An Anatomy Lesson

Going though some old files I came upon this letter to the Editors to The Atlantic written in 1997. It is prophetic of the geo-political situation we find the nation experiencing.

And perhaps a more vital prophecy is there for all of humanity; the association prompted by a personal angst this author is suffering.

Here is the letter with preceding link to The essay in the archives of The Atlantic.


October 12, 1997

The Editors The Atlantic Monthly; 77 North Washington Street, Boston,Massachusetts 02114


Thank you for publishing “An Anatomy Lesson,” Lawrence Weschler, October 1997. Weschler’s despair at the undeniable proofs of man’s capacity to treat other men monstrously “in-humane-ly” brings him to the place I as a physician have been many times….the seeking repair by focus on the repair while excluding the morbid from my view.

Rembrandt’s masterpiece, An Anatomy Lesson” has of course been a commonplace literal background in my life. Though I have no claim to standing as a reliable critic of art I am struck that the genius of the painting is that it presents an utterly realistic and for me a mundane scene. And in that, in my opinion, is the greater lesson.

When we, overwhelmed, turn our focus to the limited and technical we lose the chance to perhaps learn lessons more likely to lead to understandings than can bring about a desirable change in man’s way of doing things. The conversations regarding the repetitive pattern of “civilized” men killing and desecrating each other in ethnic or religious fervor end in “Well, they have been doing this to each other for thousands of years and we are not going to stop it now.”

Weschler’s introduction of the death of the idealized Che suggests insight that it may not be so much the intensity of the passion of the believers that sets off the killing as it is the collapse of credibility of their particular design for a heaven, a utopia or a Shangri-La to be created in this literal world. In my opinion the Peress photograph of Haglund cradling the ruined once vital young dreamer is the example of transcendence that points the direction. As does the final quote of Herbert which directs us to the absolute necessity to hold in our deepest memory the essence of those “who have disappeared” lest the reality of the world be indecipherable and leave us only to compulsive repetition.


W. Lorraine Watkins, M.D.


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An Anatomy Lesson

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