Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Essay: "The Knife." Richard Selzer.

Review: Poetic and literal impressions of a surgeon wielding the knife. An up-close view of what the surgeon sees and does as he operates on human bodies. The details are direct, not disgusting. But no forgetting the power of the surgeon over human life. You need to read some sample passages.

Quote: “One holds the knife as ne holds the bow of a cello or a tulip-by the stem. Not palmed nor gripped nor grasped, but lightly, with the tips of the fingers. The knife is not for pressing. It is for drawing across the field of skin. Like a slender fish, it waits, at the ready, then go! It darts, followed by a fine wake of red. The flesh parts, falling away to yellow globules of fat. Even now, after so many times, I still marvel at its power—cold, gleaming, silent. More, I am still struck with a kind of dread that it is I in whose hand the blade travels., that my hand is its vehicle, that yet again this terrible steel-bellied thing and I have conspired for a most unnatural purpose, the laying open of the body of a human being.”

Quote: “But mostly you are a traveler in a dangerous country, advancing into the moist and jungly cleft your hands have made.”

Quote: “I have stood aside with lowered gaze while a priest, wearing the purple scarf of office, administers the Last Rites to the man I shall operate upon. I try not to listen to those terrible last questions, the answers, but hear with scorching clarity, that formalize the expectations of death. For a moment my resolve falters before the resignation, the attentiveness, of the other two. I am like an executioner who hears the cleric comforting the prisoner. For the moment, I am excluded from the centrality of the event, a mere technician standing by. But it is only for a moment.”

Comment: Whew! RayS.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books. 1995.

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