Workout Log 12 September 2012: The Raft of the Medusa: Is Cancer a Language?

Eugene Delacroix, The Raft of the Medusa

On automatic pilot. Knew I had a procedure today at Queen Mary Hospital but got up, did a weight and dance workout to Journey to the Line and Sweelinck and forgot the required fast, with the result that my endoscopy has been postponed until next month.

The purpose is to find out why the stomach wall has an unusual curvature indicating a possible growth. I could advance the public-cost endoscopy by obtaining a private procedure but since there are no other symptoms I have decided to wait until next month.

In my workout, again, trying to remember to keep a low Maori or Lakota center of gravity: for yesterday at work I led the children in a stretch and plie followed by a dance to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines in which I went up tiddly up up and down tiddly down down a bit much…resulting in a bit of arse pain.

Kids love these bouncy Edwardian music hall tunes including Magnificent Men and Hunting Tigers out in India, so I use them in my teaching.

I share a physician with Mick Jagger for my doctor has treated him and is currently Lady Gaga’s personal physician in Hong Kong [no kidding on that: sic]: Jumping Jack Flash now needs to take precautions.

But on the level of myth I picked up an English book in Mei Foo, and it was the of course fictional story of a man of 100 in a nursing home who decided what the hell to just act as if he was fifty. Reminiscent of the recent film Benjamin Button.

A bit of westerner, Baby Boom denial? Ah, but my father felt the same. Gee, the people of Gaza might not want to live forever: they’re eating horse meat to break their Ramadan fast.

But currently, perhaps only due to fine weather, I am in a Wagnerian or Schopenhauerian mood, for I simultaneously acknowledge the beauty of the world yet do not demand an infinite amount of this, an unbounded temporal duration. That would be silly, for the afterlife is not known to be the experience of the withholding of earthly joy. You simply have to kiss the joy as it flies, and live in Eternity’s sunrise. Now I know this sounds pretty sappy but I have experienced it as true.

The pain is how much I love you
But I do not regret the departure

The Tumor

The Thing in my shoulder wearies me. As Antonio complains in Merchant of Venice:

It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

It seems to vary a bit in size and overall hardness depending on stress and in general is larger and harder after a work day. But I remind myself to be patient. Marie de Medici could afford the surgeons, and had the guts, pre-anesthesia, to endure the removal of a tumor in her old age but it just grew back more aggressively. Fanny Burney, on the other hand, had the money and the guts, and her breast cancer surgery in the 18th century was a success.

The tumor causes a bit of pain but doesn’t cross an important boundary. The pain doesn’t awaken one even when I am not using my prescribed sleeping pill (Stilnox).

So for now the strategy is to just keep a bead on this thing as if it were an enemy unit, which ones has to get to know and possibly, in a twisted way, love. It is the raft of the Medusa.

In this connection, it now appears that cancer is a language.

More generally, I think medical science needs to talk to formal linguistic theory and computer science. For even as the user’s “problem” in software wasn’t specific, but kept on evolving with changing business needs, meaning that the user needed, not a solution, but a language for talking about solutions, each cancer is DIFFERENT.

Simple-minded business creeps were always, in my experience as a software developer, always looking for magic bullets. In the same way, Nixon proposed we find a “cure” for cancer.

But as with AIDs, which was supposed to be fatal in all cases in 1983, we find that there’s no cure but there is a form of life. And a form of life is a language in Wittgenstein. HIV positivity turned out not to lead on in all cases to AIDs and even the latter, roughly comparable to my Stage IV, turns out to be a journey of a length and quality you can determine.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

Emily Dickinson’s poem is sometimes interpreted superficially as a Puritan warning groaned from on high, but it’s not. It’s about a journey of great solemnity and beauty and that journey is life, like right here and now, here and now, boys as the Parrot says in Huxley’s Island.

Anyway…I knew chaps who did DNA sequencing early in the Genome project at Princeton and those that were also computer programmers said that DNA sequencing is like programming in a difficult low level machine language.

However, I need to stay out of actual research because programming computers makes me crazy. The patient, in my catechism, has merely to observe, report, wait and hope, and pray, and sing and tell old tales, like Lear and Cordelia in clink. Somebody else can win the Nobel, and save my sorry ass.

There is nothing like a Tumor
To drain the room of Humor
Even the merest Rumor
Of a Tumor
Is apt to make he who’s Gloomy, Gloomer.
So if you have one of these
Get it checked out if you please
Don’t fuck around and hope for the best
Get a doctor whether from the East or from the West
And listen to what he or she doth Say
So that you may live long, dance and be Gay

I don’t know the shot. Like the guys on the Raft of the Medusa, I am frantically signaling the world. The Frantic Signaller (La Signe Frenetique) may already be saved. But the cancer is signaling to me…what? Clean up your act? To a Logical Positivist, the cancer means diddly squat. But to a linguist it is a language…like that story in Kafka of the prisoner who gets a tattoo.

I shoot off email to the kids, it goes unanswered, but I don’t know what that means. So I don’t choose to get upset about it. If you examine the real painting by Delacroix it’s hard to tell whether he painted the distant boat.


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