Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet
S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University
of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor; adviser
for new media, Robert Hogan, MD, San Diego.
In her 1926 essay "On Being Ill" (see accompanying review), Virginia
Woolf wrote of the complete absence of literature about illness. Woolf (who
spent much of her life in bed with a series of undiagnosed ailments) concluded
that the experience of being sick was self-absorbing and artless, and thus
unsuitable for a writer. "There is, let us confess it (and illness is the
great confessional)," she wrote, "a childish outspokenness in illness." Great
art and literature throughout history had always depended upon experiences
that ennoble the human spirit. War, politics, romance—these were themes
that had always inspired great writing. Woolf felt that illness did just the
opposite, exempting the sufferer from society and isolating him or her within
a private domain of uncanny sensory impressions. Still, if illness would not
do as a subject, it did at least suggest a certain method for the writer:
"We float with the sticks on the stream; helter-skelter with the dead leaves
on the lawn, irresponsible and disinterested and able, perhaps for the first
time for years, to look round, to look up." Thus we learn none of the details
of Woolf's illness from her essay, but rather are treated to a series of images
that it apparently dislodged from her subconscious.
Lurie SJ. Medicine, Art. JAMA. 2003;289(9):1169–1170. doi:10.1001/jama.289.9.1169
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