprints When did it originate Who discovered it How did it evolve?

“I thought: Isn’t there a book there? I ended up doing five years of research, delving into archives in Paris, London and Vienna.”

Who discovered the fingerprint?

This honor belongs to the Czech scientist Jan Burkinje. He was the first to systematically examine the fingerprint at the beginning of the 19th century. Oddly enough, he published his findings in a treatise devoted entirely to the eye.

Purkinji found his fingerprint by experimenting with a foxglove, causing him to hallucinate for days on end. You can identify the fingerprints in the drawings he made of what he saw, and what he described as “sparkling roses.” He called his invention the art of individuality. This is the starting point for my book, after which I guide the reader through history and show how the fingerprints eventually deteriorate to what I encountered in Chicago.”

at sparkling roses De Vugt tells beautiful and wonderful stories of magicians, scientists, artists, and bureaucrats. About a palm patron reading Virginia Woolf’s hands, about officials arguing about who invented dactyloscopy (fingerprint search and identification), about artists who want to disappear but can’t get rid of their fingerprints. Mark Twain first appeared as the author of crime stories featuring twins and fingerprints. Francis Galton, the tireless founder of eugenics, has long tried to discern race at the tips of the fingers only to see it fail miserably.

Thomas Buick, the famous British book illustrator, made illustrations of fingerprints around 1800 that seemed so original that they were examined by investigators in the 20th century: the history of fingerprints begins with their forgery. In nine cases—the same as a kind of wanderlust or voyage of discovery—De Vugt takes the reader into the lives of several characters. And all these characters have multiple lives, which are often inseparable from each other.

Perhaps a professor of urology in Leipzig would perform clever tricks in the evening as a magician and then write a book on fingerprints. Or take Purkinje, who hallucinated and discovered, in fact exactly what the Viennese painter Arnulf Reiner did a century and a half later. The lines between science, art, and magic are thin, even artificial.”

Are you yourself an experienced palm reader?

(He laughs) No, I still forget what all these lines mean. I can pretend a little. People are always very interested when you talk about it. Maybe they want to stick with magical thinking for a bit after all.”

Have you also examined your fingerprints?

“Yes of course. I mainly saw natural patterns. By the way, I also took my niece’s twins: they turned out to be completely normal and just as different as any other two people. We all have a single print, and we’re all unique, and I think we should celebrate that in some way.”

for celebration?

“It’s a positive formulation of something I don’t really like: the desire to build a block, to impose a collective framework from within or without, and to reduce a group of individuals to a single ‘property’. If the history of fingerprints shows anything, any attempt to do so will be over sooner or later. Sooner or later a complete failure.

Science fiction movie Invasion of corpse thieveswhich the book ends with, is a perfect example: in a world where all people have been deprived of their distinguishing characteristics such as emotions, memories, and fingerprints, neither happiness nor sadness can be possible.”

Who would have expected that in sparkling roses It is also about how fingerprints are detected on glass today, and accordingly, the thief or the killer is tracked down and brought to justice, he is disappointed.

“At first I thought I would end up with the digital age, but I ended up avoiding it. Because it was so obvious. I watch the crime on German TV every Sunday evening. Tatourta guilt pleasure† A fingerprint is always mentioned within five minutes. I thought: Actually I want to describe the history. This means that the readers themselves can make a leap from what they have read until today.”

What makes your book so obvious is that the fingerprint has also long embodied a form of surveillance.

“In fact. In the British and Dutch colonies, fingerprints of employees who did not perform well have already been distributed to prevent them from going to work in other companies. If you know that, and you see how this technology is creeping into our daily lives in 2020…

“We are also very careless and easy to deal with with our fingerprints. I don’t want to paint a doomsday scenario, but in the sense that we are preparing ourselves for some kind of surveillance. We think: What harm, leaving a fingerprint here and there? But it is pure energy technology, there is no alternative.”

Let’s end on a happier note: What happened in that small room in Chicago?

“Hey! Twenty minutes later the officer came back and handed me my passport. And I could go. I gave my Baudelaire a man and a half and a horse’s head, finding no questions, and slept with the other speakers and wondered: Is this really what I want to do from now on?” (He laughs) And I’m still a writer! ”

Gertjan de Vogt – Sparkling roses: about fingerprintsVan Orchot.

© Het Parol

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