Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blood: The Stuff of Life

Blood: The Stuff of Life
Lawrence Hill

As a surgeon, I have had a long and quite vivid experience with blood, not all of it pleasant. So I was drawn to Lawrence Hill’s Blood: The Stuff of Life. The latest in the prestigious CBC Massey Lectures is a comprehensive reflection on identity and its fallacious instantiation with the hemoglobin-containing bodily fluid that flows in and nurtures all vertebrates. The stuff of life indeed!  

Restricting his examination to the human animal, Hill documents the multifold “meaning” of blood in human history. The book’s scope is impressive: from human sacrifice to therapeutic blood transfusions; from blood as expiator of crime and sin to its transformation through disease into an existential threat to the body that produces it; from witches to vampires, with figures as diverse as William Harvey (who first discovered circulation), Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Louis Riel and Ben Johnson. Finally the book settles on blood as an instrument in demarcating Self and Other. Here, Hill, the son of white and black Americans who settled in Canada and author of the celebrated The Book of Negroes, is in very comfortable territory. 

The book is enlivened by Hill’s personal and familial experiences with blood, both real and metaphorical. While identity, specifically the African-American identity, and the ways society denigrates and dismisses certain of its members are clearly important to Hill, he affirms the humanist and scientifically accurate description that we are all part of the unfolding diversity of the human family.  Amen!

Brian Ostrow is a retired surgeon who volunteers internationally. He knew he wanted to be a surgeon the first time he cut into human flesh!

The Massey Lecture will be held at Lakeside Hope House, October 29th @ 7pm. Tickets are available in the bookstore.

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