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Anat Rec B New Anat. 2004 Jan;276(1):8-14.

Gunther von Hagens and Body Worlds Part 1: the anatomist as prosektor and proplastiker.

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Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, TX 78229-3900, USA.


Recent calls to reintegrate the sciences and humanities are challenged by the contemporary work of anatomist Gunther von Hagens and his Body Worlds exhibits of plastinated cadavers. The anatomical quest to understand our physical interior has long been in tension both with aesthetic ideals and religious sensitivities regarding the metaphysical significance of the human body. Part I of this two-part Historical Note examines tensions epitomized by Goethe's figures of the prosektor and proplastiker. The former, driven by scientific curiosity, is willing to destroy, even desecrate, the human form to obtain knowledge. The latter demurs at such mutilation of our physical body, wondrous even in death--seeking instead to rejoin what the prosektor has pulled apart, to restore human dignity. In the confrontation between prosektor and proplastiker, roles disturbingly fused in the person of von Hagens himself, questions arise regarding the authenticity of models as well as the appropriate recipients of such mediated yet intimate anatomical knowledge. Part II will focus on religious perspectives on the human body, variously interpreted as God's handiwork, habitation for the soul, and vehicle of resurrection. Consideration also is given to the role of anatomist as priest, prophet, and Promethean creator, roles self-consciously embraced by von Hagens.

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