Pictorial Etiquette

vascaccess_hickman_catheterA recent article on mobile pests and mobile phone etiquette [The Weekend Australian, David Meagher, Nov 26-7, 16] makes mention, under the caption OVERSHARING, “Some things – such as close-up photos of horrific dental work – do not need to be shared on social media.” He illustrates: “As I write this section I am trying to stop myself from throwing up, as I have just seen a photo on Facebook of the inside of someone’s mouth with a purulent abscess”. What then of my use of my picture of the Hickman Catheter in an earlier post, surgically inserted into my chest  in order to function as a central venous line to administer chemotherapy and other medications as part of my bone marrow stem cell transplant? Is its inclusion here in my blog similarly unseemly? Ungainly? A gross example of extreme poor taste?

Even a second of philosophical enquiry allows us to puzzle over not just the speed but the extent to which our mind can transform what is merely perceived into phobic entities that overwhelm and subsume physical appearances into now embodied psychological states. One might describe this process, in terms of the current example, as one of somaticization: the embodying, quite literally, of our dreads and fears.  But the real point is that in this horror of seeing the actual medical scene, the immense measure of our mind’s capacity to not just deploy but play with us is announced and measured. Now, to be honest, it was a real shock  having the catheter surgically inserted as I was made to realize, through a condensation of imagery, not just machinery, that my relation to the world, as a “singular” or intact human body – flesh – was itself open to a troubling interrogation. As a body circulating within a larger system of operations (those extending beyond the acute liminal sensitivity of my paper-thin skin) I was entirely dependent on being intubated. Anyhow! Whether it be via my mouth or other orifices, the sustainability of my flesh (not just mine but all flesh) involved an inevitable and porous concourse between “inside” and “outside” – the stuff of my body had to be able to circulate and exchange itself with all the other stuff composing the wider order of materiality, space junk,  in order to appear to exist at all!

What most deeply shocked was not the fact of my already-reliance on being connected to the universe via a network of tubes, or circulatory conduits as it were (this had been well announced by the earlier umbilical cord and our more than symbolic and often patriarchally-suppressed link to maternity) but the degree to which I had foreclosed this fact. Shut if off. Amputated it.  Surrendered it to the negligent space of the unconscious.

Psychically, in other words, and over an awfully long time, I had conjured my own body as some kind of free-floating mythical or mystical entity, a self-enclosing, self-describing, self-enveloping, self-producing thing dwelling apart from the world and thus able (so the conceit goes) to address it separately, which is to say, as  substantially different. 4905954051_56c54f57e2_bApart from all else. As fundamentally other. According to this prolonged post-umbilical magic-making, it was as though the world was secondary object to my always immediate and transcendental (need I add ‘superior’?) subjective state, or over-weaning need.

Considered this way, being required   to wear a Hickman Catheter in order to survive the transplant ordeal ahead, exposed me quite rudely, to the blunt face of my real nakedness: I had no integral reality apart from being made as an extension of the tissue of ordinary materials. Pinch off or block my Hickman and I was dead. Simple as that. No fuss. It is upon this basis that I argue I can more than legitimize inclusion of this now poignant image of my shaved and lubricated punctured chest. It exactly manifests my radical but all-too banal  interdependency.

Now some of you will argue that you knew this quite well enough without surgical intervention. Thank you. But what I wanted to relay just now is the source of my own disquiet at seeing this image of my own so abruptly  interrupted chest. In a single swoop I am confronted with the reality that I must die (at some poignant point) together with the realisation that  without dependence on the world I am nothing. As Nāgārjuna writes:

What originates having a cause,
Does not endure without conditions.
And, without conditions, is destroyed.
How do you understand such [a thing] as “existent]?
Verse 39.

See  Joseph Loizzo,  Nāgārjuna’s Reason Sixty (Yuktiṣaṣṭikā) with Chandrakīrti’s Commentary. New York: The American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2007, 189. 


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