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  • Interim Editor's Preface
  • Rita Charon

I come again to be the Editor of this journal, if only for one issue, upon the sudden illness of the sitting Executive Editor Charles Anderson. Rhetorician and scholar in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Anderson has been our shepherd and muse since he ascended to the Editorship in 2007. He is known for his scholarly parsing of the works of Richard Selzer and for his astute rhetorical insights into the dividends of creative writing in health care settings. To those authors he published in Literature and Medicine during the last six years, he has become known as the ideal close reader, the nuanced writing coach, the alter-ego every writer yearns for in a reader—that reader who gets what you are after, way before you yourself do.

Anderson's sensibility has guided us in ever more daring examinations of not simply the relationships between medicine and literature—that is banal and by now boring—but the ways in which writing (and I do not limit the writing to literary writing, whatever that means) can express aspects of the human mortal condition that cannot otherwise be represented or, hence, known. I mean, look at L&M volume 30, issue 1. Chuck is now recovering from his acute medical situation but has asked to be relieved of his editorial duties. I have functioned as Interim Editor since the fall and, as you learned in the announcement that opens this issue, I will hand the workings of the journal over as soon as I finish writing this Preface to our next Executive Editor, Catherine Belling.

Coming back to reading manuscripts for Literature and Medicine after my five year hiatus, I see a vault of commitment, an exaltation of scholarship, and unmeasureable risk. We are facing harder questions than those that used to vex us. We are exposing more urgent questions, questions that don't just impress literary scholars or clinical professionals but that burn for human beings anywhere, whatever they do. This issue of the journal exposes questions of social murder, medicine's gender violence, the popular culture's suppression of the [End Page vii] truth about disease, and the inaccessible, ever receding grails of our lives. We are no longer asking what did Milly Theale die of. We are instead asking of what we are all dying, as we all come to know that we, too, will sicken and die.

This capacity to face that which is coming marks us as a vanguard—or maybe a rearguard—of the culture. I can't get the words of John Banville's representation of Zeus in Infinities out of my head or my prose. Remember, as Banville has it, when Zeus looks down from Mount Olympus at the hapless mortals he and his buddies have created, he envies us our mortality. "This is the mortal world. It is a world where nothing is lost, where all is accounted for while yet the mystery of things is preserved; a world where they may live, however briefly, however tenuously, in the failing evening of the self, solitary and at the same time together somehow here in this place, dying as they may be and yet fixed forever in a luminous, unending instant."1 Banville's Zeus is hardly the expert on mortality. We mortals are the experts. And yet we recuse ourselves from that position on the bench, either out of a false sense of modesty or a real one of terror. Who says we want to confront that which we know about dying? Well, some of us are, maybe, prepared to do that. I think that is what this journal—and the field of medical humanities—is for.

Health care's concentration on the individual body instead of the population has been criticized for centuries, from religious atonement rituals to John Snow's pump handle to Agent Orange to the spike in breast cancer cases on Long Island. Terry Tempest Williams focuses not only on her family's generational bowing to breast cancer but to the atomic testing that went on in Utah that probably started it. Mayor Michael...


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