‘This is a book about seeing and being seen; about looking at being looked at. It is an intimate book, where the private process of looking and seeing passes from one person looking at herself, to being seen or ‘examined’ by a surgeon, to being looked at by an artist. In each situation a transformation occurs. The gaze of the patient on her own body is objectified by that of the surgeon assessing the success of his work. But then the creative looking of the artist takes over and what has been regarded as a mark of disease and of violation undergoes an extraordinary flowering, to become a thing of beauty. In that process what was hidden can now be seen, but it is transfigured. The surgical scar becomes a fissure bathed in light illuminating the path to a new way of seeing.
We are extraordinarily fortunate to have played a part in opening out this very intimate process to public view. Kathleen Jamie’s work has strong connection with our work in the medical humanities not just because of her forays into medical subjects, but also because her writing, through the acuteness of its observation, enables the reader to be surprised about everyday things, and to see things anew. To be able to look with a fresh eye is a crucial skill for medical practitioners, but it can also be transformative for patients and for all those whose lives illness and medicine touch.
On her second stay with us at the Centre for Medical Humanities, while holding a Fellowship at Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study, Kathleen spoke of her conversations and explorations with Brigid Collins. We were captivated by the idea that one woman’s recovery from mastectomy might be facilitated by having her scar explored by an artist, and by her reflections on how that ‘felt’ n comparison to having the scar examined by her surgeon. Kathleen’s thoughts were presented alongside Brigid’s initial visual responses at an invited seminar as part of the Centre for Medical Humanities’ theme, ‘The Recovery of Beauty’, and the idea of a book was born. The project spoke to our own work on understanding embodied experience, exemplifying how new imaginative perspectives can transform attitudes to the body, illness, medicine and health, and chiming in a unique way with our consideration of the meanings and possibilities of beauty.
It is integral to experiencing this work that the exchange happens in the intimate space between page and reader. This book manifests the care with which Brigid looked. We hope that readers will recognise that care, whatever their own experience of illness and recovery and themselves be transformed by the beauty and hope that these images represent.’
For this remarkable book we are looking for two reviewers with direct experience of cancer, particularly from a survivor and surgeon to generate discussion on its meaning, texture, and representation of survival. If you would like to write a review on Frissure (approximately 1,000 words in length), then please email our reviews editor with a short explanation of why you are well placed to review the book.