Monica Carroll and Adam Dickerson
A description of a collaboration between a writer (Monica Carroll) and a philosopher (Adam Dickerson).
Through Husserl’s phenomenology we explored the idea of forms of writing that could be coherent with lived experience and with an experience of the body. We found that specialised forms of description, such as anatomical description, shaped and portrayed some parts of lived experience while leaving others parts unspoken. Our explorations in this field produced an artists’ book of loose-leaf folios that point towards unspoken areas of the body, both animated and lifeless.
The work published here is part of a collection of composed pages combining written, illustrated, tonal, and geometric texts. Primarily, the collection comprises details from the 19th century anatomical drawings of Joseph Maclise combined with contemporary prose poems. This combination makes evident the invisible ethical structures of aesthetic choice. In a contemporary context, the tradition of 19th century narrative anatomical drawing may appear uncanny or macabre. We do not expect, from a medical discipline, representations of the body that allow a sense of person, history, pain, and resting peace, to persist. We do not expect representations of the body to tell the story of the person, to offer narrative. Contemporary instructional texts developed from dissection observations have become abstracted from personhood.
Including the face of a cadaver is a key feature of early anatomical works. The faces in Maclise are expressive and individuated. To draw a face—not the face—is to draw a person, which is to show someone who lived; someone with a history. To attend to representing a face shows an appreciation of humanity and personhood; it is an ethical decision privileging the significance of narrative, or ‘story’ over description, that is, ‘what is’.
Contemporary anatomical drawing omits the face or provides a generic fictional face that never belonged to a living person. As Caldwell remarks, “[t]he face is not represented today unless medically necessary” (2006: 343). It is an ethical decision to privilege medical necessity by imposing anonymity over subjectivity.
The prose poems, coupled with a drawing, are presented in this collection as a means to restoring the possibility of choice in medical necessity. As TS Eliot has shown us in The Music of Poetry, a poem can straddle the personal and the universal, the specific and the general. Poetry is a compass pointing us towards the face, voice, person and story in each anonymous represented death.
Monica Carroll is an experimental writer who attends to empathy, pain and poetry.
Adam Dickerson is a philosopher who works on questions of representation, language and meaning. He lectures at the University of Canberra, Australia.
- Caldwell, J. 2006. ‘The Strange Death of the Animated Cadaver: Changing Conventions in Nineteenth-Century British Anatomical Illustration,’ Literature and Medicine, 25(2):325–357.
- Maclise, J. 1859. Surgical Anatomy. Philadelphia: Blankchard and Lea.