An English In Kentucky


















Wednesday October 24th 2012    Tim Candler

     Interesting moment in "the Scottish Play," or what we who are trying hard to avoid long-windedness call "Macbeth." This tyrannical man's wife was suffering from what his doctor called "thick-coming fancies that kept her from rest."  Lady Macbeth's sleep walking and yelling things like "out damn spot," and nattering on about imported perfumes sweetening "this little hand,"  had become worrisome.  Macbeth, who was mostly frightened of everything because he was so damn ambitious, suffered his own hallucinations, and understood what it was to be a little nuts, asked his doctor to, "minster to (lady Macbeth's) mind disease."  He wanted the doctor, to  "pluck from memory a rooted sorrow, raise out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon her heart."  The doctor didn't really see his role as ministering to guilt ridden or troubled souls, so his excellent reply was basically "the patient must minister to herself."  Which wasn't the antidote  Macbeth wanted for his wife or for himself, and Lady Macbeth went on to kill herself.  Which for some readers produces a sympathy for Macbeth's wife, because by killing herself some of us leap for the conclusion that at least she felt guilty about something, but probably we are just wishy-washy communists with our heads firmly in the sands of empathy.

     Then much later, a Hungarian with the wonderful name of Ignaz Fulop Semmelweis, came to the conclusion that patients where much more likely to survive contact with the medical profession if doctors and nurses regularly washed their hands with chlorine.  This was an idea considered too absurd by those established in a profession that did not believe in what came to be called a 'germ,' from the Latin word for 'germen' which translates into English as 'bud.'  Ignaz was dismissed as a speculator in nonsense, even after he produced evidence in the form of a very suspicious looking, yet colorful, graph to support his claim.  "A Semmelweis Reflex," is politely defined as a reflex-like tendency to reject  ideas that interrupt more comfortably established idea.  And here, Timothy Leary, in his own curious manner ends his  theatrical definition of Semmelweis Reflex with the words, "in which a discovery of important scientific fact, is punished."   And worth noting Ignaz came to the end of  his life in an asylum, where he died at the age of forty seven of what a doctor today would call 'septicemia,' but which most still think of as blood poisoning, because 'septicemia' sounds pompously obscure and has the uncomfortable 'C'.  And I guess the title of this ramble will be either "I am so much older than Semmelweis," or its title will be something the nineteen fifties first began to call "cognitive dissonance."  Which is when a mind starts making things up to avoid actually having to consider the possibility of it being capable of error. 

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