weekend-readsThe History of Risk and Restlessness

Lindsey Drager

An Introduction to the Myth of the Wrist

Wrist studies, while trying to chronicle the controversial history of the place where the hand and arm meet, attempts to understand why our culture has grown dependent on the myth of the wrist. Wrist scholars use as their primary object of study the field of shadow puppetry, as this is one arena in which the wrist is valued for its practical use—the arm is decidedly abandoned, and we are to suspend our disbelief, imagining the hand is untethered and autonomous. Wrist myth plays a central role in the art of shadow puppetry—it provides the language for interrogating the divorce of hand and arm. The anti-wrist movement, a direct response to the rise in underground shadow puppetry, holds as its central pillar the belief that the concept of the wrist is archaic and such categorical branding of the body is not only outmoded but cruel. It should also be noted that anti-wrist activists abstain from bend.

Contemporary scholars believe the notion of the wrist matriculated out of early theories of the wing. There is suspicion the myth of the wrist is rooted in the human desire to fly and the psychological implications of learning we cannot, a devastating discovery that permeates our existence and encourages a harboring of resentment toward the concept of gravity. In effect, wrist studies considers one of its primary goals discovering where in our psyches is rooted this innate need. Wrist studies also has a particular investment in the preservation and scholarly investigation of underground wrist gardens and their keepers.

But above all, the field of wrist studies concerns itself with this central question: where does the hand end and the arm begin?

A History of Wrist Studies

The leading scholar in the field of wrist studies sites a single moment in his discovery of the field. When clasping a bracelet on his daughter, he was taken by the fact that it seemed to fall either on her hand or her arm. When he asked his daughter to point to her wrist, the daughter pointed to her head. Wrists, he then concluded, are a social construction perpetrated by our need to categorize the body. Shortly thereafter he started the Wrist Institute where he worked for years advocating anti-wrist discourse and managing labs where he and his students, most of whom gained financial support through shadow puppet guilds, studied that twilight space between the hand and arm, and the linguistic and conceptual underpinnings of releasing the world of the wrist.

At the opening of the Institute, the founder made a speech that is routinely quoted among wrist scholars as the field’s mantra. The quotation has been branded above all the doorways in the Institute’s labs. It reads:

The union of the hand and arm is just that; it does not necessitate a newly minted category. For isn’t it true we have enough ways to wrongly brand the body?

Implications of a Wristless World

What is lost if we expose the myth and in so doing eliminate the wrist? Because, of course, digits adhered to an arm is in fact a wing.

The daughter of the founder of wrist studies grew to practice the sculpturing of ice using a method she coined Cold Art. The objective of her work was to reclaim shadow puppetry as an art form rather than as a tool used to promote anti-wrist sentiments. Her most successful work was a series of exhibits titled “Suspension of Belief” in which she hung ice hands to lines suspended from the ceiling. A series of studio lights were adhered to the ground on the opposite side of the room, and when the lights were administered, the wall revealed shadow puppets in all shapes: fruit and books and ladders. Mugs and bathtubs. Aged spoons and empty closets. Flight and pain. Opposition and excuse.

The shadows stand sustained on the wall for a brief period of time, until the light that allows the shadow to form induces melt.

The daughter claims Cold Art is founded on the Third Law of Sound. She says her method is rooted in memories of her youth. When her father would say, “wristlessness” she heard “restlessness.” When her father said, “wrist” she heard “risk.” As a result, she has come to embrace chance and sleep.

Quotation from the Founder of the Wrist Institute When He Learned of His Daughter’s Anti-Unwrist Activism

I am resistant to my daughter’s brand of anecdote. She is holding my theories hostage, and in turn is casting shadows over her own body-ography. But practicing daughterhood is like being handed a blueprint for disorder, or permission to assault. She does not yet know the implications of her art.

Toward a Theory of the Wing

The human desire for flight does not derive from a need to rise or mount. Rather, it is rooted in our need to save ourselves from moving down. The act of rising is just the mechanism used to reach fall—a state the human psyche tries vainly to evade. We are a breed always in fear of descent.

The irony is that in order to understand flight, one must know what it means to live grounded. In order to understand flight, one must know what it means to be floored.

Suspension of Belief

When the ice has melted in the room with the daughter’s exhibit, all that stands is bright light on a white wall and thin wires hanging from above. Such suspension reminds one of our need to enter the world above us, if only to come down. The suspended wires are dumb to their own past. They hover skeletal, a reminder of things that do not endure, like chance and sleep.

Excerpt from the Definitive Text of the Shadow Puppet Guild of the North

Grant me wings, that I might overcome this, that light might melt me and let me plunge without split or bruise.

Qualities, Properties, and Characteristics the Wrist Does Not Display

Believers in the wrist suggest that proof exists in theories of the neck—the union of the head to the chest and shoulder space. They purport the same logic provides a framework for validating existence of the wrist, though bone scholars have disagreed, as the primary difference between the two is that the neck contains vital organs. Furthermore there is a wide body of literature on the history of hangings and the valuable role the neck plays in this discourse. Relationships have been drawn between the wrist and ankle, but these, too, are false given the heel’s value in literature of the joint. Correlations between the wrist and knee or elbow are seldom drawn, given that these act as space breaks in the leg and arm; both do not adhere two separately identified parts, but rather act as an interruption in the rhetoric of limb.

We say that tables have legs and chairs have arms. We say that books have spines and bottles have necks. We say that clocks have hands; we say that shoes have tongues. The notion of the wrist, however, has not been admitted into the domain of dead metaphor—in short, nothing else contains a wrist.

In short, we will lose nothing if we chose to lose the wrist.

Quotation from the Founder of the Wrist Institute’s Daughter in Response to her Father’s Claims

My father’s theories suggest possibility is not a branching forth, the opening of a web. My father’s theories suggest possibility is a many-tiered grave in which all of the not is buried.

When I was young, he took away my arms, but I did not lose my hands; they stay hovering next to where my wrists should be.

A Lesson in Cold Art Methodology

She carves the ice with steam. This is to allow manipulation without rupturing the work. It is a skill she says she learned from her father.

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