In “The Practice” Williams defines the job of the writer as to “catch the evasive life of the thing, to phrase the words in such a way that stereotype will yield a moment of insight” (122). He creates characters in a brief but penetrating presentation and always moves past the surface and the predictable or commonplace.
Consider Williams’ artistic goal as it informs a few of the pieces in The Doctor Stories and discuss what it says, not just about art, but about proper medical practice? Make ample and adroit use of the text to support your claims.
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'The Doctor Stories' is an interesting collection of a physician's thoughts: not only does it speak to art/the language of stories but it also includes many parallels and interdisciplinary principles relevant to the field of medicine.
What an interesting question! I was fascinated myself as I read Williams' essay. You mention the job of the writer to "catch.. that moment of insight." Over and over again, like a seasoned linguist who knows how to speak to his audience, Williams delves beneath the masks his patients wear to arrive at extraordinary diagnoses and conclusions, medical opinions which he hopes will pave the road to health and personal well-being for his patients. He talks about how he achieves a sense of peace as he goes about his work as a physician: he essentially becomes his patients.
..."for the moment at least I actually became them, whoever they should be,..."
As he sheds all his prejudices and inherent presuppositions, he finds his very psyche tangled in the intricacies of his patients' inner struggles as well as physical ailments:
"...the diagnosis would unravel itself, or would refuse to make itself plain, and the hunt was on. Along with that the patient himself would shape up into something that called for attention, his peculiarities, her reticences or candors."
Thus, he achieves peace in his pursuit of helping his patient. Cleverly, he appropriates the very human perspective of rational self-interest to propel himself towards a greater oneness with his patients. He becomes them; therefore there can only be the motivation to seek relief, nothing else. He relies "on the professional attitude every physician must call on" to counteract any personal prejudices against any patient. Thus, he steadies himself so that he can have
"...the peace of mind that comes from adopting the patient’s condition as one’s own to be struggled with toward a solution during those few minutes or that hour or those trying days when we are searching for causes, trying to relate this to that to build a reasonable basis for action which really gives us our peace."
This is also how he succeeds in his craft as a writer. He strips away all preconceptions (what he calls the "public view," which makes it difficult to differentiate between "sham and a satisfactory basis of thought") and is willing to shelve his discomfort at tearing away masks in order to arrive at the heart of the matter. This is to "catch the evasive life of the thing.." and arrive at that rare "moment of insight." He is not merely interested in a physical diagnosis as a physician, just as he is not interested in surface technicalities as a writer. He wants to delve into the secret places of his patients' souls as well as his readers' psyches to arrive at
"...the base of the matter to lay it bare before us in terms which, try as we may, we cannot in the end escape. There is no choice then but to accept him and make him a hero."
Williams is so energized by this that his writing takes on a spontaneity signifying his arrival at a heightened state of consciousness: he believes that we are too shallow as a society and that we have forgotten what it means to be "an accurate craftsman and a man of insight." He talks about the continued state of activity that is the hallmark of modern society; the incessant hurry and preoccupation with action: this is what he calls the "welter of evasive or interested patter." This restless activity is futile because it does not invite introspection, a very necessary ingredient to personal fulfillment in life. We let a "thousand trivialities push themselves to the front, our lying habits of everyday speech and thought" handicap us so that we cannot know ourselves, let alone anybody else.
He talks about writing and medicine being complementary disciplines: when one tires him, the other refreshes him. His need for authenticity is fueled both by his writing and his medicine. He tells us that what prevents self-actualization is "laziness, indifference and age-old besotted ignorance." He is convinced that we are confined and walled in by the status quo of individual dialectical prisons we humans have designed to make our neuroses more palatable, but the result is that we "are locked within ourselves, unable to say the simplest thing of importance to one another,.." We have become inarticulate due to our desire to hold onto man-made systems of existing. (This is what he calls the "dialectic cloud.") Dialectics is the method of argument where two parties attempt to arrive at the truth, coming from opposing trains of thought.
Williams underlines for us how both the physician and writer achieves mastery over these dialectical obstructions: by "careful listening" to "minutest variations of the speech" where the "essence is also to be found, hidden under the verbiage, seeking to be realized." Without careful listening, he contends that we cannot realize the poetry of this real "presence," this real ability to comprehend beneath the surface. He warns us that knowledge of any underlying meaning behind the facade of societal masks will "not use the same appearance for any new materialization." It behooves us therefore to struggle to be authentic, like a doctor attending the birth of a new baby, a writer also births insights carefully; his words are like
"...actual colors and shapes... laid before him carrying their tiny burdens which he is privileged to take into his care with their unspoiled newness."
I have tackled "The Practise" for you; perhaps you can use what I have delineated here for you to help you navigate the other stories. Thanks for the question!
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