Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ignatius J. Reilly, Gene Hunter?!?

Recently Dolores and I received a link to Viruses on Time, a blog post about virology-themed covers of Time magazine, sent to us via a mailing list we joined as part of an ESF Conference on Truth and Trust in Images, which we attended and presented at last fall. While the virus nerds were probably pondering the ethics and aesthetics of the portrayals, I was struck by the March 9, 1981 cover featuring Genetech's Herbert Boyer.  My soft-and-squishy-but-bonily-encased pattern recognition engine leapt immediately into action, and reported (and I paraphrase): "Holy Crap, that's Ignatius J. Reilly".

For those who don't know, Reilly is the protagonist of one of my favourite novels,  A Confederacy of Dunces, introduced to me by my 12th grade English teacher, who could clearly spot a misfit when she met one. Maybe it's a coincidence, but Confederacy won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 (posthumously, another interesting, but sad, story), the same year as that Time cover.

Maybe the cover artists were one in the same (unlikely).  Or maybe the Time's cover artist was a fan of the book (possible).  Or maybe it was just "in the air".  I'd like to think it was the latter, since it faintly echoes our (and many others', of course) belief that scientific visualizations are, extricably, a product of the broader culture in which they are created.

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