Several threads tie together this ambitious, beautifully digressive reflection on eros and logos in the experience of illness and the conduct of medicine and health care, which takes into account what a complex striation of cultural legacies, social and political pressures, and beliefs go into both.  Framing his reflections on the role of unknowing, altered states, inexplicable events, desire, hope, love, and mystery in illness and healing is a fragmented, poignant narrative of Morris’s own experience of watching his wife succumb to the ravages of early Alzheimer’s. 

Her disease is one that leads both professional and intimate caregivers to the same question:  what do you do when there’s nothing left for scientific medicine to do?  Conversations about palliative care are broadening, he points out, and medical education is making more room for the kind of reflection the arts invite and for spirituality as a dimension of illness experience and caregiving.  Guidance in such explorations can be found in ancient literature, especially in the archetypes provided by the Greek and Roman myths.  Morris makes astute and helpful use of his own considerable training in literary studies to provide examples of how eros and logos—complementary contraries—have been conceived and embodied in a somewhat polarized culture and how incomplete health care is when it doesn’t foster the capacity to dwell in and with unknowing, possibility, indeterminacy, and mystery.  Knowing the limits of scientific medicine may, paradoxically, make it better.  Certainly it can help keep our engagements with illness—always relational, always disruptive, most often to some degree bewildering—humane.


This is not a book to “get through.”  It is one to dwell in, savor, and pause over, chapter by chapter, allowing the writer to lead you on long detours, which turn out to be learning excursions in their own right.  To say it is a book about the role of eros in medical practice and illness is true enough, but that doesn’t get at the way each chapter offers fresh reflections on art, dreams, addiction, loss, hope, and story.  The autobiographical frame, and the candor with which Morris discloses his own sorrow and struggle infuse his rich scholarship with deeply personal significance.  That alone makes the book worth reading—for the way it models love of learning as desire, if not, as LeClerq put it, “for God,” at least for something only the heart can know. 

It is a “slow read,” in the sense that to read it quickly would be to resist its many invitations to pause and ponder, to put the book down here and there and explore the “night side” of your own embodied life and the “memories, dreams, and reflections” that inform whatever kind of professionalism, scholarly rigor, or intellectual integrity you seek to maintain.


Harvard U Press



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