Review by Emily Wojcik
October 23, 2012
It is a privilege to be healthy, one that we egregiously take for granted when we are well and become all too aware of once we have lost it. Literature about illness is a mainstay of the contemporary memoir—there are books detailing battles with cancer, anorexia, bipolar disorder, the loss of limbs, strokes, childhood diseases—as well as popular tomes about the quirky or tragic histories of such maladies and their cures.
While the illness memoir may be a relatively new phenomenon, the worlds of literature and medicine have long been interconnected, particularly for practitioners in the field. Western literature is full of doctors who were also writers or artists, from Copernicus to Anton Chekov to William Carlos Williams and, today, Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, and others. This should perhaps be unsurprising. As Andrzej Szczeklik makes clear in Kore: On Sickness, the Sick and the Search for the Soul of Medicine, medicine has long been as much about interpretation and narrative, metaphysics and superstition, as it is about diagnosis and treatment.
Szczeklik, who passed away in January of this year, was chairman of the department of medicine at Poland’s Jagiellonian University, and author of Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine, an earlier work of similarly thoughtful essays. In this philosophical exploration of the “soul of medicine,” Szczeklik takes the reader through a brief history of the profession, interspersed with his own autobiography and digressions into specific maladies and breakthroughs that changed the way we think about the body. Continue reading