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24 8 3. MEDICINAL LAUGHTER Roger Boxill, Shaw and the Doctors. NY: Basic Books, I969. The title of this book will lead some prospective readers to anticipate a work comparable in interest to a treatise on Shaw and actresses , but Shavians will expect a study of his attitude toward doctors to bear directly on subjects of primary interest: socialism , creative evolution, and drama. A socialist concerned with man In history, Shaw was less interested in the physical sciences, which are generally non-historical, than In the life sciences. For him medicine was the application of knowledge gained from the life sciences to a social problem, the achievement of health, and to capitalize on the desire for health was to be antisocial. Shaw felt, moreover, that the doctors had failed to meet their responsibility in a more fundamental way. As a writer who tried for more than half a century to mediate the quarrels of science and religion, he naturally expected doctors to follow suit, but he was sure that most doctors were practicing irreligious scientism, ministering without reverence to the Life Force. Given his attitude toward the medical profession, it is little wonder what doctors appear In Shaw's critical comedy. The Doctor's Dilemma is ruthlessly satirical for the same reason that Christ was ruthless with the moneylenders: those who exploit and profane the temple of the Holy Spirit are not to be coddled. Using medicine as his focal point. Professor Boxill comments on all these matters and more, reminding us that Shaw was out of step with those who Idolized doctors because he was in step with members of a more venerable tradition, the best humanist tradition of medical history. It is the tradition of treating the patient as a human being, and not as a "case," a physico-chemical system, or a bundle of drives and conditioned responses. It is the tradition of regarding disease as a problem of human welfare , and not simply as the hard luck of individuals, (p. xli) It Is one of the ironies of modern cultural history that the dehumanlzation of medical theory has been concurrent with the exaltation of doctors and their achievements In the 19th and 20th centuries . The doctor may think of himself as a mere technician working on a complex machine, but in a post-Christian era who is more deserving of reverence? Who but the doctor can mediate between bare forked animals and the Absolute? (See Randall Jarrell's poem, "A Utopian Journey.") Because Shaw believed that a sacred Life Force infuses the body and, under proper living conditions, maintains its health, he was never satisfied with mechanical forms of doctoring. His skepticism regarding the claims made for antisepsis and vaccination makes more sense than one might expect. Theodore Rosebury's recently published Life on Man is Intended to correct popular misconceptions about germs, some of which Shaw was ridiculing before 2ί*9 they became popular. Boxill points out that It is not clear whether there Is greater risk In having a vaccination or In not having one; furthermore, "the epic fall in the morbidity and mortality rates of zymotic diseases in the West since the early nineteenth century Is largely due to better living conditions rather than better therapeutics or Immunology" (p. 86). The nexus of Shavian polemics and dramaturgy is found in creative evolution. Just as Bergson·s vitalism underlies his analysis of critical comedy (which is often Illustrated, Boxill reminds us, by examples drawn from Mollere's satires on doctors), so Shaw's belief in creative evolution supports his satire on "humorous" doctors, those who invest the security of their livelihoods in their pet theories and defend them with deductive reasoning; Shaw's faith engenders the confidence that makes critical laughter possible. Thus he represents surgeons who perform fashionable but unnecessary operations In the figure of Dr. Walpole, who Is ridiculous because he reduces medicine to the art of removing what he calls the "nuclform sac." Always hopeful, Shaw assumes that human beings capable of laughter will naturally see, when he points it out to them, that It is the doctor in such cases who Is unhealthy, who Is behaving like a soulless puppet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 248-250
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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