Scattered Limbs

Iain Bamforth


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12 September 2020
ISBN: 9781903385951
277 pages

From the publisher

Scattered Limbs is a collection of anecdotes, observations and opinions, which restores a mythological dimension to the most obvious and yet enigmatic of subjects, the human body. In contrast to the utopian fuzziness offered by the WHO’s definition of health— “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”—Scattered Limbs gets down and dirty and hunts intellectual minotaurs all the way back to their obscure lairs and labyrinths in pre-Homeric Greece.

Written over twenty years, its entries range from aphorisms to anecdotes, which in their strangeness and baroque memorability, sometimes resemble Borges’ tales of imaginary beings—though the “imaginary” beings here are often remarkable patients. The book moves between topics as diverse as Lao Tzu, Goya and his doctor, Rabelais and Rousseau, Plato’s perfect human, the nocebo effect (dark twin of the placebo effect), aromatherapy, mosquitoes, the TV series House, Franz Rosenzweig, Vincent van Gogh’s painting of an onion, Prussian ideas of “fitness”, the Book of Job, depression as a media-disseminated “folk illness” of the industrialised West, the Beatles’ contribution to the invention of the CT scan, The Magic Mountain, Freud’s nephew and PR guru Edward Bernays, and not least the idea of professionalism, including a provocative disquisition: “What is a good doctor?”.

Scattered Limbs is as unique as its unusual author who has worked in medical cultures in four different languages. He has been hospital doctor, general practitioner, a developmental health specialist in Asia and he is a poet with 5 published volumes to his name. Iain Bamforth’s previous prose works include A Doctor’s Dictionary (Carcanet Press, 2015), The Good European (Carcanet Press, 2006) and The Body in the LibraryA Literary History of Modern Medicine (Verso, 2003). He is a regular contributor to The TLS , The Lancet, the London Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review. He lives in Strasbourg.