On Bearing Witness

Dr. Duchenne and Adrien Tournachon: Pain (1854)

V. has decided to “take on” Philip Roth. “It’s time someone took him on.” E. has again “strained my head” and must lie in the darkness for some weeks. D. is visited at night by angels in the form of shooting stars. He is deep into his marijuana and vodka, a blend of giddiness and self-pity. All three have at least the advantage of being mad. Their view of what is around them is clear and definite. The rest of us are conscious of our self-delusion, and this is what disturbs us. It will be what remains after we have finished with our dreams and ambitions. My own life seems to have been a series of jerky, aimless zigzags, spermatozoic, instinctive, irrational, an inborn error of metabolism over which I have had no control, only redeemed by the gift of language. I shall always believe that our own humanity depends upon the accuracy with which we are able to perceive the suffering around us, and to be witness to it.

Richard Selzer
Diary (2011)

Photo by NadarDr. Duchenne and Adrien Tournachon: Pain (1854)


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