Reader mailbag: Anatomical drawings and how to hold your breath for 17 minutes

In the ‘Lifestyles of the undead’ post below, I know-it-all-ishly implied that nobody’s yet done a modern update/parody of the those anatomical drawings where the subject is obligingly peeling off his or her own flesh. It turns out that my friend SP has done exactly this: “I wanted to show you the homage I drew to those weird anatomical illustrations where the women are serenely peeling back the flaps of their muscle layers,” she writes. “Life size, done while at SFAI, actually 2 layers on vellum, when you lift it it’s the fetus /womb underneath.”



Meanwhile, reader JO brings to our attention this harrowing clip of magician David Blaine discussing the tricks of his trade:

The clip is primarily Blaine talking about his efforts to hold his breath for a world record 17 minutes while battling horrible convulsions and symptoms of cardiac arrest. But along the way, he also comments on a few other lively exploits including:

– Being buried alive in a coffin for a week

– Being frozen in a block of ice for 3 days

– Standing on a narrow 100 foot pillar for 36 hours

– Living in a glass box for 44 days while antagonistic members of the British press helicopter cheeseburgers around the box to tempt you

I think I nearly slid into shock just listening to this stuff. It’s amazing to think while listening to Blaine talk about hardcore training sessions in hypoxic tents that he nominally shares the title of ‘magician’ with guys like this:

It’s something like when you watch a tiny little dog sniff the butt of a great big dog 25 times its size– yeah, they’re both ‘dogs’, but they hardly seem to belong to the same species. Or, like comparing my friend who plays in the occasional badminton tournament compared to that nutcase Swedish guy who tried to ride his bicycle to Mt. Everest from Sweden and then climb the mountain– they’re both doing ‘sports’ in a loose definition of the term, but there’s a world of difference between the two. Blaine’s particular brand of magic is to removed from the traditional trappings of wands and top hats that it really does seem like something else altogether– a kind of endurance testing. But, he did come up worshipping Houdini and wriggling out of handcuffs and whatnot, so I guess that in his mind it all seems like an extension of the same thing.

1 thought on “Reader mailbag: Anatomical drawings and how to hold your breath for 17 minutes”

  1. At the very end of the David Blaine’s video clip, when his talk moves from an account of his exploits to magic in general, his voice breaks, and he seems to wipe away tears. With difficulty he reads that “magic is practice, training and getting through the pain . . .”.

    Who knows what prompts his tears. What I imagine is that he’s overwhelmed by all the pain to which he has subjected himself. Dan summarizes it well: battling horrible convulsions and symptoms of cardiac arrest while holding his breath for 17 minutes,being buried alive in a coffin for a week, being frozen in a block of ice for 3 days, etc. As he generalizes about magic, the hours of suffering unexpectedly gather into a an overwhelming grief. He is like a narrator who intends to mention only in passing a disagreeable incident of childhood but finds herself waylaid by re-experienced fear and humiliation.

    I wonder if Blaine as a child was locked up in a closet, or otherwise confined. So that now he is reenacting the horror–but this time as its author, not its helpless victim.

    A bit of Mock Duck-Houdini trivia, When Houdini (who became Baline’s hero) and father first moved to New York City from Wisconsin, they stayed in a boarding house that was just around the corner from the apartment building on East 79th St. where Dan’s departed grandmother later lived for many years.

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