Surgeon’s monologue for two
surgeon’s notes and Surgeon’s monologue for two are part of temporary orifices: who am we? – an examination of the surgeon-patient relationship, it concentrates on the period of time that the surgeon is operating on the anaesthetised body. Prior to an operation, questions of trust, as well as fear about illness, death, and the clinical aspects of the procedure take precedence. How can we describe the relationship of the unconscious anaesthetised body of the patient to the surgeon who works on and in it during the time that the anaesthetic is preventing consciousness? Would an understanding of that relationship help in any way to allay pre-operative fear? Or, would it further underline that fear? Not surprisingly, the collaborative relationship with surgeon, Professor David Jenkins, was always considered a crucial part of this project. Any work that proposes to examine the surgeon-patient relationship during anaesthesia should, from the outset, contain as a foundation stone the ability to have frank and open discussions between the participants. Due to our previous history – Professor Jenkins had operated on me three times – we were confident that this was achievable. Our discussions took the form of 3 unstructured interviews – two of which were recorded – and an exchange of letters. A selection of these letters are on this page but, as may be expected in a topic of this kind, the content of the recorded material may compromise others if made public. For this reason, only brief excerpts of the 12 hours of recordings became sound works. To illustrate the nature of the conversations a partial transcript is available below.
|From conversation: Feb.07 2008|
|57.31.547||David||It fits in with your ideas that you have expressed about being and the consequence of communication. To better understand my being which is about communication, let’s stop one of the elements of the communication and see what happens when only one party to the communication is still communicating, and are they communicating with themselves? Are they trying to communicate, as it were, with the other person? Is it their empathy, in fact, continuing the dialogue?|
|Val||Yes. And something you said a minute ago about the surgeon putting the long stitch in the woman’s vagina: she mightn’t have known that’s what she wanted, been able to say that’s what she wanted but could it be that the surgeon is talking, is communicating, for two people?|
|David||Is, in fact, what seems a monologue a continuing dialogue with one voice?|
|David||I hadn’t seen it quite like this but it’s true… Let’s take that a little bit further. Monologue is dialogue with one silent responder. There’s one voice but speaking for two. There’s a silent voice but it’s a voice… and it is being heard by the surgeon that’s why it’s a dialogue because he can hear it and it’s in his empathy that he hears it. The empathy and responsibility create awareness of that silent voice.|
|Val||Yeah, actually I hadn’t thought of it like that. The voice is his voice but on behalf of someone else.|
|David||Yes. And the word for that is surrogate.|
|Val||You also used the term in loco parentis and I’ve used that bit of dialogue in the first piece I’m putting together. In loco parentis of the ovary, but in fact in loco parentis of the body.|
|Val||Not just in loco parentis for the part you are dealing with but for the whole shooting match.|
|Val||The title is who am we? Not ‘who am I?’, or ‘who are we?’, but ‘who am we?’|
|David||Good. As far as the surgeon is concerned, or as far as medicine is concerned, it is the development and the sophistication of this dialogue that makes the doctor a doctor.|
|1:08:29.784||David||In a way it’s the patient who is saying to me things like thank god it doesn’t look or feel too bad. You know that is information that is coming to me from her. I didn’t make that up; I didn’t say I’m going to find nothing here that seems suspicious. I find it. It’s not mine it’s hers. And she is telling me that it is not as bad as I thought it was going to be…|
|Val||That’s the relationship? Her, in as much as the tissue itself is the voice.|
|David||Yeah. And the report that comes back on the frozen section, that is information coming to me from her. It’s her bit of ovary that was sent and what is coming back to me is information about her. Now it’s her body but it has been textualised. It has come back as a report.|
I would like to help you with your M.A. and will meet you in February – if you wish.
I hope you are well and the ‘pelvic clearance’ was not necessitated by any adverse development.
Merleau-Ponty has been something of an obsession with me for some time now and I think of him first when I think of being-in-the-world. His Phenomenology of Perception has been beside me a lot and is referred to often in my B.A. thesis on Beckett and Giacometti (still have your book in my bedside library).
(P.S. See also Merleau-Ponty for the Perplexed ?Author & Publisher I will check on.)
I have never thought of leaving my imprint on any patient I have operated on.
If anything once the incision is made, if not before, the whole action is totally depersonalized – there is only the technical problems and the medical aspects
– and yet when I meet that patient years later in a restaurant the person is larger than the memory of the surgery or the medical condition. Perhaps it’s just a matter of context.
Whatever, it is an interesting proposal and has endless, as yet unimaginable, journeys that might be taken.
I will do everything I can to help. Just let me know in advance when and where we might meet and your are welcome to my home if that suits.
Your questions will not, I suspect, be easily answered without a lot of thought and I would not want pressure of time to force me to possibly misleading or vaccuus answers. I am a little afraid that I will not know the answers!
However, one thing I have learnt in my own research life is that there are no answers, only better questions.
Lovely to hear from you and very best wishes.
Dear Professor Jenkins,
Thank you for offering to collaborate with me in exploring a subject that is laced with questions which, as you point out, will not be easy to answer. I agree with you that we will probably not arrive at any definitive answers but hopefully “better questions”; the proposal fits into one of those areas which I believe does not contain correct conclusions so please do not worry about not having answers!
I have spent some time wondering about the best approach to take and have decided that instead of dashing to Cork with a lot of half formulated questions and ideas I will postpone the visit until the end February/beginning of March: I will spend the next week compiling a list of questions that we could consider during the course of a conversation. I will post you the questions and any supporting material in time for you to have a chance to think about them. You sound extremely intimate with Merleau-Ponty – I have to confess that I don’t find him the easiest to grasp but have vowed to try again in light of his relevance to the proposal. One of the biggest challenges for me will be to remain focused as my natural tendency is to wander during the course of any research. While some latitude is desirable I have vowed to try to stick to the proposal as much as possible and therefore please don’t worry that I may bombard you with a deluge of documents other than those mentioned in the proposal.
The pelvic clearance went well and the results are good but I have to say that I was unprepared for the sudden huge troughs of exhaustion which are ongoing but thankfully are becoming more infrequent. I will try to not let this interfere with any schedule we agree on.
Thank you for the offer of your home as a possible venue. It would certainly suit as I no longer have a ‘base’ in Cork and even though I had thought of borrowing a friends recording studio I feel that it may be better to keep the setting informal if that also suits you. Please do not feel the need to reply to this letter. I will send the list of questions as soon as I compile it and at that stage we can discuss a date that will suit to get together for a discussion.
Best wishes, and thanks again for agreeing to participate in the project. I’m now retiring for the afternoon with Phenomenology of Perception!
Dear Professor Jenkins,
I hope you are not too daunted by the weight of this package! Trying to decide which documents to send has been quite challenging. In the end I have decided that instead of restricting it to those that are mentioned in the proposal I should also include 2 extra pieces that you may find interesting – one from Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible, and one that is a chapter from a book I am reading at the moment Paul Broks’ Into the Silent Land. However, please do not feel obliged to read them (or any of the other material, for that matter) as I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about from memory.
Following a conversation with one of my tutors I have decided that sending you a list of questions is too formal and instead of ‘interviewing’ you, a discussion may be more profitable for both of us. Therefore I am going to propose that we begin the conversation with a loose structure of three categories in mind, all of which overlap to some extent, and which relate to one or other of the pieces of text. The first is about your experiences when operating (ref: Richard Selzer quotation on page 4 MA proposal); the second is the surgeon/patient relationship (ref: Ethical challenges in surgery as narrated by practicing surgeons); and the third is, for me, the most daunting – issues concerning the ‘self’ and the mind/body relationship (ref: Arthur Danto’s chapter The Body/Body Problem from the book of the same name, John Searle’s chapters on consciousness from Mind, and Merleau-Ponty – I’m not sending you anything from Phenomenology of Perception as I am confident that you know it much better than I do!). There is of course a chance that we will not cover all of these topics and may end up somewhere else altogether but that is the nature, and joy, of conversation – particularly when there is no discernible central question. Instead, I feel that there are many strands that seem vaguely related and which I’m trying to follow to see if they meet at any point that it may be possible to represent. Sorry that this is all so vague but perhaps that is inevitable at this stage of exploring a possible artwork.
I will be in Cork from the 27th Feb to the 6th or 7th of March and will phone you to arrange a date that suits you.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to work with me on this.
As you can see from the address I am up in our place in Donegal. Deliveries of paintings to a Gallery up here that does a lot of business over Easter plus one open exhibition (Glebe Gallery, Churchill) and a charity auction for Letterkenny Lions Club plus organizing an exhibition in Lavit in Cork for 2009 of Donegal artists including one of the Tory Group.
Reading Merleau-Ponty – A Guide for the Perplexed by Eric Matthews, publishers Continuum London & New York the Guides for the Perplexed Series 2006 isbn: 0-8264-8531-6 Hardback, 0-8264-8532-4 paperback. This really does help me a lot.
In consenting to surgery you exhibited intentionality – it was your intention that I should create the ‘artificial orifice’ to allow for remedial surgery. “subjectivity and even human intentionality belong to us by virtue of our being living beings” so your intention which is an expression of your embodied subject self allowed me to ‘know you’ in the context of the surgery. So you did not lose control or become dis-embodied because your intention was being effected. An example is rape. If consent can be proven there is no crime. The self is not violated if the ‘invasion’ is invited and presumed welcomed.
The book deals with Embodiment Behaviour, Being Human, the problem of the other, and is brilliant on Art and Perception. e.g. The subject (painter) does not merely represent objective truth: subject and object are inseperably intertwined – the work expresses a meaning which has its source in the artist’s individual life.
– Going back to Knowing and Non-Knowing (Giacometti and Beckett) I think that
– Knowing is our theoretical explanation of experience
Non-Knowing is our pre-reflective contact with experience
i.e. Knowing is a learned activity – Non-Knowing is pre-conditioning. Hence Giacometti saying that “All this sculpture was getting in the way of his sculpting.”
This has helped me clarify my thhinking about my own painting. My intention is getting clearer. Effecting that intention may prove more difficult but there is hope.
I don’t know how much this helps your cause – does it help Val Bogan know who and what Val Bogan is – does it help her write and M.A. thesis.
I am now going to read the section on the Problem of the Other.
There is something common to everyone intensely absorbed in some concentrated activity – they say ‘time just flies’/timeflies. It happens when I get ‘involved’ in a painting. The state of ‘mind’/’being’ must be close, if not identical to ‘out-of-body’ experiences. This state, one suspects, is when the self-narrative ‘tape’ is not playing, i.e. we are not seeing ourselves as the object of our own narrative story. This escape from the context of our own story/narrative allows us to pass from ‘knowingness’ to ‘non-knowingness’ – from imitation, however subtle and skillful to a creative originality, where our essence/pre-mediatated/self has its being. This is what I think happened to both Samuel Beckett and Alberto Giacometti in their stylistic changes.
When I operated on you I was very much in my being-in-the-world state with all the concerns of experience, care, concentration and application necessary for your well being. You, being asleep, were unable to add the experience to your narrative at the time. When we shook hands, years later, you sensed the loss of that important part of narrative. There was a gap in your story you could never fill, and the handshake was near and yet far from closing the gap.
And yet, every time we switch off our narrative tape, no longer listening to our own evolving story from second to second, ‘being out-of-our-bodies’, we are creating gaps in our narratives. Those gaps are where we have a chance, perhaps. to change. To change back to an unconditioned innocence – to be free of layers of lies and conditional baggage. Closer to the beginning, the elemental, the self-alone. Where every thought and action is an addiction to the total of all being –
Do you know about Self and Non-Self in Transplantation Biology?
My kidney transplanted into you would be rejected by your immune system, recognizing the foreign transplantation antigens on the surface of my kidney cells (Non-U) called histocompatibility antigens.
My whole research programme was related to what the Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Medewar coined ‘The Paradox of the Survival of the Foetal Allograft’ – i.e. although you would reject my kidney in your body you would not reject my baby although it might express my histocompatibility antigens. Hence the paradoxical survival of the foetal allograft.
Thus, in a way, my ‘finger prints’ are foreign to you and you would reject them as non-u in the way that my hand left inside your abdomen would be rejected like an organ graft. So, you see, even when you are anaesthetised your body recognizes foreign ‘invasion’ and rejects it. Nothing and no one can violate your ‘self’ because your immune system is unique (unless you have an identical twin), and unless manipulated in some way, e.g. steroids, “immunization”, blocking antibodies etc etc, you will recognize anyone elses tissues as not-you and reject.
Eric Matthews deals with identity ‘even when not conscious’ in his book. This would cover any concern you may have with loss of your control, or identity when under anaesthetic. (Descartes thinking – I think, therefore I am, would imply that you were non-existent, dead, when under anaesthesia – so that’s him put to rest).
It is difficult to paint when you leave the Knowing behind but I have seen a beautiful tiny bird outside my window and that gives me hope.
Dear Professor Jenkins
Apologies for not writing to you before now but I felt that I had to edit the audio tapes of the conversation and take some time to consider what direction to suggest the work could take. Unfortunately, learning the sound editing software has taken longer than I anticipated and, as our conversation lasted approx 4 hours, the process was quite labour intensive. As you may have guessed I am not going to transcribe the tapes but will send you a copy on CD. I have indexed the subjects discussed and linked it to a timeline and have chosen a number of snippets that I feel are of particular interest. However, before I send these to you I also want to compile some questions about your thesis (I got a copy from the library at the Crawford) as well as replying to your three letters for which I must say thanks – you have raised so many interesting questions that I’m not sure where to start. I hope to have all of this compiled by the end of April and plan to be in Cork towards the end of May and hope we might meet again then.
Dear Professor Jenkins
You must be wondering if I had shuffled off this mortal coil. The truth is far more mundane and one which you may be familiar with but hopefully are not – total block. The month of May was a disaster as far as progress with the MA was concerned. I didn’t stop working and continued to read and maybe, eventually, something will be gained by the effort but at the time it was extremely frustrating. I have to be honest and tell you that as mentioned in my email of 18 April I did indeed go to Cork for a few days at the end of the month but hesitated about phoning you to see if we could meet as I felt mentally disorganised and would have been wasting your time. I had spent much of the time since our conversation considering an enormous number of topics that we covered and ended up overwhelming myself. In an attempt to correct this ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ feeling I suggest that if the subject is narrowed down we may stand a better chance of developing the project. (Be sure to let me know if you disagree!) This realisation has made me take a long hard look at what I am trying to do and I have decided to focus on what I consider to be the missing ‘text’ that the patient experiences when under general anaesthetic.
At the moment I am writing a series of short (v.short!) essays that I hope will help me to clarify my ideas about the segment of anaesthetised time which the patient’s body inhabits but the patient’s ‘story’ can not. I don’t want to intrude on your summer but hope by the time that you return from Port-na-Blagh I will at least be able to make sense of what I am hoping we can do. I will not send the CDs to Donegal as I’m sure they’re the last thing you would want to listen to but I have enclosed the index of the conversation.
Also, I am very aware that I have not written to you about your thesis which I read on the train to Dublin after my visit to you in March. It was a fascinating way to pass the entire journey: that it took me so long was down to the fact that while reading I was constantly diverted to attempt to make links between what I already knew about Giacometti and Beckett and what you were exposing and suggesting about their stylistic changes (a sure sign of a successful thesis) and, also, because I was jotting down notes when there was an echo of a subject that we had touched on in the conversation of the day before. Instead of writing up these notes in a different format I thought I would send you the pages of my diary from the day of the journey which details the points that I picked out. At the time I added tiny observations and questions which we could pick up on at a later date if you are interested.
I am also enclosing two chapters from a book which I think you may be interested in – Picturing Mind. Paradox, Indeterminacy and Consciousness in Art & Poetry by John Danvers. I have just started to read it and was struck by the word ‘suchness’ which you used in your dedication and which I have always struggled to understand and even though I am still struggling I have a better idea since reading this. Suchness is, I think, a relation of Non Knowing as you described it in a letter to me when you mentioned that “Knowing is our theoretical explanation of experience. Non Knowing is our pre-reflective contact with experience”. In the section I have photocopied – Part 4 The mutuality of existence: drawing, emptiness and presence – I thought you might be interested in the juxtaposition of ‘Suchness’ with ‘Emptiness’ (Tathata and Sunyata) as being “two concepts [that] are interdependent and despite the apparent contradiction they are two sides of one wafer-thin coin” (68) I am sending Part 1 to give you an idea of the authors approach to the subject. John is one of our lecturers in the Art Department here and these writings may give you an idea of why I said the department is very open to a process-led approach to artistic practice!
A subject you raised in another of your letters – histocompatibility antigens – is haunting me. I have been trying to grasp what it is I am trying to react to/say about what you wrote and the best I can do at the moment is as follows: I understand the concept as you outline it – that the body recognizes foreign transplantation antigens and rejects them and in this way the body even when anaesthetised recognizes invasion and would reject the surgeons fingerprints, and therefore, as you put it “even when you are anaesthetised your body recognizes foreign ‘invasion’ and rejects it. Nothing and no one can violate your ‘self’ because your immune system is unique.” The nub of what I am trying to get at is that the term fingerprints as I use them in the proposal –
– are meant as metaphorical in the sense that they are a symbol of the ‘foreign knowledge’ or ‘foreign experience’ which altered the inner architecture of my body. This is not a negative feeling, on the contrary for the body or the ‘self’ to reject this knowledge as either foreign or a violation would be in most cases, hopefully, folly and this is where trust and faith enter the equation. Think of a body that had the capacity to reject the knowledge or lack of it of the surgeon if she/he was doing harm! And to use an outrageously extreme example it is one thing for me to be in an operating theatre and see the surgeon approaching to remove my right leg when it is my left that is in need of removal and being conscious and able to voice my concern but it is quite another to allow my conscious self to be removed from the narrative and trust the surgeon. It seems to me to be inescapable that what is left behind when the surgeon withdraws is a remodelling -an act which the memory of the patient has no recollection of, and which the body has no defence against, precisely because consciousness has been expunged (with the exception, as you say, in the case of histocompatibility antigens). I think this is why I am fascinated by that missing segment from the ‘story’ of the patient’s conscious timeline; the spatio-temporal continuity of my body has been interrupted and my body has been altered by another with my permission (and, in my case with gratitude) during the period of interruption. What is the relationship between the patient and the surgeon during this timeline?
I spent some time (far too much time) in the idiotic pursuit of trying to visualise and/or verbalise my periods under general anaesthesia: idiotic because central to this project is the removal of the ability to do just that. I toyed with the idea of visiting an operating theatre and watching an operation, with cramming episodes of ER (!), etc and then realised that the only way of filling in the gap was the witnessing of the surgeon because it was a particular date and time that is missing from “the sequence of my conscious states, bound together by memory, [that] is essential to my sense of my existence as a specific individual” as John Searle puts it. With this in mind I am picking out sections, and then phrases within those sections, of the conversation in which you discuss what happens in the theatre (leaving out any references to particular patients or surgeons who you have worked with) and editing them together as it seems the closest I can presently get to what I missed. It thrusts the surgeon into the role of almost being a ‘witness by consciousness’, a storyteller. Because our conversation wasn’t directed for the purpose I suspect that what I will end up with will be closer to the poetic than to the literal but maybe that makes a kind of sense.
Finally, I wanted to ask you how you feel about publishing some material on the website – http://www.valbogan.com/proj.htm:
1. I am documenting the progress of the MA and feel that the letters are an essential part of how it has evolved. Obviously, addresses and anything personal would be edited out.
2. Publishing snippets of the conversation. Again, they would not contain any of the more personal aspects discussed or names of patients, colleagues or institutions
3. As outlined in the proposal I am attempting to analyse the collaborative relationship. At the moment this is very tentative and forms part of monthly reports that I am compiling but as I want to publish those on the website as well I thought I should check that you do not mind?
If you are uncomfortable with any or all of the above please let me know and I will think of a different way to proceed. If you would like to see/hear anything before it is uploaded to the site I can email you the content.
This started out as a short update but has taken off. Sorry for being so long-winded. I hope you are settling in to Co. Donegal and that you have both a relaxing and a fruitful holiday.
Thanks again for your input so far. As I hope you can gauge from the above and the enclosed it has been extremely thought-provoking.
Dear Val. Just received letters and enclosures. Philosophy of your lecturer very lucid, brain physiology, anaesthesia totally obscure. Don’t be surprised medics are pretty ignorant. I see your thesis now as a process, a search. Not necessarily seeing but the process of looking- pre-reflective enquiry, therefore more art than science, more listening than dictating – waiting for the ‘story’ to emerge than ‘making it up’. More truth than lie. Will write in detail soon. D.
During surgery the surgeon ‘writes’ the patient’s narrative. The ‘finger prints’ are not his hands touching her body they are more his ‘words’ immprinted on her knowing of herself (narrative centre in her brain is being ‘programmed’ from outside herself). Like a computer virus the patients own computer/brain/mind will never again be solely his/hers. The patient’s identity has been changed and will never again speak only to him/her alone.
The ‘self’ I knew before my first word
nearer than any touch
the Such of me
No longer mine
Another sings my song
I am returned to everything
Any other mind
Any other body
Any other story
Free from Self
Self for free
As you say perhaps what you will end with is nearer poetry than science but no worse for that. You have explored a moment in your time as you walked away still feeling my handshake and thinking of ‘fingerprints’. You have used that moment like a key to unlock some of the doors that hide you from who you are. You are more aware. Art is just that. The process of becoming aware.
‘who you are’ – the you before you reflect on who you are – Once you do the latter you are that other you – the social Val that everyone percieves form their own angle and makes up the you people (and to some extent, you yourself) see yourself as being. Perhaps Art (and Love) are the recovery of the pre-perceptual self.
Dear Professor Jenkins,
Thank you for your postcard and letter, more of which later, but first I want to ask you if it’s OK to call you David?! You may think it’s mad to even bother to ask but I was brought up to either wait to be asked or to ask but never to presume. There isn’t much ‘old-fashioned’ about me but this is a definite legacy from my parents.
When I read in your letter “the patients own computer/brain/mind will never again be solely his/hers” I realised that we are coming close to synchronising about a central aspect of the project – the ownership of part of the story of another by the surgeon. I have been reading The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank which has helped me to formally consolidate my reasoning on the surgeon being a witness or storyteller which I mentioned as a hunch in my last letter. (By formally here I mean those moments when instead of feeling something to be true we find that it is backed up by the academic reasoning or logic of others. Not sure if craving this affirmation is a lack of confidence or a necessary part of the socialization of thought – another huge question!). Arthur Frank is a sociologist who wrote a book in 1991 about his own illness – At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness – and whose agenda for The Wounded Storyteller was
“to shift the dominant cultural conception of illness away from passivity – the ill person as “victim of” disease and then recipient of care – toward activity. The ill person who turns illness into story transforms fate into experience; the disease that sets the body apart from others becomes in the story the common bond of suffering that joins bodies in their shared vulnerability”(xi)
He was writing this in 1995 and I have found evidence of an upsurge of interest in the ill ‘reclaiming’ the story of their illnesses (not that it wasn’t happening before then – thinking of artists in particular i.e. Jo Spence) but the direction of the research has certainly altered to include more and more the patient as a whole being instead of a bodily container for a mass of symptoms and in turn the patient has become self-consciously aware of, as Frank puts it, “what it means to live in the wake of illness”. Anyway, before I digress completely the attempt to tell my/our story is centred on what is a pivotal time in any illness requiring surgery – the operation itself – which is the one time when the ill person has, within the continuum of their illness, no story to tell; Hence, my fascination with the surgeon/patient relationship during that time, and the surgeon as witness to the body in space and time for the duration of the procedure. I came across this from Jean-Paul Sartre – “Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what is” – the thing is how are we ‘Being’ during the seconds, minutes, hours when under general anaesthesia; Are we ‘Being’; And, if not, who is ‘Being’ for us; who tells our story? The answers to the first two, if current research is to be believed would seem to be inextricably linked and are the provenance of neuroscientists and philosophers engaged in studies of consciousness; the answer to ‘who is Being for us’ would seem to be, at least partially, the surgeon (and his/her team of course); And the answer to who tells our story I can’t help feeling has the same answer as the previous question. In this way the surgeon owns a section of the possible memories that make up the story that is the patient.
Another problem that has been preoccupying me is the relation of the brain to the altered body schema post operatively. I never had a clear picture of what goes exactly where when I was in the full of my health but presume that the vacuum left each time a part of my internal structure is removed is filled and changed in ways that are not wholly predictable but, in as much as they are, they are more likely to be known to the surgeon than to me. This demonstrates a superior knowledge of my body by another and so further enhances your writing that during the operation “the narrative centre in her brain is being programmed from outside herself”. It seems to me that something as integral to my sense of self as my body schema is, as well as my story, also being shared?
Throughout I have said that this is a personal project, entirely subjective but with tentacles reaching out to draw from various academic disciplines. We are not going to come up with any universal truths here! As you said in your letter last January “one thing I have learnt in my own research life is that there are no answers, only better questions.” I wonder if in the spirit of answering and creating more questions we could meet again for another talk which would be in Cork in October. I don’t know when you return from Donegal but I assume it will be before then? In the meantime I hope to have consolidated my ideas so that I can begin to describe a possible end product (!)
I’ll be in touch in September with some ideas and thanks again for your help with this.
Reading Merleau-Ponty – A Guide to the Perplexed led me to think of your thesis again. See P.89 & 92.
We give unity to the world by out dealings with it; but we also gain unity in our own selves, and even in our own bodies, from our dealings with the world – ‘our being in the world makes a difference both to the character of the world and to our own existence’. So, in some sense I think that my surgery on you did ‘interfere’ with, not only your body, but also that ‘unity in your own self’. The fingerprints, of your metaphor, might be seen as a break in the unity of your self.
(So like the feel I get from reading some poetry – I can ‘feel’ what it conjures up, and know it is real, and yet it is something that exists because it causes something in me to resonate. I cannot pick it up, polish it or eat it, it is not an object. But the parts of my self that I make contact with, become aware of, because it makes me say yes, yes, yes as if confirming an inner and deep self.)
I have also thought that after your masters you might start work on ‘Keys to meeting myself’ i.e. your masters has been about an experience that make you explore your self, which is like an act of creative art – Are there other ways of reaching that pre-reflective self awareness – the world of Zen beckons suchness and awareness, the middle way –
The bird stopped wishing
it was a cloud
The cloud stopped wishing
it was a bird
The bird entered the cloud
The cloud welcomed the bird
Painting everyday. Reworking old stuff. Usually kiss of death if not dead already but some surprises. Perhaps an inking of patience is creeping in but a bit late for change now.
Feel free to publish if you wish. Trust you to exclude names etc.
Keep going. You are on to something important – being itself. Art and being. Being-in the-world. I feel quite young again and smile.
Thank you for card & letter. Of course, and please – David. (The nature of the collaboration given the intimacy of the subject, being, is itself strange and complex do you think?)
Bottom line is that I have come round to thinking the surgery did leave its ‘finger-prints’.
Your letter has led me to thoughts that include Beckett’s ‘Krapp’s Last Tape‘ and Merleau-Ponty on Phantom Limbs. Sartre may cause confusion. Matthews says he is more Cartesian (‘I think therefore I am’) than phemomenologist (‘I am therefore I think’) – Your search is complex and profound enough without having to sort out philosophical split hairs. I’m sticking with M.P. who I now, more or less understand.
Yes, the surgeon interferes with your running – tape (the recording of the narrative that is you.) It remains your tape even when it’s someone else who is making an input. It’s another voice on your ‘tape’. She/He does remove parts of your body, as does a dentist. Your brain may continue to ‘think’ that those parts are still there. This is like the phantom limb that M.P. writes about a lot. Loss of your ovary which carries the potential of your offsprings narrative and so on for eternity may be much more significant than a tooth. Removal of an organ that has the potential to kill you adds even more complexity.
I am coming round to accepting that during anaesthesia and surgery, you, your being, your body, you as embodied subject are ‘violated’. I also accept that that violation is indelible. You cannot erase it from your ‘tape’. No longer virgo intacta. But to remain intact, maybe is to arrest the narrative, certainly to restrict it – to limit its scope for being, and for creating new being which again references the creative artistic instinct i.e. although in my thesis I talk of Beckett’s and Giacometti’s non-knowing, that non-knowing is not ignorance of, or immunity from other creativity i.e Alberto G although complaining of all that other sculpture getting in the way of his own perception could not have arrived at his own vision without ‘knowledge’ of all the artistic sculptural visions that he knew of and had gone before. If our being was not in the world we could not grow, mature, love, be. Non-knowing is not ignorance-it is not denial. I think of it as something like Buddhist enlightenment.
Something like a very still, very silent communion, a resonance with life’s core –
and ones essential being (essence) is perhaps that, a longing for an elusive peace at the centre.
– and that is what the surgeon violates.
Arthur Frank’s ‘shared vulnerability’ is close to what I think love to be – Oscar Wilde somewhere writes that ‘pity is at the heart of love’.
So. Under anaesthesia – I think our own narrative tape continues to record. It is our tape but another the surgeon, for a time, is the voice recording our (the patient’s story). Our ‘tape’ is our being. The surgeon does not, I think, become our being. He is allowed to tell some of our story. He shares some of the memories of a section of the patients story. He does not, I think, “own a section of the possible memories that make up the story that is the patient”.
I have no visual memory whatsoever of your operation, your body, your ovaries appearance. I remember the clinical details only. Apart from the clinical details, all I see now when I think of you is a certain look and a certain smile of you now not then. I have operated on thousands of women. I have visual memories of hardly any. I have clear visual memory of all the hundreds of paintings I have done. The patients sense of her body being ‘shared’ by the surgeon seems different to any such sense by the surgeon himself.
I have only touched on some recent thoughts (ouch!) in this letter. I agree we should meet again. October in Cork seems OK although I am away from the 16th – 20th. I may need some surgery myself by that time as my carotid arteries are closed or closing. Brain may pack up completely or the narrative tape start to stutter.
I have been ‘humming and hawing’ about how to reply to your last letter. The news of your illness has made me wonder if you feel well enough to continue participating in the project? The last thing I want to do is to add stress to your daily workload. As I am not a medic I don’t really understand the gravity of your situation but it sounds pretty serious. I’m sure you have enough to think about now without my philosophical concerns! On the other hand, I can see that it might provide a welcome distraction. I think I know you well enough to know that you will tell me honestly if you want to stop completely; halt until you feel better; or continue as we were. I have written a reply to your last letter but won’t burden you with it until I know you want to continue…I covet the time to read your letters as they always spark off all kinds of thoughts and ideas which require a lot of time to capture and distill. Your latest letter, as I said at the beginning, threw me not only because it did generate different and unexpected directions but also because of the news about your health. Whatever you decide about the project you know that I wish you all the best in the next few weeks (and beyond, of course).
I must have been very gloomy about my prognosis in my last letter. Reports of my imminent demise must have been premature. The vultures can go and whistle (they need to look after themselves the species being under threat of extinction).
I want to go on with our project. Please say if you are wanting shot of me. I much enjoy what we are doing but will fully understand if, at any time, you would rather go on alone. Lets presume all is well, that I will live forever and your work will receive rave reviews from academia.
Following your last letter I got hold of Kitano Nishita’s – An Enquiry into the Good – a bit polemic or dictatorial. It tells you what is what as distinct from arguing a position or offering an explanation. There is stuff in it though about active and passive consciousness but does not distinguish between passive consciousness and unconsciousness.
“A person’s internal qualities are the motivating forces behind these activities (such activities of consciousness as association and memory) and a unifying reality develops from within itself. In active consciousness this unifying reality clearly emerges in consciousness as a conception, while in passive consciousness it is unconscious or functions as a kind of feeling.In pure experience.the distinction between active and passive is merely a difference of degree”
This seems to point to the possibility that when you were unconscious under anaesthesia your ‘reality’ or ‘being’ was not altered in essence but only in some sort of relativity or ‘degree’. Your narrative or story did not stop being yours. I know that this may only confuse things and is different to what I have agreed with you in earlier letters that the surgeon ‘took over’ the telling of your ‘story’. No matter – the truth is in the paradox (?DJ) – one hand clapping – the contradictions we perceive may really be confirmatory-
Please send reply to my last letter. Matthews book Merleau-Ponty for the Perplexed is a joy of clarity and accessibility. Clarify your thesis in your own head by pretending you were explaining it to someone over the kitchen table: Start by asking yourself – where shall I begin? Tell the person you are talking to why you came to be interested in the subject that you are going to tell them. Then tell them of the many ways you thought of searching for answers to the questions that you found yourself asking (methods & materials). Then tell them of how the questions became obscure or unimportant or more salient and relevant as you progressed. Then outline tentative results (new questions) – then where you are now compared to where you were when you started the work. What did the work say about your ‘original approach’, what did the work say about how you went about answering your original interest, what did the work say about the quality of evidence available to you to answer the questions. Had you asked yourself a question impossible to answer fully?
Are there questions that can only be answered outside of reason – faith, fantasy, poetry, dreams?
Perhaps answers are some sort of admission of failure – ends not new beginnings. Most of the answer to a question is in the question – A good question is part of an ongoing process – its answer the continuation of the process. At best we have tiny share in the mystery.
Dear David[added: 19.09.07: You have no idea how delighted I am that you are able to continue with the project. It indicates that I overreacted to your news about tests and a possible operation, and, more importantly, hopefully also indicates that you are not as ill I presumed.
While I waited to find out if you were OK I wrote a reply to your letter of the 9th of August. As a result of the time-gap we have a fair bit of catching up to do but rather than deluge you I am sending the body of the letter written almost a month ago which deals with my preoccupation of the time as well as some issues arising from your letter of the 9th. I will answer your recent letter in the next week or two when I have had a chance to think about the issues it raises.]
I have spent most of August immersed in reading about Sound; I won’t bore you with the details as I imagine they would not be of great interest to you. However, one aspect may dovetail with the reading you have being doing on ‘Being’. A footnote to an essay I was reading about Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of utterance got me thinking. It read:
“To cite Morson and Emerson, in reference to Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue, “for any individual or social entity, we cannot properly separate existence from the ongoing process of communication”. In other words, “being” and communication, experience and language are inseparable; or, as the authors note, citing Bakhtin, “To be means to communicate.”[Morson and Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of Prosaics (p.50)]
The phrase “to be means to communicate” puzzled me as I thought surely I can ‘be’ without ‘communicating’. Of course I was examining the statement in the incorrect timeframe and it only made sense when I readjusted my thinking to look at the statement as an observation about an entire life cycle rather than one about isolated moments within that cycle. This dawned on me when I was reading a book on Sound in cinema. The foreword opens with the words:
We gestate in Sound, and are born into Sight
Cinema gestated in Sight, and was born into Sound
The opening paragraph goes on: “We begin to hear before we are born, four and a half months after conception. From then on, we develop in a continuous and luxurious bath of sounds: the song of our mother’s voice, the swash of her breathing, the trumpeting of her intestines, the timpani of her heart. Throughout the second four-and-a-half months, Sound rules as solitary Queen of our senses: the close and liquid world of uterine darkness makes Sight and Smell impossible, Taste monochromatic, and Touch a dim and generalized hint of what is to come.” (Walter Murch. From the foreword to Michel Chion’s Audio-Vision, Sound on Screen). Reading this brought me back to Bakhtin and his speech-act theory with the utterance as the unit of analysis within it. For him each utterance which can be spoken and written language and can be a simple statement, an entire novel, or a lengthy treatise, results in what he calls “a silent responsive understanding” which may not evoke an immediate reaction in the listener but as he writes “Sooner or later what is heard and actively understood will find its response in the subsequent speech or behaviour of the listener.” In Bakhtin’s philosophy of the ‘utterance’ we are never without communication as if we are unable to answer another’s utterance in either word or by some action, then eventually through the process of “silent responsive understanding” the utterance will be reflected in either our subsequent speech or behaviour. In this way to be is to communicate; within the human lifecycle the relationship between ‘being’ and ‘communicating’ would seem to be unavoidable. It is, admittedly, a stretch to suggest that it begins before birth particularly taking note of the proviso “heard and actively understood” but I can’t help feeling that it is a process that begins early and continues until death. I am enjoying thinking about this as it blurs the boundary of where the ‘I’ of each of us begins and ends and throws the notion of ‘Being’ into a social context rather than one of introspection and isolation in which it is often considered. The implications for the sovereignty of the ‘tape’ we have been writing about are exciting. Unfortunately, it means a lot more reading. I can see that the date for the assessment (which should be confirmed next week) will mark a very early stage in this work as more and more angles that need exploration become evident and the MA deadline looms.
A section of your letter of the 9th has prompted a few questions. The section reads: “Under anaesthesia – I think our own narrative tape continues to record. It is our tape but another, the surgeon, for a time, is the voice recording our (the patients’ story). Our ‘tape’ is our being. The surgeon does not, I think, become our being. He is allowed to tell some of our story. He shares some of the memories of a section of the patients’ story”.
When reading and thinking about this I was forced to face a conundrum that I have from the beginning felt was built into the concept of this project. Up until now I have been afraid to really try to formulate it as I felt by doing so I might cause myself to lose faith in the concept. But having read your letter I realise that it has to be faced and, even though I have only just started to think it through, feel it has to do with the institution of The Hospital as the arena in which the relationship we are thinking about takes place. Is it nonsense to try to remove and examine this relationship from the strictures that the institution inevitably places on it? Even though from the beginning I realised when talking about the surgeon as being a ‘witness by consciousness’ and when you write “[t]he surgeon does not, I think, become our being. He is allowed to tell some of our story” neither of us believe that in the real-world of the daily life of the surgeon that s/he is able to tell that story to us. We are dealing with a whimsical notion, an enigma, and even though I have a vague feeling that it raises issues about trust and power, I am beginning to wonder what we can achieve that is worthwhile?
At the moment I am battling to undermine a growing belief that anything achieved in this work can not amount to anything more than personal knowledge. In the almost metaphysicality of our investigation we appear to be at odds with the institutional requirements in which the relationship we are describing is situated. Or, to put it another way, and this is the heart of the conundrum – the level of intimacy that we are talking and writing about cannot be realised in the environment in which it exists; that is, something quintessentially human in The Hospital – the institution – where an institution is a creation whose purpose is to transcend individual human lives in an effort to organize, and by whose nature the ‘individual’ is transformed into the ‘subject’. The idea that the surgeon in some way possesses (and shares – even after the ‘temporary orifice’ is closed?) the story and the body schema of the patient is an idea that cannot be part of the institutionalised relationship and yet I feel is part of the relationship between the open anaesthetised body of the patient and the surgeon who handles its internal organs – a state of affairs that usually is only enacted within The Hospital. I feel that I am spinning in a Catch 22 capsule. What can we hope to achieve? At the very least I feel that any outcome to studying the surgeon/patient relationship has to be presented in such a way that it acknowledges the discrepancy between the location in which it takes place and the inextricable fragility of the never-surfacing intimacy that the location imposes. Again, I suspect that there is another huge field of study that has to be engaged with to get any answers; starting with a study of the history of western medicine and cross referencing with studies of models of power. I feel tired just thinking about it but realise it would be a pointless exercise if we could ignore the questions that don’t suit us!
Reading back over this I hope you don’t think that I am becoming despondent. On the contrary I am excited about the possibilities but realise that I am just scratching the surface of an enormously complex subject.
The work for the assessment will, I think, be in the medium of video/sound. I’m currently storyboarding and will be able to fill you in when we meet in Cork. It will probably be towards the end of October. In the meantime I hope that the tests on the 26th go well.
Thanks again for all your help
This is a note to update you on the state of the project. As you know I was hoping to get to Ireland before the end of October but it will now be some time in November: if there is one thing I have learned from this process it is that everything takes longer than anticipated. The good news is that the storyboarding is nearly complete and I am at the stage of working out how to present it, and to assess the technological requirements necessary to do so. This means that when we next meet I will be in the position to show you what I have in mind via sketches, plans and screen grabs. Even though it will be in the medium of video it looks quite painterly at the moment.
The plan for the accompanying sound track is still quite tentative. My recent reading about sound and its properties has led me to believe that the soundtrack for this project should have, at the very least, equal status to the images. Working on the storyboard I had little problem imagining possibilities for the script both before and after the operation but perhaps not surprisingly ran into trouble when it came to the ‘scene’ of the operation. This is a condition that, I think, is directly linked to the premise of this project: the patient doesn’t experience the narrative of the operation, and therefore cannot reproduce it or at least not without the input of the surgeon. (It is interesting to read Professor Chris Frith’s recent research which suggests that the part of the patient’s unconscious brain that recognizes speech becomes active when spoken to while under anaesthesia but the area that understands and processes it remains still; it seems the patient can hear but cannot ‘compute’ while under general anaesthesia). Anyway, as I mentioned in my last letter I am becoming extremely excited by the possibilities presented by using the recorded human voice and I wonder if you would be interested in scripting and recording a piece about the ‘motions’ of surgery with me? What I have in mind is a possible method of conveying the shared narrative of the time under general anaesthesia where a text (the surgeon’s experience of the patient’s narrative time) is used both as a monologue spoken in the surgeon’s voice and in the present tense, and, later, the same text now in the past tense can be used to express the sharing of the experience of the anaesthetized period with the vocal being a blending of both the voices of the patient and the surgeon into one voice.
Obviously, you will co-own the work with me; this is a reiteration as we already discussed this during our conversation in March. My feeling is that the nature of the project as a collaborative venture always was going to be one of joint-ownership. The continuous process of mapping out the paths this work takes highlights for me the curious ways in which collaboration plays out. For instance there have been two recent turning-points and both are due to you writing in your letter of 9th August – “Your letter has led me to thoughts that include Beckett’s ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’“. When I read this I went to Waterstones in Exeter to buy a copy. On the shelf where their one copy of Krapp should have been there, in the wrong section, was Audio-Vision. The title seemed tailor made for what I felt I should have been looking at so I bought it instead of the missing Krapp. Audio-Vision really has changed my whole perception of how to present the project; in particular a device that the author, Michel Chion, calls the acousmêtre – a disembodied voice – which seems particularly pertinent to the subject at hand.
When I later bought Krapp my recent reading of it has influenced my thinking on the possibilities of monologue and in particular monologue that perversely, if that’s the right word, contains two voices. Hence the idea of blending two voices, the surgeon and the patient, in the reading of one text.
On a whimsical note I have to confess that I misread the notes on the back cover – I believed that I had read that Beckett had written the play for radio – and before I discovered my error it had led me to another entirely fanciful idea but one that I think I will test out anyway as it has come to make a sort of sense in my mind. I had intended to ‘bleed’ the projected image off the screen and into the room where the viewer sits: using shadows to denote the capriciousness of skin as boundary, and the extension of the living body beyond the entity of the corporeal body. But, having misread Beckett another dimension occurred – I was at first confused and then delighted that he would write the following instruction for a character that was to be played on radio (as I thought):-
KRAPP switches off, raises his head, stares blankly before him. His lips move in the syllables of ‘viduity’. No sound.
Why, I wondered, would he do this? The answer I came up with was that he was being playful or possibly, and more poetically, that he thought silence had an echo that would transmit over radio waves; or, maybe both. I then began to wonder what a visual equivalent might be and thought that projecting a completely black ‘shadow’ into a completely black room might be as close as it came. Would there be a discernible ‘echo’ to anyone sitting in that blackness? The complete emptiness of any content in the time span I have spent under general anaesthetic has always suggested to me a blackness – not a darkness which is a distinction that, for me, becomes important when considering the quality of death. (I’m in danger of going off on another tangent but would like to discuss the similarities between general anaesthetic and imaginings of death. It is something that ties into metaphors used to describe general anaesthesia but also, on a personal level the idea of blackness is something that I find comforting).
When I realized that it was the other play in the book – Embers – that had been written for radio I felt both foolish and, ridiculously, cheated, even if it had meant that I had come away with another way of describing an aspect of my anaesthetized state. (Isn’t it amazing how we project the blame for our cock-ups onto others? Imagine, blaming Beckett!) Anyway, the point I am trying to make in this long-winded fashion is that none of it – finding Audio-Vision, reading Krapp and realizing the potential of the ‘dual-monologue’, misreading Krapp and coming away with the idea of unseeable shadows would have happened if you hadn’t written to me about Krapp’s Last Tape. From the wording in your letter it was something that I had written to you that suggested to you that Krapp might be of interest to me. And so it goes – this collaborative, circular process. Of course this exchange happens whether or not there is a formalized agreement of collaboration in place. The continuous dialogue within the parameters of Bakhtin’s ‘silent responsive understanding’ is beginning to make a lot more sense to me. In fact the perpetual creation of our ‘selves’ is perhaps best understood as existing in the space between individual bodies – in the space of communication. The quotation I sent in the last letter seems to have borne itself out:
“To cite Morson and Emerson, in reference to Bakhtin’s theory of dialogue, “for any individual or social entity, we cannot properly separate existence from the ongoing process of communication”. In other words, “being” and communication, experience and language are inseparable; or, as the authors note, citing Bakhtin, “To be means to communicate.”
[Morson and Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of Prosaics (p.50)]
What started out as a note is now as usual beginning to ramble on. Its purpose is really to ask you to script the monologue with me. I realize that this depends not only on how you are feeling, but also, of course, if you are interested in attempting to write it with me. If you don’t feel up to it please don’t worry I will rethink and I’m sure something will occur. If, however, you are interested I think that in order to give ourselves a chance of coming up with something worthwhile we should get together in Cork and hash out the idea, then give ourselves some time to consider what we have produced, then redraft, and, finally, I will come back to Cork to record it. I am tempted to project a timescale for this but reading back over our letters I realize that every time I do this I get it wrong. The date of my final assessment is now mid-March so there is no need for any panic.
I hope you are in good health and getting a chance to get your work done. I will be in touch as soon as I know my dates in Cork.
I write immediately – you think, reflect, consider and write only when I am beginning to think something has gone wrong. (It’s the obstetrician in me, e.g. I have to answer a phone immediately, it’s got to be the labour ward and foetal distress!)
Not sure what storyboarding is or screen grabs but of course I will script the motions of surgery with you. (Do you still have the operation notes of my original surgery because I cannot remember all the details?) I do think it’s exciting though to combine the voices of the surgeon and patient – and the idea of you hearing what I say but not being able to compute it – I wonder if after the anaesthetic there is some verbal memory of the words spoken by the surgeon – a post-operative computation of a monologue like Krapp talking to the tape of his previous monologue. Proust – Memories of Times Past.
Will the script attempt to reflect the original event? – will you pretend that you can compute what I am saying during surgery?
Me: I think I had better biopsy the other ovary just in case “it looks perfectly normal”
You: I’d rather you left it alone
Me: Do I have your word that I can not biopsy your other ovary
The play of voices in the silence of the setting. The gap between what is said and what is done.
“knife” means incision; “swab” means bleeding; “packs” means exposing the operative site
Lots of what is important is not verbalised – e.g. she is very young – removing both ovaries would have very serious consequences for her – at least there is no evidence of any spread even if there was real histological trouble – perhaps in the script we should have another or a ‘disembodied’ voice that says these things?
Ownership of the work I will leave to you. It’s your thesis – the collaboration is remarkable in its echoing, resonating, sparking-off-tangential-ideas way; Also, serendipity rules. But I always believed in the importance of creating circumstances that allowed the divine accident to happen. What does viduity mean?
Anaesthesia and blackness and imaginings of death – children when they are frightened sometimes choose to go to sleep – escaping into blackness and some mutism is the consequence of psychic trauma as is some deaf-mutism – switching off both the hearing and the computing.
I like ‘selves’ as existing in the space between individual bodies “To be means to communicate”. I have taught my two granddaughters a very short prayer – “sorry,thankyou,please”. It is deliberately short I have told them (although they had already worked it out) because it is more important to listen than to talk. [I have believed all my life in the language of touch – a whole new tangent. But some surgeons are cold in the manner of their touch others handle tissue as if it was the eyelids of angels. Now there’s a thought].
See you in Cork in November. Viduity means widowhood?
Painting like mad. 10 pieces in Lavit for Christmas. Me and selected Donegal painters show Lavit next May. Matthew Smith, Ivor Hitchins, Roger Fry current influences.
p.s. I am so glad you are healthy and well. No one, yet, can measure how close you were to serious trouble. I think you knew and you were brave and calm. Somehow we may have lost sight of the stress and fear of that time for you – or at least I may have done and I’m sorry – it’s your calmness that has detached me from the frightening reality, the memories of others are still with me.
I realise that this is not the essence of your thesis and project but in scripting the dialogue of your surgery it would be unreal to ignore it. There has to be some detachment from the personal in the clinical and surgical function but a surgeon who is completely detached is merely a technician – he’s no doctor.
So, if in the script I turn to my young surgical assistant, whilst closing the ‘artificial orifice’ and say,
Surg: Did you see the match on the box last night?
Surg: Do you know why the English backs drop passes?
Surg: Too busy checking the practice manual to find out what to do with the bloody thing if they get it
it’s an ‘avoiding’ the stark painful reality of the precariousness of our being.
So here’s to your lovely calm smile and no need any longer to be detached – and that’s another aspect of this collaboration – you were once the/an object of my clinical and professional practice, now that relationship and its ‘evolution’ is the object of our joint (attached) intellectual and aesthetic enquiry. A journey, in no small way part of both our lives.
I am enclosing the transcript of the first draft of the ‘monologue’. Thank you for writing this for me. I too am excited about the possibilities of combining the voices of surgeon and patient. Before we get together to do some more I realize that I need to work out exactly how it will fit into the video/sound piece. For instance I remember saying to you that it may be best to begin from the moment that the patient enters the theatre but now feel, having read through your notes, that the surgeons brief statement “Drapes, Sister” together with, as your note suggests, its attendant meaning – “(conceals all but area of incision – also shuts person of patient off)” – is important and perhaps should signal the start of the voice-over. And, perhaps the sound of the scrub up may act as the trigger for the images to disappear from the screen. The problem is that there are too many ‘perhaps’s’ (!) in the previous sentences and I don’t want to waste your time; For the next few weeks I hope to concentrate on a review of the project and make some definite decisions – I feel that, even after all of this time, I still haven’t hammered down its central concern. Even though I don’t think it is necessary for the piece to spell everything out to the viewer/listener I do think that I/we need to be clear about its premise. Feel free to disagree!!
Thank you for your letter. (As you predicted it was waiting for me when I got back from Ireland). I know we discussed a lot of its content when we met in Cork but a few things occur. Firstly, I have to tell you that even though I have copies of all of the documents from my GPs file the very one that you need – the operation notes – is illegible. This is entirely my fault as I ran them all through the photocopier myself and didn’t actually stop to check the quality of the print. I will contact Paddy Ryan and ask for a legible version and will send to you with the other letters that were generated around that time. Not sure if they will be of any use.
Secondly, I feel that I didn’t really answer the question of my perceived “calmness” during the period approaching the operations that we shared. Having had some time to think about it I realize that apart from the fact, as I explained to you, that my mother brought me up to understand that cancer was probably going to be part of my life (due to the long history of it in the female side of the family) the other main factor was my trust in you. During my years in waiting rooms I met a lot of women who were fearful and part of my reason for trying to understand the surgeon-patient relationship is to see if anything could be highlighted that may be useful in assuaging this fear. I never felt that this project would achieve this, rooted as it is in the time when the patient is unconscious, but I see it as a beginning with the next step being more ‘practical’ and maybe doing some work with women who are pre-operative. It strikes me that there is another conundrum here because as you point out in your letter “you were once the/an object of my clinical and professional practice, now that relationship and its ‘evolution’ is the object of our joint (attached) intellectual and aesthetic enquiry” – therefore, any attempt to isolate the professional relationship takes place in an environment where the relationship shifts into a more personal one and the object that is being studied begins to fade! Is nothing simple?
I will be in touch as soon as I have completed my review.
I’ve cracked it.
Last night reading T.S.Eliot Murder in the Cathedral p.91 Faber Paperbacks –
‘Weaving a fiction which
unravels as we weave
Pacing forever in the hell
of make believe’
Is our ‘narrative’ (Krapp’s Last Tape) our personal fiction? Does Art (Immitative/Formulaic/Banal Stuff) do no more than add to this fiction? Whilst the ‘non-knowing’ work of Sam and A.G. is the real thing non-personal, universal.
Are you frightened of losing your ‘narrative’ self because you will lose control – lose your self in the realisation of you universality – like everyone else made in the image of your maker, of his/her fantasy?
Perhaps the narrative tape is not the real self only the unweaving fantasy that we fashion a fiction we see in the mirror of your vanity?
Is it possible that when we stop the tape we are free, lost in the universal one where we belong?
Is real are being ‘Lost to Oneself’?
Roisin thinks this is all rubbish!
It certainly doesn’t fit with – every hair of your head is counted which screams of uniqueness & individuality.
There is something in the thought though – if only the extraordinary coincidence of Thomas Beckett & Samuel Barclay Beckett.
Monday. Just received yours of 22.11.07
See my letter attached re ‘central concern’. I still think that this is for you, the question of your identity – Whoyou are and consequently what is the nature of your relationship with others. It is strange perhaps, that you may be searching for an answer to these questions by analysing what happened to you when you were anaesthetised. Perhaps it is a bit like stopping something moving so that you can see it better. Like controlling a variable when studying the interaction of multiple variables – what happens to me when I am incapable of reacting or responding?
Don’t forget – there are no absolute answers. You have asked yourself very profound questions. Academically what you have to do is show you have understood the questions and how you have approached this solution.
- Clarity in the definition of your questions – (& validity)
- Appropriate methodology in the search for answers –
- Does the methodology provide valid results. (How good have the methods been in providing results)
- Reasonable/rational interpretation of what the results mean.
- Alternative interpretation of the results
- Directions for further research indicated by 4 and 5. (Better questions)
- All who wander are not lost!
Perhaps I should see ‘letters’ that you mention before publication. I don’t want to be compromise anybody e.g. Andrew Curtain or others.
What would I have said in reply to your questions/concerns anxieties?
“Look, I will share with you what I know. I will also share with you what I don’t know. I care for you and will do my utmost to help you. I will listen to you. You are my patient. I am your friend.”
In the last letter that I sent to you (although not the last letter I wrote to you-I’ll explain in a minute) I said that “even though I don’t think it is necessary for the piece to spell everything out to the viewer/listener I do think that I/we need to be clear about its premise.” The good news is that the premise is becoming clearer; the bad news is that it means that to remain true to these changes the plans for the piece have altered again. These alterations do not, however, include the scrapping of our recording of the narrative of the operation, in fact, if anything it has become more central.
It would be difficult to overstate the enormous progress that I feel I have made since November. In an effort not to overburden you with the full account of how and why these changes occurred I am limiting myself to the pivotal point of these latest wanderings. You won’t be surprised to know that it was your last letter that provided the trigger; you may be surprised to know that when I had written a reply to your letter I was afraid to send it. The reason for this was twofold: firstly, I felt I might offend you, although if pressed I would find it difficult to say why, and, secondly, selfishly, I thought I might alienate you. Now that I have had a month to think about and develop what I wrote I think that it would be both dishonest and ultimately impossible to ignore the gist of the letter as it contains what has become a foundational stepping stone to where the project is going now. In the spirit of making transparent the stages of ‘progress’ I am copying it as I wrote it in December although feel that I could make a more sophisticated argument now that I have had a chance to follow the philosophical leads that suggested themselves. I hope that doesn’t sound too pompous.
As I sit down to reply to your letter of the 25th I am laughing as I have just read Murder in the Cathedral to get a sense of where the quote you sent fitted into the poem and realise that like my misreading of the cover of Krapp’s Last Tape I also misread the excerpt by Eliot as:
Weaving a fiction which unravels as you weave,
Pacing forever in the well [my emphasis] of make-believe
I now realise that I should have read the word ‘well’ as ‘hell’. This, of course, completely changes the tenor of the two lines of verse. Perhaps not surprisingly my original mistaken reading concurs with my belief that as we move through life we ‘make ourselves up’, we construct our own story, a story whose plotline is wholly dependent on our interactions with others. It is the anticipation of this that makes me get up in the morning, that makes life interesting, and incidentally, I’m beginning to suspect is a premise that has to be taken on board for this project to make any sense; while the second – “Pacing forever in the hell of make-believe” – suggests that this fluidity, dependent as it is on constantly mutating, fluctuating, uncontrollable experiences, is undesirable and/or frightening. I imagine that you chose the quotation out of the context of the poem because you felt that it summed up the idea of ‘a personal fiction’ and I think the line – “Weaving a fiction which unravels as we weave” – does this perfectly. However the next line, as I have outlined above, does not fit into my thinking not only of the project but how I see the world in general. My suspicion is that I have not explained my position clearly enough – indeed, until tripping over the quotation that you provided I don’t think I would have been capable of doing so. I am attempting to do so now in the spirit of total honesty that we agreed was the only worthwhile policy for a collaborative venture so I hope you’ll bear with me while I try to encapsulate it.
In your last letter you asked me a question: “Are you frightened of losing your ‘narrative’ self because you will lose control – lose your self in the realisation of your universality – like everyone else made in the image of your maker of his/her fantasy?” When I read this it helped me crystallize something that has been nagging away at the back of my mind for some time. Occasionally during the course of our discussions, whether in the one-to-one of our conversations or this exchange of letters, I felt that at times we use the same words but with a fundamental difference in what we mean when we say them. At the outset I felt that the misunderstanding may be trivial but now feel that it is quite crucial and is based on an intrinsic difference of outlook which I don’t think excludes the possibility of our understanding each others point of view, however, as we are dealing with some ‘large’ concepts such as universality, individuality, culture, art, etc, it is important for me to try to define it. When you mention in your letter the words “like everyone else made in the image of your maker” I imagine that you are talking about a Maker in the sense of a divine being, as this is a subject we have touched on briefly in our discussions, particularly in regard to Richard Dawkins. At the time I didn’t note the importance of this and didn’t question it but as a result of your last letter I now feel that it is important to address. My belief is that I have an unquantifiable number of makerS, none divine, few if any even vaguely extraordinary, some alive, some dead, some more important than others but all who have ‘made’ me by contributing to ‘my narrative’ and I am indebted to them all. For instance I was in Exeter yesterday having a cup of coffee and got talking to a man at the next table who, coincidentally, had spent his honeymoon in West Cork; he told me a story of about it. This story changed my view of Ireland ever so slightly – a little of my fiction unraveled, a little more was woven. This is a tiny incident that lasted about ten minutes with a complete stranger who I’ll probably never see again and yet he is one of my makers – a player in my narrative of myself. This process, I believe, goes on ceaselessly and in most cases is not consciously noted indeed could not possibly be entirely tracked or traced as it is so all encompassing. And, I have to admit the only reason that I can pinpoint it now is due to thinking through the ideas and issues at the heart of the MA project and being forced by your last letter to address it. It is probably needless to say but the nine years that I spent under your care wove a sizeable portion of my story and in this way I see you as a significant ‘maker’ of my fiction, not only then but now too.
It seems to me that depending on whether one believes in a Maker or in makerS then the ideas of Individuality, Universality, Identity, Art etc take on very different meanings. For instance if a phrase such as “What is unique to me is universal” is spoken from the point of view of someone who believes in a Maker it may suggest an ownership by, or allegiance to, a Greater Being. Later in the letter you use a phrase from the New Testament – Every hair on your head is counted – these words evoke a presence that has an all seeing knowledge, an omniscient force that has counted every hair on your head and could variously be seen to control or guard or both. Either way what is evoked is individuality within a culture of predestination.
If on the other hand I use the phrase “What is unique to me is universal” coming as I do from a belief in numerous makerS I use it to suggest individuality within a culture of interdependency: in this way the word ‘universal’ becomes all inclusive as my story involves input, or possible input, by everyone/anyone, and more complexly, everything/anything. And ‘unique’ because I was born in ‘that’ place and at ‘that’ time and start from a place where no one else can exactly begin their story and therefore the accumulation of experience is never the same for two people; each persons resultant output, whether a brief conversation, an artwork, a text, etc, contributes something unique to the stories/narratives, unraveling/weaving of others. And in this way we make each other. My belief is that ‘individuality’ is nothing more or less than a cocktail of experiences fashioned into a constantly changing idea of itself that owes as much to others as to itself but which is rooted in the temporal moment and physical location of birth. As such the word individual becomes something of a misnomer. (If it’s not too mad an idea I feel that the personal pronoun should be ‘we’ instead of ‘I’) My fascination with Merleau-Ponty, and in particular my struggle to understand the notion of the Chiasm as set out in The Visible and the Invisible stems from this belief in interdependency and how it may relate to ‘otherness’.
To return to a question you asked in your last letter (which has caused me to weave another chunk of myself by forcing me to identify why I feel it is anomalous, although, and I suppose this is the point, it is only anomalous from my point of view not yours) – “Are you frightened of losing your ‘narrative’ self because you will lose control – lose your self in the realisation of your universality – like everyone else made in the image of your maker of his/her fantasy?” the answer is a categorical NO as from my perspective I cannot possibly lose my narrative self in the realisation of my universality as it can only exist within the realisation of my universality, is in fact dependent upon it to continuously and simultaneously weave and unravel it. I recognise that your question is only anomalous if viewed from the position of someone who believes in makerS but it does highlight some of the discrepancies between what I sometimes feel you mean and what I mean. As we are dealing with terms like ‘non-Knowingness’ and ‘Art’ I can’t help feeling that it is important to try to establish not only what we agree on but what we disagree on too!; And, maybe more importantly, to recognise that we may be approaching these subjects from very different avenues. I have struggled all along to describe this belief to you largely because, until now, I had never really tried to analyse it and would have had difficulty describing it to myself. (Following your letter I have had to – something else to say thank you for). I’m not sure if the content of this letter makes my position any clearer
(gave up at this point)
As I say in the letter from my point of view recognising these differences shouldn’t negate the possibility of collaboration and, in fact, may enhance it. At times you startle me with observations that cause me to effortlessly tress strands of my thought together that had been independent of each other. For instance in the second section of your letter you wrote:
I still think that [the central question] is for you, the question of your identity – who you are and consequently what is the nature of your relationship with others. It is strange perhaps that you may be searching for an answer to these questions by analysing what happens to you when you were anaesthetised. Perhaps it is a bit like stopping something moving so that you can see it better. Like controlling a variable when studying the interaction of multiple variables – what happens to me when I am incapable of reacting or responding?
Your paragraph has helped me to expose to myself the circularity of my central concern based as it is on an examination of ‘becoming’, which, if taken in light of what I have tried to outline as my belief in makerS is for me a constant process of making/being made of Becoming-through-encounter. There are obvious links to my fascination of time spent under general anaesthesia which, as you say, stops “something moving”, stops this process of becoming, which begs the question about the nature of the encounter happening at the operating table, what has happened to the narrative process?; who owns it? For someone who believes, as I do, that to exist means to be remade every three seconds approx (relying on Miroslav Holub here for this quantifying of the temporal dimension of the present moment) the relationship between surgeon and patient is perhaps the most extreme example of the possible input of the ‘other’ to my narrative as it takes place against the removal of this becoming from the continuum of the story but the ‘other’ in the encounter appears to continue to act in and on the narrative even during the apparent truncation of this narrative. The recommencement of the ceaseless process of becoming, following the regaining of consciousness after anaesthesia necessitates a new story based on a changed physicality and a seemingly interrupted narrative; a leap of imagination across the chasm of general anaesthesia’s total void is required to weld the two sides of the narrated self together. I suppose the artwork that may be produced as a result of our collaboration is based on my curiosity about that part of my narrative that you experienced and I didn’t and whether the surgeon has a role to play in the creation of that new story?
I hope that this may give you a better insight into why I am obsessed by the words ‘process’ and ‘community’ and have now added to them the words ‘Becoming’ and ‘makerS’ which, now that I come think of it, may well be the same thing; either way I feel that these words encapsulate the premise of the MA work as well as being embedded in the subject matter which is the operation. And, I hope, that I haven’t completely turned you off the idea of continuing with the collaboration. There are so many strands that have developed since I last saw you that I could write another twenty pages but feel that this is enough for anyone to digest.
At the moment I plan to be in Cork in early February with the idea of possibly meeting twice – the first time to complete the narrative of the operation and the second to record it. Finally, I hope (there are a lot of “hopes” in this letter which may give you a clue to my state of mind) that you are in no doubt as to your importance in this process but I will fully understand if it is taking a direction that is no longer of interest to you.
I hope that your work is going well and that the Donegal painters show is on track.
p.s. The letter I would like to publish are the ones we have been exchanging over the last 11 months which really only include ideas; we have not mentioned others in them apart from the occasional philosopher, author or artist. Don’t worry; it will only be in my project report and website – not a huge audience! But if you would prefer not to please let me know.
I write immediately in response to yours of 07.01.08. I would be sad if what has been a fascinating collaboration would be ended by these ‘differences’. But honesty there has to be otherwise all is pretence.
To be clear, with Oscar Wilde –
“If he is God I shall follow him.
If not, I shall follow him still”
With Dylan Thomas
(every poem) “for the love of Man and in praise of God and I’d be a damned fool if they weren’t”
But faith is nothing without doubt. It’s because I don’t know that I continue to search.
Yes, I think certain words mean different things to different people most words in fact between most people. Words are not absolutes. We both try to be honest, and I think we have travelled far in sharing our search but the whole point of going on is to try to bridge the gap that will always be there. By definition collaboration can only be between two or more different entities. But, again, we have things in common, some I like to think quite special – our honesty with each other for a start. I also am made up of all the factors you refer to in your identity. Like you and everyone else I am unique. That uniqueness is no trivial matter. Perhaps my only absolute is that I would go to the end in defence of my fellow man or woman’s right to his or her uniqueness. The cosy comfort of certainty, the hallmark of the fundamentalist bigot, is not my way. But I am moved by dreamers, who dying, turn to the man hanging beside them and say ‘this day you shall be with me in paradise.’
All I would ask is that you do accept that I do not know the answers.
I think we can go on. I hope so! I remember my mother throwing a bottle of milk at my father and then they made up with flagrant passion; Nothing better to cleanse the system than a bloody good row. I hope our rows get bigger.
Really loved Titian: Nymph & Shepherd :- the intimacy of shared vulnerability object and subject are one. “No barriers remain that cannot be dismantled with a touch. Far beyond the borders of desire. Consolation and celebration.”
Enclosed thoughts from my Zen reading “knows the truth by not knowing”
Knowing never made a dream.
As usual, I do not write immediately. This is not because I am uncertain about the content of your last letter but because as I compile the Project Report I am finding that the ideas are both solidifying and evaporating at an alarming rate. Before I try to sketch an idea of the current state of play as I see it I have to make a few comments about your letter. Firstly, I hope you don’t see the content of my last letter as intending to be row inducing although I quite agree that the two of us have the ability to have a bloody good one, no, a great one! Anyway, I was more worried that we may have reached an impasse (I still have the nagging feeling that I am getting more from this exchange then you are) but I am delighted that you want to go on as I very much want to as well. Indeed, if you can bear to continue after the MA I can see this work continuing. As you say there are no answers…
Right, to business – your inclusion of the sentence “Yes, I think certain words mean different things to different people most words in fact between most people. Words are not absolutes” has an echo with part of the work. We have already discussed the inability of the anaesthetized patient to form words or partake in a dialogue and the consequential possible burden of responsibility on the surgeon to ‘witness’ the operation for the patient. In the ‘real world’ this may have implications for the quality of the ideal discourse in the post-operative meeting/s between surgeon and patient although what ‘ideal’ may mean in this context is open to debate. But, there is also a more abstract aspect, which arises if we concentrate on the absence of words and wonder about the possibility of non-linguistic moments – a space between an act and an awareness of that act – the space before we can formulate words to explain to ourselves, to reflect. I realize this is going off on a complete tangent but thought I would mention it anyway. Without going into too much detail I have become an advocate of John Searle’s philosophy of consciousness which, very briefly if you don’t know it, sits between monism and dualism. To quote from my draft of the project report:
Labelled as Biological Naturalism his philosophy agrees with the materialist viewpoint in believing that the “universe is entirely made up of physical particles that exist in fields of force and are often organized into systems” and agrees with the dualist viewpoint “that there are irreducible mental phenomena” but disagrees with materialism’s claim “that there are no ontologically irreducible mental phenomena” and disagrees with dualism’s belief that the irreducible mental phenomena in which they believe are “something apart from the ordinary physical world we all live in.” (2004, p.88) For Searle consciousness is the result of neuronal processes in the brain; consciousness and those neuronal processes are part of the same entity working at different levels. The functioning of the brain at the level of neurons and synapses causes consciousness at a level higher than themselves. “Think of it this way: roughly speaking, consciousness is to neurons as the solidity of the piston is to the metal molecules. Both consciousness and solidity function causally. But neither is ‘over and above’ the systems of which they are a part.” (p.91) For Searle conscious states have an irreducible first-person ontology while their neuronal substrate has a third-person reducible ontology. In this model the individual could be relegated to a body and a collection of experiences if it was not for the sensation of having a continuous consciousness: our present consciousness is not experienced as being disconnected from past consciousness. Searle mentions two exceptions to this feeling of continuity – being knocked unconscious and having had a general anaesthetic (p.201). Otherwise, our experiences in our field of consciousness are organised both at the point of the present time and over past time into complex structures.
It seems to me that in Searle’s model temporality and memory allow the Self to create itself (through storytelling), with the ability of multiple ‘selves’ to use language, to communicate, facilitating his argument against the sense-data isolationist viewpoint; for him the individual is a ‘social’ being, and it is not surprising that he is occasionally mentioned in the same breath regarding the importance of the ‘utterance’ as Bakhtin. For me this convergence is a coincidence as I began with Searle purely with an interest in his ideas of consciousness and was unaware of his writing on language (although in hindsight I suppose it is inevitable that anyone dealing with consciousness has to, sooner or later, address language but in my innocence (ignorance?!) that wasn’t apparent to me when I started on this course of wandering), and my interest in Bakhtin was due to his concentration on the specifics of verbal intercourse between this person and this person rather than the more withdrawn theoretical approach of many linguists in particular the Structuralist viewpoint. This interpersonal approach by both Searle and Bakhtin, obviously has ramifications for the highly personal relationship of surgeon and patient, whether this relationship is acknowledged or not. I know we have already discussed the perception of Bakhtin as supporting the view that ‘being is communication’ and that in complex ways we are created socially – our memories and stories are conditioned by our communication with others, and, I think, objects although trying to take that on at this stage frightens me to death. When I say memory here I mean it in such a way that it can be almost instantaneous as well as long-term. Our current consciousness exists only in our field of consciousness in the ‘present moment’ – Searle’s neurons firing endlessly – beyond that all is available to our story-telling self-creating selves.
The question then is where in this model is there room for non-linguistic awareness? Presumably, it has to be rooted in a temporal moment, millisecond or smaller unit of time. I can’t help feeling that there are knock on implications that include the possibility of ‘not-knowingness’ fitting into that space of time before thoughts, responses etc are formulated to ourselves let alone anyone else. In this way rather than being some sort of eternally earned once encountered state of grace that can be attained and retained indefinitely it is instead a (probably) fluctuating ability to access and ‘slow down’ an actual function of the brain: a technique of suspended and crucially wordless self-listening that needs to be constantly practised? I don’t mean this to sound like a possible subject for night classes (!) but more a belief in the possibility of the self to create a space between the function of experiencing the ‘event’ whatever that may be, and the process that allows for self-storytelling to begin.
Phew! As you will glean the struggle is ongoing. To be more pragmatic and to return to the actual requirements for the MA I am hoping to be in Cork on Wednesday 6th of Feb and wonder if we could meet to discuss the monologue and, if possible, to record it on the Friday – which is the 8th of Feb? My thinking at the moment is that it makes most sense (at this stage) if the wording is what the patient would hear should they have the ability to do so. In other words, the idea of using a second and third voice which I think may be pertinent later doesn’t fit at the moment. So, whatever you imagine would be said, by you, the surgeon over the body is what I would like to hear. This may well sound disjointed as indeed one side of any conversation would be which is fine as it seems to mirror the inability of the patient to reply/partake. However this one-sidedness is also your part in the conversation that I imagine goes on with colleagues and not just the unrealisable one with the patient. Obviously words and phrases might be repeated etc but as I have been there eight times but never heard what goes on I am at a complete loss to know what to suggest. Maybe we can imagine the scenario and you could place yourself in the scene and just talk away as you remember you may have. We could then work this into a script and record it. Let me know if you think this is possible.
I meant to mention in my last letter that I had to laugh when you wrote that Roisīn thinks that what we’re doing is rubbish, she has a point– I oscillate between that position and one of hope that it isn’t a complete fools errand! With that thought I’ll sign off.
Keep wandering (and painting, of course)
Yours of 23.01.08 is getting beyond me. I shall have to read the whole of John Searle to have any hope of understanding the possibilities or otherwise of irreducible mental phenomena!
But, I hear things I do understand – ‘our field of current consciousness exists only in the present moment’ (see enclosed Zen stuff)
‘Non-linguistic awareness’ – Yes – this is close to the pre-reflective, non-knowing area we have been dancing around for a long time – “fitting into that space of time before thoughts, responses etc are formulated”.
– the solidity of the piston is to the metal molecules is good –this alignment of what at first seems, and maybe is, unrelated, creates a new awareness/sharing/ – there are some poems that leave me at their end with, not a new scientific insight, but gasping in awe at the beauty of the metaphor. I do not know more but I have lived deeper because of that poem. I am, I increasingly realise a hopeless romantic. I offer no defense and look forward to my punishment with a low burning ecstasy.
Dates all penned in for February. I will play as directed by you.
David[Inserted with letter]
More from Alan Watts Zen – p220
“So too one cannot get away from the eternal present by trying to attend to it, and this very fact shows that apart from this present, there is no distinct self that watches and knows it –
There is only this now. It does not come from anywhere, it is not going anywhere – though moving it is always still”.
I now think that your narrative is yours alone. No one else’s fingerprints are on it and never will be. But it is the substance of a dream –
Watts – “when Fa-chang was dying a squirrel screeched on the roof. ‘It’s just this’ he said, ‘and nothing else.’
But again – “Tread gently, for you tread upon my dreams.”
I think you said that John Danvers was one of your tutors. I was re-reading the extracts you sent me from Picturing Mind and thought the enclosed relevant to our recent dialogue. Have you and he considered your thesis in the light of these thoughts of his.
“It presents a universe that is a reflection of us. It is real in a relative and conditional sense. So long as we recognise that it is woven by us, an aspect of our own self-construction, it is useful, we can be creative with it and produce noble ideas, theories and artefacts. But if we lose sight of the fact that it is a human construction, a reality woven of signs, ideas and dreams, we can find ourselves in deep trouble, afflicted by hubris, uncontrolled desires and alienation from our environment. We become entangled in a web that we have spun, unable to extricate ourselves, convinced that the web is the one reality of many truths. We are seduced into believing that our own sparkling iridescent construction is all that there is.” (p.85)
I’m not sure if this letter will arrive in Cork before I do but I was delighted to get yours this morning confirming that you are willing and available to meet up and do some work! I am writing this on the train from Plymouth and am surrounded by all kinds of highly professional recording equipment with which to ‘catch’ our two meetings next week. My plan is to spend the weekend trying to get my thoughts together so that I at least know what I am aiming for and we can use this as a starting point from which to pool ideas and hopefully come up with a script that we can record. I increasingly see this as you doing a solo, this, I feel, is based on something I wrote in October:
I hope I will be in a position to support this feeling in a little more depth when we meet.
Isn’t it curious that you have to point out the relevance of John’s words that I sent to you. At the time I was thinking more of your interest in ‘suchness’ than my own affinity with the words. Indeed, at the time I struggled to understand much of what John was trying to say. Now, because of all that has occurred since, it is almost as clear as day and yet I had totally forgotten about it! Thank you for reminding me.
Anyway, the train is approaching Exeter so I will sign off. Looking forward to collaboratively producing something next week…I will phone to arrange time of rendezvous.
March – April 2008
The late Professor David Jenkins’ collaboration, imaginative support and enthusiasm made this project possible.