It has been a difficult year. But for some, this year’s seeming upsurge of violence represents only the now-visible crest over a lifetime of submerged struggle and frustration against systemic abuse. History tells a different tale. We are not experiencing a new and dangerous age; No, for there remains a long record of racism, lynch mobs, violence against women, and murder of people professing different faith or gender orientation than those with power and motivation to silence them. In the face of terror–in light of Orlando, of Dallas, of Nice, of Syria, of Turkey, and of tragedies in our own towns and cities–we are apt to feel helpless and overwhelmed. We may be tempted to silence, to the feeling that nothing we say will matter. This is true of victims, who feel their words go no where. This is also true of allies and of those whose race or gender keeps them safe (or safer) from the abuses they witness. What could I possibly have to say? We may think, in shame, or in anger, that silence is all we have…
Liam Durcan, a consultant neurologist at McGill University, returns to the literary world following the success of his first novel, Garcia’s Heart — for which he won the Arthur ELLIS Best First Novel award in 2008 — with The Measure of Darkness (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016). This second book is the story of Martin, a distinguished architect who emerges from a coma to discover that his life has changed. He is suffering from neglect syndrome, a brain injury that leaves him unaware of any deficit. People suffering from neglect syndrome are unaware of half of the stimuli in their environment. In an extreme case a person with neglect who is asked to draw a clockface will only draw the number from 12 to 6 whilst believing that they have drawn a whole clock and they may only eat the food from one side of their plate. In Martin’s case they test for his neglect with the often used line bisection test where the patient is asked to draw a line that bisects the one that the doctor has drawn on a piece of paper. The bisecting line is usually drawn to one side, only bisecting the section of the line that the patient can “see.” This is a career ending injury for an architect.
As we travel with Martin through his recovery and acceptance of his condition we are introduced to his estranged brother and his daughters. We are introduced to a world where many of the characters demonstrate “neglect” in certain aspects of their lives even without having suffered the injuries that Martin has gone through. Martin’s obsession with the Soviet architect Konstantin Melnikov allows him to draw parallels with his own career, having being removed from the commission of a lifetime and being declared unfit to practice following the car accident that placed Martin in the coma. It is Martin’s therapeutic writing of Melnikov’s story that allows him to reflect on his visit to the USSR when he was a student and finally reveals to Martin what happened the night of his accident. He fears that having lost his career he may end up like Melnikov: “But what these men really want to know, like all the others who came before, is how you managed to survive without building anything for forty years. Do you see the incomprehension in the eyes of the student?” (198). Continue reading “Book Review: The Measure of Darkness”
In The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability (Oxford University Press, 2016), Elizabeth Barnes (associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia) offers an insightful philosophical analysis of disability. Her work calls into question pervasive intuitions and assumptions that mark disability as inherently bad or problematic, and instead advances (quite compellingly) a theory of disability that is in fact neutral with respect to well-being. Utilizing the tools of analytic feminist philosophical analysis, Barnes’ examines the concept of “disability” (what it is and what we mean by it), the social implications of disability, and how disability interacts with other features of one’s life to affect one’s well-being. Along the way, she affords a significant degree of deference to the testimonies of disabled folks themselves, a unique strength of her examination. Barnes, a disabled woman herself, draws both on her personal experiences with disability, as well as her technical expertise as a feminist philosopher working in the areas of social philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics, to inform her analysis.
Barnes opens her work by articulating many ways in which philosophical engagement with disability theory has been flawed, with particular attention to the ways in which philosophical analysis with respect to disability has marginalized, obscured, or silenced the viewpoints and narratives of the disabled themselves. She hopes to correct for this both by theorizing in a deeply personal way—she herself is disabled—as well as defending the reliability and credibility of positive testimonies of the disabled. At the outset, Barnes clarifies that in the interest of simplicity, she is restricting the scope of her analysis to physical disabilities, though she is not foreclosing the possibility that what she has to say could be extended to other types of disabilities (5). She also categorizes her philosophical aims as falling within the domain of social philosophy, as opposed to applied ethics or bioethics (2). She sees her work as addressing more fundamental and foundational questions—those which ought to be clarified prior to considering applied concerns (2). Continue reading “Book Review: The Minority Body”
Although I could no longer save Adriaen, perhaps I could give his body form in the painting, give his death some kind of reality, restoring, at the very least, a sense that he was a human man and not just a corpse. (194)
In Nina Siegal’s The Anatomy Lesson: A Novel (Anchor Books, 2014), the story behind one of Rembrandt Van Rijn’s earliest successes comes to life in homage to the great artist’s ability to make the macabre positively luminous. In order to write this novel, Siegal, an American journalist and novelist who lives in Amsterdam, clearly did a great deal of research, and her book both informs and delights the modern reader interested in the artistic and scientific world of the Dutch Golden Age.
Siegal earned a BA in English at Cornell, completed her MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and earned several fellowships towards researching and writing this novel. The Anatomy Lesson takes a decidedly different direction from the genre and tone of her first novel, A Little Trouble with the Facts (2008). This debut work featured a young and ambitious New York journalist investigating the mysterious death of a famed graffiti artist and was acclaimed for cleverly revamping the noir detective genre by wedding it to chick lit. The thread that connects her first novel to The Anatomy Lesson is art, clearly an area of expertise and a fascination for Siegal whose journalistic writing also focuses primarily on the art world of today and the past. This affection for art characterizes each page of The Anatomy Lesson. Readers who love art and enjoy imagining the worlds out of which famous artworks emerged will delight in this novel. Continue reading “Book Review: The Anatomy Lesson”
Alien Landscapes?: Interpreting Disordered Minds (Harvard University Press, 2014) reflects author Jonathan Glover’s longstanding interest in the intersection of philosophy and psychiatry. As his most recent monograph, Alien Landscapes represents the culmination of over forty years of research and interest in the issues surrounding mental illness and human interpretation, identity, values, and responsibility. Glover holds an academic appointment in the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College in London and should be considered an expert philosopher and ethicist in matters related to disordered minds.
From the titular question mark used to signal his inquiry, Glover adopts a probing stance towards his intellectual pursuits. Combining qualitative information derived from patients incarcerated at Broadmoor Hospital, expressive portrayals of mental illness, and classical Greek philosophy, Glover foregrounds the importance of going to the source of his investigation. He continually uses the descriptions (whether autobiographical, literary, or artistic) provided by people who have actually suffered from mental illnesses to focus and expand his study. This “view from inside” thus constitutes the central theme and methodology in Glover’s work and supports his primary argument that we must disregard the notion of people suffering from major mental illnesses as being “impenetrably alien” (1). Continue reading “Book Review: Alien Landscapes?”