Faithful Improvisation and Dissonance: On Life as Embodied Music
Tyler Couch, B.S., Medical Student, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
The topics of the body, illness, and death are of such depth that our language in engaging them almost by necessity turns to metaphor. Physicians and patients alike have employed several metaphors in discussing these topics – the body, for instance, is often referred to as a machine whose parts fail in illness. These metaphors can be quite helpful; yet, we must always remain mindful of our use of these metaphors and the ways in which our language regarding health and disease can become distorted. In this paper, I explore the metaphors that commonly frame discussions of medicine and the body. Specifically, I utilize the work of Wendell Berry, Rita Charon, Jeffrey Bishop, and Joel Shuman to investigate the language of the body as machine, the body as narrative, and the body as landscape. Following a description of the way in which these metaphors are both helpful and insufficient, I then seek to supplement this language by proposing the novel metaphor of life as embodied music. Utilizing the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, Samuel Wells, and Robert Pogue Harrison, I suggest that the language of life as an embodied song allows for unique consideration of both our dependence on others and the need for close attention to tradition. Drawing examples for my training as a medical student, I further argue that the musical metaphor offers language that is helpful for framing the role of the physician in caring for the patient who is learning to improvise faithfully amidst the dissonant notes of sickness and suffering. Finally, I suggest that the metaphor of life as embodied music provides useful imagery for discussing the way in which the songs of our lives fit into the broader movements of our traditions and in turn shape the music of our community. My paper therefore reviews the language commonly employed to discuss medicine and the body, comments upon the ways that this language is both helpful and insufficient, and proposes novel language of life as embodied music that can account for the role of the physician, dependence on communities, and faithfulness in both life and death to the overarching themes of our traditions.