Promise Of Death
I’m always trying, I think, to resolve my terror of mortality.1 The body is the most clear emblem of mortality, the promise of death, that these are temporal vehicles we’re in.2 There’s a kind of, for me, a kind of terror, but at the same time there’s a fascination with the body’s complexity, and its own almost independent intelligence of the mind. Yeah, all these things are working. Our hearts are beating, our brains are working, everything is working, all by itself. It’s an incredible intelligence going on.3 But at some point it’s going to fail us. To me there’s this kind of — I can’t seem to — I’m always trying to reconcile that in some way, and also there are a lot of doctors — there were a lot of doctors and nurses in my family, and I wanted to be a doctor. I was fascinated, still am, by hospitals, by the history of medicine, how medicine is developed over the centuries. Often the greatest discoveries in medicine come from war, war injuries.
In fact, to me, the greatest heroes in my pantheon of heroes are people who work in Doctors without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières, people who go out into the most horrific, dangerous areas to treat others, the doctors, the nurses. In fact I had a dream realized a few years ago when I was invited along on a medical mission to Ecuador. And I found myself in an operating room wearing scrubs and handing instruments to the surgeon. And I have this horrible squeamishness of the body, if I see blood, or have to go get a blood test. I tell them right away, “I faint. You have to give me the fainting couch.” But then I — at the same time I can stand and watch someone’s face being peeled back as they’re repairing their jaw.
So, I thought well, that’s so weird, that I can do both. So, I had this constant — when I saw those medical — and those 18th century wax anatomies in Florence, in the museum, used for medical students, they’re also works of art. Napoleon had his own set ordered for him. I became obsessed with them, I really did. And I went back several times, I read everything, wrote that one story, Ecorche: Flayed Man. And I would ask myself why am I so obsessed with this? And I think it’s just an admiration of the body, and a resistance to the notion of its decay and breakdown and dissolution.