R. S. (Robert Silcock), ed. Downie
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- Bertman, Sandra
This unique "miscellany" of prose from journals and essays, poems, stories, music, paintings (reproduced in black and white), drawings, and cartoons illustrates countless ways that medicine and the arts, in tandem, "stretch the imagination, deepen the sympathy . . . enrich the perceptions" and give sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Organized by Robin Downie, renowned Professor Emeritus of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, the anthology is grouped in eight categories: "The Way We Are," "Disease and Mental Illness," "Doctors and Psychiatrists," "Nurses and Patients," "Healing," "Last Things," "Research," and "Ethics and Purpose."
Excerpts include the classic lore [Charles Lamb’s essay, "The Convalescent"; Florence Nightingale’s diary, "Notes on Nursing"; W. H. Auden’s poem, Musee des Beaux Arts (see this database); Theodore Roethke’s poem, In a Dark Time (see this database); C. S. Lewis’s journal, A Grief Observed (see this database); Sir Luke Fildes’s painting, The Doctor (see this database)] and refreshingly new nuggets from John Wisdom’s radio talk, "What is There in Horse-Racing" ("For a game of croquet is not merely a matter of getting balls through hoops, anymore than a conversation is a matter of getting noises out of a larynx,"); Robert Pirsig’s treatise, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"; physician Roy Calne’s tender sketches of his own patients; composer Richard Wagner’s letter, "Biscuits as Therapy"; Janice Galloway’s novel, "The Trick is to Keep Breathing"; and expressions by patients and artists who happen to be patients of their particular illness experiences.
Lest "commentary be intrusive," except as brief introduction to each section, Downie deliberately omitted them, placing illustrations and extracts so as to provide commentary on one another. (Readers cannot help but be stimulated, however, to rearrange and create their own juxtapositions.)
The section on "Healing" considers not only the expected operations, spiritual healing, traditional cures, music and art as therapy, but also "spells, hope, and mothers." Richard Asher’s essay on why medical journals are so dull (British Medical Journal 23 Aug. 1958), or on whether or not baldness is psychological, and the comic strips of Posy Simmonds (the double entendres of "Medical Precautions," the "Minor Operation" burlesque on Shakespeare’s "All the Ward’s a Stage,") remind us yet again that birthing, aging, illness and dying are not pathological events or mere medical processes, and that the arts and humanities are bountiful reservoirs of moral discourse, inspiration, and renewal.