A Body of Essays
BBC Radio 3, 13th – 17th October
Each Evening at 10:45
In a compelling synthesis of biology and literature, we’ll hear the ‘dark continent’ of our inner body, scrutinised through its hidden constituents – the organs. In this series, five writers, Mark Ravenhill, Christina Patterson, Daljit Nagra, Naomi Alderman and Ned Beauman, take on one of the body’s organs. They essay on the intestines, skin, lungs, gall bladder and appendix. In each case they’ve met an expert in their chosen organ who has regaled them with its medical function, but ultimately they express what the organ’s significance is to them; linking history, culture and personal experience.
“The proximity of the anus to the genitals, Freud tells us, is the source of much if not all human neurosis…The gut, frankly, is a problem. What it does is not only mysterious and puzzling – as are all our internal organs to a great extent – but also difficult for us to bear. And when we start to think about the symbolism of the gut, we might understand what Freud meant.”
Naomi Alderman, novelist and journalist, on the Intestines.
“After our meeting I learnt that the word lung is an Old English word probably derived from German meaning light, as in not-heavy, hence the lungs are known as ‘the light organ’. In spite of this springy lightness, they are surprisingly strong and would soon blunt a knife if sliced through because each of the several million air sacs are encased and kept open by cartilage.”
Daljit Nagra, poet, on the Lungs.
“A better parallel for the appendix is virginity. As a teenage boy, I used to feel that unless my virginity was removed as soon as possible it was just going to get bigger and bigger until there was no room in my body for anything else and I would die in agony. This may offer a Freudian basis for my deep-seated envy of Americans with proper health insurance, who can have a crucial excision performed at the drop of a hat, instead of belatedly and perhaps at considerable personal cost.”
Ned Beauman, novelist and journalist, on the Appendix.
“For many people, skin conditions are for life. “Why did I marry so young?” said the novelist John Updike, who had psoriasis from the age of six. “Because, having once found a comely female who forgave me my skin, I dared not risk losing her and trying to find another.” He wrote this in a book called Self Consciousness, in an essay called “At War With My Skin”.”
Christina Patterson, journalist, on the Skin.
“Jenkinson pushed the piece of paper back across the table to me. “With our contemporary access to food” he said, “we only need about ten per cent of the stomach’s capacity”. I looked down. He’d drawn a dotted line to create a thin tube of a stomach, cut free from the redundant ninety per cent, our hangover from hunter-gatherer days.”
Mark Ravenhill, playwright, actor and journalist, on the Gall bladder.