Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Materia medica

Harry Mathews, summarizing the medical theories of the "philosopher-dentist" R. King Dri:
The human body, richest of nature’s fruits, is not a single organism made of constituent parts, but an assemblage of entities on whose voluntary collaboration the functioning of the whole depends. “The body is analogous to a political confederation—not to the federation as is normally supposed.” Every entity within the body is endowed with its own psyche, more or less developed in awareness and self-consciousness. Aching teeth can be compared to temperamental six-year-old children; an impotent penis to an adolescent girl who must be cajoled out of her sulkiness. The most developed entity is the heart, which does not govern the body but presides over it with loving persuasiveness, like an experienced but still vigorous father at the center of a household of relatives and pets. Health exists when the various entities are happy, for they then perform their roles properly and co-operate with one another. Disease appears when some member of the organism rejects its vocation. Medicine intervenes to bring the wayward member back to its place in the body’s society. At best the heart makes its own medicine, convincing the rebel of its love by addressing it sympathetically; but a doctor is often needed to encourage the communion of heart and member, and sometimes, when the patient has surrendered to unconsciousness or despair, to speak for the heart itself.

Raymond Roussel:
Paracelsus regarded each component of the human body as a thinking individual with an observing mind of its own, which enabled it to know itself better than anyone else could do. When it became ill, it knew what remedy could cure it and, in order to make its priceless revelation, only awaited questions cleverly put by a shrewd doctor who would wisely limit his true role to this.

Locus Solus
I had read Tlooth many times before picking up Locus Solus, though Mathews always made clear his debt to Roussel. As far as I can tell, the attribution to Paracelsus is spurious, although the Swiss doctor did have some curious (and progressive) ideas. The translation of the Roussel, from 1970, is credited to the mysterious Rupert Copeland Cuningham, evidently a pseudonym. An earlier version of the passage from Tlooth can be found at the website of the Paris Review. The book version incorporates numerous minor changes, most of them clear improvements; the word "communion" in the last line, for example, was originally "communication." The name R. King Dri is probably a pun or anagram of some sort.

No comments: