Friday, September 07, 2007

Embodiment, ii

[Guy Davenport, from the introduction to Montaigne's Travel Journal:]

He is, in a surprisingly modern sense, a tourist, with a tourist's interest in the amenities of the table and the bedroom. He is also, as we are never allowed to forget, a man in pain looking for a cure. His body cannot use certain minerals, such as calcium, which accumulate as pellets in his kidneys and bladder. The pain of a kidney stone is fierce, and in a male can be comparable to a woman's labor. The frequent "colic" in this journal (assuming that to be Montaigne's word for an attack of the stone) is a severe nausea in combination with the feeling that one's back is broken and that one's bowels need to move. Montaigne was fortunate in being able to pass his kidney stones. Another sufferer, Sir Walter Scott, could not, and abided pain of excruciating intensity for as long as two weeks at a time, helplessly screaming and hearing the New Testament read to him. Montaigne's constant scrutiny of his urine in a chamber pot, his colics and dizzy spells, his ability to drink heroic amounts of hot sulfurous water, locate his journal in a time when the body was still part of personality. Later, it would disappear. Dickens' characters, for instance, have no kidney stones because they have no kidneys. From Smollett to Ulysses, there is not a kidney in English literature.

5 comments:

Sisyphus said...

No kidneys in _Ulysses_!

Well, unless you don't count that Leopold Bloom loves to eat kidneys and does so (I think in chaper 3), savoring the tang of urine and smokeyness.

Ok, that was probably too much information. And technically not about kidney _stones._ Oh well.

Mark Scroggins said...

I guess I'd always read the sentence as setting Smollett (very somatically obsessed) & *Ulysses* -- the preeminent kidney-novel in English -- as bookends *between which* one finds no kidneys in EngLit. But maybe that's just the Percocet talking...

Alex Davis said...

No kidneys in Dickens! Davenport clearly hadn't read Sketches by Boz, in which there is a kidney-pie merchant and his pie-stand. Mind you, I'm not sure if this affects his general point, but Dickens could hardly be though of as creating "dis-embodied" personalities. How would Krook in Bleak House fit into his thesis. . . ?

Ed said...

have no 'fear' the Percocet
as do most other medications doctors throw at symptoms
will (eventually) destroy the kidneys and stones will be the least of the problems

the "Dickens" you SAY?

garbage in garbage garbage garbage could be the CAUSE (?)

ciao, Ed

Edmund Hardy said...
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