The Finger: A Handbook

The Finger: A Handbook

by Angus Trumble
     
 

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FROM THE AUTHOR OF A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SMILE, A COMPLETE INDEX OF THE DIGIT

In this collision between art and science, history and pop culture, the acclaimed art historian Angus Trumble examines the finger from every possible angle. His inquiries into its representation in art take us from Buddhist statues in Kyoto to the

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Overview

FROM THE AUTHOR OF A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SMILE, A COMPLETE INDEX OF THE DIGIT

In this collision between art and science, history and pop culture, the acclaimed art historian Angus Trumble examines the finger from every possible angle. His inquiries into its representation in art take us from Buddhist statues in Kyoto to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, from cave art to Picasso's Guernica, from Van Dyck's and Rubens's winning ways with gloves to the longstanding French taste for tapering digits. But Trumble also asks intriguing questions about the finger in general: How do fingers work, and why do most of us have five on each hand? Why do we bite our nails?

This witty, odd, and fascinating book is filled with diverse anecdotes about the silent language of gesture, the game of love, the spinning of balls, superstitions relating to the severed fingers of thieves, and systems of computation that were used on wharves and in shops, markets, granaries, and warehouses throughout the ancient Roman world. Side by side with historical discussions of rings and gloves and nail polish are meditations on the finger's essential role in writing, speech, sports, crime, law, sex, worhsip, memory, scratching politely at eighteenth-century French doors (instead of crudely knocking), or merely satisfying an itch--and, of course, in the eponymous show of contempt.

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Editorial Reviews

Troy Jollimore
On the whole, The Finger is a deft, enjoyable and often provocative investigation into some overlooked and interrelated aspects of human experience.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Trumble (A Brief History of the Smile), curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art, blends art history, anatomy, and etymology in this analysis of finger lore that originated as a lecture to Australian orthopedic surgeons. Contrary to the OED, Trumble contends that the thumb is a finger. In the fraught world of human relationships, he says, the handshake is indispensable, and a proper one must include “the enclosing clasp of the thumb.” Queen Elizabeth I owned hundreds of pairs of gloves and gave gloves as gifts in a sophisticated diplomatic game; in portraying his right hand expensively gloved in a self-portrait, Rubens was affirming his rank; and Eleanor Roosevelt was the first first lady to wear colored nail polish. Trumble enumerates the necessities of fingers: they are indispensable in playing the violin and in sex; ancient Romans could count to one million using their 10 digits; babies' discovery of pointing with the index finger as a means of getting attention seems partly innate. This prodigiously researched work offers many gold nuggets of wisdom to a rarefied audience, though it's verbose and esoteric in the extreme. 22 b&w illus. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Museum curator Trumble (A Brief History of the Smile, 2004) renders an adept cultural tour of our fingers. This "handbook" is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather, "in the manner of a trusty coastal lighthouse, it is intended to cast a revolving beam across a surprisingly complicated fingerscape, the particularities of which should make possible further navigation." That sentence captures the author's pleasantly antique tone. When he delves into physiology, it's never a dry anatomy lesson: "the lower row of carpals serves to bring about the miraculous transition from that beautiful wrist to the elegant baroque palace of the hand" Trumble periodically returns to fingers as anatomy, but his primary focus is the finger as a social being. He dives into the many religious affiliations, including the Sistine Chapel (the finger of God), the hand gestures of benediction, Jesus scribbling a runic something in the dirt during the tale of the adulterous woman, the many hand/finger movements associated with Buddhist and Hindu dance and meditation and the hand-signing of silent Trappist orders. Trumble also looks at the finger in relation to the economy-how numbering to the power of ten "originated with what our distant ancestors found at their fingertips," the use of finger-counting in Roman transactions and the grisly act of finger-lopping that literally put the overextended merchant out of business. The author covers gloves in matters of diplomacy, class and honor. As gloves fell from fashion, enter nail polish, that "moist dash of intense color." Last but certainly not least, Trumble examines the "ubiquitous gesture of defiance and contempt," the bird, the "digitus infamis." The author givesthese topics-and many more-full treatment, each emerging as a colorful vignette. Intelligent, passionate and amusing-though Trumble's old-fashioned voice may not appeal to some readers. Agent: Peter McGuigan/Foundry Literary + Media

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429945615
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
05/11/2010
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
3 MB

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