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j&Ã- Editors' Column φ Not the opium-eater, but the opium, is the true hero of the tale; and the legitimate centre on which the interest revolves. —Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater Literary works that have either a disease or a wound as the "true hero of the tale," the "legitimate centre"—that was Elizabeth Sewell's original idea for this issue of Literature and Medicine. The history of the project, ninth in the annual series, goes back to late 1981, when the first volume of Literature and Medicine was in press. From those early days, the plan was to assign each work selected to one literary and one medical commentator. With this notion of noncollaborative collaboration vaguely in mind, the two editors got down to work, by which is meant an extensive correspondence (now filling two files) and what has come to be an agreeable annual tradition of brainstorming sessions in Greensboro, North Carolina. The result of our notions and sixteen essayists' insights is the collection here presented. Our first job was to draw up a list of possible literary works—drama, poetry, novels, short stories, novellas—that fitted our requirements. We were surprised at the number and range of possible candidates. Literature abounds with "Fictive Dis." The ten works considered here will, we hope, speak for themselves; but an almost equal number of appealing and appropriate possibilities got away from us for one reason or another. These works include the Romantic prose piece quoted above, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Mann's The Magic Mountain, Browning's "An Epistle of Karshish," Wagner's Parsifal, Whitman's "Wound-Dresser" poems, and Camus's The Plague, which a pair of essayists tackled but found recalcitrant in the working out, largely, we suspect, because of the overwhelmingly allegorical nature of the "disease" depicted. The collection has ended up containing more diseases than wounds. In fact there is only one literal wound here, that of Philoctetes, though there are certainly people, patients , wounded by society. And regrettably, though we succeeded to some extent in our desire to balance genders, cultures, and periods, no poems made it into this volume either. (A poet's prose, at least, receives scrutiny.) In consequence we keep having visions, perhaps no more real EDITORS' COLUMN than De Quincey's opium dreams, of a follow-up that might contain some of the many other works that keep coming to mind as fruitful for discussion in the context of "Fictive Ills." Once a tentative list of works was set, the next stage was discovering contributors. We headed for people whose work we knew, or those who were recommended by people we knew, as we tried to match essayists with topics in accordance with our scheme of pairing, which soon widened from literary and medical essayists to writers from the humanities and the sciences. Besides balancing the "two cultures," we intended to try for near-equal representation of women and men—and, originally, to have a man comment on markedly female subject matter (such as "The Yellow Wallpaper") and vice versa (The Sun Also Rises, for instance). A fair number of the people we first approached said "Too busy," and those syllables became, at one stage of the proceeding, our editorial password. But the readjustments made necessary by "Too busy" called to mind another twist not yet represented in our collection: the juxtaposition of works as well as essayists. This experiment had what we consider some particularly intriguing results, bringing together as it did Charlotte Perkins Gilman's and Evelyn Waugh's respective accounts of wounded minds, and tales of mortal cancer by Leo Tolstoy and Tillie Olsen, two wonderfully comparable works whose thematic affinities are serendipitously reflected by the near-anagrams found in their authors' names. Despite goals and intentions, though, in the end our quorum of writers seemed more or less to form itself—and we were content with that. Variety was one of our great aims, and we hope to have provided it. The list of contributors seems to suggest as much: one is a pathologist and one is a theologian, one a physician teaching in a philosophy department and one a theater historian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. vii-ix
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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